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A Weathered Journal (Story)

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[align=center]Stroud adjusted his mask and allowed a nigh maddening grin to pry his lips apart until fanged teeth were all that held his lower jaw to his upper. Shadows danced along his face, conjured by the crackling fire he'd only just breathed life into. His hands danced over the leather bound cover of a journal he'd kept in his possession for several months now before moving to unlace the straps holding it shut to review it's contents just one last time. "Young fool... Black is the heart of man, blacker still was your own..."[/align]


[align=center]'For My Children - The Brightest Song I'll Ever Write'



My name is Stroud Aan Forscythe; An Imperial sellsword and pianist. At the behest of my wife, Dahlia Forscythe, I have taken to transcribing my life's exploits to these pages in hopes that we might someday share the varied tales with the child we are now expecting... And where more fitting to begin, than at the moment first my life changed and set in motion the blissful series of events that first lead me to join hands with my beloved?

T'was several moons ago, following one of Moriarty Eckart's grueling and critical lessons regarding the harpsichord. I was but an amateur, starting upon the road to the melodious arts thinking myself to become practiced in the ways of the nobility by virtue of having simply earned my first fair wage in service to Goenfal Lohengrin as a retainer to his adopted son, Char.



I will confess that I first silently questioned why it was that I would be made to safeguard a Miqo'te in so scrutinous a manner, having been given scant few details in pertinence to whom this 'man' was that roamed to and fro in so whimsical a fashion as to have been more inclined towards his outward feline heritage than those of his father. The coin, however, was outrageous for a task so trivial - How could I say no?



It did not take very long to determine that the Miqo'te was heir to the throne, as it were, simply by virtue of proximity. I would stand just beyond the door as his father berated him, before they would storm off in opposite directions, leaving his mother to weep in solitude. Try as I might to ignore what I needn't know - My hearing is unfortunately very acute. It was on the evening of the twenty-second day of the third month that I pierced the veil of secrecy that was his life...

Being the stalwart and unwavering shield meant to shade the young man from any and all harm - I followed after him when he fled the Lohengrin house in tears. His father had taken his words beyond what I feel were necessary to instill the discipline he wished for his adopted child; In truth I think he felt ashamed of his heritage, more so as the years had gone on and people began to speak ill as they are oft wont to do. But of this I can only speculate, though I digress.



He had a fancy for the bridge just outside of Garlemald, where the waters flowed crisply with the soft influence of the spring winds. He confided in a moment of weakness that he did not want the mantle that his father was breeding him for - that the weight of such responsibility was suffocating. The classes were strenuous upon his mind, and his father no more a stabilizing influence than a torn paper bag held overhead amid a torrential downpour. I made light of my own piano recitals and we both shared a laugh.



When he had calmed, we spoke idly for quite some time, until a young Elezen woman was captured and imprinted upon my eyes. This was to be the moment I met your mother. I recall the simple garments she wore... The sharp ears, and even sharper eyes... Even the viridian green lipstick she was wearing. She approached, and taking stock of the cigar the Miqo'te and I were sharing, inquired if she might have one as well. As we'd only one to ourselves - we opted to include her in our late night circle.



We exchanged name and title alongside a few idle pleasantries before the late hours took hold of us with the first subdued pangs of hunger. Being gentlemen, we invited her along for a very late supper. Elated she trailed after us, taking an arm captive from the both of us. We were fortunate to find a restaurant open at so late an hour, though to our good fortunes, the option presented itself. 



We parted ways upon conclusion of our meal, though not before she deigned to pass along a linkpearl. Char could only smirk as she skipped off into the moonlight. I escorted him home, and was excused for the next two days. I decided to spend them in Dahlia's company, eagerly passing the hours away in anticipation of what I might gleam about her next... Naturally such emotions only grew until I took it upon myself to consolidate my funds and pass myself off before her father in hopes of winning his blessings. I was rejected outright due to my name and what it means to be a citizen of the empire through annexation... 



That you read this now, clearly we did not allow that to stop us. I sought my ward's influence and he made great use of his own name to sway her father's decision. In such times as these, it is beneficial to make use of any and all connections one has forged - and those built upon friendships, more so. Char Lohengrin had taken it upon himself to request the honor of being my best man, and I was ever so delighted to accept. 



The ceremony was as you may imagine; Vainglorious. I spared no expense, nor did it hurt that I served as retainer to the Lohengrin house. Goenfal himself contributed to our dowry and helped to offset a majority of the financial concerns such as the banquet processions. The wine flowed, the music was beautiful, and the dance beyond words. My eyes reflected the passions locked within her own that would later result in your conception.



Even as I know not at this time whether you are to be a boy, or a girl, I know ever that your mother and I shall love you with all we may muster, and make your life as fortunate and blessed as our own has been. 


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[align=center]Though the marital life was one I quickly settled into, love alone would not set aside the burden of financial obligations one incurs if they expect to live comfortably; To this end I remained the Lohengrin's retainer and personal bodyguard to Char Lohengrin and was ever grateful to service such understanding employers. The house of Lohengrin is responsible for the rise of it's own fiscal success through use of it's privatized security forces and affordable weaponry, that most notably strives ever towards remaining an innovative force on the battlefield.[/align]



[align=center]For my continued services to the house, Goenfal commissioned a specialized suit of armor that the company planned to field in the coming days, and a paired gunsword that required time to adapt to my own style focused on a more traditional blade. The difference in my own observed results was near immediately apparent, and I was not the only one taking notice. The president decided to separate me from my charge and instead formally induct me into the company as a fully compensated member of a security detail. Admittedly, there was a loss of some coin at first, though such oft comes when removing the middle-man, or making him your own, as the case was.[/align]



[align=center]Very quickly did I prove myself time and again as a proactive member of the organization, stepping forth to demonstrate my mettle time and again, much to your mother's chagrin. It was not long before I was made head of my own squad... In truth the privilege of such a position irked me at first as I had never had any experience in directing others, though as all mankind must, I adapted. [/align]



[align=center]Though it oft dishearten Dahlia to see me off as I tarried forth to do as I must to earn my coin, it further upset her to see the tolls it took upon my body, and the changes that began to manifest within my soul. She had never been in agreement with the taking of lives for profit, though to her credit, she had never confronted me on the matter in-so-much as merely voiced discontent whilst supporting me as a proper wife should. Her love was much greater than her concern - and as that concern grew, so did her love. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and such.[/align]



[align=center]So it was that I continued onward, soaking myself in the blood of the fallen to progress the endless ambitions of the Laughing Armaments' corporate name, ever entangled with the president's own son as my closest friend. It was four months after you'd made yourself present with the bursting of Dahlia's waistline that he approached me with a plan to secure the seat of power himself, and encouraged a transfer to internal security. He confided in me that I would need to earn the absolute and unquestionable loyalty of those positioned under me...[/align]



[align=center]I arranged several scenarios and invested several drinks and much time in propagating such emotional connections betwixt these men and myself, to the point that I often thought I had now blurred the lines between the initial intent and friendships. When I felt comfortable with what we had nurtured, I reported back to my friend that we were prepared at last to undertake our joint venture.[/align]

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[align=center]fpEE3a5aU4w [/align]



[align=center]"This will shake the very foundation of everything my father has built - in either success or failure there will be rampant changes. I cannot promise your safety at any juncture in this affair in either event. I can only promise my utmost." These were the words that cemented our conjoined fates. This Miqo'te... No this man had weathered the most curious of odds and proven ever that he was my friend - his rise to power would see me rise even higher alongside him. I had no doubts as to this point, and so it was that the twenty-ninth day of the ninth month came to pass.[/align]



[align=center]I recall sitting in my office, conveniently positioned at the top floor of the corporate headquarters just meters away from the president's office and the boardroom. We were the first responders and the last line of defense. The elite. Tonight, we were to fail in our duties. Each and every one of us. I watched the clocks in obsession, waiting for the appointed hour to present itself. My fingers danced against my wrists in anticipation, running the scenario over in my head a thousand times, conjuring contingencies and thinking of solutions to any unpredictable elements that might present themselves.[/align]



[align=center]That is when it happened. A gunshot silenced the laughter and voices around me. I was on my feet instantly, weapons in hand screaming orders. I kicked down the door, leading the charge with a fierce gusto. We entered Goenfal's office in the method to which we drilled several months in the event of an internal breach... only to find the man himself dead on the floor with none other than my friend Char Lohengrin reclining in his chair. It was there that all my fears and unrest were quelled by virtue of - what else? Coin. [/align]



[align=center]I was the first to accept as we agreed, leading each under my command to surrender the adrenaline rush in favor of such an amicable offer as was made. When they were made to disperse and I was dismissed several hours later, I knew what I had done to be horrid - even one such as I whom has spilled oceans of blood in his time - knew it to be a betrayal. Dahlia could read the disdain in my eyes and silently embraced me, making me swear that when our child breathed his first, I would leave the fold. I could not refuse - not after that night. I cannot cling to my soul, and to the coin.[/align]



[align=center]You, my darling child, are to be my redemption. [/align]

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[align=center]KWooB4tpQ9I [/align]



[align=center]We are now, upon the final month of Dahlia's pregnancy and you are expected any day now. The changes in my life are expected to continue mounting. Char Lohengrin has effortlessly purchased the media's favor and in effect, the sympathy of the masses. He dances them like puppets now, as if a practiced artist. I observe very little of the man I knew in earlier years in him anymore of late... He grows obsessed with the question of what a 'Dark Immortal' might be. [/align]



[align=center]When I question him as to the origin of such a phrase, he only rests a palm against my shoulder and tells me that I may one day soon discover the answer. I am unused to such maneuvering around topics from him, and suspect our friendship is now in question. In truth I am eager for your arrival, my child, if only to relieve myself of the burden that is this mass of intrigue. I am well into my mid-years and cannot imagine such stress to be tender upon my heart. [/align]



[align=center]Per my proposal, he has agreed to dismiss me outright with a sizable bonus paid to myself and my wife for the sacrifices made in support of the company and in recognition of his own safety. His last assignment is but fifteen days long... I am to oversee the delivery of a package to Eorzea upon the airship 'Absolution'. The journey will take naught but a day's time and the remaining thirteen days are merely to establish the Eorzean research branch's presence.[/align]



[align=center]I am informed that such an endeavor is sure to be dangerous as it presents our competitors an opportunity to wage an industrial shadow war, as it were, and strike a decisive blow; I remain skeptical to such an outright attack. If we are to suffer such a critical strike, it will be caused from within, not from without. I have in company my finest colleagues and each is worth the salt of a thousand armed men. They all field the latest magitek weapons and armor. Loathe as I am to even consider the thought - we are truly better prepared than any who may think to lay us low. I refuse to be denied what I am rightly due - I will not falter. Not with the thought of meeting your gaze very nearly realized.[/align]

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[align=center]Several days have passed, and the reason for all the secrecy regarding the 'package' we were meant to deliver has been made manifest. It is a man, not at all unlike a Doman in appearance. They escorted him just past me in chains; even blindfolded I could feel his gaze settling upon me as he passed, cementing his first encounter forever I should think. It was as if the first time I had placed my feet upon the battlefield, the fear of the unknown gripping me firmly.[/align]



[align=center]I shook it off, and have made regular habit of keeping a firm hold on my weaponry while near this Au Ra. They escort him in and out of the central chamber of the building we now cycle through, day and night. He enters in fair health and emerges looking as if someone who has weathered a storm, reeking of ceruleum and sweat. I do not know what happens in that chamber, nor do I wish to... However I suspect I will have little weight on the matter as tomorrow marks my rotation into the room for the security detail. [/align]



[align=center]I have but three days to endure before I may put this entire affair to rest and indeed, the majority of my past dealings with this organization. It is my hope that Dahlia and I raise you upon a fertile field, earning honest coin through crop. I wish nothing of this life upon you, save for the sum total of my mistakes upon these pages. [/align]

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[align=center]What I saw today was ghastly. A mass of nightmarishly long cords drawing along the walls and roof, coming together in a twisted mass above a single cylidrical tube which they sealed the Au Ra inside of several times in the day. They would lock the chains binding him to an indent at the center before sealing him inside. His screams are otherworldly, ushered forth at the mere push of a button.[/align]



[align=center]The lead scientist, one Ashorea Mo'Thana, assures me that it is a necessary step to realizing Char's dream - but what dream could but worth such suffering? Six times he was subjected to such torturous displays and throughout each he locked his eyes upon my own. I can see the blood red glow emanating from them, despite the darkness. It clutches at my very soul - this animosity hidden within. Whatever the man was, I suspect there is but a hollow husk that assumes his face.[/align]



[align=center]The scientists refuse to shed any details into their experiments when I ask, save for the vague answers that usually fall within the spectrum of 'It's for the future'. What future has such a thing as this? Better to abort this abomination now before it is loosed to live in a world alongside my child...[/align]



[align=center]I have but one final day remaining at this station before I am bid to depart. I must needs steel myself and quell my protests but a single cycle of the sun.[/align]

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[align=center]FfR9tw6MYHA [/align]



[align=center]Today. I killed you. Your family will never know your presence within their house again. Your child shall not know the face of it's father. Your wife will never again know your loving embrace, nor the brushing of your lips upon her own. You, like all the rest, are a blight. You wear your mask of appearances as surely as any other, but in truth - You are just as corrupt as the rest living upon this cursed insignificant world that is Hydaelyn. [/align]



[align=center]I will put an end to it. Top to bottom, it will all burn. The foundation razed, the earth salted, and life purged. You are but a memory - a hollow and distant echo as indeed this horrid world shall one day be. Within your pages, you are but the monsters whom lay claim to be men... You are cowards afraid of your own collective destinies and responsibilities to own your sins. I will right such wrongs now in blood.[/align]

[align=center]You are but the first of many sacrifices.[/align]


[align=center]The masked Au Ra glanced over the familiar words before throwing the journal into the all consuming blaze that now roared in the hearth. He watched in silent contemplation as the flames licked clean the leather binding and reduced the words to ash as empty as he felt them to be. He turned from the fireplace and gazed now at the piano in the corner. "Death becomes us." He said softly, before moving to sit before it and lift the keycover to breath life into a melody as dark and brooding as the man at the keys.[/align]

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