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Familiar Dread Part I

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1562 - Coerthas Highlands


Hirilonde grunted as the axe came down on his shield, the metal groaning and denting from the impact. It worked to his favor, catching the blade of the huge axe rather than letting it slide off, and giving him the leverage to push it to the side as he stepped in and drove his sword between the Roegadyn’s ribs. The Imperial’s eyes widened, a gurgling cough escaping his lips, his grip on his weapon slackening. Hirilonde planted his boot against the man’ chest and pulled his sword free, pushing him onto his back and leaving him to gurgle his last.


He spared a moment to look around. All around him, explosions and chaos. Huge Garlean striders  advanced over the hills, implacable and seemingly invincible. Allied troops fled, abandoning their injured, their standards left scattered and forgotten on the ground. The line was broken, and if he didn’t move he was going to be overrun.


He glanced around, spotting the flag of his unit. The Garlean foot soldiers were holding back now as the magitek walkers started bombarding them heavily. There was little resistance from enemy soldiers as he ran, but the world around him was all fire and fury as explosions rang in his ears.


“Captain Terrick! We need to withdraw, sir! The line is faltering!” He said as he reached the rise the group was sheltering behind. The unit was a lot smaller than he remembered... many familiar faces were missing. Those that remained looked haggard and battered.


“Lieutenant. Where is your unit?” Captain Terrick was a tall man. A Wildwood elezen, taller than Hirilonde even, and he had an effective way of looking down on others that made them feel small. The full force of this haughty gaze was directed at Hirilonde now.


“Dead or out of commission, sir. The west flank was overrun. Perkins and N’hamarro were killed in the bombardment, Tracey and Ancient Pearl fell in the fighting. Oworgumo was wounded, and was evacuated to the healer’s camp. The other enlisted broke when the striders attacked, and I lost track of them.” Hirilonde didn’t flinch from the gaze. He had been the recipient of it far too often since being assigned to this unit.


Terrick snorted. “Damn poor show of leadership, Lieutenant. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given your history, but I expect better of my men. I want you to get back out there, round up your enlisted men and get them back in the fight!”


“Sir, this position is being overrun! We don’t have the heavy support we need to deal with those Garlean machines! We need to regroup with the Ul’Dahn thaumaturges and...”


“Lieutenant!” Terrick snarled at him. “Stop your snivelling! We are Knights of the Barracuda! We do not retreat, we do not surrender, and we do not give ground!”


“But the whole rest of the allied forces are falling back!” Hirilonde cried back, unable to throttle his frustration with the man. “The standards have all fallen. We weren’t prepared for this fight! This area isn’t strategically important enough to justify wasting lives over!”


Terrick responded with a stinging backhand. Hirilonde had expected it... Terrick had a bad habit of telegraphing his movements... and was braced, but it still hurt like hell. He took the hit, clenching his fists, then returning his gaze to his commanding officer.


“You are relieved, lieutenant. It doesn’t matter if the cowardly Ul’Dahns or those simpering Garleans have slunk off to lick their wounds. We stand our ground! Our banner flies! Our forces will rally to it, and we will be victorious! Now draw your sword and take up the line with the others, or it will be more than just your rank that you lose!”


You enjoy putting me in impossible situations, don’t you Oschon? Hirilonde knew what the Captain was asking was suicide... and that it would get him and the entire rest of the unit killed. Disobeying would be treason, and likely end with one of them on the point of a sword, and if Hirilonde was the survivor, a quick court martial and hanging. Not disobeying would result in all of them on that sword.


Not much of a choice, I guess. He stepped back, widening his stance some in preparation. “Captain Terrick, I cannot allow you to lead these knights into suicide. Not for a bunch of windmills and old goat trails.”


Terrick’s eyes narrowed, and his hand darted across for his sword. “So be it, traitor.”


The outcome of the fight would never be known, however. From the ridge behind them there was a cry, an avian squawk, echoed by a hundred more. Ixal held their swords aloft as they stood defiantly on the ridge.


Okay, Oschon, you have outdone yourself this time... Hirilonde drew his sword, but not on his commander, the two of them standing shoulder to shoulder. The Ixal were no friends of the Garleans, but they were no allies of the Alliance either, and they were now pinned between the two forces with no retreat.


The Ixal on the hill raised his staff to the sky. He wasn’t looking at them... it was possible he didn’t even see them. He seemed to be staring down the oncoming Garlean army. Dozens of his fellows flanked him, all in a line.


“What are they doing? Are they going to attack us, or the Garleans?” Terrick said, eying the bird-like beastmen warily.


As if to answer, the Ixal started chanting, a low, trilling noise that seemed to reverberate in the air, audible even over the din of the Garlean onslaught. Those in the line each held up large crystals, which started to glow a greenish hue.


Winds started to pick up around them... no natural wind. This one clawed and tore at them, stole the breath from their lungs, left them choking on dust.


There was a shriek, an inhuman scream that somehow the roar of the wind didn’t drown out. The green light swelled, flowing from the crystals the Ixal held into a ball floating above the battlefield. The light exploded as the crystal the Ixal held shattered, one by one.


As the light faded, a hovering figure was left. She was roughly humanoid, avian, but not like the Ixal. She had four wings, and was obviously female in shape. The Garleans had taken notice by this point, a artillery fire from their walkers arched upwards towards her. It exploded harmlessly some distance from her. She laughed, and it was a mirthless, maniacal, sound. The laughter of an utterly inhuman, alien being, and mixture of rage and madness. Her gaze fell upon the oncoming Garlean onslaught, and she gestured.


And suddenly, the wind really WAS razors.


1572 - Mor Dhona


Hirilonde stared into the sky at the lesser moon. For the moment, all his training, all his years of experience, all he had seen fell by the wayside, as two enormous wings erupted from Dalamud, as the moon crumbled from some tremendous internal heat and pressure.


His instincts snapped back into play, as something in the back of his head screamed at him that what he was staring at was about to become a fireball, and a hail of debris. “Take cover!” He cried out, though he knew not if anyone heeded him as he dove under a rocky outcropping.


The din of battle had dulled his senses, but even with that the thunder was painful, as the moon cracked and shattered, and finally exploded. The sky was filled with lights as fireballs streaked across the heavens.


Above it all, was the enraged roar of something ancient, furious and powerful.


It was the same feeling as ten years ago, in the hills of Coerthas. But where in Coerthas the feeling of dread was a cold ball coiling tight in his stomach, here it was overwhelming, smothering. A suffocating blanket of fear that threatened to physically drag him to his knees.


Among the expanding cloud of ruin that once was Dalamud, great wings flapped, holding aloft a dragon the likes of which the world had never seen. Or perhaps, had not seen for a very long time. It was the size of a city... bigger perhaps.


Around him people scattered. Others stared up at the behemoth in the sky as it’s gaze fell balefully upon them, frozen. In their eyes, there was fear, despair. A few others narrowed their gaze and gripped their weapons all the more tightly.


Hirilonde saw this, and in spite of himself, a smile creased his lips. “Here we go again, eh?”


The Garleans barely seemed to react. The Seventh Legion had always been fanatical... Darnus’ death had only made them moreso. Instead they pressed the advantage the confusion gave them, even as fire rained down on them. 


“... Back... repeat, fall back! Knights of the... to provide cover... retreat of Foreign Levy!”


The linkpearls had been faltering  since Dalamud had begun it’s ominous groaning, and now that the Great Wyrm had emerged, only snippets came through. One would think the order was hardly necessary, but all around them, the Grand Companies were rallying. Some fled, but most held fast. Shields flickered as conjurers and white mages struggled to hold protection over their comrades as Bahamut screamed overhead, bombardments lighting up the battlefield, and flashes of conflict could be seen as the adventurers refused to yield ground to the Garleans.


“They aren’t going to fall back...” Hirilonde straightened. He was proud of them... these adventurers who had taken up the standards of the Alliance, who even now stood in the shadow of fear, and did not falter. But... experience told him the retreat order was right. The adventurers had proven themselves the strength of the Alliance, and they could not be allowed to fall here.


“Barracudas!” He shouted, raising his sword. “The order to retreat has been given. Form a defensive line, I want archers on the ridge providing covering fire for the withdraw of the Foreign Levy! The adventurers got us this far, now it’s time for the Yellowjackets to pull their arses out of the fire!”


There was a shout from the troops, and he could see the line firming, archers taking position. There were members of God’s Quiver and mercenaries from Ul’Dah as well, and a few Sultansworn had joined the line.


“Sir, we can’t hold here long, and the Adventurers... we can’t get the retreat order to them in all this.” A lieutenant came up to him and said, breathless. “Our runners won’t survive in all of that, and the horns can’t be heard over this din!”


“Alright then, we’ll trade defense for speed.” Hirilonde cracked his knuckles. “Hold the line as long as you can, then fall back and cover whoever manages to get out.”


“Sir?” The lieutenant cocked his head.


Hirilonde tightened his shield straps. “What? I wasn’t planning on living forever. I have a better chance than most, but if there are volunteers among the Sultansworn, send them as well. Give me twenty minutes, then command is yours.”


“But sir!”


“You don’t need me to tell you how to run, soldier.” He patted him on the back, then vaulted the barricade and started running.


I was an odd feeling. Liberating. He had always known he had little chance of coming back from Mor Dhona, and now he knew he had none at all. But Isilme and her family were safe. He had taught her all he could, and now it was time for her generation to take over. Eva was safe, and his debt to Dyterium was... well, at least a down payment has been made on it. I guess I’ll have to work the rest off in the afterlife.


A garlean soldier charged at him. The man was covered in soot, bloodied and half crazed, his gunlance broken. Hirilonde barely slowed as he deflected the strike and ran the man through. “Sorry, friend.” He said, and genuinely meant it. These were men who had thrown away their lives in service to a selfish madman.


A magitek ride armor stumbled near him, something going on on top of it. It fell to it’s knees and keeled over, sending a man in black armor tumbling off. His armor was smoldering and damaged in a number of places, and his helmet came loose as he tumbled. He rolled and sprang to his feet and roared.


Hirilonde froze. He knew that roar. It can’t be...


“Raaaaagh!” The black armored man stumbled a bit and shook his head. He was older, his bald head bearing old burn scars, and a black eyepatch over one eye. “Woooo... headrush.”


“JJ?” Hirilonde stepped hesitantly forward. A gigantic dragon was one thing, but this... was a ghost he hadn’t seen for nearly twenty years.


The man turned. His face was older, of course, a few new scars here and there. But it was him, without a doubt. “Hiri? Hiri!” 


The highlander drew a greatsword from his back and slashed at a Garlean soldier who was recovering from the magitek wreckage. “Well?! Stop gawping and start shielding! That’s what’ you’re here for, isn’t it kid?”


Hirilonde gawked a moment, disbelieving. He then spotted another Garlean moving up behind the dark knight, and threw his shield, striking the soldier. He charged forward, catching his shield again and striking him with his sword. “Where the seven hells have you been!?”


“You know how it goes, incredibly handsome and skilled adventurer helps to kill a demon god. Adventurer gets cursed so that being around his friends slowly kills him. Adventurer wanders off into the sunset to have adventures while trying to find a cure, Adventurer eventually hears about a REALLY BIG party going down in Mor Dhona, and decided to check it out...” He pushed the Garlean soldier off his blade and thumped his chest a couple of times. “Speaking of which, seems the curse musta worn off. Remind me to give you a hug after all this.”


Hirilonde barely had time to get his shield up as bullet fire ricocheted off. He peered over the edge to see another Garlean walker, it’s mouth opening preparing to fire. He gathered his aether and prepared himself. The ball of ceruleum-fueled energy slammed into his shield, forcing him skidding back. The old shield started to crack under the strain, the metal groaning, and the wood backing starting to splinter.


Several decades of experience had taught Hirilonde many things. Tact, how to pick his fights, regret, compromise... but most importantly, it had taught him several tricks that most adventurers had never heard of. Such as a type of spellcraft that allowed him to reflect attacks off his shield. 


Like, say, ceruleum-fueled balls of energy.


He yelled out as he pushed back, and the energy blast suddenly switched direction. It slammed back into the barrel of the ride armor, prematurely igniting the second shot and blowing the top half of the walker apart.


JJ sprinted past Hirilonde and fell upon the troops, drawing his scythe and cutting a swath through them. Hirilonde recovered, but JJ was already in the thick of things, assaulting yet another walker. “Damnit JJ...”


He was about to follow when he saw something else on the field that made his heart drop. A familiar glimpse of golden hair, pale skin, and a very familiar tattoo.


“Kes...” His throat was dry, the name was a croak. Kes was pregnant, so she was with her father’s clan, in their traditional homelands. Kes was safe. Kes couldn’t be here!


He stumbled forward. “KES!” But his words were drowned out again by the roar of the dragon. He looked up, and saw the monster descending, as conjured shields shattered, and the whole of the Grand Company forces watched, helpless. Fire as gathering at his maw, as bright as the sun, so intense he could feel the heat from here.


He stopped. He was out of time. There was no time for retreat, no time to save Kes or Dyterium’s grandchildren. “I’m sorry, Dy. I truly am.” He said softly, as the light and heat grew more intense. Any moment now.


He almost didn’t notice the tingling feeling of being teleported, as Bahamut unleashed his fury on them all.



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