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Kieron Lohengrin

Until We Wake

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Alone upon the rising spire of the rock, as it jutted and rose from the briny blue; alone with his thoughts, the monk closed his single exposed eye and joined his inner self in spiritual skyfall. Soaring through the ocean of the soul, even as the waves of the physical ocean without crashed noisily 'gainst the island crags.

 

Light. Life. Hope. As he'd learned from his master, and from the mother crystal. The monk flew through memory, through mind and time and aetheric flow.

 

The five-card spread. The old elezen captain predicting yet another great change to come. It wasn't that he doubted the elderly corsair, Schezar reflected - simply that her words seemed to resonate more strongly with the boy whom he once was, rather than the man he was today.

 

Sudden anger. Hostility. Recognition. Distrust. "I didn't ask to see your memories. Forcing them into someone else's mind like that... it's the height of rudeness! It's torture!"

 

Again, he agreed with the distress in her outburst, if not the exact wording. However unintended or accidental - he simply meant to extend the sensation of warmth and gratitude - it could indeed be completely alien. Fearsome, uncalled-for.

 

He couldn't exactly just punch her upset away, as he did with so many other things. The Echo would do as it willed, and he had no way of knowing who it would reach out to touch so powerfully, through him as a conduit.

 

He had to learn how and when to know.

 

Pentacles and swords; the Emperor card. The rainstorm crashing down around them. The seafarer's praise for his bloodstained fists, even as she denounced their shared connection to the Echo. His potted orchid, kept safe. The details of the day flowed into each other. The details of the year flowed into each other.

 

"I'll help you hold back the banshin, Lady Minfilia. 'tis what my master prepared me for."

 

"You worry me, big brother."

 

"These sphairai are alive! The white-hot ember, the howling gale, the hyperfused ore... you have to let them grow with you, to let your collective souls become one!"

 

"Who are you? Why are you hiding?"

 

The last memory, the last murmured, whispered thoughts, from the daydreaming girl in the botany guild. The one whose grandfather was close to her heart. "I'm not hiding," he whispered amidst the waves. "But I have many malms left to walk, ere the night ends."

 

Schezar opened his eye. He balanced steadily upon the tip of his finger, his arm outstretched. The monk's entire body formed a single, perfectly vertical line, rising like a tower into the sky. Judging from the position of the stars and the moon, half a day had passed since he'd begun meditating at noon.

 

With an exultant exhalation of breath, he pushed off from his finger, his chakra flowing through him as he launched into the air. Each stance's mindset came easily with each midair strike, spin, and kick. Opo-opo form, raptor form, coeurl form.

 

A shift in the center, chakra gates unlocking, aether in his veins. Leviathan form, Suparna form, Midgarsormr form.

 

The rocky outcropping beneath him shattered into dust, as his palm strike came crashing down like a meteor.

I am a weapon.

 

I am peace.

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"His name is Althyk. Lord of earth and change, space and time."

 

Schezar's master balanced on one foot, basic dodo-stance, atop the thunderous waterfall. The lalafell's breathing was still relaxed and calm, while Schezar himself panted heavily with the exertion of their sparring, sweating and hard-pressed.

 

The hyur hunkered his body down, preparing himself for a hippogryph-form leap. "Does the Path differ for each one of the Twelve, teacher?"

 

She turned her blind, bandaged eyes toward him, considering his question. "Yes, it does. For example..."

 

And just like that, she was gone. He hadn't quite gotten used to it yet, even with all the countless times she'd vanished so swiftly and taken him by surprise in their training. Her voice continued from above him, in midair. "All this time, you've thought that my movements were because of speed, and stealth."

 

Schezar was forced to take a defensive form, the surface of the water breaking into minor tidal waves beneath him as his skin hardened like stone, his arms crossed to block her crashing meteor dive. He grit his teeth. "What else could it be, then? Illusion?"

 

His teacher shook her head, the bells in her hair chiming softly amidst the thunder of the waterfall. "Reach out. Hydaelyn herself has tempered and blessed thee. Hear. Think. Feel."

 

The student closed his eyes obediently, extending his senses outward, as his teacher vanished again. This time, however...

 

His eyes flared open just as quickly. Her face was now level with his, in another leaping attack.

 

"You stopped time..."

 

"Only for a few seconds," she answered calmly. The barrage of her fists followed, knocking him off the edge of the waterfall, and sending him crashing down to the river, 50 feet below.

 

The lalafell landed gracefully, her feet barely causing ripples upon the water, as she watched her student plummet downward.

 

She then turned and walked back to the shore, sitting down with their tea to wait for him, while he began the long climb back up. "The Path will be yours, too, dear one. I hope you live that long," she mused quietly to herself, taking a calming sip.

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"What's this?"

 

"A fragment from the visor the Empire used to enslave and control you, all those years ago. Most of it was destroyed, but this portion of the artifact was salvageable. It's been retooled for your use, keyed to your personal aetheric frequency alone."

 

The roegadyn engineer watched closely for any reaction from the hyur highlander. However, if Schezar felt at all upset or appalled, he betrayed no outward sign. The man's face remained neutral, unreadable, as he picked up the eyepatch device, examining it with a clinical, methodical stare.

 

"And this will help us find the Ascians, will it?"

 

His fellow Scion associate nodded. "In theory, the new embedded crystals should help focus your Echo sensitivity. We've also added a few touches of our own to the original magitek design - it'll help you coordinate with your ride armor, and provide battlefield data in addition to all the usual chakra mumbo-jumbo you're already pulling off."

 

The monk began putting the device on. "Works for me," he said simply.

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"...you're not going into the tower with us?"

 

"I'm sure it'll be perfectly fine! Enjoy it! See the sights and think of it as a paid vacation! We'll be right outside here at base camp, toiling away in this dreadful heat until you get back."

 

"..."

 

* * * * *

 

 

* * * * *

 

"Welcome back! Well, how was it? Completely safe, right? I'll wager you all had a most relaxing time!"

 

"You're a terrible person, Mik."

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"Sarge! Welcome back!"

 

"Good to be b-- wait."

 

hvn4tOA.jpg

 

"Where'd you get that armor from?"

 

"Won it off some skinny sod in the Bloodsands. You like?"

 

"...sure. Makes you look positively cosmic."

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Before Carteneau.

 

A dark haze. Then, murky, distorted voices from what seemed like a malm away.

 

"So this is one of the few specimens to survive the interrogation, is it?"

 

"Yes, Dr. Asina. But I must very, very strongly advise against turning down the sedation--"

 

"Nonsense. These animals will be field-tested soon enough, and I wish to personally attend to our masterpieces."

 

A dull, stabbing pain in his side. Schezar slowly opened his bloodshot eyes, still lightheaded, feeling the cold chromite encased around his limbs. As he dangled from the lab wall, naked as his nameday, he stared down at the pair of Garlean scientists below.

 

The man in glasses gave Schezar a wide smile, even as his female colleague continued to fret. "Sir, if the Legatus finds out..."

 

"What our esteemed Black Wolf doesn't know won't hurt him. Our goal is to make these savages useful and compliant." He turned toward the nearby table, lifting up what appeared to be a magitek visor.

 

"All that's required is a minor attitude adjustment. Ku, ku, ku..."

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From the journal of Gehrman Stormbreaker, Fist of Rhalgr.

 

My dearest grandson,

 

I left these pages for you in the temple, guarded by the spirit of Master Ivon himself. That you have found them means you have passed my final test, and I watch thee from beyond with a proud, smiling heart.

 

Ours will always be a difficult, trying existence. But that does not mean it must be a joyless, meaningless one. Far from it. When I spirited our clan away from Ala Mhigo, many called me coward. Deceiver. Betrayer of our great city-state.

 

These titles I would bear twice over again, and with pride, knowing that my choices ensured our family's survival and well-being. When I asked Laleta to train thee in my stead, 'twas not to put you on the same path we walked as living weapons. Rather, it was to give you a choice - the choice to live freely, or to bear the weight of our name.

 

The storm will be eternally present, in all its forms. Garlemald, the primals, creatures from the deepest pit of the Void, even the petty brigands of Vylbrand and Aldenard. The storm feasts ever and anon on the smallfolk of these lands, upon families who wish nothing more than to be left alone, free to pursue their own happiness.

 

I chose our family name for this reason. But again, it was a choice I alone made, and would not force upon any of our kin. Whether you continue to walk this road, or break away to find your own truth, your own freedom - know that you will always have my love.

 

 

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When you stand in the light of the crystal, know that I always stand beside thee, a spear pointed at the heart of the squall.

Edited by Kieron Lohengrin

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The Weeping City of Mhach.

 

 

 

 

I glance back over my shoulder at him, before returning my eyes up front. "Stand up."

 

Before us, a horde of voidsent and their dark queen. Behind us, our allies, licking their wounds and pushed to the limit. Still ready to fight, still ready to do or die for their crusade. My partner, however, chokes back a reluctant growl. Young, still holding on to that tough leader exterior. "Stormbreaker, we barely have anything left, how do we even...?"

 

I shake my head without looking back again. "Listen. House Lareont, right? You've obviously got a lot going on. Got a lot to prove. Big noble family name to live up to. S'why you're a paladin." I exhale, maintaining concentration in my aetherblade. Thank the Twelve for E-Una-Kotor's teachings.

 

"I've got nothing like that. I'm a meathead. A grunt. I go where I please and do what I like. And... tomorrow's Earthsday." I allow myself a little smile, even as the lordling tilts his head in confusion.

 

"My buddy in Azim, she roasts up the best mammoth haunch for Earthsday dinner. Spiced with purbol bits and all, proper xaela fare. Haven't missed one yet and I don't plan to miss it tomorrow." I wipe the slick sweat from my brow with the back of one hand.

 

"So stand up, m'lord. We'll walk away from this together in one piece, all of us. You and me, we'll take the heaviest hits and keep this group alive. You'll do your family proud and I'll get to have me steak."

 

I allow myself a triumphant laugh as we charge headlong into the fray. People think it's about a label, about being a mythical warrior of light or whatever it is they want to call you.

 

I just want my steak. Followed by a sunny weekend at the beach. Saving people and helping them dare to hope again, that's just a nice little bonus.

Edited by Kieron Lohengrin

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I.

 

Gyokuro prided himself on having an eye for detail - well above the average Namazu. Let the other Hingans have their amused smirks, their little japes and jabs about him and his kinfolk, their sniggers behind his back. Few could boast of working with the East Aldenard Trading Company, and as a trusted inspector, no less.

 

Profit, profile, position. All well worth the odd hours, and even odder individuals they made him speak to. The little catfish narrowed his beady eyes, glanced up from his clipboard, then back down again, then back up again, toward the smiling hyur that patiently sat waiting before him. Not mocking like the locals back in the city, yet bemused nonetheless.

 

Gyokuro cleared his throat. "Now, then - Stormbreaker, was it?"

 

"Aye. Call me Schezar, if y'like, Master Gyokuro."

 

Spoiler

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"Yes, yes. Well, this is certainly a modest setup." The namazu let his gaze sweep across the Shirogane condo, taking note of the bookshelves in the corner, the detailed map of the continent, the bounty notices and reminders on the wall, down to the tea that had been served before him on the office table. "You understand what this inspection is for, yes?"

Schezar nodded. "EAT Company needs t'audit its contractors every so often. Perfec'ly understandable." He watched the namazu make another note in his clipboard.

 

"Correct, Mr. Stormbreaker. Our records show you've certainly kept busy. Established 25 months ago here in Shirogane, dealings not only with our esteemed firm, but with Garlond Ironworks, and the House of Splendors?"

The highlander smiled again. "Everyone wants summat retrieved or looked into, aye." He leaned back a little in his chair. "Ms. Rowena's dangled exclusivity contracts more'n once, but I like 'avin th' freedom to pick and choose me clients. You understand."

 

"Of course, of course." Gyokuro's notes were meticulous, and the next page provided more little tidbits. "It says here seven employees total, yourself included."

"Aye, and I sent ye their details as well before'and." Schezar leaned forward on the desk, steepling his fingers. "Manafa and Ash venture out into th' field like meself. Ada and th' rest keep our house in order back 'ere when we're away."

"And yet you wrote here that you only retain 10% ownership in your own company." Gyokuro frowned, giving the hyur a beady stare. "That's not even a controlling stake. Somewhat unusual, yes yes?"

 

Schezar leaned back again into his chair, maintaining a calm, yet contemplative expression. "Back when I first hopped off th' boat, I was lost fer a little while." He met the namazu's look. "You know th' cost of ijin tryin' to do business 'ere, between th' bakufu, th' Confederacy, an' all the other fingers lookin' for pies."

The hyur cast his gaze slowly across the portraits on the walls. "So I took off fer a bit. Got to see th' Steppes, make new friends, both locals an' travelers like meself alike." He smiled. "Long story short, Master Gyokuro - we set up Sanctuaria so it can keep runnin' even if I end up a corpse, off deep in some old Allagan pit. Ada's th' brains of this outfit. I'm jus' the big lug what swings a blade and brings back th' tomestones. Well - me and Ash, and 'nafa," he amended.

 

II. 

 

"Yes, yes. I see." Gyokuro went back to his notes, scribbling swiftly and efficiently. On the next page, he gave Schezar another look. "Tell me about these recent activities. Close involvement in, hmm, Doma's reconstruction. Our dear friends from Garlemald might take exception to that, no?"

 

Spoiler

 

 

Schezar smiled again at the memory. "Per'aps. They don't seem t'have taken exception yet to th' Prima Vista stayin' parked in Kugane's airspace, at least."

The namazu's barbels gave a faint twitch. "Point," he murmured in reluctant response. "But these other, ahem,  interesting items. The Sea of Clouds, the lost Isle of Val, these little jaunts into Dalmasca..."

"Me and m'colleagues don't set out to deliberately antagonize th' Empire when we get up in th' morn." Schezar rested a hand on the table, letting his eyes meet Gyokuro's again steadily. "But s'true, we go where we please. And if they get in our way, then--"

"I'm well-aware, Mr. Stormbreaker. We have a number of adventurers on our payroll." The namazu checked off another box on his clipboard. "And mercenaries with enough anima to teleport are at a premium. Especially with what's brewing at the Ilsabard border."

"So I've 'eard, aye." Schezar reached down, taking a swig of his coffee, and waiting for the inspector's next question.

 

"Do you consider yourself a philanthropist, Mr. Stormbreaker?"

The hyur tilted his head curiously, bemused again. "Not particularly. Why?"

"Because I read through some of your older reports as well, yes, yes. Voidsent hunts, a number of rescues, the retrieval of certain artifacts, even the hiring of two of your employees."

"Voidsent jus' happened t'be where we needed to pick summat or someone up. So, stabbin' ensued." Schezar took another, slower sip of his coffee. "Linn an' Raya 'ave brilliant brains, an' street-smart fer days. They deserved a shot, so we gave it to 'em. Wasn't my decision alone, an' it worked out well."

"If you say so." As the namazu continued to scribble away, the highlander stared down at his nearly empty coffee mug.
 

III.

 

"Admit it. You're addicted to this."

 

"You wot?"

 

The memory was crystal-sharp. On the high slopes of the Steppe, Reunion visible on the distant horizon. She stood there, clad only in the blanket they'd shared that night. The roegadyn turned toward him, grinning, but he could see the sadness in her eyes.

 

"You're never going to stop, Schez. Twice I've asked you to come back to Radiata with me. Twice you just looked off into the distance and smiled that damned smile."

"Lily, s'not like tha'. You're an amazin' woman. Far too good for th' likes o' me. M'just--"

 

She held up a hand. "I'm not upset," she answered simply, turning again toward the horizon. The first rays of dawn filtered through the clouds. "Thank you for showing me this sunrise."

He made his way to her side, and she slipped her fingers into his. "We can at least share th' blanket one last time."

"Piss off, it's my blanket now." That drew a genuine laugh from him, and she flashed him another cheeky grin. Moments later, they leaned into each other, her bare muscles against his.

 

Hands clasped together for one last day.

 

IV.

 

"Mr. Stormbreaker?"

Schezar blinked, looking back up at the namazu inspector. "Aye, sorry. Jus' recallin' summat."

Gyokuro cleared his throat again. "Yes, yes." He rested his clipboard on the desk, and finally picked up his green tea. "So. No illicit artifacts, in spite of the, ah, voidsent entanglements."

 

The hyur nodded. "S'right." His guest took a sip, tasting the tea, before continuing.

"No questionable substances, one declared anima relic, mostly tomestone deliveries, one case of auracite retrieval..." The namazu checked off items on the list, before pausing and looking up at the adventurer again.

 

"Please indulge my own curiosity. What do you do when you're not off, well, adventuring?"

The question seemed to catch the man off-guard for a moment. "Huh. Well... I reckon I'm a bit of a bore, Master Gyokuro, truth be told." Schezar leaned back in his comfy chair again, rubbing his chin.

 

"Me daily routine? I get up. Do me warmups and mornin' kata. Clean up afterward at one of th' public baths like th' Bokaisen." He rested his hands again at his sides.

"Break me fast past noon, grab summat at th' Umineko if m'feelin' peckish. Then come back 'ere, check if client requests 'ave come in. Honestly, most days're like tha'."

 

"And is this all there is, Mr. Stormbreaker? This almost sounds like - well, living like a monk. Surely you could bring in far more gil for yourself, working exclusively and privately with one of the richer Houses, yes, yes?"

 

The hyur blinked again at the namazu, his smile coming back. "Suppose so. Bit set in me ways." For a brief moment, unbidden, another flash of memory came to Schezar's eyes - the smoke and fire of Carteneau.

 

He paused before continuing. "But I like me life, Master Gyokuro. Earnin' enough t'get by with no fancy or fuss, helpin' folk on occasion... me kin are one teleport away fer holidays an' Starlight, even if it leaves me knackered for a day or two. Th' little ones love it and go nuts when I bring 'em summat weird in their presents."

 

Gyokuro watched his interview subject lean back again in his chair, both of their gazes turning up toward the map of Hydaelyn on the wall. "We adventurers are free. And there's so much left to see."

 

V.

 

Hours after the namazu had left, Schezar sat at his desk. Leaning back in his chair, eyes closed, drifting through moments of his past decade. Ala Mhigo, Carteneau, Aulus mal Asina's lab... all of them should've stayed buried and forgotten in the past. Himself included.

 

On the table, his tomephone beeped. The highlander opened his eyes, leaning forward to swipe at the screen, watching the words appear.

 

ASSEMBLY @ GHIMLYT. ALL HANDS. WILL YOU HELP?
 

He paused, glancing around his office again. The life he'd built for himself, and his employees, for the past two years. Finally, he looked back at the device and tapped out a response.

 

BE THERE IN 6 BELLS. SAYING GOODBYE TO STAFF FIRST.

 

"Schez?"

He looked up. Ada had just come through the door, her elezen ears twitching a little, as she gave him an appraising look. "Was that a client request?"

 

Schezar nodded. "Aye, long distance. Full gear." He stood up, absently rubbing stiffness out of one bicep. "I'll fill out th' forms before I deploy."

 

 

Edited by Kieron Lohengrin

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