Descent: Nightmare Scape – Ego

Coupled with a constant state of mental disarray, Amon struggled to make sense between the waking and sleeping hours. He was aware of drifting in and out of troubled dreams. Unlike the recurring dreams he once had of Xande, these were different. More personal. More vilifying.

The first thing he was aware of was the feeling of soft, deep carpet under his feet. The familiar scent of a place long-known filled his mind. As his eyes adjusted, he knew where he was. The Final Curtain.

Great, ornate red carpet stretched from one edge of the stage to the other. Far up on the walls hung balconies that were placed for an audience only imagined in a fevered madness, but rarely truly used. The whole place was an indulgence gifted because others lacked the courage to deny his whims and demands.

In the center of it all, he saw himself.

Himself as he once was – towering and imposing, dripping in deranged finery, face hidden behind a skull-like mask. It had been so long since he’d thought of himself this way that he was nearly taken aback at the sight.  

Completely vulnerable, he stood before his monstrous once-self, and wondered where this nightmare would lead. He couldn’t even tell if his Other was looking at him at all.

For once, he understood the disorientation that he caused others when he watched them from behind a mask.

“So, you’ve finally taken the stage,” spoke his Other. The voice was familiar, but older, worn weary by the long years. It still held the strength of a performer, but there was no pomp in his tone.

“Why am I here?”

“You say that as if you actually left,” the tone became amused and sly.

“I did leave. ‘Twas more than you could ever do.” Amon growled.

“Don’t get self-righteous with me. Shall I remind you that under it all, we are the same?”

“I’m…” The Elezen grit his teeth. “Trying to change that.”

“He’s trying to change that, he says. What say you, good people?” His Other gave a mocking flip of his cloak, gesturing grandly to an invisible audience in the balconies. “Shall we give him a round of applause? Let’s hear it for… growing attached to the commoners! Losing sight of everything that’s important! Trading a life of kings for a life of struggle! Giving in to weakness and failure!”

Amon winced, the words slicing him. Knowing exactly where all his doubts lay.

“’Tis over with,” the Elezen’s voice was low, a sour taste in his mouth as he admitted defeat. “Xande is dead. The Tower is beyond my reach. ‘Tis no bringing any of it back.”

“Have you even tried?” His past-self loomed above him, suddenly huge and frightening.  

“I don’t think–”

“HAVE YOU EVEN TRIED?” His Other’s voice rose into a roar, echoing through the vast, empty room. 

Amon let out a ragged breath. Standing his ground, he snapped back, “NO! I haven’t! I’ve seen this new world, and ’tis no place for something like you in it.”

“Since WHEN has that ever stopped YOU?”

The Elezen winced and said nothing in response.

“You are content to let everything we built fall to dust? Our life’s work thrown to the winds! The Allagan Empire fallen without a chance of revival! All for what? Because you suddenly grow a conscience and decide to ask questions of morality?

“Perhaps everything fell apart because we asked everything except the right questions!” Amon shouted back, his voice small in the midst of what he faced.  

His Other peered down at him for a long moment, then he began to chuckle. This turned into an outright laugh. A terrible, inhuman sound without emotion or mirth. “Did that just come out of your mouth? You are so precious. Really. Do you think ‘asking the right questions’ now is going to excuse your past deeds?”

The Elezen looked away, taking a deep breath. “No. ‘Twon’t. But maybe ’tisn’t about me.” 

“’Tis always been about us,” came the retort, spoken in a melodramatic cadence. “Even our greatest schemes were always about the glory we’d achieve as we brought the Empire greatness. Argue if you want, but I know your mind. ‘Tis no logic in fighting with yourself.”

“Maybe not. But I do know one thing that you don’t.”

“Oh? Do tell.” 

“I know what life’s like outside of the Tower.” 

“Color me unimpressed.” His Other leaned back and mimed playing a violin sadly. “What sentimental drivel. Next you’ll be troping about how your fuzzy magical friendships taught you more than all your years slicing people apart in the lab.” 

The Elezen snarled in return, a vicious look twisting his face. “I also know I’m not falling back into this… this mind-clouded insanity that corrupted everything I did. Look at you! Look at how pathetic I became!”

“Mmm…. We shall see if you have the strength to back those words,” a grin touched his Other’s voice as he turned and walked away, “Or… if you’re just as pathetic as I am in the end.”

Amon stumbled as the world around him began to tilt and distort. A sign that the nightmare was breaking up, giving way to consciousness.

Just as it all faded to black, he heard the voice of his Other, a sound within his own mind. So clear and enticing came the words: “The Tower is sealed to you, but ’tis always Azys Lla.”

Amon woke suddenly, letting out a shaken breath. However, the name remained on his lips. He whispered to himself, “Azys Lla.”

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Descent: Nightmare Scape – Id

Amon’s strength had deteriorated rapidly, leaving him unable to leave bed, much less throw books at a certain offending dragon who now observed everything he did. Through it all, he could sense that Koh was there, working tirelessly to fit the pieces of the puzzle his sudden illness left in her hands.

It was impossible for him to feel much beyond his own pain at that point, but even in his weakest moments, he withheld the truth from her… knowing that if he told the cat-girl what was really happening within him, she would likely turn away.

He tried to tell himself that he did this to ease her burdens. The truth was more akin to the fact that he was afraid the only person who knew enough about him to save him might leave.

When his visions and hallucinations got too much to bear, someone must have given him something to help him sleep. This would have normally been a good idea. But in his state of mind, it only threw him into a nightmarish dreamcape.

Amon recognized the tall vaulted room as a place within Syrcus Tower. The glittering stone walls rose above him on every side, somehow seeming threatening now. His mind swam, trying to make sense of what was happening.

This wasn’t right. The Tower was closed to him. So how had he come to be there?

Looking down at his own form, he saw that he was as he remembered, dressed in scruffy bedclothes. Still very much himself. And feeling so very tiny in the vastness of the Allagan structure that housed beings much, much larger than he was now.

Last time he’d been there, it was from a very different viewpoint.

That’s when Amon heard a sound that caused every muscle in his body to tense. A terrible, vast, almost-mournful howl shattered the air around him, bringing with it a presence of something huge and threatening.

His breath caught in his chest, sending a jolt of pain through his form. It was almost enough to wake him from this predicament. Almost… but not quite.

The heavy sound of armored paws moved across the crystal floors. Amon felt his pulse quicken, as dread kept him from turning to meet what he knew was waiting there.

“Ahhh…mon,” The voice came distorted, like something speaking through a mouth never meant to utter words. “Have you come to gaze upon my beauty?”

He felt a trickle of fear, but more than that, of revulsion bordering pure hate. He knew this voice. He loathed this voice. But even when the hounds were put into place, this did not silence what he detested most.

Scylla always found a way to yap.

Amon slowly turned to face her, schooling his expression to blank away the apprehension he felt. The scent of dog was almost overpowering.

“Perhaps you’ve come to feed the hounds instead?” She taunted, looming huge above him, all claws and fangs and poorly-covered flesh. Somehow, she managed to make a TSK sound as many judgmental eyes bore down upon him. “Though seeing how pitiful you’ve become, you’d hardly make a worthy snack.”

“And you’re nothing but a fabrication of fevered dreams,” he said, trying to convince himself this wasn’t real.

“Ahhhh-mon. Are you dreaming of me?” Scylla teased, the foremost head cackling, an alarming, twisted sound of laughter mingled with barking. Then, the other heads joined in.

Amon was about done with this dream. “More like a nightmare.”

“Good.” She sounded pleased. “Be afraid. You NEED to be afraid.”

“Do you think I’ve ever been afraid of you?” he sneered.

“Oh dear. Dear, dear Ahhh-mon,” Scylla said pleasantly, though one of her heads was snarling in open contempt. “The true question is… which one of us is the real monster?”

The Elezen lowered his brows, but remained silent. He wasn’t going to allow her to bait him into this conversation.  

“You… so nice and pretty and shiny… with a new, wonderful life, walking the world once again… as if nothing ever happened,” her tone was light and airy, though slowly each head began to bristle and growl, “Or me, the creation of your malice, hate and envy… a symbol of what your knowledge and power really is? I will be locked into this twisted form for all eternity, known as nothing but a beast to the generations that come after! When my most grave crime… was to displease you.”

Amon curled his lip, almost growling at the dogs in return. But still, he fought to keep his silence.

“There is no regret in your eyes, now is there?”

“No.” He responded, though he told himself he shouldn’t.

“Of course not,” Scylla hissed, a strange sound coming from a canine form. “You would do this again in a heartbeat, wouldn’t you?”

“To you. Yes.”

This elicited another chilling laugh from her. “I may have my share of sins on my hands, but the difference between you and I is… I never hid it from the people who dared to trust me.”

Amon opened his mouth, but she continued, talking right over him. She was always annoying like that.

“Here you are, parading about Eorzea, wearing your mask and acting your friendly part. Winning the hearts and minds of others – you were always good at that,” Scylla chuckled, stroking one of her heads to calm it. “So now you pretend to be the wise, benevolent Allagan, who has secretly come as a gift to the poor, ignorant children of Eorzea. There, you show them only what you want them to see… dropping tidbits of your knowledge whenever you wish to string them along… dreaming of the day when they will worship you and raise you up the way the Empire once did.”

“’Tisn’t true!” he snapped quickly.

“My… my… so defensive. Have I struck a nerve?” she tittered at him. “Or perhaps I speak the truth that you don’t want to admit to yourself.”

“These people… some of them… are my friends.” The words were hard for him to say. And they sounded fake as they hung in the air. Like a sentiment he’d borrowed from someone else, one that didn’t fit within his own vocabulary.

“Ahhhh-mon. You know very well your ‘friendship’ never came without a cost. What do you seek to take from them?”

“None of this is any of your business.”

“Of course not. But, I always did pry unwanted,” Scylla said lightly.

The hounds began to bare their fangs, like creatures that could no longer withstand the hunger within them. She started to close the ground between them. Her voice was no longer pleasant, accented with growls and snapping.

Amon backed away quickly, despite trying to prove his courage. This was not going to end well.

Howls rang out in fury as she bore down on him, “You do not deserve a second chance! You who have mangled and destroyed so many lives should not be given another! Your victims demand retribution! Why were you the lucky one?” 

The huge maws opened, an acrid scent filling his senses. And just as the fangs closed around him, Amon jolted awake, shivering in the cold silence of his own bed.

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Descent: Dragon’s Jeers

Amon knew he was suffering from heavy hallucinations among other vicious symptoms akin to withdrawal. That’s why he almost ignored the vision of the tiny dragon when it first appeared in his room.

But the snark that poured out of the creature was enough to convince him this was beyond something even his mind could conjure up. No. This was a real spirit-form of the dragon Midgardsormr. Just… much… much smaller.

It had followed him. All the way back to his apartment.

And now the wretched creature sat on the back of his chair on the other side of the room and made jeering noises at him. It was enough to force Amon to muster the strength to get out of bed, despite the fact Koh would have a fit if she caught him.

A heavy thunk sounded – not for the first time that night – as Amon hefted the largest book he could find at the thing’s face. His aim was sorely off, mostly because the world still spun and shivered around him.

The Elezen swore under his breath with every Allagan curse he could muster.

-A funny way to treat thy evaluator, Allagan.- Midgardsormr remarked, unruffled.

“Get out of my apartment!” Amon slurred and furiously threw another book. This time it hardly made it across the room.

The tiny dragon looked at the pitiful trajectory and noted. -Thou hast missed.-

“Silence! Another word and I’m going to come over there and wring your scrawny neck!”

-I shall excuse thy poor behavior for being lost in a fluster of the moment.-

“I’ll show you the fluster of the moment!” The Elezen fumed and stumbled across the room as if to make good on his threat.

This got Migardsormr to move, winging slowly into the air and re-perching on the top of a book shelf, far out of reach. –Thy mindset is worse off than I anticipated, Allagan.-

“And whose fault is that?” Amon threw yet another book. This time, it only succeeded in dropping back down on his own head.

-Thine.-

This was enough to cause the Elezen to waver and flop down in the chair next to the bookshelf. Emotionally spent, he just folded in on himself, hands covering his face. His words sounded like a childish whine. “You’re destroying everything!”

-‘Tis not my doing, Allagan. ‘Tis thine own. Until thou canst take responsibility for thy crimes, situations like this shall cycle in and out of thy life.-

“Why couldn’t you just leave me alone?”

-Thou must pay thy dues, Allagan.-

“Fine,” Amon grit his teeth, gathering himself back up again. He shot a baleful look at the dragon. “I accept that for myself. But what you’ve done is made me a danger to others. They shouldn’t get caught up in this!”

-‘Tis a simple answer to that.-

“Which is?”

-Don’t be a danger to those thou carest for.-

“’Tisn’t that easy!” Amon protested.

-Indeed. I said it was simple. Not easy.-

“You’re absolutely no help.”

-I am not here to help. I am here to judge.-

The Elezen just threw another book at the dragon, then slumped in the chair in a sign of miserable defeat.

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Descent: Dragon’s Trial Part 2

The Void closed in on him. At first, the spark was but a tickle in the back of his mind. But it grew exponentially, overwhelming him, as his awareness unfolded into the aether. A voracious inferno shot through his veins, consuming him from the inside. Threatening to erupt, though he struggled to keep it within.

The aether. The hunger. The agony he knew so well from his previous life. It had returned.

And all the things that once kept it in check – the advancements and infusions and injections – there was none of that in this world to fall back on. This was so, so much worse than he could imagine.

Why? Why had he chosen to return? Why had he not just embraced the inevitable in the Tower?

It felt as if his form was buckling under the energy, pieces of him shattering and drifting into the Void. Somewhere within the darkness, a deep laughter resounded. Midgardsormr. He sounded satisfied.

It was too much – even the vast pride of Amon of Allag could be broken. A wretched, agonized cry frothed from his lips as he crumpled to his knees. It rang across the Void, perhaps the most human sound of despair he’d uttered in so very, very long.

Echoing with it came the sound of many voices. Voices in torment and prolonged anguish, their misery mingling with his own. For a split moment, he could see them – specters of his past. Faces of countless victims. Those sacrificed for his ideal of the greater good.

Back then, he didn’t think of them as victims. Now, he knew better.

Amon clutched his head, trying to blot the faces out of his vision. Trying to drown the mournful chorus that cried out for retribution. He couldn’t give it to them. It was so far beyond him, even his death could not balance the scales of his sins.

Then, from the welling of chaos and horror he saw… a light.

A voice. A soft voice. It called his name… and where the sound drew across the surface of the Void, the gristly images of the past rippled and parted like oil on water.

He felt a touch on his shoulder. Then another. 

And with a shuddering jolt, he found himself doubled over on the mangled metal platform, the gaping maw of the Keeper of the Lake leering down at him from above. Midgardsormr’s corpse almost seemed to smile.

“Amon!” Koh shook him, concern written on her face. “What happened? Are you hurt?”

“He doesn’t look hurt,” Zuri’s voice came from behind. “But the way he shouted…”

They’d heard his scream. It’d passed from the mind-void into the waking world and drew them to him. And now they hovered over him in worry.

Panic added to the welling of pain, which still shot through his body from moment to moment. They had no idea what had just awakened. 

Amon wanted to shrug off their hands, to do anything to drive them away from him. But the flames that seethed within him seemed to calm at their presence. As if they were the only things keeping him together at the moment.

“I’m fine,” the Elezen wheezed.

“There was a bright light,” Mocho noted. “What was that?”

“A trap,” Amon half lied. “I sprung a trap. I was careless.”

“We need to get you back to the house so I can check you over,” Koh said, helping to hoist him to his feet on one side.

No. No…

He wanted to protest as he stood shakily. He could visibly see the aether energies swimming around him, like sharks waiting for him to put a toe in the water.

But Zuri held fast to his other arm, helping him along. “We’ll take it slow.”

Step by step, they walked him down the planks. The world dipped and blurred, as if he was viewing an image of the world imprinted upon another world, neither of which he could decipher was really there. It was all he could do to keep his balance.

Somewhere, from the corner of his eye he saw it. A tiny winged form flitting among the aether-tinged wreckage. Perhaps… a dragon.

But when Amon turned to look, the vision was gone. Instead, it was replaced with images of the new life he’d attempted to build, now shattering and falling apart between his cursed hands.

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Descent: Dragon’s Trial Part 1

The job was unexpected and the employer unknown, but the pay was very, very good. That, on top of Amon’s curiosity of the Keeper of the Lake, was enough for him to agree they take it. The goal itself was simple – scour what was left of the Agrius and bring back any salvageable parts or technology that hadn’t already been made off with.

So many things about this job seemed tailor-fit to Amon’s interest. He probably should have taken that as a sign to be more careful. But time and good fortune in Eorzea had whittled down his natural suspicions.

This was one day he would have been better served to follow his mistrustful instincts.

“Was this really a ship once?” Zuri gawked up at the mangled ruins of metal entwined in the carcass of the legendary beast, Midgardsormr. “It’s huge!”

“Aye,” Mocho responded, scanning the area for anything hostile. “’Twas a Garlean battleship. Such was its threat that the king of dragons himself was moved to cast it out of the sky.”

“And then he died?” The Au Ra asked mournfully.

“Well, ’tis to be determined,” Amon interjected, also squinting up into the heights of the wreckage.

“What do you mean? He looks pretty dead to me.”

“Dragons work differently than ‘mortals’,” Koh told her, jotting something down in her book. “It’s been proven that their spirit and influence can linger even after what we would consider death. No one really knows what they are or where they came from. There’s even speculation they aren’t of our world.”

Zuri’s eyes grew round. “How exciting!”

“How bothersome,” Amon muttered.

“What?” the girl tilted her head at him.

“Nothing.”

Mocho interrupted the discussion prudently. “History lessons are all good and well, but things seem to be clear of danger for now. I propose we make the best of this.”

“I agree,” Koh nodded eagerly. “Let’s see what we can find!”

-Allagan…-

At first, Amon thought it was just his imagination. Nothing more than a strange wind warping through the splintered metal and bone that made up the dragon grave. But then, the word resounded again, less a spoken word and more something almost within his mind.

-Allagan…-

It beckoned him. Coaxed him, full of a slow, sonorous patience.

Glancing over his shoulder, Amon verified that the rest of his group was focused on their own tasks. Then, he quietly slipped away from them, walking up the sloped metal incline that may have once been the ship’s deck. Or side. Or bottom. It was hard to tell.

The Elezen knew he should be more wary, but his curiosity drove him further and further towards the top. Nothing hindered him as picked his way up the wreckage, and finally emerged at the upper platform.

Looming huge over him was the proud head of the dead Dragon King, maw still open in fury and defiance of his enemy. The years had weathered away scale and hide, leaving remains that seemed stronger than the steel and stone surrounding it.

More vast than time itself.

The dragons were no strangers to his people. Like all forms of unknown power, Allagans sought to harness and enslave the dragons, and bend them to their purpose. Little doubt that should the father of dragons look upon him now, there would be no friendship extended.

And with those thoughts, something happened.

The deck beneath Amon’s feet shuddered and a brilliant light bloomed around the form of the wyrm above him. That which he’d thought inert became fiercely and dangerously alive.

-So thou hast the foolishness and pride to respondeth to mine summons, Allagan. ‘Tis irony at its most.-

Amon took a step back, head craning to face the maw of the dragon that hung, still unmoving above him. Though power and light filled the platform, the beast’s form itself did not stir. This was something well beyond the physical… and yet, very much the voice of Midgardsormr.

Tension froze the Elezen place, and he had no words to exchange.

-Does thou looketh upon me in surprise? Surely one of the finest minds of thy people knew what thou wouldst find at the summit of this place.-

“Perhaps you’ve given me too much credit,” Amon quipped, trying to lighten the situation. He didn’t know what was about to happen, but none of it could be good.

-Thou mayest hide thy truth from other mortals, Allagan. But thou cannot pass trickery and lies upon mine eyes.-

The Elezen grit his teeth, fist balling defensively at his sides. “What do you want from me?”

-A simple thing.-

When the beast did not follow up, Amon demanded, “That is?”

Demanding things of the mighty Midgardsormr wasn’t the smartest thing he’d ever done. However, if this was to be the end of him, he wasn’t going to let it be in a cowering whimper.

-Thou thinkest thy presence has gone unchecked in this world. ‘Tis but wishful thinking. If thou desireth the gift of new life in Eorzea, I shall have the truth of thy soul laid before me for judgement.-

“I’ve done nothing to harm the people of this world since I’ve returned,” Amon protested. “If you don’t believe me–”

-Oh. I do believe.- The dragon interrupted. -Thou hast not brought harm because thou hast not the strength to bring it. I intend to change this.-

“What?” he breathed, his stomach curdling at the prospect.

A shaft of pure gold light condensed before the dragon’s mouth, an ominous portent of what was about to happen. If Amon had half his wits about him at that moment, he would have run. But pride and arrogance, his two best friends, had locked his feet in place, even in the face of certain death.

-A man who avoideth contact with temptation only shows his ability to circumvent. This proves not the mettle of his spirit.-

As those words resounded in Amon’s mind, the shaft of light streaked through the air, striking him through the chest.

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