Coming Together 10- Ixali Attack

The first inkling that things might not be going as expected didn’t come until the group passed north through the settlement of Dragonhead and left it behind. Ajir frowned at the map, which indicated nothing but wilderness lay ahead.

“This isn’t adding up,” Mocho noted.

“Maybe we’re not delivering to a town,” Ajir suggested.

“Guys,” Zuri’s voice held a hint of warning. “Why did the cart stop?”

Amon jerked up to see that, yes indeed, the cart they were escorting was no longer moving. Leaving Ajir to frown at the map some more, he and Zuri walked forward to investigate. What they found was… unexpected… at best.

The Roegadyn driver had lost no time in unhitching the chocobo from the cart and mounting up. He gave them a rather frightened, wild-eyed glace as he rounded the bird. “Look, I don’t know who wants your head, but this was as far as I was paid to go. Sorry!”

Before either of them could find words, the driver-turned-rider was already clucking to his mount, heading back towards civilization as quickly as he could.

Amon’s eyes narrowed, and he knew.

This was all a trap.

He thought back to all the times he felt he’d been watched while in Mor Dhona. He’d tried to shrug it off back then, despite what his instincts told him. Now it was coming back to bite him.

“Zuri, stay alert,” he told her.

The danger hadn’t fully registered on the girl yet. She stared at him, mouth slightly open, “What’s going on?”

A shout from the other side of the cart was her answer.

Amon rushed back, moving as fast as the snow would afford him. He saw Ajir drawing his blade while Mocho, also armed, stood ready for battle. A pack of bird-like beastmen – they now called themselves the Ixali – leapt down the snow-mounds towards them.

Someone’s going to a lot of trouble to get this job done.

The Bard grit his teeth, loosening his bow and gathering his quiver. This was the first serious combat that his new body would experience. He could only hope it would respond the way he needed it to.

He knew Beastmen of any kind were nothing to trifle with in this world. Though having animalistic features, they were intelligent enough to form communities, language, and battle tactics. These rushed at them wielding spears and one even seemed to have command of wind magics.

It’s amazing how they’ve evolved so much left on their own like this…

Though Amon wanted to muse more on the things he saw before him – creatures that he knew originated back in Allagan laboratories – that would do nothing to help the very real threat that bore down on them now.

Zuri gave a shout of dismay as Mocho took the forefront. It was a move of pure desperation, the Lalafell throwing himself in front of the enemy to defend the others. Zuri saw what the rest of them did – Mocho was far outclassed in this battle. His actions, thought admirable, did nothing to even slow the avalanche down.

The leader of the Ixali pack swung down into the Gladiator’s defenses, the spear piercing right through the small shield, ripping it out of Mocho’s hand. Ajir rushed forward to intercept, but wasn’t near enough to prevent the second blow, which sent the Lalafell spinning backwards into a snowbank.

Where he landed, white began to bleed red.

Zuri ran for Mocho.

Ajir roared – literally roared – his blade sparking off the lead Ixali’s spear-haft, the sound of ringing metal a warning to their attackers. The Samurai’s pure bulk and fury knocked the beast backwards, almost beast-like himself, causing the other Ixali a moment of concerned hesitation.

You didn’t expect a fight, did you?

Zuri finally reached Mocho, choking sobs as she pulled his body out of the snow.

From the corner of Amon’s eye, he saw the Ixali mage turn full focus on where the girl cradled the Lalafell. The beast began to summon the winds, aether-magic rising to his call, casting the snow around him in wicked winter gales.

Zuri’s attention was fully on Mocho. She didn’t see the danger.

Amon felt his arms move of their own accord. Arrow knocked. Bow drawn. Aim fully on the casting Ixali in the distance.

He let the arrow fly.

It sang through the air, a thing of beauty and death.

Striking true, the point plunged into the Ixali’s throat. The call of magic stopped as the beast staggered, screeching out a bubbling, inhuman cry. Then it fell, also leaving a red stain growing over the white ground.

Amon looked at his own hands in surprise. But there was no time to celebrate… striking down one of the pack had only served to enrage the rest of them. If there was any hesitation to their charge before, there wasn’t now.

With the caster out of the way, Ajir began to cleave through the others, his blade shattering their rude weapons and slamming them back time and again. The Samurai needed no defense – he was a war machine all by himself.

“GET THEM OUT OF HERE!” The Au Ra flicked his fierce gaze on Amon.

For a moment, the Bard thought to argue. But seeing what a poor state Mocho was in – he was losing a lot of blood fast – and the shock this caused Zuri, Amon knew getting them back to safety was the only course he could take.

Besides, Ajir didn’t appear to need much in the way of help. If anything, his silent rage reveled in this battle and the fall of his enemy.

“We have to go,” Amon told Zuri in a low voice, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“We can’t… we…” She was inconsolable, the shimmer of near-frozen tears on her cheeks.

The Elezen just gathered up Mocho in his arms, ignoring the crimson that began to stain his own coat. His tone was urgent. “Mocho needs you to help me help him.”

She couldn’t really argue against that.

As the sound of battle and beast-death rang over the snowy hill behind them, Amon and Zuri fled, carrying their unmoving companion back to the halls of Dragonhead.

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Coming Together 6- Bard Song

There was already a Bard in Roost at the Seventh Heaven when Amon walked through the doors. This was a strange looking fellow with an admirable mask, who idly strummed a few chords from time to time on his harp in the corner. The instrument sounded good and the man was dressed like the real deal.

Amon didn’t know if things had changed during the time he’d been away, but where he came from, there was a code of honor among Bards. One did not infiltrated another’s Roost… without permission, at least.

So, he approached the other minstrel with the politest airs he had. “Good evening.”

The other nodded his acknowledgement.

“I came to provide some local entertainment,” Amon explained. “But I see this Roost is well-tended already. Would it be that I have permission to play in your establishment?”

The minstrel merely smiled, like someone who knew the secrets of the world, and stopped plucking his harp. No words were exchanged, but Amon took that to mean that permission was granted.

He bowed his head in a motion of thanks and scoped out the room. A few travelers were there, and what seemed like a few locals. Not a large crowd. But seeing Amon hadn’t performed in this new body yet, and he wasn’t certain how much muscle memory would get him through, it was probably a good thing.

Must be confident… I did this for years. I can do this again.

Amon found an out-of-the-way spot next to the fireplace where he first took a moment to tune Zuri’s little harp. It was in bad need of alignment and some of the strings were far too loose. She really needed something better to learn with.

Why… am I even concerning myself with that?

Zuri and the others had followed Amon inside, and now sat around the table nearest to the fireplace. She watched him with a hopeful look, while Ajir just glowered and Mocho seemed to be drifting off to sleep.

The Bard steeled himself and played a few shaky notes.

Come on hands. Work for me.

He tried to strum the start of a simple tune that he’d known since childhood, but the sounds came out all wrong. He paused, glared down at his uncooperative fingers and Hmmmed at himself.

Ajir gave a snide comment, leaning back. “A great Storyteller is he? One that can’t pluck a note.”

Zuri hadn’t given up hope. She placed both hands on the table and spoke quietly, “You can do it Amon. Don’t be nervous!”

Did he look nervous? Was he nervous? When had he ever been nervous in front of a crowd?

Music. Performing was… what brought him joy… even in the darkest moments of his past life.

They never understood it. They thought he was strange and eccentric. They were right. He was.

This is who I am.

With a flurry of memories, old emotions rushed through him. Amon’s hands began to play. Remembering the notes. Drawing out a song of his people, a music long lost to this strange new world.

The Allagans were best known for their technology, but they had just as much culture as any people. They had songs and stories and things to celebrate and dream of. They may have failed to capture the stars, but deep down, people are still people.

Amon wove the words of song into the little harp’s offerings. From the look on the faces that watched, he was right to think that they’d never heard this tune before. He knew many, many songs, and most of the songs held ancient stories. Though, he was very careful to choose only those that would not give away his origin.

By the time he segmented into a second song, other people in Seventh Heaven had begun to take notice. Amon didn’t know if the melody was as exotic to them as they were to him. He didn’t know if it stirred within them the same emotion… some universal truth that all people share in the vibration of light and sound.

But they did come. They did listen.

As the final notes of the song sounded through the room, Amon let out a long breath. It had been a while since he felt… truly felt… anything like that. But his reveling was short-lived.

The tavern keeper walked to the edge of the counter closest to Amon and remarked, “Sir Bard, I’ve had a lot of songs performed here, but n’aint none I’ve heard like that.”

“Thank you.” He wasn’t sure how to reply, so he chose the humble route.

She looked at the counter, then at the small audience that had stopped to watch Amon’s performance. Finally, the tavern keep asked, “What would it take to get you to stay a bit longer and play a full set tonight?”

This was exactly what Amon was hoping to hear.

“Well,” the Elezen tilted his head as if taking time to think it through. He already knew exactly what he was going to ask for. “I’d be willing to share a few more songs for supper and a room for myself and my companions there.”

The tavern keep followed the motion of Amon’s hand as the Bard indicated Zuri and her two friends, who were still seated at the nearby table. Now, it was the tavern keep’s turn to consider things.

“Well, as long as your friends don’t treat this as an all-you-can-eat, you’ve got yourself a deal.” She reached a hand out to shake on it, requesting a name, “Mister….?”

“Amon.” The Elezen offered and shook her hand in return.

“A pleasure to do business with you, Mister Amon. You can call me Alys.” She nodded with a smile. “You just keep strumming those songs. I’ll have a supper out to yall soon enough.”

Amon glanced over at the table to where Zuri beamed at him, absolutely delighted. Mocho was now fully awake, anticipating the meal. Even Ajir seemed fairly pleased by the turn of events.

“Very well,” the Samurai muttered. “He can stay. For now.”

The Bard smiled to himself and gave the Au Ra a mocking bow.

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Coming Together 5- Not a Healer

Amon’s concern continued to mount until they got to Revenant’s Toll, where it was fully confirmed and realized. Zuri appeared to be an idealistic youth, with a passion for bardic lore and a hopeful outlook. But that didn’t mean that the ones she called her “friends” shared the same sentiments.

The young Au Ra – Amon had learned more about her kind during their walk there – spread her hands to majestically announce two parties at once. Her smile was wide as she motioned first to Amon, then to the two strange individuals who watched their approach.

“Guys, this is Amon,” Zuri told them. “Amon, this is Ajir and Mocho.”

Oh… Oh… I have been gravely mistaken.

Where Amon had originally thought Zuri was the most gruesome creature he ever saw – an opinion that was changing – this creature most certainly overtook that spot in his mind. He grit his teeth as he studied one of the individuals that she just called “guys.”

Another Au Ra – Amon assumed was Ajir – who was similar in some ways to Zuri… but much, much larger. Even taller than himself. The creature was all dark spikes and sharp points with wicked horns and slitted green eyes that did nothing to welcome a stranger. The downturned mouth was so opposite to Zuri’s disposition that Amon had to wonder how she could count such a dour beast as a friend.

Ajir didn’t speak. His angry eyes just sized Amon up. Then, he promptly turned to Zuri with a grumble. “You were supposed to recruit us a healer. Is he a healer?”

“Well, no…” Zuri responded, trying to sound optimistic. “But he’s a great Storyteller!”

“Another Bard?” The dark Au Ra snorted disdainfully through his nose. “If he’s not a healer, we don’t need him.”

“Aji!” She protested, looking put out. “You’re being rude.”

“I’m being realistic,” he argued. “Funds are running low, we haven’t had a solid job in weeks, and we’re not about to start getting one until we get a functioning party.”

Hate to tell you, friend, this is not the way to get one of those.

Amon wasn’t particularly bothered by the creature’s tirade. After all, he could walk away any time he pleased.

Thankfully, the situation was salvaged by the other “friend.” A small fellow – they call them Lalafell now – who held himself with an air that spoke of experience and age beyond what his round little face could confirm. His manner was calm and deliberate, his words carefully measured.

“I apologize, Master Amon,” the one Zuri called Mocho told him. “You haven’t caught our group at the best of times.”

“I can see that,” Amon finally spoke, since Mocho seemed to have the social graces to speak to.

“We’ve been searching without luck for a healer.” Then he gave a sigh. “I’m afraid it may be my fault.”

“Don’t be silly, Mocho,” Zuri quickly interrupted him. “You’re doing fine.”

Amon noted that the Lalafell was garbed in the most cliché of adventuring outfits… like someone dressed as what they thought an adventurer was supposed to look like. A short blade hung at one hip and a small shield was strapped on his back. This tiny fellow was the protector of this team.

“A Weaver turned up-start Gladiator doesn’t inspire confidence, I’m afraid,” Mocho explained. “Especially at my age.”

“Everyone has to start somewhere,” Ajir’s gruff voice cut in, surprisingly supportive.

So he’s not just all prickles and burrs…

“Have you tried to find smaller jobs in the meantime?” Amon didn’t know why he bothered to offer a logical suggestion.

“We have,” Ajir growled, fingers tracing the shape of the sword hilt at his hip. Amon was unfamiliar with its make. “There’s no glory found in grunt work. How’s a proper Samurai to make a name for himself in this land?”

Zuri crossed her arms, “There’s also no glory found in starving to death.”

He snuffed at her but didn’t retort.

It seems his friends can keep him in check, at least. That’s a promising thing.

“Well,” Amon said, taking a step away from them to test the waters. “I see that you are quite busy. I’ll not take up any more of your time. ‘Twas a pleasure to meet you.”

Zuri’s eyes widened in response. Then she, and surprisingly Mocho, both began to protest politely that he wasn’t a bother and he didn’t need to go anywhere.

“You haven’t told me any stories yet,” Zuri exclaimed. Without hesitation, she grabbed his arm in a familiar way, as if to keep him put. “You promised me a story!”

Amon let himself be kept put. For some reason, he heard himself laugh, “I never promised…”

But she looked so disappointed – and so eager – to hear a story from him that the showman within him couldn’t resist. It wasn’t every day that one had a rapt audience, after all.

Even if it is just an audience of one.

“I admit, I could use a good tale, too,” Mocho agreed.

Audience of two!

Even harder to turn down.

Ajir could see quite plainly that he was outvoted on the matter. He crossed his arms and grunted, “Shall we see what your land offers in the way of stories, then?”

Three! Audience of three!

And a tough audience at that.

Amon let out a long, pained sigh to accent the drama of the situation. “I suppose you’ve twisted my arm.”

He glanced down at where Zuri still, quite literally, was holding his arm. She beamed right back up at him, clearly relieved that he’d chosen to stay.

“Where’s the nearest establishment?” he asked.

“You mean the tavern?” Mocho clarified. Then he motioned to a building that looked similar to all the others there, “That’d be the Seventh Heaven.”

“’Twill do,” Amon reclaimed his arm, while leaning down to murmur to Zuri. “Perhaps I can show your friends another way to earn their coin.”

She furrowed her brows at him for a moment, a puzzled expression that turned to surprise as she realized he’d just “borrowed” her rustic hand harp. Snatched it straight off her back.

Yep. I still have it in me.

Then, with a fetching grin, Amon turned and led the way towards the waiting tavern.

It was only then that he became aware of it… the prickling feeling of eyes on his back. This wasn’t the kind of gaze of someone curiously looking – he knew that all too well. No, it was the heated sense of someone watching him with strong intention.

Only, when Amon turned to glance over his shoulder, it all vanished. He saw nothing. No one out of the ordinary. Just the adventurers and scholars who typically roamed around the place.

Hm.

“Cold feet, Mr. Storyteller?” Ajir taunted.

“No. Of course not.” Amon covered his momentary unease with a quick smile.

He could see the calculation in Ajir’s eyes, and knew the Samurai wasn’t fooled. The Samurai had noticed Amon looking over his shoulder.

And the Samurai remained watching his every move.

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Coming Together 4- The Most Gruesome Creature

“Hello? Are you all right?”

An unfamiliar voice woke Amon with a start.

Did I fall asleep? In the middle of Mor Dhona wilderness?

When he peered around, it sure seemed that way.

And I’m still alive? Drat my poor fortune!  

“Sir?” The voice prompted him again.

This time Amon looked up… straight into the face of the most gruesome creature he’d ever seen. He wasn’t a timid soul, and had seen his share of lab-jacket rejects, but this sight caused him to jerk back.

“Did I startle you? I’m so sorry!”

The voice – decidedly a female voice – was coming from the creature’s mouth. Some conglomeration of girl and dragon-void smooshed all together, she could have been something that came straight out of the Labyrinth.

Everything about her was alabaster. Ivory skin. Colorless hair. Horns? Snow-white… scales? Are those scales? And a tail? Really? Hair, scales, and tail?

What manner of creature is she?

If she noticed his scrutiny, which she probably didn’t due to the inability to see his upper face, she didn’t respond. Instead, she gave what appeared to be a genuine smile of relief.

“I thought maybe you were dead when I first saw you propped up like that.” At this point, she was talking for her own sake, since Amon hadn’t replied yet. “What are you doing out here?”

Getting over his initial response of distaste, Amon finally answered with a surprisingly truthful statement, “I came to see the Tower.”

“Oh?” Her eyes lit up. Well, brighter than they were a moment before. Here eyes were the only part of her that wasn’t devoid of color and shown a bright pink-orange. Even in the coming daylight, they held a strange internal glow. “You came out here to seek the stories, too?”

Too?

Amon should have known there was danger in the word. But he still said, “Something of that sort.”

She leaned in closer, almost causing him to recoil again. That’s when he saw the pure excitement and wonder in her expression. “Did you find anything? About the Tower, I mean! I want to go there and see it, but I can never get very close.”

For the first time, he noted that she was dressed in plain leather armor, much like he saw the Wood Wailers wear in Gridania. A bow was slung across her back, and next to that hung a tiny, misshapen hand-harp. Nothing a true bard would be dare to be seen carrying.

It told him everything he needed to know.

“You fancy old stories, then,” Amon motioned to the harp.

“Oh… this… well…” She seemed a little shy to admit. “The people of Eorzea seem to think archery and the bardic ways have an overlap. I’m a fairly good shot. Not so good at song or story. But I’m trying to learn.”

He could hear the unyielding passion in her voice. There was a rather refreshing naivety to it.

That’s a lot to tell a stranger you just met in the middle of Mor-Dhona-nowhere.

“The world could use more Storytellers,” Amon admitted.

That may be the only way our struggles are not forgotten.

“Are you a Storyteller?” She asked, words coming with more perception than he’d given her credit for.

“Sometimes.” Amon wasn’t sure how to answer that. “Maybe. Long ago.”

That was all that she needed to hear. She extended one small hand down to him, as if her tiny frame would be able to hoist his much taller form up.

“My name is Zuri,” she told him.

“Amon,” he introduced without flair. He wasn’t sure why, but he took her hand, though he made no motion of getting up.

“Why not come back with me to Revenant’s Toll? I have friends waiting for me there… they’re probably wondering if I was eaten by a nix,” Zuri’s eyes laughed at the prospect, though he’d consider that a pretty loathsome way to die.

Amon attempted to excuse himself from the situation, “I appreciate your concern, but I–”

She quickly interrupted, as if she sensed something under his motives. “Do you have somewhere else to be?”

He opened his mouth, but didn’t have an answer.

No… No I don’t.

Now that he’d established that there was nothing for him at the Tower, Amon really wasn’t sure where to go or what to do. He could always just stay there and mope in the desolate land that had once been his childhood home. Or he could…

His gaze flicked back to Zuri.

“You don’t, do you?” She pressed with an upraised eyebrow.

She has eyebrows, too… tail, horns, scales and eyebrows..?

He sighed and admitted, “No. I don’t.”

“Then…” Zuri’s mouth twitched with a smile as her little hand closed tighter on his. Then she pulled upwards, as if to lift him out of the pit he’d dug for himself.

For some reason unknown to himself, he got back on his feet. Standing like this, next to the much smaller creature, he felt like a tower himself.

This didn’t bother Zuri in the least. She beamed up at him like someone who had just made a new friend.

What did I just sign on for?

Amon tried not to let a preemptive sigh of exasperation sound. Instead, as they walked back to the outpost, he asked, “So… from what you say…  I gather that you’re not from Eorzea?”

“What? Me? An AuRa? Of course not,” she laughed at him gently as they strode down the path towards the settlement. “Where have you been? Sleeping in the Crystal Tower?”

“Well…”

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Coming Together 1- An Emperor’s Madness

Cheating death always comes with a price.

Amon knew this from experience. Though he didn’t consider himself stupid by any means – admittedly, the jury might be still out on that – he’d still taken a huge risk when he brought himself back from the dead.

Okay, so maybe he had only been dead for a few seconds. But that still counted – dead was dead.

The first change he noticed upon returning to the living world was that sleeping was now especially difficult for him. His dreams were always… loud. Amon really needed to look for a better word to describe them. Jarring? Haunting? Nerve wracking?

His dreams were also almost always a repetition of the same memory from his previous lifetime.

This memory played out in an endless loop, jittery like a broken stop-motion film. Each time, the same things happened. Each time, Amon was helpless to change the events, even though he knew exactly how it always ended.

In his dreams, Amon was still the the lead Technologist of the Allagan Empire. He was once a celebrated scientist and mage of his people, where his area of study had been bio-aetheric-chemistry and vivimancy.

He knew those were just fancy titles he gave to his work. All they really meant was that he was once a mad scientist who shut himself up in his lab most of his life trying to unlock the secrets of immortality.

Ironically, Amon’s greatest mistake came when he actually succeeded in figuring it out.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t helped him all that much. He still ended up dead, after all.

Immortality wasn’t the same as invulnerability. It had only lasted until someone stuck a sword through his chest. Then it was the final curtains for him, the same as anyone else.

Ah, but that dream. It came upon him, yet again…

Amon strode frantically into the throne room where Emperor Xande sat brooding in darkness. A massive beast of a man, the Emperor was built like the war hero he once was. His sickly sallow skin was in sharp contrast to the shock of white hair and his lifeless white eyes. His face was lined with immeasurable suffering.

Traced across Xande’s skin were aether etchings that empowered him and kept his soul locked within his cloned physical form. The real body of the Emperor had long ago turned to dust, and the soul always longed for escape from its unnatural prison.

This…creation… was Amon’s first success in bringing the dead back to life. Yet, from this, Amon learned very quickly that being alive and actually living were two different things.

“Your Majesty!” Amon’s voice wavered as he approached. “Is… what I’ve heard the truth?”

When Xande’s fevered eyes turned to fix him, Amon immediately regretted the question. However, instead of condemning his technologist’s outburst, Xande did something worse. He answered Amon’s question.

“‘Tis the truth.” The Emperor’s voice was low and rumbling, causing the stones of the Tower to tremble with gravity. “I have seen what waits beyond the veil of death, Amon. There is nothing. Life means nothing. Death means nothing. ‘Tis a kindness to end this world’s cycle of suffering.”

Amon didn’t know how to respond. He could only observe Xande silently, a feeling of sickness welling within his chest at what he heard.

There had been whispers within the halls of the Tower. Through those whispers, Amon had discovered Xande’s intentions. He’d learned that the Emperor meant to sell their people out to the darkness of the Voidsent – creatures born of a shadow that sought to consume any life they could find.

Instead of finding something intelligent to say, the him-of-the-past tried to change the subject. Perhaps an attempt to please the Emperor could lighten the mood. Perhaps, somehow, in earning his favor, Amon could change his mind. He was, after all, Xande’s chief advisor.

“Forgive me, Your Majesty. You must have immeasurable things weighing down your mind.” Amon cracked a showman’s smile and gestured grandly with his hands. He produced a Bard’s harp from a pouch at his side. “Let me take your woes away with a song… a story… a spot of mummery?”

He was grasping at straws, he knew.

Xande wasn’t swayed. He just sat on his cold throne, his body motionless, like something chiseled from rock. His dead, gravelly voice repeated, “There is nothing.”

Amon let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. At that moment, he could see that his life’s work was fragmenting away into madness before his own eyes.

How had it ever come to this?

Things had seemed fine when Xande was first revived. The procedure had worked flawlessly. The soul that had been locked in stasis for so long had perfectly transferred into the cloned body that Amon had created.

Even better, the revived Emperor had immediately got to work in picking the stumbling Allagan Empire up out of the dust. He shook the people out of their stupor and inspired armies to rise again.

The Allagans gloriously marched over the continents and claimed the world for their own once more. The Crystal Tower shimmered brilliantly at the heart of the land, a symbol of the majesty born of science and magic fused into one.

Amon had never felt more fulfilled than when seeing his Xande make all his hopes a reality. Finally, after struggling for a lifetime to find an answer to their decaying society, their savior had come!

But then, something unforeseeable began to happen. It started small.

The darkening of Xande’s gaze. Sleepless nights. Mood swings. Sharp, reckless orders. Angry outbursts.

Then, the worst… long sessions of brooding and silence.

Amon tried to lift his Emperor’s spirits. After all, he wasn’t just a mage and scientist. He fancied himself a whimsy of a performer, and had studied acting as much as machines and aethermancy.

But this was beyond mortal hands to fix. Something was broken within the Emperor. Death had left its mark, and Xande had not returned to the world of the living as he’d left it.

The Emperor’s fevered ambition and deepening madness only grew. But Amon had never expected it to drive Xande to make a bargain with the Void.

Amon now watched helplessly as the very thing he created to save their people transformed into something that would undo them all.

“Sire, please,” Amon tried to reason, “You’ve accomplished so much. No other man has ever–”

“It is nothing!” Xande’s face contorted, a huge fist slamming on the arm of his throne. Had it been made of anything less than crystal, it would have crumbled under the force. “All of it! Let the Void take it!”

Amon fell silent. He knew anything he said would only enrage the Emperor further. He may have been the one who had given Xande another life, but even he wasn’t immune.

This was usually where the dream ended, leaving a residue of awkward stiffness in Amon’s mind. But this time, something was different.

The dream continued. But it no longer followed the path of the memory. It became something aware. Something else.

Xande collected himself, his gaze growing strangely coherent. He looked at Amon… staring into his soul… as if reaching beyond the memory and into reality.

“The madness has already begun to take you, Amon.” His voice almost sounded sad. Tired. A once-shining hero fallen to darkness due to influences far beyond his control.

“What?” Amon found himself able to speak. There was so much that he wanted to ask, and all he could manage was one pathetic word.

“You will join me in darkness soon.” Xande’s lips folded grimly.

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Spot of Mummery on Royal Road

I’ve known about the writing website Royal Road for a while, but I’ve only just signed up and started posting Spot of Mummery there last night. Overall, I’m pretty impressed with the site design, the overall feel and the community. So I’m going to see if I can find an audience for my writing there.

I’m also reworking the Story Archive page to be more streamlined, especially for mobile reading. Along with that, I’m planning on reposting Spot of Mummery chapters in the Post format – they’re currently in Page format – to give them a bit more exposure in the WordPress Reader environment. While I’m doing this, I’ll be editing the original stories just a little bit – I’ve come to realize there’s some vocabulary inconsistencies in the earliest writings, before Amon got some of his language quirks.

I’m going to try to post a chapter a day on Royal Road, so I’m also going to try to be consistent with that on the main site to keep them on the same chapter.

If you’re a writer who’s interested in joining Royal Road or you’re already a member there, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to exchange follows! We could use more FFXIV fanfic there if you feel like branching out!