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 2- Life After Death

Amon awoke, disoriented, his body laced in a chilled sweat. The pulse of adrenaline running through his body left him in tremors.

He shuddered as the image of Xande’s twisted face filled his thoughts. That voice, his words…

Glancing around, the quiet Gridanian inn room looked so normal in contrast to his dreams. The lack of light outside the windows told him it was still the early hours.

Now came the difficult part. Another price for cheating death – this cloned body didn’t always like to obey him. The mind instructed one thing. The body did what it wanted.

After much deliberation – this is still a work in progress – Amon finally managed to get his feet to drop to the floor, where he sat perched on the edge of the bed. He buried his face in his hands – a very natural reaction, good – and collected his thoughts for a long time.

Amon knew what his dreams were trying to tell him. Eventually, he couldn’t keep avoiding things – namely his death – and hoping they’d go away.

It was odd. Most people get a tinge of fear when thinking about their future death. But for him, he avoided thinking about how it’d already happened.

The enemy storming up the flights of the huge Crystal Tower. His fevered attempts to set everything up, hoping that no wires were crossed and all crystals were charged.

He’d been ready for just this sort of invasion – living in an Empire built on bones and blood, he had to be prepared. But knowing something can happen is very different from experiencing that moment.

Amon had devised an aether transfer mechanism designed to place his soul within a clone of his younger self. If he should be slain – like he had been – the machine would activate upon his death and complete the transfer on its own.

The methods he used were still untested. It was a miracle it had worked at all. But Amon knew he’d taken a huge risk in being revived by the very same method that had driven Xande to madness.

How much longer did he have before he also paid the price?

These uneasy thoughts demolished any hopes he had of returning to sleep. Amon decided he may as well get up and try to clear his head. Stepping to the wash basin, he splashed his face with water. As he patted it dry with a towel, he took a moment to study himself in the mirror.

This clone was a recreation of himself from his younger days. He appeared to be in his early 20’s, though he’d previously lived a much longer life than that. His boyish face and outwardly charming ways easily hid his troubled past to those who knew nothing about him.

Like any other Elezen, Amon was tall, long-necked and somewhat lanky. Whereas many of his race had innate grace, his cloned body was over-awkward with gangling limbs that often had a mind of their own. His pointed ears were longer than most of his kind, poking through unkempt silver hair that spilled down to his shoulders. His great height and his sharp golden eyes tended to attract unwanted attention.

Once he’d washed up, Amon decided to stretch his legs. It was still dark outside, but he knew the town was as safe and well-guarded as a backwater place could be. Still, he didn’t escape the notice of the overseer of the Adventurer’s Guild, Miounne, as he stepped out into the odd hour.

“Is everything okay, Amon?” she asked with a hint of concern, arching a motherly eyebrow over the top of paperwork she sorted.

Amon had been around long enough to be on a first-name basis with a few of the locals, such as Miounne. He knew that her worry for him was genuine, as it was for all travelers who passed through the inn.

“All is well, kind lady,” he answered with a hint of jest. Then, he offered her a Bard’s playful bow to off-set his lie.

She tisked her tongue at him, never one to fall for his charms. “What sort of trouble are you in now, sir?”

“In trouble? Me?” Amon gasped as if it was too scandalous to even consider. Then he phased into an easy smile, “I just decided to take in some early morning air, if ’tis alright.”

“By all means,” Miounne responded with a shake of her head and a slight smile of her own. Likely, she thought him walking off a drunk stupor, or such. That wasn’t uncommon since the tavern and the inn shared the same grounds. “Let me know if you need anything, will you?”

“Aye, of course,” Amon gave her another teasing bow before heading out through the tall wooden archway to what passed as the town’s main street.

The sound of rushing water passing through the creaking waterwheel was lulling. The wind shifting through the ancient trees cast about the fragrance of flowers and life. Though the moon hung heavy on the horizon, the rustic peace of the forest town was still in every breath Amon took.

He wasn’t fully certain how he’d ended up in Gridania, but a part of him was grateful for it. It was a good starting point for someone like him, who’d lost everything he ever had. Including a sense of direction.

Amon was starting from nothing in a world that had changed so much from the Empire he knew. The people were different, their cities and government were different, even the food was different!

Not having many options, Amon had chosen to embed himself within the local culture. There were plenty of jobs for adventurers in this town, and this gave Amon the opportunity to blend in and observe. The people accepted travelers moving about, as long as those travelers provided some benefit for their town. That seemed fair enough.

Amon had taken up training at the Archer’s Guild. There, he found a chance to physically hone his mind-body coordination, something that this new body struggled with, through a rather focused and relaxing sport.

Once he had the basic skills, he took on odd jobs. From hunting, to culling, to reinforcing the guard… Amon managed to make enough to pay his room and board. It wasn’t the glorious life of an Allagan Technologist that he was used to, but he was surviving.

I was doing so well. And now… who knows what’s going to happen to me.

Dark dreams. The past closing in on him, dragging him back into the grave.

The past doesn’t forget wickedness of my sort.

With all of the crimes he’d committed in his previous life, he didn’t deserve a peaceful life among the common people. He knew very well that he’d not changed a bit.

If he saw an opportunity to regain his power and position back, he knew he’d drop this life in a heartbeat. It had never mattered who he had to step on to get the things he wanted before… it was no different now.

What am I doing here, trying to fool myself into thinking that I can live a quiet life? ‘Tis naught but mockery to sit waiting for madness to come and rip me apart.

One fist balled at his side, a motion his body made without a thought.

I’m made for things so much greater than this.

A deeper perspective fell into place as the last of the fireflies began to fade into the oncoming morning. He breathed in the clear air one last time, deciding what he needed to do.

Amon had to find his way back inside the Tower.

There, he would have access to his lab and the resources he needed to find a way to fix what was happening to him. Perhaps he’d restore the magic that he’d lost. Perhaps, he’d even once again master the power of Syrcus Tower, and restore himself to his rightful place as an Allagan Technologist.

If ’tis to be a curtain call for me, I’ll make it a show this world will never forget.

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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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