Original Draft: An Emperor's Madness

Ever since Amon had returned to the living world, he’d found sleeping difficult. His dreams were always memories. Or maybe, his memories came in dreams.

It played out in endless repetition, a cold march through time. Over and over and over. He was always helpless to stop or change what happened, even when he knew exactly how it would all end.

“Your Majesty!” his voice exclaimed every time, “What have you done?”

It was the first and last time Amon verbally questioned the Emperor in such an outspoken way. After all, it wasn’t every day that one learned their leader had just sold out the world to the voidsent.

When Xande’s white, fevered eyes turned to fix him, Amon immediately regretted his slip. The words hung in the air, dangling like a man at the end of a noose. He knew very well that it was his neck in that rope.

Not that the Allagans used such primal methods of execution. There were far, far worse ways to kill a man. Or not kill him and let suffering linger. Amon knew all about that.

Instead of condemning his technologist, Xande did something worse. He answered the question.

“I have seen what waits beyond the veil of death.” His voice was low and rumbling, the stones of the Tower trembling around him with gravity. “There is nothing, Amon.”

The Elezen didn’t know how to respond to that. Even though Amon had witnessed this scene play out so many times in his dreams, he still didn’t have words to give.

Instead, the him-of-memories sought to move away from the uncomfortable topic. To please the Emperor.

“Forgive me, Your Majesty. You have greater things weighing your mind than my silly tripes.” Amon cracked a showman’s smile and gestured grandly with his hands. “Let me take your woes away with a song… a story…?”

He was grasping at straws he knew.

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

Amon let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.

His life’s work was before him, fragmenting away into madness. No one else dared to whisper, but he knew. Though he had no emotional connection to Xande aside from a retainer’s loyalty, the Emperor was still, in a way, his creation.

And a creator always knew.

Things had been fine at first. Xande’s aether had transferred into the cloned body as successfully as Amon could have hoped. It was an especially tricky procedure given how much time had passed since Xande was entombed.

But Xande did return. And he did pick 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 marched over the continents and claimed the world for their own once more. The Crystal Tower sat at the heart of all of Hydaelyn, a symbol of the majesty born of science and magic fused into one.

Amon had never been happier. Never felt more fulfilled than seeing his Xande make all his dreams reality. How could he not become loyal to the wonderful thing his mind had made?

But then… something dark crept over Xande. Something unforeseeable.

It started small at first. The darkening of a 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 just as much as machines and aethermancy.

But this was beyond mortal hands to fix. Something was broken. 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 none had expected it to drive Xande to making a bargain with the Cloud of Darkness.

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

“But look,” Amon tried to reason, just as he did every time this memory played. “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, seeing that anything he said would only enrage the Emperor further. He may have been Xande’s closest adviser, and the one who had given him a second chance at life, but even he wasn’t immune.

This was usually where the dream-memory ended. It left a residue of awkward stiffness in Amon’s mind as he shook off the unwanted sleep.

But this time, something changed.

This time, Xande collected himself, his gaze growing coherent for a moment. He looked at Amon… really looked at him… as if he was reaching beyond the memory and into reality.

“It’s already begun for you, Amon.” His voice almost sounded sad. Tired. A once-shining hero fallen to darkness due to influences far beyond his control.

This was all new.

“What?” Amon found himself able to independently speak. 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.

Amon woke up, disoriented, body laced in a chilled sweat. That twisted face was burned into his mind. The words, the voice…

Glancing around, he determined that was where he left himself – in the inn room of Gridania. The lack of light outside the windows told him it was still the early hours.

When his new body finally decided to obey him – this is still a work in progress – he dropped his feet to the floor, sitting perched on the edge of bed. He dropped his face in his hands – a very natural reaction, good – and sat there, collecting his thoughts for a long time.

Amon knew exactly what Xande was trying to tell him. He didn’t want to listen, but that didn’t make it any less true.

He hadn’t had a lot of time to set up his own return. The method he used was untested. There was no one there to guide the transference of aether into the clone this time. It was a miracle it had worked at all.

That he was alive.

Brought back by the very same method that had driven Xande to madness.

You will join me in the darkness soon.