FFXIV: Between the Scenes - Chapter 1 - WyvernHandler (2024)

Chapter Text

Alisaie was just a hair's breath away from damning the Twelve.

She'd been close to it before, on numerous occasions: Her grandfather's passing, the calamities that caused the deaths of millions of people, or one of her most recent experiences; watching her friend Tesleen become a Sin Eater before her very eyes, all to save a child that was already becoming one himself.

Alisaie wasn't as religious as others, but she was raised to respect the Twelve even when it seemed that They were not watching over them.

Today, she was more convinced than ever that if the Twelve truly existed, They simply didn't give a damn. Not anymore.

Her case in point: one Auquaz Chidrag, who was currently lying on a bed in an inn on the far side of the Crystarium. Almost as still as death, on the brink of a fate worse than that.

Her dear friend was becoming a Sin Eater, or worse; the ultimate Lightwarden.

She hadn't imagined it; hadn't even entertained the possibility that the Warrior of Light - or Warrior of Darkness, if you were in the First - would become the very thing she and their fellow Scions had sworn to free the world from. She wouldn't have believed it, either, had she not witnessed first hand the result of absorbing the Aether of the five Lightwardens they had defeated.

When she saw Auquaz do it the first time, in Lakeland, she had first feared for her friend. They'd been told what defeating a Lightwarden would do: if one were lucky enough to defeat it in the first place, the Aether within the creature would transfer to the nearest living being and overwhelm them, transforming them into the next Lightwarden. A perfect example would Titania; king of the fae folk, who defeated a Lightwarden only to become one himself. It was vicious cycle that seemed never ending.

But Auquaz... Oh, dear Auquaz, she had to be the exception, didn't she? The Au Ra had absorbed the Aether and then simply raised her hand to the sky. And as if by magic, the almost blinding light that had been plaguing the skies for a hundred years parted like an ocean, giving way for the night and the stars and the darkness to take their rightful place once more.

And then Auquaz had turned to face them and smiled like she hadn't just performed a miracle before their eyes.

If Alisaie had known what was really happening, she would have done something. Maybe stopped Auquaz, or insisted they come up with a different plan. Or something...

She damned well wouldn't have let the Au Ra continue using herself as some... Aether-absorbing sacrifice!

The white-haired twin sighed, swirling her drink in her cup. She wanted so badly for this all to be some twisted dream of her own imagination. She hadn't known Auquaz for as long as her brother had, but on the few occasions the twins would meet to talk, Alphanaud spoke of the Au Ra as though she were a blessing. A hero among heroes, he'd said once.

She'd scoffed, of course. Back then, she didn't believe it was worth it to stick your neck out where it didn't belong. That the petty politics between the cities had been nothing more than pipe dreams gilded by greedy minds. She'd decided at the so-called 'celebration' that she wanted nothing to do with it, leaving her brother's side to go it alone.

But as time went by and she heard more about the exploits of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn and about their fabled Warrior of light, she began to wane. Finally, she swallowed her pride and asked Auquaz to help her traverse the Coils of Bahamut. The whole event had been an emotional struggle for her, to see what her grandfather had fought so hard for. Had Auquaz not been there to provide that silent but heavily needed support, Alisaie feared that she'd have broken beyond help.

And it didn't stop there. Through the horror of the Kolbold youngling suffering the loss of his parents, to the almost assassination of Uldah's Sultana, through Ishgard, to the liberation of Doma... the famed Warrior of Light has strode through it all without ever asking for anything in return.

If that weren't enough, Alisaie had lost count of the times when she'd seen the young woman going this way or that, helping wherever or whoever needed assistance. It could be a task as small as passing messages between two people, to a huge task like fighting some larger than average creature that had stepped into the path of innocent lives (she vaguely remembered Auquaz referring to them as 'A-Ranks', but that could have been an adventurer's slang for all she knew). Auquaz had never turned down a plea for help, none too big or small.

And then the Scions began to fall, taken by some strange force and pulled from their physical bodies. One by one, they all fell, and Alisaie realized a deep fear she hadn't known she'd had: to be left alone. She'd made Auquaz swear that she would not leave her like the others.

And as though to laugh at their plight, Alisaie herself fell, her last memory of Auquaz being the distraught look on her face. She had prayed that the Au Ra would forgive her.

A year later, as she struck down a Sin Eater that was trying to escape, she spotted Auquaz crossing the desert toward her. She'd never felt so elated.

But now... Now she almost wished that her friend had never come here. Then she wouldn't be suffering like she was now.

There were many people whom she could lay blame: Emet-Selch, whose twisted truths had caught them off guard. The Sin Eaters and Lightwardens, who had plagued the land for a hundred years. The Crystal Exarch, who'd hidden his true agenda from almost all of them - though she'd noticed that Auquaz seemed to recognize the man when his hood had flown off. Urianger, who'd played a hand in said deceit knowing that Auquaz was in danger. Ryne, who'd inherited Minfilia's legacy but could only delay the inevitable. Herself and Alphinaud, who could do nothing to aid her in her time of need. Even Auquaz herself; for having such a heart that she was willing to lay down her life, her sanity, her very soul to save the worlds.

But she couldn't put the blame on any of them. Auquaz would not have wanted that.

Her and Alphinaud frequently visited Auquaz's temporary chambers, hoping each time that they would find her awake, hale and whole and giving them that same calm smile that spoke volumes. But alas, it was not to be. All they could do for her was make her as comfortable as possible. Y'shtola had been to one to remove most of the unconscious Au Ra's clothing, placing it neatly to one side for when she'd be ready to wear it again, which left her in just her smallclothes (Alisaie recalled herself cringing when she saw the bruises littering the Au Ra's body and made a mental note to scold her later for hiding them). She was then carefully tucked into bed with someone watching her most of the time. More often than not, the twins took turns keeping watch over her, in case she woke. Though Alisaie had the feeling that with their luck, she'd wake when no one was there to help. It didn't stop them from worrying.

Alisaie glanced at the seat next to her, her eyes landing on the rapier that rested there. It was Auquaz's favoured weapon at the moment. While the Au Ra had mastered many jobs on her travels - Black Mage, Bard and Machinist being among her favourites - she was currently most skilled as a Red Mage, almost putting Alisaie to shame with the spells she could cast and how swiftly she could cast them: One moment she could be sending a healing spell to an ally, and the next she'd be hailing an assault on a foe.

The rapier she was looking at was interesting, if Alisaie was honest. Upon returning from Amh Araeng and having a small break for a refreshment and a meal, the female twin had asked about it. Auquaz had modestly explained that it was called the Scaevan Magitek Hanger. When sheathed, it looked like a simple long sword, but when active a hand guard would expand to protect the holder, while the added magitek would levitate slightly from the other hand, following its gestures to focus the intended spells cast. Both it and the lower half of the blade emitted a blue light when active.

Auquaz had gone on to explain how she'd worked to get the materials needed to augment the weapon, giving it an extra kick in battle. Alisaie was impressed.

She'd taken it when Y'shtola handed it to her during her care. For some reason, she felt better for holding on to it while Auquaz recovered. It made her feel that she would have the chance to return it.

It beat thinking of the alternative.

"Mistress Alisaie?"

A young, male voice brought her out of her thoughts to turn her head. The boy that had spoken was barely able to handle the bigger tasks of the grown ups, but he already had the look of someone who'd learned the value of hard labour. She'd seen him and his older brother helping their father; the manager of the inn. "Yes?"

The boy bowed. "Sorry for interrupting you, Ma'am. But I was sent to give you a message from father. Mistress Auquaz has awoken, and she's having a quiet walk to clear her head."

Alisaie was almost out of her seat in an instant. "She's awake? Thank the gods! Do you know where she is?"

"No, but I think I saw her heading northwest of the city."

That made Alisaie pause. Why would Auquaz go northwest?

Then it clicked, and she smiled, reaching over to grab the fallen hero's weapon. "Thank you. I'll check on her."

---------------

Alphinaud was unknowingly sharing his sister's thoughts on the Twelve and their Champion. After all they'd been through, he was surprised that his faith was still intact, albeit wavering.

After all, why would They be this cruel to the one person who deserved it the least?

When he'd first met Auquaz, the supposed Warrior of Light, he'd at first been skeptical. But after seeing her in action, he'd been won over by the charisma and the sheer determination the woman showed.

He'd been young and foolish back then, thinking that he could talk his way through any situation. He was good with disputes and diplomatics over the table, but it was proven that that could only get one so far. Hells, at the time he struggled with a simple task of collecting firewood.

But Auquaz had inspired him, just like she had many others, to strive to better himself so that he may help others. She'd even done a small miracle of drawing Alisaie in to fight at their side when he himself could not. He still used words more often than not, but now he had a better sense of when words alone were not enough.

He'd seen her master arts that were almost forgotten, fall Primals, forge a union between man and dragon, and liberate a nation from oppression, all with that calm aura that spoke more than words ever could. She had been there for him at his worst moments, and even helped him save a dear friend from losing his soul to a corrupt dragon. He'd even seen her shed tears as a dear friend was struck down in defending her.

And she'd been there when he saw the monstrosity that was Lord Vauthry for the first time, and beheld how twisted society had become. If she hadn't been there, he'd have probably lost his temper and gotten himself killed. He'd seen her struggle with whether to fight the man or simply throw up at the sight of him, especially when they found out that he was the final Lightwarden.

And what did Alphinaud do in return? He let her down... again.

The Crystal Braves were enough evidence to show he'd let her down before. His idea to form a team that would help unite the nations only gave the enemy an opportunity to supposedly assassinate the Sultana and frame their hero for it.

Auquaz had willingly accepted the task of not only taking down the Lightwardens, but absorbing their Aether to break the cycle and return the night to the skies. Each time she was victorious, he watched her part the light and bring darkness back, and he felt proud to witness it.

Only now that pride had become a shame-filled rock in his stomach when he realized what was happening to Auquaz because of it. The Au Ra was becoming something worse than a Sin Eater. No; with all that Aether she'd absorbed, as well as her own power, she would become the Ultimate Lightwarden. He could only imagine what she would be able to do; she'd be unbeatable, unchallenged as she'd lay waste to the remains of this world. Seven Hells, if she made it back to the Source in such a state...

Alphinaud shook his head to rid himself of the image. He could not think like that right now.

He and the other Scions had brought Auquaz back to the Crystarium, placing her in her room at the inn and doing all they could to make her as comfortable as possible. Ryne had done her best to bind the Aether of the Lightwardens within the Au Ra, but it was only a short-term fix: the light would break free sooner or later, and then the Auquaz they knew would be no more; instead would stand a creature of unimaginable power and a thirst for living Aether. Apparently, exertion would only reduce the time she had left: if she pushed herself too hard, the binds will break.

It had been three days since their return, and the Scions were taking turns between caring for their fallen friend and searching for a way to cure her. Sadly, the latter had no results as of yet.

As for the former, they did their best. Ryne would check that her binding spells were still in place, and attempt to strengthen them when she could. Thancrad would watch over her under the pretense of standing guard. Urianger and Y'shtola would attend to personal hygiene. That left Alphinaud and Alisaie with the task of providing food and water.

Alphinaud closed his eyes, his friend's fragile state coming unbidden to his mind. Auquaz had awoken several times in the last few days, but she would not be coherent nor would it be for longer than a few minutes at the most, barely moving or making sounds of discomfort before succumbing to unconsciousness again. Whenever either of the twins were present during her stirrings, they would aid her in taking water or small spoonfuls of broth. She would barely comprehend enough to swallow a mouthful, and she would only get through a fraction of the portion, but it kept her from losing nutrition or hydration as she rested. Alphinaud was certain that when she regained consciousness with lucidity, she would not remember those quiet moments.

He had never seen her so weak, nor had he seen her in so much pain as he had on Mt Gulg. The memory of her writhing in agony and spitting up white fluid would haunt him to his last day.

Alphinaud shook his head again, turning to make his way to the inn. It was about the time that he would take his turn to watch her, even if it pained him to do so. He would be by her side as she had done for him countless times.

Just as he reached the front desk, the manager turned to greet him. "Oh, Master Alphinaud, it's such good news!"

The white-haired man was about to gently insist - once again - that the 'Master' bit be dropped, when the rest of the sentence registered. "What? What's happened?"

"Mistress Auquaz woke up this morning!" The manager said with a smile. "Oh, she still looks quite pale, but she insisted that she was well and that she needed a walk to get some fresh air."

Alphinaud eyes widened. That was great news! "Do you know where she was going?"

"I insisted that she remain in the city limits, just to be safe, but I think she went northwest."

Northwest? Why would she...?

Then it clicked. Alphinaud smiled. "Thank you. I think I know where she's going. I'll go check on her."

---------------

When Alphinaud and Alisaie headed west in search of their friend, they were not surprised when they bumped into each other along the way.

"Anchor?" Alisaie said.

Alphinaud nodded. "Anchor."

The anchor the twins were referring to was one of two beacons that Auquaz had been tasked with activating in order to raise the defenses of the city when it came under attack from Sin Eaters a short time ago. The long walkways that led to the anchors were normally restricted access, but to the Scions it was not so.

After climbing the steps and running over balconies, the twins reached the entrance to the walkway that led to the anchor. They were about to run onto it when Alphinaud suddenly raised a hand, his pointed ears twitching.

"Hold on," he said. "Can you hear singing?"

Alisaie paused, listening. Now that she was, she could indeed hear a voice singing. And she'd heard that voice enough to know it by heart.

It was Auquaz. Auquaz Chidrag was singing.

"Stand tall, my friend

May all of the dark lost inside you find light again

In time, turmoiling, turning, we seek amends

Eternal winds, to the land descend

Our journey will never end."

Alisaie had never heard Auquaz sing before. And she wondered why she hadn't; the Au Ra had a gift. "I've never heard her sing before..."

"I have, though only once." Alphinaud said, both of them keeping their voices down so as not to alert the singer to her audience. "We were camping, the two of us along with Ysayle and Estinien. She said she'd learned a song about the war with the dragons. I begged her to show us. You know how she is; she could hardly say no, though she warned that she may not have been any good at singing. We joked that if she was that bad, she'd at least drive away any predators who would try to hunt us that night."

Alisaie couldn't help a smile as she listened to the soothing melody. "She needn't have worried. She has a lovely voice."

"Indeed."

The twins stepped into the walkway, this time going at a quieter pace so that they would not disturb the singing. One would not have heard the song from the ground, but up there on the walkway it carried in the wind.

"From those who've fallen, to those who arise

A prayer to keep us ever by your side

An undying promise that we just might carry on, in a song

Pray don't forget us, your bygone kin

With one world's end, does a new begin

And should ourselves scatter into the wind

Still we shall live on..."

The twins reached the anchor, but that was not their target. No, she was to the side, on the balcony surrounding the anchor. Auquaz, now clad in her red-dyed hailstorm coat and shorts that favored her current stance as a Red Mage, was lying on her back with her feet dangling over the edge of the balcony, though there was no fear of her falling. Her gloves, black metal curved into claws, were set to one side, leaving her hands bare; the left tucked behind her head while the right was resting on her stomach. Her white hair was nowhere near as long as the twins' own, only able to touch past her shoulders when she had it down, but it was in its usual ponytail that had a bang hanging freely on each side of her face. The white complimented her black scales perfectly where they were on her face, neck and body in various places, even where her ears would have been had she been Hume or Elven to be instead horns. The most odd quality to her physical appearance was her eyes; her right eye was almost blood red while her left was ice blue. She didn't seem to notice their presence as she continued to sing softly.

"Stand tall, my friend

May all of the dark deep inside you find light again

This time, turmoiling, turning, we make amends

Eternal winds, from the land ascend

Here to lift us, that we won't end..."

Alphinaud waited a few seconds until he was sure she was done singing before he spoke. "I haven't heard you sing since Ishgard, my friend."

If Auquaz had been surprised by their presence, she did a great job of hiding it. She merely tilted her head back to look at them, upside-down, with those mismatched eyes.

"We heard you were awake and heading this way," Alisaie said. "Thought we'd find you here. How are you feeling?"

"... as good as I can be." The voice they'd heard singing moments before was as calm and collected as ever.

But the twins knew how to read between the lines by now. Those few words betrayed how not alright she really was.

And even if that had fooled them, their eyes didn't. To anyone else, Auquaz looked fine, if a little tired. But to those who knew her on a more personal level, the tiniest of discrepancies was clear: the fine sheen of sweat on her exposed skin, the minuet trembling of her slender fingers, the way her breathing was slightly more rapid than normal, her slightly furrowed brow that indicated some kind of pain that she was trying to ignore. Even her black scales looked slightly grey as though she was sick, though that couldn't be seen unless one was close. The twins would not be surprised if the reason she was lying on her back was because she did not have the strength to sit up.

Alisaie moved so that she could sit to Auquaz's left, Alphinaud doing the same on her right. Both twins put their feet over the edge of the balcony, holding the railing. "You can tell us if you don't feel well, you know."

"..." Auquaz closed her eyes in thought.

"It's a nice view," Alphinaud said after a moment, looking out at the city below and the lilac leaves of the forest beyond. "It's no wonder you chose to be up here."

"... I thought fresh air would do me some good. And I like the quiet."

Alisaie nodded. "It is peaceful up here. One could almost forget their troubles." She turned slightly to look at the Au Ra. "Where did you learn that song you were singing?"

There was a pause as Auquaz opened her eyes again, looking up at the sky, before she spoke. "You wouldn't believe it if I told you."

Alphinaud chuckled. "After everything we've been through, what could there be that we wouldn't believe?"

Another pause, and Auquaz sighed shakily, conceding. "The same way I learned the dragonsong. I hear someone singing sometimes. I don't recognize the voice, but it's beautiful. That song is the one I've been hearing since I came to the First."

The twins looked at each other. Neither of them were questioning Auquaz, but it was a rather odd thing to hear.

Alisaie looked at the Au Ra again, having noticed the slight tremble creeping into her voice the more she spoke. "I promise you, we will get the Exarch back and defeat Emet-Selch."

"... G'raha Tia."

Alphinaud blinked. "What was that?"

"You've said that before," Alisaie added. "To the Exarch. And he looked at you like you'd just told him something very important. Was it his...?"

Auquaz shifted, sitting up with visible difficulty. She panted for a few seconds before she spoke again. "That's his name. The one he had before he came here. I've met him before, but he was a lot younger than he is now."

That was not something the twins expected. The two gently coaxed her, and she told them of her adventure into the Crystal Tower back in the Source. She ended the tale by explaining how G'raha Tia had decided to go into slumber in order to someday reopen the tower when the people were ready for the secrets held within.

"So he came from the future in order to save it." Alisaie said at last, giving Auquaz the moments she needed to get her breath back. It seemed even talking was taxing to her at the moment. "Urianger told us what they'd planned."

Auquaz nodded, her left hand rubbing her chest while her right had a death grip on the railing. "I saw it through the Echo. He did all of this to save me as well as our world. He knew that we would have tried to stop him if he revealed himself or his plan too soon."

"Then we will save him, and you, and stop Emet-Selch."

"I know... but there's something I need done first..."

Alphinaud looked at the panting Au Ra. "Whatever you need, we can help."

Auquaz sent him a smile as she finally seemed to get her breath back. "I need you two to promise me something."

The twins looked at each other, and then at her. "What is it?"

"I know that you and the others are searching high and low to find a way to save me from becoming... one of them..." Auquaz said. "But I need you to also look into ways to... stop me..."

Dread pooled in Alisaie's stomach. "What do you mean?"

Alphinaud lowered his gaze. "She means that she wants us to look into alternatives should we fail to stop her from turning."

"You mean..." Alisaie blinked, then looked at Auquaz with hurt in her eyes. "You want us to find a way to kill you?! How can you ask that?!"

"Because the alternative is that I live and I turn." Auquaz was strangely calm, as though she'd already accepted her fate. "I know you want to save me, but you know what will happen if I transform. I'll become The Lightwarden. It's me alone that is keeping the sky alight right now, and if I do turn... I want you to be able to destroy what's left of me. Urianger has an Auracite in the event that we needed to confront the Ascian. I'm sure he can find another to use on me..."

Now Alphinaud was looking at her, shock clear on his face. "You want us to destroy your very soul?"

"... if there is no way to save me before I turn, then yes."

"How could you ask that?! How dare you ask that!" Alisaie almost shouted. "After everything we've seen, all that we've been through, you just expect us to... to let you just..."

She couldn't say it. She wouldn't.

A warm hand was placed over her clenched fist, and Alisaie opened her eyes - when had she closed them? - to look. Auquaz had almost always had her hands covered, be it with gloves or gauntlets or the like. There was scarcely a fraction of times where her hands were bare, so it was a rare sight. Her palms were calloused, not uncomfortably so, but enough to prove that she saw many days of hard work. Those hands had held many a weapon or tool, yet without the gloves they looked so small, so fragile.

It was Auquaz's left hand that covered her own now, and she blinked at it like it were a puzzle in and of itself. She noticed a small scar along the side of the thumb, and she wondered what the story was behind it. It was one of many scars she knew the woman beside her bore, physical and mental. The fingernails were slightly pointy, but that was expected of her race: Probably why she preferred the claw-gloves that currently lay next to her.

A soft plink almost startled her as a drop of water fell onto the hand holding hers, and she realized then that she was crying. She also could feel the tremor in that hand.

"Don't you see; that's exactly why I'm daring to ask." Auquaz said, her voice soft. Her mismatched eyes turned to the city below. "When I look back on all that we've done... I couldn't bear it if I was the one to end it all. It would not even truly be me anymore - just a shell, a monster. As it is, it hurts to know that I'm the one depriving those people down there of the night sky. And that's why I'm asking you now, as my friends, while my mind and body are still mine... Swear to me now; if you can't find a way to stop me from turning, then find another way to save me, even if it means my destruction."

Alisaie couldn't stop the tears now, moving her free hand to cover Auquaz's. She brought their hands up to press her forehead against them. "I... I promise, I'll save you... even if... if it means I have to destroy you..."

Auquaz smiled that smile again before she turned her head to look at Alphinaud, who had been silently watching them. His own eyes were wet as she lifted her free hand out to him. "For those we have lost..."

"... for those we might yet save," He finished, taking the offered hand in both his own and copying his sister's action. "I swear... But in return, you must swear to us that you will not give up: that you will keep fighting and stay with us for as long as you can."

Her laugh wasn't often heard, so the twins cherished the sound this time, weak as it was. "I swear, I intend to. After all, I still have to have words with the Ascian and give the Exarch a good slap for trying to pull a fast one on us like that. Or maybe it's the other way around..."

The twins laughed with her, and then they helped the ailing Au Ra stand. It was clear that she had used what little energy she had; she was swaying on her feet as it was, and was beginning to stumble like a newborn foal.

"Let's get you back to the inn," Alisaie said, trying not to show her worry as she pulled Auquaz's left arm around her shoulders, Alphinaud doing the same on the right after grabbing her discarded gloves. "Y'shtola will have a fit if she sees you out of bed when you're still recovering."

Auquaz smiled, but then winced at the headache she'd been trying to ignore since she woke up. "Yea. She's already threatened to put me over her knee. Not sure I could stop her like this..."

The twins laughed as they helped her walk. By the time they reached the inn and got to her room, she was barely awake. They were just able to get her to have some water before she fell asleep, and they continued their watch.

It was several days later that she'd recovered enough to stand alone, ready to face her fate.

FFXIV: Between the Scenes - Chapter 1 - WyvernHandler (2024)
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