Aug 08, 2022 3:52 AM
The night is always darkest...
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...Otohiko looks away.

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And Alphinaud puts his now-empty bowl of soup down. "They... Minfilia and Y'shtola and Thancred, they..."

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"No!" interrupts Tataru. "We found you, right?" she sniffs. "And, and Yda and Papalymo managed to escape. We know that. So, so... so believe in them. We - you - you've done many more impossible things than that. Minfilia and Y'shtola and Thancred, they, they, believe in them."

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Alphinaud looks up at her in surprise, and smiles faintly. "Tataru... Yes. Yes, you're right. We mustn't give up hope."

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"If anyone can dance with death and leave her wanting, it is the Scions of the Seventh Dawn," agrees Haurchefant, then his voice turns gentle, "and besides, they would hate to see either of you lost to grief."

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"...thank you."

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"Should we... maybe stop crowding Haurchefant's chambers? I'm sure he did not mean to host a party here."

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“Oh, sweet Fury no, unexpected parties are the best kind. And if I’m hosting a party then I insist all of my guests make themselves comfortable! Do forgive the lack of tasteful hors d’oeuvres, but if anyone is still hungry I can fetch more soup from the kitchen?”

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And the way Tataru's stomach rumbles at that suggestion, louder even than Otohiko's, suggests he is on the mark.

"I... I'll accept it, thanks."

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"It is my greatest pleasure to serve." He looks at Otohiko. "But do make sure he eats too, yes?"

Leaving the Warrior of Light to the tender mercies of his companies, he departs to see about dragging a stack of bowls and an entire damn pot of soup in here. He will be thorough! The Scions (such as they are right now) will not go hungry on his watch!

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Elsewhere, someone half collapses into a half-burnt, half-frozen out shack, shivering from the cold. It's shelter from the wind, but little more. Nonetheless, it's better than the open tundra. She should probably finish her rations. Of cold, unappetizing hardtack. Eating helps keep warm, even if the cold steals all appetite with its bite. She wonders if she should risk a fire. The 'Vanya' persona got her this far, and might do if someone comes across her unexpectedly, but she'd rather not rely overmuch on a cheap trick. A mere helmet is poor defense against anyone that isn't overly persuaded by romantic ideals of Ishgardian patriotism. Which, when one is being hunted by what is almost literally the entirety of Ishgard, well. Statistically speaking, she's bound to get unlucky at some point. So, no fire. Even a meager light could give her away in the coming night.

Magic it is, then.

She peels off her helmet, then one of her gauntlets, hissing cursewords under her breath. A quick slip of a dagger draws the blood she needs, and like the heretic she is, she drinks. Once the mere act of blood drinking was enough to incite the requisite rage for this magic, but she's a bit too practiced at this to muster up anything more than a mild desire to brood.

"I am the blood of the dragon," she mutters, irritably. Not, strictly speaking, necessary for this spell, but it helps quite a bit to get the theatrics right. Also, it pisses her off. "Daughter and defender of Ishgard, abandoned and reviled, framed for others' crimes time and time again, still I fight for this stupid fucking nation. For its people, who damn well deserve better than defenders who turn off their own damn wards to make their Fury-cursed point."

Because, from the outside looking in, it is transparently obvious what happened. There are no secret saboteurs in the most well defended sanctuary of Ishgard, waiting for orders from their all-knowing heretic queen to strike when Ishgard is weakest. The simplest answer is most often the correct one. There are only men of power who deem sacrifices necessary to make a point that they believe serves the greater good. That there is danger, that Ishgard cannot afford to look outside its borders, that Lord Aymeric can't go galivanting off to Ul'dah without the city state's populace coming under risk. Like an overbearing parent making a point to their unruly teenager. Look at what happens when you try to do something on your own, see how it all goes wrong? Stay home, stay compliant, be good, and everything will be okay. Everything will stay the same.

That is what makes her angry enough to ignite the flame burning from her aether and her soul's (proverbial) fire. No light, no smoke, just dark fire that burns black and burns hot.

Yeah, that'll do for keeping her warm. She huffs, then gets to eating, because if she is to be her own warmth, she'd best do it on a full stomach.

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That blue, pompous fool.

Not that it's his fault, obviously. He should be allowed to fucking meet with the fucking Eorzean leaders without his own fucking country sabotaging the Ishgardian wards to let dragons in just to give them an excuse to drag Aymeric back with all urgency. It wasn't even a very large attack, it was just scary because it was the first time the city's wards faltered that badly. And while everyone is muttering about the Lady Iceheart being so powerful and having secret spies in the city, it is just as obvious to the Azure Dragoon that this was an inside job as it is to outsiders. Lord Aymeric can't go galivanting off to Ul'dah, indeed, or Ishgard's religious leaders are going to turn the fucking wards off for ten minutes to scare everyone.

To scare him, that blue, pompous fool. And he can't even see it.

She tried telling him this. She dragged him to an empty room and explained it all to him, how obviously it was an internal set up, how obviously it was the city's own defenders making her more vulnerable so that he'd have to come back. And he didn't believe her. He thinks she's too used to seeing dragons in every shadow and now everyone looks like dragons.

It wasn't the dragons.

But she's gonna go off into the wilderness to kill some dragons to blow off some steam. Making sure it's only the evil ones, of course, not the ones just minding their own business not hurting anyone. Dragons that are about to eat someone are the best, she has to admit the slight hero worship is kind of soothing.

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Soon enough, the Scions have their allowance to climb the Steps of Faith they once defended.

"Mentioning that you're both healers expedited the process quite a bit," adds Haurchefant, practically dancing as he escorts them to the entrance gates. He has taken leave for this occasion, leaving Camp Dragonhead to the stewardship of his younger, much less well liked and qualified brother for the occasion. Because there is no way Haurchefant is not going to personally introduce Otohiko to his city. It's not happening. "Father wanted me to start with a tour of the city, bless him and his sense of hospitality, but I cannot think of a quicker way to drive men mad than to parade about while others suffer below. So! Do forgive me for being an atrocious host, but who wants to go perform some philanthropy in the lowest part of our beloved city instead of seeing our wondrous sights first?"

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"- surely you jest -" starts Alphinaud...

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...but he catches a glimpse of Otohiko's dawning hope, that he seems to not want to trust...

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...he needs to give Haurchefant more credit. Clearly having something to do is exactly what Otohiko needs right now. And Alphinaud understands it, he thinks - they've both just felt... very helpless, very lost, without control of anything while things happened around and to them that changed their lives forever and that they could do nothing about.

Being able to do something, to claim control over one tiny thing, anything, to be able to feel like their existence still matters and there is still good they can do in the world...

Yeah. Yeah, Alphinaud understands.

"Lead the way."

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"Well, I think that's not where my particular talents are best put to use," says Tataru, who has spent the last few days after Yugiri left to do more recon trying to be relentlessly cheerful about their prospects. The doom and gloom of the other two will not help anyone, it won't. "So why don't you give me that nice letter of introduction I'm sure you've got in your pocket and let me go smooth the feathers that will undoubtedly be ruffled by the Warrior of Light's mysterious tardiness to whatever social encounters he was meant to have, hmm?"

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"No scheduled social encounters," corrects Haurchefant with a smile, and then he offers the letter of introduction to the lalafell with a flourish and a bow. "But you are quite astute that many might expect so, and I've no doubt you've more than enough charm for any situation that might happen to crop up."

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"Charm, ruthlessness..." he mutters.

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Tataru baps Otohiko with the envelope before tucking it away into her own jacket. "Don't get on the bad side of the hand that feeds you."

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"Words to be remembered! Though if I may, ruthlessness is its own kind of charm."

He gives the little lalafell a wink.

The last time they crossed the great bridge (confusingly called the Steps of Faith, but 'Bridge of Faith' must have had less of a ring to it) to Ishgard, they had rather more to worry about than the view, and the wards under siege concealed the city hiding behind them. This time, there are no obscurations or distractions.

The city's a damned fortress, but it's certainly a pretty one.

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Otohiko was definitely going to say something but the view of the city... almost literally takes his breath away. "Wow."

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"Yeah," agrees Alphinaud.

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The entry gates are as large and impressive as the vista of the city itself, and the guards that open them look to be some of the finest in Ishgard, and armed and armored to match. They are proud and silent, and barely deign to give even the great Warrior of Light (and nevermind his companions) the barest of nods. The impression is that they are receiving a great honor, to set foot into the holy city of Halone.

Past them, however, it's immediately obvious that this city has seen better days.

The only things still on fire are the braziers built for light and warmth, but some of the lingering blackened scars of dragonflame remain. Large chunks have been taken out of the masonry, and it even looks like a couple buildings have been entirely toppled. Wooden scaffolding has been haphazardly placed over the more dangerous parts, but that seems to be the entirety of the repairs that have begun. There hasn't been time for much else, when its people are just as injured as the city itself. While the guards on the other side of the gate looked perfectly hale and hearty, the ones here are... less unscathed. Several of them sport bandages to match their polearms. And beyond the guards are the ordinary citizenry, who seem to think the arrival of foreigners is a once in a lifetime spectacle, despite the clear disapproval from the guards. Even the peasantry manage an air of aloof condescension, watching in stony, judgmental silence as these strangers enter their midst. The younger generation is more honest. Several dirty children peek out from behind a bit of rubble, openly glaring at the Scions, as if they're somehow the ones responsible for the state of their home.

But there is a more formal welcoming party than the onlookers, and Haurchefant steps easily forward to greet them.

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Alphinaud... really should have expected this, honestly.

He's not sure why he didn't. Or perhaps more accurately, he's sort of wilfully trying to fail to see the pattern that would allow him to expect this, and as soon as he notices that that's what he's doing he can't well keep doing it. Not out of some virtue or anything, it just completely fails to work once you see it for what it is, because if you notice that that's what you're doing that means you already noticed the pattern you were trying not to, and Alphinaud in particular is very very bad at not giving his thoughts words so now he has words.

The world is just much worse than he wants to believe it is. People are more treacherous, war is more dangerous, logistics is harder, recovery more expensive. He wanted to believe that all you needed was sufficient initial resources and a desire to do good, and the ability to find likeminded individuals, and then everything would fall out naturally from this. Surely, he thought, surely everyone wants the same. Surely everyone sees war as a terrible cost to achieve their goals, and if only they found a way to resolve their differences peacefully they'd reach for it. Surely no one terminally values hurting other people. Surely no one only selfishly cares about themselves, and will literally not consider it a cost at all to hurt others to achieve their goals.

Well. He was wrong, about all of that and more, wasn't he? And he needs to update, fast, unless he wants to keep getting... upset... and hurt... whenever he sees reminders that the world, actually, does in fact suck.

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