Darkest Before the Dawn – Part 2

The Skysteel Manufactory, Franks was somewhat surprised to see, appeared to still be in operations. He’d heard the sound of the machines within raising and slamming down, forging superheated metal into weaponry. He smelled the burning fuel from within. If the forges were still going, it stood to reason that people were inside manning them. He made his way to the doors, and knocked.

“Enter!” an Elezen voice proclaimed within. Franks opened the door and stepped inside. Before he could speak at all, an Elezen man dressed in workman’s clothing stood before him, a strange…something pointed his way. Whatever the item was, it played an audible chime, which seemed to amaze the Elezen. He looked to Franks.

“Hmmm, my prospectometer seems rather fond of you. Let’s see, shall we…? Odd garb. Striking presence. Would I be right in assuming that you are one of the outsiders who helped save Ishgard?”

Franks was taken aback, not expecting to be….examined in such a manner. “Er…yes? I mean, yes, I am one of said outsiders…”

“Ah, I thought as much! My prospectometer seldom lies! And let me just say, you have made the right choice in visiting our humble workshop!” the Elezen exclaimed, grinning almost madly. He then seemed to notice that others were staring and composed himself. Turning and gesturing to the various machinery behind him, he spoke again. “Ahem. Welcome to the Skysteel Manufactory, where miracles are born from aether, metal, and imagination! From cannons to ballistas, we develop and manufacture a range of weapons designed for slaying dragon invaders.”

Spinning to regard Franks again, he then added “But we are also accepting students who wish to take up a firearm and learn the techniques of the machinist!” He reached to his back, drawing forth the aforementioned weapon that had been slung there, and brandished it. “What say you? Are you interested in joining us, and exploring the machinist discipline?”

Franks was utterly stunned. He’d only come here to perhaps swap smithing knowledge. “Well, I….suppose learning to wield a firearm couldn’t hurt…though I’m not certain it’s entirely practical compared to wielding the arcanima magicks I’ve mastered. Don’t weapons of that nature require a great deal of time to reload, not to mention the need to carry the powder and ammo necessary. They’ve never seemed practical in prolonged battles to me”

The Elezen smiled, “Ah, but that is the beauty of this new art, my friend! For it is not the simple firearms you have likely witnessed throughout Eorzea that we train with. No, these firearms are designed to be utilized with a new invention of mine own! Behold!” He turned to the side and thrust his left hip forward, revealing something akin to a toolbox on his waist. It was clearly metal, connected by a handle to some sort of container attached to one end that was capped with a gauge. A small windowed area revealed a glowing blue substance within the container. Various tools were strapped to the box.

“Is that aether within?” Franks asked

The Elezen’s smile grew wider. “Indeed! Excellently noticed! This is called the Aetherotransformer. As the name might imply to a clearly learned man such as yourself, it takes a small amount of aether located within the wielder’s body and aspects it towards the necessary elements needed to generate and propel the weapon’s ammunition. I worked with some examples of Garlond Ironworks’ products to develop it myself, and I envision it can do so much more than what it does now.

Franks was openly staring in wonder, and the Elezen noticed. “Ah, I see that spark in your eyes, my friend. You are likewise fascinated by the design and potential of magitek, yes?” Franks nodded. “Join us, then! I shall teach you all that I have learned, as well as my vision for the future of the machinist, and we can build the techniques and the devices together! What say you, my friend?

Franks couldn’t say yes quickly enough.

Dahkar stood on the bridge that lead to the Hoplon, staring up at the statues of the Knights Twelve. Everything about the city felt oppressive, from the cold to the constant stares from patrolling Temple Knights who seemed to be just waiting for someone to do something they could claim as heresy. He hated it. Worse was the attention that they gave his way. He was, after all, wearing the armor of a dragoon, something many of the knights apparently did not commonly witness, and they stared in curiosity, or worse, reverence.

This walk was not helping his mood.

Yet onward he walked, choosing a direction almost at random, and when he saw what building he was approaching, he immediately regretted not going the other way. The structure had been described to him as the Supreme Sacred Tribunal of Halonic Inquisitory Doctrine. It was where “sinners came to answer for their crimes before the Fury” as the Fortemps servant had described it. More like where innocent people were dragged in on exaggerated charges that cost them their lives, he expected. He wondered how soon before some inquisitor dragged him or one of his friends through here. He’d make them regret it if they did….

“By the Fury, after witnessing a spectacle like that, everyday life seems rather dull in comparison…” The voice belonged to a pompously dressed Elezen who’d apparently just come out of the Tribunal. He seemed to be talking to himself. Dahkar wondered just what sort of spectacle the man had witnessed within that would have him in such a state

“What happened?” he gruffly asked. The Elezen turned, and immediately appeared shocked, perhaps even fearful, that he was being addressed. Dahkar was perplexed, until he remembered oh right, the armor.

“M…my lord Dragoon! So you, ah, you didn’t see that trial earlier?”

Dahkar simply crossed his arms and shook his head

“Ah, I see. Well, if I may say so, my lord, it was your loss. Fury take me, the way that heretic swung that slab of iron he called a sword was a sight to behold!” The Elezen closed his eyes, concentrating on the memory. “He couldn’t have carried a shield if he’d wanted to, the blade was so big. Had to keep two hands on it at all times! I was amazed he managed to keep up with that Temple Knight for as long as he did. Fought like a demon from the deepest pits of the seventh hell, bellowing threats and working his arts. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but then I heard someone say that he must be a dark knight!”

The Elezen suddenly opened his eyes, and stared at Dahkar, utter fear in his eyes.

“N-not that I know anything about such things, my lord! Only what the rumors say!”

Dahkar considered intimidating the fool, putting some of the fear that pervaded this place into him, but he hesitated. Something about the term “Dark Knight” had piqued his curiosity. He smiled, instead. “No, of course not. Please, tell me more of what you saw. You are correct, it does indeed sound like my loss, and I would hear more, if you would”.

That seemed to soothe the terror in the noble’s eyes, and he launched into an animated recounting of the battle. “Ah…very well, my Lord. So as I was saying, that heretic was fighting like a man possessed. Even after he took several wounds, he showed no sign of pain─though there was no mistaking the blood. As the fight wore on, it began to soak through his armor, spreading to every ilm of his body. But when it began to rise and envelop him as a mist, I realized it wasn’t blood, but something dark and twisted… But the righteous are not so easily cowed, Halone be praised! I screamed myself hoarse when that Temple Knight slipped past his guard and ran him through. Good riddance, I say. Man was not meant to wield such arts! Yet I wonder…was he truly one of those…those… Well, it matters not. I heard the Temple Knights talking of dumping his corpse in the Brume. By sunrise, it’ll be stripped bare and tossed over the walls. It will be as though he never was…”

The noble then turned, noting the late hour. “Well, I must be going, my lord Dragoon. Halone keep you!” And with that, he scurried off, no doubt eager to tell someone of an encounter he’d had with one of Ishgard’s famous dragonslayers. Dahkar had paid him no mind after he’d mentioned the Brume, having already started to make his way back to the nearby aetheryte shard as soon as he’d trailed off. He couldn’t quite explain why he felt the need to see this man’s remains, but he supposed if nothing else, perhaps the nearby Forgotten Knight’s ale could help him sleep.

He touched the aetheryte, his destination in focus, and immediately the world vanished around him, only to have the run down buildings and construction edifice of the Brume appear less than a second later. Spotting the Temple Knights wasn’t hard either, their armor stuck out like a sore thumb among the slops most people wore. There were two of them, dropping an armored body on one of the hastily constructed stairs. Dahkar strode up to meet them, catching a part of their conversation. “…more than far enough for charity. They’ll take care of the rest”.

The knight turned at hearing Dahkar’s steps coming behind him, and was immediately taken aback. “Lord Dragoon!” he said, immediately saluting. “This man, he…was a heretic, pronounced guilty at…”

“At the Tribunal, I know.” Dahkar interjected. He wanted these Temple Knights gone lest they look too closely at him and realize that Dragoon or not, he was technically an outsider. He did not need that right now, so he came up with a lie quickly that would convince them. “You’ve done your duty, but his remains might hold clues to others like him. Go, I need no aid”

The Knights saluted again, and walked off. Dahkar crouched down to examine the body. The noble had been correct, that sword he wore was absolutely massive. He couldn’t imagine anyone save a Roegadyn even comfortably wielding it, much less this…Elezen, he supposed the man was. His armor was a mix of black metal and what looked to be brass trim with some cloth adorning it. The helm covered practically every part of his face. Strangely enough he saw no signs of the seeping bloodstains the noble had also mentioned.

“Well, here’s hoping we all don’t end up like you, friend.” Dahkar muttered to the corpse. He made to stand when something caught his eye; a faint glint on the ground, partially obscured by the man’s armor. He brushed it aside to see a dark red gem of some kind. Wait…was that a soul crystal?

He picked it up…and almost immediately began glowing a red-black energy. It sapped his strength, causing him to lose consciousness. As his eyes began closing, he saw the corpse glowing with that same energy

“….Is this it? Is this all that awaits?”

The voice…Dahkar couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Was he dreaming? Was he dead?

“No….no more. Enough. Open your eyes!”

He was dreaming then. Who was this voice?

“Look! Do you see now? Do you see?! Dahkar…Dahkar!”

He finally opened his eyes.

The man who but moments ago had been a corpse…was standing. His eyes were the only thing he could see through the helm. They were a dull yellow…and staring at him.

“I’ve been waiting for you to open your eyes. You all right? You were moaning in your sleep and sweating buckets besides”

The voice was deep. It certainly sounded like no Elezen he’d heard before, not that he could make any distinct features under all that armor.

“You….you were dead.”

The man laughed “Yeah, neat trick, right? Convinced the Temple Knights, apparently convinced a Dragoon too. Except you’re not really one of them, are you, Dahkar?”

Dahkar propped himself up on one knee and stared angrily into those dull yellow eyes. “Who are you? How do you know my name? And what the hell did you DO to me?”

The man shook his head and chuckled again. “Your name? Hells, who doesn’t know your name? Slayer of Ultima Weapon? Of Vishap? Even the Ul’dahn Sultana, if rumors are to be believed? Everyone knows you. Or at least they think they do. Name’s Fray, by the way. And before you ask, no, I’m not a heretic. Try convincing a Temple Knight drunk on authority of that, eh? Shame the pompous arse got the better of me. As to what happened to you, the soul crystal, you touched it, yes? Bet that didn’t feel good. It was supposed to return my life back to me after a time. Guess you started that process early and it knocked you on your arse for your troubles. Thanks for that by the way”

Dahkar’s head suddenly was swimming. “There was…a voice….”

Fray looked at him strangely. Was that…curiosity? “A voice, eh? Interesting. Maybe this wasn’t coincidence after all.”

“Please, someone-ANYONE!” This voice was new, female, and deeper into the Brume. Dahkar shook his head, clearing the final cobwebs from his mind, and stood. Someone needed his help. Before he could take a step, Fray’s massive blade blocked his way.

“Not so fast.”

Dahkar glared at the helmed face “Either move, or be moved. Whoever that was, she needs help”

Fray shook his head, not moving away. “We need to talk about what’s happening to you─what’s growing within you, before you get carried away. There’s a darkness within us all─nothing dangerous, mind. In fact, it’s quite healthy.” Fray held the soul crystal out “But the crystal changes you─gives you the power to channel it.”

Those dull yellow eyes suddenly glowed a fiery red. “Do it without proper training, however, and…well…it might hurt.”

The glow faded, and the eyes were normal again. “I know, you’re still worried about that screaming woman, so I’ll keep this brief. We dark knights don’t care one whit for prestige or pedigree. We are free to follow our hearts, to defend the weak and punish the guilty as we see fit. The law of the land? The authority of a name? These are tools cowards use to escape harm. We have no need of shields, figurative or literal. So go ahead, ask me to teach you. Ask me to instruct you in the ways of the dark knights, and I will.”

Dahkar looked at the proffered soul crystal. His hand began to rise, but stopped. “Why me?”

Fray looked Dahkar directly in his eyes. “Because I know what they did to you. Even before we met, I’d heard tales of the mighty Warriors of Light committing regicide. Didn’t believe a word of em, obviously. Seemed fairly obvious those Crystal Braves were on someone else’s payroll. But when you touched the crystal…it linked us, if only a moment. I knew the pain they’d caused you. The lost friends, the betrayal, the hate, everyone turning on you no matter what good you’d done. I felt it all…in your own personal dark side. That’s what we dark knights do. We tap into that dark side and wield its power, just like you’d tap into your conjury or thaumaturgy. So I’ll say it again. Ask me to instruct you in the ways of the dark knights, and I will.”

Dahkar felt all of the anger that had been accumulating in his body over the past few days and glared into Fray’s eyes. “Yes….yes I want that. Instruct me in the ways of the dark knights.”

Fray’s eyes lit up. Dahkar imagined that if he could see his face, he’d likely be smiling. “Good, good. They gave you the materials for the weapon of their own deaths that day. Now we forge it. Here, my blade is your blade, my soul crystal your crystal. Go on, take them. You’ll need them soon enough.”

Dahkar took the soul crystal, and like he’d done with three others before, intertwined his aether with it. Memories of training, techniques, and skills flooded his mind, and he suddenly knew how to wield the blade he then took from Fray with a much greater amount of skill.

“Oh, and Dahkar? You might want to find something else to wear. That Dragoon stuff makes you…a bit recognizable. You don’t want to be, for what’s about to happen.”

Even as he said the words, Dahkar knew he was right. Attuned now as he was to the dark knight’s soul crystal, he’d temporarily separated the link from his dragoon crystal, and without all those memories and training, the armor suddenly felt heavy and wrong, not designed to be used by anyone but experienced dragoons, which for the time being, he was not. He needed something else, something less showy and recognizable. He cast his mind to the Armory, searching among the various armors the Warriors kept inside. There, a generic looking set of steel plate armor Fearless had once worn in her early days training in the ways of the Warrior. She’d long ago acquired better, and hadn’t worn it in some time. It would suffice for his own new form of training.

In an instant, the Echo-provided power did three things. It removed his own Drachen mail and placed it within the extradimensional space, the Gae Bolg spear he wielded alongside it. Then it resized the steel armor to fit him, and finally it placed it on his own body. He’d worn something similar early on when he’d begun walking the Dragoon’s path, and it felt right on him immediately. Dahkar looked to Fray, who nodded.

“Neat trick. Come on. I like my lessons practical, and I suspect this to be an excellent opportunity for one.”

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