Darkest Before the Dawn – Part 3

Fearless was lost.

She’d expected Dahkar to make his way right to the Forgotten Knight, but no one there had seen him. Not knowing where else to look, she’d simply started wandering. She’d never been the best with directions, however, and had managed to turn herself around several times. Was she still in the Foundation district? Wait, hadn’t she climbed a long set of stairs? Did that mean she was in the Pillars again? She swore.

She could see Ishgard’s airship landing across the way from her. It appeared empty, but a nearby building had people conversing outside, and the interior appeared to be lit. She’d simply have to start asking.

The people outside were absorbed in their conversations and seemed ill-inclined to disengage from them, so she opened the door to enter. The building’s walls were lined with bookshelves, containing tomes and scrolls as far as the eye could see. A nearby table had a…strange device she couldn’t even begin to identify.

“Ah, greetings and welcome to the Athenaeum Astrologicum. Perhaps you were drawn by fate to this place of learning, or perhaps you wish to know more of fate itself?”

The voice belonged to a well-dressed Elezen man behind the building’s front desk. He was a handsome sort, if you cared about that (she didn’t). He was regarding her with an expectant sort of smile.

“What? No, I’m looking for a friend of mine, tall, wears….did you say fate?” she responded.

The Elezen’s smile grew wider. “Yes, my lady, fate. In the stars above us is written the fates of every woman and man on Hydaelyn!” He gestured for her to come closer, which Fearless did. “Would you like to know something? It was in the stars that I read a woman would call upon the Athenaeum this very day. A woman who would play an important role in my own life.”

Fearless was perplexed. Who was this guy and what was this gibberish he was spouting? She raised her hand and shook her head. “No, look, I’m trying to find a friend…”

“Ah, but my apologies!” the elezen interrupted. “Even the most skilled reader cannot scry a name from the heavens. Would you be so kind as to give me yours, so that I might know who is to be my newest protégé?”

“Protégé?? Look, you stuffed shirt, I’m looking for a friend of mine….what do you mean you read in the stars?”.

“Ah, does the idea of being able to read the future intrigue you, then? It is true. With the knowledge of Sharlayan Astrology, you can not only divine the future, but channel the aether of the stars for magicks both weal and woe. With this power, you can either help fate along…or even change it. What say you now? Will you accept the fate I have read for you and become my student?”

The anger was drained entirely from Fearless, her concern over Dahkar forgotten for but a moment. The power to see someone’s fate? And change it? Her head turned down. “Look, I….a really bad thing happened to me and my friends recently. It might’ve cost some of them their lives, and us our home. I’d….I’d have given almost anything to see that coming. So…yeah I’d love to learn this. But….I don’t think I’m the right woman for this. I’m not good with a lot of magic stuff.”

The man waved his hand as if to dismiss her concerns. “Nonsense, the reading was quite clear, and no other woman has called upon me this day! If fate says you are to become my student, it knows you are capable! Now then…your name?

“Fearless. Fearless Willow.”

“Fearless. Well… I was not expecting that. But what is a name, but an attempt by our begetters to wield power over the lives of their sons and daughters? Lives whose paths have already been foretold! In a sense, that is. My name is Jannequinard de Durendaire and I am an astrologian for the Holy See. Remember that name, for it shall echo forevermore in the annals of Ishgardian history. Well…it will once I put it there. Once we put it there! Now, where to begin?”

Alphinaud had excused himself to his room a bell or so ago, and Tataru had fallen asleep not long after that. Rheika, however, was determined to await the return of her friends and fellow Warriors. She’d tried quietly reading some of the tomes that decorated their room, only to find most of them dry and uninteresting. She’d cleaned and polished her bow and daggers. She’d tried to quietly play her harp (which had woken a cross Tataru) and the mudras Oboro had shown her. Then she tried reading again. By this point she’d realized exactly how many bells it had been since they’d all left and she grew extremely worried. She quickly exited the room, and found a servant still awake, who informed her that no one had entered the manor in some time.

Hells, she thought. Surely they can’t have gotten into trouble already! She cast her ether into the armory, finding her ninja soul crystal and garb within. She would need to move fast and quiet to find them without drawing any more attention to herself. As she garbed herself and left through the manor’s front door, she didn’t make it three steps into the night before seeing all three of her fellow Warriors of Light approaching the manor…from three different directions.

“Where in the hells have you all been? Do you have any idea what…” she trailed off. All of them were garbed strangely, definitely not wearing what they had been since she’d seen them last. She looked to Fearless, then Dahkar, and finally Franks. Something about his attire in particular looked familiar…. “Wait, Old Man, are you wearing my old toadskin leathers??”

Franks looked sheepish. “Well, you see, I needed something besides my robes, they weren’t functional enough to…wait…” he trailed off as they all approached closer to Rheika. “Fearless, why are you wearing my old robes?

Fearless turned pink, not expecting the attention turned to her “Oh, I um…well I thought these were Dahkar’s, first of all and…wait” she said, turning to Dahkar as she mentioned his name. She took in his own armor and immediately asked “Wait, that’s my old steel plate! Why are you wearing it?”

All three of them began talking over each other again. Rheika held her head for a moment before she’d had enough. “STOP!” she said, her voice raised. All three of the others immediately stopped talking and looked at her.

“All right. You’re all wearing kit that doesn’t belong to you and you’ve been gone for bells. ONE AT A TIME, you’re going to tell me what happened and especially what the hell you’re all carrying strapped to your backs. You first, Dahk”.

Dahkar swallowed and drew the massive sword on his back, showing it to them as he spoke. “Well, I…I meant a vigilante, I guess is the right word. He’s a knight that wields his…inner darkness as a power source in defense of the oppressed from their oppressors. We uh…we beat the hell out of a group of Temple Knights that were abusing people in the Brume. He offered to keep teaching me. I don’t think anyone recognized me though, so… I suppose I’m a dark knight now. Anyway, that’s why I’m wearing Fearless’ old armor, I needed something to fight in and not be recognized.”

Rheika took in his confession with a remarkable lack of confusion. They were all used to each other’s ability to quickly learn new martial arts. Well, except Fearless, but she’d always suspected that was simply because she hadn’t found one that resonated with her yet. She turned to her next, raising an inquisitive eyebrow.

Fearless blushed harder. “So I couldn’t find Dahk, and I got lost. I found a building and went inside to ask after him, but this nobleman started talking to me about fate and reading the future and stuff and it turns out there’s this school of magic from Sharlayan called astrology, and it’s all about using these cards to read your fate in the stars and drawing on their aether to heal and strengthen allies as well as hurt foes. Anyway, the nobleman asked me to help find his teacher, who was coming in from Sharlayan, but they got waylaid by weather or pirates, and we tracked them to the Black Shroud. The teacher got taken by bandits, but his granddaughter was with him, and she taught me how astrology works and gave me her granddad’s soul crystal and a…well it’s called a Star Globe, it’s what they use as a focus for their magicks”.

She took the aforementioned focus from her back and held it in her hand, all of them watching as it spun, the cards of her deck floating around it in perfect orbit. “Anyway, so we saved the grandfather, and he said that I was the successor he’d long sought, not the nobleman, who is apparently kind of a fop that I’ve already overtaken in skill, and the granddaughter’s staying in the city to instruct us both. Oh, and apparently, the Ishgardians only use this stuff to track the locations of certain stars that apparently dictate when the dragons will attack, they consider the rest to be…heretical at best.”

Rheika covered her face with her palms. After a couple of deep breaths, she looked up and over to Franks.

Franks drew the firearm strapped to his back. “Well, you know I went to the manufactory. I was looking for…well you know. What I found was a son of house Hallienarte in charge. He told me he’s developing a new kind of combat discipline centered around firearms and magitek. He calls it machinistry. This device on my hip, it takes aether from the wielder and turns it into the weapon’s ammunition and also is what propels it. So…yeah no need for powder and ammo or long reloading. He saw my interest and asked me to join him. He’d teach me how to build all this, we’d work together on building other inventions for machinists to use, and I’d help test everything in the field and recruit others. Uh, also, it seems that a lot of the highborn knights think this is beneath them and that arming the lowborns would be heretical, so he’s facing a lot of opposition on that front.”

Rheika held here forehead. She felt an ache coming on. “So let me get this straight. All three of you have somehow picked up a new combat discipline, all three of which have some element of the power structure in Ishgard vehemently opposed to it, a power structure that by and large we already have enough issues navigating, and you all did this in the middle of the night?

The others looked at each other, and then all nodded.

Rheika sighed. “All right. Well, I suppose we’ve dealt with worse. Come on back inside, let’s try and get some more sleep. We can talk about all this more in the morning.”

And so the four walked back into Fortemps manor, together, to hopefully get a few bells of sleep. The morrow would be there, and would see their group dynamic changed, but not broken. They would still hold strong to their bonds of friendship, and woe betide those who would try to break them, be they man, primal, or dragon.

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