When night comes and she has a moment to breathe, she sleeps. In the darkest corners of her mind, a memory replays. Katana and axe clash, both steel singing in unison, the familiar red flowers dancing in the wind. The Royal Menagerie, the last time — a laugh echoes, saying that wouldn’t be the last time — where she fought a man, a beast drenched in Ala Mhigo’s blood.
Zenos yae Galvus.
The garlean continued to be a phantom, living within the darkest depths of her subconscious. Zenos would rarely ever show up in her thoughts—already focused on new revelations in the First, consumed with more questions than answers. Unsettling feelings for the man she believed she hated and now it was, well, complicated.
It was hard to think about.
It was easy to unwind after a busy day, her thoughts scattered, cluttered. Whether it would be with the Crystal Exarch, or the Scions of the Seventh Dawn or even doing small favors for the people in the Crystarium—as soon as she’s had a chance to breathe, he’d appear. In the realm of her dreams, sometimes within Titania’s warm embrace, clutching her close to their chest, retelling tales of old that fill her with warmth.
Other times, she would be back in the familiar lands of Ishgard, her home and Her people, with Aymeric by her side, her mother and father along with her half-siblings looking at her with wide smiles and loving eyes.
The warm weather on her skin, the sounds of birds singing and dancing along the wind, the ever familiar sound of the large waterfalls with their looming trees—she would dream of Gridania, the Lavender Beds, another home away from home. A place she comes to a lot when she wants to be away from her branch and others who could whisper through the realms of sleep.
Sometimes she’d dream of stages throughout her life but it would occasionally bring her back to a specific memory that felt so long ago.
Smell of blood and decay would hit her nose before realizing where she was. Familiar Ala Mhigan buildings surrounding her, an act she’s played perfectly before—the Royal Menagerie. Crimson flower blooms under her feet, mixing with the lifeblood that seeped out of the bodies on the floor as her emerald eyes glared intensely at a familiar piercing blue.
In the back of her mind, even Li would agree that this proved to be an omen—a bad one. But, as soon as the actors had to play their part once more—steel singing with steel—they’d disperse and begin their dance anew.
She knew this wouldn’t be the last time, even after he looked at her, slicing his own throat, letting his blood spill in the Menagerie.
Zenos would venture through death’s doors, dance the forbidden dance and venture beyond if it meant he would get one final battle with the woman forged within the fires of hell.
Again, and again, and again, and again.
His friend, his comrade, someone tied to his very soul that could not escape him until the end of time. The one who gave him a purpose; to fight until the world ends, and they’re the only two people left.
The thought unsettles her, more than it should. Those rare instances where she’s able to let go and not think about anything at all, familiar blonde locks followed by the smell of death and destruction would come in her dreams. Every time they would lock eyes and he would step forward, it would end abruptly, waking up in the land of the living, grasping at nothing while the comforting presence of Ardbert would be there to silence those demons… if only for a little while.
His gaze would pierce through, his expression and laughter echoing everywhere and nowhere, reminding her of that nightmare, reliving it every chance she has to take a breather.
Zenos’ gaze was hard to escape, especially when it was trained on her immediately after their meeting. Insatiable appetite for battling worthy foes, uninterested at those who would bark but not bite him back, those who would prefer to be stomped on than fight back.
He called her a beast. He wasn’t wrong, notably when one instance instead of vibrant green he was met with molten gold. The desire pooling within those eyes of him was hard to get rid of in her head, seeing herself fight him but not exactly in control.
Rage pooled within, settling right at the central point of her chest. The growl of a beast, the glinting eyes of want and excitement in his.
And she couldn’t deny herself that it was enjoyable when they met, how he saw through her bravado and facade—just like him. She refused those thoughts, pushed them in the darkest corners of her mind, locked the door and threw away the key into the void, never to be seen again.
Some nights, she could feel a familiar warmth that belonged to Ardbert within, keeping any phantoms or unwanted thoughts at bay. In some rare occasions, she remembers a lullaby from long ago, the voice unfamiliar to her ears yet reminds her of a mother’s love.
Those times, she’d sleep like a log.
On the even rarer occasions, did the warrior experience a different scene. Back in the Royal Menagerie, moments after being attacked by the crown prince of Garlemald. She thought that would have been her last moment alive but she dodged the lethal blow in time.
Katana met the barest skin of her neck, coating his upper katana with crimson blood, her blood. Strands of red and orange hair would soon follow, locks dancing in the wind, his attempts at grabbing them and staring at them as if they were a marvel, as well as her blood.
Yet this was an unfamiliar scene yet in familiar lands—the time that Hades told the story of his beloved city, Amaurot. But he was not here, nor his voice, echoing all around. She marvels once more at the buildings that loomed over her tiny stature; architecture that was a wonder of his lifetime—the stench of ash and death and flames following right after.
The final days of Amaurot, the final day of their lives and through Emet-Selch’s lips did he retell the tale of a dead civilization. From his lips, did she learn many things, a journey of discovery about herself and the star that once existed in another place, another time long, long ago.
The blaze that burns the land, the amaurotines screams—it almost felt too real. The realization of death and escaping it was inevitable; that it loomed on the horizon for this star. Deep within her chest, a part of her heart aches horribly, in a way that it shouldn’t. A different energy within recognizing the death and destruction from a time long before her.
It aches, the headache overtook all of her senses, clutching her sides in protest. The worst migraine she’s ever had—if she had a moment to think about it. All she could do was whimper pathetically, closing her eyes and letting darkness consume her.
Just as it all began, it stopped. The flames, the people running, the fireballs dropping down in the sky. Unspeakable monsters lurking within the shadows, waiting for unsuspecting prey from the same people who wished for salvation.
A few steps away, a man stood. Long, cascading blonde hair, blue dull eyes gazing his gaze upwards.
Why was he here?
The last thing the garlean remembered was closing his eyes for another monotonous slumber. Memories, young and old, flooded his thoughts. A particular one about his grandfather, telling him a story of a star while he nuzzled closer to his robes, mesmerized by his voice.
Sometimes he’d dream of the woman with green eyes and fire in her hair. Their first meeting, specifically. Her name is J’lihmu Rhatni, a Warrior of Light, Hydaelyn’s Chosen, Hero of Eorzea—he could go on and on about the titles he’s heard throughout his travels.
He cares not for them.
The only thing he cares—he craves —is to have another battle with her. To test her limits, to push her boundaries; to see which beast comes out on top.
For who could dance with a beast… than another beast?
Ah, but he let his thoughts get the better of him momentarily. He wondered where his subconscious let him wander. It doesn’t feel like a familiar realm. Chaos, despair, desperation—all something he knows yet does not care unless it comes to attack him willingly.
Dropping his gaze back to the land under him, he let his eyes wander. The feelings that took over his body was unlike any other once they landed upon familiar green eyes.
The hatred, the anger, the hunger … it was her.
Her adventures seem to treat her well, from what he could tell in this manifestation within the realm of sleep. Stronger, faster, more volatile —a spark, waiting for the right ignition. Wherever J’lihmu’s adventures took her, she will always find her way back to him; like the stars orbiting the sun.
J’lihmu’s focal point wasn’t on him—yet. The odd feeling in her lower stomach, the pounding pain within her head had all but ceased just as they appeared. It left her dazed, confused at what just happened. Ash and blazes all but stopped licking her skin, the warmth of the flames all but ceased. The end of the star and it’s current inhabitants paused until further notice.
Was it her controlling it? Is it a dream? If so, why can’t she simply wake up and leave?
While her head scattered with thoughts, her eyes locked onto familiar, beastly blue. Immediately, anger flared within, shining brightly and bigger than ever before—all directed at one man. J’lihmu’s body instinctively goes on a fight or flight mode, stepping back a few paces away to give her room to breathe (to think, to get away, to fight, to destroy his life—)
A phantom. She pursed her lips together, eyebrows creased in recognition of the crown prince of Garlemald standing just a few feet away.
He looked at her with recognition, something akin to happiness dancing within those familiar hues. She deduced quickly that this had to be a dream—It had to be a dream—a nightmare to see him within her realm, dreaming of a dead civilization on top of it all.
Even as the world stopped, she felt the smoke and ash clung to her lungs, too many emotions going through her body. Recognizing the unbridled fury that was hers and hers alone, directed towards the man tied to her life. Other feelings were more complicated. Weeping deep within her soul, it cries out for a time where Amaurot was a beauty of the star—
Familiarity at its finest. A place that was her home, whether she understands it or not.
His eyes pierced her very soul, the untamed hunger within roared. The prince carefully walked towards the woman, his grin never leaving his lips.
“This time you shall not escape me.”
A declaration—one that broke a shudder through her bones. Even if this was her domain, it seemed like his mixed with hers, like a thread that can never be broken or untangled.
A mixture of two domains, no annoying allies coming to her aid. Nor that persistent ghost stuck to her very soul.
Nobody but him and her in the city of the dead, of his ancestors, whether he knew it or not.
“After all this time, you still have that look,” he murmured, his eyes gazing over her as if she was a wonder.
Her reply was instant. Green eyes intensified their hatred while she kept herself guarded, taking even breaths.
“You’re not a figment, are you?” The miqo’te continued, keeping her eyes on him, wary of his movements.
“Guess you were never good at staying dead, hmm?”
His reply was a smile, mirth within his eyes. As if they weren’t two fated enemies, two comrades having a conversation by the fire and not surrounded by decay; the end of the world at their feet, Amaurot’s monsters lurking within her shadows made by false gods.
“You have the look of a beast caged, the desire building within—to claw and scream and take my head; To take what is yours and destroy me from the inside out.” He continued, extending his hands to his sides, looking at the world around him.
“And here you are… getting stronger, faster, more feral. The one thing I cannot have.”
The garlean’s steps were steady, glinting blue never leaving green as he came near.
“And yet—you’re different.”
The telltale signs of her bitterness were obvious, her appetite to kill him where he stands made him excited for their reunion. But he stopped his advances, his eyes narrowing at the Warrior of Light in curiosity. Something else lurked deep within—deeper, places he cannot go yet. Like a shark in the water, waiting for an unsuspecting prey to strike if they got too close.
Even if she was his prey, he knew better to pause and yet the never ending curiosity that makes him extend his hand and let him be consumed by anything and everything that she could throw at him.
To see what lurks within the shadow that makes her the Warrior of Light—
A flash of light enveloped her, making the crown prince retreat, closing his eyes. A figure stood in her stead. When Zenos opened his eyes the first thing he took a notice was her horns—obsidian as the night sky, speckled with stardust and the galaxies within them; adorned in golden and sapphire jewels, golden accents weaving between her four horns. Two of those were curved, and those at the side of her face were curved forward, to her face.
The woman’s eyes were dull yet held the same fire as J’lihmu’s did. Rather, they have the same fire, of that he is absolutely certain. A kaleidoscopic aura that held bitterness, all directed at the crown prince of Garlemald.
Her voice was devoid of all emotion, save for one: anger. The one that festered, bubbled up inside of you, waiting to escape like an eruption. A commanding presence, one that promised to cleave him into two—bringing the same interest and curiosity he had for the Warrior of Light since the start.
[ Zenos yae Galvus. ]
Zenos blinked, hearing the woman speak. It was not any language he’s heard or knows and yet, he could understand it. Was it because their domains were merging into one another? Is it related to this city of fallen ruin and decay? He did not know. The only thing he cared about was where the miqo’te woman went.
“Where is she?” Eyes narrowed, his hand placed upon one of his trusted blades absentmindedly.
[The woman drenched in vermillion, the Chosen.]
[ Sanctified by the Sun in honor.]
[The one called a beast, concealed in mortal flesh.]
[Between Light and Shadow she dwells.]
[Away from your virulent hands—forevermore.]
She kept her gaze steady, an obsidian mask clutched in her right hand, next to her heart. Extending her left, she aimed it at him, eyes narrowing with utter hatred.
The woman’s voice echoed through the frozen Amaurout and with it, time moved once more. Amaurotines rushing past them— through them— screaming, sobbing for their gods to save them.
Praying for salvation that will never come.
“Man who escaped Death’s clutches, you are not allowed in this domain.”
Light surrounded her once more, pushing against the crown prince of Garlemald away from her—away from her lands. They obscured his vision, becoming brighter and brighter, the surrounding areas fading from his eyes. He could feel the slight tug back to reality at the same time, stubbornly clinging to a hope that this is where they would fight.
Again, she was snatched away from his clutches.
“If your desire— your hunger— is vigorous—” her voice distorted, echoing all around him as darkness consumed him.
[ You will cross paths once more—on her terms. ]
In the realm of the living, he stirred. He was back where he always was, on the throne, the smell of corrosion and blood nowhere to be found. Zenos’ hand was still upon his cheek, elbow on the arms of aid throne, one leg upon the other. His bones screamed in protest at their usage after being still for so long, but he did not show pain in the slightest.
Annoyance flared within, from the lower part of his stomach, onto his chest—where his heart laid. Piercing blue narrowed at the odd feeling coming from his breast as he stood.
Back in the Source, J’lihmu sat upright immediately and was punished severely with vertigo. She recovered quickly, green eyes glancing at her surroundings for any immediate danger, then took a look at her hands. They were shaking, and she could blame that on the adrenaline rush she felt waking up but left it unsaid.
It was an all too familiar feeling, one that shook her down to her core and angered her all at once.
“What… was that?” She murmured to nobody in particular, green eyes casted downwards at her branded hands.
A phantom. An omen. Or both.
It was definitely more than an omen, more than a nightmare. To be connected together in the land of dreams, so far away from one another yet feel as if they’re right there, nearby .
To be connected together through the land of dreams yet being so far away from another—it made her feel that he was nearby. But he couldn’t be, right? She just came back from the First, finally settled in for a long sleep and yet it was the worst one she’s had by far. Yet she refused to acknowledge the other feelings that came with the crown prince of Garlemald.
Desire. Power. Excitement.
How the idea of meeting once more was something that piqued her interest; kindled the flame deep within of rebellion. And yet other thoughts plagued her mind, seeing as the Zenos in her mind looked too different from the other encounters.
As if it was really him, with her, in her dreams.
Why? For what reason?
Maybe she’ll never know, not until they set their foot in the ground. Getting the Scions back into their bodies was a hell in itself, and now they have another Scion, freshly added into the mix that would need to be properly trained.
(Or, at least, learn to not get in trouble as much as a certain flaming-headed warrior miqo’te.)
But it made her wonder—if this meant they will be meeting anytime soon? And if so…
[ You will cross paths once more—on her terms. ]
Why did that voice feel so familiar?