It is late at night and the lights are off in the Warrior of Light's home. If one were to enter now—unwise though it may be to break into the home of Eorzea's champion and his consort in the middle of the night—one would not find a trace of movement anywhere until venturing up the staircase to the upper floor. There, those who were brave enough to keep going would find a large canopied bed with the curtains drawn shut. The foolhardy few who felt daring enough to draw the curtains back would be greeted with the sight of one Zenos yae Galvus, curled around the Warrior of Light, both of them soundly sleeping.
Insofar as either of them can be called ordinary, it is a perfectly ordinary scene.
The only sign that something is out of the ordinary that the reckless observer might pick up on is the faint impression of something glowing red beneath Zenos yae Galvus' eyelids.
In his dream, Zenos finds himself wandering the corridors of the imperial palace in Garlemald. For some reason, he is fully aware that he is dreaming. Odd. 'Tis rare enough that he dreams of something other than the burning city, but to know that he is asleep is deeply unusual.
His steps echo on the cold steel floor. The palace halls were constructed with grandeur in mind, not practicality; the high ceilings may look imposing, but even with magitek-powered heating, keeping the interior warm has always been a challenge. His father once made him study the heating system as part of his magitek education. One of the more boring periods of his life, among many other such periods…
The corridors are deserted, something Zenos has never witnessed in his life. The palace normally bustles with guards and servants and the occasional dignitary. It serves him just fine; even in his dream they would probably make a nuisance out of themselves by insisting on bothering him, but it is strange. If his mind deigned to conjure up a phantom of the past, why so different from how he experienced it?
Unfortunately, this dream is remarkably stable. Even when he opens doors and crosses into different hallways, he doesn't suddenly find himself in a different location. The layout is perhaps not entirely accurate, as he finds himself in dead-ends where there should be none, but it seems that he is doomed to wander the palace for now.
What a bore. One of the advantages of having defected from the empire is that he no longer has to return here, and yet he is forced to by his own mind to do so regardless.
Carelessly, he rounds another corner, only to bump into someone who is so much shorter than him that they simply fall over without even making him stumble.
He looks down and sees his beast, sitting flat on his rear end, but with a wry grin on his face.
“I should have known I'd find you here,“ the beast says.
“I have dreamed of you before,“ Zenos muses, “but why in this place? What a strange dream.“
“You're not,“ his beast says as he rose. “You're dreaming about this palace and I'm sharing your dream.“
Zenos cocks his head.
“What, didn't you know about that? When an echobearer sleeps next to someone, they may find themselves sharing dreams with each other. I suppose your resonant is what causes you to be as aware as I am that this is but a dream.“
That is indeed news to him. Neither van Baelsar's reports nor his own research ever unearthed that particular ability, though he likely would have dismissed it as unimportant anyroad. Now, however, a smile spreads on his face. Dull though walking these corridors may be, if he is with his beast, then it's hardly so bad to be here, or anywhere, indeed.
“Is this the Garlean palace, then?“ the Warrior of Light asks as he rises.
“Yes. Mostly as I recall it, too.“
The Warrior of Light looks around. “Well, let's explore them.“
Ever the enthusiastic one. His beast can never sit still in a new place without sticking his nose into every last nook and cranny. “I will show you around, provided you give me my… reward upon awakening.“
“You can just ask if you want to fight me, you know.“ His beast reaches upwards and takes him by the hand, then tugs at him until he follows. “I don't need a guided tour. Let's just see where our steps lead us!“
Well, he is stuck here either way. If walking around aimlessly brings his beast joy, then that will be enough for now. He will have his own later.
The Warrior of Light leads them through room after room; a parlour, lavishly decorated in the Corvosi style, a sparse servant's bedroom, the imperial kitchen except that it stretches on far longer than it should have.
“Shouldn't there be people here?“
“Yes. I know not why they are not.“
His beast stops for a moment, then shrugs. “Dreams are strange. And if I know you at all, you wouldn't have cared about the commonfolk while you lived here...“
He's right. Zenos was never interested in what the servants or guards or even dignitaries were up to. Impersonal drones, all of them. Unable to say or do aught of interest, as nothing of the sort crosses their dull minds…
The sound of arguing from a room or two over interrupts his train of thought. Though the voices are too low to make out, he recognises the voice.
“Ooh, dream-people,“ the Warrior of Light exclaims at once, all but pouncing at the door and throwing it open.
Varis zos Galvus… no, he looks too young for that. Varis yae Galvus turns around and, completely disregarding the Warrior of Light, fixes his stern gaze on Zenos. “Finally you deign to grace us with your presence. Why must you always dawdle so? Can you not be punctual for once in your life?“
Zenos doesn't bother answering. This is but a dream-spectre of his father. What point is there in talking to it?
However, his beast has other ideas. “That's your son you're talking about. What kind of way of talking to your child is that?“ he asks flippantly, crossing his arms in a gesture Zenos recognises as indignation. Indignation for how Zenos is treated. The beast's sense of protectiveness for him will never stop puzzling him.
Varis' eyes flicker over the Warrior of Light, and then immediately return to Zenos. “Have you naught to say for yourself? You not only let me wait, but His Radiance himself as well.“
Right. Varis was arguing with someone, and that someone is the aging Emperor of Garlemald, sitting in the back near a fireplace that Zenos could swear wasn't there a second ago.
Zenos looks at his beast. “Does he not know you are here?“
“Perhaps not. This happens sometimes. I'm not truly part of your dream, and only visible to you, it seems.“
“Stop talking nonsense,“ Varis snaps. “His Radiance wished to speak to both of us, and you will listen, no matter what it takes to make you.“
“Ease up, boy,“ Solus finally speaks up. “I did not summon you here to hear your spats with your own son.“
Varis presses his lips together so tightly that they appear as naught but a thin line. “I… apologise, Your Radiance. It shall not happen again.“
“See that it does not—and you, Zenos, would do best not to waste my time either. Do you understand?“
“I care not for what a doddering old fool thinks,“ Zenos says.
How odd, that these two spectres treat the situation as if naught is wrong, as if he isn't far too old compared to the two. His father looks to be only a few measly years older than he in this dream. Rather than realising something is strange, however, Varis' eyes widen as the lines on his face that aren't quite as pronounced as in the present day deepen. Solus' reaction is far more subdued; much of his face is hidden behind his pompous beard anyroad, but even what is visible hardly changes. Still, the air in the room suddenly feels chilly.
“How dare you—“ Varis starts, but Solus interrupts him.
“A fool I am, indeed…“ Solus sighs. “A fool to have put my trust in you to raise your progeny correctly. I should have known you would fail. Would that I had the time to do it in your stead.“
The Warrior of Light looks back and forth between them. “Were they always like this?“
“So you are in agreement?“ Solus asks, not knowing Zenos didn't speak to him at all. “You, too, think that I was wrong to place my trust in your father?“
Varis stands silent. What is he thinking, Zenos wonders, or rather, what would he be thinking, were he real? In his memory, his father always remains silent whenever 'His Radiance' speaks ill of him, even though it's rather obvious that it upsets him. Even the dream-self is clenching his fists.
“Will you not speak to me? More testament that your father failed miserably at raising you. Have you aught to say in your defense, boy?“ Solus says, turning to Varis. “Well? Speak up. Let us hear what you have to say about your shortcomings.“
Perhaps that's a little exaggerated. Though Zenos remembers his great-grandfather putting down his father quite vividly as something that happened often, he was not usually as confrontational. But then, perhaps it's simply too much to ask that a dream concocted by his sleep-addled brain conform to reality.
Varis stands up straight and stares at a point somewhere above Solus' shoulder. “I did the best I could, Your Radiance.“
The Warrior of Light saunters up to Zenos and leans against him, as he does so often. “They argued like this in front of you, really? Must have been awful to grow up like this.“
“Yes,“ Zenos says after a moment, quietly so as to not be interrupted by the dream spectres again, “but hardly for this reason. What need do I have to care for their words? It doesn't matter to me if they think I am misbegotten.“
“The best?“ Solus meanwhile muses. “Phaw. If that—“ he motions towards Zenos, “—is truly the best you have to offer, then I must have overestimated you.“
“I did the best I could,“ Varis repeats, “with what I was given. Zenos is an odd child, oscillating between apathy and defiance. You know this as well as I do.“ He is evidently trying his best to stay calm, but the repressed anger shines through his voice quite clearly.
“Better than you do, I daresay...“
The old tirade, over the oddities Varis perceived in him, or his lack of dedication to furthering the empire's cause, or the excess of dedication he put in finding strong opponents. How deeply tiresome, to still be subjected to his drivel even now.
“Let us leave,“ he says. “I see no reason to linger.“
“Are you so vain as to refer to yourself in the pluralis majestatis now, Zenos?“ Varis snaps. “You are not emperor yet.“
“I was not speaking to you. Quiet now.“ Zenos looks at his beast, who seems downright dejected at the thought of leaving this place. Why? This wasn't interesting in any way.
“Have you lost it?“ Varis starts, but Solus suddenly leans forward. “Then who is it you speak to? What do you see?“ The drawl he previously spoke in is all but gone, replaced with curiosity.
What could have prompted his brain to put this question into Solus' mouth? This doesn't resemble any particular memory he has. Unless he has forgotten, this is a brand new conversation. Is this just another example of dreams being strange? He is hardly accustomed to these inconsistencies. They never happen in his visions of the burning city.
“My first and only friend,“ he says experimentally. There are some blank spots in his memory. Though he always thought they were just the result of a dull, boring childhood not worth remembering, if this is something that he witnessed resurfacing, then perhaps it is worth seeing where this imagined conversation will go.
“You have friends?“ Varis asks.
“A friend, hmm...“ Solus says, completely ignoring Varis. “Interesting. And where did you meet this friend, pray tell?“
Zenos considers the question. By the time any conversation inspiring this one happened, he couldn't have been old enough to be deployed yet. Therefore, the honest answer is unlikely to match whatever his past self might have answered. But he hardly feels like coming up with a convincing lie, and so he says, “In Ala Mhigo.“
Unfortunately, Solus doesn't answer. His eyebrows raise, but he gives no indication that he finds the idea of Zenos being in Ala Mhigo in any way strange. “And who is this friend of yours, then?“
“What is it to you?“
“Mere vested interest in my progeny,“ Solus says lightly. “Answer the question.“
“Must we waste so much time on the boy's antics?“ Varis asks, visibly frustrated.
Does any of this feel familiar? No, not at all. In fact, it appears to be the average nonsensical dream. Maybe this is all a waste of time. He sighs and is about to step away to leave, when the Warrior of Light snatches a nearby table and throws it at Solus.
Somewhat surprisingly, it connects, knocking him clean off his armchair.
More surprisingly, nobody responds to what happened.
“Don't look at me like that,“ his beast says. “I got tired of them talking like that. Only I get to speak derisively about you.“ Then he shrugs. “Not that I particularly want to call you boy. That would be weird.“
“I called you here to discuss the matter of Zenos' further education...“ Solus says from the floor, where he lies as if nothing happened at all. Whatever drove him to ask such unusual question seems to have passed completely.
Zenos isn't sure if that disappoints him or not.
“You were right in what you said to me once,“ the Warrior of Light comments casually. “Your great-grandfather is a bore, and your father is a grumpy old fart.“
“That isn't exactly what I said.“ Neither of the two dream-spectres react to his words. They continue speaking about trivial matters about what he is supposed to be learning.
“Well then it's what you should have said.“ His beast once again tugged at his hand. “You wanted to go, didn't you? Let's. I'm sure there's somewhere more interesting to see in this place. You can show me!“
Not a word to address what made him change his mind from earlier, when he said he didn't need a guided tour. Such is his wont: following every whim of his mind with little care in the world.
It's part of his charm.
Zenos allows himself to be pulled out of the room, following the beast's lead just as he followed it away from the empire and into Eorzea. The spectres' voices soon fade away as they walk away from the room, or maybe the room vanishes into nothingness, as dreams are prone to.
Before long, he can no longer hear their meaningless drivel.
What he does hear is the Warrior of Light asking a myriad questions; who lived in this room, what would people eat in this dining hall, does he have any embarrassing anecdotes about his father?
“Why do you wish to know that?“
“Because the last time I met him, in the Sea of Clouds, I had nothing to embarrass him with. Now that I'm sitting right next to the prime source of ammunition, I need to change that for the next time!“
The beast beams up at him as he speaks, seemingly wholly oblivious to how ridiculous a request that is. But why not indulge him a little? It isn't as if he has any reason to protect his father's feelings.
“The day before my fifteenth nameday, he—“
Should the reckless observer have decided to linger a while, they would be treated to the sight of both Zenos yae Galvus and the Warrior of Light beginning to stir at the same time. Zenos is the first to open his eyes, now showing no trace of the mysterious red glow, but the Warrior of Light is only moments behind, yawning as he stretches his limbs.
At this point, the observer would have been tossed out roughly if they were lucky enough to escape a worse fate, but let us pretend otherwise for a moment. Were they to stay even longer, they would witness the Warrior of Light enthusiastically hugging Zenos while wishing him a good morning, then encouraging him to go on ahead and freshen up; he himself wishes to stay in the warm comfort of the bed they share a little longer.
The observer—who at this point ought to fear for their life—would also witness the Warrior of Light's back straighten the moment the bedroom door closes behind Zenos. The carefree attitude drops instantly. His eyes narrow. For a moment, he continues sitting on the bed, then he rises and walks over to the window, through which the morning sun already shines.
And in the supremely unlikely event that the observer is gifted with the art of telepathy, they would, perhaps, pick up on what the Warrior of Light is thinking as he gazes out at the courtyard.
If this is how you treated him as a child—even if it was because your own grandfather pit you against each other—then you're going to pay for it, Your Radiance.