H'biki Schwarzer

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Cactuar (Aether)

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Like grains of sand through my fingers

Knowing the truth doesn't make it hurt less, apparently. I think it's the way Elidibus hijacks bodies, parades them around--I wonder if he enjoys showcasing his impostor status to his host's loved ones? Lahabrea at least had the decency to kidnap and disguise Thancred. Even with the mask off, there was no act, no dredged up histories, just a thrall of Zodiark.

The moment keeps repeating in my head, feeding this void in my chest. His face. His voice.

"Arm giving you trouble?"

I want to vomit.

I can feel the empty air on my fist, my muscles starting to tire. He's subtle--it's easy to forget that everything I know of the living Ardbert was shared with Elidibus. He paints a cruel picture of being the real thing, but it seems he can't steal memories.

His warmth. His kindness. They're mine now, and I'll never let you near them.

Look at our history, our habit of repeating our mistakes, of falling to trickery? I'll admit, the Ascians are awe-inspiring, but being immortal and intelligent doesn't make them infallible. Even the Viis and their long lives admitted that they distort stories over time, even if they don't want to. How did Emet feel, watching one of his empires cannibalize the ruins of the other? I'll never know the answer.

It's like Amaurot, claimed by the Ondo and the Tempest. The Anamnesis Anyder, functioning, but not restored. A library whose knowledge is being destroyed by the fumbling use of us fragmented beings.

Thinking about it now...the Garleans have always been a little too good at adapting Allagan technology. Their researchers are skilled, sure, but Emet probably started them on that path.

But I'm trying to distract myself from reality again.

Tataru's preparing her gift, so I decided to wait with the others. Krile tried to talk me out of it, but

It's...hard to describe, why I turned her down. Part of it is...selfishness, I guess. I don't want to be caught writing--Alphinaud or Alisaie is fine, but...there'd be too many questions. Expectations? Something. Too much Something.

I also want to remind myself. Of the real situation, not a concept. Not dizzy spells or aetherology lectures or verbal reports. Carve this in like the Final Days on my soul. No matter what happens, I won't hesitate.

Wax hands, porcelain faces...they won't turn into sin-eaters, but dissipating isn't much better. It's cruel, that they'd die on the First, too, but...who decided that? Who can I even curse, if I need to? The Twelve don't hold dominion across worlds. Zodiark? Hydaelyn? The Ascians that summoned them?

At least, I know I don't blame Raha. Laboring over a hundred years, under the purest intentions...Alisaie chewing him out on arrival was more than enough punishment.

I can't bring myself to touch them. I try and freeze--emptiness against my hand, my arm starting to tire. My fingers are still cold, but Alphinaud's hand was colder. Krile called it wax, but I've carried enough corpses to their resting places to not mix the two up.

Maybe this was a bad idea. I hold my breath, and I still can't hear theirs, just muffled chatter from the Seventh Heaven. Only the slight rise and fall of their chests tells me they're still alive. Barely. For now. Either that, or the flickering of the lone candle just gives the illusion of movement. Of life. But if I light any more, I'll see how pale everyone is. How motionless.

I can barely see my letters on the page, but the darkness is a mercy. Call it another selfishness. Call it an undeserved kindness. More accurately, just call me a coward.

I've seen worse, after all--both to people I don't know and people I've cared about. I'll have nightmares either way, so why leave details up to my imagination? Please. I can only handle so much.

The candle flickers. I hold my breath.

Thancred's finally living his own life.

Y'shtola found the knowledge she dreamed of.

Urianger still needs to forgive himself.

Alphinaud hasn't realized he's grown into a hero.

Alisaie almost defeated me in our last competition.

Their lives flicker. I only hear the bar.

I have to bring them home.
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