The following takes place during the events following the poisoning of the Sultana and the egress to Ishgard.
“Stop staring at me, Elezen!” another punch made Dacien rock back and forth. His nose was broken, his face smashed. He wouldn’t wince or cry aloud. His brow refused to clench. He just stared at his interrogator with a look that was part indifference, part disappointment. The next punch made everything go black.
How did he get here? Oh right. Too many Crystal Braves, too many Brass Blades. Monetarists ruin everything, don’t they? He took a moment to remember. The Scions had their own strategy for escaping the betrayal in Ul’dah, their associated free companies were even less lucky. The demand for sacrifices in the Chimeriad’s case was even greater, and Dacien was willing to be one of those sacrifices. He expected death, yet here he was instead, having frustrated a Monetarist’s best torturer. That’s not to say you couldn’t torment a Monk; it’s just that this idiot was playing to Dacien’s strengths. Physical pain, psychological threats, and just plain misery were not new to him.
He was going to die down here, wasn’t he? He didn’t even know where he was.
He knew his friends made it, though. Not perfectly, but they were not here and no one said anything about them being dead. At least not with sincerity. They’d tried lying to him already. In moments where his ribs weren’t too busted up, he’d think about his friends. But they were far away now.
When you’re in a place such as this, it becomes very easy to lose track of time. Unless you’re a Duskwight. Then, to your horror, it becomes evident you’ve been here for weeks.
Periodically, Dacien was brought food, and once he was even brought to speak with the boss of this place. A tall man in a bizarre mask who’d ask him about… the Cave.
“Oh yes, I’m aware of CAVEs, Mr. Chevalier. You don’t have to be coy with me. ‘Cavern Agricultural Vault Elysiums’. The triumph of your people’s magitek. efforts. Shame the Garlean Em-” Dacien looked up. It was enough to make the masked figure pause. “Bombed them. Killed many. What’s your point?” The figure smiled behind his mask. “Killed all of them except for you. How fortuitous.” Dacien did not like this man. “Anyway, before you ask: I have not killed you because I have an interest in your people. I have an interest in you. You see, you and I have a lot more in common than you think.”
Slowly, the figure removed his alabaster mask. Much to Dacien’s despair, he was not an Ascian (that would have been a bizarre comfort; he was accustomed to battling Ascians by now.), but another Duskwight. His hair was longer, a lighter shade of purple. “You see Dacien, I’m going to tell you something you will not enjoy: Your clan, the Chevaliers, were holding us back. You helped the Duskwight people, the other Vaults… sorry, CAVEs,” he made a dismissive gesture “you’ll have to excuse me, I lost faith with our people’s elders long ago.” Dacien was staring at him now, looking less like an elf and more like a coeurl wondering how much force he’d need to apply to snap a neck. “Growing impatient? Very well. Let’s get the wounding out of the way first: The defense grid did not fail. The cloak generator, the device that protected us from invaders for so long, did not, at a critical moment, fail. I told the Garleans where to find us. Where to strike.”
Every single metal fiber and rope-like device holding Dacien Chevalier to that chair strained, threatened to snap. “Ahhhh! Now I’ve got the monk’s attention! Now I-” “Ch.” “What?” “Children. There were children in those Vaults.” “Children indoctrinated by further decay. Children doomed, like a poisoned bl-” Dacien spit in his face, which gave the other elf pause, if only to clean it off. “Ki… kill you.” He was twitching violently, as if struggling to keep his veins from bursting in anger. “Yes yes, I’m sure you desire my death and all that heroic nonsense.”
All the bonds snapped at once and Dacien was on his feet. Just tense a certain way, lift a certain foot, SHOULDER TA-and everything went black again. A pot shot made that certain.
He woke up again, this time surrounded by more Duskwights. They were like him, but not like him. They did not understand the native language, but did know of Magitek. They were like the Elezen who’d joined the Garleans. They did not bear the uniform, no, but the uncaring look in their eyes was enough to hurt him. Trying to converse with them only revealed that they were content with their gilded cage and were indoctrinated into this madman’s ideology. The Chevaliers were to blame for the greatly reduced status of non-Ishgardian Duskwights. They could have had a position of prominence and honor among the Garlean Empire working with the Black Wolf, but instead chose destruction for their people. None of them knew of their new master’s role in that. His treason.
For several more weeks Dacien lived in this nightmare. Angry, constantly angry. But his face’s stoicism hid that well, and only in moments where he was certain all was private did he think of his friends. What a conversation he could have with Ros now. Both of them had lost a people, some right that was theirs, but he didn’t think Ros had experienced a betrayal like this. Maybe she had. Maybe she knew what his pain felt like.
Weeks turned into months. Did his friends even remember him now? Did he remember himself?
“He” did not matter. Dacien Chevalier had resolved to do what he wanted to do during every conversation with these broken Elezen. Them and their insane master, who’d tortured, beaten, and tormented him in the hope of getting more information about the Chevaliers’ secrets. Always met with frustration. Except today. Today he’d get a massive one revealed to him.
When it came time for more “lessons”, with all the Elezen “students”, Dacien included, to gather in some large subterranean hall, this was when he decided he’d throw down his personal gauntlet to run through.
“And you, Dacien? Do you know the answer?” “What was the question, I’m sorry?” “When one is asked about the gods and expected to give a brainwashed response such as ‘Praise Be!’, what should they say?” A long, awkward pause.
“Dac-” “Hear. Feel. Think.” “I’m sorry?” “When one is asked about the gods and expected to give a brainwashed response, such as the ones you teach, their response should be: Hear. Feel. Think.” “Oh… that was not the correct response. Class, please help your brother learn again.”
Dacien took a deep breath. He counted how many bludgeonings and beatdowns he’d accepted just to set things up for his desperate plan. Twenty-seven. They thought him just a battered dog for twenty-seven beatings. And now they’d find a Duskwight, haunting the cave they thought sterile and subdued. The Fists of Earth. The first stun rod connected but its capacitor immediately shattered and it failed to break his nose this time. Everyone hesitated for a moment. What…? “Your master lies to you. He tells you of shame, of failure. Both his. Both yours. But not mine. I am Dacien Chevalier. I am the last of my Vault. I smashed Gaius’ weapons, helped kill an immortal. The Traitor-Elezen that runs this madhouse would have you believe in his stories.”
Another ran right for him, they were met by the Steel Peak. No one understood how an Elezen’s back could twist like that, much less shatter that many ribs at such an awkward angle. “NO. THAT IS NOT HOW THE LESSON GOES. The first step is to HEAR.” The blow had struck with such force that the student so struck could feel his marrow quivering in agony. It was the longest four seconds of his life. But it was enough. “None of what you think is true matters. Hydaelyn would ask you to step into the light, but you resist. Because if you did…” Three this time. Three left with broken bones and agonized wailing. Was this the same elf? “... if you did, your sins would be exposed. All those people you helped hurt. Helped kill. On your consciences. Demanding atonement. Just as I’m making you all atone now.” Five. Six. Seven more. Like ragdolls before an angered Duskwight. Someone would have reported this incident by now.
Dacien then looked toward the horrified “teacher”. “Give me your linkpearl.” “Wh-what?” “GIVE ME THE FUCKING LITTLE RADIO THAT MAKES YOUR EAR BONES WIGGLE.” “Okay okay!” Thanks Ros. Even a friend’s imagined voice was enough to keep him going. It was how he remained unbroken. He could recall the voices of his friends, stored in a palace scattered amongst his mind’s terrain, that let him remember them. He had to make this count. An obvious transmission would simply get jammed. “Yes hello, this is…” he kicked over one of the downed students and read their tags “Lucas Verner, a Crystal Brave. I have a confirmed sighting of a member of the Chimeriad at the coordinates of this signal. Send everything you can! He’s killing us!” he then dropped the linkpearl and crushed it with his foot.
It would be utterly stupid for a member of the Chimeriad to “tell on” themselves. It would be even dumber to actually try to do something to stop them. Soldiers, some Duskwights among their number as well, flooded into the room.
“That’s enough! Surrender and Lord Dunant may yet be merciful!” But that was also a lie. The time for surrender came and went. Dacien took a moment to look at his battered “classmates”, writhing and pathetic, but still redeemable. He could still see souls behind those clouded eyes.
“I will do what Dunant never would, what you bartered away for a bauble: I will make you free. Remember me.” The next lesson is to Feel. Soldiers came upon him but they were brushed off, for you see, if you tense just right, raise one foot just so… Dacien slammed into the guard closest to the elevator, collapsing his lungs and making him struggle to breathe, then quickly reversed his facing and cast him out at his still-confused fellows before activating the elevator and beginning his ascent. He was angry, still. Very angry.
The next floor was less docile. Now came the Fists of Fire. One by one, linkpearls went silent. And bit by bit, Dunant’s patience eroded. He knew there was no way for Dacien to single handedly deal with the private army he had on the surface, but his estate was becoming a mess very quickly. He decided to skip the rising action and get right to the point: he had two weapons in his favor. The first was a squad of magitek heavies, a gift from his Garlean “investors”. The second was the only surviving relic of the Chevalier Vault, if one did not account for the problematic Elezen working his way up toward him. This was far more terrifying than mobile armors.
Many years ago, the lands underneath the surface were not safe. Some would argue that they remain dangerous, but such people are ignorant of just how perilous they used to be. Entities that had never seen light, that were conceived in darkness and born in oblivion ruled the lands below. That was until the primitive Duskwight tribes made a pact with such an entity, who was less malevolent than his peers. In exchange for promising him a glimpse at the light he’d never known, Mirza dwelt within the soul of of an Elezen who volunteered to be sacrificed. The new and bizarre hybrid elf struck against the Horrors below, eventually tearing their fangs and claws away from them and fashioning for himself a pair of fighting knuckles, forged within the union of Elezen and Mirza. The Kaiser Knuckles. Two spiders born from light and darkness. From Mirza’s host were born several clans who persisted after the hero’s death. Vastly different from each other, they could nevertheless be linked together and identified based on one distinct feature: Their eyes were the red of blood.
And now Dunant had them. He strapped them to his hands and readied himself to prove to his subjects and this last Chevalier that he was worthy of being Emperor.
Meanwhile, the students in the lowermost floor were having a crisis of faith. One would expect such a crisis to involve the danger of losing faith, but they were in danger of gaining it. For the most part they still considered Dunant their Lord and Garlea their Empire, but watching a single Duskwight render all that a joke proved too much to take in. Observing the same bruised and bloodied Elezen reach the last level before the surface only to be confronted by their Lord and his honor guard, all clad in humming magitek armors, restored their confidence somewhat and yet… twelve magitek armors (thirteen with Dunant’s) and a strange pair of claws… wasthis what it took to threaten the last surviving Chevalier? What did that say of them? Of Dunant?
Dunant raised one claw in greeting. “Impressive, Dacien! Impressive! You are everything I have come to expect from the last surviving Chevalier! Right down to the ignorance and the stubborn pride! I know your arrival here was a little rough and awkward, so perhaps you are not aware that the guards you fought inside my manor which you SO RUDELY DISORGANIZED are merely a TOKEN FORCE TO TOY WITH YOU. Now then! Kneel before me and apologize, and all is forgiven! Otherwise…” the twelve armors all trained their weapons on him. “this is where the Echo goes silent. For you see, Hydaelyn would not raise a hand against the Hero Mirza. She would not denounce me!” Dacien stared in silence for several long seconds.
“I see you recognize your mistake.” He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry…” this could very well be it. Although wrong in many respects, Dunant was right in that it would take more than a hellbent monk to break through an army. He’d done everything he could without knuckles, with only his bare hands. Dacien’s entire body ached. Many of his veins bled. Everything felt so heavy. He had no Warrior or Paladin friend to take blows for him. No Sorcerer of White to make his injuries seal themselves. No Bard to spur him on.
“I’m sorry, Dunant. I cannot kneel for you.” Dacien took in another deep breath and dropped into a stance. From within, he made his own healing. From within, he found his own courage. The Third Wind. Not the same as true healing, but enough to keep air in his lungs and blood coming from his heart. His hands came around themselves in a perfect shape. Another breath. All his emotions lined up perfectly. Could it be almost over? Would he get to hug his mother again? To kiss his sister’s cheek? It seemed strange to cry, even a little, at a time like this, but it was enough to prepare him to greet death. “Mirza would not smile upon a traitor like you. Mirza was a brother to the first Duskwights when they needed one most. He was light from darkness. He was proof of hope even inside dead stars. You are not Mirza. You’ve betrayed Mirza.”
“What non-” “Be silent Dunant, a Chevalier speaks.” came Dacien’s interruption, in his usual stoic voice and yet full of power, somehow. Dunant’s face filled with heat and hate alike. “As surely as Hydaelyn lives, none of you will prosper against me.” Dacien received the mocking, if hesitant, laughter of all 13 in response. All floors could hear it being broadcast. But he was unmoved. They could not mock him now.
“Do you think Mirza is more like you, Dacien?” “When all seemed lost, when it was easier to cry than to laugh, when the world beneath the world plunged into Hell…” “Kill him.”
The lights went out. A barrage of beam and bullet alike flew through the hall, but it was difficult to attain targeting data without illumination. When the armors’ nightvision activated, they could see the same Elezen before them, but for some strange reason he pointed toward the ceiling. “When all seemed lost, when it was easier to cry than to laugh…” the facility shook. That was not a mere power shortage. A loud boom shook the facility a second time.
Dunant had enough. He surged forward and impaled Dacien on the blades of one of the Kaiser Knuckles, bolstered in force from the power armor he piloted. “Enough of your absurd religion. Enough of your inane mantras. Enough of YOU. Now you’re dead, Dacien Chevalier. Now I’ve killed you.” But it was not enough. Not yet.
There are many experiences, many sights, that can make life beautiful for the viewer. Grandchildren around one’s deathbed. The sunrise over one’s homeland. The moonlight playing off the naked back of one’s lover during a moment of passion. But nothing quite compares to the sight of your friends showing up.
Suddenly, the ceiling gave way from the third boom. All expected Garlean guns, but instead… the Sin of Meteor. Meteor made the ceiling cave in, exposing the sky. Before any could react, a blur zipped through the opening and drove a lance through an armor’s plating and on through the pilot’s head, making him go stiff then still. J’lantaa retrieved her lance as quickly as she’d killed with it and began to spin around with similar ease. “We just want the Elf!”
“There’s a Dragoon in here! Regroup a-” More came falling in after her, forcing the squad to split into two in the wake of an axe striking the ground with such force that it came very close to toppling six of the remaining eleven over. “The 812s? Really? Those have a flaw in the motivators. They can’t handle too much strain on their balance. Or a battleaxe.” Alexei had the fear and attention of the half he’d taken for himself.
Now Dunant was forced to reconsolidate.
Rosalyn had landed her first blow and now moved to follow-up: “Alexei and the first team’s in! Carm, Erich! Your squads are up! Get in there and be careful!”
Three men went seperate ways with a squad of heroes following each: Alexei stayed in the current area, taking J’lantaa, Aleph, and Avelina with him. Carm went toward the only place Dunant could call in reinforcements from, taking Serra, Ainra, and Malms with him. Erich went to free hostages, going for the elevator with San, Senah’ra, and Mahji. Finally, Sehvito and Flint remained with Rosalyn, heading toward a completely different objective. She could always call in Titan’s egi, right? Right?
Both the front and rear guards got smashed into, but they held. “I’ve been told you chumps aren’t to get past us. That suits me just fine.” Carm already had his shield, now he went for his sword. “This one’s for my friends.” he simply said. “Advance at your peril!” Serra added, lobbing supernatural flame upon the approaching legion, with Malms adding even more destruction. “I’m only mildly intoxicated right now, that’s all you guys deserve.” said Ainra, launching a volley of arrows into the immolated troops. “Only mildly!”
Minutes felt like hours as Dunant tried to rally his mercenaries, his private army. He had a slight edge even with being surprised. He’d been attacked before. He always won with attrition. But what he wasn’t used to was an enemy that was okay with taking incredibly reckless risks. Such as last minute substitutions.
“He’s starting to pull his heavies back. We gotta take more of them out or they’ll get a better position.” urged J’lantaa as Alexei dropped his axe. “They expect a tank. They won’t expect two Dragoons.” He caught the extra lance she threw to him and quickly started leaping to higher and higher perches with his cat-eared comrade. This was going to be good.
Lord Dunant was observant of that tactic switch, but not compassionate enough to warn his soldiers about it, leaving it to them to figure it out as he opted to fall back to a better position. Alexei’s squad switched to assaulting, Carm’s squad was holding as much as it could, and Erich’s had punched a hole the size of a meteor through a wall Rosalyn specified, moving to liberate those Dunant broke. They had very specific instructions to expect some resistance from people they would try not to harm. Senarah didn’t make any promises and his sight-challenged husband was… well, on heals.
Dunant did not know he was pursued. He reached one of his escape elevators and made it a point to contact the only person capable of launching such an attack. “You fucking whore! The Monetatrists will know of this underhanded assault!”
And then, a response over the Linkpearl. “I’ve ruined your little army and now I’m ruining you. Leaving aside the fact that ‘person who fucks people for gil’ is a better description of you than I, I’ll offer only a little more: You’ve hurt my friends and you’ve hurt me, Dunant. So now I’m hurting you. ‘Rosalyn Rocha lets her enemies get away’ will never be something said about the heart of the Chimeriad. Not today, not ever.” She sounded furious. What was she doing?
Ding. Dunant slowly turned. Dacien. A ghost was pursuing him. A ghost of someone he’d killed just moments ago. Without the sunglasses Carm gave him, his naked eyes were the first thing Dunant saw. Immediately followed by Mirza’s claws. “Here I am. There’s no more Chevaliers except for this one. Come and kill me then, Dunant. Finalize your betrayal.” “You’ll be the first, Dacien!” he quickly strapped on another pair of knuckles he’d stolen from a slain guard of his.
“My life doesn’t matter. It has not mattered since you destroyed my people.” Dacien stumbled and Dunant put all his hope in the other Elezen’s injured state to spell victory for him. He too, knew the Shoulder Tackle, amplified by the magitek armor he still had, and flew at Dacien with the desperate hope of slaying him outright. But he couldn’t. It was like slamming into a wall, bringing his power armor to a dead stop, stunned instead of his intended target. Dacien even seemed to be getting healthier before his eyes. “Why would you do that to people who’d done nothing to you? To children?!” suddenly the Kaiser Knuckles began to glow, a pulsing red in a similar shade as… his eyes. His red eyes.
Dunant shrugged off his staggered state and came at Dacien again, a massive magitek fist cocked back to smash his head in, but the injured elf seemed to only pick up even more speed, though it would prove not enough. That fist crushed his ribs instead, sending him into a wall. “Finally. FINA-” his linkpearl again. “Have you decided to plead with me to spare your friend’s life?”
“No. I’ve decided to hear you plead with me. How much does your personal army mean to you, Dunant?” “That’s a very hilarious joke, Rocha.” “That little, eh?”
Sevhito made the roof they were standing on sacred. Flint stood guard, calling down one of his turrets as he prepared for any sort of assault. This was insane. From here, they could see Lord Dunant battling with Dacien, and the face Rosalyn made when that punch landed… it was enough to push her over the edge. She invoked the same rituals Iceheart did, only, instead of a Lady of Frost… that weather was getting rough, wasn’t it?
“Wait, what are you doing?” Rosalyn’s voice boomed in response: “It’s too late for that now. I already told you. You’ve hurt a lot of people, Dunant. You hurt my friend. And in hurting my friends, you’ve hurt me. So now I’m going to show you what the Chimeriad is capable of. Or did you think you’d wiped us out?” Dacien started to get up, struggling to breathe the right way.
“No! Tell her to stop!” Already, Rosalyn Rocha ceased to exist for the moment. She’d become something that was Garuda and greater than Garuda. Entire units of his finest were simply swept up like dolls in a whirlwind, yet the Chimeriad squads were spared, untouched by the tempests. But Dunant’s men’s screams could not get louder than the winds had become. “If you kill me, I don’t get to see my friends again.”
“Dacien! Tell Rocha to STOP!” Dacien clutched his chest for a moment and then found his balance, getting into a stance. “I’m still alive, Dunant. We’re not done. You know the ways of our people. If the current lord of a Vault is slain, the first qualified Duskwight that can replace him becomes lord. If I live… that lord is me.”
Now it was Dunant who became enraged, thanks to his pride. “In what universe doIBOW toYOU?!” he went for another magitek punch but now Dacien knew his patterns. He dodged to the side and then struck right inside one of the joints. The Touch of Death, taught to him by Hamon Holyfist, normally made the victim’s blood boil, but on a magitek armor…
“Warning. Fuel stores are overheating. Advise fuel dump.” It was getting hot in there. “What did you DO?!” “I’m right here! Just kill me already, Dunant!” Another wild mechanized swing, but Dacien slid underneath it and planted a series of kicks that sounded like whipcracks against the robotic armor’s hull. “Warning! Control components damaged. Engine temperature too high. Service engine soon. Advise system reboot.” “Gods damn you!” “Found religion finally? What would the Black Wolf think?” Dunant’s mech spun around again, but this time its guard was knocked open by another kick from Dacien.
Now they were face to face, close to each other. One of the magitek heavies Dunant was so proud of flew past both of them, screaming and flailing in the wind and vanishing into the churning skies. The Monetarist’s eyes went wide.
In that moment, Dacien flipped around and once more slammed his back into his foe, locking the entire mech down for a brief moment. Now he’d make his move. Just like in the Pugilist guild. “Put ‘em up.” First a trickle of punches, then a gush, then a torrent, and finally a flood. The mobile armor’s hull shook and creaked with each strike. Whenever Dunant tried to recover, Dacien overwhelmed him. He hadn’t been this angry in a long time. Dunant’s readouts were the ones pleading now, begging him to get out before the armor failed him. Where did his opponent even find the ability to strike a hull without breaking his hands?
Finally, Dunant forced him off and struck him again. He roared in triumph, and the storm screamed in rage. “NO!” Two more heavies made it to Dunant to help him, but were suddenly struck down by a pair of lightning bolts that crossed each other in a perfect X. One just happened to be a Garlean and the other a Miqote.
“Dacien, where-” But it wasn’t Rosalyn that screamed. It wasn’t a scream at all. It was a monk flying through time and space and returning to this corner of them with a sonic crash. He was only missing two of his friends, and Alexei and J’lantaa arrived just in time. Enough for Dacien to invoke his Final Heaven. Dunant had enough time to widen his eyes once more before his entire armor disintegrated around him and all his ribs cracked simultaneously. An arm and one leg fractured. Six teeth dislodged. Nose broken. Head concussed. And an advancing Duskwight.
“You betrayed Ul’dah, too. Wasn’t a Duskwight vault enough for you?!” he grabbed Dunant by the throat. “Wait, what? What’re you doing?!” He struck him again, harder. “You let the Sultanna die, you WORM!” he dragged him over to the elevator access as Rosalyn swooped down, her hybrid state fading in time for her to stand on her feet. From his few belongings, Dacien withdrew a bill of sale of Dunant’s he’d written over. “I am an Immortal Flame, Dunant. There are two things that matter most: Coin and Country. I kept track of every horrible thing you did to me, I noted all you mentioned in your confession. Here then,” he pressed the bill of sale against his foe’s chest and made it stick with the man’s blood. “is your receipt! We accept gil, but you owe those below far more than money.” he threw him into the elevator and pressed the button for the lowermost floor. “Why are you doing this?!” “Hear. Feel. Think. It is time for them to think, Dunant. I am not you. I do not presume to decide for anyone but myself. Let those you made your broken toys decide your fate.”
He could hear Dunant pleading as the doors slid shut. Slowly, Dacien fell into a seated position on the ground. Instead of rushing to him, she approached slowly. Gently, she sat with him. Alexei and J’lantaa tried to help, but Rosalyn waved them off, urging them to help the other Chimeriad instead. She walked the rest of the way to her friend.
“Dace… this way of meeting is familiar in a really crummy way.” she smiled weakly. He turned to face her just as slowly. He could just barely make her out. “Ros… Dunant betrayed us. Gaius couldn’t find my People, Dunant gave him the coordinates. He’s used Gaius’ gifts to build… this place. He lied to his people. Broke them. Made them think like him. Did I do enough? Did I-” “Dace. They don’t chant his name right now.” “What?” She let him hear her linkpearl’s current incoming transmission: MIRZA! MIRZA! MIRZA! LIGHT FROM DARKNESS!
“Dace. Who’s Mirza?”
He took a moment to stare at the weapon he’d reclaimed from Dunant. “I think…” he could hear him. Faintly, but he could hear him. “I think I am. I can give them back their future. I have to.”
The thought of having his own People again was too much. He could not process it now, what with all the blood loss. He removed the Kaiser Knuckles and hugged his best friend as tightly as he could.
“We need you in Ishgard, Chevalier. We have dragons to kill, friends to avenge.”
“Let’s get to work then, Ros.”