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An Indomitable Will


Beginning from my third year as a Temple chirurgeon, I attended many a trial of justice, with the duty of tending the wounds of the Heaven’s Ward knights afterwards. Admittedly, I was rarely needed, as they were usually skilled and blessed enough to not sustain any injuries. I pitied my fellow healers who had the less noble task of tending to their opponents.

In nearly a dozen trials, I witnessed a miracle only once.

After that trial, I attended the knights, who tried to shake me off like an unwelcome stray. “That’s enough,” Ser Guerrique growled, rebuffing my attempt to suture his wounds. “Just give me a word of healing and be on your way.” 

He winced as my prayer settled on him, and I shivered at the chill of lingering icy aether washing back over me. “Ugh, that bastard stuck me through like a slab of meat,” said Ser Guerrique.

“Your pride is worse injured than your flesh,” his fellow knight, Ser Hermenost, snorted, not turning away from his spot near the fireplace.

“Don’t let your frostbitten balls fall off,” Ser Guerrique retorted, but did not get up. 

As I worked on healing Ser Hermenost next, I worked up the courage to ask him. “Have you seen many miracles in the trial grounds before, Ser?”

“Oh, aye.”

“From your experience, was this truly divine intervention from the Fury, or was there sorcery involved?” I asked. Almost immediately, I was mortified that I dared to say that aloud.

Ser Hermenost chuckled. “If you’re asking how often Halone descends to hand Her icy spear to the poor bastards who need it, the answer is never. This-“ he gestured to his sorry state- “was doubtlessly black magic.”

I froze. “Then… surely the Inquisition will not let the verdict stand?" Halone's judgement was absolute, but the interpretation could be overturned, given sufficient proof of its error.

“The Fury’s true blessing comes when a man is naked and staring into the eyes of a dragon, and he finds the spear within himself and grasps it. She needs to do no more than spark the fire, the indomitable will to live in his heart. An elementary bit of theology whose subtlety nonetheless eludes most inquisitors.” Ser Hermenost glanced towards me. “Perhaps you ought to study the seventh book some more.”

“Yes, Ser,” I finished my work in silence.

For a few days, I tended to my regular duties, but I could not take my mind off that night’s events. A trial of such scale, where an entire House was implicated of heresy, was no common affair, and the temple was afire with rumors and speculation. Many of my colleagues whispered that the House had been in a politically strenuous position for too long, and had many enemies who were all too eager to orchestrate their downfall. 

I tried to pay no mind to that kind of gossip, though I could not help but listen when the subject turned to the man who survived his trial by combat. Ser Iolanger Dauphinet, by all accounts an unremarkable knight of humble origins who had served his house for decades. He had collapsed right after the judge declared his victory, and I last saw him being carried out of the arena. Supposedly, whenever he regained consciousness since then, he either muttered mad nonsense or wept inconsolably. 

Eventually my curiosity got the better of me, and I paid a visit to the secluded hospital ward in the Vault where he was being treated. Or perhaps detained, I thought as I entered the nearly empty ward. My footsteps echoed as I approached the only occupied bed.

“Master Iolanger. I am Alwin Clarion, a Temple chirurgeon,” I introduced myself to the man. He was an aging Elezen, with grey hair left long in the traditional knightly fashion. He was rather pallid, cleaned but not clean-shaven by necessity, as basic hygiene took priority over grooming for appearance’s sake in the hospital ward. He acknowledged my presence with a small inclination of the head.

Iolanger struggled to sitting with some assistance. His condition was stable, but he was still caught in the throes of a fever from fighting off infection, and I noted that his wounds have not healed as well as they should. I asked him a few questions, which he answered with only listless movements of his head. I frowned at the untouched bowl of broth on the bedside table.

I attuned myself to the flow of his aether, it was sluggish, but still flowing as life should. With the addition of my own aether I gently coaxed it into movement, directing it to heal and nourish the body, clearing out stagnant buildups. He shuddered and coughed. 

“Thank you,” he said hoarsely. 

I nodded, satisfied at the hint of colour returning to his face. Cautiously, I pressed a little more, expanding my senses deeper. 

There was the same chill of an excess of ice-aspected aether which I felt on the Heaven’s Ward knights, but on him it was far more deeply entwined, seeping into him like frost penetrating the earth. It was a miracle that he was even alive, as the aether of any ordinary person would have be utterly halted by such an imbalance. This could not be a man who received a divine gift from the Fury mere days ago, but one who has spent many years building up this amount of resistance-

He recoiled from me, breaking my concentration. "What are you doing?" he asked.

I froze, terrified that he might turn his icy sorcery on me. 

“You can tell, can’t you,” he said. 

I nodded. 

He lied back into his bed and closed his eyes. “Do as you will. I don’t care what happens to me.”

I gathered myself and said: “I am a man of the Temple, I don’t intend to do anything besides healing. You are suffering from a severe aetherial imbalance, which will hinder your recovery. Will you allow me to aid you?”

“What point does the Temple see in this, denying the guilty a quick death on the execution grounds? Practice for the apprentices?” he muttered. 

“I'm not- I usually don’t tend to the… ah, accused. But regardless, you are not guilty. You won the trial by combat and have been pardoned by the Tribunal,” I said.

“So they were satisfied with my little performance. That’s good, that’s good…” a faint smile passed his lips and left just as quickly. “Well, what they think matters not, if Halone has already planned Her punishment for me. Perhaps I must live to be my own judge and executioner, so I may pierce my heart with the spear She has delivered to my hand...”

I frowned. “You are rather feverish, so I'll excuse your words as delirium, but keep in mind that if an inquisitor questions me about what you have said in my presence, I am oath-bound to tell the truth.” 

It was just as well that he seemed to have exhausted his capacity for words. He lifted his hand and waved a little assent. Oh, get on with it.

I resumed the rest of my healing prayer. I dared not tug too much on the deeply rooted permafrost, and I had to suppress my instincts to not recoil from his aether, so gnarled with the scars of unsanctioned magic. But slowly, his breathing steadied and deepened, and his knitted brow relaxed as I pulled his aether towards some semblance of balance. I sat with him for a few moments, deep in thought.

The indomitable will to live. I had tried to sense it, but I struggled to find even the shadow of a spark in him. If he was not truly Fury-touched, then here I held the knowledge that he had cheated his trial with sorcery, a deception which must be unveiled in due time, and I had risked my own holy vows by offering my prayers to a heretic. I could claim it was only a ploy to ascertain the nature of his magic. If I immediately reported this to the Inquisition...

Not yet, I told myself. Doubt in Her judgment, as I had been taught, was a sign to stop and reexamine Her teachings, lest one erroneously charged into battle in Her name without understanding Her stratagem. The alternative, to conclude that Halone's trial could be so easily cheated, was no more palatable to me.

"I will see you at the same time tomorrow, Master Iolanger." I said to his sleeping form, and left him to his rest.


I visited Iolanger daily to treat his aetherial sickness. The Vault’s chirurgeons were skilled at treating physical ailments, but the recovery of his aether left much to be desired. He remained too fatigued to leave the bed, but at least he was looking a little less corpselike, and was holding some food down. He was surely aware of the danger I posed to him, how easily I could condemn him to death with a few words to the right person, but he appeared to pay no mind. 

Each time I reached out to his aether, I attempted to sense the Fury's mark, the holy spark that burned particularly bright in Her blessed ones. Within my soul it felt like an inextinguishable hearth, glowing with cold fire, from which my powers of conjury flowed. But if he had a similar blessing, it remained elusive to my senses, and I only felt vaguely discomfited by the chill of his aether each time. I spent my evenings praying and consulting libraries, hoping for some clue, but with little insight gained.

A few days later, I was seated by Iolanger with my copy of the Enchiridion. He had been asleep when I entered, and I did not want to disturb him. Despite my best efforts, my gaze kept slipping from the pages.

“What do you have there, Alwin?”

I looked up. I had been so lost in thought that I had not noticed his waking. “The Enchiridion. Book seven.”

“Tiresome read.”

“Hmph. Perhaps you would like me to read a passage aloud for you?”

He scoffed and rattled off a long verse from the opening.

“… Anyone could have memorized that,” I said. 

“Shall I continue? Name the page if you’d like.”

“I get your point,” I closed my book. “I admit, I did not take you for a scholar. Where did you study?”

“Many places. But in my youth, I was sent to the First Dicasterial Observatorium.”

I straightened up from my seat. “You're an astrologian? That explains much, but not your aetherical abilities.” 

“Aye, in my days they just had us recite the holy book forward and back. No real lessons.”

He evidently found my bemused expression entertaining, for he smiled. "No need to tiptoe around what's out in the open. You want to know when I started practicing heresy, don’t you? When I turned the Fury away in my heart?”

"I... well, I suppose," I said indignantly.

"Then to answer honestly, in my life I have walked with many heretics and nonbelievers. I gave them succor and listened to their tales. I studied their teachings and secret arts. But my magic, like yours, never came from anything other than faith in Her."

I was, for a moment, too stunned to speak, anger and disbelief flared in me at such an audacious claim. "How could you possibly believe- how dare you claim- you and I are not the same!"

He shrugged. "I too wish it wasn't so, but it is the only reasonable conclusion. I haven’t been able to move as much as a speck of aether for twenty years. A well-deserved punishment, I thought. At the trial, I stood under Her gaze and prepared for Her condemnation...”

He stared down at his hand, a thin layer of ice rimed over his frostbitten fingertips before he shook it away. I felt the hairs on the nape of my neck stand on end. 

"You are either an awful liar, or utterly deluded. Your aether is sick and poisoned beyond belief," I said. 

He leveled his gaze at me. "Halone teaches that there is no justice in deceit or madness. So you tell me, where is the justice in Her allowing me to live?"

“That is what I have been trying to understand!” I snapped.

“There is no need.” His voice had turned cold. “Go report all I’ve confessed to your superiors. Tell them I was responsible for it all. Trouble yourself with saving heretics like me and you’ll only be led astray.”

“I know what you’re trying to do,” I said. “Halone has spared your life, yet instead of accepting Her judgment, you still try to escape from it.”

“As a heretic does,” he retorted, and refused to speak further. I conducted my healing on him in the frigid silence, and left in a poor mood.

My mind was clouded with troubled thoughts, when only a week ago my conviction had been clear. This was a self-admitted sorcerer, who nonetheless withstood the Fury’s trial. I had read of a few heretics who were once blessed, before they discarded their gifts and abandoned their faith, but I had never heard of a believer who was convinced he wielded Her blessings while he practiced heresy.

I even contemplated seeking Ser Hermenost for guidance, to ask why this contradiction did not perturb him. But as much as I respected him, the fear of impropriety barred me from doing so. Late that night, in a fit of frustration, I gave up pouring over the Enchiridion’s verses, pulled on my coat, and made my way to the Sacred Tribunal.

At night, the empty Tribunal hall was eerily still. From the balcony above, I contemplated the statue of the Fury. There were similar statues in every holy building in Ishgard, but this one in particular served to channel Her presence during Her trials. The subtle differences in the attire and expression marked Her as Halone the Adjudicator. Here, She would be called upon not for Her wrath, nor favour, but purely for Her judgment. 

As I stood there shivering, I began to feel foolish for hoping some sudden revelation would alight upon me. There was no reason that Halone's presence would remain here after the trial had concluded. I laughed and shook my head. But instead of turning to leave, I followed an impulse more befitting of a mischievous youth, and pulled myself over the railing to land in the arena.

I shuffled my feet, feeling the sand crunch beneath my soles. I became acutely aware of how I stood on the same ground where the most wretched of men spilled their lifeblood, where Iolanger fought for his life not so long ago. A shudder, not entirely from the cold, passed through my body. 

From this vantage point, Halone's statue towered above me, and Her gaze seemed to follow me every way I stepped. I imagined that many a condemned heretic, in their desperate final moments, have prayed to Her visage for mercy.

Iolanger had not. I recalled that he walked into Her gaze not with fear, nor with his head held high in defiance, but with the humility of a penitent who came to lay his soul bare before his confessor. The Elezen woman beside him named him her champion, leaving him to face the trial alone against two opponents. Still, he was an equal match for the both of them, as he fought with sword in hand like a man possessed. When they finally had him disarmed and it seemed there was no hope left, he summoned forth a blizzard to drive them back. Every witness, myself included, held our breaths in silent awe as the air cleared and the flakes of frost settled on our lashes. What could have been a clearer sign from the Fury?

“I did not think you would return," said Iolanger, when I entered his room the next day.

"Of course I would," I shoved a warm bundle wrapped in waxed parchment into his lap. "Eat. The portions they feed you here is barely enough to replenish your aether."

He stared down at it for a second. “Your concern is duly noted," he said finally.

I unwrapped my own parcel, devoured a roll in three bites, then said, "I have questions regarding your blessing."

"What happened to we're not the same? Changed your mind?" He picked out an Ishgardian muffin and set the rest aside.

"No, I believe what you told me," I said. "Heretic or not, it doesn't matter. The Tribunal’s verdict has stood unchallenged for ten days, thus according to canon law you are officially absolved of all past transgressions. I see no point bringing it up to the Inquisition."

He sighed. "Law abiding to the letter, aren't you."

I watched him like a hawk until he finished eating. I checked his bandages, though he did not tolerate it when I attempted to rearrange his bedding. “Stop fussing,” he grumbled.

"Are you truly so desperate to prove Halone's verdict wrong, that you would tempt the inquisitors? Why?"

He shook his head. "I don't question the wisdom of Her judgment. I only... lack the strength to accept the burden of Her gift."

"You single-handedly took down two knights of the Heaven's Ward!”

"Only by exhausting my entire store of aether. Another show like that and I’d be dead."

"Still, your aetheric manipulation must have been exceptional in the past."

"You may be right. And might I remind you that humbleness is one of the virtues required of Her servants?"

I rolled my eyes and ignored his remark. “I presume you also did not fear your gift so much that you refused to wield it, however misguided you were.”

“No, but it made me foolish, conceited. Only after it was stripped from me did that I realize I did not fear it enough.”

"Yet even after She revoked Her blessing, you continued to serve Her, with only a blade in hand to further Her will, did you not?"

He peered at me cautiously. "That I did."

"Then what makes you believe you cannot do it now? Has She not spoken to you a single time since the trial?"

"I… I have not heard Her voice for many years,” he said, hesitating to pick his words. “But, I know from the evidence before me what She asks of me. It is no less than what I deserve, but more than I can bear.”

“Is that it then?” I crossed my arms. “You’ll simply refuse Her call?” 

He shrugged. “I thought I would lie here and feel sorry for myself for as long as I can. Eventually I’ll wear out my welcome, then I’ll probably sleep on the streets. One thing or another will come for me in due time.”

“It would be a waste of a holy gift, even if it is a heavy weight to bear,” I protested. “Believe me, I understand how crushing the responsibility can be.”

“You have not the slightest idea.”

“It is not a punishment to live. Whatever wrongs you once committed, She is giving you a chance to atone.”

“It's too late for me.”

“It is never too late-”

“There is nothing left to set right!” he cried. “My house, my kindred, they all bore the punishment for my crime. Even as we speak, the Inquisition is destroying their memories and replacing it with lies that suit their purpose. I repented, for years and years with sword and faithful service, and still it wasn’t enough? I only wanted…”

His voice broke. I saw the once-proud bearing of a devoted knight, bent with grief. His house was the very foundation he stood on, and in one fell swoop it had crumbled to ash. I shuddered to imagine how it would feel to be stripped of my conjury, to painstakingly rebuild my life a second time, a third… How many times could I bear it?

"I am sorry," I whispered. "May I?" 

He nodded. I reached out to his aether, a now familiar step in our daily ritual. I thumbed open my copy of the Enchiridion to an earmarked page. I rarely needed to read from it to perform basic spells anymore, but I feared my tongue would fail me at that moment. 

When I contacted his icy soul I did not flinch away. I felt for the shattered fragments, the aether channels raw from their recent reopening. I felt the feathery hoarfrost threads of tranquility, the silence after a battle when the dead were counted and mourned. I had always imagined the Fury’s mark to be as unyielding and sharp as steel. I had not thought Her blessing was capable of being delicate.

After I finished my healing spell, he said to me in anguish, "You must understand... I made my peace with death that day. I was sorry for the innocents condemned with me, but I felt relief like I never have before, that the worst I feared had finally come to pass. For Halone to spare me after that is a crueler punishment than anything that could be devised in all the Hells."

"She is cruel," I agreed. "It is in Her nature as war itself. I admit, I don't understand it either."

"The power She grants me is innately destructive. The more I tried to bend it to mend and pacify, the worse it backfired. So I must ask, what does She mean for me to do with it now?"

“I don’t know,” I said. 

"If I must keep spilling blood until I’ve paid my debt in full, unmake every last effort I made to serve Her, before She will grant me release, I simply... I cannot. It is beyond me."

"I do not believe that is Halone's will, Ser.”

He turned his face away from me. I heard him let out a shuddering sigh.

"You carry Her blessings in your heart with grace, young Alwin. I know telling you off won't do any good, just... don't trouble yourself too much on my account."

"I am only doing my duty," I replied. "Until tomorrow then."

On my way home, my feet took me past the place where the mansion of Iolanger’s ruinous house once stood, now empty and abandoned. It was situated far from the Pillars where the greater houses resided, and pedestrians moved past it with barely perceptible haste. I imagined that in a few months it would be built over, and perhaps after many years it would be relegated to the dark layers that supported the city’s crown. But outside of the sanctuary of the Vault, I dared not stop or cast more than a sideways glance towards it as I silently prayed to the Fury.