To those of you still waiting for more Supernovas, the story isn't dead, I promise. It's just hibernating to recover from the unfiltered bullshit I was put through at the start of Summer. It's coming back eventually though, I promise.

To those of you here for this story, I've got good news and bad news, and which is which depends entirely on your interpretation. The "bad" news is that this chapter is about as tame as the last one, heavy on emotion and low on ass-kicking. The "good" news is that pretty much every chapter I've got planned after this one is composed of at least 90% fire, brimstone, and curbstomp. It may not always be total curbstomp, since for all the WoL's god-killing prowess some enemies actually pose a threat to him, but you get the idea. Feels this time, fun next time and most times after that as well.

On a final note, I wrote this title back when I thought I'd get this done on Independence Day weekend. The pun is a bit more obvious if you know the last lines of America's National Anthem.

And so, with a full confession that I own nothing here, I bring you:

Land of Fury, Home of Braves

Coerthas Western Highlands: Camp Riversmeet
Gorgagne Mills

A simple-minded and dangerous fool. That had been Ysayle's first impression of the Warrior of Light. He was no more complicated than an ox, plodding along at the command of his masters for reasons beyond his ken and concern. They paid him to slay Primals, and he did not discriminate. Not even for a fellow Echo-blessed like herself, trying to serve a more noble goal with a Primal's power, as Saint Shiva reborn no less!

In this way, the man known as Malcolm was no better than Ishgard. Just as they would kill her for being a heretic so too would the Warrior of Light kill her for summoning a primal unto herself.

(He almost did kill her, she has to remind herself. Seven Hells, he'd beaten her within an ilm of her life, not even stopping when Shiva's grace had abandoned her.)

So yes, fool he may be, the man was unspeakably dangerous. In a way, however, she was glad for his strength. Otherwise that attack on the Steps of Faith that had spiraled beyond her control could have been much worse. That one angry man with an axe and his four adventurer friends could so utterly shatter the Horde and send them flying off with their tails between their legs… it made Ysayle feel lucky to have escaped his wrath alive.

Weeks, mayhap even months later (time had a way of blending together out in the blizzards of the Highlands), as she watched him effortlessly butcher her comrades, her "heretic followers" as the Holy See's faithful would call them, Iceheart's opinion remained largely unchanged. He was still a fool, and he still opposed her cause simply because others told him to. There was, however, one highly noticeable difference in how she saw the Warrior of Light now.

Malcolm wasn't "just" as bad as Ishgard. He was worse. Far worse. That raw, unbridled fury she'd painfully experienced firsthand was… well, it certainly wasn't "gone" by any means, but there was something… off about the Midlander mongrel's unstoppable rage. It was… what? Ysayle frowned as she searched for the right words. Changed? Altered? Deepened?

Then she saw it. Or rather she saw him, as her Echo briefly touched Malcolm's very soul. Gods, it was dark inside, so very dark. Now she understood, and the revelation terrified her. His rage was exactly the same as always; an inferno burning just beneath the surface, waiting to be unleashed. It was his mind that was different now, barely able to keep that rage from swallowing the Warrior of Light entirely. Ysayle knew not how or why, but the threads of Malcolm's sanity were beginning to… to fray.

After seeing Malcolm slaughter ever other heretic in the room with his bare hands, the last one started transforming out of sheer desperation. He probably didn't even know he was changing until it was over and he lunged at his would-be executioner with malformed half-Dravanian claws.

Anyone else would have leapt away, the drive for self-preservation overriding all else as a ten-fulm-tall mixture of wyrm and man tried to gore them on its talons. Malcolm did exactly the opposite. He ducked under the mutated heretic's limb, getting in closer as he drew the greatsword he'd taken to carrying on his back before decapitating the giant freak with a single, practiced stroke.

As the body fell without its head, the Warrior of Light remained motionless before eventually whipping the blood off his greatsword and returning it to its sheath. Steam rose from heretic corpses littering the room even as their gore froze in the Calamity-induced cold of Coerthas. "What a waste of time," he muttered to no one in particular. "Did Lord Artoirel actually believe this would be too much for me to handle?"

He was just about to turn around and walk out when, as if Oschon had come and personally dropped Malcolm a late nameday gift, a familiar woman sneered at him in a familiar voice.

"Looking for me, I presume." Iceheart didn't even bother phrasing it as a question, and as usual she was a malm off target. Malcolm was about to tell the Primal-empowered heretic leader that he didn't even know she was here until now, but then he recalled their last conversation.

"'Seek the Keeper of the Lake. See with eyes unclouded.' Wasn't that what said, Malcolm?"

Indeed, those had been her words. Eventually, he'd acted upon them. He sought out the Keeper of the Lake, the mighty Midgardsormr himself. Oh and Malcolm sure as bloody Hells found him too! But he did not "see with eyes unclouded" like Iceheart claimed. Not even close. The damned wyrm lord had stripped him of the Blessing of Light instead! This loss was compounded when an Ascian tried to take advantage of the situation, and even though Malcolm came out on top as usual, he'd been forced to pay an unacceptable price for victory that day.

"And while Moenbryda was dying, Princess Primal here was removing the Holy See's wards and giving the Horde free run of the place, just like she gave Nabriales free run of the Rising Stones, albeit indirectly in the latter case. Iceheart is the real reason we're in this mess when you stop and think about it, eh?"

Indeed. He agreed with Fray, as he did on many things. (And while the personification of his ruthless pragmatism was not allowed to "take the reins" as he'd attempted in Whitebrim, Malcolm was more than content to let him ride along as a passenger.)

Now after all the trouble, the pain, and the godsforsaken suffering Iceheart had caused him, direct and indirect, here she was at last, standing less than ten yalms in front of him. Malcolm didn't even try to hide the bloodthirsty grin working its way onto his face. "I am going to deeply enjoy this!" He reached for his blade, then paused and reconsidered before grinning wider as he cracked his knuckles. "No hoard of crystals this time, witch. That means no pulling a Primal out of your arse. Let's find out if your heart is really made of ice."

If Midgardsormr hadn't shown up at that exact moment with more of his vague and guttural rhetoric, things would have gotten ugly. They almost got ugly even with the King of Kings present. Malcolm's rage never once faltered as he listened to Ysayle's life story. How she'd nearly frozen to death like so many other children when the Calamity struck, how she'd been saved by Hraesvelgr himself, and how she'd "seen the truth" through the great wyrm's eyes.

"I was chosen," Ysayle ranted, "to deliver this revelation to the people – to bring dragon and man together, as they once were, and should ever be!"

"You dare speak to me about being chosen?" Malcolm roared. "Were you chosen by Hydaelyn to become a false god that slowly kills her with its existence alone? Were you chosen to tear down the wards protecting Ishgard and let the Horde unleash an Eighth bloody Hell on every man, woman, and child in Foundation? And you would call me a blind fool?!"

Malcolm saw Ysayle's conviction falter, her voice shaking in the aftermath of his accusations. She didn't deny her crimes, but oddly enough, she didn't condone what had happened either. "It wasn't supposed to be like that! You have to believe me! It was… beyond my control…" She looked away in shame. "Children taught to fear the skies, who saw their loved ones slaughtered…" she turned to Midgardsormr in pleading confusion. "Yet the Dravanians – though they know where the fault truly lies – fell upon them with such fury…"

The Father of the First Brood only scoffed. "Men die, and their children forget. But we are everlasting. To us, then is as now." His voice was chiding, arrogant, as if it was painful to even try explaining the concept of timelessness to mortals. "Thou canst not comprehend the violation. The outrage. The fury."

"I 'comprehend' just fine," Malcolm spat, his blatant hostility and disrespect toward the Wyrm Lord scaring Ysayle all over again. "You think your vaunted Dravanian immortality makes your anger special and justified somehow, like a man cannot feel that same rage in his vastly shorter time upon this star. You are wrong. I know exactly what kind of fury your children feel, Midgardsormr. I know because I have felt it more times than even you can imagine!"

Malcolm held his arms out wide, a dare for any to challenge him as he continued. "I felt it for Livia sas Junius, who raided my first real home and slaughtered those I had begun to call family! I felt it for every Garlean that was with her that day, and after killing Livia herself, I hunted them down to a man! They screamed, they ran, they fought back, and in the end they died all the same. If this sounds familiar, know that I am far from done! Whatever you think you know of 'violation,' it pales in comparison to the sight of a cackling devil wear a dear friend's body and mind as if it were a mere suit of clothes! Lahabrea possessed my friend, and I felt the depth of that corruption when I was forced to excise his rot from Thancred's soul! There are… truly no words." The Warrior of Light glared at Ysayle before turning back to look at Midgardsormr. "The outrage at heretics attacking soldiers under the command of my closest friend, Lord Haurchefant, followed by the utter fury at the thought of Lady Iceheart summoning a Primal almost in his backyard! Never mind the torment I will never forget until I die: the sight of an Eorzean transforming into a Primal! It is truly a miracle Garlemald has not already sent every last legion under their command to the West and crushed us into dust. We are hardly people to them as it is. If the truth came to light, they would see us as naught but ticking time bombs. I need not explain any fury beyond that, Keeper of the Lake, for the next violation was yours, Midgardsormr, as you well know, when you ravaged every fiber of my being and ripped the Blessing of Light out of my very soul! Through some ill-defined 'covenant' you have become bound your existence to mine, the weight of your inescapable presence denying me peace within my own mind!" Ysayle gasped at this revelation but Malcolm paid her no mind. "Then Nabriales attacked, and because of you, I could not stop him! Then I go, still tired and in mourning, to protect the Gates of Judgment because your wayward children, robbed of vengeance against the fathers, are just as content to slaughter the children of Ishgard for said fathers' sins, innocence and ignorance to any crime be damned! And still it does not end, for I am then forced to run, alone and ashamed, as what remained of that first real family is taken away one by one, possibly forever! Never forget that I, too, was betrayed by mortals. Teledji and Lolorito framed me for regicide, yet I do not wish every Lalafell dead for the schemes of two." He was breathing hard now, dark hatred clawing and cloying like a red smoke around his body.

"So yes, I can easily comprehend the fury you dragons believe so exclusive to your kind. I may not live forever, but until either death or vengeance grant me peace, a hatred deeper than you or any of your children could possibly know will burn as a fire without end inside my soul!"

For a moment, all was silent, Malcolm's words still resonating off the walls even after he'd finished. And Midgardsormr, for all the antagonism he visited upon this peculiar mortal, was forced to admit – quietly of course – that mayhap his children's rage was not so far beyond mortal ken after all.

Or at least, not all mortals.

For her part, Ysayle seemed conflicted, yet she made an ominous vow regardless.

"I will make this right."

Malcolm scoffed as Midgardsormr vanished into the air once more. "Prove it. Show me how far you would go for the oaths you swear and the codes you keep." The Midlander mongrel turned and slowly walked out the way he came in. "Do not make me regret sparing you for the second time now."

It was a whim more than anything. He wanted to see if she could do it, of course, but more than that, he wanted Ysayle to wake up and see how her moral high ground was a farce. She had blood on her hands, same as Malcolm, except she refused to take the blame. Iceheart said what she had done was unforgivable, but how could she understand when she was never the one to pay the price for her actions? Ysayle summoned Shiva unto herself, gaining a Primal's strength as her own while draining life from the land. Her role in the Dravanian assault on Foundation was possibly even worse because, no matter how guilty she felt about removing the wards, the fact remained that Lady Iceheart was alive and the Horde's countless victims were dead!

Whether she opened her eyes to the truth or not, Malcolm would leave the matter for another day. For now his business was concluded, and he couldn't wait to see the look on Lord Artoirel's face when the elder Fortemps son discovered his "errand boy" wasn't dead.

Sea of Clouds: Vundu Ok' Bendu

"Cid, whale…"

"I know…"

"Cid! Whale!"

"I know, Malcolm!" Cid Garlond, the chief of Garlond Ironworks, yelled over his shoulder as he just barely navigated the Enterprise around the gaping maw of Bismarck, Lord of the Mists.

Only after they were safely beyond the reach of the Vundu and their Primal – because of course the local beast tribes had summoned a Primal he'd inevitably have to kill! – did Malcolm allow himself to relax. Not just relax, the Warrior of Light turned to Haurchefant and actually laughed.

For it was with his truest friends, of which he had so very few, that Malcolm was a person first and the Warrior of Light second, rather than the other way around.

"Due respect, Haurchefant," Malcolm chuckled, "sometimes I think you may be crazier than I am!"

Lord Haurchefant Greystone, Commander of Camp Dragonhead merely laughed as he feigned perfect ignorance and innocence. "Whatever do you mean, my friend? I am the picture of sanity!"

Letting the blatant falsehood slide (this time), Malcolm slung an arm over the silver-haired lord's shoulder and grinned, pointing back in the direction they'd just come from. "You just dove off the side of a mountain – a floating mountain I'd like to add, swarming with angry Vundu – onto a moving airship! Tell me, how am I meant to top that? Go back and kill the whale with my bare hands?"

Haurchefant pretended to consider the idea. "Would I actually get to see you kill it this time, or will my own knights restrain me again while you have all the fun?"

The two best friends, nay, the two brothers, continued this same easy laughter together all the way back to Camp Cloudtop. As he piloted the airship, Cid was quite sure that Haurchefant was on an incredibly short list of people capable of bringing a smile to Malcolm's face.

"Hells," the former Imperial thought to himself. "Save for the Scions and possibly myself, Lord Haurchefant may be the list…"

The Holy See of Ishgard: The Pillars
The Supreme Sacred Tribunal of Halonic Inquisitory Doctrine

By the time the trial had begun, a sizeable crowd had amassed. Highborn, come to witness the scandal, the wards of House Fortemps charged with heresy by knights of the Heavens' Ward, whose word was as canon law. Lowborn, come to support Tataru, their charming new Lalafellin friend from the Forgotten Knight, now a victim of some noble's nonsense.

Lord Haurchefant, bastard son of the Count standing by his side, was well acquainted with the games the High Houses liked to play. There was a time he'd served as ammunition against his father, though certainly never to this extreme a degree. This was low, even for House Dzemael.

"Oh, if they only knew," Haurchefant thought to himself, trying very hard not to smirk just yet. After all, why ruin the surprise? Better to let the tension build. Ser Grinnaux wouldn't know what hit him until he was lying face down in his own blood. Malcolm would make sure of that.

"We are gathered here today, under the watchful gaze of the Fury," the High Adjudicator announced to the crowd, "to ascertain the guilt of two souls in a trial by combat! Petitioners, step forward!"

Ser Grinnaux did as the High Adjudicator requested, stepping forward alongside another knight of the Heavens' Ward: Ser Paulecrain.

A former knight of House Fortemps himself and a veritable artist with a lance, Paulecrain's "incendiary personality" had still quickly led to his expulsion. Both his skill and his aforementioned personality led to him being taken in by House Dzemael, who viewed him as a great asset due to his lack of scruples and willingness to get his hands dirty. They even gave him a title: Ser Paulecrain Coldfire. He had come far from his days of poverty, now an employee and close friend to Ser Grinnaux the Bull, his brother knight of the Heavens' Ward.

It had been rewarding enough to see Grinnaux make Count Edmont de Fortemps squirm by accusing his House's new wards of consorting with heretics. Grinnaux was simple and straightforward, but this only heightened his effectiveness as a vicious brute. Thus while the politics behind the false charges escaped him, he gladly did it for the sake of hitting Dzemael's rival House. Paulecrain saw the game being played though, and the chance to take a literal stab at House Fortemps' wards had him almost giddy with anticipation.

"Ser Grinnaux," the High Adjudicator requested in a loud and impassive voice, "for the benefit of all here present, I would ask you to repeat the charges which you have leveled against this man and this woman."

The knight in question grinned. It was not a pleasant expression, full of malice where a grin should be full of warmth. "I, Ser Grinnaux de Dzemael, brother of the Heavens' Ward, did bear witness to these two foreigners consorting with heretics!"

The Tribunal instantly came alive with the buzz of whispering Highborn, all acting shocked and scandalized to hear Ser Grinnaux's claims. "Such scandal!" they would say, as if this exact gossip hadn't spread like wildfire through the entire Pillars less than half a bell after the arrests took place. It was "most assuredly" the first any of the nobles had heard of it. All for show, of course. Hushed voices flew like arrows, well aimed and with purpose. They sought to gain from this spectacle at what they believed would be the inevitable expense of Fortemps. All it took was a few of the right words in the right ears at the right time.

Yeah. They weren't fooling anyone, and certainly not the Lowborn who could only roll their eyes and wish to gods that Tataru didn't have to pay the price for the blue bloods' little pissing contests.

The High Adjudicator gestured for silence before turning to Alphinaud and Tataru. "Let the accused step forward!" When they had done so, he continued. "Alphinaud Leveilleur, Tataru Taru – you have heard the charges leveled against you. Will you take up arms to refute Ser Grinnaux's claim and thereby prove your innocence in the eyes of gods and men?"

What happened in Ul'dah still weighed heavily on Alphinaud's mind, and it likely always would, but thanks to the support of his remaining friends and allies, especially the Warrior of Light, it had not broken him. His former confidence had all but completely returned, though it was now tempered with a great deal more humility. Without even flinching, Alphinaud spoke with the firm resolve anyone who knew him had come to respect. "I, Alphinaud Leveilleur, am innocent of this charge, and claim my right to trial by combat!"

By his side, Tataru was trying (and not completely succeeding) to put on a brave face. "I, Tataru Taru, am innocent of this charge…" She gulped audibly before continuing. "But I am no warrior, and cannot fight, so I claim the right to name a champion!"

Once more the air buzzed with whispers. No scandalous gossip this time though. The crowd's shock and incredulity were quite real, not to mention quite vocal. Trial by combat against the Heavens' Ward? It was as much a death sentence as the charge of heresy itself! They had all known it was coming. That was the purpose of this gathering, after all, but it didn't really sink in until they heard the accused personally say it out loud.

Furthermore, no one here would dare take up arms on Mistress Tataru's behalf. Shameful as it was to stand idly by as the poor girl was ripped to pieces alongside the elezen lad, there was nothing anyone could do. The only alternative was for someone to pointlessly take her place and get ripped to pieces by the Heavens' Ward knights in her stead. Selfless to the extreme, yet ultimately pointless as the champion's death would reflect upon the accused they stood for as the Fury's judgment, and Tataru would either die or be left to rot in gaol.

The two wards of House Fortemps were trapped, and everyone in the room knew it. House Dzemael had played well.

Either ignorant or unconcerned with the grim reality of the situation, the High Adjudicator gave Tataru a small nod. "To the old and the infirm, the young and the weak, this right we allow. Very well." Then to the crowd, he posed the million-gil question. "Who will stand for this woman?"

Grinnaux and Paulecrain made no effort to keep the smug, shite-eating grins off their faces. After all, who could possibly stand against the likes of them? They cast their gaze over the Tribunal, practically daring someone here to try and stop them, only to stop when their eyes fell on Lord Haurchefant. He actually gave them a shite-eating grin before turning to look at the large iron doors through which Tataru and Alphinaud had previously entered the Tribunal.

Not seconds later, those same doors were thrown open with such violent force that they nearly came off their hinges. Grinnaux and Paulecrain both frowned at this display of strength, and save for a handful of gasps, the entire crowd became silent as a grave.

The gasps and whispers started up again as Mistress Tataru's champion revealed himself. They all watched, awestruck, as well over six fulms of angry half-breed marched into the Tribunal as if he owned the place. A greatsword just as massive as its wielder rested on his back, and the expression in his golden eyes was nothing short of livid.

Haurchefant of the Silver Fuller couldn't resist the golden opportunity. Honestly, Malcolm would thank him for it later. "The Warrior of Light will stand for his friend!" the young lord shouted at the top of his lungs.

Whatever House Dzemael had hoped to gain, they now stood to lose far more than they could afford. This rigged game of theirs had been turned on its head, its stakes raised beyond measure. Whoever was pulling Grinnaux's strings thought the two wards of House Fortemps to be mere pawns, easily captured in a stab at their rival. Now all of Ishgard would see that those "pawns" were under the violent protection of the single most dangerous man in Eorzea.

Simply put, Grinnaux was about to learn a very painful lesson.

Alphinaud let out a breath of relief he hadn't known he was holding as Tataru leapt up and down while spinning in a circle. "Just as I was beginning to doubt the efficacy of the Ishgardian justice system! Come, my friend – let us put an end to this mummer's farce!"

Malcolm said nothing, merely offering Tataru the warm smile that only his closest friends knew to interpret as "Don't worry, it's all gonna be fine." It wasn't long, however, before he stopped smiling and fixed Ser Grinnaux with a glare. Oh, if looks could kill, this trial by combat would have ended before even starting.

A champion now stood for the woman, thus the trial could now proceed. The High Adjudicator turned and looked to his right, then his left, and when he received unanimous nods to the affirmative from his fellow judges on both sides, he rose to his feet and held out one hand as the floor below him shifted into a proper arena.

Giving a final reassuring nod to Tataru before she was ushered out of the way, Malcolm strode up to meet the Heavens' Ward knights in the center. Taking his place on Alphinaud's left, he made sure to stand just slightly out ahead and in front of the boy. "You know, when I encouraged you to hone your skills, I expected you to practice spells on a training dummy, not pick a fight with the Archbishop's personal guard." The Midlander mongrel grinned over his shoulder at his young friend. "Must the Leveilleur family do everything on a grand scale?"

"This coming from Eorzea's Primal-slayer?" Alphinaud countered smoothly as he reached for his half-grimoire, Adelphoi. He may not be an unstoppable force of nature like the Warrior of Light, but he was a highly proficient arcanist. "I shall do what I can to support you, Malcolm." He allowed himself a small smirk now that the odds no longer overwhelmingly favored his opposition. "Now, let us teach these noble sers the folly of bearing false witness!"

The High Adjudicator held out his hand again, and everyone fell silent as he cried out in prayer. "O Halone, render unto us Your judgment! Raise up the righteous, and cast down the wicked!"

And then it began.

"As you know, I died here in my trial by combat. See if you can do better."

Malcolm growled at Fray's tone but didn't respond, nor did he reach for the greatsword on his back even as the two knights drew their weapons and Alphinaud flipped open his grimoire. He was perfectly content to let the blood-red aura writhing around him do all the talking. It had quite a lot to say about rage, hate, and pain.

Clearly something was lost in translation though, as Ser Paulecrain just sneered at the so-called Warrior of Light. "Well, well, who do we have here?" With a twirl of his lance, he advanced on Malcolm. "This one is mine, Ser Grinnaux. Go and play with the boy."

"Hmph, bloody waste of…" Grinnaux muttered under his breath, disappointed that Paulecrain would have all the fun. Still, he turned to Alphinaud and charged like his eponymous title, axe raised above his head. "Come on, then! You wanted this, remember?!"

Alphinaud's spells weren't even slowing the brute down. He may as well have been pelting Ser Grinnaux with snowballs for all the good it did. This was not about power though. Alphinaud's greatest strength was, and would always be, his mind. He wanted this thug looking at him, to focus entirely on the small boy he intended to cut down in a single swing of his axe…

Except the swing never came. At least not while Malcolm's iron grip on the haft kept it from moving so much as an ilm towards Alphinaud. And that was just the Warrior of Light's right hand. His left hand was similarly holding onto Paulecrain's halberd, keeping the bladed end pointed up and away from him.

"No Grinnaux," Malcolm snarled. "You wanted this! You started this when you cried heresy where there was none." Kicking Paulecrain hard enough through his armor that the dragoon was left doubled over and gasping for air, he cocked back his now-free left hand before planting it squarely in Grinnaux's face.

"You started this," Malcolm repeated slowly. "Now I intend to finish it." He finally drew his greatsword and took a proper stance. "Pray to Halone all you want, but the only 'fury' rendering judgment here is mine!"

And because they were focused entirely on Malcolm this time, it was Alphinaud who was now free to engage their enemies, casting a lengthy and explosive spell beneath their feet. It was essentially just an upscaled Ruin, but the child prodigy would take his victories where he could get them these days. And the sight of two Heavens' Ward knights tumbling arse over teakettle on the floor definitely qualified as a victory.

Now after getting knocked around twice, however, said knights were thoroughly pissed off and no longer had any intention of "playing" with their opponents. As Paulecrain jumped to engage Malcolm once more, Grinnaux took another shot at Alphinaud. "I've had enough of your tricks!" he yelled before lashing out at the boy with a chain of aether-imbued Ishgardian steel.

When Malcolm heard his friend cry out in pain, when he saw his friend bound and writhing in agony like that…

"Hah!" Paulecrain taunted, "a fine champion you are!"

"Oh, you sods just made a big mistake."

Whatever self-restraint Malcolm had left at that point immediately snapped as he charged straight for Grinnaux like a man possessed. Paulecrain moved to intercept him, only to get backhanded across the face for his efforts.

"Oh don't worry, you're next," the Warrior of Light warned the dragoon, his golden eyes remaining locked on Grinnaux the whole time as he leapt into the air and brought his greatsword down on the warrior's glowing chain. Beneath the weight of Malcolm's fury, not to mention that of the blade itself, the chain shattered into countless pieces.

Having come in perpendicular to the chain, Malcolm was now in a crouched position with Grinnaux on his left and a barely-conscious Alphinaud on his right. Grinnaux made the obvious choice to attack the Warrior of Light's now-exposed flank, but turned out to be precisely the wrong thing to do.

"I will see you break!" Malcolm roared as he spun left underneath the head of Grinnaux's axe before driving his knee into the man's armored sternum hard enough to lift them both off the ground. While airborne, he brought his other knee up and hit Grinnaux in the same spot hard enough to carry them even higher. Still in midair, Malcolm lunged at the knight and took hold of him by the face. Then, in full view of the Tribunal and all present, the Warrior of Light called upon the abyssal power of the Void itself, channeling it within the palm of his hand.

Malcolm blasted Grinnaux point blank in the head once, twice, three times with unaspected magick as they fell back to the ground. Upon landing, the Midlander mongrel promptly introduced his victim's self-righteous skull to the floor hard enough to generate a sick cracking noise.

Scorched and thoroughly beaten, Grinnaux managed to glare up at the Warrior of Light one final time before his world went black.

"One down," he growled, not remotely concerned by the fact that he'd just outed himself as a Dark Knight in a room full of Ishgardian church and state officials. No, Malcolm didn't care about that at all. This power came at a cost, possibly the highest, but he would gladly pay it. All those gawking nobles up in the crowd would never understand. They saw a monster anathema to their faith, and quite frankly, that only served to further prove his point:

It was proof that Malcolm would go to any length for his friends. Obviously he was willing to fight, kill, and if necessary, die for them…

"Heathen swine!" Paulecrain shouted as he jumped almost to the ceiling before diving down and slamming his spear into the floor, filling the entire arena with a grid of aetheric lightning orbs.

This went beyond mere death, however…

Malcolm imbued his greatsword with the Void and plunged it through the floor, causing dozens of curved, blood-red spikes to rise out of the ground, one for every orb of lightning Paulecrain had generated. The orbs were impaled by the dark magicks and swallowed whole by the abyss, leaving naught but a terrified Paulecrain in their wake.

This easy, eager adoption of the Dark Knight's power was a statement: that Malcolm would gladly damn himself for his friends.

Once more, Paulecrain attacked him, slashing and stabbing with his halberd at what should have been an easy target, only for the Warrior of Light to block and dodge around him in a nigh on effortless Dark Dance before smashing the dragoon back six fulms with a single blow. "My turn, Coldfire," he growled. He leapt forward with almost as much inhuman strength as Paulecrain, and the man only barely had time to block the greatsword from cutting him in twain. "What gives you the right to call me a heathen, dragoon? Is the source of your power not more taboo than my drawing upon the Void?"

Paulecrain let out an almost feral snarl as he spun and swung his halberd, not truly aiming for Malcolm so much as hoping the onslaught would cut him ribbons. Rather than backpedal, the Warrior of Light answered in kind. His greatsword was slow and heavy, but the latter trait was something Malcolm used to his advantage. The weight served to offset the weapon's lack of speed as the Midlander mongrel used the momentum of every strike to power the next so that either he or his greatsword was moving at all times. Against the relentless and unorthodox barrage, Paulecrain was inevitably going to tire out first.

And when he did tire out, Malcolm was right there waiting to capitalize on it. Trying to gain some breathing room, Paulecrain jumped away, but the Warrior of Light snagged him by the leg and flung the dragoon back down onto the ground before stomping on the selfsame leg hard. Ser Paulecrain's scream almost drowned out the sound of a snapping shinbone. Almost.

"What was that about me being a fine champion?" Malcolm growled as he pressed harder, earning another agonized cry from his victim. "Try jumping now you little shite!" The entire crowd thought he would finish Paulecrain off, but instead Malcolm turned and motioned to his own brother-in-arms. "Alphinaud!" he shouted.

It was not a call for help. Far from it, Malcolm could have easily ripped off Paulecrain's legs and ended this on his own, but what would that truly accomplish? He was Tataru's champion. House Dzemael's elite lapdogs had charged Tataru and Alphinaud with fomenting heresy, not him. They believed his friends and charges to be the weaker, easier prey.

Malcolm would have Alphinaud set them straight by having the boy deliver the coup de grâce instead of doing it himself. It would send a clear message that the Scions, for all their recent losses, were still a proud and powerful force in the realm. And that nobody, not even the holiest knights of Ishgard, would be suffered to threaten them without grave retribution.

Holding his grimoire out, Alphinaud loosed a sick, debilitating miasma on Paulecrain, rendering the already-crippled dragoon unconscious in seconds.

Malcolm chuckled wryly as his blood read aura faded away. "Ladies and gentlemen, court is adjourned."

Needless to say, Malcolm's victory had become the talk of Ishgard before he'd even made it out of the arena. Aymeric and Count Edmont were overseeing his friends' release, and Lord Haurchefant was in the main hall to congratulate him.

"I knew it, I knew you would succeed!" the young lord exclaimed the second Malcolm came through the door. "Well done my friend!"

Up in the personal seats of the Archbishop and his personal guard sat Ser Zephirin, the Very Reverend Archimandrite of the Heavens' Ward. He watched carefully how the mongrel greeted Lord Haurchefant, bastard son of Count Edmont de Fortemps. They met each other as brothers, laughter, claps on the back, all the usual overenthusiastic celebratory behavior – wait did Lord Haurchefant just call a black chocobo in the cathedral!? No matter, the young lord's foolish antics brought a genuine smile to Malcolm's face.

Ser Zephirin found the sight… reassuring actually. After what the Very Reverend Archimandrite had just seen the Warrior of Light do to Grinnaux and Paulecrain, it was good to know there was still a mortal man beneath all of that monstrous rage.

After all, men bled much more easily than monsters…

Eorzea: Eastern Thanalan
Sandgate: Halatali

Darkness permeated the air, anger seeped into the stone as the ground became slick with the blood of traitors.

"Did I not promise to kill you all!?"

The former Grand Company of the Scions, the Crystal Braves had been commanded "officially" by Alphinaud Leveilleur, but as they discovered on that tragic day in Ul'dah, nothing could be further from the truth. While some few like Riol had signed on for the noble goal of peace and a brighter future for Eorzea, the bitter reality was that the vast majority of Crystal Braves had sold out to Teledji Adeleji and Lord Lolorito before they even donned their uniforms.

A poor choice in hindsight. No amount of gil would save them from this. Twelve above, what had they been thinking!? What had Ilberd been thinking!?

"This is for Yda and Papalymo!"

He was the Warrior of Light!

"For Thancred and Y'shtola!"

He was a professional god-killer!

"For Minfilia!"

He smashed the XIV Legion and the Ultima Weapon! Then he'd, oh shite, he'd banished an Ascian. And he'd bloody killed another just a few moons ago…

"For the Scions!"

In short, Malcolm wasn't so much a man as he was the single most destructive reactionary force of vengeance in written history… and the Crystal Braves had intentionally pissed him off!

One by one, they paid for their betrayal in blood. Malcolm was the reaper of a debt that never forgave, crushing all resistance under his heel as he brought the power of the Dark Knight to bear on an entire privatized Grand Company. Against anyone else, they may have stood a chance.

He wasn't anyone else, and they were out of chances in his eyes.

It wasn't long before he reached Raubahn, with Alphinaud and Yugiri following close behind. While Malcolm carved apart the bulk of the Crystal Braves, they had been left to deal with some few stragglers, archers beyond the reach of his greatsword, and any with the belated good sense to try and run for their lives.

When they finally located Raubahn, the path behind them was sealed and the room itself flooded with poison.

Yuyuhase thought (hoped) that would be enough to kill the bastard. Not even the Warrior of Light could fight against the air… could he?

Black and red aether swallowed the gate and a greatsword slammed into it again and again as Malcom pulverized the oversized door from within and without simultaneously.

Of course he could! Fighting this monster was beginning to feel like an exercise in futility: they may as well be trying to douse Ifrit's Inferno by pissing on the flames. Yuyuhase figured that now was a very could time to get Ilberd.

As if that would make any difference…

"I should have known," Ilberd sneered as he approached the sorry lot he'd betrayed without hesitation in Ul'dah. "What are clever contrivances to the Warrior of Light?" He scoffed at the lofty title, but even he had to admit, Malcolm was a tenacious bastard. "…Well done, hero."

Whatever else Ilberd, Yuyuhase, Laurentius, or anyone else was planning to say, none of it would ever be heard. Malcolm hated being called a hero enough when people were sincere. To hear Ilberd use it with such heavy sarcasm was the last straw. All the emotion that had built up since the events in Ul'dah. All the anger, all the hate, all the searing pain at how helpless he'd been to save any of his friends that horrible night…

Every onze of it came flooding out of his soul at once, crying a single name:


The dross at the traitor's flank hardly mattered, and regardless, if they weren't killed outright by the weight of his abyssal aether, then they were quickly dispatched by Yugiri or Alphinaud. That left Ilberd at his mercy, even if the bastard didn't know it yet.

"I am not a hero!" Malcolm roared. "I am a deterrent!" As he screamed, he unleashed all seven Hells on Ilberd. Slashes, kicks, explosions of black magick, and even a headbutt to the bridge of his opponent's nose that left the Highlander seeing stars. "I promise ruin to my enemies that I might protect my friends! I offer naught but retribution so thorough in its brutality that none would dare to cross me for fear of the devastation it would bring upon their heads! You crossed me Ilberd! Guess what happens now?"

The Ala Mhigan extremist snarled and rushed straight at Malcolm. As skilled as Ilberd was with a blade, however, he was at a disadvantage on multiple levels. First of all, the Warrior of Light was stronger, faster, definitely meaner, and all-around better. Second, Ishgard's isolationist policy had once again worked in his favor against the Crystal Braves, as none outside of the Northern regions had ever encountered a Dark Knight before today. The deadly combination of sword, fist, and Void was unlike anything Ilberd had ever seen, let alone fought against. That didn't stop him from trying to fight anyway, naturally.

"For Ala Mhigo!" the Highlander cried.

Not even bothering with a proper parry, Malcolm easily sidestepped Ilberd's blade, grabbed his enemy by the wrist and snapped his arm like a dry twig in one fluid motion. "Heh, sloppy," he chuckled darkly. As his victim dropped his sword from the pain, the Midlander mongrel ripped away his shield as well before smashing it into Ilberd's face.

As Ilberd staggered back with no sword and no shield, clutching his broken arm, Malcolm called upon the Dark Arts, the sheer power of the Void momentarily lifting him off the ground before he channeled all the energy to his blade and unleashed it in three swift strokes. Upward, across, and then back down, each found its mark, scoring deep gashes across Ilberd's chest. Were it not for the heavy armor beneath his Crystal Brave uniform the Highlander would be on the ground in wet chunks right now.

"It is over Ilberd!" Alphinaud called out behind him.

The deductions that followed, especially concerning whether or not the Sultana was ever even assassinated to begin with, were certainly interesting. They'd taken the bite out of Ilberd, it would seem.

Like a rabid dog, however, and when biting failed, he resorted once more to barking. Specifically, he barked at Malcolm.

"He never learns, does he Malcolm?"

"If you think you fight for justice, lad, you'd best wake up. The truth is, you fight for whoever bloody well tells you to. Can you not see you're being used!? By the Scions, the city-states, even the Crystal Braves. They none of em care a whit what you want ─ only what you can do for them."

Alphinaud, Yugiri, and Raubahn all glanced at Malcolm to see his reaction, but the Warrior of Light remained silent and… amused? He was difficult to read sometimes.

"And how do I know this?" Ilberd continued. "Because I'm the same ─ a pawn to be used as my masters see fit. All I ever wanted was to liberate my homeland, and I ate dirt to make it happen. But what have I achieved after all these years in servitude? Nothing! Not a bloody thing."

Malcolm cocked an eyebrow at that, but still he kept quiet and allowed the ranting to continue, much as he'd done with Livia so many moons ago.

And Ilberd certainly didn't disappoint, even with a broken arm and no hope of fighting back. "If we ourselves are not free ─ free to think and to act ─ how are we ever to reclaim our homeland? Know this: there is nothing I would not give to take back Ala Mhigo! NOTHING!"

The tirade was over, and at last Malcolm spoke, his tone unflinching, his words crystal clear.

"Serve… save… slave… slay," the Warrior of Light canted with a bitter half-chuckle as he remained shrouded in blood-red darkness. He planted his sword in the stone floor, leaned his weight against it, and stared Ilberd down. "Now you, know this: Whatever you think you would give to take back Ala Mhigo, I would easily give tenfold more! Not just for the Scions but for any and all that I call friend!" Calming down slightly, Malcolm continued. "To walk the path is to suffer… to sacrifice." He yanked his greatsword out of the floor and spun it to rest over his shoulder. "Such is a Dark Knight's justice, only as real as I make it with my own two hands. You tell me to wake up, yet all you do is dream of Ala Mhigo. Can you even see what you've become, or are you just a diseased animal what needs to be put down?"

Had Ilberd not dropped a magitek flashbang grenade, Malcolm would have put him down.

When he looked back on this day, he would always wish he had put him down. Would certainly have saved the Warrior of Light a good two dozen headaches.

But that was a story for another time.

Long one, wasn't it? Those rants though. Still, it felt good. I don't even know if that many people read this story, but it sure feels good to write it. Also, not gonna lie, Stormblood has just as much, if not more potential for revenge chapters than Heavensward. That said, Heavensward still has the best opportunity. We all know what it is. And "that scene" is coming up next time, along with the first fight against Nidhogg. I sort of wanted to see if putting Nidhogg, Estinien, and my equally revenge-oriented Warrior of Light all in the same boss arena would cause the Aery to explode from an excess of awesome. Guess we'll find out next time eh? Until then, of course…

Read, Review, and Enjoy!