Crossover with Final Fantasy X. AuronxBasch. Neither need tell his story, when both look like this. Spoilers for both games.
"Lord Larsa," he said.
The young man riding beside him turned his head. Basch made one final attempt at promoting wisdom, though he suspected his efforts were as doomed here as ever they had been with Princess Ashelia. "Would you not reconsider continuing your journey in an airship? It will be harder for us to protect you in the forest."
Larsa nodded gravely. "We have discussed this previously, Judge Magister. I wish to see Landis from the ground. I have sufficient maps and reports to know Landis from the air, but to rule it adequately I must also understand it from the ground. We continue as we have begun."
Basch could not dismiss a creeping feeling of unease as the expedition moved into the forest. Though Landis had shown no signs of rebellion against Archadian rule this decade past, he knew how proud her people could be. One hundred of the best soldiers in Archades' army and four Judges Magister should have been quite sufficient to protect Larsa from harm, but Basch still worried. If they were to be attacked, it would be here; Landissers were masters of wood-craft second only to the Viera.
"You are yet uneasy, Judge Gabranth," Larsa said, and it took Basch a moment to respond to the name. Six years in Larsa's service and the name sat as ill upon him now as it did when first he took up his brother's mantle.
"You have charged me with overseeing your safety, Lord Larsa," he said. "I would not be careless in the execution of such a task."
Larsa smiled faintly, and gestured at the trees around them. "Tell me of these woods," he said. "Landis supports itself, of course, but I would see it flourish. Tell me how this may be."
Basch felt Zalera stir and wake in his mind a mere moment before the woods exploded into flame.
It had been years since he had been in combat for his life, but that did not mean he had permitted himself to grow slack. In his peripheral vision he saw the other Judges closing ranks around Larsa, who was surrounded by a green glow as he began to cast his own magicks. Basch felt the coolness of Shell settle around him as he drew Excalibur and turned his chocobo so that it set its tail toward Larsa's bird. Judge Thadalfus was shouting orders, organizing the soldiers to fight back. More magicks rained down upon them, the sharp scent of Thundaga and the icy chill of Blizzaga. Larsa's Curaja soothed those wounds.
Men poured out of the woods as the torrent of magicks abated, shouting the names of their steadings as they went. Just before they reached the first line of soldiers, Basch felt the slow sticky weight of Slowga take hold. Larsa was chanting frantically behind him, but the time magick had caught him as well. Basch gritted his teeth and raised Excalibur.
He heard a shout of "Ronsenberg!" off to his left, and could not help turning to see.
His distraction nearly cost him his right arm, but the heavy plate mail of a Judge Magister turned a crippling blow into a merely agonizing one. He slashed awkwardly at his attacker, opening a broad red gash across the man's chest. He thought of summoning Zalera, but he doubted the Esper would make enough of a difference to offset the strength he would spend to call it.
Some of their soldiers were finally beginning to fight back with magicks. Bolts of lightning and pillars of flame sprouted in the midst of the attacking Landissers, disrupting their attack. Other soldiers carved through their more lightly-armoured foes despite the dragging effects of Slowga. Despite their numbers, the Landissers were slowly being overwhelmed by the Archadian contingent. Basch saw a dozen steel-wrapped bodies lying in the churned bloody mud, soldiers not quick enough to fight back. Yet they were winning, and Larsa would soon be safe.
Then he heard the whistling of arrows.
They rained down from all sides, catching Landissers nigh as often as Archadians. Basch spun his chocobo back toward Larsa, raising his shield to defend the Emperor--
Larsa was clutching the shaft of an arrow that protruded from his belly.
Basch fumbled for an elixir, holding his shield high above himself and Larsa to protect him from the arrows that continued to fall. His shield was not large enough, and the arrows were coming from too many directions. Another pierced Larsa's armour and sank into his back, and another bit deep into his thigh. Basch pulled out the elixir bottle, only to have it fall from nerveless fingers when a Landisser axe nearly hewed his arm off at the elbow.
The skies of home whirled bright and blue over him as he tumbled from his saddle. Another axe blow gouged into his ribs. Zalera screamed in triumph and drained the last of Basch's strength to burst into existence.
The last thing he saw was the exploding bodies of friend and foe alike as Zalera celebrated his freedom.
Light returned to him slowly, a gradual lessening of the black abyss that had drawn closed around him in the forest. He lay sprawled upon a strange crystalline path, surrounded by tall blue trees with sparkling leaves. Neither Larsa nor the soldiers that had accompanied them were within his sight.
Basch struggled to his feet, surprised to find that he bore only scars in place of the wounds he had taken in the forest. His Judge's plate mail had vanished, but Excalibur lay at his feet, clean and shining. He took up the sword and sheathed it.
Two paths led away from the clearing in which he had found himself. He could see little to differentiate them, and chose the northern one. He dared not call out Larsa's name for fear of drawing enemy attention to either himself or his charge, but neither could he find any sign of the Emperor. Faintly luminescent mist coalesced around his feet and rose slowly. The forest was unlike anything he had seen in Ivalice, and he had no idea how he might have been transported here, or even where "here" was. Kiltias taught that after passing, one's soul experienced an eternal, peaceful rest. If this eerie forest was their idea of eternal peace, Basch was forced to disagree with their assessment.
He followed the path for what seemed like hours. It looped and doubled back on itself, but amid the mist and the strangely sparkling trees, he could not tell when he crossed his own trail.
The path ended abruptly in a clearing, where he saw the first sign of other human life since his odd arrival in the forest. A warrior of late middle years sat at a small campfire, clad in a bulky crimson coat. He had graying dark hair and wore strange darkened spectacles. An enormous sword vaguely reminiscent of the Masamune Fran had wielded with such grace leaned against a nearby tree, conveniently within reach should its services be required.
The warrior glanced toward him, and Basch saw that he had a long scar running over his left eye. He did not speak, but gestured to a place near his fire. Basch approached slowly, unbuckling the belt that held Excalibur at his waist and leaning it against a tree. The warrior drank from a rounded clay jug and offered it to Basch.
He tasted a faint bitterness and the sting of alcohol, and then a hint of sweetness after he swallowed. He nodded his thanks and handed the jug back.
"Where in Ivalice is this place?" Basch asked after a moment.
"Ivalice?" The warrior appeared to be unfamiliar with the name. "This is the Farplane. Where spirits go after death."
Basch would have liked to have been surprised to be dead, but instead it felt as though the warrior merely confirmed something that he had always known, but been unable to express. He thought of Larsa, of Ashelia, of Rasler, and how he had failed all of them. "Is this hell, then?" he asked.
The warrior snorted. "It isn't heaven." After a moment, he extended his right hand, keeping his left tucked into his red coat. "Auron."
Basch shook the offered hand. "Basch fon Ronsenberg."
Auron nodded and fell silent, staring into the flames of the campfire. Basch studied the sparkling trees that surrounded them. Lit by the campfire's flickering light rather than the mist, they seemed somehow less frightening, though still eerie.
At length Auron spoke again. "I will move on in the morning," he said. "You may travel with me if you wish. We may find the ending of your tale on the way."
"What of yours?" Basch asked.
Auron smiled faintly. "By some counts, mine has ended twice already. Perhaps I will eventually find surcease."
Basch nodded, and lay down upon the crystalline path to rest. He would ask no more questions; he knew only too well the cost of stories told before they were ripe.
Yet he found himself hoping that Auron would chose to reveal them eventually. Mayhap they would even find Vossler, somewhere in this Farplane.
Despite the hard bed, he slept soundly.