Nothing changes in this city.
Garre'to pursed his lips and grimaced, standing out by the half-partition just outside of the Quicksand. He was leaning on his elbows, arms crossed against the surface, his eyes scanning the adjacent avenue for nothing in particular. Five years since he had come to this city and he had made the same observation on numerous ocassions -- the city, to him, was becoming stagnant. Since he had completed his lengthy training with the Sultantsworn, he found there was very little else to do, and he was eager to test his newfound arts as a free Paladin.
Yet one who would walk by the Moonkeeper would see him as nothing more than an ordinary man, and would likely not believe him were he to mention that he was, indeed, trained by the elite guardsmen of the city, as they would possibly have expected him to be adorned in the illustrious armor of their order. He wore fair and simple garments, instead, his red-sleeved doublet covered in dust at his elbows. His armored jackboots were gently kicking at the ground underneath him. His hair, black with white highlights, began to sway with the passage of the wind.
He looked nothing like the imposing individual he would, otherwise, pass himself off as. Even his eyes carried the image of youth, hued a dark brown with a large iris covering most of each orb. His dark-furred ears twitched at every passing sound, though he directed no attention to any of it. Garre'to seemed phased out, almost, blissfully unaware of his surroundings as he trolloped in his own daydreams.
He snapped back to reality when he heard a collection of passing footsteps, armored adventurers moving behind him with their boots clattering against the pavement. It seemed like a usual occurrence, and he would pay them no mind. The only difference, this time, was that they were not going into the Quicksand. This change did not register in Garre'to's mind, who remained somewhat unaware of the group behind him.
"Surely you have something better to do, lad," remarked a calm, yet deep and authorative voice from behind him. He perked his ears, shaking himself out of his thoughts so that he could turn around. There stood three of the true Sultansworn, adorned in similar armor. He immediately recognized the one at the head of the group, an older, gray-haired Midlander Hyur with a thick beard covering his chin.
"Master Xandar," he said, offering a bow of his head, "I'm sorry, I lost track of the time."
The older man gave him a deep chuckle, "That's fine, but you seem to have forgotten something."
Garre'to blinked, looking between himself and his superiors. All were adorned in the armor, except he. His cheeks flushed a deep obsidian and he pursed his lips, "Aye, as I said...I lost track of the time."
"Standing here outside of the Quicksand as always, hm?" Master Xandar grinned behind his beard, "I envy you as a free Paladin, Garret, that you may rest whenever you feel it necessary." Garre'to nodded once, before his superior continued his thoughts, "However, we still consider you a Sultansworn if only by name -- would you not feel it appropriate to represent us, at times?"
"Aye, I agree with you, sir," Garre'to responded, "but I was not expecting to become involved in the day-to-day so soon."
"Nevertheless," Xandard continued with a grunt, "your training is over, you have been given the armor. Today, we would have had you join us while we conduct our routine patrol."
"Really, sir?" the Miqo'te quirked his brow and canted his head a little to the side, "If that's the case, I'll go outfit myself into the armor immediately."
Xandar gave him a low, rumbling chuckle, "It is too late for that, lad. Perhaps next time. Ser Strom, Ser Bodrick and I must be on our way. I figured some conversation would get you on your feet for the rest of the evening."
Though he understood, Garre'to was a little disappointed -- anything to break the boredom he so dreaded, and yet suffered all of the same, was a welcome respite and he was more frustrated that he missed out on a good opportunity. Nevertheless, he gave his master a warm smile, "I understand, sir. I won't keep you and the others from your duties."
"Aye," Xandar nodded, "to make up for it, Garret, I would like for you to join us tomorrow morning when we make our rounds."
He perked up, and then nodded ecstatically, uncaring that they would see his excitement peak, "I'll be ready to go." He tried so hard to contain himself, but master Xandar saw through the ruse and laughed all the same.
"We're looking forward to it," he then turned to the other two Sultansworn at his sides -- both Hyur Midlanders like him -- and signaled for them to move on. The three of them made their way down the staircase and into the city. Garre'to watched as some of the crowd moved out of the way as they proceeded on their patrol.
It was not an hour later that Garre'to finally decided to make his way into the tavern proper. Inside were the murmurings of gossip and rumors, which Garre'to scarcely paid attention to. He waded his way through the taverns' patrons until he arrived at the bar, itself, where a wide-eyed and smiling Momodi greeted him.
"Good evening, Garret!" she said with a wave, "The usual, tonight?"
He took a seat in front of her and nodded, "Aye, but nothing too strong. I need to be up early in the morning." He grins, as though proud of that fact.
"Right, I'll start you off with something light, give me one second." Momodi hopped down from her stool and trodded off to find an appropriate drink. Garre'to had leaned forward, his elbows resting on the counter with his hands clasped together underneath his chin. It was then that the conversations around him started to fade in, and he could hear some minute details.
"...shipment mades it way to Vesper Bay..."
"...Brass Blades searched the caravan on our way into the city..."
"...those Sultansworn won't know what's coming..."
It took a moment to register what he had just heard, but when he did he perked his ears and looked over his shoulder. It was a group of three, draped in dark robes -- already, there were telltale signs. They kept to themselves, their faces concealed in hoods. They thought their conversation was well concealed, but Garre'to's Miqo'te ears picked up on it, though he could not hear anything else other than bits and pieces.
"...Steps of Thal...Dagger...Concealed..." The words he needed to hear, he picked out specifically and used them to draw a conclusion. These men were intent on ambushing the Sultansworn he had just spoken with. This revelation caused him to freeze.
He remained still. The group seemed to have come to a consensus and nodded to each other. As if discreetly, he proceeded together towards the exit to the Steps of Thal. Garre'to considered his options -- to follow them, or to find help. Despite being a free Paladin, himself, he had barely faced combat during his training. He would have to recover his weapon from the room the Quicksand provided for him.
He had to do it. He rose from his seat before Momodi could return from collecting his drink, and proceeded up the stairs to his room.
It was a quaint chamber with all of the necessities. His wardrobe off in the corner was half-open, the glimmer of the armor bestown upon him following the completion of his four-year training with the Sultansworn winking at him as he approached. He decided that he had little time to waste, choosing to not adorn himself in the illustrious armor of his order. Rather, he reached inside and pulled out a pair of vambraces, pushing his hands into them and flexing a bit to get accustomed to their size. When he was satisfied, he reached back in and pulled out a metal, collapsed object. He grimaced a little as he studied it, this enigmatic weapon whose design belonged to the enemies of Eorzea caused him slight uneasiness.
It was a prototype gunblade -- or was, at the very least, based on the design of one. He brought it to his side and threw it out, holding onto the grip. It activated, unlocking from the hilt and shifting into position, with its curved and sharpened blade on one side and the blunt edge with hooks for grappling on the other. Once he accustomed himself to the weight, he nodded and reset it to be holstered, the blade and its pieces collapsing into itself and locking back into the hilt.
He slung it to his waist and looked back into the wardrobe. The only thing left that he was itent on grabbing was the lantern shield he kept stashed inside of it. He reached back in, grabbing hold of his buckler's dulled edge and pulled it off of his hooks. Its gray metal flashed in the light of the room, though the middle of it was already illuminated by the fire core melded inside, underneath its dome. It had two blades, one parallel to his arm when the shield was strapped, slotted into the bottom half of the shield. He fitted the buckler onto his arm.
He was ready to go, nodding to himself in approval before he closed the wardrobe fully.
Momodi asked no question when he came down the stairs, his weapon holstered at his side and his shield strapped to his arm. No one in the tavern noticed him -- or feigned ignorance for his own sake. He proceeded out the door where the three dark-robed figures made their exit, and deigned to find their trail to follow.
It was in the darkest of night, his shield being the illumination he had to guide him through the back-alleys of Ul'dah's Steps of Thal. Off in the distance were the sounds of exchange, the movement of feet, the jolly conversations between friends, strangers, and peddlers. He only had those to comfort him, but he had steeled himself for what was to be ahead. The path was straightforward and narrowed as he proceeded down it.
Finally, he heard a scream. He dreaded what he thought he would see if he chose to investigate, but shook his head to clear himself of such negative thoughts -- though he also prepared himself for the worst. He rounded the corner into another alley. Sure enough, the sight was harrowing to his eyes.
Ser Bodrick was dead on the ground, a pool of blood collecting near his body in between the cracks in the pavement as it also stained his solid-brown hair, as short as it was. An expression of shock and horror was locked on his face with his pupils as white as death, itself. It was a recent kill, Garre'to noted, as he could not smell the stench just yet. Nearby was a woman draped in a red robe, covering his mouth as not to speak in this moment.
He looked to her, and as calmly as he could, opened his lips to speak, "Did you see it?"
She shook her head, taking a moment before she spoke, her lips quivering, "I-I only saw a dark figure as I came around here...Oh, Gods, that man is dead...The Sultansworn is dead...I thought they were the elite...?"
Even the greatest of men could be felled if caught unawares, he thought to himself, closing his eyes. He then looked back at her, "Get to safety, find help," was all he could say. The woman did not budge from her place, eyeing Bodrick's body in sheer terror.
"I bid you, miss," he said again, "Please, go find help!" He looked back to Bodrick's body. Finally, the woman nodded and scurried back around the corner, leaving him alone. The lights above him provided some illumination, his shield providing the rest. Bodrick was cold on the ground, and Garre'to made no move to adjust him for a moment. After shutting his eyes, he sighed and leaned down, pressing his fingers against Bodrick's eyelids, pushing them down so that they would be closed.
"Twelve watch over you, ser..." he murmured before he stood. Confusion began to build up inside of him, and he needed to find answers. He continued following the paths through the alley, intent on making it to the next site before another murder could take place. He feared for the worst, but once again steeled himself for the path ahead.
As he moved further away from the markets, less noise filled his ears, only the pounding of his feet against the stone pavement underneath and the rattling of his buckler against his steel vambrace. He was anxious, unsure if whether or not he wanted to continue what he was doing, but these were men that he had trained under for the past four years. He felt that they would be able to handle themselves in a fair fight, but these men that seemed to be after them -- they were using shadows and trickery, he knew; deception was winning the night over the Sultansworn, and he would not have accepted just standing idly by as it occurred.
What brought him to his senses was the suddenly ringing and clashing of steel. He finally found them, and it sounded as if they were already locked in a fierce battle. As he rounded the corner, sure enough, there they were. Master Xandar and Ser Strom were breathing haggedly, their swords held aloft. There were more of the dark-robed figures, armed with broadswords and daggers. Garre'to concluded that this was a planned attack, and they had targeted these three specifically.
He stayed behind the corner, pressed back against the wall, as he listened.
"Ser Xandar, you are too valuable to us for you to die," the one at the head of the group said, "I bid that you drop your arms, and we will take you with no more blood being shed."
Xandar spat out blood, Garre'to could easily see that the older Hyur was battered almost to unrecognition, his left eye lidded. Strom was no worse for wear, blood dripping from his lips and onto his white tabard.
"Your companions need not to die, this night," the leader continued, "It was unfortunate that the other had thrown himself onto my blade, but what's done is done."
"You cannot sway me with words, assasin," Xandar finally spoke, "How much are they paying you to have us silenced?"
"My benefactors only want you to learn your place. This is their city, and they will not have you and yours sullying their authority."
"My authority," Xandar responded with a low growl, raising his sword and pointing it at the leader, "is of the High Sultana of Ul'dah, and none other. Your 'benefactors' are fools for believing they had any sway over us."
"So you won't yield," the robed figure shook his head, "Unfortunate, then, that you must die to be kept silent."
Garre'to chose this moment, of all moments, to break from his cover. He charged headfirst into the group, drawing and activating his sword, slamming his lantern shield into the back of one of the assasins. The fodder in the back of the group were quick to fall, his scimitar gunblade slicing its way through the bodies and robes of his opponents. They were staggered, at best, caught by the element of surprise. Xandar took this moment, himself, and charged forward with his own blade raised high in the air. The leader responded in kind, bringing up his own to parry the powerful blow, though he was forced back on his heel.
Ser Strom joined the fray as he fought off the group that was to his left, the dance of steel making its way through the dark crowd, with Garre'to's shield the only bit of illumination being provided as the moon above was blocked by cloudcover.
However, while fortune favored Master Xandar and the fledgling Sultansworn, Ser Strom met his fate -- as a collection of arrows found their way into his back. Garre'to saw this, eyes wide in horror. The veteran knight fell forward onto his knees, eyes locked to the sky, his lips hanging open before he collapsed onto his chest.
"Garret, recover!" Xandar ordered, despite what had just happened. Snapping back to reality, Garre'to reacted in time for him to lock the hook on the back of his blade against the swinging sword of another assasin, twisting the sword in his hand and grappling the weapon out of his hand. He then sent his armored jackboot into the man's side, knocking him over.
The battle kept up, Xandar and Garre'to back to back, fighting for their lives but holding their own as, one by one, the group came under the steel of their blades.
As the moon cascaded over the area, Garre'to noticed that there was no one left. A pile of bodies, laid out in a circle around the two of them, was sitting at their feet. They each took a moment to catch their breath before Xandar sheathed his sword, moving over to the fallen body of his friend.
A moment of silence was all he gave him, Master Xandar sighed and stood back onto his feet, "These two were good men," he said to Garre'to as he looked over his shoulder, "so diligent were they in their duties that they carried them out to the last. I begged them to run, but they refused -- and paid the price..."
"Master Xandar..." was all Garre'to managed to say before the veteran Sultansworn shook his head.
"One thing you will have to understand about this city, Garret, is that there are many here who would rather us dead so that we wouldn't interfere in their lucrative operations...That is the nature of Ul'dah, a city-state of monetarists controlling everything from the shadows.
"The Sultansworn can scarce do anything to help. We are bound to defend the Sultana. Our shields belong to her...The protection of the people falls to those who have been just as corrupted by the pockets of coin they now carry."
Xandar finally looked fully at Garre'to, "Free Paladins like you are a blessing to this city. This is why I envy you -- you are only Sultansworn by name, you have complete control over who you choose to protect."
Garre'to almost locked up as Xandar moved towards him. He felt his heavy hand fall upon his shoulder, "The future of Eorzea may very well lie in those like you...Not just of Ul'dah, but of the realm, itself. I pray that you use what you have learned, to do good for us all."
"Make us proud, Garret."
Garre'to could not get out a word before master Xandar disappeared into the shadows, likely following the path back through the alley onto the avenue lining the perimeter of the city next to the wall. He could finally catch his breath, looking down at the collection of corpses at his feet. He pursed his lips before collapsing onto his knees, thoughts of what just happened and the possibilities of the future washing over him in one moment.
...This was a little bit too much excitement for one night...