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About Shael

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  1. Shael didn’t have much time. Raindrops were starting to dot the ground as she raced up the stony path of Shirogane, her breaths misting in front of her nose against the winter chill. Most of the vendors had closed their stalls in the wake of the storm about the hit, and that suit her just fine. The infuriating fog was scattered away by the gale that was rolling in from the ocean, and she could smell the ozone in the air. This was going to be a violent one. She could sense it in her bones. Her boots slid over the slick stonework as she ducked under the wooden archway, approaching the back of the building that she knew well but never visited often enough. The stand in the front was boarded down, the relics that were peddled there tucked safely away. But what she sought was not within the shelves of the antique shop. She skirted around the building to a corner in the back, where three large crates were piled against the wall. The hyur scanned her surroundings, listening for the whistles and the shouts of the samurais. She knew they must be swarming the pier by now, what with the commotion of gunshots that rang through the air. Even though the thick gloom had impaired her own vision in chasing down those who had taken Nabi and Anchor, it also aided her own escape from the guards who had descended on the pier after their departure. And now with the arrival of the downpour, she doubted the investigation would continue in earnest, at least until the tempest had passed. It gave her just enough time to retrieve what she needed, and meet up with Brick and the Ironsong to chase down those Xaelas. Shael squatted to push a large crate out of the way, another steam of exertion huffing out of her lips. Where the box once obstructed the view, now awaited a small pair of doors, leading into the basement below the building. She drew out a small metal rod from her pack and inserted it into the hole of the lock, and what looked like a plain iron latch flared to life with cold blue circuitry. Her fingers pushed over a few glowing buttons, and with a click the clamp released. There was a certain scent that could only belong to well polished weapons and magitek that Shael had come to appreciate. And it greeted her when she pulled the double doors open and stepped into the small chamber below. A flick of the finger and white light flooded into the room, illuminating the long shelves on both sides of her. Things were just where she had left them. Flamethrowers, turrets, new cartridges of advanced rounds, and automatic crossbows. This was where she usually came to feel a sense of pride in the past. But her mood was anything but content, the intensity in her eyes mirroring the turbulent weather raging outside. This wasn’t just her trove of weapons she had collected over the years. Everything here was means to insure that no one would ever take away what mattered to her. Not again. Anyone who dared, she would make them pay.
  2. There is a portrait of Shael drawn by Ruen. She's so well captured here. I love her expression. And of course after this pic, I forever see her with a crazy voluminous (read: gorGEOUS) ponytail.
  3. Shael tapped on the tip of her cigarette, letting the ashes drift to the ground. She took another deep draw and exhaled the smoke into the air, watching the plume fade away into the dreary sky above. She leaned back against the stone wall, hooking one foot over the other, giving a sidelong glance to the building at the end of the paved pathway. She was just around the bend, out of sight from the front gates of the Imperial clinic. Of all the places in the East, Nabi decided that bringing Saltborn to a Garlean facility in Shirogane was the best idea. And despite Shael’s deep-seeded aversion to anything Imperial, she couldn’t really argue. The gauntlet that was placed on the Confederate’s arm definitely incorporated magitek, and who would have the best tools to remove such a thing than the Empire who originated the technology? Shael still hated the idea. And the thought of stepping into a building manned by Garleans darkened her mood quicker than the gathering rain clouds above. The Highlander scowled. She thought she had put all that rage behind her, or at least shoved it into the furthest corners of her mind where it didn’t make her want to take up her gun every sun and storm the Garlean Consulate. She had even made deals with one Imperial soldier in particular, filling the power vacuum that Grave had left behind in black marketing Garlean weapons. Using his contact within the Consulate to skim off the top of each shipment, smuggling Garlean weaponry was turning out to be a very lucrative deal. But after the ruins, that twitch of her trigger finger came back whenever she crossed any Imperial’s path. She found herself tensing whenever she spotted their black and gold uniform walking along the streets of Kugane, that not even bottles of sake would soothe her ire. And her hands felt slick and coated with something warm at the most random times, that it made her look to her palms to make sure she hadn’t spilled something on them. Shael almost expected to find them covered in blood each time. "Soddin’ ghosts…" Shael muttered to herself as she impatiently sucked on her cigarette, her annoyance not abated by the time she let out a harsh forced exhale. The visions of the nightmares were still fresh in her mind, and they returned nightly. Only, unlike the time when she had lost Shooey, she didn’t wake up in a cold panicked sweat from these. No… it was much more akin to something dead and heavy inside, like a part of her mind shut itself down so she could go through the motions again. The dreams always started with Remus, the first person she’d ever killed. But soon, the rest became faceless silhouettes, all bearing the metal insignia with the rank of the Imperial army emblazoned on its polished surface. At the start, there was always horror that twisted her insides at all the bloodshed. But by the time she woke, it didn’t bother her anymore. It felt almost cathartic. Like she was doing exactly what she was good at. “This isn’t who you are, lass.” A familiar voice echoed from the depths of her memory. Aylard was kneeling before her, and she found herself back in one of the Resistance camps, surrounded by tents and armored men. Many were glancing in her direction, but the only pair of eyes she cared about were the ones that were leveled with hers, aged lines growing at the corners as the older man’s visage softened. His weather-worn hands came to lay upon her shoulders. “I see a ball of anger, with plenty of rage to be unleashed onto the world.” It was odd to see his gruff expression crinkle into a smile. Shael didn’t remember being moved by it back then, so determined was she to become the greatest soldier the Resistance ever had. His warmth and patience had confused her, making her restless. “But you’re not a weapon, Shaelen. You think you want to be, but you’re just lost in grief. Hating those that took from you. But I’m not looking for a killer.” Shael remembered his voice so clearly now. It always sounded so certain and commanded authority. Even when he was speaking softly to a child of twelve summers. “I need a fighter. Someone who’d fight tooth and nail for what she wants to protect. Y' be a daughter of Ala Mhigo.” An irritated snort huffed out of her nose along with more smoke. Only if Aylard could see her now. Once a proud Resistance fighter, she was now about to walk willingly into a Garlean clinic and surrender her weapons, all to help an Imperial tinker with illegal magitek. Aylard would be so proud, she thought bitterly. Shael leaned slightly forward, briefly glancing at the pale haired hyur waiting by the gate. She could still change her mind right now, if she wanted. Her index finger twitched by her side, and her mind wandered to the quiet hum that Jolene would make in her hand. It would just take one shot through the head. Shael could imagine it so clearly. After all, she’d seen it more times than she could count in the visions induced by the whore of a ghost. What the fuck am I doin’...? she asked herself, frowning suddenly. Every since their departure from the ruins, her mind would just slip back into those nightmares, where she killed and killed again. Even now, standing leisurely within the quiet streets of Shirogane, she was daydreaming about murdering a man. No, another voice whispered in her head. He's a Garlean. Shael shook away those thoughts, reminding herself yet again why she was here. Killing an Imperial guard that would put everything in jeopardy. Not just her freedom or her smuggling business, but also Nabi’s chances at helping Saltborn. Even if she could pin the Garlean's death on someone else, Nabi would be implicated since she arranged this meeting. And while Shael had no love for the the Confederate, she saw how his suffering caused the Xaela woman equal measure of pain. And Saltborn, was certainly suffering. “You can get this off o’ me, aye?” She had never seen him so… desperate, his wide eyes rimmed with fear. He had never allowed himself to show such weakness before, at least not in front of her. But in the middle of the plains of the Steppe, in the dark of night, he held out his left hand to her, one that had been trapped in Grave's enhancement for months. “Anything.” His anguish was laid bare. “Jus’ do anythin’.” Soddin’ hells. Shael exhaled, almost relieved to focus on those memories rather than the violent compulsions that speared her thoughts without warning. She inhaled deeply of the cigarette until the grey cinders reached her fingertip, before flicking the remnant to the stones beneath her feet. She exhaled again, as rain drops began to pitter patter over the rim of her hat. She pursed her lip with a displeased look, glaring balefully to the skies above. I ain’t a killer no more, Shael told herself. Aylard’s ghost was long gone from her mind’s eye but there was a part of her that still wanted him to know that too. Turning her back to the Garlean building and the Imperial that stood in front of it, she reached for another cigarette in her chest pocket. But as she stood there and watched the stones around her started to become darker with the raindrops, an image of crimson splatters flashed before her eyes in an instant. Then in a blink it was gone again. Shael froze, her eyes staring at the ground. Then in another beat, she mechanically continued to light the new roll hanging between her lips. You’ll see, she swore to a man long dead and mayhap to herself. Nothing was going to turn her back into that wild and angry child that knew naught but violence as a way to cope. Certainly not some soddin’ ghost. I’m a fighter, she reminded herself for the thousandth time as rain began to fall more in earnest. And she would keep doing so, for as long as it took.
  4. Shael couldn’t sleep. It was the third time she had angrily turned over in her bedroll. And it wasn’t that she wasn’t used to sleeping outdoors; plenty of past smuggling jobs had her bunking down in the oddest of places. It wasn’t for thoughts of any impending dangers either; she had learned in her time in the Resistance that rest was essential to staying sharp, and worrying over the next Garlean bombing or raid would only result in dulled senses the next morning. And that would lead to carelessness and eventually a mistake that could cost someone’s life. And even that didn’t keep her up most nights. Once a fellow Resistance fighter noted with some measure of disgust that she always found a way to sleep even after participating in a mission that resulted in numerous deaths, Imperials and Ala Mhigans alike. Little did he know that she always had something to resort to, drugs or alcohol, to ease her mind just enough to push her into a dreamless stupor. But there was a time that even those measures proved futile, despite all the substances she could get her hands on. It was after Shooey died. That’s when the visions and the memories of him replayed over and over behind closed lids. The moments leading to her final view of him always returning with crystal clarity. He flashed her his quirky but reassuring smile as he gave her a thumbs up, when he wired up the last of the explosives. Then an instant later, she bore witness to all of him becoming enveloped in a fiery explosion of fire. Then he was no more. Those visions came to her every night, and even in her waking bells, whenever she closed her eyes for any length of time. There he was, smiling at her, then his flesh was burning off, exposing the bare skull beneath as it cracked and exploded into a thousand pieces. It always woke her in a cold sweat. Shael ran as fast as she could, away from the Resistance, sailing away from Eorzea, fled all the way to Othard and Kugane in trying to escape those memories. Even still, she found no respite until Nabi concocted a special brew for her, and finally she was able to find solace in the dark. Looking back, Shael wasn’t sure when the dreams truly stopped. Was it because the drugs? No… because Nabi withheld them after a while, warning her of possible addictive properties. But without the drugs, how had those visions finally gone away? The soft shuffle of fabric drew Shael’s attention to Nabi’s sleeping form within the same tent. And from the soft whimpers that escaped the auri lips now and then, she could tell that the Xaela’s dreams were not of the restful kind. Shael sat up with a scowl, idly scratching her head as she recalled the exchange that had happened during that sun. Tales of rituals and destinies buzzed annoyingly in her head. Who soddin’ believed in all that shite? Nabi’s long-lost cousin, Arasen, that’s who. And from the look of things, so did some seer and the rest of his tribe. Did they mark Nabi at birth with some magical tattoo that would consume her otherwise if she didn’t return to them? All for some impossible dream of peace? Shael nearly snorted out loud. She’d known the ugly touch war for as long as she could remember. The taint of it ran through every Spoken’s blood. It seeped into every possible corners of the world, like spilled ink bleeding onto parchment. What insanity made these Xaelas think that one girl could end it? Her mother must have been some deranged fanatic to scheme up a birth of a child to fulfill some enigmatic prophecy -- false promises that were likely the results of a drug induced hallucination rather than a gift from gods who never gave half a shite in the first place. Shael knew all about visions, how they could plague the mind. How they could make someone either want to desperately flee from it or accept it wholly and blindly. She took all of Elam’s drugs after all, as he snuck it into her drinks. Not only did they temporarily turn the burning inside into a distant simmer, but in some rare instances, it brought forth the face of a ghost that wasn’t being immolated. The smuggler glanced down to her hand that had started to tremble, and she clenched tight to still its twitching. She didn’t have time for that. She reached into her pack and drew out a vial, uncorking it with a thumb and tossing her head back as she swallowed the contents whole. She grimaced as the bitter taste stung the back of her throat, but eventually she eased into a breathy sigh as she felt the drug quickly working its way into her system. She flicked another glance to the sleeping Xaela, almost guiltily. After all, Nabi worked hard to get all the drugs out of her system the first time. She worked patiently with her through the withdrawals, easing what she can with her own herbs and medicines. And now, Shael was right back to her old habits again. The smuggler knew that the Xaela would not approve. But it was for Nabi’s sake, at least at first. Shael had to let Elam believe that he had her under his thumb. But as the charade went on and she discovered the true perks of those drugs, she couldn’t stop the cravings. They were like a familiar old friend, just like the glimpses of her former first-mate. Shooey wouldn’t have approved either. Sod all that, Shael groaned to herself as she began to slide her boots back on. Who cared who approved of what? Shooey was dead and Nabi was… Even as she glanced to the sleeping Xaela, her earlier nearly tearful words echoed in the Highlander’s mind. “If I fulfill whatever it is that my mother intended? Or if I don't? Does... does some horrible death await me??" The girl was shaking with fear and dread. That sight made Shael want to break something. Arasen warned of some ill fate if that mysterious mark on Nabi was left to grow on its own. It was quickly followed by promises of help and guidance if she returned with him to her mother’s tribe. Where he and some old crone could perform another bloody ritual that he could only vaguely speak about. Well, they can rot in all the hells with that. Shael reached for her gun, suddenly hungry for some cold air. She was starting to crawl out to relieve Saltborn early of his watch, when she heard quiet murmurs filtering in. She leaned forward, just barely parting the fabric of the tent to gain a glimpse. Speak of the devil... Saltborn was talking to that Xaela, Arasen. Shael nearly brought her gun forward. Mayhap a single bullet between the Xaela’s eyes would solve the problem and end this entire dilemma. But Shael knew better. That would still leave the mark on Nabi with no leads to follow. She didn’t quite hear all the words that were exchanged between the hyur and the au ra, but soon Nabi’s kin rose and left, leaving Saltborn alone by the fire. She watched his back awhile longer, before she rolled to the other side of the tent. Undoing a few ties, she slid out the end. She holstered her gun on her back and moved away as quietly as she could, as to not draw Saltborn’s attention. She would have her own words with this Kharlu.
  5. Many years ago... The garlean soldier was writhing on the ground, bleeding from his stump of a leg, the lower portion of it having been blown off thanks to the explosives she had set earlier. Shael approached the ruins of the wall, her gun rising to point at the man’s head. The garlean’s third eye flickered in the sunlight as the man turned to look up at her, fear contorting his face. “Well, what is this? An actual true blood for once.” The Highlander snorted, a dark smirk quirking her lips. She had gotten used to seeing dead conscripted soldiers everywhere she went. She was starting to think that there were no more true Garleans that dared to dirty their hands on foreign soil. “I guess it’s my lucky sun.” The Garlean closed his eyes, his head turning slightly away from the barrel of the gun. She could see that he was steeling himself for the inevitable. Oh, death would come. Just not an easy one. At least not by her hands. Shael lowered her gun from his head, pointing instead at his abdomen. She pulled the trigger. The Garlean's scream cut through the air as the man recoiled in pain. Shael continued to walk past him, toward the remnants of the destroyed barricade. But she stopped when the agonized howls came to an abrupt end behind her with a sickening thunk and a weak gurgle. She spun around to see the Garlean’s head rolling away on the ground, and a looming roegadyn standing by the corpse, heaving his giant axe back over his shoulder. “Ya didn’t have to do that, Shooey. The alarm’s blaring all over the place. No one would have heard him.” She shrugged. “At least for awhile, anyroad.” The Hellsguard shrugged and muttered a wordless mumble. He had a tense look on his face. “So? For all the people they conscripted, that we killed, I think he was owed some agony. Far more than just bells of it. He would’a died, sooner or later. I chose later.” Shael turned back around to head toward the rubble, not wanting to see the obvious look of disapproval on Shooey’s face. He'd never liked cruelty, and didn't seem primed to start liking it now. And it wasn’t because of any sympathy for Garleans, but because he knew how it lingered on her like a foul smell. And because of him, Shael started to notice it too. How much colder she got with each kill. She just didn’t want to acknowledge it. But Shooey wasn’t going to just let this go. His hand gripped her shoulder from behind, spinning her back around. He wasn’t angry. He was worried. Shael avoided his gaze, rolling her eyes to the sky. But his large hands remained on her shoulders, nearly encasing it completely. He just stood there, looking at her. “Fine,” she relented with a groan. “Like I said, this be our last job, yeah?” She shrugged. “I already told Aylard.” The Highlander felt the weight of his hand lighten, the roegadyn’s stern expression easily splitting into a broad grin as he nodded. That made her smile too. “After this, we just be on our own on the seas. We'll be out of the war business for good.” Her lips parted into a toothy grin. “We'll be starting our own business. How's smuggling weapons sound to you, Shooey?” Now. Shael tapped the ashes off the end of the cigar, letting it drift down to the wooden planks of the pier. One knee was propped up on the crate she was perched on, while the other leg hung off the edge. She didn’t bother turning, though one hand came to rest by her gun that lay next to her leg when she heard approaching footsteps. It was past middle of the night, Kugane had no more wandering patrons this late and the residents had gone to sleep long ago. She was only expecting one person really, especially in this part of the pier and under the shadows of the criss crossing rafters that hid her and the crate she was sitting on from plain view. Her presence didn’t surprise the newcomer either. Armored footsteps slowed, then eventually came to a stop. “Ya know, I could never tell any of you apart with that helm. And the uniform.” Shael set the last remnants of her cigar on the crate, unhooking her leg and hopping off the box. She leaned an elbow against the crate, just next to her gun that rested there. “How do I know yer not the guy I tried to off a few months ago?” The voice that emerged from behind the helm was muffled annoyance and scorn. “Well if you actually succeeded in what you were supposed to do, then you wouldn’t have that problem.” Shael snorted and ran her hand through her ponytail. “Can’t argue that. Although I was assured he was going to be alone. And not enjoying some moonlight date with some conjurer.” She cocked her head at him. “Obviously yer still here and willing to do business. So my guess is you took care of him yourself, Justus pyr Drulio?” There was an icy pause when she said his name out loud. The Garlean then yanked off his helm, revealing dark hair trimmed short, along with a sharp goatee on his chin. The man looked to be in his late forties from what Shaelen could tell. He had narrow and pointed eyes and hawk-like nose. And a third eye shimmered on his forehead. Shael snorted, her fingers drumming on the top of the crate near her gun. “Of course I took care of my own end. I may change my mind again on whether he needs to be disposed of, but I can’t afford that scrutiny right now. Maybe if something can be made to look like an accident.” Justus sounded annoyed even in explaining that much, and for that, Shael was pleased. “Well good. As much as I enjoy shooting Imperials, I’d rather make money. And not have to run from the limb-lopping samurais.” Justus narrowed his eyes at her, his lip twitching. “So what happened to Grave?” Shael shrugged. “Accidents. Things happen in our line of business.” She tapped the crate she was leaning against. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of the surplus you’ve been hiding away.” She lowered her head, looking at the Garlean over the rim of her glasses. “You must be missing the extra wealth you’ve gotten used to.” The Garlean snorted. “You? You were just a mercenary for Grave. What do you know of this business?” She shrugged. “Not going to brag. You don’t need to know what I do. You only need to know this. I know your name, where you store your extra weapons, and your association with the Cove. And you also know I am offering you wealth. Just like Grave did.” She smirked, although it lacked any real humor, just a challenge. “So you interested?” Justus wore a look of disgust, but after a long pause, he nodded. “I have no preferences among savages,” he hissed. He jutted his chin out to the crate next to her. “Do you have a payment for that ready then?” Shael shook her head. “Not right now, eager soldier. I have to find a buyer.” She furrowed her brow, shooting him a warning look. “And if I even smell another ambush, remember. I am not shy about coming after you, here even in this city.” The Garlean glared at her through slitted eyes. “Don’t bother with threats. Grave knew the circumstances of that trouble. Which is why you were hired to get rid of that trouble. Let’s not have selective memory here if we are going to do business?” She shrugged, both hands in the air. “Just wanted to make that clear. Just as Grave can be replaced, so can you. I’d just rather not train another Imperial.” When the Garlean’s expression twisted into something uglier than it already was, Shael knew she was just at the threshold. She barely held off grinning wider. “I’ll have payment for you in less than a moon,” she offered as appeasement. She gathered her gun and holstered it behind her, before she reached for what was left of that cigar. It was her very last one from Nabi. There was a small voice in the back of her mind that said that neither Nabi nor Tserende would approve of this. But Nabi wasn’t ever going to know, and Tserende wasn’t here. Shael needed the money, but moreover, the excursion into that mountain lit a fire in her soul again. She found herself hungry for that thrill. The exhilaration that came with getting away with something she shouldn’t. Of surviving situations that she shouldn’t. Elam had encroached on her illegal weapons business, anyroad. With him out the way, someone had to fill the void again. So why not her? She stuck the cigar back into her mouth as she passed by the Garlean, patting him on the shoulder. Shooey would be proud. She didn’t shoot this one in the gut even if she wanted to do it so badly. “Looking forward to doing business!” she called over her shoulder, and strode off into the night.
  6. “He’s… gone?” Nabi stared at her with that wide eyed confused look. Shael could see the all-too-familiar shadows of worry starting to darken the Xaela’s visage. It was a look Shael thought for sure she was done with for awhile. That soddin’ Ishgardian… “Not gone,” Shael snorted with a roll of her eyes. “Just went back home for awhile. Probably needed to tidy up some business after getting the explosives from his old contacts or whatever.” She flipped her hand into the air as if to dismiss the whole affair. “Don’t worry about it, yeah? He’ll probably drag himself back here after all’s well.” The Highlander hoped that she sounded more convincing than she felt. Nabi was chewing her lower lip as if to ponder on it, though the crease between her brows remained. “So… you don’t think… he left because of me.” The Xaela was rubbing her thumbs over each other, her gaze lowered. “Do you?” Shael arched her brow with an incredulous expression. “What? No. What makes you even think this is about you?” Nabi’s head remained lowered as if chastised, but her eyes slowly rose back toward her. “Because… I asked too much of him. I insisted on so many things. I’m sure I’ve hurt him. He wanted me to stay. But I went anyroad into the mountain. And then… I…” Her words were coming haltingly and stumbling over each other. Her golden eyes couldn’t meet the Highlander’s gaze for too long, they looked to her hands again as she continued to fidget. Shael had an idea of what Nabi was struggling to say. She had long suspected something had happened between Anchor and Nabi in those suns where she went missing and he had come to her rescue and then subsequently hid her from Grave. The Xaela had returned to Kugane after that, completely distraught over what had happened to the Confederate. The sorrow and the despair in the woman’s eyes the suns following were obvious for anyone to see. Tserende must have noticed it too. The Ishgardian rarely showed any emotion, but Shael knew him well enough by now to know that he too saw what she did. And just like her, he couldn’t have approved of this new attachment between Anchor and Nabi. It should have been even more so for him, since Nabi and he were in a relationship. It was something he rarely talked about, or even admitted openly, but she’d seen the gestures of affection between them, before all this began. He was even considering opening up shop in Kugane. Shael was sure he was planning on settling down here because of Nabi. His refusal to go help Anchor made Shael suspect his true feelings on the matter. But his subsequent rejection of aiding Nabi when the Xaela went after him, that surprised her. She couldn’t deny that he was just being pragmatic to a fault, and going in hot headed after Nabi would have been impractical. But she wondered if it was also in part due to his resentment over Nabi’s new feelings for the Confederate. But he also seemed more determined than ever to kill Grave after that. And once the deed was done, he just… left. With nothing but a short note addressed to Shael. He didn’t even see Nabi after everything was finished. Either the bastard was colder than Shael had given him credit for, or this whole thing with Anchor hurt him more than he ever wanted to show. Or there was a third option, of some trouble coming to find him and he had to go deal with it. But Shael believed that if there was real trouble, that he would have told her. She had come to believe that between the two of them, there was a measure of trust, that if there was something that needed to be dealt with, they would confide each other. Was she wrong? Or was this all because of Nabi? The whole mess made Shael groan out loud and toss her head back. “He’s a shite-eatin’ idiot if he blames you for any of that,” she spat out. Nabi blinked, taken aback, so the Highlander rolled her eyes with a sigh, and softened her tone. “You know him, nothing ever bothers the man. I doubt he’d run away cryin’ because of somethin’ silly like that.” She gestured with her hand spinning in the air. “He’s got… people in Ishgard. And history there. I met them myself while you were in the pits. He owes ‘em for what they gave him. He probably has to square some debts is all.” Shael gave the Xaela a flat look when Nabi continued to have that nervous expression. “Just don’t worry about ‘im, yeah? He’s fine.” When Nabi parted her lips to say something more, Shael held up a hand to stop her. “Tell you what, I’ll go check on it myself. You just keep tight here. Rest, get strong, look to rebuilding stuff, and get back to yer usual things, eh?” Nabi regarded her for a long moment, then eventually nodded. “As long as you make sure he’s alright. And... if you do see him, tell him I miss him. Yes? And that I am grateful.” The Xaela immediately frowned, biting her lower lip. She shook her head soon after. “No, don’t say that. I want to tell him myself. So, if… when he decides to come back, tell him I would like to speak to him.” Shael nodded with a tired sigh. “Yeah yeah. I got it.” She waved her off impatiently. It seemed as if Nabi wanted to say something more, but the Xaela girl just... nodded, once, and then walked away. Shael only let out a sigh of relief after Nabi was a good distance away. She didn’t want to keep lying to the girl. There was no question that Nabi was going to ask her about Tserende again. Hopefully by then, Shael’s letter would have reached Ishgard and she would have heard something back from the man. Something more than just some cryptic missive about how he had to leave and return home without any other explanation. If you left her like some jilted lover, I’m gonna… Shael began to scold the Ishgardian in her mind, then scowled at herself in not being able to yell at man face to face. She didn’t like where her angry thoughts were leading her. Was Nabi the only thing that was keeping him here? She pushed off the chair she’d been perched on, stomping angrily on the ground. Whatever. Shael didn’t care why he left. She just needed to keep reassuring Nabi that he was fine and that she’d already checked into it. Tserende could give his own godsdamned explanation whenever he returned. If he came back at all. I don’t give a soddin’ shite. She believed it, too. Shael briskly made her way to hostelry and the pier beyond it. She needed to find new work after all, now that Tserende was no longer around. And she knew just where to start.
  7. It would be so easy. Those were the words that were running through Shael’s head over and over again as she flew her chocobo over the Ruby Sea. Falcon chirped and squawked loudly in protest of the additional weight that was put upon him, and Shael had to shift now and then to make sure that Saltborn didn’t slide off the bird behind her. Falcon wasn’t made to carry two grown hyurs and her arsenal of guns on a prolonged trek over the sea, so Shael had to take a few breaks on her way back to Kugane. She stopped on a few small islands here and there to let the bird rest its wings. When she set Saltborn’s limp form against the tree for the third time, the Highlander gave the man a lookover, to make sure the legs that Ghoa had treated weren’t bleeding. Shael wasn’t much of a mender, nor did she like caring for ill people, so she just made sure he wasn’t bleeding to death and that he was still breathing. Saltborn looked like shite. His skin was pale from too many sennights spent underground. He was even more gaunt than his usual self, his collarbones and other joints looking more prominent than ever. Cleaning his legs and helping Ghoa wrap it up, Shael got a good view of the multiple injuries on his person, at the courtesy of that foul and blackened thing they called a champion. Ashen Bear had done a number on him, that was for certain. And Saltborn did all that… went through all that, all because of one thing. Because he betrayed Grave to save Nabi. Shael supposed that was the only real reason that she decided to find him in the first place. Sure, Brick had paid her a pouch of coin, to share with the Xaela if eventually she learned of Saltborn’s ultimate demise. There was no request or even a suggestion that she should give some kind of aid to a member of his crew. Shael had to admit, that irked her a little. She would have done anything for Shooey. He was part of her crew. Her first mate. Her family. But it was Nabi that had begged and pleaded for her to do something for Saltborn. So she found him, then eventually when Nabi got herself in that cursed mountain as well, she worked with Tserende and Ghoa to free the girl and the Confederate she had gone in after. At the risk of her own life. And for the first time in awhile, Shael felt… alive. As she took aim at the Doman soldiers amidst the chaos of the arena, she felt that familiar thrill of battle again. As she counted on Tserende to cover her back when she ignited the fuse on the dais, and when they ran out of the tunnel, pushing, punching, and elbowing the mob in their way, Shael had smiled ear to ear, knowing they had just beaten the odds. Nabi and Saltborn had escaped from a mountain that was full of people who wanted to see nothing but Saltborn’s blood on the sands. So now that Shael was staring down at the man who had been the center of her latest undertaking, one that had set fire to her blood again, why was this annoying thought continuing to loop through her head? In a flash, Shael had unholstered her gun, loaded it and pointed it at Saltborn. He was drugged up and unconscious, his head lolling forward against his chin. He didn’t even feel the end of her gun barrel prodding into his hair. It would be so easy. It wasn’t anything against Saltborn, personally. Actually, she had to admire his grit and perseverance. On more than one occasion, she was sure that he was going to meet his end in the ring. But somehow he kept on surviving. And then during the final planning, he had promised to get Nabi out alive. He looked like he could barely stand at the end of the final fight, but he did as he swore he would. “People like us… hurt people like them. And the more you let them care for you, more it’s going to hurt in the end.” Those were her words to Tserende. She was warning him about Tserende and Nabi, moons ago. The same words she knew she should have heeded herself. And yet here she was, risking life and limb to save the Xaela. She would do it again too. The words weren’t for Tserende’s sake or herself. It was for Nabi. That impulsive girl had gotten herself hurt. And badly. Shael had never seen the her so frail looking as she did so after. All because she went into that mountain, looking for Saltborn. The man that was on the receiving end of her gun barrel now. “She’s better off without you,” Shael said to him even though he wasn’t conscious. “I guess people like us need people like them. Else we become like Grave. Heartless. Thing is… in the end? They’re the ones that suffer. Not us.” They’re the ones that die. Because of people like us. Shael snorted, an ugly smile twisting her lips. Her finger began to squeeze the trigger, her magitek gun humming with anticipation. She’s better off without people like you. “Promise me,” Nabi’s had implored her. “Promise me you would take him somewhere safe.” The Xaela had that look. The look when her eyes narrowed, with that line between her brows. She was trying to look stern, serious, or even angry. Shael wondered if Nabi actually ever looked at herself in the mirror that way. She couldn’t scare a puppy. “Please?” she said after. Who says please when they are trying to be strict? “Does he matter to you that much?” Her gun started to quiet as her finger lifted off the trigger. People like who exactly? “Tch…” Shael grumbled as she reholstered her gun. Falcon squawked and ambled over to her, rubbing his beak against the woman’s shoulder. “I bet you wouldn’t have minded, eh?” Shael muttered as she scratched the chocobo’s neck. With a groan, Shael pulled Saltborn up by his arms, slinging him over her shoulder, then onto her bird’s back. She’d get him back to Kugane as she promised. She’ll figure out later if she’s going to regret this decision or not.
  8. “They are through!” Shael shouted without looking behind her. She could hear loud grunts, shouts, and the clash of metal behind her, for no doubt by now Tserende was facing off against the guards that had spotted the shooter. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” Tserende grunted as he was pushed against the railing next to her. In her peripheral vision, she caught a flash of blades in both his hands; a pair of knives rather than the large broadsword he usually favored, but the latter would have been impossible for her to smuggle in. He kicked off another man then pushed off, out of her sight. “This is starting to look like a right circus,” he said with his usual placid tone. That only made Shael’s grin wider. Someday, she was going to get a rise out of that man. Mayhap not today though. She squinted and targeted a few more guards in the ring, but now that Nabi and Saltborn had disappeared through the gates, they were out of reach from these guards. Shael swung the gun around, pointing it right back to the dais. If she could get one good shot on Grave… But Elam had already ducked for cover after she had shot Nagakane in the chest. The Curator lay bleeding on the floor next to his magitek tablet that was blinking wildly -- hopefully that meant Marius’ device worked -- and some of the other sponsors were hiding behind their entourage of guards. Musa, the oldest of the sponsors, was sprawled on a chair, blood stains around his mouth. Shael’s view darted from him to the other possible targets, but the only thing she could see of Grave was where he was hiding and occasionally stealing a look from behind his cover. There was no clear shot. Shael cursed, looking up from her scope. There’s more than one way to skin a coeurl. She retrieved a cigarette from her vest pocket, the last of the ones that Tserende had given her, and lit it with a fire striker. She gave a glance to her side as she spotted the Ishgardian grab the arm of the guard that had tried to slice at him, driving his own blade into his arm pit. Shael smirked as she took one draw of the cigarette, stoking the flame at the end of it, before she dropped it onto the ground next to her feet. A small spark lit up when it landed. “Let’s go.” Shael grinned, yanking her gun off its perch and swinging it around just in time to see Tserende grab the third guard, one that had managed to land a hit on his shoulder, sending him over the railing into the ring below. The Ishgardian dusted himself off, straightening the collar of his jacket. “Off we go, then.” He glanced to her then the ground, eyeing the small spark that was now trailing toward the dais. “I believe the quicker, the better.”
  9. “I guess it’s showtime!” Shael grinned wildly as she flicked Tserende a look. That bastard actually won. She knew she had no time to bask in the implausibility of it all, now that the plan was in motion. She first squinted towards the dais and all the sponsors there. She reached into the bag by her feet, retrieving a small device. It was magitek in design. “Only activate this when you are sure. It will release a small surge of energy, disabling the locks on the collars within range. It is for one time use only. Don’t squander it.” As Shael powered it up, her thumb sliding over the deactivation switch, she glanced to where the Curator was standing. This better work, Marius, Shael repeated the threat in her mind. Nabi’s life was on the line. She had promised the paled haired man that if his failure took the Xaela’s life, she would come back and take his. Even as his surprised look flashed before Shael’s eyes, she activated the switch. But she didn’t wait to see if it actually did work. She was immediately reaching into her bag again, this time hauling out a much bigger object, her long range culverin. With a flick of her wrist, she lengthened the legs of the mount and she planted it on top of the railing. “Cover me,” was all she said to Tserende as she swiveled the gun toward the dais. She caught the sight of Nabi falling from the edge, which did draw her gaze for a breath. She saw Saltborn running up just in time to catch her, both of them then colliding and rolling against the wall in his mad dash. They continued to move though, heading toward the gates that were now opening. The guards would be coming out. She had to provide them the cover she promised... but Shael had to do one thing first. Even as the sound of screams erupted around her -- probably because of the gun she had brought out -- she leaned into the scope, squinting to find her target on the dais. One hand quickly rose to her ear to tap her pearl, even as she looked from one target to another. “Ghoa,” she said with a hint of urgency. “I want you to stand perfectly still. I have Grave within my sights.” That would be only warning she could give the Xaela woman, on a channel that she knew was compromised. If Ghoa was not able to catch her true meaning, then it would be her loss. And probably her life. Shael would be lying if she said she wasn’t tempted to aim for Grave first. But the first shot had to count. She steadied her aim on another, Nagakane Akuido: the one that held the title of the Curator, the Doman responsible for overseeing the health of the fighters and their enhancements, who held the lives of all who were forced to wear those collars at his fingertips. When he came squarely within her scope’s view, Shael pulled the trigger and fired. More panicked cries rose up around her. She heard people shoving and running away, and the shouts of guards that were getting closer. But Shael’s eyes didn’t leave her scope. She fully trusted Tserende to have her back. Sounds of blades clashing around her started to fill her ears, but Shael swiveled her gun toward the ring below, starting to take aim at the guards that were running out of those gates onto the sands. She had to turn their focus onto her, the shooter in the arena, rather then the champion and his fugitive Xaela looking to make their escape.
  10. Shael heard the noise of the arena long before she saw the cave entrance---a distant roar carried upon the wind. The cacophony brought on by the mob that had gathered for this final fight was making the underground fighting pit a poorly-hidden secret on this particular sun. Not that she cared. After this match was over, she wondered what would be left of this place. Very little, if all went according to plan. Good. As Shael and Tserende shoved their way past the tightly packed throng of people to gain a better view of the ring, she took another scan of the place. It was set within a vaulted chamber in the central belly of the mountain, the vast space having once served as a hideout for the Doman Liberation Front. There were plenty of caverns and narrower tunnels all underground in this place, but nothing as large and airy as the chamber that housed the main fighting pit. The ring in the center reminded her very much of the Bloodsands in Ul’dah, where the fighters spilled the blood of their opponents for the audience’s pleasure in a depressed ring filled with sand and soil. Those who were connected or wealthy enough to attend the violent sport, watched from above, safely out of the reach of those who were forced to fight. Thin veins of luminescent crystals running through the walls lit the ring, the largest of them hanging from the ceiling. Rows of tympani resounded their booming rhythm throughout the arena and beyond, the walls of the mountain seeming to pulse with a heartbeat all their own. Shael easily spotted Ghoa seated next to Elam on the dais, the poisonmaker looking impressive, even in Shael’s eyes; the woman was impeccably dressed in finery appropriate for the occasion, of course. Elam, on the other hand, wore a hungry look, for a win and for the power that would follow. Shael recognized that dark, narrowed-eyed expression even from this distance. Her eyes lingered on him for a moment. Was there some regret or hesitation on her part in what was to follow later? They had been lovers once. Did she have any doubts about being an instrument of his death now? ...Nah. The answer came to her easily and immediately. The bastard had turned cruel and dangerous since those long years ago, and he posed a threat to the people she cared about. If she had just realized this earlier and ended his threat moons before this, perhaps Nabi wouldn’t be in this mess. Today would put an end to that. Her attention flicked to the other side of the dais, where Nabi was seated next to the elder Doman warlord, Ieharu Musa. She looked so fragile. Even more than usual. Almost sickly. She wasn’t like that when Shael had snuck in a few suns ago to pass along the pearl to her and Saltborn. What had happened? As anger began to simmer beneath the surface, Shael was quickly pulled out of it by Tserende’s dour voice behind her. “You’ve brought us into an ant hill of brigands.” The Ishgardian mercenary adjusted his glasses as he plodded along behind her. Shael flashed him a wild smile, elbowing another patron aside as she made her way to the railing overlooking the arena. Despite the high stakes, this place... the anarchy and violence that prevailed here… she was in her element. She gave the surly man a once-over, appreciating his disguise of a coat and distinctly eastern lamellar armor underneath. It was a change of pace from his usual heavy armor, although she had teased him about sporting a lighter shinobi disguise. She was promptly met with an incredulous scoff. “You’ll get used to the smell,” Shael reassured him with a shrug, ducking a flying bottle. “And the sweat.” She shoved past another woman. “And the smell of sweat.” With Tserende forcibly moving people aside to create a space next to the railing overlooking the ring, Shael scooted next to him and slid the bag she had been carrying by her feet. It was the bag she had smuggled in using Saltborn’s slave boy. Since the bag looked just like the ones that the bookies carried to manage the wagers, once she got past the entrance and the guards there, no one else gave the package a second look. She tapped it with the tip of her boots lightly, checking to make sure the contents were still there. It was in that moment that the Ringmaster announced the final fight of the sun, the most anticipated. “Ladies and gentleman! The final fight of the day, the one that you have been all waiting for has come! Saltborn of The Cove has risen to challenge the reigning victor and champion, Ashen Bear of clan Musa!” As soon as the gates to the ring opened below them, a suffocating stench of rotting flesh greeted her nose, courtesy of the bestial ‘champion’ that exited the door that was situated just below her and Tserende. “Okaaaay…” Shael sighed, sounding less cocksure than before. “You might not get used to that smell.” Her eyes were narrowed, her lips bent in a grimace as she looked to Saltborn’s opponent. She didn’t even know what she was looking at. It had a towering frame, well above eight fulms in height. Perhaps it was once a Roegadyn.. but she wasn't sure what it was now. Broad of shoulder, thick frame, he bore a name of a Hellsguard, yet the thing that had walked out of those gates, hunched low as to fit the lower frame of the door, was not something anyone would recognize as spoken. Rather than skin, layers of dried tar or soft bark like substance covered Ashen’s form, and with each step that it took, she could see something glistening, like sap, oozing off the body and dripping to the sands beneath its feet. The crowd jeered at the foul scent wafting through the ring, but Ashen Bear didn’t seem to care. His eyes were barely visible beneath a mountain of dark flesh, as if his forehead had grown too thick, one layer of flesh piling over another. Shite… This entire plan hinged on Saltborn winning the fight. "Alright, backup plan if Saltborn dies.” Shael quickly pivoted to Tserende, scowling. “We make a break for the dais, grab Nabi, and jump off into the arena while I try to get the thing detonated." It was definitely not the optimal plan. Far from it. But her mind was now spinning. She wasn’t confident at all that Saltborn would survive this. She wasn't sure anyone could.
  11. Shael tapped a finger restlessly on the ceramic tea cup. It had already gone cold, and the Highlander hadn't even tasted it. Her eyes darted about the courtyard in front of the Umineko Tea House, scanning each and every face that approached. The sun was setting, and the man she was looking for was supposed to be here soon: Marius, a Midlander male with pale hair, dark skin, and pale eyes. He had a repute for visiting the tea house at sunset for some dangos and tea, and was also someone who was much more familiar with magitek than she was. Someone that Nabi (of all people) knew. A part of her was curious about this man. She knew enough about magitek; she had boosted both her weapons and her ship with Garlean technology in the past. Her lineage and smuggling background both had afforded her knowledge of the Imperial machinery, but she herself wasn’t able to figure out how to dismantle or diffuse the circlet around Saltborn's neck in the short time she had snuck in to the pits. She was familiar with it enough to recognize what it did, she had seen similar models used on conscripted soldiers in Ala Mhigo. But the ones in Doma were just different enough that she didn’t want to take any chances. Any mistake would have fatal consequences on Saltborn, after all. And now Nabi, as well. Shael grimaced, her hand tightening around the tea cup. Of course they had collared her too. Nevermind that the girl was harmless, couldn’t fight herself free out of a closet, nor was the Xaela intending on leaving without Saltborn. But she might as well be the sponsors’ slave now, helpless in their clutches. The Highlander shook her head, rubbing her forehead with her free hand. At least she looked unharmed, Shael told herself. She had snuck in a second time into the pits, with much favors owed to the bookie that she had been fortunate enough to know from years past when she had sold Domans weapons. Sukehide was now making plenty of profit from managing the wagers that exchanged hands with each fight. It was also by sheer luck that the Doman was still fond of her, or at least fond of sexual favors, in exchange for allowing her a glimpse at the champions for the upcoming anticipated final match. The little visit did allow her to slip a linkpearl into Nabi’s hands. So at least now she could communicate with the two of them, and formulate some plan. A plan, which so far consisted of somehow disabling the Curator’s device so he didn’t electrocute or blow up Nabi’s head at the first sign of trouble, and somehow placing explosives beneath the dais where all the sponsors sat to watch the match. They could all burn in the seven depths of hell for all I care, Shael silently seethed. But this plan hinged on a few things that relied on a healthy helping of luck. First, Saltborn needed to win the bloody match. He was key in setting off the explosives, something he promised he could do, and also get Nabi out after. At least Ghoa’s attempt to possibly poison Saltborn’s opponent increased his chances---Ghoa, another Xaela alchemist that somehow Nabi befriended, who happened to be working for Grave. Shael knew the woman was working mostly for herself, to free herself from Grave’s control, but Nabi trusted her. And Shael couldn’t deny that Ghoa’s access and her skills with poison would be useful in this plan. Someday, Shael was going to ask how Nabi befriended all these myriad of misfits. Herself included, which Shael still was befuddled about. The second part of the plan that was still up in the air was her getting into the arena to plant the explosives beneath the dais. She wasn’t sure about the access to the place when there was no fighting going on. She knew the place was packed and the security was tight on the suns of the matches. Furthermore, on the sun when this would all go down, Shael also needed her gun. Something that hopefully, Saltborn’s slave boy would be able to smuggle in for her. She, and Tserende as her own personal shield, would provide the cover fire to allow Saltborn and Nabi to escape from the ring. Then somehow, in the chaos, she and Tserende would have to work out on how to get out of the mountain themselves. She still hadn’t figured out how to sneak in Tserende’s gigantic sword into the fighting pits either. All these ifs and hows made her antsy. Her foot was tapping against the ground by the time the sun had completely disappeared over the horizon, the dimness of twilight washing over the port city. That was when Shael spotted a pale-haired man approaching the tea stall. He fit the description perfectly. First things first. She had to ensure that this man could somehow devise a way so the Curator could not activate the collars. If that couldn’t be done, if they couldn’t ensure Nabi’s safety in this escape, then all was for naught. She didn’t care that Grave would still die in the fire, if the person they were trying to save was lost, nothing else mattered. Shael set her teacup aside and stood, her hand sliding to check the gun holstered at her hip. One way or another, this Marius was going to help Nabi. She was going to bloody well see to it.
  12. Shael checked the cartridges, the magitek pack, the pack with her sniper gun, then her own pride and joy, Jolene. She could not afford the time to give her weapons a proper clean or inspection since returning from Ishgard, it had to be enough just to make sure the temperature shift from the frosty environs back to the humidity of Hingashi didn’t make any significant changes to the precision of the gauges. It didn’t help that she felt somewhat lightheaded from using the aetheryte to teleport to Coerthas, then returning two suns later back to the other side of the world. She had only made such taxing trips when there was a dire need, and this occasion was no different. Only she didn’t know how dire until she came back and found Tserende. She was in a good mood, initially, upon her return. The man that Tserende had sent her to meet in Coerthas was eccentric to say the least, but his unique alchemical creation was frighteningly effective. Tserende was not exaggerating when he described it as something akin to dragon fire. It was explosive, burned hotter than anything she had ever felt, and it kept burning. Not even water could extinguish it. She had been too greedy, she knew, to try and bring back three barrels of the substance, only to realize it would be impossible to do so through aetheryte teleportation. So meeting the maximum amount she could teleport with it on her person, she made arrangements for the rest, before returning to Kugane. But upon her return, Tserende, in the most nonchalant way, delivered news she could not believe at first. "Nabi’s run off on some sort of escapade with Ghoa. Perhaps when she finally finds herself strung up for who ever the man is that she knew for all of a sennight at most, she'll be pleased." Shael just stared at him for a long moment, confusion first furrowing her brow, her eyes behind those glasses narrowing, then her head tilting to the side as if his words and the world itself were all askew. "Say what now? She's where? Who is Ghoa?" "An acquaintance of hers from a while back, according to her own words." Tserende just rolled his shoulders casually. "So, presumably playing the swooning maiden with Ghoa at the pits." He sniffed before continuing. "Did you measure the amount you've brought back any more accurately than half of a barrel? We will need to split it into several portions, more than likely. I'll make the fuses for them, I suppose." She held up both her hands. "So, what you are telling me, is that you let her go back to the fighting pits, you know, where Grave is wheeling and dealing,... with a long term friend? WHAT?!" "I'm no more pleased with it than I presume you are,” Tserende scoffed. “She's a grown woman, however. If she is set on not listening to reason, then there isn't much to be done about that. Go there and see what is going on, and track him afterwards." He waved a hand dismissively. "Nothing is going to get done trying to babysit an adult." Shael could only stare. "Wh-Why the hells are you not there right now?!" “Because I would rather be out here, arranging the solution to the root of the problem as opposed to playing bleeding-heart to a stranger I have no interest in. Regardless of whatever strange infatuation she may have with the man." Shael raked both her fingers into her hair. "And you let her go chasing after that infatuation? What is wrong with you?! Th-the girl is..." She threw her head back with a frustrated moan. "She's just so easily led around by her heart! Gods, and the pit is..." She paced back and forth before spinning back to him. "Is that it? You just didn't like the fact that she was running off to save someone she has stupid feelings for? She's still going into a lion's den!" "No,” Tserende replied briskly, his face infuriatingly neutral. “I want Grave dead. Me being at the pit serves no purpose towards that. If she decides that she doesn't like what she sees there, then perhaps she'll think better of it the next time she has the idea." It was so business-like, with little to no outward emotion shown that it made Shael’s teeth grind. "Now, you need to go there so you're ready to tail Grave on his way out. I will prepare what you brought back into manageable portions and fuse them together in the meanwhile." Shael was not following, her mouth hanging open incredulously. "But--" She paused. "What if..." She clamped her mouth shut again. She finally scowled. "I get that! The end justifies everything else. But you are just assuming that she's gonna make it out just fine. I used to think that you know. Until it wasn't the case. I used to think the Resistance and the end goal was everything. Until I lost Shooey. Then nothing mattered.” She was shouting by the pier, her words echoing down the street. Glances were shot her way from people passing by, but her temper was overflowing and she didn’t care. She shook an angry finger at Tserende. “So I don't know if Grave's death is going to justify everything for you? But if I find her missing, dead, or ‘strung up’ as you put it..." Her face twisted into something foul before she just spun around, rather than finishing that sentence. She exhaled hotly through her nose, trying to calm her thoughts. She had to think. Raging at Tserende would get her nowhere. After a few pacing steps, Shael spun back around to him. "I was right the first time. You are not good." She narrowed her eyes at him bitterly. "Neither am I, but at least I thought you were better than me." He didn’t have an answer, nor did she wait for one. She turned on a heel, spat in the dirt, and stomped away. Shael’s fist still clenched and unclenched by her side as her long strides traversed over the wooden planks of the dock. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do once she got to the caves. Tail Grave? Find Nabi? She had packed multiple guns, those that she knew she couldn’t bring with her into the pits itself. Getting in would be a problem as well if there were no fights going on. Too many questions. Not enough time. She would have to figure things out once she got there.
  13. Shael rolled the cigar between her fingers. It was the last one she had, and since Nabi’s disappearance, she had refused to smoke it. Now that the Xaela was back, Shael had taken it out a few times, flipping it between her fingers, sometimes bringing it to her nose to take in the whiff of the leaves rolled within. But she didn’t light it. The indulgence didn’t feel right when the girl still seemed so out of sorts. She cracked her neck side to side, trying to loosen the tightness in her shoulders. She pulled her leather jacket in closer, drawing the fur collar tighter around her neck. Doma’s winter was colder than she remembered. It wasn’t the frigid tundra that was Coerthas, but the moisture in the air always made it seem like the cold and the rain were more stagnant and insidious. Or perhaps it was the waiting that made her tense. An old Doman contact, from years back when she smuggled weapons into the occupied land to aid the Doman Liberation Front, was late. Yasukata had gone into his own business of selling weapons with her help, and now that Doma was free, he was dealing with the Doman lords who wanted to arm their soldiers. He wasn’t a big fish in the sea of arms trade, as far as she knew, but he had contacts that she did not. And he was competition, amongst many, for Elam Grave. Perhaps he would be willing to help her dig up the whereabouts of Saltborn where other contacts were unwilling. Although... the longer she waited, Shael found herself asking why she was doing this at all. Perhaps it was the desperate plea she saw in Nabi’s eyes when she and Tserende finally retrieved the Xaela from Brick, the quartermaster to the Confederate ship, Ironsong. Nabi looked despondent over the fact that Saltborn had been taken by Graves after he protected her. That was another thing she was still trying to wrap her mind around. What in swivin’ hells does Saltborn have to do with Nabi? And why was he even protecting her? She couldn’t for the life of her imagine an ornery man like him protecting anything but his own interest and his crew. But Brick, the more civil and cool-headed of the Ironsong bunch, relayed a story that matched Nabi’s, much to her surprise. "Saltborn's actions outside of Isari were not ones done with the approval of his crew. That and--I know not of his relations with this female, but her disposal is not an option he considers and neither is her continued existence locked away out of sight. He sought to amend both, offering trade for the girl's continued existence as she saw fit with the skillset of another alchemist known to our crew. That and, of course our continued employment." Despite the fact that she had no love lost for Salborn’s woes, she couldn’t help but be a little irked that his crew was continuing to do business with the man that was likely going to have one of their own killed. “I cannot risk more men by looking into the issue,” Brick told her evenly. “By the end of the sun, each and every sun, I must do my role aboard the Ironsong and seeing to what is best for the crew." Despite his resigned tone, his dissatisfaction with the situation was obvious. "That said, I know not if we will even receive word should his punishment result in death. Perhaps, should you hear anything, you may mention it." What made her pause was the fact that Brick offered her coin for it. Of course she took it. It annoyed her that she felt something akin to a debt to a caustic man like Saltborn. What annoyed her even more was that Nabi seemed so very invested in his well-being. What happened between those two? Tserende didn’t seem much bothered by it, although he wasn’t the man to wear his emotions on his sleeves either. But they both had a clear understanding on one thing: Elam Grave was not long for this world. They were going to have to find a way to make sure he was no longer a threat to Nabi... or anyone, for that matter. Her hopes of trading favors had proven futile. It didn’t matter now that she wasn’t able to kill the Garlean he wanted dead, she had no doubt that the ruse of the fire and the dead Auri body would have happened regardless. And that infuriated her more than all the rest. As she saw a mounted rider approach, she held up her hand, pushing herself off the tree she had been leaning against. Yasukata was older; it had been years since they saw each other last, but the Doman greeted her with a smile and a bow when he slid off his horse. Shael gave him her best grin, tucking the cigar back into her vest pocket. Hopefully, this meeting would give her what she was looking for, and she’d be able to smoke it soon.
  14. Rain. Of course it would rain, this night of all nights. Shael glowered at the thick storm clouds in the sky. The rain had started to fall steadily a bell ago, soaking her hair and clothing. She was wholly shrouded in black attire, save for the red goggles that rested over her eyes. At least she had enough sense to equip herself with gear that afforded her plenty of traction; her gloves and boots were made to scale difficult landscape. The rafters that supported the deck next to the Bokaisen Hot Springs usually would not pose a huge challenge for her, but when bathed in rain, all the surfaces become more slick and precarious. But this was the best spot. She had scouted out the area around the docks for multiple nights, to see where she would gain the best vantage point. Up high and north of the pier, she could see the entire length of the landing. Rain just made her footing slightly tricky is all. She adjusted the setting of her goggles with a few presses on the side of the frame, allowing her to focus in on those below. The sole Garlean soldier walking the docks was easy to find. Grave assured her that there would be only one Imperial assigned to patrol for a sennight, so that there would be no mistaken identity about her kill target. At least the rain deterred random bypassers from strolling onto the dock, and the stalls had closed up early due to the unfavorable weather. So who in hells was sitting at the end of the pier? Shael squinted as she saw the Garlean approach a seated figure, a female hyur from the look of things. What surprised her even more was that he then took a seat next to the woman. Imperial soldiers weren’t known to be inclined to carry on any conversations with non-Garleans. Stop asking questions, Shael. She had already delayed in carrying this out. The time had run out for any lingering doubts or hesitation. What did she care about a Garlean anyoad? She had killed plenty of them during her time with the Resistance, and even more recently in the Gyr Abania conflict. Was it the fact that Grave wanted him dead that bothered her? Or the fact that she had left the war, to escape to Othard, and this was just her returning back to her old ways again? This is different, she told herself with a grimace. After this job, Grave agreed to leave both Nabi and Tserende out of his business. Any kill was worth getting him away from those she cared about. She drew her rifle from her back, and with a snap and a click, affixed it onto a vertical wooden beam. She adjusted the scope mounted on her rifle and squinted into it. With a flick of the finger, she activated the targeting light. Her finger hovered over the trigger as she guided the small blue pinpoint over the Imperial’s back then the back of his head. Her finger was ready to pull the trigger, when the woman the Imperial was seated next to, turned to face him. She was a female Midlander, of fair complexion and dark reddish hair. Shael did not recognize her, but her face reminded her of another redhead she knew back in Eorzea. In that moment, her hand twitched involuntarily, shifting the target light onto her forehead. Shite. Shael shifted it back quickly. The last remnants of Grave’s drugs were still running through her system. Stop. Hesitating. She fixed the blue mote of light squarely on the back of the Garlean soldier’s head and fired. She had taken such sniper shots before in the war. There was never a satisfaction to it, catching the enemy unawares and watching them slump forward lifeless in an instant. But it was something she was good at and she could not deny its efficiency and effectiveness. And when the job was done, she would at least feel some sense of completion that her preparation had paid off in the end. This time, that twitch of her finger undid all her groundwork. At the last minute, the soldier reached for the woman, pulling her down and shielding her with his own body. Her first shot sailed right over the man. Shael hardly had time to think. The fact that he was using his body to protect the woman -- one who did not seem to be an Imperial -- nagged at the back of her mind, but her element of surprise was blown. With a foul grimace, she squinted into the scope again. The Garlean had ducked his head out of her line of sight, but his broad back would do. Enough holes would be almost as quick in bleeding him out anyroad. She fired two more shots into his upper back and another aimed for his flank. She saw his body jerk twice as the impact of her shots pierced through his armor. She saw him draw his own weapon, a gun that hung from his hip, but he maintained his defensive stance over the woman. It would do him no good. She was not her target anyroad. All Shael had to do was to keep shooting him until he died. But then a white shield suddenly grew around the Garlean and the woman, creating a dome of blinding light around them. "Shite," Shael muttered under her breath. "What in soddin' hells..." She pulled back from the scope, one hand tapping at the frame of her goggles as she squinted. She tapped again as the scanners were recalibrating, but she already knew what the problem was. It was a lot of aether to get past to see what was within. And with the sudden appearance of a beacon in an otherwise poorly lit pier, she was starting to hear shouts from the watchtowers that the Sekiseigumi manned. Whatever and whoever had managed to coalesce all that aether was also raising the alarm. Her chance of succeeding in eliminating her kill target was fading into the wind. She scowled a deep grimace. With practiced dexterity, she collapsed the stand and holstered the rifle onto her back. She took a few steps back and took a running leap, off the rafters and into the waters below.
  15. “Mercy! Show us mercy!” The soldier had pleaded desperately as he struggled to crawl away on the ground, one leg trailing crimson blood. But the pirate that loomed above heard him not, as he lunged his sword straight through the man’s mouth, ending his life. It was only a sun ago, but the mere memory still quickened her heart. Shael stared at herself in the mirror, her left upper arm and shoulder wrapped in a bandage. Her face twisted into a foul expression at the sight of her arm in a sling, her other arm had just been freed of that cursed imprisonment only a month ago. She rolled her shoulders to test out its range; surely it wasn’t as limited, it was just a gunshot wound. She hissed at the pain that immediately shot through to her shoulder blade, and tsked at herself for doing exactly the thing that Nabi told her not to do. Shael supposed she should be grateful for the incompetence on the part of the Garleans. The ambush could have been far better orchestrated; they had the element of surprise and the high ground. But just one sniper was situated up high, and the rest on the ground were only able to get off two rounds before they were rushed and had to engage in melee combat. They were conscripted soldiers, this much Shael knew. They didn’t have the most advanced Garlean arms, and some of them spoke with a Doman accent. That didn’t make a difference to her though, nor to the Confederate entourage that Elam had also hired. She had shot two of them, and Anchor had cut down three. Three of the guards escorting the shipment were injured, but they were still able to deliver the goods to the buyer after the ambush. To Shael's annoyance, the attack did prove Elam’s suspicion that his Garlean contact was at the least unreliable, and at the worst, a double-crosser. Was the fact that the kill target was a Garlean make it that much easier for her to accept Elam’s offer? Shael fell back onto her bed, atop the blankets that were crumpled and wound in disarray, although she regretted that careless movement as soon as the shoulder hit the mattress. Nabi’s treatment had greatly decreased the throbbing in the area, and the heat that was starting to build there. The Xaela had warned her to rest the torso and the limb for at least a sennight, even though Shael could not make that promise. She could not share with Nabi what had happened to cause such an injury, nor what she had to do in the next few suns. She could easily read the worry in the Xaela’s golden eyes, but to her credit, Nabi let it be. Only left her with some salve, and chamomile tea. Having studied her reflection earlier, Shael knew what Nabi saw: Shadows under her sunken eyes, slight sallow tinge to her cheeks. She was relieved that she had managed to at least hide the tremor of her hands. That would have certainly been a give away that she had drugs running in her system again. Maybe Nabi already suspected, Shael wasn’t sure. But she also didn’t bother explaining that she had never meant to return to that habit. It was a necessity, given the circumstances. “He thinks he has me under his thumb,” she had shared in confidence with Tserende. “Slipping a drug into the drink now and then. But I’ve got it handled.” She hoped she sounded convincing despite the doubts that swirled in her mind every time she craved the next hit. She held up her hand in front of her, splaying out her fingers. It shook slightly, then as she tensed her muscles, the shakes stopped. These drugs were something else. Nothing like what she had tried before. They gave her visions when she let herself go, visions of people she so desperately wanted to see. It was so very alluring. She knew she could have just avoided Elam’s drinks, and still agreed to his bargain. But Grave believing he was getting her unknowingly addicted again, fed his confidence that she would be in the end desperate for what he had to offer. What she had witnessed with the weapons escort confirmed that at least Grave had legitimate reasons to want the kill target eliminated. And the connections that he was starting to establish in the mainland of Doma seemed to suggest that there was going to be plenty of opportunities for him to take advantage of. Arms, drugs, and even skin trade. The last made her lip twitch but Shael dismissed it. Not my concern. Just get the job done, and all the ties are cut. Her hand went to her breast pocket, where she withdrew a small flat tin container. Tserende had lent it to her, perhaps to ease her nerves, after she had shared with him her intent to do this one job. He had even offered to help, but she turned that down flat. The very reason she was doing this at all, was to try and protect them. Neither he nor Nabi was going to be involved in any of this or with Grave, not if she had any say in it. Shael shook the tin lightly and the few cigarettes that remained within gave a quiet rattle. A part of her wondered why, despite her determination to keep them out of things, she still took it upon herself to tell Tserende what she was up to. She was sure that if things went sour, that he would somehow try and help her. But after some insistence on her part, he finally agreed to trust her and let her do what she needed to do. Shael stared at the tin for a long time, a small upward curl tugging at the corners of her lips. She flipped it over and squinted, eyeing a pair of letters stamped onto one side: “N.K.” She exhaled, her expression sobering again. She tucked it back into her breast pocket and rose, and retrieved her gun. She had to make certain all the parts were in perfect working order. She knew that when she took it out again, she would not be able to afford any mistakes.
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