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  1. I can come to the second event! :)
  2. [Plus ça Change - Verad Bellveil Versus the World, Part 3] Past Story Background: Homecoming Part Six How many times had she been here before? It was another evening of excitement and trouble. Neither of which her parents would approve. It ended in a dive bar, followed by a walk home filled with dread and perhaps, a hint of shame. There she stood, just outside the front door, head bowed, heart resigned. There she pulled off her thigh-high boots, knowing that their steep heels would too-loudly announce her late-night return home. It was already well past midnight. She wiped the tears from her cheek with the un-torn sleeve of the leather jacket that clung tight to the sides of her figure. The break-in at the Caged Bird had gone both well and horribly wrong. In the short term Aya’s place in the Tower City would be a dangerous one. She couldn’t say here and couldn’t risk endangering her family. By necessity this would be a brief visit: recover her things, say another silent goodbye, and vanish into the shadow of the Ishgardian under-city. But she couldn’t wipe the haunting events of that night away with the mere brush of a sleeve. She’d agreed to help Verad because she believed in him. But in the moment of danger, within the house of the enemy, he had seemed to snap: he abandoned the plan, he endangered her and the others, and then when she’d moved to slap some sense into him he had deflected her with a slash of his knife. She could fault herself: she had intended to strike him with the palm, but in his madness he’d shown no hesitation to drawing her blood. Even as he’d recovered his senses, she’d recoiled from his reach. Who could blame her? The confusion of the night still clung thick, but she knew she’d never forget that moment of terror in the dark alley behind the Caged Bird where she faced an ill-tempered Verad and his flashing knife. In the present, she pushed the front door open as quietly as she should. Light feet stepped inside. She moved slow and careful as she mounted the stairs. This was was virtually indistinguishable from those not-so-distant teenage evenings: dressed for a night out on the town in a flirtatious little skirt, a cute leather jacket, and an array of glittering jewelry all intended to draw the eye. Only the blood-soaked bandage tied tight around her upper right arm revealed anything untoward. The jacket had been sliced open, the flesh beneath gouged and still bleeding. She had not expected the old sentry to still be at his station. Thule Lord Tharin: warrior, master of his house, father. The old man had nearly wasted away under the crushing weight of failure and advancing age. His rule over his children had faltered and failed. The family of which he dreamed seemed to disperse and scatter. Only his eldest son had become that for which he’d hoped - and that one true son grew to detest a father who had abandoned all that had mattered to their Ala Mhigan forebears. He was a father who could never convince himself that he had done his best, but the return of his daughter, and the opening of the city’s long-sealed gates had still breathed a fresh sense of life into his tired body. In recent days he had cut his long, matted hair - trimmed his gray beard. Now he had returned to the lonely post where he had sat many long vigils. His aim was always to catch his daughter upon her return from late night sojourns. There he would impress upon her the full seriousness of her transgressions. Their yelling argument would wake the family. Their conflict would tear them apart. He would never admit how deeply he worried for her safety. How the long hours of waiting were filled with the dread of her absence. And what now? He found himself seated far across the main room of the inn. With the flick of his finger the low-beam of his lantern flared brighter into a dim spot-light that caught his daughter by surprise. She flinched, the breath caught deep in her throat. Reflexively she steeled herself for his powerful, practiced glare, her heart pounded in her ears. In an instant she was again the rebellious, terrified teenager terrified of her father’s reproach. The years that had passed, the freedom she had won, the name she had made for herself vanished in the sudden realization that he was there. He knew all this. He knew the role he had played. He lifted his pipe and cupped the bowl with his fingers. Striking a match, he puffed softly as the embers burned a soft amber within. She did not move, frozen in place as if stunned. He lowered the pipe and exhaled a deep sigh of relief. His voice, when he spoke, was softened with age and wear. It carried to the stairs with just enough force to be heard, but no longer held the authority to shake. “Thank the Twelve. I thought I’d have to go out there and find you…” The gentleness of his tone broke the spell. She turned her eyes toward him and offered a long stare. He returned it silently, just watching her from his ruined throne. She nearly leapt from the stair, and hurried to him with an anxiousness that threatened the quietness of her mission. He coughed, ever-so-slightly. “I’d over-heard just enough,” he couldn’t quite make eye-contact, but he seemed to catch sight of the blood-soaked bandage. “I knew you were up to something dangerous tonight, and I had to make sure you got home alright.” He turned relieved eyes back upon her, and pulled the pipe quickly to his mouth to seek its calm. She didn’t seem to know how to respond. A long moment passed as she just stared at him with wide-eyed surprised. At last she leaned down to him, wrapping her arms around him in an affectionate embrace. “Father…” she sighed softly, tears welling within her eyes as conflicting emotions overwhelmed her. He hesitantly wrapped one arm around her as best he could to return the gesture, “You’re hurt.” He commented as she leaned back from the hug. “Don’t tell me that Duskwight friend of yours had anything to to with this?” Verad had been staying at the inn for some time. Though her family had initially regarded him with suspicion, his charming manner had a way of softening the hardest of hearts with the warmth of affection. She flinched at the question, daring not to answer it honestly. Her eyes grew more worried as she hesitated; she’d never been able to lie to him, and he’d see right through her at a time like this. “I see…” the old man sighed. “Well, I am sure he protected you as best he could.” He nodded to himself, as if confirming the comforting truth for his own sake. “I know you’ve found loyal friends.” Her heart cried out, but she struggled to hold back the truth that ached inside. Verad’s own knife had been responsible, but she’d never admit it: not to her father, not to her friends. Struggling, she offered only a meek nod in reply, “I have…” The old man turned his head as he regarded his daughter. Old instincts die hard. He could offer a thousand words of rebuke and advice, knowing full well that her behavior would put her in danger (of which he did not know the half). That she could be safe, secure, and surrounded by family if she just listened to what he said. But that wasn’t why he was here. He’d convinced himself of that, hadn’t he? He did his best to suppress the accusatory look that came so naturally to his features at this hour. Instead, he changed the subject. “Kael stopped by earlier this evening, looking for you.” She swallowed hard at the mention of her eldest brother, guilt swelling within her breast. “He had hopes of speaking to you alone, today. He said it was wonderful that you’d been to visit the children, and they were loving the toys you gave them. But, he said, he had something he wanted to talk to you about privately.” He narrowed his eyes somewhat, as if trying to guess a hidden truth. He slipped the pipe stem back into his mouth, “I’m supposing it had something to do with Gyr Abania.” She deflected her eyes as her expression fell with guilt. “I’m sorry that I didn’t get to see him again.” She shook her head before looking back, “But I can’t help him with that. My concern is far closer to home right now.” “Ala Mhigo is your home.” Replied the father reflexively, his voice rising in volume and sternness. Her eyes locked on his as she pulled her lips tight. She slipped easily into practiced defiance, “My home is where you are.” He tensed his jaw. Old habits die hard. An expression of contrition briefly crossing his features, but he didn’t speak. It was enough. Maybe he wouldn’t press her this time. Her voice softened, “I’m sorry,” she said with a breath of regret, “But I have to leave. There’s just no other way.” “I know that.” He answered flatly. “You’ve had the look of a frightened fox since you came through the door.” His eyes turned to the bandage on her arm, “But you can’t leave this untreated. It is a long journey to Ul'dah. Let me get your mother…” He moved to start the difficult rise from his seat. “No,” she interrupted emphatically, “this is hard enough already, don’t wake her.” He paused mid-way and looked back at her with concern. Buried deep within that look was an implicit threat to overrule her. To do what he thought best regardless of the consequences. But he had come to know better by now, at least for the night. “Very, well. Then allow me.” He finished the struggle to stand. She hesitated, but knew he was right. Verad’s darting knife had cut into the flesh of her bicep, the pain was at times excruciating and she continued to bleed through the make-shift bandage that had been applied. She nodded to him. He reached for her arm, carefully untying the cloth wound around it. He cringed at the sight of what was beneath. It was only a flesh wound, but the cut had sliced straight-through the leather of her jacket, and had gouged her arm and muscle. It hurt him deeply to see his daughter so wounded. How much had he given during his life to protect her? Why did he always seem to fail when it mattered most. He struggled for a moment but managed, “We must stitch this closed. If we don’t, it could become infected or worse. I hope you know someone who can heal this properly soon, but we can’t let it wait for you to get there.” He moved with considerable effort, supporting himself against the bar as he moved around it. “Your mother keeps a kit under the bar for this. Just in case someone gets out of hand down here…” While he fetched the first-aid kit, Aya struggled to pull her right arm free of the tight-fitting jacket. She cringed in pain with the motions before resting the elbow of her now bare arm on the table. She looked away, trying to hide the full nature of her wound from her own eyes. She could still see Verad, and that casual flick of his blade. Her father returned to his chair, letting out a breath of exertion as he settled back down. He set the kit upon the table, and thumbed it open. He knew what he was doing, he’d dressed numerous such wounds in his lifetime, and many far worse. But this is one he’d have much preferred to never have seen. Still, he knew, with effort he could close it. And in time it would heal. He girded his thoughts, trying to focus purely on the matter at hand. She’d want tight stitching to prevent scarring. Even if she may seek magical healing soon, if he botched this it could be too late. An open wound was too dangerous, and someone had to treat it. Piece by piece he extracted the elements of the kit, setting those unnecessary to the side, while preparing those he would need. “Still fighting to protect your friends, are you?” He commented without looking at her, while picking from a small selection of needles. “Some things never change.” She flicked her eyes quickly towards him. “I suppose…” she answered meekly, afraid to fully meet his gaze. “It always worried your mother, you know.” He open the lid a small cylinder. He’d been shown how to use this unusual device. It would heat the needle without the use of a flame. His daughter continued to watch his eyes, glancing only momentarily at his preparations. She’d overheard them talking about her fighting as a child. It wasn’t often, but it always seemed to end with somebody hurt. “And you?” He paused at the question, taking in an audible breath as he set the cylinder aside to do its work. His fingers opened a container of salve, prepared by her mother. “It made me proud.” He admitted, earnestly. She looked at him wide-eyed and astonished. He dipped his finger into the medicinal ointment, “This is going to sting.” He stated matter-of-factually. He began to apply it, as gently as he could manage. Warm and joyful memories of his cheerful little girl clouded his mind as he treated the grown-up version. She cringed and bit down hard to avoid crying out at the intensity of the stinging pain. “Though, I think if I’d known you’d still be up to it at this age I’d have been more worried.” He looked up at her, but she’d turned away. She was trying her best to not think about something else. He carried on, “How did you ever get that name, anyway?” He extracted the sterilized needle, and threaded it. His aged fingers, once so strong and powerful, still moved with careful precision. “What name?” She asked innocently, though she knew full well to what he was referring. “Foxheart.” He answered, his eyes sharply focused as he carefully tied the thread off. It was the first time she’d heard him use that name- and it sounded beyond strange from his lips. She gave him time to finish before answering. “For a while, in the Shroud, I ran with a pack of wolves. They came to trust me, but knew I was neither as brave nor as strong as they were.” Her father nodded at the answer. “Well, I certainly can’t imagine you as a wolf.” He set the needle down, taking another look at her with eyes filled with memory. She swallowed, wondering just what her father would think of her if he knew it all. Then again, he had lived his life on the battlefield, and navigated the treacheries and terror of the King of Ruin. Only the Twelve knew what compromises he had made in his time. He poured brandy from an open bottle into an empty tumbler that rest on the table. “At least the Ishgardians make a decent brandy.” He slid the glass to her, “Trust me when I say you’re going to want that.” She accepted the glass, drinking its contents in one quick shot before continuing. “Though I wasn’t as strong, I did find my place there. They came to see me as clever, quick, and careful. I think they thought it was amusing: like a fox among wolves.” He nodded thoughtfully, while dabbing a cloth in the brandy. “Truly?” He asked rhetorically, “Well, I happen to think the fox suits you well.” She’d have sworn he smirked, “You’ve your mother’s beauty, and my foolishness I fear.” Taking the spirit-soaked cloth he began to rub the wound and the area around it. She took in a sharp breath, cringing at the words and the sting of alcohol. She had no idea how to respond to his speaking like this. Once upon a time he had shown her such affection, but that was so long ago. Had she really only known harshness and regret? Memories of their closeness came pouring forth in a fountain of sentimental yearning. “Here,” he offered her a wooden peg from the kit. “You’re going to want to bite down on this. If you don’t, you’ll wake the entire house.” The gesture and statement hurt the man far more than he’d ever admit. He hated this. But someone had to do it, and better him than anyone else. With effort he could close the wound, but he knew only time could heal it. The father steeled himself for that which he was dreading. It had been hard enough to look upon his daughter’s wound. Harder still to steady himself to pierce her tender skin again and again with the painful steel of the needle. Every fiber of him rebelled at the thought. She took the pin of wood, and set it between her teeth. She bit down. Her chest began to rise further and faster with deep, worried breaths of anticipation. He tried to ignore her fear. His eyes focused. He’d use the best technique he had learned. It would take longer, but the result would be more reliable, and heal cleaner. Every stitch independent, close together. This had to be done right. Never had it seemed to matter more. A moment later the needle first pierced her sensitive flesh. Reflexively her teeth bore down on the softer wood between them. It was more than the needle. Tears began to stream from her eyes. He paid careful mind to his work. It had been a long time since he had treated such a wound, but clever fingers still retained their muscle memory. Each stitch individually tied off, was made close to the one before. It was intricate, grueling work that seemed to stretch for an eternity under the dim lantern light of the quickly vanishing night. Neither spoke, and both were exhausted as he finished tying off the final stitch. He set the needle aside, and returned to the balm which he applied to the now-closed wound. Her jaw finally relaxed. She set aside the wooden pin, now indelibly marked by her teeth. “I’m sorry…” he said, “I know how terribly this must have hurt.” What he could never know was how much more painful it had been knowing who was responsible, and how much worse that memory would remain. She breathed deep and tired. Long, deep, and exhausted breaths that seemed to sum the entire evening. “Thank you.” He nodded, biting his lower lip in an expression she often mimicked when stressed. But he couldn’t take his eyes off of her. “Fierce and tough. That’s my daughter.” He stated with a nod, before moving to reassemble the kit, putting the pieces away one at a time. She lifted her eyes, staring off into the distance. He poured himself a drought of brandy, and took it stiffly. “If I ever find the bastard who did this to you, I’m going to give them the drubbing of a lifetime.” He announced in a fatherly manner. She turned toward him, silent for a moment. She knew exactly who it was, and hoped he would never find out. “I know you will…” she said at long last, “You’ve always protected me. Even when you haven’t realized it. But, I’m afraid its worse this time…” “What do you mean?” He snapped the kit shut. “Voidsent.” She answered with a single word full of foreboding menace. “Those monsters in children’s stories?” He asked, incredulously. “As real as dragons.” She answered flatly. “And there’s one after my friends and I.” His expression fell grimly. “Aya…” She turned her eyes quickly toward him, “You’ve protected me my whole life. You’ve protected all of us.” She had quickly drawn a long, cylindrical device from a small pouch on her belt. “Right now you have to think about the entire family, and not just me. Protect everyone. Mother, uncle, all of the children here. They’re counting on you. I have to help my friends stop these people.” He nodded, eyeing the object curiously. It was a magitek beacon, one she’d acquired long ago. It had aided her escape from the city and on many adventures since. “At the press of this switch it will shine with bright light. If you -ever- think there may be something dangerous nearby, you shine this at it. The monster we’ve encountered seems to be afraid of light, and it may be enough to buy you and others the time to get away.” The old man’s eyes narrowed. “Do you understand?” She asked. Running away was never a style he’d admit to, even if he had done just that again, and again over his life. “Shine this light at the monster… got it.” He said, as though he understood more fully than he did. She took out a card, with a couple of names written on it. “These are two Dragoons, one a former Dragoon, to contact if there is -any- sign of trouble.” Her tone had become quicker, she struggled to remain calm at the thought of the danger she could have already brought upon her own family. Her father nodded, regarding the card carefully, “Orrin Halgren, and V'aleera…” he paused at the second name, “V'aleera?” he repeated, “Why does that sound so familiar?” “You knew her when she was a child, she grew up right here.” “Ah… the Miqo'te girl,” a hint of a smile crept across his lips as he remembered, “and she rose all the way to Dragoon?” Aya nodded, “The finest.” He smiled. The city seemed a little brighter at the thought. “I have to get my things and leave. I can’t stay here, I’ll put you all of you in danger.” Her father nodded. He was still looking at the card. His expression grew resigned. All her life he had wanted nothing more than to protect her. To keep her close and safe. There was nothing he wouldn’t do, nothing he would flinch at, nothing that could stand in his way, save death itself. Now helplessness gripped him. He didn’t look up. She slipped quietly upstairs, visiting her own room and that recently used by one Verad. She gathered their remaining belongings she could, hefting a pair of small packs over her left shoulder. By the time she returned to the entry-way her father had risen, and stood to greet her, supported by the heavy walking stick at his side. His gaze followed her down the stairs, “Promise me you’ll come back.” She put her arm around him, embracing him again. "I will, and sooner than you think…“ She slipped out the door and grabbed her boots without putting them on. He watched as she moved swiftly into the darkness of their underground avenue. Barefoot and still wearing that skirt he’d have never allowed. His late night vigil had exhausted him. He grasped at the door frame, bracing. Silently he watched the vision of his daughter retreat into the darkness. He’d been here many times before. So many times. Too many times. The sadness was as powerful as ever. But he was not angry. Not at her. Not this time. Rather than shouts, tears were all that was left in the darkness he faced. He’d closed the wound. With time, he hoped, it will heal.
  3. [City of Sadness - Verad Bellveil Versus the World, Part 2] How long had it been? Cloaked in heavy cloth for warmth, Aya stood in the dark of a late winter evening. Beneath the falling snow, high in the pillars where she did not belong. The bitter cold clawed at her body, but in that moment she barely noticed. What was it with this city of sadness? Grey walls beneath gray skies. Grey stone protecting gray hearts. She stretched her hand out. Manicured nails graced slender fingers that slid gently through the carved grooves of a name upon the stone memorial. How long had it been? how many years since she had held the man who had borne this name? This was all that was left of him: memories recalled by gray stone. The canvas bag she carried slipped from her loosening fingers and dropped quietly upon the snow-covered pavement. Tears flowed freely. "Char..." she cried pleadingly. Earlier that day: The kitchen of the Rising Gryphon was one of the most familiar places in the entire world to Aya Foxheart. She had been raised there, literally. It was where her aunt and uncle had taught her to bake. It was a place of joy and fond memories, and of great warmth against the shuddering cold of Ishgard's permanent winter. The smell of freshly baked cookies wafted pleasantly through the front of the tavern where several neighborhood locals joined a familiar dubious Duskwight, and her Uncle Theo, proprietor of the establishment. Chocolate Chip cookies were a specialty she developed in Ul'dah where chocolate was more plentiful than in the barricaded Ishgard of her youth. Today she was baking them to share with family and friends for the first time. The kitchen door swung freely open, pressed upon by a wide, muscular hand. "Aya!" boomed the familiar voice of her brother Osvald, a smith by trade. The excitement in his voice matched that of his manner and he strode quickly within, while energetic blue eyes smiled upon the baker and her work. "I could nearly smell those all the way at my shop!" He offered a hearty laugh, "I can't wait to try one...!" As he reached toward the tray of cooling treats, she cocked her hips and offered him a disproving look. "You should at least let those finish cooling..." she pursed her lips, eyes narrowing before she let out an amused laugh and waved him off, "Nah, take one! Enjooooooy!" She beamed at him with a grin. As the hungry fellow gladly grabbed the treat he radiated a joyful excitement. He admired the strange cookie for a moment before taking a large bite, the wonderful mix of sweetness and richness a welcome delight. "Ah..! These are amazing! You've out done yourself!" It took mere seconds for the entire large cookie to vanish from sight. While licking his fingers clean his eyes fell upon the counter top where she was stirring a new mixing bowl. A bottle of pink-hued rosewater, an expensive fragrance for most denizens of the city stood nearby. The bottle stood atop a piece of paper bearing what appeared to be a freshly written recipe. His eyes furrowed as he watched her for a moment, "What this? Those aren't more of these fantastic cookies are they?" She shook her head, pausing for a moment to draw the bangs back out of her eyes, they always loved to fall out of the kerchief as she worked. "No, I'm afraid not. I don't think these will taste as good either." He raised a curious eyebrow, stepping a little closer so as to peer into the mixing bowl in which she worked, "What's it then? If its not as good?" She pulled her lips tight for a moment, slowing but not pausing her mixing. Something was clearly weighing on her. He peered at the rosewater, then back to her, then to the rosewater, and back again. "Ah!" He drew his big hands to his belly and grinned broadly - hopefully, "A man is it?! Someone stole my little sister's heart?" She paused, turning her eyes toward him with a teasing grin to match. "Yes, dearest brother. His name is Erimmont and he's in the Inquisition gaol awaiting death." The color quickly drained from Osval'd face; his eyes opened wide in momentary horror. Only slowly did he begin to recover his senses. "I... goodness..." he drew a hand slowly down his face. She let out a light laugh along with a flick of her hips, "I'm not in love with him!" She tossed Osvald a teasing look, "But he is a man who could use a little attention right now. I think anyone could in his circumstances." The massive highlander quickly nodded, managing to muffle a sigh of relief. "Say no more, dearest!" With a quick motion he snatched an apron from a wall peg, and began to pull it on. The image of the barrel-chested fellow in his undersized apron could have melted the hardest of hearts. She simple grinned in admiration. He looked back, shaking his head as if to ask what the fuss was about. "If he's good enough for my sister. He's good enough for me. I'm going to help." He stepped up beside her, and together they continued to follow the recipe for the unusual rose-flavored treat. At last, sliding the tray into the oven to bake, she stepped back and admired him all the more. "There..." he declared, in triumph, dusting together his large, flour-covered hands. "I bet they're going to taste better than you expect!" She settled back, leaning against the counter they'd been working upon and offered him a softened smile. "Perhaps you are right..." She took in a sighing breath, before asking him the question that had been on her mind, "Do you remember Char?" The smile quickly vanished from his features as he turned to look back at her with a serious expression hinting at sadness. "Of course, how could I forget?" She let out an audible little breath, shaking her head with a bare smile. "Erimmont lost the love of his life. 'Char' he called her, 'Charlotte'. I nearly lost it when he told me that." "..." Osvald didn't quite know what to say. Aya turned her eyes back upon him, "Have you ever visited the memorial?" He offered a slow and wide nod before crossing his arms grimly, "We were there the day it opened. Mother and I. They rained honor upon those Knights. There were no dry eyes, I assure you." "Mother too...?" she asked, both touched and surprised. She closed her eyes, letting out another audible breath, this one filled with sadness. "I am sorry, Aya. We never did forget. We know how much he meant to you. He died a hero, that is the least we can say." She didn't say anything for a moment, the silence lingering uncomfortably. At last she looked up again, "Do you think he died alone? Lonely?" Osvald bit his lip. "A man like him..?" He faked a laugh, "I bet he was surrounded by..." he stopped, sighed, and hung his head. "I doubt he ever got over you, Aya. I don't think he had it in him." Before the Memorial to Fallen Temple Knights: Tears streamed down red cheeks as she fell to her knees before the cold, stone slab of the memorial. What good was it to die in the defense of one's city? To die so miserably just so that others could be miserable too? She cried the tears of a thousand lonely nights. Of a thousand broken promises. She'd broken his heart on the behest of his own father. And then she'd run away. What more did she deserve? For what had turned out to be the rest of his life she had never spoken to him, never written. His family had denied him the memento she had tried to leave him with. What more did she deserve? As she mourned, the rose-water sweets grew cold within the canvas bag as it sat in the snow. She couldn't know what Erimmont was going through. He would never know her loss. But for a moment, she knew, the city' sadness could be lifted by the bittersweet. For the both of them. (Screen shot by @kiskiphelone via tumblr, and used with grateful permission!)
  4. [An Evening Surveillance - Verad Bellveil Versus the World, Part 1] It was a fuzzy sort of chamber music that filled the room. As if being played somewhere in the distance, or being half-remembered. It was the opulence of the dress that stood out most starkly: handsome men, and lovely ladies. All proper, glowing, and radiant in the splendly warm lighting of an evening soiree high atop the pillars of Ishgard. The Ladies and Men moved to and fro in the carefully orchestrated motions of polite, formal dance, while chilled sparkling, served bubbling, crisp, and dry made its way around on glittering trays of polished sterling. Aya could feel the tight, tugging sensation of a happy grin that refused every urge to be held-back. She knew she beamed forth, a vision of unfashionably delighted mirth. Well - one couldn't fault her for dreaming, could they? The day dream vanished into the dark of the nighttime cold. This time of year, especially, Ishgard's frost bit hard even during the hours of warm daylight. As it set the claws of cold dug deep to the bone, blasting forth with the insistent gusting winds that scoured the highland landscape. She pulled her hood tighter around her partly exposed face - as if she could ward off the frost with such a gesture. Her clouding breath formed irregular crystals along the strands of wool and fur. Fur - at least she was fortunate enough now for this. Her eyes came back into focus on the circles of lamplight painted on the cobblestone boulevard that stretched before her. The shops were long closed, but not far before her stood one last establishment open for business. The Caged Bird opened late, and stayed open even later. Their shady reputation was well known to the rest of the block in their vicinity, but the quality of their patrons shielded the neighboring businesses from the negative effects one may otherwise have expected. Still, there were those not entirely pleased with the presence of such a venue on their proverbial steps. That was one of the few, mostly obvious, things Aya had managed to pick up through her several days of effort. It was Verad Bellveil née Deaxbois who had an interest with this place. Not as a potential patron, thank the twelve, his interest lay in the women who were its attraction. He was not alone in the interest, with the usual host of well-intentioned allies plotting, planning, and otherwise preparing for trouble. Some of the women, circumstantial evidence suggested, were there against their will. Worse, House Severidenne may be using such women in some form of dark sorcery. With an altogether too-quick assent Aya had, of course, given her offer of assistance to Verad. She, Verad, and Madamoiselle Eglantine would serve as a distraction by visiting the Club, to help the more quiet entry of Nihka and Kiht go unnoticed. And that, is how she found herself freezing in the dark of an Ishgard evening, watching a mostly empty street. It wasn't quite the evening in the Pillars she usually imagined; then again, the ball Verad had so graciously invited her to at House Severidenne did not turn out much like those she'd dreamed of either. As she watched, another unmarked carriage rolled by the street, while the shadows of her perch clung tightly enough to her figure to obscure sight of such an observer. The yoked chocobo came to a slow stop before the grand front entrance of the Caged bird, before disgorging an obscured but clearly wealthy man. With just a hint of apprehension in his otherwise purposeful stride he mounted the steps into the Club, and disappeared into the delights that awaited him. Outside, Aya struggled futilely against another blast of cold air, reflecting on her effort of the past couple of days: Speaking to one of the local shop keepers had provided the only real nugget of value for all her effort. Monsieur Lestride, with a ring of wildly roused gray hair and wire spectacles that rest upon a long narrow nose, was the proprietor of a shop selling the finest of imported porcelain. The storefront happened to be located almost directly across the boulevard from the Caged Bird. For a few dozen minutes of pleasant discussion and feigned interest in significant purchases --she, at least, could appear able to afford such luxuries-- she'd earned his trust, if not his affection. When asked, in innocent fashion, of the Club across the way, his bushy eyebrows had furrowed, giving hint to deep-set frustration. Most of what he had to say on the matter she already knew: "Nothing more than an upscale cat-house", "They come and go at all hours of the night", "You'd think -someone- would have done -something- by now!" At last, she'd played the only real card she'd had in her pocket, "Caged Bird.. Caged Bird..." she'd mused, as if perplexed, "Have I heard of this before, didn't I hear a rumor that House Severidenne was involved there somehow?" The fellow grumbled with an undisguised "harumph", and nearly stormed out of her sight. He turned toward her at the last moment, "You know," he pronounced with the uncertainty of a man who'd just realized something. "Madame Severidenne, Nephaera I believe is her name, is a regular visitor. I've seen her coming and going. This has always struck me as most unusual, but perhaps it could make some sense..." The porcelain dealer revealed himself to be a man of detail, reciting numerous occasions of the woman's visit. Aya committed the dates to her log book as soon as she'd departed - being not as great with details as he. Looking them over, they quickly revealed a mostly regular pattern of visitation. This, at least, was something useful. She couldn't have Verad stumbling into the place only to be immediately recognized.
  5. [The Mark - Blood Moon Rising - Part One] Aya shuddered in her sleep. She was wrapped in a light blanket on a simple berth of an evening airship. It was the last leg of the long journey home from Gyr Abania for the unlikely adventurer, and it had been anything but restful. Her adventures into the marshy woods of the Gyr Abanian fringe had left her mid-section wrapped in bandages, and her trusty poncho ripped by claws. The bandages had stanched the flow of blood, and the torn poncho could be patched. It was the wounds that gripped her spirit that ran far deeper. She tossed and turned amidst a nightmare. She'd been warned of the dangers of the deep forests of her homeland since childhood. All those who entered, so the stories went, would emerge as someone different. This could mean passage to a new phase of life, but more often it meant death itself. Had she ignored these warnings to her own peril? Never had the forest, long the scene of her idyllic dreams of freedom, seemed so dangerous and unsettling. Her mind's eye struggled to relieve itself of the visions of the day before: bodies hung from and nailed to trees in ways too unnatural to describe, a chilling pall that seemed to cut to the very bone, the gray-skinned devil festooned and markings and bone who assumed the form of an owl, and perched high in his tree manipulating the bodies of others like so many puppets. The warnings swam through her delirious sleep, seeming to come from every direction as she relived every hellish moment of horrible discovery - of the sallow-faced wolves who lunged from the shadows - and the crying wailing voices of the still living victims of the wood's treacherous villainy. The bodies of the hallow-wolves as they transformed into tribal Miqo'te upon death, bearing the obvious signs of punishment. "What are you doing? You should never have gone there...!" the words repeated in voice after voice from her memory. Loved ones, mentors, and friends. It was less a question, more an accusation of foolishness. At last her mother and father, both threatening to burst forth screaming, seemed to cry into each ear. With a start she shot straight up in her berth, nearly striking her head on the low ceiling. Hands clapped over her ears to ward away the phantasmal voices. The silence was immediate, but her hands now burned against the sides of her head. With a gasp of fright she pulled them away. She stared wide-eye at her palms, upon the left of which a blood-red crescent had appeared during her brief sleep. Her feet pressed against the cushions, as if she could squirm away from her own flesh; wide blue eyes transfixed upon the mark in utter terror. She could only imagine what terrible fate now marked her... It was late at night when Aya pushed open the swinging door to the Quicksand's kitchen. She had just passed through the tavern without a hint of her usual cheer: the wave of several familiar patrons went unreturned. Her eyes never lifted from the floor, while her red lips held a forced stoic expression. She announced her arrival within with the loud drop of heavy gear bags onto the floor. The sound reverberated across the stone floor of the kitchen and its back rooms. Her shoulders fell. Her head bowed. At last escaped from the public eye, she openly sobbed in fear. Jericho, one of the Quicksand's cooks, dropped his attention from his mid-night preparations and hurried to her. Despite his characteristic shyness, he grasped the highland woman by the shoulders helping to prop her up under the weight of her obvious distress. "Aya..." he said in the calmest voice he could muster. The unmistakable burr of his voice an undeniable reminder of the land she had just returned from. "Where have you been? What is the matter?" "Gyr Abania..." she managed through sobbing breaths. "But what's the matter..?" "I've... terrible things..." she couldn't quite spell it out. The look in his eyes became ever more concerned by the moment. "I'll get Madame Momodi, just wait here..." he offered, in an effort to be helpful. Aya managed a forceful, "No!" She lifted her left hand, turning it over to expose her marked palm, before beginning to cry again. All she could think about was the danger she now posed to others, and just what terrible things the skin walkers could have in store for those they marked. He grasped her hand, trying in vain to wipe the mark away. His eyes stared longly at her delicate, feminine hand and the other-worldly mark cast so sorely upon it. For a long moment no other words passed between them. Only the sound of suppressed sobbing broke the quiet roar of the cooking fires across the room. Finally he asked, concern consuming him, "What are you going to do..?" She looked up at him, eyes and cheeks reddened by the exertion of dismay, and answered his question with a disheartened shrug. "I don't know..."
  6. That Akasha piece is absolutely fabulous! I just adore your style for drawing characters :-D
  7. Thank you so much for your kind comment. You're the first, other than myself, to post here and I super appreciate it. <3 You're welcome! I'd encourage other people to too! I love the ear wiggling animation, it just made me grin!
  8. These are all so amazing! I really like your style!
  9. Love goes out to all of you frustrated and upset! I hope they're able to find a solution to the lack of housing in general on these servers. I wish I could be more helpful than that...!
  10. Short answer: Its not actually that bad!
  11. Aya

    Hi there. :)

    Welcome to the RPC and Final Fantasy Roleplaying!
  12. As usual, Verad sets off his own Red Flags!!!
  13. I hope this thread doesn't devolve into weighing the value of different writing styles Shakespeare or Hemmingway, or anywhere in between, people are going to enjoy both reading and writing in different ways! The only thing that bothers me is when the style is clearly inappropriate for the venue. For example, dropping multi-post paragraphs into the rapidly scrolling chat of a busy public place.
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