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Thrill of the Hunt -- [Stories, Threads, and Journals of Jaliqai Qulaan]

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[align=center]T H R I L L O F T H E H U N T

[ Collection of Short Stories, RP Threads, and Journals of Jaliqai Qulaan ][/align]



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[align=center]This is the where I will be curating the short stories I've written, the links to forum RPs that I've participated in, and the occasional journal entries of my character, Jaliqai Qulaan. Subject matter that some may find personally upsetting, such as violence, death, etc., will be marked appropriately and tucked under Spoiler tags. However, if I miss anything that you feel might require a heads up to anyone reading, please feel free to send me a PM or make an OOC post here.


OOC comments and the like are welcomed. However, I'm not actively looking for in-depth critique. Light critique and suggestion are fine, but please don't just pick my writing apart piece-by-piece with a fine-tooth comb. (Trust me, if anyone knows how many wonky sentence structures and switched tenses I have in my writing, it's me! And I'm working on it!)


This second post will serve as a table of contents and will be updated as new content is added.[/align]



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[align=center]T A B L E O F C O N T E N T S

[ Last Updated on October 5th, 2015. ][/align]



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[align=center]< S H O R T S T O R I E S >[/align]


[align=center]━━━━━━━━ Prey ━━━━━━━━[/align]

[align=center]Jaliqai is called to Ishgard to help an old ally lure out a bounty, a job that gives her cause to

question everything she thought she knew about loyalty to her tribe, to her allies, and to herself.[/align]


[align=center][part one] [part two] [part three] [part four] [part five] [part six][/align]

[align=center][ Warnings: Violence, trauma, death, drugging, abduction. Part four, linked offsite to original tumblr post, contains sexually explicit content. ]



[align=center]━━━━ Burning of the Dead ━━━━[/align]

[align=center]Flashback. Jaliqai recalls the first time that she ever experienced death

as she puts her fallen tribe mates to rest.[/align]



[align=center][ Warnings: Death, funerals, and generally sad stuff. ]






[align=center]< R O L E P L A Y T H R E A D S >[/align]







[align=center]< J O U R N A L E N T R I E S >[/align]





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[align=center] P R E Y

[ Part One of Six ][/align]



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Author Note: So while I was on vacation, I decided to have Jali head up north to Coerthas on a job. While thinking it over, I had an idea of what that job might entail and decided to write it up as a short story for the sake of a character development exercise.


As a disclaimer, this part was written on my iPhone while lying in bed at the cabin. So it’s not my best writing. The rest will be better once I can get home, turn on pandora, and actually type.


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The sideways stares and scornful whispers were nothing that Jaliqai hadn’t experienced before. Ever since she had made the decision to leave Othard alongside the Doman diaspora, she had found herself drawing the gazes of man wary, sometimes hostile Eorzeans. For a time, like many of her kin when they had first arrived, she had taken measures to conceal her Auri features. Yet as time marched on, as her kind became more and more known, she had dropped the concealment and faced the glares head-on. Yet by now, most had become fairly comfortable with the Au Ra.


This place was different. Though the Domans and a handful of Auri had arrived almost a cycle ago, Ishgard’s freshly opened walls held behind them a people who had scarcely known foreigners at all, much less those who bore scaled skin and horns like their most hated of enemies. Jaliqai couldn’t rightly blame them, in a way, for their frigid demeanors and hushed hisses to one another as she passed.


Still, there was something different about the way these men, women, and children leered. Something that hinted at more than just caution and distrust. Hatred. The tension of violence that lie just below the surface, barely contained, threatening to burst forth at any moment. Each step down the ragged remnants of the Brume felt more and more unsafe, that she wasn’t welcomed here.


Movements and shadows caught her eye, someone always lurking just out of sight, following her. Hunting her. Her heart began to beat faster, her nerves raw and on edge. The Forgotten Knight couldn’t be far, could it? All she had to do was get there, to the contact that she was supposed to meet, and she wouldn’t be so uncomfortably exposed and alone. Outnumbered.


Despite the fear trying to edge its way into her mind, the Xaela woman kept her head held up straight, facing forward, her jaw firmly set. Even if someone was following her, she would not give them the pleasure of seeing her panic or setting her to run. She was a proud Qulaani huntress, and a Qulaan would never be another’s prey.


Her steps quickened, if only slightly, boots clicking against the uneven cobblestones. Another shadow moved in a nearby alcove as she passed, nearing the corner. As she turned, she chanced a glance in that direction, only to bump right into something. Something that felt distinctly like a person, that let loose a curse at her. Her golden eyes snapped back forward instantly to the tall, older Elezen man whose words of annoyance went all but ignored.


“Sorry,” she muttered quietly, not even looking the man in the eye or waiting for a response before she tried to move past him.


“Oi! Ye’ should ‘pologize properly t'yer betters.”


Instinctively, the huntress turned around towards the voice, laying eyes on a pair of Hyur men that had come up from behind her. The one in front, whom she had assumed to be the one who had spoke, stood with his chest puffed up and arms crossed. He had a few ilms of height on her, yet he was bony, malnourished. Even with his chest out and back straight, he wasn’t an intimidating man. The man behind him was even less imposing, all gaunt cheek bones and sunken, red eyes.


What did bother her, however, was that every pair of eyes nearby were on them and not a soul seemed likely to intervene on her behalf. In fact, if anything, the lot were likely to jump in to help the two Hyur if it came to blows. She could feel it again, the familiar tension that hung thick in the air just before a fight erupted.


Jaliqai needed to get out of here and get to the Forgotten Knight. Setting her lips into a thin line, she turned to try and walk away. Maybe if she refused to react, they would give up. Yet as she turned, she felt a hand rise up to clamp down firmly on her shoulder.


“Bloody Dravanian whore, listen when I’m speakin’ t'ye!” The first man growled. The words barely registered as the Xaela spun, turning on him with her upper lip curled back in an almost feral snarl. Yet it was the soft glint off of metal from the lanky man behind the first that more raptly captured her attention. A knife being drawn.


Her own hand quickly lowered to one of the daggers sheathed on her hips. Her heart was pounding now with adrenaline. She started to draw her own blade when a sudden, sharp whistle pierced the air. The drawing of steel froze as all heads turned in the direction of the shrill sound echoing down the alleyway.


At the end stood a tall, broad Highlander man, wearing a deep scowl on his lips. Partnered with the deep scars over the left side of his face and the harsh eyes that glared out from under thick brown brows, his was a fierceness that managed to still the lot before the impending violence even began. Jaliqai hadn’t been so relieved to see someone in quite a long time.


“You lot make a habit of drawin’ steel on innocent women?” The man growled out his words in a deep, rough voice. It took a moment for the stunned hyur to answer.


“She were attackin’ this man ‘ere, and–”


“Chocobo shite!” He barked. “Get the fuck out of here before all the yellin’ makes the Knights head over.” When no one moved, the Highlander’s hand fell to the sword hanging at his hip and his voice rose, commanding. “Now!”


Slowly, but surely, the tall, gaunt man let his knife fall back into place, taking a few tentative steps back. He looked to his partner, whose defiant look held out only but a moment longer, before he too backed down with a sullen glare and a grumble. As the two slinked away, the rest of the crowd that had gathered to watch gradually began to look away, busying themselves with something, whispering amongst themselves.


Jaliqai eyed the lot of them until she felt a hand over hers on the knife, gently guiding it downwards, back into its sheath. A deep chuckle of a laugh followed, pulling her eyes back up to the scarred man.


“You too, Red.” He gave her an amused smile as his hand moved to her shoulder, carefully turning her into the direction he had came from.


“I had it under control, Bayard.”


“Sure you did, love. Didn’t doubt you for a second.” He smirked down at her. “Let’s get you to the tavern before you start a godsdamned riot.”


The Xaela opened her mouth to protest, only to close it, stubbornly shrugging his hand off her shoulder to start walking again. He only let out another deep chuckle, shaking his head, following along after her.

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[align=center] P R E Y

[ Part Two of Six ][/align]



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Author's Note: Part two of what I think will end up being four short parts (Spoiler alert, it ended up being six by the time I finished) total. Also written on my phone in the cramped back seat of the truck on the ride home from vacation, so not the best.


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"Whiskey neat, right?"


Bayard reached around behind Jaliqai to set the glass of dark amber liquor in front of her. Her fingers wrapped around it, a scowl coming to her lips when she noticed the slight trembling in her fingers. The cold, she told herself. Nothing more than the cold. Her grip tightened as she lifted it.




"You never change, Red." The man's words held a fond, teasing tone.


"Honestly, I'm just surprised that you still remember how I like my liquor," she mused. "I would think that you would've forgotten by now."


"Ha! I chased bounties with you for how many moons?" The Highlander paused his train of thought. "Five? Six?"


"Almost six, if I remember." A slight hint of a smile came to the Xaela's lips at the memory.


"Right, we spent six moons crackin' skulls together. Like hells I would forget what you'd always drink at the end of the day." His lips split into a wide grin, his dark brown eyes watching her. Gone was the fierce anger that he had laid upon the hecklers in the alley. Now, he was relaxed, content.


His peace put her at ease. It always had. For all his hardness and his ruthlessness with a sword, underneath layers of scars, tanned skin, and taut muscle was a man who had shown her warmth when few others had. One of the first to know what she was, and who looked past her scales and horns to offer her a spot in his band of bounty hunters until she was confident enough in this foreign land to stand on her own. He had always treated her more like an old friend than an unfamiliar addition, asking her questions about her land and peoples with genuine interest, introducing her to the connections she needed in this place, teaching her things about Eorzea.


It had taken her some time to open up to him, but the trust came far easier than she could have anticipated. If there was anyone in this land that she could call a friend, it was this man. Only now, staring at him over the rim of her glass, did she realize just how sharply she had missed him when they had went their separate ways some moons back.


Not allowing herself to dwell long on the memories and emotions, Jali dropped her gaze and tilted up her glass. It wasn't a quarter as fine as the brew at the Blind Viper, the taste not nearly so complex and smooth. It burned all the way down the back of her throat, down into the pit of her stomach. Yet in this frigid land where the cold seeped into your bones and clung tightly to them, it was perfect, warming her from the inside out.


"So," she began, clearing her throat. "You called me for business?" Her glass lowered, replaced by a somewhat amused smirk. "You had a mark you're having trouble tracking?"


The man made an annoyed face, frowning down into his own glass. She couldn't help but let out a soft, low chuckle.


"Now I'm intrigued. I shudder to think what sort of mark could force Bayard Bronzeblade to have to call in reinforcements." She leaned in, including her glass towards the hunting knife sheathed in leather at the man's hip. It was his claim to notoriety in the bounty hunting world, the unimpressive knife that he had used to subdue a mark cycles ago that many others had tried their hands at and failed. "That knife of yours isn't getting dull, is it?"


"Bah! Like I would let a single blade of mine go without sharpenin'. No, the problem with this shite is findin' him to begin with." He shook his head. "I've been on this bastard's trail for a moon now, and seen neither hide nor hair of him."


Jaliqai's lips slowly pulled into a grin. These were the hunts that she loved, where the marks were hard to coax out of hiding. Finding the trail and pinning her prey down had always been her specialty, which was likely why she and Bayard had worked so well together. For all his brutish brawn, he lacked the same finesse and cunning that she did. He could brawl far better than she, but she could always find their marks whenever he was at a loss.


"Fair enough. What sort of leads you have, then?" She set her glass down, intently focused on the other.


"For the last couple moons, there's been a lot that have been playin' at bandits in the mountains, robbin' caravans and causin' all sorts of trouble for the villages." Bayard paused to eye the Xaela across the table from him. "Wouldn't be half so bad, save for the fact that he's taken up the hobby of snatchin' up the women, too."


Immediately, the Au Ra's smile began to fade. The amusement drained from her face, replaced by a coldness that matched the crisp Coerthan air.


"Slavers?" she asked, lip curling at the word. The man shook his head.


"As far as anyone can tell, no." Bayard lifted a hand, rubbing lightly at the back of his neck. "And that's the problem. If they were movin' around the flesh trade, they'd be easier to track. But by the looks of it, Ghost and his crew are just collectors of pretty lasses."




"Aye, that's what they took to callin' him. He's quiet as the dead, makes his hits fast and silent. He's in and out before anyone knows it. Not to mention that not a damned soul knows who he really is. Even if they did, it'd be hard to convince these Ishgardians to give up what they know."


The Auri woman leaned back in her chair, golden eyes falling down to her glass, silent as she thought it over. He glanced at her, watching for a moment before his brows furrowed.


"Not goin' to say 'no', are you, Red?" He leaned in to look more closely at her. She glanced back up to him, shaking her head.


"A Qulaan never turns down a good hunt, but I have to wonder.. Why ask me?"


The man seemed confused by her question, straightening up in his seat once again to level the perplexed look at her. "Because you're the best godsdamned tracker I've ever worked with."


"No. I mean, you saw those people out there. They bloody well hate me, like I was a dragon myself." She frowned deeply. "If the only leads I have to go off of are whispers, what makes you think any of these Ishgardians will talk to me? Especially if they won't even talk to you. They'd sooner spit in my face."


Once again, the Highlander was quiet as he looked her over. There was something in the way he watched her that suggested thought, maybe even a hint of worry. Yet she stayed quiet, letting him have time to work out what he wished to say.


"Red.. I've a plan. Just hear me out before you tell me to sod off, alright?" Her eyes narrowed slightly, but she nodded, a slow and carefully measured gesture. "Ghost's lot have been makin' their way across a line of villages, and if the rumors I've heard have any truth to them, we know where they'll be in a few suns' time."


"If you know that much, then why do you even need me?" Jaliqai's brows furrowed.


"Because this ain't the first time me and my own have tried to cut him off. They call him Ghost for a reason, love." He let out a sigh, shaking his head. "Bastard has earned it. We had him right in our palm, but never saw him. We thought the information was bad, until we woke the next mornin' to stolen goods and stolen lasses besides."


"And the part where you need me...?"


"Just listen, eh?" He opened his mouth to continue and once again stopped short to regard her cautiously. Her lips pulled into a scowl.


"Are you gonna bloody well tell me your plan or not?"


"Alright, alright.. The last few women he's taken have been Auri. We reckon he's taken a fancy to your kind. My plan was to have you lure him out to--"


"No." The huntress looked almost disgusted as she stared at him, her voice bearing the weight of every onze of cold steel in that single word. Her upper lip curled back over her teeth. "I will not be another person's prey, Bayard."


"You wouldn't be prey. You just--"


"You know how I feel about this. I won't do it."


"Red, please, just hear me out. We've got to lure this bastard out somehow, yeah? We know where he's goin' to be, and we know he fancies himself some Au Ra. And just so happens, you're the only one I know that's twice as good with a blade as she is beautiful." His look softened as he stared at her across the table. "You won't be no one's prey, love. I won't let him lay a finger on you. I'll be skulkin' around after you, and as soon as he thinks to try and make off with you, I'll have my knife at his neck."


Jaliqai stared at him long and hard, glaring, trying to steel her resolve. She had told him once, long ago, that she would never allow herself to serve as bait in a trap. She was the predator, the hunter. Not the quarry. At the time, she hadn't trusted any of them half as much as she had grown to trust Bayard. She hadn't told them of what had happened to her in Othard, to the Qulaani who had survived the Garlean attack that spelled the end of their tribe. How they had been hunted, captured.. It was a memory that she had always pushed to the back of her mind, trying to make it disappear.


Yet the man had a point. Someone as smooth as Ghost would likely go on uncaught for many moons yet if not lured into a trap, and it was a decent plan besides. Bayard wouldn't allow anyone to do that to her. He was a strong, capable, experienced fighter. Stronger than even some of the Qulaani she had known and grown up alongside. And of all the people she had met in Eorzea, she trusted none half as deeply as she trusted him.


"...Fine." She breathed out a long sigh. "I'll bloody do it, just this once. Alright?"


Bayard let out a surprised, yet cheerful bark of a laugh, clapping his left hand down upon the wooden table. Several other patrons looked over at the noise before returning to their own conversations. The grin wouldn't disappear from her old partner's face.


"We'll leave tomorrow, then. Get a head start, scout out the area, and familiarize ourselves with the land." He paused, then reached out to clasp one of his large hands over her forearm. She could feel the roughness of his calloused skin, his strength. But more than that, she could feel the gentleness and warmth, his thumb stroking fondly over the soft skin of her inner arm. "Thank you, Red. I swear, I would throw myself on my own sword before I let any harm come to you."


Redness and heat began to creep up to her cheeks before she could stop them, her heart beating a little faster. Yet when she realized it, she coughed, pulling her arm away to cover her mouth, then dropped it back down to her side out of reach. He let out a chuckle.


"Let's get some sleep. It's a long trip out to the village." Bayard pushed his chair back, standing. "I'll pay for the room."


"I can pay for my own room."


"What I meant," he began in a deep drawl, brown eyes watching her, the corners of his lips pulling up into a handsome smirk, "was that we could share one."


"No." Her answer was quick. Perhaps too quick. His drawling turned to a deep laugh that rumbled up from his chest. He lifted his hands up in a motion of surrender, turning to start towards the innkeep.


"You really don't change, do you?"

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[align=center] P R E Y

[ Part Three of Six ][/align]



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Author’s Note: Part three of four now five six. And I will put this TRIGGER WARNING OF VIOLENCE, DEATH, AND EMOTIONAL TRAUMA here for those sensitive to such things.


If you're interested in learning a bit more about the Qulaan tribe and what became of them, Jali's past specifically, and what her hang-ups with romance and sex are (and you're not sensitive to the above triggers), click to read under the spoiler tag.


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[align=center][ Warnings: Mention of violence, slight gore, emotional trauma, death, and general feels under the spoiler. ][/align]



Jaliqai let her eyes close as the door clicked shut behind her, slumping back against it heavily, hear head rolling back until it made contact with the wood. She breathed in a deep breath of the warm, yet musty air, holding it in her lungs for as long as she could manage before expelling it in a soft, almost shaking sigh.


When her eyes opened again, she stared up at the vaulted ceiling before her gaze fell, moving across the lackluster inn room. The old, creaking floorboards. The missing torch above the fireplace. Old liquor bottles scattered about. The bed looked hard, the linens scratchy and threadbare.


It was one of the worst inns she had stayed at, that much was certain. Only the meager fireplace seemed even remotely appealing, the dancing flames seeming to beckon her closer. She moved across the room until she stood in front of it, basking in the heat that radiated from it.


Yet even so, standing in front of the fire with arms crossed over her chest, she felt cold. Not the chill of a breeze squeezing through an ill-fitted window. Nor was it was the cool draft that slipped under the door from the hall.


Loneliness. It was a feeling that wasn't altogether foreign to her, even if she would've argued to her last breath otherwise. She had grown up in a small, tightly woven tribe. If anything, the Qulaan had been more like a pack, like the wolves they claimed as their brethren. Tough, fierce, but ultimately social creatures that weren't meant to be alone.


About eight cycles had passed since that last hunt. The hunt that had destroyed what was left of her tribe. They had been so confident in themselves, their prowess. The hunters and warriors had allowed anger and rage to distort and warp their better judgment, making them think they stood a chance against foes wielding magic and steel.


Chakha. She still remembered the girl, only a cycle or two younger than herself. Her wide silver eyes, always seeming to dance with mischief. Her dark skin, the long brown hair that fell to her waist. The way she could travel so lightly on her feet that one would never hear her coming until it was far too late. She had enjoyed turning her stealth upon Jaliqai on numerous occasions, always laughing her clear, mirthful laugh when she near jumped out of her skin and spat curses at her in their harsh native tongue.


More than anything now, though, she could remember the way her body hung limp in Baiju's arms as he carried his partner back to the tribe for the last time. The thick, dark red trail that followed him. The cold, seething anger and deep, unfathomable sadness in his eyes as his world lie broken in his grasp. Her own eyes wide and unseeing, utterly devoid of that light she had held such affection for.


She had been killed by Garlean soldiers, their paths just happening to cross with the pair of hunting partners as they ventured out in pursuit of a trail. Nothing but a coincidence.


They had thought to sneak past the men and avoid confrontation, as they had many times before. Chakha was a natural at slipping by unnoticed, after all. Yet all it took was one misstep, Baidu's foot coming down upon a branch the wrong way. A loud snap, followed by shouting, several loud pops and bangs, running..


They sang as the flames licked at her body, dancing playfully around her like she had often done between hunts, pulling in child and tribemate alike to join her. The tribe sang haunting melodies that sounded more like wails and howls of grief than songs, under the moon and the Mother's watchful eye.


Chakha had been an unfortunate casualty of an unfortunate accident. Yet the Qulaan had all been so close. Of course they had lost their own before; one didn't hunt as they had without occasional losses. Yet this had been so sudden, jarring, and unexpected. Senseless. She had brought such joy to everyone in the tribe, and everyone shared in their pain.


When the last ember had cooled, the grief-stricken tribe had nothing but blood and vengeance on their mind. Anger. Ignorance. Pain.


They should have known better than to set out to track the Garleans back to their camp. They had had encounters with them before, small skirmishes that had ended in injury and retreat. But now they hunted them, and their attacks were met with a force that brought them to their knees.


It was nothing but a massacre. They should have known. Jaliqai remembered catching a glimpse of Baidu in the chaos, covered in blood, fighting until he couldn't stand any longer, a blade brought down square into his chest. Others cut down around her, the loud mechanical popping of guns firing. Screaming. So much screaming.


The greatsword clattering from her hands as a shield rose up to meet her face was the last thing she remembered clearly before the world went black. The rest of the memories immediately after faded in and out. Being dragged across the ground. The feeling of weightlessness as she was lifted, then the floor of the wagon rising up to meet her as she was tossed. Groans of pain and misery around her, vaguely familiar voices and scents.


Those who had survived had been rounded up, she later realized after she had came to. No one told them where they were going. No one treated their wounds. She remembered watching the woman across from her die, the rattling of her breath as she struggled to claim her last few inhales.


Every so often, someone walked through the wagon to check on them. Those who had expired had been unceremoniously dragged out, left by the side of the road for the animals to feed upon.


That had been Jaliqai's freedom. Injured as she was, playing dead hadn't been difficult. She was practically lying upon death's doorstep, anyroad. Slumped against the dead man beside her, the soldier who made the rounds gave her a few checks before roughly throwing her out with the others who hadn't made it.


Hours had passed before she could move. Light was fading, and no longer could she hear the caravan as it moved on. It took every bit of strength she had to crawl her way out from under the body of another. She had only made it but a few fulm away before she collapsed again.


Again, she faded in and out of consciousness. Injured, starving, thirsty, cold. Dying. Alone.


She didn't remember when she had been found. All she could remember was the indistinct murmur of voices, warm broth sliding down the back of her throat, the sharp sting of medicine on the numerous cuts and gashes that covered her body.


When she had awoke, those that had found her and nursed her back to health had said that she had been out for days. The Doman farmers had found her still barely clinging to life as they had trailed behind the caravan from afar, gathering up the bodies of the fallen Xaela to give them proper burial.


"Burn them," she remembered begging them in her rough, broken Doman. "Please."


And so they had. The villagers lined the bodies up, shrouded them with care. Jaliqai hadn't wanted to look upon their faces. It hurt too deeply. The hyurs guided her off to the side as they lit the pyres, attending her in respectful silence. Her throat stung, her eyes burned with emotion and the smoke, as she sang for them. Cried for them. Howled for them.


For a time, she stayed with the farmers, regaining her strength. Even after she recovered, she continued to linger for yet longer. Where else was there to go? Her tribe was gone, destroyed. These people, though kind and generous, were not the same as the family she had lost. No matter how much she tried to belong, to become a part of them, they were too different. She was surrounded by people, yet never had she felt so acutely alone.


Finally came the time to move on. She thanked them for their kindness, for a debt she could never repay, and begged them not to speak a word of what had happened to her tribe to others. To let the memory of the Qulaan be that of the fierce, relentless hunters that they were, not as another's prey. They agreed and sent her on her way, with their blessings and what supplies they could spare.


And so she wandered across Othard, a lone wolf. In time, she returned to what she knew. Even without a tribe, she was a formidable huntress. Over the following moons and cycles, she found more and more work chasing bounties that people were paying to see taken care of. Her reputation grew.


The Hunt kept her armed, armored, and fed. More than that, it kept her focused and driven. It kept her from remembering, most days, though sometimes the memories crept back into her mind of a night when she laid her head down. The whiskey helped with that, she'd found.


Still, there were some times when even the booze didn't stop the feeling of loneliness from overcoming her. Days where she almost instinctively thought to look over her shoulder for a hunting partner that wasn't there, and her heart felt like it would squeeze so tightly in her chest that it might burst. Nights where she could hear the wolves howl and all she could think of were the flames dancing higher, the choking smoke of the funeral pyre, the smell of decayed and burning flesh.


When it felt like too much to bear, she had joined in with other bands of mercenaries and bounty hunters, trying to find a place where she belonged. For a time, it would take her mind away from the memories, dull the ache in her chest. Yet it was never the same. These men and women didn't care for one another like the Qulaan. They weren't a family. Each time, she would finally move on again, even lonelier than she had been before.


Cycles passed, and though everything was different, nothing changed. She hunted, day in and out. She searched for a family to replace the one she missed, always to no avail. Only when the Garleans -- those hateful, three-eyed whoresons -- razed Doma to the ground did she realize that it was time to leave her homelands.


She bought her way onto a ship bound for Eorzea, a land that she had heard rumor of but knew precious little about. The Hunt would be better there, she told herself. Garleans wouldn't stifle her every movement, their horrid magitek reminding her at every turn. Things would be different, strange.. but she would adapt. She always did.


That was when she had met Bayard. Tall and broad like an Auri warrior, and every bit as fierce. Bronzeblade, they called him. She hadn't known the story of the name then. She had been intrigued by him as soon as she had signed onto the same contract that he had, yet oddly fearful. Cautious.


Time ticked on, and the two had grown close. Closer than she thought possible, with someone who wasn't even Xaela, much less Qulaani. Yet there was something about him that was so incredibly familiar. His understanding and passion for the chase. His strength, relentlessness. The warmth and loyalty he showed to those he called his own, the way he led them.


Almost six moons, they worked together. He taught her, and she taught him. She was his cunning, and he was her muscle. A pair. They were almost inseparable.


Their attraction to one another was even more obvious. Yet each time he had propositioned her, tried to get in even closer, she had refused him. She couldn't. All she could think about was her hunting partner, whom was supposed to give her children one day. To strengthen their tribe.


Sex was one thing. In the cycles since she had lost her family, she had tried. One-night stands that were as lacking in passion as they were in purpose, and always followed by guilt and anger. Yet those partners left with the rising sun, never to be thought of again after their faces and names had faded from her memory.


Bayard was different, and she couldn't give herself to him, not in the way that he wanted her to. Even as desperately as she wanted to. She couldn't settle with him or give him a family. The Xaela had clung too tightly to her duty, to the ghost of her tribe, to betray them.


Once again, she had left. The conflict within her had been too much to handle, so close to the man. As soon as their contract had been completed, she had said her goodbyes and left him. It hurt terribly, only time and distance managing to make it fade to a dull ache that she could manage on most days.


She had went so long without thinking about such things, and then she had came to Ul'dah. Kiari with her confessions of love for her. Grey pushing and prodding at her, trying to get her to open up, not knowing that all he was doing was forcing open wounds that had almost healed over. Pouring salt into them.


"Wouldn't you like to have a mate?" the miqo'te man had asked her at their last meeting.


Of course she would.


She longed for her hunting partner. The one she was meant to be with. The one she had sworn herself to. A man who might be nothing more than ash now, whom she may have burned and sang for, but had been too coward and pained to look upon his face.


She also longed for the man in the room next to hers. A man who longed for her just the same. A strong, brave, loyal man who had given her the first feeling of family that she had had since that last hunt. A man who she wasn't meant for, but with whom she felt oddly complete. A man who she had run from once when she realized how she felt about him.


A log shifted in the fire, falling and sending up a plume of smouldering ashes, suddenly breaking her out of her reverie. As she snapped back to reality, the thoughts still lingering at the edge of her mind, she looked to the door.


Before she knew it, she was crossing the creaking wooden planks. Reaching out and swinging it open. Marching down the hall, hand rising to knock impatiently on the wooden door. A few moments of footsteps later, the door swung open, Bayard standing there, looking down at the smaller woman with confusion.




"I changed my mind."


Reaching up, she grabbed for him, pulling him down to meet her as she pushed herself up onto her toes. Her lips found his in a sudden kiss, almost a cycle of repressed longing behind it. Strong arms wrapped around her, pulling her tightly against his chest.


She wanted him -- the living, breathing man in front of her -- and this time no ghost would stop her.



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[align=center] P R E Y

[ Part Four of Six ][/align]



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Author’s Note: Part four of five six, and almost done we are! Likewise, time to throw up another NSFW WARNING because oh god I wrote a sexy thing.


There's actually emotional and character development wrapped up in all of this, so it's not just smut written for smut's sake. I honestly could have just handwaved the romping around between the sheets, but instead I decided to write it out as both a character development exercise and a personal challenge, because I honestly consider intimate scenes to be one of my weakest types of writing.


So if sex doesn't bother you and you're willing to accept that my writing of adult material is sometimes questionable at best, click the spoiler tag to take you to the original post on Tumblr.


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[align=center][ Warnings: Explicit sexual content. ][/align]



[align=center]PREY: Part Four[/align]


[align=center]By clicking this link, you agree that you are of legal age to read written content of an adult, sexual nature.[/align]



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[align=center] P R E Y

[ Part Five of Six ][/align]



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Author's Note: So uh. You know how I said there were four parts? And then I said there were five parts? Well, now there's six parts, because I keep writing way more than I originally intended. Whoops. I swear I'm almost done, though!


Last part of this story should be somewhat shorter. I originally was going to make it part of this one, but this ended up being too long on its own.


This part has another TRIGGER WARNING for abduction. If that doesn't bother you, click the spoiler tag to read!


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[align=center][ Warnings: Drugging, abduction. ][/align]



Everything had seemed to be going their way as Jaliqai, Bayard, and the small handful of the men he had gathered for the job set out for the village of Wyvern's Bluff. The roads had been mostly clear, with few travelers and patroling knights met along the way. Even the snows seemed to allow them to pass without interruption, the heavy snowflakes gently floating down from the sky instead of howling and swirling around them as the Auri woman had half expected to happen.


They had made great time, having left before the rising of the sun and arriving before the last rays of sunlight sunk below the horizon on the next day. It put them in a good position, allowing them to scout out the area around the village and discretely survey the layout of streets and pathways within before it was time to set their plan into motion.


If the rumor was true, tonight would be the night that Ghost crept into the town, silent as the spirit that all who had heard of him likened him to. In and out, he would come and leave without anyone's notice, taking with him anything that caught his eye. Anyone that caught his eye.


All she had to do was to look appealing, like easy prey ripe for the snatching. Jaliqai's stomach turned at the thought, but she forced her mind away from it. Bayard would be watching, and the others would be lingering about the village to cut him off, just in case.


Still, she couldn't stop her hand from tightening over the knife tucked into the loose-fitting jacket that she had slipped on until her knuckles had nearly turned white. Only the feeling of a warm hand on her arm snapped her out of it, golden eyes moving up to meet Bayard's.


"You alright, Red?" His tone was every bit as concerned as his gaze. He squeezed her arm lightly. "Don't worry. Nothin' will happen, I promise."


She stared at him and the nerves slowly, but surely melted away. Her hand rose up to rest on his own.


"Aye, I'm fine," she answered quietly.


The Highlander gently pulled back, looking her over. Appraising. They had found a nice set of traveling leathers and furs for her, sturdy and warm enough to look practical but still feminine. Unimposing enough to make her seem like an easy and attractive target, yet not so obvious as to rouse suspicion. His concern shifted to approval the longer he looked at her, lips pulling into a slight smirk as he gave her a nod.


"No way Ghost will be able to pass up the sight of you, love. Or any man, for that matter."


"Leave your bloody flirting until after the job," she grumbled, though the hint of red that rushed to the apples of her cheeks spoke a different story.


"Right, right.." He gave her a soft chuckle. "Still, there's something missing."


Her brows furrowed in confusion as she looked at him. Reaching into an inner pocket, the man produced a small, seemingly hand-made wooden box. He held it out for her to take. After eyeing it for a long moment, she reached out to take it in her hands.


"Found it in one of the market stalls when we were scoutin' it out," he explained. "Thought it might suit you." He lifted a hand, motioning to his eyes. "Goes well with your eyes, or somethin'."


The Auri woman looked down to the box, running her fingers over the smooth wood before flipping the loose metal latch and opening it. Inside was a small, dark leather bracelet. Someone had obviously spent much time and taken great care in its crafting, intricate patterns burned into the wristband, all branching out from a smooth yellow-gold gemstone set into the center.


Her breath caught in her throat as she turned it over in her hands. Her fingers brushed the stone. Once again the warmth came back to her cheeks with a vengeance. No one had ever given her such a gift before.


"Here." He held out his hand for it. "Let me put it on for you, yeah?"


She nodded, handing it to him and leaving her wrist outstretched. Watching him secure it there with great care. Once it was in place, she could practically feel the comforting, calming warmth that started at her wrist and traveled up her arm, enveloping her. Was it the bracelet? Or was it just the unfamiliar feeling of receiving such a gift? She didn't know.


"You like it?" He cleared his throat, sitting back, arms crossing over his chest. "How's it fit? You're a tiny thing, wasn't sure if it'd be too big or.."


Her eyes rose from the wristband to the man sitting across from her in the back of the carriage. She couldn't stop the corners of her lips from pulling into a slow smile, seeing him. In all the time that they had spent together, she had never seen Bayard as anxious as he was now. He was always so charming and smooth-talking with women, but this seemed to be something new to him as well.


"It's beautiful, and it fits just fine." She leaned in slightly, giving him a teasing look. "I'm impressed with your fashion sense, is all."


"An unexpected talent of mine, I guess." Bayard seemed to relax at the answer, his easy smile returning. He watched her with a softness she'd never seen before. "I know how you feel about jobs like this, and I hate that I had to ask you to do it." He hesitated slightly. "So, don't take it off, alright? It'll remind you that I'm always at your back."


The Xaela pushed herself up from the wooden seat, stepping closer and leaning over to brush her lips against his briefly. The touch still sent shiver down her spine, like she was a young, innocent girl instead of a woman long since grown.


"I won't," she promised as she straightened, turning to look towards the canvas hanging over the carriage's exit. "Now.. Let's get this over with."


He nodded and pushed himself up from his seat as well, catching her before she could slip away from the privacy of the carriage to carefully pull her back to him. His lips found her own again, a deeper kiss pressed to them, slow and lingering until they had to part again.


"Be careful, love," he murmured, stepping back and motioning for her to take the lead.


And so began the hunt. Hopping down from the back of the wagon, Jaliqai's eyes squinted at the last bits of sunlight reflecting against the blinding whiteness of the snow in the streets, coating the buildings.


Wyvern's Bluff was a far cry from the sprawling cities that she had grown accustomed to in more recent history. Yet still, as far as mountain villages went, it was larger and far more populated than she had expected. A lot of travelers stopping before they passed through the mountains further to the south and west, she figured.


Numerous buildings and cottages dotted the cobblestone streets, providing plenty of places to hide, alcoves to tuck oneself into to watch and listen. To hunt without being noticed. Little wonder that Ghost had set his sights on this place.


She sucked in a deep breath and held it, slowly exhaling, her hand coming to rest on the leather band at her wrist. She was not prey, just playing the part. Reassuring herself, she took her first step forward, then another, and another.


Bells passed since she had begun walking, wandering the streets and trying to look busy. Forcing the tension out of her body, even when the feeling of unseen eyes lingered upon her. Making herself resist the temptation to look back and see if Bayard was still there when she passed each corner expecting to feel hands grabbing and pulling at her.


Yet it never came. She had wandered through the markets, down the streets, even taken a few detours through the more secluded alleyways. Nothing. Now the last few strands of light were falling over the horizon, casting an orange-red glow over everything. Night would arrive soon, and she had nothing to show for it.


The cold was starting to seep in past her leathers, chilling her to the bone. Leaving her stiff and aching. Her throat was dry, and lips beginning to crack. Spotting a tavern, the Qulaani woman considered it. A quick drink, something stout and warm, and back onto the streets she would go to keep searching. Bayard likely wouldn't be able to follow her all the way in here, but as crowded as it was, it seemed safe. Hardly a place for a kidnapping.


Eyes immediately turned towards her as she stepped into the tavern, watching her warily, hushed whispers passed between patrons. It took only a glance for the woman to realize that she was the only Au Ra there, unsurprisingly. Her stomach tightened with her nerves, remembering the Brume.


Sidling up to the bar, she waved for the older Midlander man behind it. He looked down to her, regarding her coldly for a moment, before returning to cleaning the glass in his hand. She frowned lightly, insistently moving closer.


"I'd like a glass of whiskey," she stated once she was clearly within the man's field of view. He looked up again, eyes narrowed at her.


"And I'd like it if the snows would melt and the sun would shine," he snapped back at her. "But it's still cold out as the Fury's steel, and like to stay that way."


Jaliqai scowled. She hated Ishgardians, truly, with all of their sourness and bigotry. Reaching down to her coinpurse, she plucked out far more than enough coin, holding it up for him to see.


"Whiskey," she repeated firmly. Maybe money would talk as loudly here as it did back in the desert. After staring at it, the man rose a hand and waved her off. Clearly, it didn't.


"Sod off."


For a moment, she considered arguing. Yet looking down the bar at the faces staring back at her with just as much distaste, she knew it was a losing battle. A stupid battle. Gritting her teeth, she stashed her money again and turned, instead making her way to an empty table off to the corner, close to a barely burning hearth. If she couldn't have her drink, at least she would warm up a bit before heading back out into the cold.


Minutes passed as she watched the fire with narrowed eyes, anger seething within her just below the surface, pulling her mind away from the job at hand. Only when the sound of a glass clinking against the table in front of her reached her did she look back, first to the glass half-filled with liquor, then to the man now standing beside her table.


Elezen, tall, and looking to be at least slightly older than herself. Unlike most of the lighter skinned lot here, his was the color of cooled charcoals with dark blue-grey eyes that matched and a dark, short head of hair. Duskwight, by the looks of it. He offered her a small, polite nod in greeting.


"Couldn't help but overhear." He glanced over his shoulder towards the rest of the tavern. A few more eyes lingered on them. If he was bothered by it, it didn't show, simply turning forward and looking down to the drink he'd sat in front of her. "Whiskey, right? Go ahead."


She looked down to the glass, staring at it as she thought it over. After a long moment, she looked back up to him.


"Nothing is free. What do you want?"


The Elezen man let out an amused chuckle, pulling out one of the old wooden chairs and sinking down into it with a sigh. He took a sip of his own drink, and shook his head.


"Nothing but some company, I suppose. I just sympathized, is all." He shrugged a shoulder. "Been there before myself."


"Says the person that they'll still serve, apparently," Jaliqai answered, a bit more of an edge to her voice than she had intended. The man hardly seemed bothered, reclining back in his chair.


"This place will, yes. Duskwights aren't so uncommon around these parts, given this is House Dzemael land. But I've seen much travel, and I've been refused my share of food, drink, and inn rooms." He paused. "Carrilaut." Her brows furrowed, not understanding. Earning her another good-natured laugh from the man. "Carrilaut Brenaile. My name."


The Xaela eyed him for a long moment, sizing him up. His gaze remained on her, never venturing away. He had a cool confidence about him. The same sort of air she would expect of someone who had been in her shoes and had learned to let the insults and the like roll right off him. Not like the rest of the Ishgardians that had stared at her like she was so far below them.


"Red," she offered, picking up the glass. Swirling it around, she lifted it to her lips and took a small sip. Her nose immediately wrinkled in distaste. "Gods, this is the bloody worst drink I've ever tasted."


"What did you expect?" Carrilaut chuckled, shaking his head. "Best to tip it up at once. It's vile stuff, but it takes the cold right out of your bones, at least."


"And the skin off your throat, besides." Jaliqai gave the glass another look, before more cautiously lifting it to her lips. After a brief hint of hesitation, she tilted it up and let her head fall back, swallowing the foul tasting liquor as quickly as she could manage.


Her glass made a loud noise as she hastily returned it to the table, coughing alongside the hearty laugh from the older Elezen man. Slowly, her face returned to normal, even though tears had begun to sting at the corners of her eyes.


"So, Red," he began, watching her. "What is it that brings you up this far north?"


"Traveling," she answered shortly, repeating the story that she and Bayard had concocted, voice still a bit husky from the lingering burn of the drink. "That's what my kind do. Move around."


"And you couldn't pick a better place to wander?" His brows lofted in mild surprise. "Coerthas is dangerous land. At least tell me you've companions to share the road with."


"I'm more the type that likes to travel alone." She shook her head, a bit too fast. A touch of dizziness hit her. As awful as it tasted, at least the whiskey was strong. She closed her eyes momentarily, to get the sensation to subside. Carrilaut frowned at her.


"Travel alone through lands filled with Dravanians and plenty other wild beasts besides, and people who wouldn't so much as lift a finger for an Au Ra in trouble." He shook his head. "You're either very capable, or very stupid. I can't tell which."


"I know my way 'round a blade," she began to answer, albeit slowly. "I can take care of myself."


"Well.. You're confident, I'll allow you that."


"What about.. you?" She asked, struggling slightly with the last word. Her tail gave an irritated flick at the way her mind seemed to slow. It was just one bloody drink.


"Travel," he echoed right back to her. "Unlike you, though, I don't make a habit of traveling alone. Not too good with a weapon. Better with words and persuasion than with violence, which usually keeps me out of trouble. But it's decidedly harder, talking down a dragon what wants to make you its supper."


She made to let out a laugh, but the sound didn't come out. Perplexed, the Auri woman tried to lift a hand to her throat. Yet her whole body felt oddly heavy. Her vision was beginning to blur. Was she drunk? It was just one drink.




No, she wasn't drunk, but she was beyond stupid.


Her mouth opened and moved again, wordless. Seeing it, the Duskwight's lips curled up into a pleased smirk. He leaned in slightly across the table, dropping his voice low for just the two of them.


"I know my way around poisons, too. Silencing and sleeping poisons, for example. Mix them with strong liquor, especially when consumed quickly, makes them quite potent and quick." He reached out, head canting slightly to the side. The look in his eyes was different now. His fingers brushed against her cheek with an almost sickening fascination, tracing over the black scales beneath her eyes. "A shame that dragons aren't near so fond of whiskey as you are."


Her mind urged her hand to grab for her knife, but her whole body was heavy, sluggish. Unresponsive. Her vision was darkening at the edges, and everything felt like it was moving around her. She couldn't so much as spit a curse at him, barely even able to follow him with her eyes as he rose from the table and moved to her side.


"Come on. Let's get you out of here." He smiled warmly as he draped an arm around her, carefully trying to get her up and guide her away. She could still move enough to keep her feet underneath her, almost instinctively. Though she found herself leaning in heavily to his side. She felt sick, angry.


No wonder Ghost managed to slip in and out without being caught. It made sense now. He was smooth and smart, calculating. He didn't snatch women off the street like a common thug. He spirited them away right under people's noses, the last place they would expect to look. He wasn't just a bandit. He was a hunter. A predator.


Her eyes struggled to focus, desperately looking around the tavern as she was carefully led out by the man who had drugged her. She could swear that she made eye contact with a few patrons. Yet not a soul stood up to help her, just as he had said. They leered back at her with disdain, derision. At least, she thought they did. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly.


Bayard. He would be lingering outside, waiting for her. A few steps more, and the Highlander would free her from this man. Opening her eyes, she stared at the door as they approached. Soon.


The icy chill of the wind sent an involuntary shudder throughout her body as the door swung open, her would-be captor pulling her closer to him as they started out onto the street. Her eyes wandered once more, still unfocused, searching. Ghost made his way down the street, in the direction of an alleyway where it seemed few gazes were turned.


Where? Where was he?


Finally, she found him. Bayard was leaned back against the corner of a nearby building within clear sight of the tavern. Just as he had said, he was there. Relief flooded over her as her golden eyes met his brown ones. Held his gaze.


But.. why wasn't he moving? She stared at him, expression blank from the effect of the drugs. Didn't he see her? He had to have seen her. He was supposed to be watching her back. He had promised her that he would. That he would stop this man as soon as he thought to make prey of her.


And there he stood. Watching. Unmoving. She strained to keep her sights on him, desperately imploring him to come to her aid, until the Elezen turned the corner into the alley. Jaliqai couldn't see her partner any longer.


Why? Why didn't he come for her? She didn't understand. His promise.. What had she done wrong? Why was he allowing their mark to capture her, take her away?


The devastation and fear hit her like a tonze of brick dropped upon her shoulders, taking her already weak legs out from under her. Ghost let out a grunt as she stumbled, shifting his weight to scoop her smaller frame up into his arms. Holding her close to his chest.


"Sleep now, pet," he crooned to her. "When you wake up, you'll be in a place where you don't have to suffer those bastards' glares anymore."


No. As intense as the fear was in her breast, she couldn't stop the effects of the poison. Her head bobbed as she fought it, trying to stay awake. Clinging with tooth and claw to consciousness as best she could.


Still, she began to fade in and out, bits and pieces of changing scenery and sounds mixed in with momentary flashes of blackness that grew longer and longer. The sound of Ghost's footsteps on the cobblestones. Murmured, unintelligible voices. The smell of chocobos. Canvas being drawn back. Quiet laughter, more talking. The cool feeling of the wood beneath her cheek and the vague sensation of movement as the carriage began to roll away.


Then, finally, a deep and uneasy darkness that gripped her tight and pulled her under. Sleep.




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[align=center] P R E Y

[ Part Six of Six ][/align]



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Author's Note: Really it's done this time I swear. It's been super fun to write, and I'm so glad that I didn't just handwave this job. But I'm also glad to be done, so I can go back to devoting all my attention to RP in-game. D:


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Most times when she crawled into bed of an evening, Jaliqai was blessed with a sleep free of dreams. If visions did come to her when she closed her eyes, the lion's share were of the standard surreal, non-sensical fare that she scarce remembered when she woke up. Only rarely was she haunted anymore by the ghosts of her tribe and their end in her sleep.


Yet when the nightmares came, they came upon her with such a vivid, horrible ferocity and realness that was nigh maddening. Memories kept fresh from years of rumination upon them, worsened by guilt. But always the same, a recurring horror ever unchanging.


Warcries, screams, the discharge of magitek weapons. The panic and terror that she had felt, seeing her tribemates fall around her, some cut down and others riddled with holes. Dead everywhere. So much blood.


The battle -- no, massacre -- always seemed to rage on for an eternity in her dreams. It couldn't have truly been that long, could it? No, no.. She watched the same people die over and over again, though their faces were a blur. Their names unknown. Such was the chaos of battle.


Blackness pulled at the edges of her vision, everything disappearing again as it was wont to do as the horrifically familiar dream marched on. Giving way into the darkness of the caravan she had found herself loaded into. The groans of pain and dying around her. The smell of death hanging thick in the air, the gentle sway of the motion of being hauled away to some fate that she had never known.


Yet the dream was changing now. Groans and cries slowly begun to shift into murmured conversation. Laughter that seemed to come from malms and malms away. Feminine voices whispering to one another. A coldness that she hadn't remembered. Instead of the hard floor, her cheek was resting on something smooth, soft. Furs.


Confused and disoriented, Jaliqai slowly began to bat her eyes open, only to find them staring across the floor into eyes that stared right back at her. So light in color, silvery blue, surrounded by dark lashes and darker skin. Wide, unblinking. Devoid of light. Glossed over with death.


"Ch-Chakha.." the Auri woman choked out, voice rough and thick, as the memory hit her hard in the chest. She was still only half there, not fully woken yet not quite asleep, and the panic preyed upon her without reprieve.


She tried to move, her body weak and shaking with the effort, letting out a distressed sound. She had to get to her. Her friend.


She struggled for a moment longer before she felt arms come around her, pulling her back into them, someone holding her against their broad chest. Hands stroking her back. Only then did she hear the low, murmured voice of a man, cooing to her. Reassuring her. A voice whose familiarity returned to her as the drug's effects began to release their grip upon her.


"It's alright, Red," Bayard murmured, pulling her into his lap, seeming even more petite in her current state as she leaned up against him.


Time passed. She wasn't sure how much. Minutes? Bells? All she knew was that she was slowly, so slowly, regaining control of her faculties.


"Nnh.. Fuck." She groaned the word, eyes squeezing shut. Her head was pounding, throbbing. A hand rose to press against her forehead, as if trying to make it stop.


"You're awake," the Highlander breathed out, relief in his voice, a hint of forced humor. "Bloody well thought you were plannin' on sleepin' all the way back to Ishgard."


A drowsy moan of pain was all she could manage. He shifted slightly beneath her, reaching across the back of the wagon to his pack. From it, he tugged out a waterskin, pulling off the cap and carefully holding it up to her lips. She let out a cough at the first swallow before returning to it, slowly swallowing mouthful after meager mouthful, soothing her dry, irritated throat.


With the water, her mind cleared further. Her eyes opened to look up at the man, gaze finally starting to regain its focus.


"We're headed back to Ishgard..?" she asked slowly, confusion on her face. "What happened..?"


"We followed Ghost and his men back to their hidin' place, where they kept all their goods and the women they'd made off with." Bayard's expression seemed proud, grinning from ear to ear. "Went exactly as I planned it to. Though I admit, wasn't plannin' on Ghost bein' the poisonin' type. Sorry about that, love."


The words brought back the last memories, vague as they were, from before she faded out of consciousness. The fear she felt as she stared at the man, unable to move or speak, staring into his eyes as she waited for him to come save her. A rescue promised, but not delivered.


"Anyroad, we've got the women and the stolen goods loaded up now. When we bring them back to their rightful places, we'll be bloody rich." He let out a laugh. "Fleece those bastards for returnin' their baubles and their women home to them, and claim the bounty besides." He jerked his chin towards the other side of the carriage, and the Au Ra's eyes followed.


Where she had once saw the wide, unseeing eyes of the friend she had lost was the body of Ghost. Dead. Dark red blood blossomed out from a wound in his side, a small pool of it beneath where he lie. Somehow, his dark grey skin seemed oddly pale.


"Disappointin' though." Bayard's voice brought her gaze back to him. "Figured some notorious bandits would put up more of a fight than they did. Turns out Ghost wasn't anythin' but talk and tricks."


Jaliqai murmured something, words so soft that they didn't quite reach the man's ears. He looked down to her, brows furrowed.


"Hm? What's that?"


"You.. let him take me.."


He stared down at her quietly, amusement and mirth draining away. Replaced by something closer to guilt. Bayard was quiet for a long moment, as if thinking over his words.


"Red.." He began, voice cautious and imploring. "We had to find where his hideout was. We had to rescue the women, the goods.. If we had just captured him, the bastard wouldn't have talked." He reached up to cup her cheek in his hand.


"You promised me." She stubbornly turned her head away from his touch, not filtering any of the pain and anger that crept into her voice. The slight tremble, the emotion. Every onze of betrayal that she felt.


"I'm sorry, love. But you know I wouldn't have let him hurt you." He reached down to her wrist where the wristband remained, brushing his fingers over the stone.


Pulling back from it, his hand instead went to the collar of his shirt, reaching under it and pulling out a braided leather necklace hidden there. At the end hung a smooth gemstone, the same yellow-gold as her own.


"Some sort of magical trackin' gems. One always pulls in the direction of the other. They're cut from the same stone. Aether-somethin'-or-other. The fellow that I bought them from tried explainin' the details to mean, but hells if I understood. I was just interested in knowin' that they would work, so it would guide me to you once he took you." He let the necklace drop back down against his chest. "You wasn't alone. I was with you, the whole time, see? Just like I said."


"No you weren't,” she hissed, glaring up at him. "Why? Why didn't you tell me what your plan was to begin with?"


He was quiet again, and that guilty look returned to him. The look of a man who knew what he had done. Still, he tried to defend himself.


"I knew you wouldn't agree to it, and you were the only one I knew and trusted enough to make the plan work, Red. I had to." He let out a deep sigh. "And I knew you could take care of yourself, if push came to shove."


"If it all went to shite, you mean," she spat, glaring cold, hurt fury at him. "Can't bloody well handle myself very well when someone slips poison down my throat, can I?!"


"I said that I didn't know he was a poisoner!" He snapped back, defensive. "How in the seven bloody hells was I supposed to know that, Red?! And why in the hells did you take a stranger's drink to begin--"


Spurred by anger and finally in enough control of herself again to move, she reached up, swinging her hand hard and flat against the man's cheek with a snarl. Stunned by the reaction, all he could do was stare at her in wide-eyed surprised, letting her crawl her way out of his lap without protest.


"Don't you bloody well blame this on me, Bayard!" she screeched. "What if you had mucked it up? What if the damned stones didn't work? What if he had hurt me somehow before you could get to me?!"


His mouth opened to reply, trying to form words, before shutting entirely. He was at a loss.


"I didn't think--" He began slowly, only to be raptly cut off by the Xaela.


"That's right! You didn't think!" She was disgusted. Setting down on the bench opposite of him, she rested her elbows on her knees, putting her head in her hands. Her scale-covered tail hung over the side of her seat, lashing angrily against the wood.


Minutes of long, tense silence fell between them as Jaliqai worked to try and calm herself down. To try and get her mind off the sick feeling in her stomach, both from the gross misplacement of her trust and the side effects of whatever Ghost had given to her. At least Bayard had the good sense to keep quiet.


Just when she had thought she had calmed again, she opened her eyes, looking to the wristband. Just the sight of it was like a brand new knife buried in her chest. She had been so happy to get that gift, so amused by the way Bayard seemed so nervous to give it to her. Now she knew why. It wasn't a gift. It was a lie, part of his oh-so-clever plan to use her.


His promises had been lies. His gifts had been lies. Were the rest lies, too? The adorations that he had given her, the night they had shared? I think I could get used to this, he had said. Was that a lie, too?


Angry all over again, she reached down, roughly undoing the clasps on the wristband to throw it at him, none too gently. He made a noise of surprise, fumbling to catch it, looking over to her.




"When we get to Ishgard, I never want to see your bloody face again." The words hurt to say, but not nearly so painful as the squeezing inside her chest. The betrayal. "Don't come near me. Don't contact me. Find yourself a new fucking tracker that doesn't care to be used like a pawn in your shite plans."


He stared at her from across the carriage. The look he leveled on her seemed to be one of genuine distraught. Hurt, regret. But then again, his promises had all seemed so real to her, too. She couldn't trust this man. Not any more.


"Look, I know I fucked up," he began, voice unsure. Not the same confidence that she was used to hearing in his voice. "Just don't leave. I'll make it up to you, I swear." She looked away, unable to look at him. Steeling her resolve. When it didn't seem to work, he slowly spoke again. "Red, I.. I've heard some rumors. Some friends that claim to have come across Qulaani hunters in Eorzea."


Her gaze instantly snapped back to him as the air seemed to leave her lungs all at once. Seeming to think that he was finally headed back in the right direction, he continued.


"We could get in touch with those friends of mine. I could take you to them, and we can look into it. If they're out there, we'll find them, yeah?"


"You're lying," Jaliqai snapped. "Lying."


"I swear it, Red. I'll help you find them, if we have to chase them across Eorzea. To the ends of Hydaelyn. Anythin' to make it up to you."


For a moment, she almost allowed the weakness in again. The trust, promises, sweet words of affection. Only then did the realization hit her.


"If it's true.." She sucked in a deep, trembling breath as she stared at him. "You knew.. all this time.." At first, he didn't seem to understand. But when he did, his eyes widened slightly. She pressed on. "And you didn't say a word to me about it! You let me keep believing that my bloody family was all dead!"


No attempt to defend himself came this time. He knew his mistake. He knew what he had done. And he knew that there was no way to fix this. The Highlander dropped his head, staring downwards.


"All you wanted was a warm body in your bed," she snapped. "And you knew that if I knew, I wouldn't have--" The Xaela choked on the word slightly, emotion rising up hot and raw in the back of her throat, moisture at her eyes. Guilt washed over her. When she continued, her voice was much smaller. "You knew that I wouldn't have chosen you over them."


Silence returned between them. She felt awful, stricken by such guilt and shame at the thought of what she had done. What she had allowed herself to feel for this man. How could she have believed him? She knew better. She was stupid. So stupid.


"Once we get back to Ishgard, and you get your reward, I'll leave you be," Bayard sighed.


"No," she answered sharply. "Keep your bloody coin. It was obviously worth much more to you than I was." He flinched at the accusation. "Never seeing you again will be reward enough for me."


She glared at him, long and hard, before her eyes fell down to Ghost. Where he lie dead against the carriage floor. It seemed almost ironic now, how nervous she had been to allow herself to be hunted by this man.


Yet little had she known that she had actually been the prey of a man much worse, ten times as cruel, the entire time. A man who knew all of her weaknesses because she had trusted him enough to tell him. Whom she had trusted to never use them against her. A man whom she had thought could be her family one day.


Never again.

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  • 2 weeks later...

[align=center] BURNING OF THE DEAD

[ Flashback ][/align]



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Author Note: I love writing feels. Especially negative, dramatic feels. Pair this with an awesome song that I stumbled across, and you've the recipe for a flashback of Jaliqai putting her dead to rest all those years ago.


That said, consider this a TRIGGER WARNING for death, funerals, and just generally sad feelsy stuff. If you're cool with that, the story is under the spoiler!


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[align=center][ Warnings: Death, funerals, and general sad themes. ][/align]








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Jaliqai could remember the first time that she had ever witnessed a funeral. At least, she remembered the more poignant bits and pieces of it, parts of the recollection lost to time as the memories of childhood are wont to be. She couldn't have seen much more than her fifth nameday, if that. Twenty cycles had passed since that day and she had seen many funerals since, yet it was the first that she remembered so vividly.


The memory began with the comforting feeling of her mother's fingers running through her hair. Her wolf's eyes struggled to remain open as Sechen deftly worked the long, dark strands of hair into braids. The sun was beginning to sag lower and lower in the sky, and the entire camp was quiet. Far quieter than it usually was, than she could ever recall it being before.


Her mother was a woman whose tongue was as sharp as her arrows, and struck every bit as true. She never faltered in speaking aloud whatever came to her mind. Yet somehow, despite all her talking, it was moments of silence like these where she seemed to speak the loudest and the clearest. Not a single word had passed between them since they had entered their tent, but the grim look on her mother's face spoke volumes.


"What's going on?" Jaliqai asked as she squirmed to look back at her. The woman made an annoyed noise, giving her shoulder a firm pinch. With a soft yelp, she settled again, frowning. "Why is everyone so quiet?" she pressed.


"Torgan." At first, the name was the only answer that the older Xaela woman could muster, though the tremble in her voice, faint as it was, suggested that there was yet more she wanted to say. She resisted the urge to try to look back at her again, the back of her shoulder still smarting. At length, Sechen added, "His hunting is ended."


The recollection faded away there and returned with a memory of the pyre erected in the middle of the camp. Tribe mates had spent the better part of the day gathering wood, taking care as they neatly stacked it high. Higher than Jaliqai was tall. Even with everyone spread out around it in a large half-circle, giving her a clear view of the pyre, she was far too short to see what was happening.


Her smaller hand reached up, tugging at her father's insistently, until the tall man effortlessly scooped her up and held her against his broad, heavily scarred chest. Pleased with the boost in elevation that allowed her to easily see atop the tall pyre, her curiosity was further piqued by what she saw there.


Torgan's favorite spear. She remembered watching him train with it once, sparring with a younger hunter. Jaliqai had bounced up and down excitedly and cheered as he knocked the other man into the dirt, sweeping his legs out from under him. Just as children do, she had told him that when she was older, she would learn how to fight with a spear and best him. He'd messed her hair and given one of her horns an affectionate tug, tauntingly challenging her to prove it to him one day.


Next to the spear laid a large ivory drinking cup that he had carved himself. After he'd had it filled a few times with wine and aireg during Qulasar, the children would gather around him and he would tell the story of the boar whose tusk it had came from. His face flushed red, his laughter loud as he swaggered about, re-enacting the hunt for the young ones. Each time he'd told it was different, embellished some way or another. No matter how he told it, it had always ended in tears of laughter beading at the corners of Jaliqai's eyes and her sides aching.


A handful of other things were there as well, though none that Jaliqai knew the story of. Weapons, armors, furs, odds and ends. All of them were gathered neatly together atop the kindling.


"Why are all of Torgan's things here?" She quietly asked her father.


"He is offering them to the Huntress," Yesugei explained calmly. He had always been much more gentle natured than her mother. The calm to her storm. "He seeks her blessing."


Before she could question him further, heads began to turn, and her eyes followed them. Everyone's attention was suddenly held fast by a small procession of Auri bearing a woven pallet. Her mother was there, her face as hard and blank as Jaliqai could ever remember seeing it as she helped carry it through the gathered crowd.


As they passed, Jaliqai could finally see what it was they were carrying. Torgan lie there underneath a deep red and gold tapestry, only his face visible. He seemed more pale that she remembered, his cheekbones a bit more pronounced, dark circles around his eyes.


She had thought he was sleeping. She had wondered how he couldn't have possibly woken up at the light jostling of the pallet as he was lifted up and laid down atop the pyre, right next to his cherished collection. Yet he was completely still, not so much as twitching.


Her attention snapped up again at the flicker of a flame from the corner of her eye. Her mother brought the torch to the side of the pyre, holding it out for another woman -- Ibahka, Torgan's hunting companion -- to take. Her hand carefully closed around it, hesitating before she began to lower it to the wood. Quickly, flames began to consume the dry kindling.


Jaliqai's eyes widened, her heart beginning to pound. What were they doing? She didn't understand what was going on. Her grip tightened on her father, her panic-stricken face turning on him.


"What are they doing?!" she gasped, loudly enough to earn a few rueful gazes from those nearby. "Why are they hurting him?!"


Yesugei's arms tightened around her slightly, a large hand rising to gently stroke her hair. He made soft quieting noises to her as he pressed a kiss to her temple. His eyes never left the pyre as the flames began to rise higher and higher.


"Shhh, sweet girl," he sighed as she calmed. "You'll understand one day."


As the flames consumed him and his things and the Qulaani began to howl their grief-filled songs, the only thing that Jaliqai could remember feeling was sadness that she would never get to make good on Torgan's challenge or laugh until she cried at his hunting stories again.


Many cycles had since passed, and many loved ones had been lost. Yet her father had been right: eventually she had come to understand their funerary rites and the important part each piece played. One's weapons, armor, and trophies, all offered up to Balanai in exchange for her favor. The burning of the body, releasing the spirit from the flesh. The songs that they sung from dusk until dawn. All of this to ascertain reincarnation, brought back to continue the eternal Hunt as a wolf, beloved of the Huntress herself.


She understood what it all meant now. Yet standing before the makeshift funeral pyres that the Doman villagers had hobbled together at her request, littered with the bodies of Qulaani that they had recovered from the roadside, there was no comfort to be found in understanding. Just sadness and loneliness. Worry.


Each meager pyre consisted only of as much firewood as the Domans could afford to spare, the fallen all squeezed in atop the low piles. Only scant few personal effects were recovered to be offered up. That was what she felt the worst about. Would the Huntress accept these meager offerings? The thought turned her stomach with unease, the emotion thick in the back of her throat. What if this wasn't enough? What if Balanai scorned them, and refused them reincarnation?


Jaliqai felt such shame, finding herself unable to bear looking upon their faces. No doubt that the dead would stare back at her with disappointment at this sad excuse of a Qulaani funeral. No doubt that she would be able to see the fear of their uncertain fates in their glassy, clouded eyes.


Slowly, she stumbled forth with torch in hand, her gait jerky and uneven. She was still recovering from her injuries sustained in the fighting with the Garleans, body riddled with broken bones, cuts, and bruises. Even after almost a week of unconsciousness and careful care from the villagers, she was still quite broken. However, nothing hurt quite as sharply as the pain in her heart.


Shakily, she lowered the torch to the pyre and the flames began to catch and spread, bright against the darkness of falling night. Smoke began to rise in long, thin tendrils, curling upwards into the star-dotted sky. Stepping backwards, Jaliqai watched for a long moment before sucking in a deep, quivering breath. When had she started to cry?


Her tears turned to ragged sobs. As she threw her head back, her sobs turning to howls of grief, formed into song. She struggled with the words, the whole thing sounding queer to her without the whole tribe's voices to join hers. Yet she would not allow herself to stop, even after hours had passed and her legs grew weak. She was the only one left. And so she kept singing. Praying. Begging the Huntress for her mercy for the dead until the sun began to peek over the horizon in a new day.



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