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Outside of Passion [Closed]


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As a thick molasses poured over bread did the commanding strains of the organs fill the cathedral. Echoing off stone walls, between pillars, and rattling the carefully set colored pains of glass in each window. A blissfully cacophonous noise that served to clear the mind of nearly anything but a sense of awe for the massive likeness towering over the first row of pews. Towards the back and strategically placed between the candles at the extremities of each row, Coatleque sat in shadow with her head bowed. Her lips parted occasionally though no sound accompanied the movement.


The heavy clap of armored boots slowly rose to match the sound of the music; the tell-tale sign of another approaching to either pay homage or offer supplications to Halone. It did not register at first that the newcomer had stopped just before the very row she sat within. Scanning the room with determined grey eyes, the familiar silhouette she was looking for was not present today. Her head canted when she spotted someone else. Someone she did not seek but was no less familiar.


Roen exhaled a long, measured breath. Her feet froze where she stood, an obvious hesitation in her balance as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She may have even considered simply leaving at that moment. Finally she set her shoulders straight and decided to approach the woman before her. A few more steps brought her to the edge of the row where she stopped once more to examine her from the side.


"Ser Crofte." The name was spoken quietly as if to keep it from traveling too far to disturb others yet just enough to carry over the sound of the organs. Coatleque made no move or acknowledgement at first. Her eyes remained closed, brows slowly creasing as she continued her own supplications. Whatever whispers may have carried to the other gave the impression of one asking guidance and forgiveness. She stopped at length yet did not turn her head. "Ser Deneith. You are here."


Only then did the realization occur to Roen that her former friend may have been in prayer. The gathering of her own thoughts and nerves to approach the Sworn had left no consideration to her meditative state. Not that it was an odd thing to find in this place - it is why most came to the cathedral. Yet she herself had yet to utter a single one herself. A few steps more were ventured into the row of seats but she did not rest herself. Not just yet. "I am surprised to find you here."


Coatleque's mouth twitched just at the edge but broke no smile nor belied any change of emotion. Yet the tenseness in her brow seemed to relax. "I could say the same of you, if not for Miss Llorn." She ventured no further explanation as none would be needed between the two of them. A slight tightness came to Roen's lips though her tone remained quiet and neutral. "Spahro." The woman's name was all she could say. There was another pause before she unhooked the scabbard from her belt and set it with her shield aside to take her own seat. A few fulms were left between them. A visible sign of the tension present in the air.


"Have you been looking for me?" The Sworn finally opened her eyes at the question but did not turn her head. She focused on a particular crack in the stone tile at her feet. Perhaps she was not ready to actually see the woman next to her. Perhaps she did not want to believe it was even her yet. "No," she replied matter-of-factly. "We've made our peace, or so I had thought. I've no reason to dig up wounds; no matter how old or fresh they are. I had hoped not to find you, in truth."


Roen nodded and some of the tension in her frame ebbed away. She had been expecting quite another answer, and felt relieved to hear otherwise. A few moments of silence passed as the music ebbed and flowed. "A bit far from the Sultana's side, are you not?"


Coatleque's voice came slow and measured now as if she was weighing her response carefully. "We go where we are needed. I only pray my time here is short. I dislike the snow. And you? A bit far from Othard, is it not?"


The woman flinched not an ilm... no movement was made at all. "Why Othard?" Roen's voice grew slightly hoarse.


The Sworn's head tilted to her left with the barest of turns. "When last we spoke, you were going that direction. I'd assumed you would have continued onward. You had every reason and opportunity to do so."


Roen stared straight ahead. Her gaze bore holes into the bronze shield of Halone that seemed to dominate her view now. "I no longer have such a reason. I am here." There was an annoyed sigh to her side.


"Then he has eluded you? Or he has left you behind."

"He is no longer here." The paladin's response was immediate. "That is all that matters, is it not?" Roen's posture straightened as if called to attention by the Flame General himself. Her frame tensed.


The other woman barely shook her head. "Gone from here? You had the chance to go with him. To leave Eorze behind and be happy. Why did you stay?"


Roen's lips pressed into a tight thin line. Another long pause fell between them as the music pressed down with an opportune crescendo of descending scales. Her response came hoarsely. "Because his vision of what should be and mine were not the same. It was never the same. It could have never reconciled with each other." A sharp look was thrown to her side. "I was not willing to throw away all of my beliefs for simple delusions of love."


Coatleque sat silent and unsure. As Roen's words resounded through her mind they took on an increasingly accusational tone. "And why must one throw away their beliefs to share love with another?" Her own voice managed to retain the same slow, measured emotion. Perhaps it was this place keeping her in check.


Roen's attention turned back to the cold, stone deity before her. She exhaled slowly to calm herself. "If such is not required, then that love is a fortuitous one. One that I have not known. Have you?"


"... perhaps once." There was clear hesitation in her voice as Coatleque responded. "You cannot change a man in my experience, you can only love who he is and hope he betters himself."

"Such hopes will only bring sorry and regret." Roen replied.


"Will they? Perhaps such things should be left to the Twelve to decide. Do you remember so many moons ago when we spoke of Taeros and I asked you if he was worthy of redemption?"


"The same Twelve that saw the Calamity happen? That allow starvation, disease, and war to continue?" Roen shook her head. "Such a thing as love should not be left to the silent 'gods'. Would you leave the fate of one's soul to the same?"


Coatleque sat quietly for another moment to allow both their passions to subside. "You make the mistake of thinking all suffering is an evil. I am no priestess though, t'is not my place to preach."


"I have heard the religious platitudes." Roen stated, breaking the silence quietly. "Having been here for many moons, it is hard not to learn how this entire city-state feels about their goddess. Their unconditional acceptance of something they perceive as her judgement. I think it placates peoples' guilt, uncertainty, and fears." Roen shook her head. "A part of me understands why people seek it out. Why they hold on to it so fervently." She glanced to the statue again. "All I see is a stony image, erected by people who need something to believe in. She... as well as the Twelve, holds no answers for me."


The two sat in silence again, neither daring to look at each other now. The age-old conflicts of logic between the faithful and the faithless, arguments that have felled entire kingdoms and caused immeasurable suffering to both sides.


"Perhaps you have not asked the right questions then." Coatleque said at length.

"Are you telling me that the Twelve answer your prayers?"


"Mmm. Without turning philosophical on you, or whatever, I should say yes" She turned turned her hand over to wave it idly. "Keeping in mind that 'no' is still an answer."


Roen snorted lightly. "Hmph. Then perhaps I should have taken all the silences as a 'no'. Life oft does that already, I need not pray to some deity for it."


Coatleque's even expression finally broke into the smallest of smiles at that. She looked back to the floor, her hands clasped together over her knee. "Silence? You expect perhaps an audible answer? Some shaking of the earth perhaps? A lightning strike just outside your window?"


Roen shook her head. "Nay, but some sign. How many centuries have the citizens of this city prayed for peace? Defeat of their enemies? How long has the war been waged? Nothing. They gained no answer for their prayers. The Dragonsong War still wages on."


"Then it is not meant to end yet," was all the consolation she could give. "Aye, it continues on and the city survives still. What has kept it from falling centuries prior?"


Another long breath was let lose from the side closer to the aisle. "I... envy you for such unwavering faith." Roen lowered her head. It was then that Coatleque finally turned towards her with the intent of giving the woman a sidelong glance. Her gaze lingered however. "It is not hard to see if you know what to look for. Do you remember the question I asked you about but a few moments ago?"


"Redemption." Roen nodded but did not look back up. "Did you find your answer?"


"For him? I knew it the day I asked you. However I have found myself asking the same question of another man only recently."


Roen studied the pattern carved upon the wooden pew in front of her. "Was it the same answer?" she asked absently.


"Perhaps. The circumstances were different. I may have made the wrong decision, but only time will prove that. And even so, if the Spinner willed it was it truly the wrong one? What would you have done in my stead I wonder? Is Anden Anduron worthy enough to seek his redemption?"


Roen's eyes widened as the name echoed through the room. She blinked but kept her gaze straight ahead. Another pause fell between them and the organ's constant stream of lengthy cords began to fill the room like a thin fog. Her head turned slowly to her right and their eyes met for the first time in what seemed ages. Her expression was not kind.


"Do you actually believe him? That he seeks atonement for all that he has done?"

"I believe that I want to believe him. A priestess of Menphina vouched for him as well. And he did sit atop the bell tower of Whitebrim for over an hour before I dared interrupt his meditations." Her voice trailed off with some sense of wonder.


Roen's eyes narrowed, her tone colder still. "Priestesses, magistrates, knights... they can all be corrupt. No one is untouchable. As I recall, he was wanted for murder."


The Sworn quirked one brow then turned away finally with a nod of agreement. "True enough. Though I find it is the ones who are given their positions free of suffering who are more easily tempted to use it for gain. Anden caused a great deal of suffering in his life, and now he has lost everything it seems."


Roen turned away sharply now as well, almost forcing her gaze back to the front of the altar. "As he should have. And much more."

"I would agree."

"But you let him go."


"And what if the Twelve have something else intended? Who are we to try to alter his fate? Perhaps the suffering he caused in the past will lead to great good in the future as he seeks his atonement. Aye, I let him go. He knows he cannot simply return to Thanalan. What if the very tide of the war is turned because of his future service to Ishgard?"


"Do you truly believe that?" A tinge of disbelief dripped from her words. "You said you want to believe him, but do you?"


Coatleque closed her eyes and bowed her head once more. "That is why I am here."

"For answers? Or for comfort?"


The Knight's head turned back to the side slightly. "Perhaps they are one and the same. Have you ever stood at the crossroads before, Roen? Many roads before you but only one may be walked? Yet no matter how much you desire the trail to the left your heart pulls you to the right?"


Roen's expression fell slowly, despite her attempt to maintain her mask of neutrality. "I have," she rasped. "And chose against my heart. I chose what I knew needed to be done." An angry glance shot forth to the visage of the warden before her. "And I have sat here, sun after sun. Seeking answers. Comfort. Anything!" She found her hire trailing to her side again, with a sharp look. "The deity gave me nothing. It was by the grace of another kind soul that I found anything resembling comfort here."


The sharpness of her words gave Coatleque pause, and her eyes opened to regard Roen from afar. Her expression turning quizzical, yet still quite oblivious to whatever the paladin may be trying to tell her. "I do not believe I have ever seen you so distressed. Is this about the aid you gave to Lazarov?"


Roen turned away quickly, refusing to meet the woman's gaze for long. She shook her head imperceptibly. No words came, and once more the silence was filled by thick tones of a sustained A-minor chord. Coatleque also looked up and away not to the statue of Halone rather than seeing her former shield sister in such a state. It was Roen who decided to break the now awkward silence, her voice having regained its composure.


"Anduron will prove you wrong."

"Me? Or Halone?"

"If you believe you act in her grace... then both of you."

There was a slight shrug followed by another deafening silence filled with descending scales.


"Whitebrim. He is in Coerthas." There was a grim realization to her words, ominous even. Coatleque clenched and relaxed her jaw twice before interrupting that thought. "Do not search for him."


"Because he is a redeemed man?"

"Because I would counsel you away from a rash decision."


"You speak of rash decisions." Roen's voice remained oddly calm. "Have you also come here seeking Banurein? You still search for Taeros, do you not?"


"I have official orders." Coatleque's words regained that same slow and measured stride as she carefully considered what information to divulge. "As I said, I do not wish to remain in Coerthas longer than necessary."


Roen's gaze lifted to the stained glass windows around the sides of the cathedral. "You always have official orders. It never stopped you from chasing your heart's wishes."


The Sworn's gaze returned to her lap. Her hand turned upwards to allow a glimpse of something she had all this time been clasping tightly. "If I am not disobeying my orders, what does it matter?"


Roen shook her head now taking on an odd expression of her own. "You always did know how to walk that thin line." She exhaled through her nose, slowly. "Seek out Kage and Delial. They too are here, searching for the woman."


Coatleque's hand closed tightly upon whatever she had been holding. A small glint of pain as the metallic object nearly cut into her palm. "Thin line..." Her words turned sharply cold as she weighed the accusation followed by the command. "I got close to the man to try and find this woman for you, and what thanks did I get? The man is attacked by a group of vigilantes, almost killed, then whisked away from before my eyes! I do not believe I care to find this woman any longer. Not for you. I will find Jameson and take him away from here. You can do what you will with the rest."


Roen stiffened, her tone also turning bitter immediately. "I am well aware of the sacrifices people have made in my stead. If I have shown no gratitude for it, then that is my folly. But you fell in love with the man, lured me out to be arrested to be delivered to some private dungeon for information I did not have! I had a chance to kill the same man, suns before he was shot. I left him be! I hope you find him, follow your heart, whisk him away and live a happy life away from everything and anything you know and believe!"


She rose quickly to her feet, retrieving her sword and shield and flinging the latter about her back. She spun back to Coatleque. "But know that the man you fell in love with... he is not all you want him to be. He is not who your heart wishes he becomes!"


"And is Lazarov?"


Roen's expression hardened. "I am only imparting the lessons that I have learned. I do not wish for you to come upon them as I did." She turned to leave. "I wish you no ill will. But you know that the path you walk, and the hope of redemption you hold for someone you love, at the end only sorrow awaits you."


"Time will reveal all." Coatleque bowed her head yet again with eyes closed and sniffled a deep sigh. Roen began to leave then stopped with a glance as if to say something more, but with a shake of her head she left. The echo of boot steps slowly dipping below the mournful chords that filled the room. The Sworn's mouth parted again with the same absence of audible words, but this time one may have read Roen's name upon her breathless whispering.

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A scant few days later, Coatleque found herself in much the same situation again. Sitting towards the back of the cathedral in the darkness between the candles at either end of the pew. The location was familiar, but her purpose was different this day. Rather than searching for solitude within the melodic strains of the organs, she sought privacy from those with wandering ears.


The sound of muffled boot steps caught her ear nearly just before the the other party's arrival. Her head turned to signal that she was not meditating like the others in front of her, but also to verify this new presence was who she had expected.


"Ser Crofte." The voice was meek and elegant in its own way, accompanied by a small bow.

"Lady Eglantine. So you did receive my missive?"


Coatleque did not know Edda Eglantine. Not at all. They had spoken together all of maybe three times. What she did know was through Free Company records, idle thoughts of mutual acquaintances, and general word of mouth. The Sworn knew her family had political influence. Influence in areas that she herself had lost recently.


Edda nodded. "I did. Lest I would not be," she motioned around as if to the Cathedral itself. "here." There was a brief smile, but her eyes were naught but business. "Your letter sounded quite urgent. What is it I can do for you?"


"If you would permit me to be frank, that would depend on how much trouble you are willing to get in."


Edda sighed and took her seat by the edge of the aisle. "Trouble is not something I find myself terribly afraid of anymore. But before you decide that it is something I will get in trouble for, why not tell me what it is you need?"


"I need to go to Vylbrand to find someone. My problem is that I've been exiled from La Noscea over political matters." Rather blunt in her admission, Coatleque had in fact resigned herself to this fact. She had thought this to be common knowledge by now. To those who pay attention anyway.


Edda mulled her words over for a moment as her brow slowly furrowed. "I see. How unfortunate. When exactly, where you planning on leaving, and how long were you planing to stay?"


"As soon as I can, and until I can confirm my lead." The reason for this meeting. Business, like always. Being in her position meant always having eager ears waiting in cities to relay mostly trivial information for the promise of a few gil. On the off chance that some of it is not-so-trivial, it must be followed-up on no matter the risk. "All I know is that my target may have headed there in the company of a woman. I must needs speak with Ambassador Summerford. He had business dealings with her before, and may have contacted her upon his arrival."


Edda's eyes narrowed. "Ambassador Summerford? Yes... I see. Yet you yourself do not know where this person is." She spoke as if asking a question though the inflection was more like a statement.


Coatleque chewed her bottom lip in frustration. "No, I do not. My reports only say he left Ishgard by way of airship bound for Limsa Lominsa."


"A rather specific lead, it seems. May I ask who this person is?"

The Sworn cleared her throat. "It's Jameson."



Edda said only that. 'Ah'. If she was at all surprised there was no outward indication of such. A brief but awkward silence fell between them before Coatleque spoke up once more.


"I know this request may seem rather selfish. Asking to be 'smuggled' into La Noscea, as it were, followed by meeting with a dignitary. I certainly would not hold it against you to refuse."


"Selfish, perhaps, but not necessarily wrong. All of thse things are quite possible, and should amount to little trouble for myself or anyone else involved. However..." She hesitated, her voice lowering. "I must ask, what do you intend to do once you find this man? Should you attempt anything untoward, with my good faith and name riding on your shoulders... I would have to refuse."


Coatleque blinked then. Perhaps even blushed, and for a moment she wondered exactly how much of her dealings with the Monetarist were even known around other parts of Eorzea. "I can assure you there is no malice behind my intentions. I just need to find him since his disappearance from Thanalan."


Edda did not see at all suspicious at her words, but a glint of uncertainty remained in her eyes. "And... what is it you will do, once you find him?" She asked slowly.


Coatleque blinked again but more slowly, almost a batting of her lashes. Edda's questions were growing strangely more personal in her mind, but she knew the request itself could carry consequences for her family if anything went wrong. "I think I will start with talking. You may not want to see where it progresses though."


Edda tilted her head. "Why not?" The question was blindingly innocent. Naive perhaps. There was no hint of sarcasm or teasing in her words, which were frankly off-putting.


The paladin just looked at her from across the pew with doe-like eyes for a moment. She was nearly amazed at how obliviously innocent someone could be. "I am already charged with terrorism, among other things, by the Admiral. I do not wish to add public indecency to the list."


Edda nodded slowly in feigned understanding, but it was clear that she still did not quite get it. "Very well." She sighed and straightened herself, then unclasped a small book and pen from her side. "When will you leave? Tonight?"


"Me? Whenever you are able. I cannot simply walk through the airship gates." Coatleque had not planned to do this alone, after all. That would be tantamount to suicide in her mind. "I could, however, escort La Noscean nobility through the streets en masque." She presented the idea as if it had already been decided in her mind. The best plan she could think of, given the circumstances.


Edda nearly snorted. A very quiet scoff. "You can, actually," she said shortly. "And you will." With that she began to write something quickly on the parchment of her book. "I will arrive there first, and alert my friends at the Maelstrom of your arrival. I imagine you will be watched, but that is no matter - you will leave the city straight away. Needless to say the return trip will not be so easy, but I will oversee that personally."


Coatleque nodded along in understanding. "Do I go somewhere specifically from the city then? I will need to arrange a meeting with the ambassador..." Even now she could not help but to try and retain some semblance of control over her fate during this visit. Edda continued her writing, her hand loose and practiced, before she quickly tore the paper from the book and set it to her side.


"Yes?" What sounded like a question was clearly not. A rather bizarre statement. "There is a chance they will give you trouble at the gates." She nodded to the paper at her side. "Show them this."


The other woman slowly reached over to take the letter from the cushioned bench. She scanned over it quickly before pocketing it. "I cannot thank you enough for this. I am in your debt of course."


Edda did not look up. The letter had not been addressed to anyone in particular, but it stated in plain speech not to trifle with a significant, albeit turbulent guest. "It is no trouble," she replied smoothly. "I am not one to refuse a favor from a servant of the Sultana." Satisfied with the second document she had been writing, she tore it from the book as well and turned to hand it to Coatleque directly. "You will go here."


"Will you be accompanying me there?" Coatleque asked as she pocketed the second paper with the first.


Edda pursed her lips, and for a brief moment she wore a strange expression akin to fear. "Not personally, no. As you may know, I too reside in Summerford, so I may yet see you there, however. Fear not, I shall not leave you floundering there. I will see that you depart safely, and without incident."


Coalteque regarded her carefully in the dim candle light. "Very well, at least you will know where I am should the need arise. I promise not to leave any black stains upon your good name while I am there." She paused before adding, as if for reassurance to them both, "I need only to confirm or deny his presence, then I will leave."


Edda smiled softly. "I have every confidence in you. I am sure you will find what it is you seek." She pauses before her face brightens in a quick thought. "Ah, yes! One more thing. This-" She slipped a ring off her finger and moved to hand it over to the Sworn. It was a rather nondescript ring, Maelstrom issued, but a rather unique seal had been carved into the base of it. It was not very distinct, but easily remembered, as well as easily recognized.


"A signet?" She reached out with an upwards turned palm, hesitant to actually take such a symbol.


"Of sorts. When you arrive at your final destination, and by chance they do not let you past the front gates, show them this ring. You will be treated as a guest then." The ring was set into her palms and she hefted it once before depositing it safely with the other documents.


"I shall guard it with my life."


Edda laughed softly at the gesture. "Only with the hopes that you will not be shut out like some wandering vagrant, I imagine! It is quite worthless, honestly."


"Worthless? Perhaps in material value, but not in its meaning. I'd imagine there are a good many liberties that someone could take with this ring when in the wrong hands."


Edda paused, her expression sobering. Only a polite smile remained. "I have not thought of it as such, bug... yes, I suppose you are right. I should know better than anyone, I imagine."


"N-not that I was inferring you wouldn't, of course." Coatleque straightened herself up at that point. "Thank you again, for everything. I should go and prepare for the flight. I do not mean to stay in this snow-ridden waste any longer than necessary."


Edda nodded and stood to leave. She had her own preparations to make after all. "Very well, I shall go on ahead then. Safe travels, Ser Crofte. And if what I gave you does not avail you, do not hesitate to use my name."


Coatleque smiled slightly. She never was comfortable relying on others reputation like that. "I pray it does not come to that. I will see you shortly then. And safe travels to you as well."


With that, they went their separate ways.

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"Barbarians! Roughians! Pirates! Every one!"

Coatleque had yet to meet one Maelstrom she liked. An over exaggeration perhaps, but when one has been sitting quietly for an hour flanked by armed guards, you tend to lose a temporary spark of sanity.


She had known from the start this plan would not go as smoothly as she would have liked. Marching head on someplace she should not be, why bother to hide her intentions further? So she went in uniform. Not the white and silver armor that many were accustomed to seeing her in, but a blue and white formal uniform rarely used outside diplomatic meetings.


The first sign that all was not well was leaving Ishgard by airship. She gave the attendant for La Noscea her papers and was met with a quirked brow and almost angry sneer before being stamped and ushered forward. The second sign being the constant eyes on her through the flight. She tried her best to huddle low with her arms around her knees to sleep - but the knowing you are being watched brings its share of insomnia. And finally there was the click of a cocked hammer and hollow musket barrel staring her right between the eyes as she was about to disembark.


"That didnae take long"


The next third of the day was spent being passed around from officer to officer as stories were checked and verified, the Ambassador was summoned, and anything of value was confiscated including the documents and ring Lady Eglantine had given her. She was then promptly escorted to the Bismark where she was made to sit and wait on the balcony, flanked by armed escort and ordered not to attempt leaving.


So yes, opinions may have been colored this fine afternoon.


The ambassador arrived near a full bell afterwords, blinking in her own muted surprise. She approached the table opposite the woman and paused. "I see you beat me here. And here I had hoped to play the gracious host." The woman smiled and appeared to be ignoring the escort. Coatleque could not immediately tell if she was being mocked or not. "I hope you have not been waiting long."


"Long enough I would say. My... escort is to be sure I cause no grief to the city-state. Thank you for meeting me on such short notice." A curt glance was thrown to either side with the barest turning of her head.


The ambassador smiled. "Of course. May I?"

"Please do!"


With that the woman sat opposite her, adjusting her large spectacles and blinking owlishly. "It must have been very important." She commented offhandedly, setting immediately to business.


"It is to me at least. Please, excuse my manners. I would have had some sort of food or drink waiting, but..." she paused for another rather annoyed look to the side. "I will not be here longer than our meeting."


Ambassador Summerford, however, promptly requested lemon-water for herself to a hurried server as he passed by. "Oh... not even a drink?"

"I am content for now."

"Well, all right then. What can I do for you, Ms. Crofte?"


The next few minutes were spent in detailing the events up to Jameson's mysterious disappearance in the tunnels under Ul'dah and her tracking the man all the way to Ishgard only to have doubled back now to Vylbrand. "You were the last person I know he had business dealings with in La Noscea. I had thought he may contact you."


There was a momentary pause as the Ambassador considered all that had transpired. "Sailing here? How long ago?"


"By airship, at least a day or two ago. Perhaps longer, but not by much. He was seen in the company of another woman."


"I can tell you that I have not seen any official record of Lord Taeros's arrival, nor any licenses in his name. But that is not to say he has not come." Her voice lowered to a murmur. "Given the circumstances, I doubt he is making his whereabouts public."


Coatlque's mouth twitched to the side. It was always the same thing with these meetings. Layers of secrets locked between cryptic clues and well placed words. "Official records do not interest me at this point. I know he would not come out openly. If you have seen the man himself, that is what I want to know. He need not contact me, I will find him eventually."


The Ambassador frowned and shook her head. "I have not," she said quietly. "But I will keep my eyes and ears open."


The Sworn sat back in her chair and crossed her arms, her shoulders visibly slumping. Her gaze wandered off to the side to glance at the sea below them. "Thank you for that, at the very least." She murmured.


It was then that their meeting was interrupted by the clearing of someone's throat. Both heads turned to find Lady Eglantine herself had arrived seemingly out of nowhere. The guards immediately stood to at her quiet announcement.


"Lady Eglantine. Apologies, I was not able to make our rendezvous. Detained." Coatleque began. Edda looked straightaway at either guard before stating "Leave us." They each looked at one another and did just that without word or argument otherwise. Edda looked down to their table. "You will forgive my interruption. Please, continue."


Whether they were finished or not, the Ambassador seemed pleased for the change of subject matter. "Lady Eglantine, it's nice to see you. How is your father?" She adjusted her spectacles again.


"As well as he always is, thank you for asking. I trust you have been kept rather busy, considering recent events?"


The woman laughed quietly. "My job is never a dull one, I fear, but yes. Quite." With that she rose to leave. "Well, I hate to keep Ms. Crofte from her appointment."


"Of course. Do take care, Ambassador." Edda replied.

"Thank you again." Coatleque managed to add in parting.


The woman pushed her chair in, fished some gil from her coat pocket to leave for the server before offering a curt bow and a smile. "Ms. Crofte, Lady Eglantine." Edda watched her leave to be sure she was out of earshot before turning to Coatleque.


"Imagine my surprise to find you here, instead of seeing you where I had expected to."

"T'was not my intention, I assure you." The words were offered with a strained smile.


Edda did not look pleased of course, not not necessarily at Coatleque herself. "I can imagine. You will come with me." Her voice was light, flippant even, but very clear that it was not a request being given.


"You may need to visit the Maelstrom office to retr... yes, of course." Her words were cut off by the request itself and the Sworn rose immediately to follow. She could not help but glance around the balcony looking for any stray guards. It may have been fear for her own life that now compelled her to obey.


"This way, then."


Edda led her from the Bismark through the center of the city and out the southern gate. As they passed through the wench she looked over her shoulder to address the woman following. "Can you ride, Ser Crofte?"


"I am no expert, but aye."

"Good. It is not a long journey at a decent pace, but I would like to arrive before night settles in full."


She continued to follow Edda with a rigid stride, her eyes darting to either side as if expecting to be taken into custody at any time. When they had passed the gates they found two saddled birds were awaiting them just beyond. One of them dressed in more elegant barding was obviously Edda's. "Here", Edda gestured to them. She carefully untied them both and mounted her own with surprising ease before motioning for Coatleque to do likewise.


"You are very prepared.", Coatleque muttered quietly before following suit to the second Chocobo. Edda smiled lightly. "Very good. We shall move at a decent pace. It is not terribly far." With that they were off at an even clip. Edda did not say another word for the remainder of the ride, and Coatleque did not try to start any sort of conversation. There was nothing more to be said at this point. She was clipped and cowed until Edda had her safely far enough away from the Maelstrom.


In the countryside of Summerford, the two came upon a rather imposing manor. Guarded by two sets of gates, and impossibly large fence that encircled the property for what must have been several acres. The front gate was emblazoned with one very simple logo - the very same from the signet ring Edda had given here that was now in custody back in the city. Easy to remember, easy to recall.


They passed through easily enough and made their way to the inner courtyard, to the very front doorstep. Several servants emerged to greet them both, help them dismount, and lead the bird to the stables. From there they entered the manse proper.


The inside was much more grand than the outer appearance gave way. A large and sweeping hall, with winding staircases that lead to the separate wings of the house. Edda was properly brushed down by a servant with nearly intrusive gestures, but Coatleque did not receive the same. She looked over her shoulder to gauge the woman's reaction to find the Sworn standing nearly at attention with her hands folded in front. Were it not for her uniform one might have mistaken her for part of the help at a first glance.


Edda eventually shooed the staff away and offered her an apologetic smile. "Forgive me if this seems awfully sudden." Once again Coatleque merely stood quiet, just taking in her surroundings. She had been to Taeros's estate many times in Ul'dah, and was no stranger to being in the presence of nobility, but what she witnessed here was on a much higher level. She could not help but feel intimidated, and almost all learning of social graces fled from her mind.


"Oh... no apology necessary." She said at length. "As I had said, this is all a favor on your part, and I am in your debt." She could not stress that point enough, that she had intended to repay her hostess when this was all over.


Edda hummed in thought. "I suppose..." She motioned to the massive staircase to her right, wide enough for four Roegadyn with their elbows clasped together to walk down in a single line. "This way. Your room is in the east wing, second floor."


"My... room?"


"Yes", Edda replied with eyes wide as if it could be anything else. "Or were you planning to stay somewhere else?" She began to lead her toward the eastern wing as specified.


"I had not honestly thought that far ahead. I assumed I would be sent away from Vylbrand as soon as my meeting with the Ambassador was concluded."


Edda chuckled lightly. "I've not the energy for such things. Most do not."

"For travelling, or thinking ahead? I've grown used to the former."


"Travelling. It wears on both the body and the mind, I find. While I enjoy it, too much in one sun is... ill advised." They reached the room together then. Edda took one slow look around it with her nose wrinkled. It was a bit more sparse than she would have liked.


"I've slept on many a ship already. It helps to pass the time at least. I will not lie, though -" She paused as she began to take in the room herself, realizing just where she was. Her voice lowered to a murmur. "I detest the thought of doing so again tonight."


"And you will not do so." Edda reassured her. "You may stay for as long as you'd like. Feel free to use anything within - there is a bell by the bed with which you can call a servant. Ask for anything you may need."


"Anything at all? You risk spoiling me."

"Within the bounds of reason. Still, there is little we cannot provide. We do not entertain guests often. The staff gets excited when we do."


"Do they? I should send for a change of clothes at least. I traveled light thinking I would be back before the morrow." Edda motioned to her left then, behind Coatleque and around hinting around the corner. "There should be clothes within the wardrobe fitted to a woman your size. Please, make use of them. Keep them if you wish." She smiled knowingly. "They do, though I fear you are not our only guest currently."


Coatleque looked away momentarily with a hand to her chin in wonder. She murmured quietly, "I wonder if Mister North would agree..." but her attention was snapped back to Edda just then. "Oh, is it anyone I would know?"


Her hostess smiled lightly, her eyes drifting to the ceiling in thought. "I could not say. He is from Ul'dah in fact - an ally of my father's. He came here in quite a state, and has been recovering here. You may hear the servants whispering of his appearance when he first arrived, so pray pay them no mind. You may meet him on the morrow, if you wish."


"Yes, I imagine I will at breakfast. Assuming your guests eat with family of course."


"They can. Or they can take breakfast in their rooms, or whatever they'd like. You shall have such choice in the morning."


Coatleque smiled and nearly blushed. "I would not be so rude as to dine alone when I am your guest! Of course I shall join you."


"Very good. And perhaps we may be able to assist in what it is you seek." Edda smiled.

"I will not turn away assistance in any form. But I should not hold you up any longer. I am eager to find a change of clothes."


"Ah- Yes, of course. Forgive me. I shall see you in the morning then, Ser Crofte. Rest well."

"In this place? How can I not?"


Lady Eglantine laughed lightly and turned to take her leave, shutting the door quietly behind her.

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Edda took to her room quickly after seeing Ser Crofte to her own. The sun had only just set yet every bone in her body felt fatigued. She called for a hot bath to be drawn for her first thing, and was quick to settle into the porcelain tub. Her last memory of the simple luxury seemed quite far away. She did not feel particularly dirty, but there was enough to be said about the heat seeping through her bones, the steam surrounding her in a white haze. It was soothing. Yet still a flurry of thoughts plagued her mind as she reclined in the water, and stared up at the ceiling.


It did not feel ideal, still. The retrieval had gone simply enough despite a few unsurprising hiccups, but the entire affair still seemed rather underhanded. It felt unlike her, or perhaps so like her that she felt ashamed of it. The decision was hers, and neither her father nor that man had any idea, nor place to know.


She glared at her kneecaps, just cresting above the water. Her goal was vague, one that she could not see clearly. Bringing Coatleque here had almost begun to seem like a mistake. There was no way to know what would happen for sure, and even with as much control as she had now, here in her home, she still felt powerless. There were few options, all seemingly viable, but so… delicate, in their dependency on the whims and hearts of others – a subject Edda was not well versed in.


They meet alone. She is overjoyed, confused – yet ever does distance make the heart grow stronger. The news is broken but she does not care, she does not care, she loves him loves him loves him and embraces him-


No. Ideal, perhaps, in the eyes of many. But it would solve nothing, for no one. Edda closed her eyes.


They do not meet. Edda tells the woman herself. They are ill-acquainted, tenuous contacts at best, and she could not presume to know her heart, her impulses. Confusion, sadness, rage. They blur together at a point and she becomes static, reaching for her blade, not reaching for her blade, fixed desperation, indefinite despair, and she-


No. A gamble at best. It would defeat the very purpose of bringing her here at all. Reliance on impulse would be meaningless without the subject present.


They all meet together. Long has Edda waited for this day, and she is in love, so much in love. Gloating comes naturally to her and she speaks above him, a chorus of jeering. She alone has been chosen, and there is no place for the betrayed woman that reaches for a knife, easy and available. It is done but Edda is there and there is nothing to stop her, and it is too-


No. Even if Ser Crofte was a woman so easily controlled by her emotions, it would be far too much. A solution, but one too soon, one too final.


A knock at the door interrupted Edda’s thoughts in one clean motion.


“Edda, I’m coming in.”


No sooner were the words spoken did her father make his way through the door. Permission was not something he actively sought, and it would not be the first time he came to speak with her while she bathed. He looked down at her and raised an eyebrow before pulling a chair from the far side of the room to sit beside her. He was very close. Edda pulled her thighs to her chest, her hands crossing around her ankles.


Eamon leaned forward in his seat. “How are you feeling?”


Why he bothered with platitudes would always be a mystery to her, and she responded flatly. “Tired. Wet.”


“Any plans for this evening?”


She gave him a confused look. “No. Why would I? And with whom?”


“Well.” He gave her a rather patronizing look, but she could not say why. “Never mind.” He smiled at her and continued. “Our talks concluded today. I trust you can already guess my decision.”


“I do not see why it would have changed.”


“Good.” Eamon nodded in approval, before his expression sobered. It was a face for business, and though she could not see, Edda imagined hers was much the same. “Needless to say it will be much more difficult now. He is an ambitious man, and a blind need to posses what he does not deserve will have… changed him. I have seen it before.”


“You sound certain.”


“I am.” He always was.


“For better or for worse?”


Eamon frowned. “I cannot say. If he has bettered, it would make your job much easier. Would you like that?”


“I’ve no preference.” She kept a straight face. Her hair pooled around her shoulders in the bath.


“He is a shrewd man. Proud. It will be difficult either way.” Eamon paused and looked down at his daughter with an appraising eye. He looked amused. “Do you think you can do it?”


Edda released her legs and leaned back in the tub. The back of her head rest against the rim and she turned her neck to look at her father fully. “Do you?”


“We shall see. You possess such qualities as well. It should not be impossible.”


“Are you complimenting me, father?” She smiled wryly.


He chuckled, and leaned forward in his chair. “Perish the thought.”


The two fell into silence. Edda released a sigh through her nose and turned once more to face the ceiling. She closed her eyes, and could still feel her father looking at her. The two remained like that for several minutes. The steam from the bath began to dissipate.


“It will be painful.” Eamon broke the silence in a quiet voice.


“I know.”


“Knowing that, you will still persist?”


If he had spoken to her as such many years ago, before he found peace in his games, before her family began to look at her with unspoken scorn, before the Calamity – Edda might have believed in his sincerity. She was not foolish enough to think he did not care, but what care there was was weighed and measured, a stock to be invested in only the most crucial aspects of his desired result. The pain she expected. The words were another. They felt like poison.


She sighed once more and opened her eyes. “Do I have a choice?”


“Of course you have a choice,” he said, voice louder. “I do not buy into the saying ‘failure is not an option.’ It is always an option. It is simply a poor one.”


“I know what will happen should I fail,” Edda said softly. “I will end it before it comes to that.”


He stared at her, mouth drawn into a thin line. “Let us hope it does not come to that, then.”


“Yes, let us hope,” she said, her tone becoming short. “What a quandary that would put you in.”


“And you, as well.”


She glared up at him. He did not know. How could he? He did not need to. “Are you sure it would not please you? To see me so… chastened.”




“You already know I am ill-suited for this,” she hissed at him. “Would it feel like revenge, to see me fail?”


There was a burning at the back of her eyes. It was clear on her face, enough to give her father pause.


“You are uncertain.” It wasn’t a question.




Eamon reached out to rest a hand on her damp shoulder. His sleeve brushed the water. “You are not ill-suited for it. It will pass soon, that uncertainty. That fear. Do not think too much of it, at first. Despite what… whatever it was that happened to him, he is not so different than what he was before. He is still a man, blood still courses through his veins. He is not a machine. You will see.”


She felt a tightening in her throat. His grip on her shoulder tightened.


“Do not cry.”


His hand moved to her face and he gripped her chin. He turned her face to look at him. When had his eyes become so grey?


“This is the task I have given to you. You know what you must do.”


It felt as if bells had passed before Eamon released her and returned to his quarters. Edda remained still for what seemed even longer. The water cooled. The steam disappeared, her thoughts and the memory of her hazy ambition gone with it.

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After perhaps the most restful sleep in recent memory, Coatleque was politely woken the next morning by the most attentive retainer she had ever met. Clothes had already been laid out for her and the blinds drawn back to allow the morning sun to warm the room. She spoke very little as she was still in mild shock at being pampered so, and soon she was dressed in an elegant blue and white affair with silver trimmings.


She was then led through the house back to the ground floor and off to a private veranda overlooking the gardens. A table had been set there with placements for four and trays of different flavored pastries with fresh cut fruit and tea. It was clear though that she was the first to arrive as nobody had been seated yet. In fact, there was only one other present in the room whom she had not seen before. A drab little mousy woman wearing a baleful expression. She thanked her attendant who bowed politely and left them, closing the door quietly behind.


Coatleque stood to the side at first to take in her surroundings and admire the scenery. The other woman looked up briefly from the notebook and quill she carried and watched her for a moment without offering any sort of greeting, then went back to her writing in silence. The scribbling of her quill in short, frantic motions easily overpowered the quiet of the morning and bringing forth a vague anxiety in the knight. Her eyes fell upon the woman and she made her best attempt to feign prior ignorance of her presence. "Oh, good morning. You have not seen Lady Eglantine yet have you?"


The woman's writing ceased just long enough for her to look up over the edge of her book. "No." She murmured before returning to her generous note taking.


"I see." Coatleque replied in barely a whisper as her eyes fell away to the side. She turned to look at something else in an attempt at keeping busy for the moment. When the silence became awkward enough she made a second attempt at conversation.


"Apologies, but are you another guest?"


Again she stopped to peer at the woman annoyedly over her book. "I am not sure." Then back to her writing. She turned to examine the table itself now and appeared to be sketching the food.


"Not su...," Came her reply before cutting herself off in amusement. "Well do you live here?"

The woman only shook her head.


Coatleque rolled her eyes ever so slowly to the side before turning away again. This time she found herself staring nervously at a painting of the Admiral suspended over a fireplace. Between her coal-like eyes and the sound of the quill she could not help but feel as though she were being watched. She sighed and turned back to the other woman.


"Well if you do not live here, then you must be a guest of some sort."

At that point the other woman turned to face her now and began taking her notes again. Coatleque stood dumbfounded. "Yes. That does hold logic." Came the reply eventually. "I am not certain of the levels of guestitude."


Coatleque sighed and nearly turned away again till her eyes fell upon the trays of food and an embarrassing growl emanated from her midsection. Slowly she made her way to the table, choosing to take a seat and wait patiently for whoever else may arrive. She drummed her fingers idly upon the table. It was not long after that Edda made her appearance to join them. She looked back at the barely noticeable sound of the door opening. "Lady Eglantine, good morning to you."


Edda smiled lightly. "Yes, good morning." She turned then to the drab little woman who had yet to take her own seat and gave a curt nod. The woman said nothing, merely continuing her frantic scribbling. "Are you hungry?" She asked as she moved to the table herself. "Please, help yourself."


"Thank you. I did not want to appear rude after all."


Edda shook her head and took her own seat. "Not at all. That is what it is here for." She helped herself to some tea before beginning to fill her plate with an assortment of pastries and fruits. Coatleque in the mean time also went about filling her own plate with a small sample of nearly everything. As she settled back down she could not help but notice the third woman staring at her. A glance that prompted even more note taking.


Edda seemingly ignored her though, which seemed odd. She turned to Coatleque with a smile. "How did you sleep?"

"Better than I have in some time." She admitted.

"That is good to hear."


The woman with the quill continued to document everything. She paused only to watch the cups of tea being filled, the choices of food each woman made. Every bite that was taken. Edda looked down to her plate and hesitated. By all means she should have been hungry, but she did not eat. Coatleque on the other hand could not help herself. She slowly sipped at her tea while eyeing the woman across the table. More scratches.


"I imagine you slept just as well?" She finally ventured to ask, trying to keep the conversation flowing.

"I always do." Edda replied with a rather wan smile. She no longer seemed to be looking at the knight, but past her.


The sound of writing was finally too much to bear and Coatleque stopped eating, almost dropping the fork to her plate. "I cannot help but feel I am being tested... I pray my etiquette is satisfactory?" She peered at Edda with searching eyes. This was all quite odd to her, and growing more queer by the minute. Especially when the woman retrieved some sort of cracker from her pockets and began chewing on it rather than joining them.


"Tested?" Edda looked up with brows raised. "Nonsense. You are quite fine. Certainly a fine choice compared to most I would think to invite here."


"Well... mayhaps you will invite more now..."


Her words were cut off by the sound of the door opening and closing softly. "I hope I am not too late." came a familiar voice behind her. Coatleque's eyes went wide in a mixture of fear and astonishment and she stood immediately, nearly spilling her tea in the process. She spun around to face the newcomer. Her mouth opening and closing once or twice. "J-James," she finally stammered.

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As Coatleque stood slack-jawed, Edda rose from her seat as well being perfectly polite. Jameson managed something of a smile. "Coatleque. Well, this is a pleasant surprise." The third woman finally moved from her position across the table to stand by Jameson's side. He did not turn to her, but his instructions were clearly pointed. "Do you have the notes I requested?"


She nodded but said nothing, simply flipping her book back a few pages and carefully detaching several pages to hand over. He took them in his gloved hands and folded them sharply. "Thank you, Assistant Rossenheims," he murmured. Coatleque managed to look over her shoulder to Edda as if she expected some sort of explanation. None came.


"I did not know you knew Lady Eglantine." He stated calmly as he began to round the table in their direction. Coatleque looked back to him now with some measure of worry. The man she loved and whom disappeared after suffering a mortal wound was now here before her in nigh perfect health again and had nothing to say over the matter. He seemed his typical business-like self.


"Knew La... what?" She found the forming of thoughts, let alone words, to be incredibly difficult suddenly. "Yes, of course I do, from the Free Company. But... what are you doing here?!" Her gaze followed his movement around the room. Jameson only smiled. The woman who was apparently a new assistant of his opened her book back to the current page and resumed her note taking.


He stopped when he reached Edda's side. It did not register at first to Coatleque that he had passed her by entirely. He leaned in, his focus entirely on their 'hostess' and bussed her cheek lightly. "We are intended, dear." He began quietly. "Apparently you do not know her as well as you might think." He reached out then and took Edda's hand in his.


"Intended... what?"

"Betrothed.", he said plainly. "We are to be wed."


Coatleque staggered backwards a single step, instinctively sitting down roughly as her calf touched the chair. "That's not..." Her initial surprise had given way immediately to confusion which was now growing into a lingering knot in her stomach. She felt faint.


"Assistant Rossenheims, fetch water for Miss Crofte." He said. Edda wore no reaction at all, staring ahead quietly. Rossenheims did as she was bid and quickly returned with a glass. Coatleque reached her hand back without turning. It swung past the glass several times before making contact and she brought it to the table roughly where it began to tip in her halfhearted grip until Rossenheims steadied it again. She swallowed hard, tried to steady her breath, but the knot would not dissipate.


"Clearly you've a wealth of questions. As you can see, I am not dead." His tone became slightly accusational to her. He smiled at Edda before pulling her chair out politely. "Here, my dear, No need to weary yourself." Edda took her seat once more without question, and the man finished rounding the table to sit next to her, and across from his apparently now 'former' lover. She stared at him.


The room grew disturbingly silent again aside from the continued scratching of the quill. Jameson looked over the trays of food quit disinterestedly until his gaze fell upon the wide green stare across from him. "No questions then? Very well." With that he selected a single small tart to move to his own plate.


She blinked finally. Not out of desire but need. With it came a snapping back to reality and she managed to speak. "Why?" She asked meekly. There were many questions she wanted to ask, but this one encompassed them all.



"Why this? Why now? Why didn't you contact me? Do I mean so little to you now?"


"Because I am very hard to kill, Coatleque. You can pass on my regards to Melkire, if your paths happen to cross."


Her head shook in disbelief. She did not, could not even look at Edda to her left at this point. All her focus was transfixed on him. "You forget on who's side I stood that night?"


"On the contrary," he said lifting an eyebrow. "I consider you one of my closest allies." His voice lowered. "Unless that has changed. I am surprised to have found you here. I was hoping to recover my strength a bit more before making my presence known."


"By what?" She scoffed at him. "Announcing your betrothal to the cities?!"


Jameson continued to peruse the table in the mean time, locating the butter. He took the tiniest of scrapes for his tart, lifting his other brow as she scoffed at him. "Well - in time, that too. In truth, Lord Eglantine and I only yesterday finished the... final details of an agreement that was much longer in the making." He smiled at her from across the centerpiece.


"How long? You did not think to tell me of this before? Before I... I..." The realization that this may have been his plan even before she had interjected herself in his life brought bile to her throat and a tremendous weight pressing down on her shoulders. She looked down to the table.


"I want your love. But that is too much. We may have gone too far, Coatleque. We may have been a mistake."


Words he had spoken to her in a moment of heated passion. She looked up to him again through now blurred vision. Jameson seemed unphased by any of this. "Do not fault dear Edda. She has little to say in this matter." Edda side-eyed Coatleque carefully, making sure not to make eye contact. Her very demeanor a far cry different now than what it was the prior evening.


"She may not, but I am sure you do!"


Jameson sighed his familiar sigh of annoyance. "Coatleque, is this really a shock? I am disappointed. I would have hoped you'd have been cheered that I yet lived." His voice lowered once more. "For what I endured."


She tore her gaze away from him back to the table, her eyes darted among the various trays and cups as if searching for something. "I never believed you dead. Shocked that you live? No. But whatever joy I just felt is quickly turning... no." She slowly removed at item from her purse and began turning it over and over in her hands.


Jameson turned back to Edda. "My dearest, I am... sorry for the tense environ. Please forgive me. I would have arranged a private meeting with Coatleque had I known she would act out." His endearing words caused the Sworn's head to snap immediately to Edda who only pursed her lips and inclined her head in a slow nod.


"Would be my fault. However... it is fine." Her voice was perfectly quiet.


The paladin stood abruptly then, her anger beginning to rise to the surface. "I did not mean to burden your joyous celebration." She hissed through her teeth to both of them. "I shall remove myself at once." In two strides she rounded the table where Jameson had also risen.


"Coatleque. Please." He said quietly, attempting to calm her. "No. I don't want to hear it." She nearly slammed the item down onto the table and left it there for him. "I pray she can be the strong woman for you that I could not." She glared at him briefly before storming off towards the exit to the gardens. "I'm going to be sick," she muttered.


Jameson looked down to the item she had left. A small silver locket, very worn in appearance as if it sustained extensive damage. Damage which had been repaired to the best of a master jeweler's ability. It had fallen open from the force with which she left it. Whatever it may have contained before was no more, but a small inscription was left in its place that had not been there previously.


"For the promises made when young."

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Once outside the combined warmth of the morning sun and sickly sweet smell of nearby flowers had the opposite effect on her. Coatleque stumbled to the edge of the porch and grabbed hold of an iron rail nearby. Her head spun and she leaned over it into the bushes. She pulled a handkerchief from her purse quickly to wipe her face when finished and stood there heaving pained breaths doing all she could not to break down and sob.


Jameson exited the veranda as well as she was recovering. His heels clicked on the stone patio signaling a limp behind her as he stepped closer. She did not look back, hands gripping the railing through the kerchief. His voice sounded chastening to her. "That was poorly done."


"What do you care?", she spat.


The man pursed his lips as the sound of the door closing signaled that someone else had joined them. "You think that I do not?"


"I do not know what to think." Her responses were almost immediate now.


His voice turned cold then. "What can you provide for me, Coatleque? I asked you before. Has that changed?" She shivered slightly and shook her head slowly, but not as an answer. She still did not look back to him.


"I gave you my very life. Was that not enough?"

Sharper now, he spoke. That ire she was so familiar with finally returning. "You do not know what I gave. What I worked for. What I hoped for. I asked you where you saw yourself when the next era dawned, and do you remember your answer?"


"By your side. Or so I had hoped."

He snapped, "That is not what you said. You said 'I do not know. I do not even know how I got here.'"


Her grip tightened as she thought back. Were those her words? She could no longer recall, but...

"I never said... that."


Jameson was not pleased, and his expression showed that for anyone watching. The familiar scrawl of a quill rose in the background. His voice lowered. "I confided in you. My... estate's affairs, the losses I'd taken." He hissed. "My past."


Coatleque blinked and flexed her grip desperately to keep her voice from wavering. "And I continued to stand by your side, James. Did you forget that?!"


He drew himself up, though she still would not look at him. "I did not. Have not. I am very grateful for your... companionship." His voice lowered to a whisper. "And your love." There was a pause before he resumed his coldness. "But what can you give me now, Coatleque?"


She listened, thought, then heaved dejectedly. It did not matter what she could or would do. She had no thing material to offer, and her companionship would never be enough. He was too driven a man, and what little influence she once had over him had faded in her eyes. "What does it matter what I can give you? Your plans are already made."


Jameson shrugged. "Her father has been a stout ally. He is trusting that I will once more find my way. And I shall. There are many opportunities here, and in Coerthas." And so it was, back to business as always. As he droned on about his plans she barely listened, only interjecting "You think I doubted you?" quietly from the side.


"Ishgard has opened its gates for the first time in a hundred years." He stepped closer to her, spoke quieter so only they two would hear. "And I still..." He paused at her comment. "No. You only doubted yourself. Your place in the world. By my side. In Ul'dah. All of it."


Her expression fell, her anger rising once more. "If I doubted so much then why did I spend the past moon hunting for you?" At that point the sound of the quill grew louder as his new 'assistant' - more like scribe, Coatleque thought - stepped closer for better listening.


"I do not know. You... did not know where to look." The coldness in his voice subsided even if momentarily. "I am glad for that. You would have seen me... brought low."


She finally righted herself then and dared to glance over her shoulder towards him. "What were you going to say? A moment ago. You were about to say something." He was not quite looking at her though, gazing just past her into the gardens. He stiffened. "Nothing. The past is the past." His chin lifted as if his mind were made up on that matter. "Edda is the prize."


"Liar." she muttered quietly. His stare would have bored a hole into the very back of her skull. A moment passed in silence before he forcibly changed his stance. His voice softened noticeably. "Can I still... call you friend, Coatleque?"


The knot in her stomach rose again. The gall of this man! Having such news broken to her and in this way, yet now he expected her to simply continue as if the time they spent together never occurred!? Her fists clenched into balls by her sides and she looked away from him again. "As of this morning, I would prefer you call me nothing." She nearly hissed through a deepening frown. "Enjoy your prize," she spat.


Jameson looked down and nodded. "For now then. It was... good to see you nonetheless." He paused briefly before turning on his heel and limping back towards the great manse, his assistant following. It was not until the door closed that Coatleque finally had strength to stagger onward. She followed the path around the garden to re-enter the manse from another direction - seeking a round-about way back to her quarters so as not to see or be seen by anyone.


Once there she nearly tore the dress off, leaving it on the bed. She threw on her uniform once more and collected her things, eager to be away from there. A retainer thankfully found her soon after and led her through the halls to the front entrance. She took one last brief glimpse of the main all and to her chagrin, swore she saw Edda quietly laughing at her from the top of the bannister some distance away. With one final glare she stormed out.

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It was a numbing feeling, to watch him follow her out. A determined look. The slightest limp. It had gone no further than what she expected, and far less than what she had hoped. Breakfast remained largely uneaten, the silverware untouched.


Now alone in the small parlor, Edda made her way over to the hearth and stared into the fire. There was still some measure of hope she still held on to, but it was faint. Coatleque’s expression of despair burned into her eyes with the heat of the flames. Would it turn to rage? Possibly, but not towards him. Would they reconcile? It seemed unlikely at this point. No matter the outcome, she was still to blame. Already she felt a pulling at her seams.


Jameson returned far sooner than she had expected. He did not look thrilled, and sighed. “She was ill pleased, to say the least.”


“I… see.”


“Still, it was a kindness. What you did.” He flicked a look at her.


She turned to look over her shoulder at him. “Was it?”


“Yes. Best there be no confusion.”


“And what confusion would that be?”


“That she is not claiming me that any of the world can see.” He smiled, and went over to Edda to take her hand. His face was hard to read. He was much like her father, in that respect.


She looked back into the fire. “A surprising answer.”


“Did your father speak to you about our talk last night?” He asked quietly. “It went quite late.”


“He did.” She paused. The memory of her father withdrawing his hand from her shoulder and leaving her in the cooling water was a fresh one. “Do not change the subject.”


Quite suddenly, the man was reaching for her, pulling her close to him. Her heart jumped and she forced it down. It was an alien feeling, this closeness. He spoke softly, his voice nearly teasing. “Are you angry with me?”


Edda looked up at him. Her heart beat steadily against her chest. The training she had received was true, however, and she could feel her features set in a placid expression. She did not look angry. “What did you say to her?”


“I told her she was being silly. That I had planned this even before the attack.” That was true. It did not make it any less cruel. “She herself had long admitted she had nothing of any real substance to offer in the way of a union. Surely you’re not jealous of a lover.”


He said it as if it were that small a thing. Edda raised her eyebrows. There was no jealousy in her heart, over a man she scarcely knew – yet she knew enough to realize he was no fool. He knew the answer to his own prodding as much as she. It was a test.


“I could care less,” she replied shortly. “Shortly after your disappearance, the nature of your relationship with Ser Crofte became known to me, albeit indirectly.” It felt like an answer.


He smirked. The distance between them still seemed to displease him, and he forcibly pulled her closer. It did not seem to matter to him. Edda could feel the heat of her own breath reflected from his collarbone. “I still find you slightly cross,” he murmured. “Are you angry with yourself?”


“No,” she said. “Your lack of care for the woman is surprising. She seems to love you a great deal.” She watched him closely, as much as she was able at such proximity, gauging his reaction.


He smiled. “Your lack of care for her feelings, as a friend, is equally surprising.”


With one hand still holding hers, Jameson placed his other hand at her waist. He pulled her closer, and held her as if they were at a ball. Edda continued to stare a hole through the man’s neck, and stayed silent for a long moment. She is not my friend, she wanted to say. I’ve no time for such frivolities. It would not be a lie. She knew what friends looked like – smiling and laughing together, no truths and secrets withheld – a faraway dream that seemed always bathed in sunlight.


There was an ache in her heart, to possess such a thing. Images of faces filtered through her mind. Perhaps she did, and was only too blind to see it. Jameson’s grip on her hand tightened. Perhaps she did, but she thought of Roen’s disappearance and Leanne’s cold anger – and if she did before, now with this man so close, so very close – then surely they were friends no longer.


Though there was no music, Jameson led her as if there was. A silent dance. Step. Turn. Step. He leaned forward and placed his cheek at her temple.


“I wanted to see what would happen.” Her voice had dropped to a whisper.


“And so you did,” he murmured. He turned her and laughed softly. “You’re not as simple as you pretend, I think.”


Edda had no response to such a statement. A compliment and insult all in one. “A callous choice.”


“It was.”


“You do not love her?”


“No.” She could not see his face but she could hear his smile.


He turned her again. “I do not believe you,” she whispered.


Her body was ever pliant. She allowed him to push and pull at her as he saw fit. It was a dance she knew well. “That is your choice,” he whispered back. “I think we have… a lot to learn. You and I.”


Another turn. Edda stared at nothing. “Perhaps.” A pause. “I think you will change your mind.”


“About what, my dear?” He asked, almost archly. He turned her halfway, her back now flush against him, and stopped. He glanced to the side, as though to a mirror, though there was none. He adjusted his posture, then hers. The dance continued.


“About Ser Crofte,” she replied smoothly. “Or are both your passions so weak?” She watched him carefully, as best she could.


Jameson smirked again, his voice teasing. “Now you are just trying to provoke a response. Is that what you want?”




He turned her again, and she sighed. “I want for nothing in particular.”


“Perhaps that is what you need then,” he murmured against her hair. So very close.




He smiled, and the dance stopped. He set her arms back down by her sides and pat her hip, as though to dust it. “Now then. I am famished.” Jameson turned from her and made his way back to the table. “Will you be ready to travel to Ishgard in two days, dear?”


Edda watched him and did not move from how she was left. “Yes.”


“Excellent. I detest delay.” He nodded. “Miss Rossenheims, ensure –all- my bags are packed. Including the shopping list I gave you.”


The assistant nodded, jotting down a note in her book. “It shall be done immediately.” She was very quiet. Edda had nearly forgotten she had been in the room, but the presence of servants was not alien to her. This one chilled her, however.


“Edda,” Jameson began. “Will you be sending Mr. North out for supplies?”


“I did not plan on doing so. My belongings have already been arranged.”


“Ah, a pity. I had hoped he might show Miss Rossenheims the ropes, so to speak. The ins-and-outs of a proper valet.”


Though she held no love for his mousy assistant, Jameson’s brazen disregard for her made the corner of her mouth twitch. “There will be time for that in Ishgard.” She kept her voice steady. “For now, his time is being spent at his own leisure.”


“Well, he is yours to command. So if his leisure is your wish…” He trailed off, and shrugged. He took a bite of a fruit tart.


The implications of his words were not lost on her. A fire burned at the back of her throat and her eyes narrowed, quickly. “It is.” There would be no argument.


He continued eating his fruit tart, and did not remark any further about Gideon. A wise choice. He swallowed. “Delightful,” he murmured to no one in particular.


A small bout of silence fell upon the room, interrupted when Rossenheims suddenly closed her notebook. “I shall see to your bags, Lord Taeros.”


Jameson did not spare her a single glance – in fact, it was almost as if she did not exist. “I will take my leave. I have my own preparations to make. If you desire conversation, I will be in my quarters.” He smiled.


“Very well.”


He gave her a small bow and left the room, with Rossenheims not far behind.


Edda turned back to stare into the fire. There would be no need to seek him out later. Her plan had been thwarted handily, both through her own doing, and by the Spinner herself. She felt no favor in the eyes of the Twelve any longer, and the dread of returning to Ishgard loomed over her like a shadow. It would not do to return there. It would be better to never be seen again. It would be better to remain within these halls forever, with only her father and that man to look upon her.


Edda clasped her hands to her arms. Her skin still burned where he had touched her.

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  • 1 month later...

The next few nights were not more than a haze for Coatleque. She had stormed out of the mansion, was escorted back to the city straight away, and somehow managed to book passage back to Ishgard through tear blurred vision. A few bottles of cheap wine may have been involved afterwords. It was not until she was dragged from (or at least, it felt as though being dragged) the brume to the Forgotten knight to be regailed with tales of Gharen Wolfsong's continued absence by Kage Kiryuu and Delial Grimsong that reality began to coalesce once more.


It was their words that brought to her attention the phantom warrior who had began dogging their steps as they searched for the missing man. A mystery in his own right, they had obtained and summarily lost a linkpearl given directly to them by the phantasm! And so for Gharen's sake, if nothing else, Coatleque sobered herself right quick and promised to leave for Ul'dah the next morning to retrieve the pearl from Evangeline Primrose.


Having to real desire to speak with Evangeline, she reminded herself frequently on her way south the reason she was doing this. She owed Roen this much at least - to see her brother safe again. Her pensiveness over the engagement began to subside as the air warmed around her the further south she traveled. She was almost looking forward to to being in Ul'dah again by the time she arrived. Until, that is, she ran into Spahro Llorn as she was searching for Evangeline. A few words were traded, and then THIS happened.



It was a few days later when Coatleque finally met up with Evangeline. Through her she learned the pearl was in the hands of Sergeant Melkire who by chance was now awaiting court martial in the palace dungeon. Miss Primrose was to be his barrister and agreed to arrange a meeting. So it was that not even a sennight since she had last seen Jameson, Coatleque found herself back in Ul'dah staring at an old friend through iron bars.


"You must think I am enjoying this."

A snort. "I know better."


She knelt down as they spoke to examine a speck of mortar where the bars reached stone.


"I cannot deny a part of me is glad to see you face justice"

"There's no justice in any o' this. Lazarov was right."


Whatever banter could be traded did not suit either of them in this moment. The falling paladin, and the vigilante Flames officer. How much they had both changed over the past cycle. To be in this situation here and now. She stood slowly and turned to face him, gripping the bars tightly to either side. "You know he is alive."


The man stood from his cot with a sigh and crossed the cell to meet her gaze only ilms away from her face. Chains of binding rattled across the stone with each step. "We get the papers in here." He grinned at her.


Her voice lowered, her eyes hardened. "What are your intentions?"

"Banurein." He whispered through the bars.

Her expression darkened into a scowl. "Do as you will, but do not touch him."


They withdrew from each other as Evangeline and Kanaria had rejoined them, linkpearl in hand. No further discourse was required. Coatleque plucked it from the woman's hand and made for the inn having been satisfied the Sergeant was no longer a threat to the man she loved.


Grimsong met her that evening as had been planned. The Quicksand was alive with its usual bustle, and plenty of wine at the ready. The paladin was staring intently at a bottle resting at the middle of the table when Delial arrived, and looked to be fairly soused already. Few pleasantries passed between the women before business.


"I spoke with Melkire. He said you and Lady Primrose took the pearl?"


The paladin slowly withdrew the item from her purse. She displayed it for the other woman, tapped it once or twice upon the table, then flicked it towards her. It rolled lopsided across the wood to fall into Delial's waiting hand. The rest of the conversation that night was a blur for Coatleque. The combined stress of travel, loss, and wine left her babbling incoherently before long, and with the gracious assistance of Madam Grimsong reached her inn room.


Sleep came in fitful spurts of a broken dream. The imagery of which gave her no comfort that night. As the sun rose over Thanalan and began to warm the sheets over her shivering frame, Coatleque still could only wonder at how things had gone so horribly wrong.

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