Jump to content

Wandering Lost [Story]

Recommended Posts

Weeding through and revising writing I did for Aden before I made the decision to bring him into RP to better fit with presenting him in a larger, less predictable narrative. If you're interested in seeing the stories in their original, unedited form, go here.


Anyway, let's get to it....




The Storm

Rated: M, explicit violence.

Notes: Originally written after playing for three weeks. I'm still gaining a grasp on lore and setting specifics even now, so please keep that in mind.




The storm blew in, full of furious wind and brilliant lightning, while Arild and Nadine were away for the retirement of an old friend. Aden made the call to let the ranch hands stay in the main house that night, and didn’t rest himself through all the noise. In the early morning just as the first suggestion of light kissed the horizon he made his way through the house, padding carefully between mounds of blankets strewn across the first floor, and out to the stables.


For once the chill morning air smelled less like the distinctive bouquet of a chocobo farm, instead ozone and deep forest and split wood–he took a deep breath, grateful. The older he got the more he minded the smell, contrary to the conventional wisdom of everyone he’d ever worked with.


The newly downed branches slipped and snapped underfoot, wet leaves made for awkward footing, and he circled the barn, just able to make out the stark, clean lines of it in the grey pre-dawn. On the far side a limb from a massive tree that stretched a full quarter over the clearing the house and barn were in had fallen, caved in the back corner.


Shit.” Soft, little more than a breath. The hole was too close to the doors on this side so he went back around, unlatched and rolled open the doors to a dark aisle and that distinct musk he hadn’t missed, soft coos. He pulled down one of the lanterns just inside the door, lit it, and the birds started shifting, feathers rustling. A few came to their stall doors, made quiet, needy noises at him and Aden spared each one who sought it a reassuring stroke. Their birds weren't nervous by nature, but it had been a rough night.


At the end he found what he was looking for: the farthest stall, unoccupied, had been destroyed. He could just see through the branches of the limb to the early morning outside. Aden hung the lantern as close as he could and hopped up at the door of the neighboring stall, looking over for the sleeping bird inside.


An old, dead part of the limb lay amidst the remains of the dividing wall into the next stall. Aside from a few feathers, the bird was absent. “Damn it all!”


He grabbed the lantern and rushed back out of the barn, looking for any sign of which way the bird had gone, but the rain and wind had removed any trace. Then he went back to the house, roused Ylaine, one of the senior hands, crouched next to her. “Keva’s gone.”


She stopped rubbing her eyes and sat bolt upright. “Naddy and Ari won’t be back for a good three days, what do we do?”


“I’m going to take Senna and go look for him.”


For a second Ylaine stared, almost as if uncomprehending. “You can’t–you know there’s been reports of Ixal around of late.”


“Someone has to. You can run the farm while–” she opened her mouth to protest, but Aden cut her off before she started, “don’t. Give me that. You’re more than capable. Just because you don’t own the place doesn’t mean anyone is less likely to listen to you. If I’m not back before Ma and Mam, they’ll handle it.”


She protested no further, and he left to gather a few things while she went to saddle up the bird. As she watched him leave in the first rays of true dawn she didn’t dare say it wasn’t running the farm she was worried about, but what Nadine and Arild would do when they found out she’d let him leave alone.




He’d chosen Senna because she was the most mature bird in the stable, not by age but by behavior. She was even tempered, and if he told her to run home he knew she would. Keva wouldn’t dare be led, too wild a bird for that, but Senna would put up with it when he finally caught Keva.


When, he assured himself as evening fell, not if. He came upon a pair of elezen Gods’ Quiver clearing out debris to set up camp, but enough light remained that Aden felt comfortable keeping on for an hour or so.


He stopped anyway when the woman hailed him from across the clearing, voice bright and airy. “Ho there! Got business out in the wild?”


The man straightened from tossing aside downed limbs, “Wait, I recognize you. You’re from the Dellebecque farm?”


“I am.” They stepped closer so as not to be shouting at him, and Aden figured the woman to be a full head and shoulders taller than him if he were on the ground–the man was a more reasonable height. “You haven’t seen a stray bird go past, have you?”


“Got out in the storm?” the woman asked, and Aden nodded. “Ixal probably got it then, hate to say it. We’ve had two skirmishes with them since daybreak.”


“You’d best stay with us tonight, and head home in the morning.” The man eyed Aden as he spoke, and Aden knew was looking for a weapon of any sort. “It’s luck you haven’t run into them already. If anything does happen we can protect you.”


“Thanks.” Somehow Aden managed to bite back the bitter resentment the man’s concern–so obviously more an assessment of ability, nevermind how true–conjured in him. He lifted Senna’s reins, ready to go. “But no thanks. If you know what farm I’m from, you know who my parents are. I can handle myself. What you don’t know is how much that bird is worth.”


And he was gone, leaving the two Quivermen standing in the clearing. The woman crossed her arms and said, “Mucked that one right up, Ves.”


He just stood for a moment, staring after Aden, then gestured wildly in that direction with both hands. “Of course I know who his parents are! But what's that got to do with him getting shanked by birdmen?”


"Ves." She reached out, settled a hand on his shoulder, and Ves half-turned to face his companion. "You can't help someone who doesn't want helping. Let's get back to work."




It rained again that night, and Aden huddled miserably under a tarp strung between three trees, Senna settled down beside him. There was just enough room for both of them–that’s what the tarp was for, after all–and she made soft trilling noises as she dozed. The bird was warm, and soft, and smelled like home, and Aden fell asleep despite his intentions.


By morning the rain gave way to heavy mist, hanging like fog more than falling like rain, and it settled everywhere in spite of the tarp. Too much of this weather would ruin the feed he’d brought for Senna, watertight bag or not, and he grudgingly accepted they had maybe another day out in this before it became an issue.


Around noon the debris grew too heavy for Senna to manage with a rider so he dismounted, led her through the fallen limbs and underbrush. Knowing Keva, the bird would deliberately take the most difficult path so as not to be followed. The mist kept up all day, and around mid-afternoon they came out of the heavy treefall into a clearing. Senna started making soft, distressed noises as they moved, so Aden stopped to soothe her. She went quiet, but quivered as he stroked her neck, and in that silence Aden finally noticed the stillness of the forest, birdsong and vilekin trill absent.


The first arrow skimmed his cheek, opening a deep split, and slammed into Senna’s saddle. Aden ducked reflexively, clicked his tongue twice, and Senna obeyed, dashing off back over the tumble of treefall. He turned to see an ixali coming out of the mist with a spear, already in mid-thrust, too close to simply run.


Aden pivoted on his heel and the spearhead skimmed a finger’s width from his chest. He lunged towards the ixali, grabbed the haft of the spear and wrenched it from his attacker's talons. The ixali squawked loudly, grabbed for the spear again, but Aden continued his forward lunge to throw his weight into the ixali. It staggered back, and Aden stepped back as well, spinning the spear around into the correct grip.


The next arrow only missed because Aden lunged again, drove the tip of the spear into the lancer’s throat. It fell clutching at the wound, trying to squawk and only gurgling weakly as blood welled in.


And then the forest came alive with the squawks and trills of Ixali fighters hidden in the mist. Aden ducked, hunching his shoulders and ears twitching–different instincts than the fighting ones Nadine had spent years drilling into him. He looked much more like a cat crouching to run than someone who had just disarmed and slain a seasoned fighter, and it dawned on him under the noise–he should be running if he had the opportunity.


He started moving, and another arrow nicked the tip of one ear. In the brief melee and the shifting mist he’d lost the path he’d come on, and moved simply away from the noise. Two more ixali emerged from the mist, one swinging an axe overhead and the other swiping low with a sword, shield braced in its other arm.


The axeblade was too large for him to catch it haft to haft, and the shaft of the spear unclad wood. Aden backpedaled, nearly slipping on the wet leaves, and the sword fighter followed, quicker than the one with the axe.


Between the two of them the ixali pushed him back to where he’d started, though neither managed to land a blow. With the two of them alternating attacks he had no room or time to retaliate. They backed him into a tree, and the axe fighter came in hard.


Aden ducked, darted away from the sword fighter, and the axe bit hard into the great old tree. The ixali only pulled once before letting go, but it was long enough for Aden to jab the spear up from his crouch. Another arrow scored a line across his back mid-thrust, but didn’t bite deep enough to stop him. The axe fighter turned from the blow, but only presented his front and backed into the sword fighter behind him. So rather than merely wounding Aden’s strike went up beneath the ribs, hit something vital, and he had to pull hard to get the spear back while the sword fighter tried to deal with the suddenly flailing axe fighter falling against it


He turned to run again, and the next arrow caught him in the shoulder. Aden swallowed a cry, and looked up–he saw only mist, but he had a good lead on the archer’s position now. He bolted, and when a tree loomed out of the mist and another arrow thudded behind him he jabbed the butt of the spear into the ground to vault up to the first branch, began climbing one-handed.


The archer panicked, loosed another arrow but it went wild. And then the archer tried to climb away, but the awkward scramble of grasping talons on wood couldn’t outpace Aden in a chase. He couldn’t use the spear up here, and couldn’t risk the archer gaining distance again, so when Aden pounced he rolled both of them out of the tree. The archer lost its bow, string snagged on the tree, but still held an arrow in hand and jabbed it into Aden’s side mid-air. Aden’s grip only tightened, and they went crashing archer-first through an old, rotten branch and into the leaf litter. It winded the archer, and Aden stood and finished it the way he’d finished the lancer, a quick, clean thrust through the throat.


A shield slammed into him and bore him up off the ground. The impact drove the arrow in his side in further, snapped off the shaft, and he couldn’t hold back a cry this time. The sword fighter, smeared in its companion’s blood. Finally it crushed him against the tree, and between the air forced from his lungs and his head slamming against the wood Aden fell into darkness.




Eta and Ves had a comfortable routine by now on patrols, and when they bedded down for the night in a cliff overhang Eta put the fire down to coals, settled up against the cliff face with her bow across her lap. Ves crawled into his bed roll, savored the fact that it was dry inside the overhang, stretched out against the day’s aches. They’d seen signs of ixal but hadn’t met them today, perhaps a good sign–if the wave they’d met had merely been driven to take shelter from the storm and not part of a larger group, then perhaps they’d be leaving soon.


Eta shook him awake well before time for his watch. “Hey,” she hissed, “there’s a chocobo wandering out in the wood.”


“Dellebecque’s missing bird?” He sat up, stretching–if Eta was waking him she meant to try to catch it.


“Maybe.” She rose to a crouch and headed back to the mouth of the overhang. After taking a moment to tug his boots on Ves joined her.


Sure enough he caught a pale flit of feathers in the wood–and something dark, too. “Wait, did he say the bird was saddled?”


“No, he didn’t.” Ves heard the trepidation creeping into her voice, and she went very still. “Go put your armor on. Get your bow.”


He did, and they headed out into the wood, got on either side of the chocobo to herd it in toward the camp. It went easily, and in the open space in front of the cliff it stopped, waited for them making soft, distressed noises. Ves went to stir up the fire for light while Eta soothed the bird, and when he returned Eta had tugged an arrow out of the bird’s saddle.


“This is the bird that boy was riding,” she said grimly.


Ves ran his fingers over the split in the saddle, found it didn’t go through and the bird was likely no more than bruised. He drew his fingers back with flecks of dried blood anyway, showed it to Eta.


She looked at him, jaw set, but neither said a word.




They found the ixali camp just as the morning sun finally burned off the mist, leaving patches and wisps of good cover. There weren’t many, maybe eight, with four additional sentries. The sentries went quietly, arrows in throats.


The ixali in the camp did not go quietly. Eta and Ves circled the camp in opposite directions, each loosing only once before moving on. After the first two went down the camp turned into a flurry of motion, warriors taking up arms and ducking for cover. Eta and Ves staggered their shots while moving, trying to make it seem as though there were more of them. An archer loosed return shots, but they whizzed past Eta harmlessly.


Finally the ixali split up, came out into the woods. They’d been waiting for this, and retreated deeper, meeting back up and slipping around behind the group. They picked two more off, already wounded with arrows, and split up again. One of the ixali shouted a challenge, but Eta and Ves simply let them wander in the wood a while.


The archer panicked, bolted, and Eta shot it before it got out of sight from the other two. Seeing this they ran, too.


It did not save them.


Eta and Ves finally emerged from the cover of the wood, checked to make sure the ixali were dead, stood silent for a moment.


“Do you think they’ll have something at the camp?” Ves asked, voice quiet. “Anything we can take back to the farm. Something they can bury.” Remains, but he didn’t hope for it.


“We can look,” Eta said.


So they did, searching through the makeshift shelters–in one Eta found feathers from a chocobo, probably the one the boy had been looking for. By the nature of the shelters and the scant contents Ves decided his guess had been correct, and the ixali hadn’t meant to stay.


“Have you met Nadine or Arild?” Eta asked, fingering one of the feathers she’d grabbed.


Ves shook his head. “Only once, I mostly know them by reputation, though I’ve seen everyone from the farm either at a distance or in town.”


“I remember when they first bought the old farm–they didn’t raise chocobos at first, of course. They’re both pleasant enough, but Nadine can be frightening. I haven’t spoke to them in a long time but I know they were….” she paused, twirling the feather between her fingers, “fond of their boy.”


“He’s not really theirs, though, is he?” It was obvious enough–a hyur and an elezen woman did not a miqo’te child make–but he meant something else by the question.


“No. I don’t know the whole of it but I take it he’s the son of someone from their old adventuring group. He came few years after they bought the place, hardly more than a babe.”


Ves nodded grimly, wondering as they finished sifting through the shelter if the bird had really been worth that much. They stepped out, only two left to go.


The second Ves set foot in the next shelter he shouted, “Eta!” The ixal known to frequent this part of the wood didn’t take prisoners, and yet there was the Dellebecque boy, bloody and hogtied. Ves pulled out a knife and crouched down to start cutting the ropes, then thought to put a hand to boy’s neck feeling for a pulse because that was a lot of blood.


It took a moment, but there it was. Ves cut the ropes while Eta started fumbling around in her pouch for a potion. She got it out just as Ves started easing the boy over onto his back to prop him up. He stopped when she snarled her lip, the boy half on his lap.


“Arrows,” she said, and he looked down–two hafts broken so close his clothing nearly hid them, one in his left side and one in his right shoulder, the shoulder he’d been laying on. The potion would help, but if they used too much digging the arrows out would be even worse. “Should we?”


“Yes. Aside from that,” Ves nodded down at a shallow stab wound on the boy’s stomach, one where the blood wasn’t as dry as the others, “he’s got a head wound. It’s worth it.”


Between the two of them they managed to get the potion into him, though it was slow going. Near the end he gave a little gasp of pain, shuddered. Both of them sat very still for a moment, waiting.


He jerked himself out of Ves’ grasp with a sound of panic/pain, lurched forward and scrambled past Eta, much faster than he had any right to be injured or not. They stayed still with hands visible. He got across the shelter, close to the door, before his strength gave out and he collapsed onto his side, facing them, with another soft, pained sound. “You’re not–” he gasped, grit his teeth, “–not ixal.”


“Well at least he’s not that addled,” Eta said.


“We’re the Quivermen you met the other day,” Ves offered.


He just groaned and pressed his forehead into the swept dirt floor of the shelter.


Eta and Ves glanced at each other once more, spoke in whispers and gestures–Eta was the more experienced fighter, they agreed, so Ves should carry him. So Eta stood and headed outside, and Ves moved over to him, laid a hand as gently as he could on the boy’s arm.


“Hey. We need to get you back to our camp, so I’m going to lift you. It’s going to hurt.”


No shit,” he muttered.


Ves wasn’t sure if he should be offended or amused, but he took it as a good sign for whether or not the boy would pull through. “I need you to try to be quiet in case there are more Ixal around. Do you think you can do that?”


He nodded, rolled over onto his back, screwed his eyes shut, and took a deep breath. But when Ves started to get him off the ground he managed, every sound restrained to his throat or bit back behind clenched teeth.


He was unconscious before they reached the borders of the camp, for which Ves was equal parts grateful and concerned.




Aden woke to more rain, but he was warm and dry–and naked in an unfamiliar bedroll. He startled, sat up–or would have, instead immediately sank back down with a groan of pain. One of the Quivermen appeared hovering over him, and Aden squinted, trying to remember if they’d given him names before. No, he decided, so they remained Blondie and Tall. This was Blondie, mouth drawn into a tight line and the corners of his eyes drawn up in concern. Blondie propped him up with one arm and offered a canteen with his other hand, and Aden didn’t protest the help, drank gratefully.


When he finished Blondie laid him back down, said, “We need to get those arrows out before the wounds fester, but I didn’t want to risk you waking and thinking you were under attack. Do you think you’re up to it?”


“I’d best be,” Aden murmured, voice weaker than he’d like. Blondie stared at him for a moment, eyes searching for something in his face, and Aden looked away. He was grateful for the help, but still sore about how Blondie had talked to him, and bitter that it had turned out true.


Blondie disappeared for a while, and Aden took the time to seek out the wounds he remembered with his good hand. The arrows he avoided, and the back of his head, but everywhere else found neat bandages, including the stab wound he’d earned during an escape attempt–he winced, remembering the ixali wrenching his arms back, nearly out of the sockets, to tie him up after that. They’d never said what they wanted, but Aden supposed he was lucky, all things considered.


He was drifting again when Blondie returned, this time with Tall. “I need you to hold him down,” Blondie said to her. He pulled a kerchief out of somewhere, rolled it up and offered it to Aden. “You’ll want this.”


Aden didn’t question, just took the kerchief with his good hand and settled the roll between his teeth. He took as deep a breath as he could manage, but his pulse quickened and made him light headed while Blondie rolled back the blankets. He looked straight up at the firelight dancing across stone overhead, static fuzz joining in as he started to hear his own blood pulsing.


“You’ll want that last potion handy, he’s going to lose more blood.” Tall said something in response, but her voice fuzzed out. He felt hands on his skin, fought the urge to squirm away.


Then pain, heightened by the fact that potions had healed the wounds over around the arrowheads, by the fact that he was already muzzy-headed and weak and couldn’t process it right. He screamed behind teeth set against the kerchief, repeated to himself when his body tried to react and hands pressed down against his good shoulder you’re safe you’re safe you’re safe




Aden didn’t remember blacking out, but he supposed that was the nature of it as he fought his way back to wakefulness. It was dim, early morning or late evening, and he already knew better than to try to move this time, vision whiting at the edges when he turned his head. Blondie sat at the mouth of the overhang, dark shapes of the forest past him, staring at the banked embers of the fire, bow balanced across his knees. Aden craned his head, saw a lump in another bedroll he assumed must be Tall.


Blondie finally noticed him moving, came over with the canteen again. This time he didn’t offer to let Aden take it, and Aden didn’t much mind. “Going to stay with us this time?”


He didn’t remember waking before, so Aden just made a noncommittal noise between sips of water. When he finished Blondie sat there for a moment, just staring again. “What’s your name?”


“Aden,” came out more of a croak than a word.


“Aden,” Blondie repeated, and something about his tone struck Aden as strange but he couldn’t put his finger on what. “I’m Ves.” He jerked his head towards the other bedroll. “That’s Eta.”


“Thanks.” Aden meant it for more than just the names, but left it at that. “So the Quiver recruits physickers, too?”


Ves opened his mouth to reply, but nothing more than a soft, “Ah,” came out. He looked away, assumed a carefully neutral smile. “I started down that path, but things happen. And here I am.”


“I suppose I’m lucky, then.”


“Careful is what you should be.” Ves looked back, frowned very faintly, and something about the look reminded Aden of Arild when scolding. “You should’ve stayed with us, and you wouldn’t be in this state.”


“Excuse me for living, then.” Aden rolled his head to look the other way, and thankfully Ves took that for the dismissal Aden meant.




Aden spent several days in and out, and he didn’t remember making it back home but woke to birdsong out the window and his own bed and Arild sitting in a comfy chair across the room, darning something. “Mam?”


She dropped her work on the floor and rushed over as Aden pushed himself up, the thick curls of her long salt-and-pepper hair bouncing as she moved. She sat down on the bed next to him, smoothed his now well unruly hair out of his face and kissed his forehead. “Welcome back, dear heart.”


“Did Senna make it back?”


“Yes.” The tiny wrinkles at the corners of Arild’s dark eyes crinkled up in a smile. “And she brought Keva with her.”


Aden elbowed a pillow up behind him, leaned back against it. “Damn bird showing me up.”


“Aden!” She didn’t lightly slap his arm like usual, and he smiled; he’d take this scolding, because mam had earned the right. “Are you hungry?”




“I’ll bring something up.” She stood, ran a hand across the blanket to smooth a wrinkle. “Nadine will want to talk to you.”


A few minutes after Arild left he heard Nadine’s heavy tread on the stairs, and he dreaded what might be coming. She wouldn’t punish him for heading out alone just yet, because she was firm, not cruel. There’d be more practice, which he wouldn’t object to; more chores, which he probably already did; but it would be justification to deny the thing he’d been asking for since his last birthday, when he was finally old enough for it.


Nadine was tall, and broad by elezen standards, still heavily muscled from her years adventuring and years on the farm but tempered now by age and a softer life. With her honey brown hair pulled back severely and the sweep of her ears matching the cut of her cheeks, she looked all harshness, metal and stone. She turned a disapproving look on him and his courage wavered.


“You know better,” she said, voice even.


“I do, Ma.”


She frowned, little more than a twitch of her lips, and Aden ducked his head. “Be earnest with me.”


He took a deep breath, focused on the plaid of the blanket rather than his disapproving ma. “I know how much Keva is worth. I thought if he were only a day or two out, I’d bring him in easy. He likes me.”


She let a little silence hang, which plucked at Aden’s nerves, then, “The Quivermen warned you.”


“They were right arseholes when they did.”


He thought that might make her smile, but if it did he couldn’t hear it in her voice. “Keva isn’t worth you, Aden.”


“I know, Ma.”


She walked over to the bed, sat down and took up his hand. Aden released a breath, and something else he hadn’t realized he’d been holding the entire time. With Nadine he was well and truly safe, and everything over. She stayed until Arild brought food up, gave her son a kiss on the forehead and her love a courtly kiss on the hand, and went back downstairs to deal with the barn.




But it wasn’t over. Aden watched from his window a couple of days later as the Quivermen stopped by, met Nadine at the fence and talked for a long time. She eventually turned and shouted back towards the house, and Arild joined her, wiping her hands on her skirt as she walked. They were out there nearly two hours chatting with Eta and Ves.


Even after the Quivermen left Nadine and Arild stayed out, talking about something rather animatedly. After a few minutes Aden decided it was an argument and went back to the book on his lap, an old and much-loved travelogue. It was the kind of book that put ideas and aspirations in a young child’s head, and he read it somewhat bitterly now–those aspirations had never died in him, but now they slipped further and further from his grasp.


He heard boots on the stairs, and put his book aside when Nadine knocked. “Yeah?”


She opened the door, leaned against the jamb with a hard set to her jaw, a fire in her eyes that frightened Aden just a little. “The Quivermen who rescued you stopped by.”




“They found the ixal you killed.”


Aden’s hands fisted into the blanket, and he looked out the window.


“They told me you weren’t armed when you left.”


“No.” He grit his teeth, uncertain where this was going. He hadn’t mentioned the fight, because it was better if his mothers thought he’d been captured helplessly or while fleeing than hearing he’d rushed headlong into danger and failed when confronted with it for the first time.


“They told me it looked like you tore a spear from one of them and killed him with it.”


“I did.” His throat grew tight, and just the memory of the fight quickened his pulse. She'd taught him how to disarm someone, but he didn't dare snap that she held any fault for that.


“And an axe stuck in one of the trees.”


“Yes.” The adrenaline returned in some measure, both at the memory of the threat and Nadine’s firm tone. He wasn’t prepared to justify himself and didn’t intend to.


He heard her shift away from the doorjamb, boots clicking against hardwood. “And then they told me it looked like you leapt into a tree to throw an archer down out of it.”


“I did.”


“There was blood on the tree limbs.” Aden cringed, thinking it an accusation. “After he had shot you?”


“Yes, in the shoulder.”


“You let him get distance on you again?”


Ah, now this made a little more sense, but that didn’t help his nerves. “No, I used him to break my fall.”


Nadine laughed, full throated and hearty, and Aden looked up, startled. She laughed so long she bent over double, hands on her knees, and when she finally recovered straightened up and asked, “How did they stop you?”


“One shield bashed me as I was finishing the archer. Into a tree. I hit my head.”


She smiled, something beautifully predatory in it, and Aden found himself responding tentatively.


“I suppose I’ll have reason to write letters to some old friends in Gridania soon. And we’ll want to get you something better than a stolen ixali spear. Something proper.”


Aden shouted, practically leapt up out of bed, but the cry of victory caught in his much-abused throat and turned into a cough. Nadine laughed again, but this time her smile was all pride.

Link to comment

Here's some more!





[align=center]Wandering Lost[/align]





Aden could count the number of times he’d been in Gridania previously on one hand, and then he’d seen little of the city. The first he did not remember, and the later had all been on farm business. Neither of his mothers had ever had time to show him around, and today he entered the city for only the second time without them.


He had an address, but following the streets and the numbers made little sense. The light across the city turned golden with late afternoon before he felt he’d walked the width and breadth of town, and while he tried to figure out where he’d gone wrong he found himself outside a large building at the end of a lonely stretch of road. His ears twitched, halfway flattened to the sides at the thought of asking.


He made it to the porch, chewing at his bottom lip and practicing in his head how he’d ask when the doors opened. A pair of Quivermen strode out in uniform, barely acknowledging him as they passed. Behind them came a small group of men and women he assumed were also Quivermen, all carrying bows, but in plainclothes. One or two nodded politely, and a miqo’te lady among them looked him up and down and smiled in a way that made him step back, ears flattening again.




He looked down off the porch at a dimly familiar voice, trying to place it. Then he scowled, one ear flicked to the side. “Oh. Oh no.”


Ves either ignored his reaction or didn’t notice. “What are you doing here?”


Aden didn’t want to say it, tried to keep the words down almost like he’d eaten something bad. It’s better, he supposed, than trying to ask a complete stranger. “I’m lost.”


Ves stared like it didn’t quite register, and the group in plainclothes paused as the woman in front turned to walk backwards in front of them. “Hey, Ves! You coming?”


“Later!” he shouted over his shoulder, and turned back to give Aden his full attention. “What are you in Gridania for?”


“To get lost, obviously.” Aden tilted his head to the side slightly, trying not to glare and trying to get some control over the agitated flick of his ears and twitch of his tail. “Little hard on the farm.”


Ves shifted where he stood, canting his hips slightly, made a soft, exasperated sound. “What are you looking for? I’ll help.”


He’d had quite enough of Ves’ help, however essential it had been at the time, but Aden didn’t say so. Stepping down off the porch he stopped on just the right stair to be the same height as Ves, pulled a folded envelope from his breast pocket and offered it over. “This address.”


“That’s residential,” Ves said, fingers worrying at the edge of the paper.




“I just expected you to be looking for a business is all. It's no wonder you couldn't find it, you have to take a ferry to get here. Relative?”


“No.” And it’s none of your damned business, but Aden could hear Arild scolding him from here for even thinking about being rude. “A friend of my mothers’.”


“Why didn’t they just send the letter normally?”


Aden nodded off down the road. “Your friends are leaving.”


Ves turned, looking back for a moment. One of them called out, but Aden didn’t catch it. Ves turned back scowling and blushing at whatever they’d said. “I’ll catch up after I show you where this is.”


And Aden let him. It meant he didn’t have to ask, and not a stranger, though he didn’t know Ves particularly well. The thought seemed strange now that he turned it over in his mind, that Ves had had his hands on Aden’s insides and slicked in his blood, saving his life in the most intimate way possible and yet Aden didn’t know him. He glanced up as they walked, but Ves’ pale blue eyes stayed on the road ahead.


Aden fell back a step when they reached the crowds, happier now that he had someone leading him around–even if it was Ves. He didn’t have to shoulder through mumbling apologies and pardons, because with the way Ves moved people politely stepped out of the way.


They passed through and on to the ferry in relative silence, and Aden gladly let Ves handle dealing with the ferry skipper. He realized now he'd passed this spot, and he could've asked.


“You didn’t answer my question,” Ves said once they'd departed for the quieter streets between neat rows of houses.


“I’ll be staying with her for a while.”


Ves made a strange sound, almost strangled, and Aden looked up again. Ves looked away immediately rather than meet his gaze. “Is something wrong?”


“No. I’m here to take up the lance.”


“You’re old enough for that?”


This time Aden didn’t disguise his annoyance, let his ears flick and the tip of his tail do what it will. “I have been for three quarters of a year now.”


“I had you pegged for younger.”


Aden hesitated, carefully considering what he was about to say. Ves had saved his life, after all, once as a warrior and again as a physicker. “I think,” he said, slowly, as if tasting his words to be sure they were right, “you’ve pegged me for a few things that might not be true.”


“I have.” Ves took a deep breath, led them over to the side of the street and stopped. He crossed his arms and turned to look down at Aden, something oddly stern about the draw of his lips and the set of his shoulders. “But I’m right about one thing. You’re brash, too inconsiderate of risk.”


“I’ll find my own way,” Aden spat, and started walking.


“This is the house.”


He stopped, tip of his tail curling in agitation and embarrassment, and he turned back to Ves’ smug ghost of a smile. Aden wanted that grin gone, and he didn’t care how, but he just said, “Thank you,” and walked up to the door.


Ves interposed himself between Aden and the stairs at the last moment, and Aden stopped a breath’s length from him, glared up. Ves’ expression softened, something very different in his eyes from before, but Aden didn’t know quite what it was.


“Listen,” Ves said, “I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot entirely. I don’t mean to belittle you. It’s just… you’re green. You’re young and new and I don’t want you to hurt yourself. Again. I mean to help.”


“And I mean to go through that door.” Aden pointed, though it looked more like jabbing a finger at Ves’ chest.


“I’m sorry.” At that Aden’s ears twitched, faced forward. “Just from the aftermath of it, you handled yourself well against those ixal. I won’t say I was wrong to doubt you at first, but I was wrong in the end.”


“Maybe.” Aden let his hand fall to the side, still glaring up.


Ves finally relaxed too, his rigid posture settling into something less military. “Can I make it up to you?”


Aden said nothing at first, trying to decide if Ves’ words meant more than they explicitly stated. In the end he couldn’t be sure, so he made a demand that seemed safe enough, but would likely get Ves out of his hair. “Tell me why you’re with the Quiver and not a healer.”


Ves stiffened again, took a half step back, and Aden bit his lip to keep from grinning. “Not today,” Ves said. But it wasn’t an outright no. “Tomorrow.”


“I’ll be in trials all day tomorrow with the lancers.”


“Then the day after.” Ves exhaled sharply, finally looked away, which Aden took as a small personal triumph. “There’s a cafe down the street, at that corner.” He pointed. “Meet me there in the morning, just after dawn. That should be before you have to be at the guild, and it’ll be before I have to report in.”


“Fine.” And finally Ves moved aside, letting Aden up the stairs.

Link to comment

Just a little establishment work here, for both characters. This one is largely unedited from the original post. Ves is on the server, but Aden is my main focus.





[align=center]Peace Over Pancakes[/align]





Five days passed, five days of instructors taking Aden through drills to determine what holes they needed to fill in before he could continue training. Nadine had taught him all of the things students struggled with most–reaction time, how to make the correct snap decisions, how to guess a feint from a real blow. But Nadine herself wasn’t a lancer, and in the specifics he was an utter novice. Aden wanted this, and badly enough that he set aside pride and self-assurance. The instructors turned out to be less patient than him, vexed by his ability but unfamiliarity, and quite often he’d find himself going through two or three different senior lancers in a day, each taking a turn trying to figure what to do.


In falling evening he left, sore and exhausted and frustrated, but ultimately pleased. He was here, and everything else would sort itself out eventually. He stared off into the brush as he walked, only half paying attention to where he went, watching fireflies rise up in the growing dark and listening keenly to the insect chorus warming up.




He stopped, for a second considered just continuing on, but again he remembered Arild’s tutting. Aden turned, but he did not smile or otherwise greet Ves.


Ves pulled himself from the shade of the guild hall where he’d been leaning, moved up to a more comfortable speaking distance. He crossed his arms as he went, gave a lopsided smile, arched one brow. “You stood me up.”


“What do you mean?”


“I was going to tell you a story over breakfast, only you weren’t there.”


“Oh.” Stood me up was unfamiliar phrasing, and Aden frowned at it slightly. “I didn’t realize you were serious.”


“Didn’t…?” Ves’ smile widened, and he leaned forward slightly as he gave a soft, short huff, almost like a laugh. “I do want to make it up to you. Everything I did was part of my job, but I don't want to make an enemy of you. Especially if you’re going to be in Gridania for a while.”


“Why does it matter what I think? Won’t you head back out into the wild soon?”


“Not for a while. I’m on a sort of leave.”


Damn!” And Aden stilled, ears flattening down, as he realized he’d spoken aloud.


The smile practically melted from Ves’ face, replaced with something carefully neutral, and he uncrossed his arms, let them fall to his sides. “If you want me gone so badly, I’ll do my best to avoid you.”


“No!” Aden sucked in a harsh breath, ears still flat. Ves had saved his life, and here he was, an ingrate. Arild would pitch over in a faint if she saw him. “That’s not–I’m sorry. I’ll meet you in the morning.”


He left before Ves could say anything else.





Aden had walked past the cafe a few times while trying to familiarize himself with the city, little wrought iron tables out front and the overhang of the roof heavy with greenery, trailing vines almost making a curtain from the street. Ves was waiting when he arrived, sitting at one of those tables. Aden seated himself, and they sat awkwardly for a while, neither one quite sure where to start.


Thankfully a server came by, a miqo’te woman, brought them tea. She leaned over while she took Aden’s order, a little too close for comfort but he remained in place politely. Her tail swished with a little flourish when she turned from the table. When he turned back to Ves Aden caught him grinning.




“Nothing.” Ves took a sip of tea, and Aden thought it might be a stalling tactic. “How’s the city so far?”


“Big. Confusing. But I know how to get from the house to the lancer’s guild, and that’s all I really need.”


“If that’s all you know don’t you think you’ll get bored?”


Aden shrugged. “I’m here for the lance. That’s it.”


Ves leaned back in his chair, sprawling out some with the mug of tea held in one hand. “Not impressed with the city, I take it.”


“Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful.” Aden picked up his own mug of tea and sniffed it, found it floral and earthy, blew on the surface a little. “There’s not enough space for all these people.”


Ves chuckled, and one of Aden’s ears flicked to the side briefly as he finally took a sip. “Not fond of crowds?”


Aden pursed his lips slightly. “It’s not that.”




“Aren’t we here to talk about you?”


Their food arrived, and neither said anything while the server placed plates. She drew a little uncomfortably close again, and Aden stared after her when she left.


Ves cleared his throat, and Aden turned back. “Well?” he asked, and started eating.


“Well,” Ves echoed. “My father is a healer of no small skill, and my mother a surgeon. They taught me.”


Then Ves tucked in to his breakfast, and after a long period of silence Aden realized he meant to leave it at that. “That’s it?”


“That’s it.”


“Then why are you with the Gods’ Quiver?”


He sighed, chased a wayward berry with his fork around the edge of a stack of hotcakes. “They kicked me out.”


“What?” Aden’s ear flicked again, a very different kind of annoyance.


“They have an estate out in the woods, and I grew up there for the most part. It’s where I learned bushcraft, and to hunt and shoot. And everything I know about healing. We had some neighbors across the vale, so distant you couldn’t see their house from ours.” Ves finally speared the berry, but did nothing with it. “I was good friends with their son, at least until my parents caught us fooling around. That’s the crux of why they turned me out.”


It made little sense to Aden, and he said as much. “Why would they care?”


“He’s duskwight.”


Aden swallowed, jittered his knife between the fingers of his left hand–something Arild always chastised him for at the table. He knew he was lucky, but it seemed every story he heard about other people’s families reinforced it. “You’re better off without them, then.”


“You think?” Ves started rearranging the food on his plate, making it look as though he’d eaten more than he had.


“If they care more about who you fancy than the fact that you’re happy, yes.” Aden said it with certain confidence, and Ves’ eyes widened a little. “Though I guess I should thank them for their bigotry; I wouldn’t be here without it.”


Ves smiled, and Aden followed suit, forgetting for a moment who sat across from him and only pleased he seemed to have made it a little better. “I suppose,” Ves said.


“When you’re back out that way, don’t tell Arild that story. She’d adopt you on the spot.”


This time Ves laughed, just a short sound, but surprised and honest. He looked up, grinning. “I don’t know, is she a good cook? I might tell her just for that.”


“Don’t you dare.” Aden twirled his knife between two fingers then jabbed it in Ves’ direction. “They’re my parents.”


The laugh returned, a little roll this time, and Ves settled back in his chair again. “Alright! Fine. You win.”

Link to comment

This post is an amalgam of pieces of a few other stories, bridging a relatively short gap of time. There's a certain key (and probably still obvious) element left out which is still canonical, but I'm de-emphasizing it for sake of streamlining the character. As always, if you're interested in the originals of these, you can find them here. Please pay attention to the content guide at that link if you choose to read them.





[align=center]In Stitches[/align]





After that Aden saw Ves daily, before and after training, and they traded stilted, awkward pleasantries. He supposed it only fair, that Ves had had some of Aden’s heart’s blood on his fingers, and now Aden had some of his too, if a less physical kind.


Finally Aden decided it was too strange to be coincidence that he saw Ves so often, and he thought to ask, “Are you stalking me?” The very tip of his tail twitched, a measured side-to-side in time with his step.


“No.” Ves grinned down at him, pointed down the street past the cafe they’d had breakfast at. “I live right down there, with a couple of other quivermen who didn’t care for the barracks. You just happen to be on my way home and my way out.”


That satisfied him, both comforted and discomfited by the thought that he was merely entertaining a paranoid fancy.





Four more days, and Aden came out of the guild to find Ves waiting to walk with him. Unusual, but it was becoming more common. Aden turned to wave when someone called out after him, then Ves fell in step as they left.


“What are you doing twelve days hence?” seemed a strange way to start a conversation, but then Ves was more than passing strange.


Aden shrugged. “What I do every day.”


“Eta’s oldest daughter is getting married.” Aden looked up at him, ears perking and swiveling forward. “I happen to have a spare invitation to bring a guest.”


One ear flicked to the side, but stayed, and his tail remained carefully still as he walked. After a long moment of silence Aden said, “I don’t know her very well,” voice quiet.


“I think it would make Eta happy to see you there, though. She knows you’re in town.”


Aden looked down, choosing to inspect the road rather than make sense of Ves’ expression. “I haven’t been to a bonding since I was a child. And all of my formal things are back home.”


“We can get you new ones.” Ves leaned down a little, trying to catch Aden’s peripheral vision. “I know a tailor. Pick a day, tell the guild you won’t be in. We’ll make a day of it.”


In the midst of another long silence Ves drew back to his full height, watching Aden. Aden’s tail twitched with each step, quick, thoughtful motions. But he didn’t look up. Ves sighed quietly, put his hands in his pockets


At the end of their walk Aden stopped, one foot on the front step of the house he stayed in. He turned, looking up at Ves, made eye contact for a moment. Then, “Three days from now. Mid-morn.”


Smiling broadly, Ves nodded. “I’ll be here.”





Visiting the tailor went thankfully without incident, even when Aden haltingly criticized the her rough drape--he was used to formal riding gear as the closest he got to real formalwear, but she obliged his perhaps ill-considered suggestions. For a few days Aden didn’t see Ves, wondered if perhaps he’d done or said something wrong. He didn’t think much of it, though he caught himself looking for glimpses of blond hair in a tight queue and the arc of a bow in crowds in the right places.


A week before the ceremony Ves reappeared, waiting outside the guild hall when Aden left. Aden took a couple of hesitant steps, but then they fell in together. “Been busy?”


“I had some things to sort out,” Ves said. He looked down, smiling softly, gave a little nod. “They’re sorted now.”


They made it halfway before Aden said, “Isn’t the Quiver’s headquarters clear across the city?”


“I know a shortcut.”


The explanation rolled off Ves’ tongue a little too easily, but Aden didn’t challenge him on it.

Link to comment

A little demonstration of the extent of Aden's people issues.




[align=center]Ceremony and Circumstance[/align]




The ceremony was beautiful, and without incident, and perhaps the wedded couple could ask for nothing more. For them the evening was a blissful dream.


Aden’s nightmare started almost immediately with the reception. Ves stepped off to greet some friends, and Aden meant to follow, save for the small hyur child who darted in between them. “You’re not a girl,” she said, quite seriously.


“Um, no?”


“Are your ears real?” One flicked to the side and her eyes narrowed. “Can I touch them?”


“No–” He clenched his teeth, swallowed so that a shout of surprise became a soft, strangled sound and reeled on whoever had just pulled his tail–another hyur child, identical. Aden turned to look between the two, and to keep his tail out of easy reach.


“Tasha! Talia! Leave that poor man alone!” A woman in a fine dress pushed her way through the gathering and grabbed the girl in the aisle, reached across to snatch the other’s wrist. “Sorry,” she smiled at him, tugged them off.


Aden carefully curled his tail up inside the jacket, held it there to save it from any further curiosity, and looked around for Ves, but he was lost in the gathering. Aden easily spied Eta, but she was with her daughter and Aden didn’t want to intrude. He knew no one else. After a while of awkwardly standing in place, trying to decide if he should wait or go looking for Ves, he decided to do neither and wandered.


Music started up again, and a few people filtered out of the crowds to dance. Someone shoved a glass of wine at Aden, “Here, haven’t touched it,” on their way out to the floor. He sniffed carefully before deciding to go for it, found the wine deeply sweet and more like berries than grapes.


He slowly drained the glass while watching the dancers, paying more attention to their footwork and wondering how different it really was from footwork for fighting. Very, he decided; in combat it was about throwing your weight around, putting force behind a blow but maintaining stability.


“Hey.” Aden resisted the urge to turn his ears aside at the soft, rich voice, forced them to perk instead (but he kept his tail tucked in his coat) and turned. A young roegadyn woman, the blue of her dress vivid against seafoam skin, short hair done up in little wavelets. She held up another glass. “You looked like you could use a refill.”


“Thank you,” sounded less certain than Aden would’ve liked, and he took it mostly to be polite. A different wine by the smell, and he decided to at least try it.


She smiled warmly, put one hand to her hip. “So, who’s your date?”


“Date? I don’t–”


“Don’t have one?” She finished, and he nodded. “Great! Let’s dance!” She grabbed him by the wrist, and Aden barely managed to get the glass down on a flat surface in time.


At first he stumbled, scowled because he never stumbled, and after a false start he kept up, falling back on the patterns he’d watched the dancers go through. Even kissing-close to a stranger Aden kept his cool, took the first dance as a challenge.


The first dance. By the second it sunk in, how close he was–too close? Too far? And he’d been placing his left foot so on the last beat, was that really correct? Was he making enough eye contact? She winked, made a smooching motion with her lips, and Aden suddenly wanted to be anywhere else. Someone approached them to cut in, and he managed to hold back his sigh of relief–relief that died when they took his hand instead of hers.


He managed, somehow, to get through without embarrassing himself. The second lady handed him off to an elezen man, tall and lithe, who smiled more gently than the dancers before him. “You know,” the stranger said, “I can tell you’re just following along.”


Aden almost stopped, opened his mouth to reply but made no sound.


“It’s fine,” the stranger said, “let me show you.” The stranger whispered him through the steps of the dance, and by the end he felt less foolish, at least. They danced a second song, and by some miracle of fortitude Aden kept himself from trembling.


The song ended, and the man kissed his hand. “Until next time.”


Aden blushed, tried to stammer something back while the stranger laughed cheerily and handed him off to a beautiful elezen girl with honey blond hair. She giggled like tinkling bells, reeled him around, and said, “You’ve got the loveliest eyes.”


They traded him around the dancefloor, his only reprieve when someone brought his dancing partner of the moment wine, because they always remembered him, too. So long as he was drinking they’d wait, and he could steel himself for another dance. He lost track of time, lost track of who he had and hadn’t danced with. Finally someone cut in for his partner, not him, and he managed to dart off the dancefloor before anyone else appeared.




By the time Ves went looking for Aden someone had him out on the dancefloor, and Ves left it at that, satisfied Aden was occupied and having a good time. He spent the evening chatting with old friends, retired quivermen, Eta’s family. Eventually they all got enough wine in them that Eta went up to the band and whispered in someone’s ear, while her husband went out onto the dancefloor and cleared out the couples, making room for a proper reel.


Roundabout midnight he went looking for Aden, and when he couldn’t find the young man entertained the thought that perhaps he’d wandered off to be alone with someone. It seemed unlikely, with Aden’s apparent obliviousness to the attention of others.


He found Aden outside, sitting on the balustrade looking out over the water. A bottle of wine sat on top of the pillar to one side, and an empty glass next to him on the other. As he neared Aden tensed, ears flattening straight back, and he turned.


Aden made a sound like all the air left him at once, and his entire posture changed, his ears relaxed. He wobbled a little, too, but caught himself on the pillar.


“A whole bottle?” Ves pointed at the wine.


Reaching up, Aden grabbed the bottle and offered it to him. “The lady serving said I looked like I could use it.”


Ves took it, though he didn’t drink, noted the lightness. “You alright?”


Aden made another strange sound, like laughing but too weak. “No.” He shifted around fully, feet on the stone but still sitting. “Can we leave?”


“Yes.” Ves offered him a hand up, an Aden took it, staggered but recovered quickly. “What happened?” He set the wine aside and left it.


“People.” Aden slouched as he walked, took the steps in particular with great care.


“I thought you said it wasn’t crowds.”


“It isn’t.” Aden shook his head, paused to put one hand against the balustrade and rubbed his face with the other. “I’m not good with new people.”


“You looked like you were enjoying yourself.”


Aden said nothing, but he didn’t need to. His posture and halting movements and the blankness of his face spoke volumes. They traveled in silence for a time, Ves trying to decide what, if anything, he could do.

Link to comment

To avoid a hell of a lot of awkward rewriting to make it work, here's a summary for what transpires between the last post and this one: Aden's mothers come to visit for his birthday, and give him Keva with the understanding he'll bring the bird back at least yearly for siring. He and Ves have a falling out right before Ves heads back out into the field. All of this sets this story at roughly four months(+) after Aden arrived in Gridania.





[align=center]The Second Storm[/align]





It rained for three days straight, and Ves and Eta took shelter in one of the outlying watch spires. As archers they couldn’t do much in such heavy rain, and they were far enough afield from their usual patrol route that there seemed little point in making rounds until the rain cleared up enough to travel back.


The fourth day didn’t so much as dawn as it broke with a crack of thunder, and the rain intensified. Another patrol straggled into the spire, waterlogged and miserable. “Passed a unit of Wailers two days gone,” one of them said as she toweled the water out of her hair. “Crazy buggers, they were–still out there tracking some Ixal even in this deluge. We’ll either see them soon enough or they’ll get washed away!”


Just past noon the commanding officer for the spire approached Eta and Ves. “You two have been here a couple days,” he said, “rested up and not soaked to the bone. I just received word our wayward Wailers are engaged with the Ixal nearby, and they could use some support. It’s a patrol from closer in near Gridania, and they’ve got trainees with them.” The officer shook his head, scowling. “Don’t ask me why they pursued so far--there must’ve been some imminent threat. Or their officer's half-mad, I'd wager either with Wailers.”


“On it!” Eta popped up from her seat immediately, went to retrieve her bow–the inaction got to her, while Ves was content to have some peace and quiet. He followed anyway, knowing the request wasn’t a request at all.


So they ended up back out in the rain again, quickly soaked from collars to stockings. They had a good direction and some landmarks to go on, though in the rain and thunder they got far closer than they’d normally engage from before they saw anyone.


The Wailers had their Ixal pinned near a bridge–or perhaps the other way around, Eta and Ves weren’t quite sure. The creek beneath rolled muddy and swollen well above the banks, lapping at the bottom of the bridge in the choppiest moments. Ves crept out along a spur of rock jutting high over the water, looking for good vantage. The Wailers seemed reluctant to engage the Ixal on the bridge, and rightly so from the way it shook under the water–but the Ixal displayed no such hesitation, taking the safety of the bridge to make ranged shots at the Wailers. The Wailers broke and started retreating just as one of the Ixal called fire in their midst.


Save one, who charged forward onto the bridge, throwing themself low to slide under a defensive swing from an Ixali axe. It planted them smack in the middle of the group of Ixal, and before most of the birdmen overcame their surprise they had the axe wielder down with a couple of efficient, short moves with the pike. They slammed the butt of the pike into the caster’s face on the way around to parry another blow, rocking the caster back.


“Godsdamnit Aden! Disengage!”


Ves’ attention snapped first to the Wailer who’d shouted from the bank, then back to the one in the midst of the Ixali. In the rain and the Wailer armor it was hard to tell, but they were certainly miqo’te and certainly all the right coloration. He’d never seen Aden spar or fight before, but it fit so well: vicious, efficient, fearless, still raw with inexperience. But it was too early…


No, he realized, it wasn’t. He’d been gone a while, and Aden had likely been on patrol in the safer areas before by now. Safer didn’t mean entirely out of danger, though, and if the unit had been tracking these Ixal from somewhere else… yes. It was probably that Aden.


Ves raised his bow and nocked an arrow, and Eta did the same from beside him. He looked for patterns in Aden’s movement, afraid to hit him instead. Eta didn’t hesitate, and her first arrow lodged in an Ixali throat. After that Ves stopped paying so much mind, thinking merely to thin their numbers before Aden ran out of luck.


They started up a chorus of squawking, sharp voices cutting through the din of rain and rushing water. They closed ranks and started pushing Aden towards their end of the bridge. Then they suddenly broke ranks, revealing the caster in their midst completing a spell. The bridge shuddered and cracked, frost crawling up from the submerged mooring, and collapsed into the rushing water.


Aden and the caster both went with it, submerged immediately amidst shattered wood and bobbing ice. The ixali caster resurfaced struggling, went down again briefly.


Aden didn’t, and Ves’ breath caught in his chest, his heart skipped too many beats–then there he was, struggling to stay above the surface of the roiling water, a bright line of blood welling across his temple. He went down again, and the second time he surfaced gasping Ves started running, heedless of the slick mud and slippery stone. If he could keep up, and the currents were favorable–


Aden went down twice more, once for a long time, but he resurfaced in a place that might be arm’s reach from the bank. “Eta!”


She’d kept pace–of course she had, they’d been working together so long–and as Ves hit the water she grabbed the back of his leathers, landed on her stomach in the mud with an awful squelching sound. Ves’ hands slipped at first, but the touch stole some of Aden’s momentum, and on the second grab he got a good, firm grip around Aden’s arm. The pike slipped away and bobbed on downstream. Eta did most of the pulling until Ves’ feet hit mud again, and then they slipped and fought as the creekside crumbled beneath them. Through it all Aden remained distressingly limp in Ves’ grasp, eyes closed.


“Ves,” Eta’s voice took a sharp edge of alarm, “the boy ain’t breathin’.”


They finally hit firmer ground and Ves put Aden down–he wasn’t breathing. Ves went through the motions of trying to force the water out without thinking about it, just automatic reaction. It worked, though, and after a moment Aden started coughing and trying to suck in desperate, wet gasps of air. Ves rolled him onto his side and took some of his weight against one arm to make it easier.


The Wailers caught up to them, and talked to Eta over Ves’ head. “We need to move, in case their ranged fighters find vantage, or they find another way to cross.”


“Agreed. Someone can pick this back up when the weather clears. Ves.” He looked up just in time to see Eta gesture at him, a flick of her index and middle fingers. “Come on. We need some distance.”


As soon as the coughing grew unproductive Ves hauled Aden up, mindful of the bloody tatters of his leathers around one knee, and stood. Between harsh, weak coughs and gasps Aden’s eyelids fluttered open, and he peered up with narrowed eyes.


“Ves,” he croaked.




That seemed to satisfy him, because he didn’t try to say anything else on the way back to the spire.

Link to comment

This was the first story written from start to finish with Aden as he is actually played in-game in mind, so you'll notice a shift in tone. This is roughly six months after he arrived in Gridania, and a couple of days after he met Flynt, Ritsu, Roger, and Kiri.










Weaving twixt great boulders it reaches, finally, that grand precipice and thrusts forth into open air, where the mist hangs crystalline ‘round the rushing water. I took a moment to sight my companions still catching up before I ventured out to that edge, peering over to see the second lip of the fall, thunderous torrent pounding at the stone so intensely it had begun in some age past to form a small pool. And yet I wanted to see the fall’s final fate, to look over the true edge. There peeked from one side a spur of rock, worn smooth on both sides by the stream’s inexorable journey, and here, I hoped, I might catch my glimpse.


I signaled my intent to Aretta, that the others knowing what I meant to do might not follow, then touched down lightly on that slick spur, the swift water of the fall licking up at my feet like flames might from a fire. And leaning forward I could see that the fall took its great plunge from here, a dizzying distance, so far the bulk of the rush turned to that crystalline mist before reaching the valley floor below. It called to me, that great height, that expanse of open air, and for a moment I stood rapt, captivated between desire and duty. For that dizzying plunge, surrounded by mist, the distant pines rushing up, and the roar of the wind against the roar of the falls–how often had I made so grand a leap in peace? And when would I ever have the opportunity again, in such enchanting environs? Yet I doubted my ability to make the return trip, for I saw no purchase on the cliff below–indeed, it seemed to recede under the thunderous weight of the falls. It would be days of bushwhacking to find my way back–





“Hey!” Aden hastily looked up at the shout, torn from the immersive sensory cocoon of his reading, all too aware now that he perched rather on a stool meant for reaching higher shelves. The elderly lalafell from the counter leaned in at the end of the row, glaring over her half-moon spectacles. “Buy something or get out! This isn’t a charity.”


He stared at her for a moment, a little surprised at the vitriol in her tone, and still caught up in the scene of the travelogue. But he rose in a sort of daze, stepping down off the stool, book still in hand. She glared still, looking down at the book, and even after she returned to her desk kept a careful eye on him, as if she expected him to bolt with it.


Instead he put it down on her counter, finally rousing from his daze, suddenly feeling very sheepish for getting so rapt, and out in the open, no less. “Sorry,” he said, and he started fishing for the gil to buy the tattered book from her. “I just get caught up in these things.”


She still eyed him warily, but she picked up the book and thumbed through it, fanning the pages far too fast to read. He put his money down on the counter, and she peered up over her glasses, silent. Finally she put the book down and said, “If this is the sort of thing you fancy, I may have something of particular interest to you. Follow me.” She hopped down from the high stool that brought her to counter height, and started off across the store, only looking back once to see if he followed. And Aden did, after a moment of surprise at the sudden change in her demeanor.


She trotted through the store, making a show of inspecting shelves. She came across a stack someone had carelessly left on the floor, and tutted at it. “These go up top,” she said. “Would you mind?”


It was a perfectly reasonable request, and Aden easily reached the highest shelves with one of the little stools–intended clearly more for someone his height than for the lalafell proprietor. He didn’t ask about the system she used for keeping order, for it seemed rather obvious, and when he finished she clucked her tongue, said nothing and moved on.


She did that twice again, noticing books out of place well above her reach, and when asked Aden obliged. He grew suspicious, though; everything seemed so well in order, save where someone of greater height had carelessly misplaced a book, and he wondered why it would take her so long.


She led him up the stairs, and here repeated her show. He grew weary of it, realizing she only did this to extract the free labor from him, but he bit his tongue–he’d already done something apparently impolite in the store and he wouldn’t repeat it. He simply wouldn’t come back after this.


“Perhaps,” she muttered to herself, “I left them in storage?” She tapped her chin with a finger, then headed over to a door. Opening it revealed a thin, rickety staircase, which she trotted up without hesitation. Aden followed, swallowing an exasperated sigh.


They came out into an open, airy attic, the steep pitch of the roof plain above them. Here sat several crates, and some mysterious objects covered in drop cloth. She tottered over to one and whisked the cloth off, revealing a stack of trunks half again her height. She deftly climbed up onto one, then threw the sturdy latches on the top trunk. “Here we are,” she said. Inside lay several books, bound in soft brown leather, silver gilt on the spine just beginning to fade. “The full accounting of Lord Estellaint’s expedition. Illustrated, no less. The plates in these were hand-colored by the bard who accompanied him.”


After a soft, indistinct sound of surprise Aden said, “They’re handwritten, then?” He’d seen the work referenced many times as an inspiration, but it was from before the press.


“Oh yes,” she said, and she looked up at him now with a soft smile, seeming to bask in his unabashed delight. “These belonged to my daughter–her search for them got me into this business, trading rare books at first. Bless her dear, sweet soul.”


“I’m sorry,” Aden said, turning his attention from the books to the proprietor. “What happened to her?”


Her little face suddenly screwed up into a scowl, and she drew back a little. “Nothing! Bloodiest hells, you say one sweet thing and everyone thinks your girl’s deceased–she read a damn book and got a fool idea in her head and now she’s a bloody successful exploratory botanist, that’s what happened! What happened–” She scoffed, tossing her head slightly.


“I’m sorry!” Aden repeated, though her demeanor amused him now more than anything else.


“Anyway,” she said, crossing her arms, “I couldn’t possibly part with these. They’re too dear, and my sweet girl would kill me. But I could be persuaded to let them out of the store, one at a time, in return for a couple of bells of help a day, in the evening, from a strapping young lad.” She jerked her chin up at him. “And there would be the more traditional compensation as well.”


Aden laughed softly, the ridiculousness of this entire situation suddenly hitting him–she’d gone from eyeing him as a thief to offering him a job in the span of half a bell. He considered it–the work would be easy after everything else he did in a day now, though it left very little room for time to himself. Still, it might be good, quiet work for the end of the day. “Well I’ll certainly give it a try,” he said.


“Excellent!” she said. “I’ll see you tomorrow–though I won’t part with a book until then, I hope you’ll understand.”


“So long as you’ll part with the one I’m paying for.”


“Oh!” She hopped down off the trunk, suddenly bustling for the door. “Heavens, I just left everything sitting on the counter didn’t I? This getting old thing is for the birds!”

Link to comment

Aden has serious abandonment issues. They're somewhat justified. A little bit of insight into why he is the way he is.





[align=center]Unfading Memory[/align]





He wakes from a nightmare of being chased, of snapping jaws and a sound like all the water in the world is falling at once. His pillow is sodden, nose stuffy, and it’s cold. He’s kicked the blankets off in his haste to escape the phantom in his dreams. “Da,” he calls out, voice cracking.


After a long moment in the dark, everything still but his heart for fear of the beast pulling itself from his dreams and circling, hovering, finding him, he realizes he hears no noise but the wind outside the windows. “Da,” he risks, louder.


But no one comes. After an eternity he crawls to the head of the bed, burying himself behind the pillows.


He wonders if he should’ve questioned the day before. Da normally sends him to Gran’s when he must leave for a while, but yesterday–yesterday was different. Yesterday Da held him longer than usual, and cried when he said goodbye–which is not so strange, Aden thinks, because he cries all the time, why shouldn’t Da once in a while–and they went not to Gran’s. Instead Da sent him with Tav, a soldier like Da, and they walked for a very long time.


In the morning it’s Tav who comes, and he sees Aden huddled behind the pillows and sits down on the edge of the bed, just out of arm’s reach. He’s smiling, softly, trying to be comforting, but before he can speak Aden blurts out, “Where’s Da?”


Tav’s smile falters, his jaw tensing, and he says nothing for far too long.


And suddenly Aden understands. He does not try to contain his tears.





Aden is seven before he’s certain Ma and Mam aren’t going to send him away. At least, he knows they won’t, in his head. It’s a different thing to learn in his heart, something he never rightly does.





He is eight and in the barn when he realizes a pitchfork might pass for a spear. Aden remembers the shining wonder of metal his father carried, remembers slipping on Da’s helmet and running through the house, ambushing his father at the writing desk and pushing the helmet up just long enough to deliver his ultimatum of, “No monsters in the city!”


Da looked up, eyes wide, and then he rolled his head with a growl rolling under and between his words, “Oh, a valiant warrior! You shall make such a delicious,” he leaned forward, beginning to push his chair back, and smacked his lips, “snack. Come to my waiting jaws before I tear down your city walls!”


“No!” And with a single thrust of his imaginary spear Aden slays the beast. His father crumples to the floor dramatically, with a convincing, terrifying roar before he goes still. Laughing delightedly, Aden jumps in celebration of his victory. But his father remains still, and after a moment Aden pushes the helmet up again. “Da?” His father does not so much as twitch, so Aden steps over and pokes him in the arm.


And suddenly Da is a flurry of motion, snatching Aden up and tickling him. The helmet falls off, and rolls to the side, but Aden has utterly forgotten it in his laughter.


In his mind the pitchfork is his father’s spear, which he somehow still clearly remembers, and Aden spends a good bell slaying hay bales before Nadine comes out to fetch him for dinner and grabs him by the arm, hard. She doesn’t hurt, though, she’s just strong. And upset, he can tell. “Where did you get the idea for this?”


“Just stories, Ma.”


She scowls, but doesn’t question it, and then her expression softens. “It’s dangerous. Don’t jump from so high with the pitchfork.”





He is sixteen before he works up the courage to say anything, and it’s as he’s helping Arild with dishes.


“Mam, I think I want to be a lancer.”


There’s a pause that he only catches because he’s grown up under her, a hesitation only a heartbeat long where the rag in her hand stills against a plate that says everything he needs to know. “Who would run the farm,” she asks, “when we’re too old?”


“I could come back.”


“You still have a couple of years, I think, before you’re ready. I‘ll talk to Naddy about it.”


Neither of them mention it again unless he does.





He is nineteen, sitting alone in his room at Lasalle’s and oiling the leather straps on his borrowed armor. It’s past midnight, so he works by lamplight, and he will be out again in only a handful of bells for training. He is sore, bruised and nicked from training and from sparring with anyone who will indulge him, and from his couple of bells spent shifting books around. Volume two is untouched on the desk near the door. And he is tired.


Yet he can’t stop himself from playing through the day again in his mind, from rerunning every detail of every fight or drill, recalling every criticism great and small. Is it enough?


Aden wonders how long he has before Flynt turns him out, too, and what he will do when he must finally admit defeat in chasing his father’s ghost.

Link to comment
  • 4 weeks later...

Nadine writes an angry letter. Arild still manages to get the last word. Written roughly a week ago.


[align=center]A Formal Request[/align]



(Delivered with a seal that, on close inspection, appears to have been deftly popped and re-applied–implying whoever opened the letter had access to the same seal and wax. The letter inside is written with a sharp, very precise script)


Ser Knoltros,


I should like to preface this letter by saying I have no personal quarrel with you. This matter is solely restricted to what I discuss herein, and should it be resolved reasonably we shall have no further reason to be at odds. In addition this is likely a matter of great personal import for the party in question, and so I would appreciate your discretion in this.


You have had my son under your tutelage for some weeks now, and I am grateful to you for taking him on. However, in light of information in his most recent communication with us, and in light of information I have received from relatives, I must insist that you release him from his training. Return him to the Lancers’ Guild, or better yet drive him from this madness altogether. He is a gentle soul, and his place is not on the battlefield. Less so at the front lines of a war he cannot understand and has no stake in.


I feel that with this request I owe you some explanation. Aden is not our son by birth, but the son of a very dear friend who had arranged with us to care for her children should the worst happen. We have long suspected his father, who is otherwise unknown to us, hailed from Ishgard, and was likely at the very least a soldier in their ceaseless war. While I have received no confirmation of this, the simple knowledge of the turn his training has taken most recently gives me cause to protest. He is chasing the same phantom, whether it is true or not.


Again I must implore you, let him go. He is all that remains of our cherished sister-in-arms, and the foundation upon which we have striven to build our legacy in peace.




Nadine Dellebecque


(Folded in behind the letter, in a flowing, beautiful script)


Disregard my dearheart’s letter–she means well, only means to protect, but she must be made to learn that Aden is his own man, and grown besides, and she cannot protect him forever. Nor should she try–it is unfair to him to be coddled, he has never needed it before.


I only ask that you take care of him for as long as he remains under your tutelage. He is more precious to us than anything in the world, and he deserves the best possible chance at whatever he means to do in life. Should you have any trouble with him please don’t hesitate to contact me, and I will advise you as best as I am able. He has turned out a bit odd, despite our best efforts.




P.S. In my snooping around I heard your wife is expecting, congratulations! I hope you don’t mind if I send something along eventually.

Link to comment

[align=center](The following letter appears to be written in a sloppy, almost childish hand)[/align]



Lady Nadine,


I appreciate your honesty and while I also seek no quarrel with you, I fear we find ourselves at an impasse. I will start by admitting that I cannot yet understand the issues between you and Aden, as I never knew the care of loving parents (which from the little I have heard and can glean, you and Lady Arild appear to be). I mention this because it informs my opinions on the matter; Aden is his own man and as such is free to live as he so chooses. On top of this, I must disagree on the subject of the boy's 'gentle soul' for while he wears that mask well, I've seen the fire that exists behind it. I see it in him because I see it in myself, and even if I were to stop teaching him and send him away (which I have no intent to do) the boy would seek tutelage and the knowledge of his father elsewhere. 


I can see from the means in which you speak of the Dragonsong War that you at the least deplore it like all wars should be, and at most think it a pointless exercise. Out of respect for you (both in general and as Aden's mother) I'll not argue this point with you, but I can assure you I am not some suicidal zealot who looks to recruit whomever he can to die for his cause. I teach the boy because I see much of myself in him, and having to have experienced the horrors of the war at it's worst I can promise you it is my goal to make sure he does not make the same mistakes as I (as well as allowing him to make the ones he needs to make on his own). 


The boy has a devil in him. I've seen him smile in the face of dangers that would frighten a normal man and I've seen him dive into the fray of battle where most would give pause or retreat. Whether you wish to admit it or not, the boy was born to fight, and he was born to follow this path. You think he is chasing a phantom, and maybe he is... But were you to ask me he chases purpose. I give you my word I will not force the boy down any path, and do my best to provide him advice that is agnostic of my own personal opinions.


I can understand why you are so protective of him, and applaud you for raising such a impressive man. I remind you though, he is now a man and we all need to be aware of this fact.  I give you both my word that I will let no harm come to Aden as long as I draw breath, and should I think anything with him be outside my ability to control, I will contact you again and make you aware. 


- Flynt Knoltros, 

Huntmaster of the Wandering Tonberry


P.S. Thank you for your well wishes, I hope that I can raise a child half as well as you both seem to have with Aden. 

Link to comment

An expanded moment from in-game RP, as it was inappropriate to write a long emote at the time.









Aden stepped to the edge, newly disturbed snow falling away over the cliffside, stared down into the collapse and past the dragon carcass to the ground below. He knew now Flynt had meant his explanation not merely to be instructive, but preparatory. He muttered quietly so only Flynt might hear, “This is one of those fly before you can crawl things, isn’t it?” And he grinned as Flynt turned to regard him, a strange, giddy sort of anticipation welling up inside.


“It is,” Flynt answered, voice equally quiet and matching Aden’s perhaps slightly maddened grin with his own,, confident. Then, “Here,” he said, and pressed something into Aden’s hand, “for luck.”


Then he leapt, and when Flynt went over the edge the others followed, by magic or other means. Aden looked down at the bauble in his hand, a small, purplish stone, then tucked it securely in under the collar of his armor and turned back to the edge.


“It is bending the aether to your will,” he recalled Flynt’s words but moments before, “but unlike the magic of others. A dragoon does not have faith he will make the jump–he has confidence. He knows.”

Aden closed his eyes, took a deep breath–but it was not breath, it was the concept of air as much as air itself, it was lightness suffusing him. Every tiny shift and tension in him stilled in a moment of perfect balance. Then he jumped.


He did not hesitate because he had been born to this, meant for it from the moment he first drew breath. In the bright, weightless instant at the height of the leap he knew peace, a great silence in the soul as he held that air inside. In that moment of equilibrium, of suspension, all else fell away. No nerves, no worry that he seemed foolish or simple and inexperienced, no fear that the others might know him for the child he still often felt he was. Only that gentle cradling in the brief escape of gravity, only the now.


And then speed. A laugh tore itself from his throat as he went hurtling towards the ground, some of that held air escaping him in purest exaltation. He opened his eyes to see the ground rushing up and felt no fear. He had not merely been born to this, he had in every moment been living for it, his whole life leading to this one instant of grand discovery. It was every time he’d spurred a bird to full speed, tearing wild and foolish through the Twelveswood. It was the rush of storm winds around him, the electricity of one of the Shroud’s frequent storms inside him. It was the white-hot adrenaline surge of his first real fight, and the moment of whooping joy when Nadine had agreed to let him go. And it was yet more, too much for any of these things to compare.


It was birthright, reclaiming what his father had closed off from him in casting him off years ago, and it was surging up beyond the choking, restrictive fear of his adoptive mothers, past the constant insistence that he was gentle, and kind, and meant for something quiet. It was in him, it always had been, and he had known, no matter how hard others had tried to shelter him.


He landed in a puff of snow, taking a knee to consume some of his momentum, and rose smoothly, unscathed, for a moment yet heedless of the others around him, and grinning proudly. He felt breathless, senses rendered keen by adrenaline, yet Flynt’s smile of approval seemed to be the only thing that mattered. He had listened some weeks ago, after all. The first person who had seemed willing to do so.


Then a voice spoke from the shadows beneath the cliffs and that proud smile on Flynt’s face died before he turned away.

Link to comment
  • 1 month later...

Following some in-game RP, in which Aden killed a person for the first time.



Eight Missed Sunrises



“You’ll see why.” And Flynt turned away, a cool sort of certainty in his eyes.


By the gods, he did, when he already had his own spear buried in the gut of a heretic. The other landed a slash while Aden was staring horrified when newly-scaled flesh ripped past the third assailant’s robes. It was one thing to be told, and another entirely to see.


He only slipped for that one staccato heartbeat, because even before he took up a lance Nadine had spent years hardwiring response into him. Somewhere in the dim, distant part of his brain that still worked and wasn’t just motion and reaction, Aden wondered if all aevis had once been men and women. If the ones he’d torn the throats from not a moon prior had been. And how much of them remained.


Only when all three, two men and one former-man lay at their feet, did Aden pause again, staring down at the rapidly cooling bodies, at the blood on the head of his lance.

“The sort of folks beyond reasoning, then,” he recalled saying before they’d turned the corner.


“Is something wrong?”


“No. It’s just…” He shook his head and looked up, hoped he seemed convincing. “We’ll talk about it when people aren’t trying to gut us.”


Flynt regarded him for a moment with that sort of measuring gaze he so often did, as if he could weigh the value of Aden’s spirit, of his worthiness to pursue this path, with his eyes alone. “Good man,” he concluded, and they moved on.


All he could do under that gaze was pray his side of the scale not come up wanting.




That night Aden slept only in fits and starts, kept awake once the adrenaline wore off by the pain of his broken arm. He’d been lucky, when the ricochet hit the canon rather than him, that he’d been fast enough to duck and avoid the return of the blast from behind the gun. Lucky indeed, to walk away with only a broken arm, with a hitch in his breath, from the canon slamming back into him.


“I may not recall it well or fondly, but it’s where I’m from.”


And yet the men he’d killed but a few bells prior, four more he’d added on by the end, had more claim to it than he. What did he serve, but himself? But the thought that he would be something more than what those who’d raised him conspired for? He didn’t know enough about Ishgard to guess who they might’ve been, where they’d come from, but he imagined they’d all had families, and hopes, and lives they’d meant to live before they ended up where they were.


And what drove them to it? Were they willing? Flynt had spoken of enthrallment, after all. The thought made him nauseous, that they might not be–it seemed so much easier to put reason to it if he thought they had known what they were doing and came to the outpost with murderous intent. He closed his eyes to try and steady himself.


But there in the dark were the bodies against the dark stone floor, the blood on the head of his lance.


The rest of the night he didn’t dare stray from somewhere safe to be sick, save to grab for a blanket when the room grew chill as the halls of the outpost had been. He kept his arm so very, very still, even as he curled around the violent ache of his bruised ribs–because retching did them no favors. And in the earliest hours of the morning, before he heard movement in the lodge, he felt the sweat on his skin beading to ice, wondered when the sweltering heat of day would finally arrive to convince him he wasn’t still in the outpost.


He must’ve slept at some point, because he woke late, curled so far around himself that his forehead rested against his knees, his eyelids tacky and his breath hitching, even in his sleep careful to avoid drawing too deep a breath. He uncurled himself and rose, but couldn’t stand up straight until the heat of a shower eased his joints apart. After, he managed a makeshift sling one-handed, from the shreds of the lining of the jacket he’d worn while fighting an escaped monster some weeks prior. He’d only just found a new one, and looking between the remains of the old one and the new one, barely worn, some strange sense of loss overwhelmed him. It quickly faded into a numb silence.


When Aden returned to himself the chronometer by his bed had ticked off another hour. He struggled into a shirt, settled the sling and threw his jacket over one shoulder. As an afterthought he awkwardly tucked his most recent assigned reading under his good arm, and headed down to the infirmary to wait.




He saw them again when he closed his eyes. It left Aden lying awake in the dark for bells, trying to reason with himself. Finally in the quiet hours of the night the most traitorous thought came: I was told to.


It seemed a weak, cold comfort at first, but when he closed his eyes this time he saw Flynt standing in the hall of the outpost, measuring his entire worth in a glance. Aden rolled over in bed, shoved his face into the pillow. He wouldn’t place that on Flynt. He’d seen more than enough horror in his mentor’s eyes the night he agreed to train Aden as a dragoon, and he wouldn’t add to that burden. Before he’d guessed, but he realized now what that might be. What Flynt had really meant when he said he was killing a part of Aden by training him.


Rather than let himself dwell on it Aden hauled himself out of bed, went into the front room and snatched his spear out of the rack by the door. He stood there for a moment in the dark, spear in hand and staring at the mat beneath his feet. The heretics had been there to kill Ishgardian soldiers and take the outpost, and on seeing Aden and Flynt had not hesitated to attack. Ultimately, why didn’t matter. There was no why. He would find no meaning in killing, no matter how long he looked for it.


He closed his eyes, and saw them there, dying on the cold stone. Then he forced himself to imagine them in the moments before as they came at him. Aden moved through the fight once more, matching each thrust and parry, hesitating when the man transformed.


Then he did it again, this time drilling into himself you must not waver–not for anything. Because the next time it would be someone else, someone he cared for, taking the blow while his attention turned. And so there could not be a next time for hesitation. The room seemed to grow cold as he did, the same chill in the air from the outpost. Though he knew it would be no match for facing the real thing again, Aden repeated the exercise until the transformations he’d seen no longer merited a response beyond the categorization of another threat.


Just before dawn he managed an hour of exhausted sleep, when his body was too tired to fight any longer, and his mind too dull to keep him awake.


He did it again the next night, and the night after, for the entire following week, until he made the right choices, the merciful choices. Because a carefully-wielded lance could pierce to the most vital parts of a man, and if he could not give their deaths meaning he could at least give them a quick, clean death.

Link to comment

Aden is a dumbass. That's my only explanation.



A Call for Help



Ves grumbled at the soft beeping sound and rolled over, shoving his face into his pillow. But it persisted, and inevitably he rolled back over, snatched the linkpearl off the bedside table and put it on. "What.“


"I need your help.”


He was upright, out of bed and groping for his pants in the dark before he had time to utter the words, “Aden? What’s wrong?”


A moment of silence followed, Ves’ heart seizing in his chest, and he heard wind in the background. Then, “…How do you flirt?”


He fell back on the bed with a disgusted noise, pants still half-on. "What time is it?“


"Second bell.”


“You realize I’m leaving for patrol in the morning?”


“Then explain quickly.”


Ves rubbed his hands over his face with another exasperated groan, suddenly exhausted. "Tell me why first.“


Aden explained. He kept his story short, concise, but Ves could feel the ire dripping from his voice, the intense frustration. As he finished Ves grabbed one of his pillows and threw it against the wall, wishing he had Aden’s head in the way instead. "That’s a horrible reason!”


“I don’t care.” And from his tone Ves knew he would brook no argument.


“I can’t explain this over linkpearl.”




Ves growled softly. "You’re going to be terrible at it.“ Only the soft static of wind replied, and after a long moment of that Ves took a deep breath, said, "Just… don’t act the way you act with new people. Act the way you do when they’ve known you for a moon.”


Again only distant wind met him, and he ventured, “Aden?”


“I’ll try. Thanks. Be safe on patrol.”


The link cut off, and Ves sighed, driving his head back against the bed in frustration.

Link to comment
  • 2 months later...

Aden was made to look inside himself during his first dragoon trial, and what he saw deepened the indelible mark on his heart.



Darker Hours



The strain across all the muscles in his arm was as good as the ache after a long day of training, the moment his knuckles met flesh more gratifying than any blow he’d ever struck–and the sight of blood pouring out of his own mouth, of this mirror-self, was satisfying.


His mirror-self’s head whipped to the side, and blood dribbled down across his lips, and he stayed like that for a second, “Of course you would….” but only a second before he turned back, gaze neutral, confident. “Because you’re only afraid of one thing, aren’t you?” He was, for just a moment, the perfect image of a stoic, blood oozing from his mouth and yet impassive, unaffected. “Not knowing who you really are.”


Then his mirror-self threw his head back and laughed, hollow and ringing through the cathedral like some dark, lone bell. Aden flinched, ears pinning back, as that sound struck some resonance inside him.


“Pathetic.” Still his mirror-self spoke with no vitriol, only confidence, the unwavering surety of stone. “I’m the man you should be. The man your father would have raised.” His mirror-self finally took a step forward, drawing so close Aden could all but taste the blood in the air. “Not this…” and for the first time his face showed a hint of emotion, wrinkled in disdain as he gestured at Aden with one hand, “shell of a man.” Closer still, close enough that Aden could see fine detail in this mirror of his own eyes. “You were meant for more…. But you’re nothing now, and you will continue to be nothing… To have no purpose.”


And finally his mirror-self closed the distance, leaning up to whisper into Aden’s ear, breath icy cold as the air on that day not so long ago in the fallen keep, “To not truly exist….”


His heart seized, breath would not come, and for an instant the whole world stopped. Nothing moved, no sound issue, not the little motes of dust in the light across the hall nor his lover’s image choking out his last breath behind him. Only this mirror-self moved, a cold, confident smile as he drew away, slid his helmet back on. His footsteps echoed through the hall.


But this time Aden’s breath did not return, his heart did not start up again in a panicked, staccato beat, and he found no courage to shout back his denial.




He woke instead heaving for breath, legs entrapped, and when he hauled himself out of the tangling net slammed down to cold hardwood. It at least jolted him to proper awareness, and he fumbled with the sheets. Finally free of them he sat there on the floor for a moment, staring into the darkness.


His heart spoke those words, too, in the darkest, loneliest moments. He’d been discarded, and he would be so again one day by those he loved most. He had only the hope that he could improve, and someday perhaps be worthy enough to keep around.


But I will be better–what kind of promise was that? Hollow. One he could not fulfill when he could barely keep up with his comrades, when he could not figure out what to be to his lover, honest or stoic. And because he could not decide who or how to be, he did not even have himself.


Only one thing had not betrayed him, could not discard him. Aden stood, searched for the padding he kept under his armor, went for his lance.


He wouldn’t permit himself peace in oblivion, so he would find it in that weightless moment at the apex of a jump, and again and again until he knew it so well he could call it to himself in the darkness.

Link to comment
  • 1 month later...

Aden's latest trial is a bold prospect, but one he's uniquely suited for.




[align=center]Into the Mists[/align]





He's come armed with as little as he thinks he needs--the thinnest reference guide that covers the area's flora, notebooks and charcoals and a scant palette of colored chalks. They are not the weapons of a would-be dragoon, though he carries those as well, can hardly be parted from them any more. But he isn't sitting at the airship landing getting a quick and dirty crash course in calibrating aetherometers to become a dragoon--he's here in the audacious hope that Dragoon will become in part what he's doing here.


The first day he discovers the aetherometers need extra padding to survive the satchel slamming against his armor at the end of a jump. But at least when his commander laughs and berates her soldiers, equal parts amused and horrified at the damage, he is not the only one to make the mistake, nor the worst. His only needs the glass replaced.


The first night he spends alone, as expected--there have been no sneers or jeers, only stark, cold professionalism. It's better than he expected, though he came armed against the inevitable, too--I stood at the walls of Ishgard with House Caileur, where were you?


The second night he does not sleep, enraptured by the stars, how close they seem, how vibrant, how many--at midnight he hears dragons roaring in the distance, he remembers searing heat across his skin and the bone-deep caress of claws across his back, the full-body vibration and skull-splitting shriek of his armor tearing like wet paper.


He makes a poor landing in the rain the next day, nearly twists his ankle but for a reeling jerk of his tail righting him, and he wonders why they still claim elezen are better at this. It's a fleeting thought; he has more important things to do, like picking and preserving plant samples to send back to a botanist. He'll have to make the sketches from memory, somewhere dry.





Aden returns home to the Lodge two days of every week, and it's not enough time, it's too much time--he feels as though he's living in two worlds, one solid and real and his; the other some strange, ethereal fantasy where he's become one of the explorers he's spent his whole life reading about. It's not quite the same as hunting, or adventuring, but a close cousin, and it's something he hadn't considered within the realm of possibility to pursue. And yet here he is, the thing he knows in his heart he must become colliding with something once beyond hope.





He left this aetherometer tucked in the corner of a ruin, hidden from sight by a scraggly plant pushing up through cobblestones, and he finds it precisely where he left it--but about three fulms higher in the air between the paws of a moogle.


Aden stills, as if he'd just walked up upon a fawn in the woods--and the moogle stills, too, save for the wiggle of its pom. For a long moment they stare at each other, or he thinks they do, it's hard to tell with the way the moogle squints at him.


"Can I have that back?" He isn't sure what language the moogles here speak, if it will understand him at all.


"Back?" The moogle shifts an ilm or two in the air, pom wiggling indignantly. "I found it here! Abandoned! Unwanted! It's salvage!"


"I left it here not two bells ago, to gather readings."


"Readings?" The moogle turns it over to look at the back, holds it up to the pale light of the sun through the clouds. "Reading what? Fortunes?"


"It's an aetherometer," Aden says, voice slow and measured as he pushes down his annoyance. "For telling changes in ambient aether levels."


"Ah, then you've passed my test! Of course I knew what this was for, I see them all the time!" The moogle shakes the aetherometer at him in gesture, and Aden jerks forward, barely restraining himself as the tiny paw seems on the verge of dropping it.


"Can I have it back, then?"


"No!" The moogle clutches it to his chest, approximating a sneer. "I found it, and--and I need it!"


Aden settles his hands behind his back, locking them together and shifting his stance--it helps him move to a different headspace, helps him keep his voice carefully neutral. "You have readings you need to take?"




"One aetherometer won't be much use." Aden doesn't need to bite back a smile, tone remaining calm. "You need several in a grid pattern."


"Well, fortunately they're everywhere! It won't take me long at all to have enough!" The moogle bounces midair, gesturing violently with the aetherometer again.


"You've clearly got something very important to do with them--why don't you gather up as many as you need and I'll help you lay them back out where you want them?"


If possible the moogle's squint intensifies, and it leans forward slightly. "Why would you do that? Don't you want them?"


"You sound like you've got big ideas--" he clicks of his tongue, inclines his head, "--and I'm tired of listening to small-minded folk. So let's see what you've got."


"Oh, oh I know what that's like! Alright!" the moogle shouts, bouncing again. "Wait here, then!" And it flutters off as fast as it can.


He waits, pondering over the wisdom of this gamble--not wise at all, but it's not quite trying to trick a sylph, at least. The sun is beginning to set, and he needs to hurry if he's going to get his hour of sketching the night sky in. Soon enough the moogle returns, balancing a stack of aetherometers, and Aden counts them with a quick glance--exactly as many as he put out.


The moogle huffs and puffs with effort, tiny arms straining and the stack teetering precariously, but it manages and puts them down on the ground in front of him. "There." It seems to flop in mid air, wiping at its brow. "That should be enough!"


"I'll take it from here," Aden says, and he begins his usual routine of wrapping them and settling them carefully into his satchel.


After a moment the moogle recovers itself, though still breathless, and hovers over him. "What are you doing?"


"Wrapping them up. They're fragile."


"Oh." It wrings its little paws, still intent on what he's doing with its ill-gotten goods. "Why?"


"I'm going to carry them for you."




He finishes and re-slings the bag over his shoulder, steps to the edge of the island to make the first jump--they don't trust him with a chocobo yet, despite his insistence they can contact his mentor for confirmation of his claimed experience--and the moogle does its best to keep up. It puffs with the effort, pom drooping, and is so worn out that it doesn't think to ask until they near the outpost--"H-hey! Where are we going?"


"I'm turning these in."


Then the moogle finds some inner well of incensed, betrayed strength, and zooms in front of him, shaking angrily. "You--those are mine! You said you'd help! Liar! Thief!"


Aden lashes out and grabs the moogle by the pom, eliciting a shriek as he tugs it close. His expression doesn't change, his tone stays utterly neutral, almost conversational. "Do you want to try saying that again?"


"I-i-i--was trying to--to teach you a lesson! Yes, a lesson! About the impermanence of possessions! You shouldn't be so attached to your things!" The next kupo it utters sounds more like a gulp.


"They're not mine," Aden says, "I'm merely responsible for them. I'm going to give them away to someone else, who doesn't own them, but has right to take care of them."


"Uh-uh-sharing?" When he shakes his head the moogle wriggles in frustration. "Alright! It was shiny and I wanted it!"


Aden lets go, brushes past the moogle and continues on his way, ignoring it calling after him.

Link to comment




[align=center]Into the Mists, II[/align]





That last long, fine stroke wasn't quite right, the leaves springing up from the crux of plant and stone twisting in some unseen breeze even sheltered by ruins as they were. Aden nearly gave up--he wasn't good at drawing, just passable, and the cuttings were probably enough. Something occurred to him, ears twitching, and he looked over at the aetherometer in the other corner of the room, then carefully brought it over such that he could see both at once.


"Here he is, here he is!" His ears flattened, and he looked over his shoulder in time to see a flash of white fur darting out of the door to the ruins. "Come on, kupo!"


Then a shadow covered the door, an all too familiar whoosh of air as all the dust outside kicked up. A dragon settled into the courtyard, awkwardly fitting its bulk between the walls, and lowered its head to the doorway. While Aden reached for his spear it huffed, carefully extricated its head from the doorway and looked aside, grumbling.


"What do you mean, doesn't look like much? Trust me, he's the meanest, baddest one I've met!" The moogle dipped into the doorway, waving his tiny paws wildly. "He can leap halfway from Zenith to Moghome in a single bound! I heard the Chief owes him money! He wrestled Darkscale! He nearly ripped my pom off!"


While the moogle huffed for breath, drifting back out of the doorway, the dragon turned its attention back to him--Aden averted his eyes, looking at the great scalekin's throat.


"What here rings true, son of man?"


Aden flinched as the sound washed over him, voice booming and bright in some archaic form of the language. "Nothing," he answered. The dragon had him cornered, the roof of this building fully intact. All it had to do was breathe.


"No!" The moogle wriggled in anger, a strange mockery of a dance. "He did almost rip my pom off!"


But even as he thought that, this dragon killing him would be so easy, he thought too of his first step--it would need to open its mouth to breathe. There would be a soft portion at the back of the palate, and he trusted his arm to stay true unto death--a quick, clean thrust up. If he was quick enough, perhaps he'd only lose his primary arm. Aden tensed, the metal haft of his spear squeaking at the pass of a gauntleted finger.


"Nothing." It made a sound something like a laugh. "Indeed! But you reek of the fallen shade's brood--you have known their fire, have you not? Are you not a hunter of dragons?"

Aden hesitated, needing a moment to unclench his jaw. "I am a hunter," he answered, "and I have fought dragons."


It grumbled straightening as much as it could, wings shifting. "You are one of the dragon knights, at least. You do the same strange tasks." He didn't correct the dragon. "I have need of your services. I will pay you as is custom of your people."


Aden straightened suddenly, hand still gripping his spear and eyes still down, but the tip of his tail twitched erratically. "You're--hiring me?"



"Um... for what?"


The dragon grumbled, head turning again. "One of my broodlings has taken up amongst those yet your enemy. I wish her returned to me."


The absurdity fully set in at the dragon's request, and Aden thought about pinching himself, but decided against making any sudden or strange movements. "Did she, uh, leave on her own?"


"Indeed. But she knows not what she does. Ours shall be the way of peace--not to chase weak snatches of warsongs past."


Swallowing thickly, Aden said, "I'm not sure I can, uh, talk a dragon down."


That laugh again, a great, whooping huff, and Aden thought he finally detected some vaguely feminine hint in the dragon's voice. "I wish not for you to talk, slayer of wyrms! I wish for you to kill them! Make a ruin of her companions as they have earned!"


"And if she fights me for it?"


The dragon reared back and roared, wings straining against the walls of the ruined courtyard. It shouted something in dragonspeak, then lowered it's head again. "Then leave her where she falls. I will mourn her as I knew her, not as what she became."

Again he hesitated, turning over the request in his mind--fight an indeterminate number of hostile dragons in the hopes it would convince her daughter to return. It was folly no matter what he did, and certain death for either himself or the broodling.


"I'll have to ask my commander for leave to do this," he answered, and hoped it was non-committal yet polite enough by dragon standards.


"Then I shall await you here on the morrow, dragon knight. I shall bring a sample of what I mean to pay you with as well, that you may know my word is true."


The dragon carefully squeezed its way back up out of the ruins, almost dainty in its effort to avoid damaging them further, and flew off, the moogle rushing behind. "Hey! Oh, kupo, what about my finder's fee?"

Link to comment
  • 2 months later...

She did not come the next morning as promised, but another, a dragon her size snout to tail but sleek and sinuous in body, scales an iridescent ceruleum blue, clutching what seemed to be an old tapestry by the corners.


"You, knight?" Its voice tripped on the words, by turns too guttural and too sibilant.


"Yes," Aden answered, because if this dragon's command of the language was poor he didn't think he could explain what apprentice meant.


It dropped the worn scrap of cloth, gems rolling out at his feet, some cracked or worn and each looking as if they'd been pried loose from settings. "Landlords' leavings," it said, and after a long grumble managed, "payment... when done."


He stared, dumbfounded. If even half of the gems were real or salvageable it was more money than he'd ever received for a mark, for that matter more than he'd ever seen at once. He quickly composed himself, as the money meant little; it was already spoken for.

Link to comment

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...