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Molann an obair an fear - "The work praises the man."

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Moraby Drydocks

The Hull of the Victory




The idle chatter flowed around Mikalaos like so much water, a constant murmur of voices and accents. Laughter punctuated a bawdy joke here or there, but for the most part the workers spoke of home. Hopes and dreams. Children to be proud of, brothers you couldn't bring anywhere fine. Girls pretty like sunsets but cold as ice.


She appreciated the noise, as it broke the monotony of the asp over the wood. Occasionally they'd pick at her for her opinion on a matter, and she'd raise her voice, but the little knot of carpenters and smiths understood her well enough by now. She didn't say much, that one, but she was always good for a listen.


Mikalaos took a moment to straighten her back, arms stretched in front of her to loosen any kinks. The plank would be set shortly, ready to be nailed beside its brethren along the massive hull of the ship. Her hands had seen their fair share of wood and metal currently nestled into the Victory, and it was a nice respite from the forge. The breeze was more often sea air than overripe fish, far better than the stifling, heated wind of bellows.


"She 'ad yellow 'air!" Darnell boasted between rings of his hammer. "All th' way down 'er back. It rolled in - in - c'mon girl, 'elp a man out."


Mikalaos smiled and looked over to the crusty ol' sea dogs, who as a man had turned their attention from the storyteller to the Elezen. "Cascades of gold," she supplied helpfully.


"Oi!" the man sang out triumphantly. "Cascades 'f gold, 'er 'air was! Coverin' 'er bosom like silk, it did."


She rolled her eyes as the men made appreciative noises, but grinned when one of Darnell's coworkers made an off-color remark that might blister the paint off a wagon. Thus ensued the usual good-natured squabbling, like clockwork, before someone else's voiced piped in and returned the conversation to its appropriate subject matter.


Mikalaos blew hair from her face, then leaned back over her work, running the asp along the plank to produce curls of gleaming wood. A few more snikts of the tool, and the plank was as smooth-faced as a newborn babe. She set the tool aside and lifted the plank up, escorting it to a pile of waiting lumber.


"-- round like apples!" cut through the calls of seabirds, and the boisterous response only served to preamble Mikalaos rolling her eyes again. It was going to be one of those afternoons.







[align=center]Fare thee well, my lovely Dinah,[/align]

[align=center]a thousand times adieu.[/align]

[align=center]We are bound away from the Holy Ground[/align]

[align=center]and the girls we love so true.[/align]

[align=center]We'll sail the salt seas over [/align]

[align=center]and we'll return once more,[/align]

[align=center]And still I live in hope to see[/align]

[align=center]the Holy Ground once more.[/align]

[align=center]You're the girl that I adore,[/align]

[align=center]And still I live in hope to see[/align]

[align=center]the Holy Ground once more.[/align]



[align=center]Now when we're out a-sailing[/align]

[align=center]and you are far behind[/align]

[align=center]Fine letters will I write to you[/align]

[align=center]with the secrets of my mind,[/align]

[align=center]The secrets of my mind, my girl,[/align]

[align=center]you're the girl that I adore,[/align]

[align=center]And still I live in hope to see[/align]

[align=center]the Holy Ground once more.[/align]

[align=center]You're the girl that I adore,[/align]

[align=center]And still I live in hope to see[/align]

[align=center]the Holy Ground once more.[/align]


[align=center]Oh now the storm is raging[/align]

[align=center]and we are far from shore;[/align]

[align=center]The poor old ship she's sinking fast[/align]

[align=center]and the riggings they are tore.[/align]

[align=center]The night is dark and dreary, [/align]

[align=center]we can scarcely see the moon,[/align]

[align=center]But still I live in hope to see[/align]

[align=center]the Holy Ground once more.[/align]

[align=center]You're the girl that I adore,[/align]

[align=center]And still I live in hope to see[/align]

[align=center]the Holy Ground once more.[/align]


[align=center]It's now the storm is over[/align]

[align=center]and we are safe on shore[/align]

[align=center]We'll drink a toast to the Holy Ground[/align]

[align=center]and the girls that we adore.[/align]

[align=center]We'll drink strong ale and porter[/align]

[align=center]and we'll make the taproom roar,[/align]

[align=center]And when our money is all spent[/align]

[align=center]we'll go to sea once more.[/align]

[align=center]You're the girl that I adore,[/align]

[align=center]And still I live in hope to see[/align]

[align=center]the Holy Ground once more.[/align]

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Heuloix Estate

Some Years Pre-Calamity

Early Morning



The sun had not yet reached its zenith, yet the practice yard was alive with metallic crashes and wooden thuds. It was not a large yard, but had room enough to accommodate a ring with enough room for two adults to spar in. The stone walls of the manor made for excellent acoustics, doubling the music of warfare of blows and harsh words.


Olivie sat against the south wall, feet propped on the stable boy's stool and arms crossed loosely about her midsection. The entirety of her attention was focused on the gangling youth training with the weapons master on the hard earth of the yard. They sparred with dulled swords and wooden shields, and Olivie knew from experience that even though the swords couldn't cut, they bruised very well.


She toyed with the end of her long braid, wincing when the younger man took a solid blow to the side, but nodded with encouragement as he shifted his guard and blocked a second strike.


"He should have never let that through," a too-dignified voice huffed from the side. The corner of Olivie's mouth twitched involuntarily and she kept her eyes forward.


"He is fighting with his less-dominant arm." She defended in a light tone. "I think his recovery more than made up for the slight."


Alfonse, resplendent in his dragoon armor and supercilious expression sniffed quietly. He crossed his arms over his chest and stared down his nose at the younger elezen sparring.


His gaze shifted to Olivie, who had yet acknowledged her older brother with so much as a glance. "He's all elbows and knees."


"So were you at his age," she came back automatically.


"We're not talking about me," Alfonse replied stiffly. "We're talking about Martiallais."


With a sigh, Olivie finally graced her brother with her attention. Her smile was quick and mischievous. "No, we're not, but we could be. Like the time you went rump-first into the chocobo dung in the stable. I swear you smelled for a week."


Color tinged Alfonse's dark cheeks, and his expression went steely. He refused to reply to that blight on his past, and Olivie smiled gaily at his discomfort. The chain on her armor jingled faintly as she shifted.


"For someone working on his off-hand with awkward equipment, I think he's doing fine. Especially for his age. Once he grows into himself, he'll be excellent. A little polish, a little work, and he'll make you look bad."


Alfonse gave his sister a very unfriendly look, which she ignored blithely. "You have another proposal waiting. Father recommends you respond to this one faster than the last. -I- think you should accept it, though it's much too good for you."


His piece said, he turned on a heel and marched away, elegantly-coiffed hair shining in the sunlight and accenting his armor just so. Olivie watched him leave, a derisive sniff at his parting shot her only response. She turned blue eyes back to her younger brother, who not only successfully blocked a hit, but went in for a counter. He did better every day; she was confident he'd make an excellent fighter once he got used to his own body.


"Shoulders straight!" she called out, watching Martiallais flinch with shock. She had tried her best to keep her audience hidden from him, as he tended to do better when he didn't think he had to impress anyone. 


He shot Olivie a sheepish look from across the yard, but she merely waved her hands in a shooing motion, directing him to keep his focus on his practice.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Naldiq & Vymelli's Smithy

Upper Limsa Lominsa

Early Morning




Papataru gave the cuirass a critical look through his spectacles, bottle-brush mustache twitching back and forth. Mikalaos looked on in poorly contained amusement, arms crossed as she watched the lalafell examine her work.


Some dragoon needed fancy armor, and of course he came to N&V for the work. Nevermind they were backed up. Nevermind they normally would not have taken the order on at all, with all the rest of the work the smithy had on its plate. But when Ishgardian nobility insisted, it was hard to turn away the gil.


H'naanza, the beleaguered armor guildmaster had asked the lalafell and the elezen to personally oversee the construction of this armor, with the help of a few of the newer smiths. Mikalaos had worked with Papataru before, and they got along fairly well. His engravings and decorative work were second to none.


"It'll do," Papataru huffed, standing up straight with his hands on his hips. For him, such words were high praise, and Mika took the compliment with a nod.


He hopped down from the stool to look up at the dark-skinned elezen. "I'll have the boy take measurements and get a rough piece mocked up. This is the last piece so it should all be done in two days' time." A smile broke through under the mustache, and Mika nodded again.


She moved to pick up the steel cuirass, brushing off a bit of moisture on it that had dropped from Papataru's sweaty brow. The wasn't even midday and it was sweltering out; a day at the forge would be torture.


"I'll make sure Elsaa and Y'ana have the greaves done. I think they said it was just the leather straps that had to be finished." Mika brushed her fringe away from her eyes, and turned to squint at the La Noscean horizon. "Two days sounds about right for the rest of everything. Finishing touches, that sort of thing."


"Excellent!" Papataru stated, clapping his little hands together. "Lunch at midday?"


"Of course," she replied, giving him a smile. The lalafell nodded once, then bustled off to start work on the decorative bronze that would highlight the cuirass. 


Mikalaos turned and passed the cuirass off to another lalafell, fresh-faced Momotaga, who was apprenticed under Papataru. He thanked her and scurried off in the wake of his master, words lost to the rhythmic hammering on anvils outside of the shop.


She pulled a strip of parchment from her pocket and read the words over again; now that the dragoon's armor was nigh-completed, she could get to work on some of the guild's many backorders.


Mikalaos took hammer to anvil and steadily turned an ingot of iron into the base of a sword, the morning disappearing under the clangs and ringing. The day only got hotter, and the sweaty work of smithing gave way to the even-more-sweaty work of trying not to overexert yourself.


Taking a moment to quaff some water and wipe her face, Mikalaos saw Papataru in the guild, exchanging words with a hyur woman wearing resplendent attire. She couldn't hear what they were saying to one another, but Mika could see the woman's face, and it was contorted in anger. She was gesticulating with every other word, resistant to the calming motions the lalafell was making. When the woman made to push the little smith, Mika broke away from her station to come to her friend's aid.


"-- supposed to be done three days ago, three days ago!" The woman was shouting. "This shop was touted highly, but I think it was all blather. You people cannot seem to complete a simple order in the appropriate time!"


"Madam I assure you --" Papataru started, but stopped when the elezen's shadow fell across them both. The hyur turned her fury towards Mikalaos and gave her a disdainful sniff.


"Unless you're a master here, go away." She said. Mika didn't budge.


"My good woman, let me assure you that we've been working on your husband's armor non-stop. We're terribly busy here and with the rush order he placed, we had to find the hands to complete it. It took longer than we expected." Papataru said; Mikalaos got the impression from his exhausted tone he had said some iteration of this before.


"At this rate, we shouldn't even pay." The woman spat, nose turned high to the air. "An exorbitant fee, might I add."


"You'll pay," Mika said flatly, arms crossing over her chest.


"I will not!" the woman responded, clearly agitated that she was being countermanded. 


"You'll pay, or we'll melt it all down to a lump and present that to your husband." Mikalaos ground out in a low tone. "And we'll tell him why he doesn't have his new armor."


The hyur took a moment, clearly scandalized but unsure of what to say. Mika merely loomed over her, face set in a cold look. Years of metalcrafting had grown the elezen's musculature, and she was already very tall, even for her species. With her hair in her eyes and her voice slightly this shade of menacing, she was a much different opponent from a middle-aged lalafell.


"Fine," she huffed. Delicate pale hands dipped into her purse to pull out the rest of the gil necessary for the payment. "Two days, he'll come back and he'd better have his armor!"


Papataru took the gil in his hands and made several soothing statements to reassure the woman of their work. He escorted her out the door, taking a moment to deposit the money with the clerk. Once the hyur woman was gone, he came bustling back to Mikalaos, muttering angrily to himself.


"The sheer nerve of her, the very cheek!" He expounded, fist smacking into his hip. "I thought the husband was bad, but his wife was worse!"


"I could always go after her, pitch her over the rails." Mika commented helpfully.


Papataru laughed and shook his head, removing his spectacles to wipe them on the hem of his shirt. "Now, now, it's not worth you getting into trouble. No, we'll just finish the work and say goodbye and hopefully never see either of those two again."


"The Twelve willing," Mikalaos added. Calm restored, she knelt to put an arm around the diminutive smith, hoisting him onto her shoulder. "Come, Master Papataru, the Bismarck awaits!"


"What? Why, you can't possibly be able to afford --" the lalafell sputtered.


"I can and I will," she smiled. "I think after that woman, we both need a stiff drink."


"Amen to that," he replied fervently.

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  • 9 months later...

Heuloix Estate


Early Morning


Olivie scrunched her face up and stared at the infant, swaddled as he was against his mother's bosom. She dropped back to her feet and huffed.


"Well, I suppose he's all right. What's his name?"


"Martiallais," her mother replied warmly.


"Oh. That's a big name for a little person."


"He won't always be little."


She chewed on the end of her braid, and patiently her mother reached over to extract the plait from her daughter's teeth. The room was open and airy, sunlight just peeking over the rooftops of the city. Hours of arduous labor had lead to a perfect baby boy. Whatever that meant. As far as Olivie was concerned, he had pointed ears and big bright eyes.


"Mama?" she asked after a prolonged silence.


"Yes, little bird?"


"Do you think Mar-Mar will be my best friend? Alfonse told me he didn't want to be my best friend, he said I was being silly." Her expression was crestfallen, blue eyes trained on her feet.


Her mother laughed softly and stroked her hair. "Let him grow up a little bit, and then we'll see, all right?"


"Yes, mama."




"-- and this is an orange!" She produced the fruit happily, setting it in front of her brother. The toddler looked skeptical, eyes darting between it and his sister.


"Here, let me show you." Olivie scooted over and picked up the fruit. "You have to peel the skin off first, then you can eat it. It's always a pain to start, but once you get going peeling it is easy."


The girl took her time, tongue between her teeth as she painstakingly attacked the rind. Her brother giggled and propped his hands on her knee, watching with great interest. "And they good?" he asked.


"Very good."




"A whole lot." She gestured, making a big space between her hands. The boy nodded his understanding and went back to watching her peel. Soon the fruit was devoid of rind, and Olivie took her time breaking it into segments. She handed the first one to the boy.


"Try it," she encouraged.


The boy put the piece of fruit in his mouth and chewed, a thoughtful expression on his small face. Olivie helped herself to a segment and watched, smiling. Martiallais swallowed, then laughed and clapped his hands.


"Very! More?"




"You need to keep your arms up, like Master Devonne said."


"I'm tired."


"I know, but you have to fight tired. Monsters don't care if you're tired or not."


"You're mean," the boy pouted.


Olivie leaned in, stealing a glance at her older brother, who was deep in conversation with the weaponsmaster. "No, Alfy's mean. I want you to be a great warrior!"


Martiallais smothered a laugh, then straightened his face and dutifully lifted his wooden shield and sword. The girl circled him, correcting his stance with minor adjustments.




"-- if it's so important, you marry the duke's son!"


"Don't be so petulant. I have to inherit father's estate. You need to marry well."


"I don't want to get married! I want to be a dragoon, an adventurer! I want to see the world, not -- not get chained down to some ugly man."


"I don't see what his appearance matters."


"Ugh!" Olivie threw her hands up, turning to pick up her spear.


"Where are you going?" Alfonse demanded. "He's downstairs right now."


"Then he can stay there!" She huffed, turning about to brush past her brother. He caught her by the arm and looked down at her. She in turn scowled up at him.


"It's your duty, Olivie."


"To Halone with my 'duty'!" She jerked her arm free and stormed past him.




She was pale-faced and shaking, tears threatening but never spilling. 


"You should've accepted his offer," Alfonse had said coldly. Martiallais had raised his voice to protest, but a gesture from their father silenced him. 


The Lord Antonlioux had taken his last slight from the girl; his offer was sound. No reasonable woman would continuously spurn him. She had to be a witch. He had the influence and position to level those charges, and not have them be countermanded. Her father's hands were tied, just as hers were.


Lead between two knights, they marched silently along the path to Witchdrop, where her ultimate fate would be decided. It didn't matter what she said, the nobleman had a counter to everything she came up with. His will would not be denied, and her pride would not allow her to cave to his wishes. She would be no man's wife, no trophy to be dressed up and displayed and never taken seriously.


Why had Mar come along? Why did he have to see her brought so low? She wanted to tell him to leave, to go and not look back, but every time she'd opened her mouth to speak she'd been reprimanded. The second time she'd tried, the knight to her left had struck her, his gauntlet opening a gash across her face. She felt so humiliated and powerless, it made her sick to her stomach. 


Olivie may as well accept her fate. She would fall, broken at the bottom of the precipice, left for the scavengers. Just another heretic caught in Ishgard's justice. She wouldn't see what Mar would become, the great warrior he was meant to be. Only he look distraught -- their father had been resigned, Alfonse accepting. Her baby brother.


The tears spilled down, trailing down her face to mix with the blood seeping from the wound on her face. She wanted to turn and tell him how much she cared, for him not to miss her when she was gone. She was willing to risk being struck again if it meant she could have last words with her brother.


"Mar --"


The knight opened his mouth to yell at her again, but only made a startled, choked noise as an arrow whistled into his eye. There was a moment's pause within the group, a sense of disbelief, before hell broke loose.


The mercenaries fell upon them, the element of surprise in their favor. The fight was messy, sword striking shield, lances drawing blood. Olivie dropped to the ground and scrambled out of the way, narrowly avoiding armored boots. 


The mercenaries were losing their advantage, and Olivie saw her chance. She bashed her bound fists into the knee of one of her captors, who went down with a yell. She sprung to her feet, frantically looking for her brother. He was engaged with one of the mercenaries, obviously out-classing the ruffian. He would be fine, he was more than a match for these people.


"Martiallais!" she called. He dispatched his foe and spun to look at her.


"Live!" She shouted, voice cracking, before she turned and ran. Her only option was to run; after the mercenaries were handled, they would just continue to the drop. She could never return home; by now her fate had made the rounds. No one would harbor her. There was nothing left for her in Ishgard


So she ran, stumbling, eyes blinded by tears, as she left the fight -- and the last person she loved -- behind.




Present Day --



Mikalaos stared at Papataru's handwriting for what seemed like the hundredth time. Wyrnzoen at the marauder's guild was expecting her, and she felt some trepidation. It didn't take her by surprise, not a bit, but it was change. She'd gotten used to her regime, her life as a smith. She liked her life as it was.


But Papataru and H'naanza had taken her aside the day before and spoke plainly. Her work was suffering. Her attention often drifted. "You have lost your spark," H'naanza had said.


"You were meant for more than this," Papataru continued. "We're happy with our lot in life, but you -- you're meant to do more. Greater things than hammering metal all day. We don't want you to stifle yourself just for the sake of complacency. You need to take risks. You need to find your destiny."


They weren't wrong, per se, but Mikalaos was cautious. They assured her that she wasn't being thrown out, and if it didn't work out she was very welcome to return. "Think it over," the lalafell urged.


Mika had slept on it -- not really, she'd been tossing and turning all night. Hadn't that been her drive, to find glory? To make her name, to carve out her niche in history? How long would she let the specter of Alfonse's hatred keep her from reaching her true potential?


The elezen sighed and stuffed the parchment into her pocket, taking purposeful strides forward. She had to try. She owed it that much to Olivie Heuloix, to see the dream realized, to find where she truly belonged.


It wasn't a name she thought about much anymore; she'd stopped thinking of herself as Olivie years ago. As far as anyone was concerned, she was a nobody who happened to like manual labor. She was kind, loyal and hard-working. That should have been enough, but deep in her heart she wanted more. She wanted to live that girlhood dream, to be great.


She paused at the large wooden doors and took a breath, then pushed them open.

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  • 6 months later...

Ul’dah – The Steps of Thal

Sun’s Zenith




“The shaved ice was a fine thing,” Papataru said expansively, rubbing his belly. “This dry heat gets overbearing.”


“It’s not so bad,” Mikalaos replied.


The lalafell gave her a hairy eyeball. “Nonsense. At least it rains in Limsa. And there are seasons aside from ‘scorching death’. I will never understand why Mimila decided to come here.”


“To get out from under her father’s shadow?” Mika observed with a grin.


Papataru sputtered for a moment, and Mika choked back her laughter. When the engraver broke into a long-winded compliment of his daughter’s skills, the elezen let her attention drift to where they were. Having left the Goldsmith’s Guild, they were slowly making their way down Onyx Lane, dodging porters and couriers running to and fro. The lalafell had written to Mika that he was coming to check on his daughter, but she had suspicions that he was checking in on her as well.


It had been weeks since she’d come under the employ of the Bellworks, and it was definitely a different working environment. While only running errands between Ul’dah and the Shroud for the business, it still kept her busy. She missed the sounds of hammers and metal, but only superficially – she was rather pleased with her life now. She was exposed to more people, able to do more things, and help out as more than a nameless laborer.


She was letting her friend dictate their path, lost in conversation about mundane things like steel quality and that cheeky fellow mooning over Papataru’s daughter. Mika was paying more attention to the diminutive artisan, and missed when they turned onto Pearl Lane.


They progressed only so far as to be suddenly halted by a body being tossed into the alleyway. The hole-in-the-wall bar from whence the person came had a doorway full of a bearded, fierce-looking hyur scowling.


“An’ ye stay out this time!” He hollered, turning and stomping back into the recesses of the dive. A few other people skulked out and surrounded the hyur laying dazed on the cobbles, commentary flying fast and loose.


“-- doesn’ know wha’ he’s doin’ --”


“-- had no right --”


“-- motherless dog --”


Mika reached down to put a hand on Papataru’s back, slowly backing away. “Come, let’s --”


“Oi! Girlie!” The drunk on the street yowled, gesticulating at Mika and turning heads into her direction. “Ten gil fer ye t’ hie back in there an’ toss tha’ bugger out on his arse!”


His companions laughed, but it was short-lived as their attention went from the scruffy elezen woman, to her well-dressed lalafell companion. One could hear the mongrels fairly licking their lips in anticipation as they eyed Papataru’s rich tunic and gleaming necklace.


“’r maybe, should b’ ye givin’ us th’ gil.” One of the ruffians hissed.


“In a pig’s eye,” Papataru spat, mustache bristling angrily.


One dirt-smudged youth took a step forward. “That was rude.”


“So is your face, you best turn around and find a better place for it.” The lalafell retorted. The comment earned a few snickers, but the youth approached closer, back by two of his compatriots. A knife flashed in the bright sunlight, brandished with some skill.


“Would b’ a shame t’ get blood all over tha’ shirt, Dellan.” One of the hyur drawled.


“Aye it would. Hand it over, pipper, before I split you up the middle like a dodo.”


The young man scowled down at Papataru, who may as well have been carved from marble by the cold expression on his face. The one named Dellan opened his mouth to reply, but only managed a startled shriek as Mika’s foot intercepted his face.


Dellan flew back a few paces and landed in a heap, knife forgotten as he clutched his spurting nose. “Thal! Th’ elezen bitch broke my nose!”


“Stupid move, girl.” One of the older boys commented.


“You can let us leave, or I can break you.” Mika growled, fists balling at her sides.


The little gang hesitated, as a man looking to their felled leader with a face full of blood, making whimpering noises.


Mika took a menacing step forward, but stopped when a sharp whistle rang out.


“What’s going on here?” A stuffy voice intoned from the mouth of the alley. Two Brass Blades came into view, giving distasteful looks to all the assembled.


“She’s trying to kill me, officer!” Dellan squealed, pointing a bloody hand at Mika. “I only said she was pretty!”


Mika’s jaw dropped at the blatant lie, and she looked to the armored men to rebuke the claim, but both were now scowling at her.


“Big girl like you, hitting young men?”


“You should have accepted the compliment.”


“He was only being nice,” one of the other ruffians piped up, earning supportive murmuring from his friends.


“You should know better, young lady.” One of the Brass Blades chided. “You should be glad he said something nice at all, girl like you probably doesn’t hear compliments all that often.”


“I say,” Papataru sputtered angrily. Mika’s hand at his back silenced him, but his face was red with fury.


“You two foreigners best leave,” the second Blade advised, before turning to check on the bleeding youth and his friends. Papataru didn’t waste a moment, grabbing Mikalaos’ hand and dragging her back out of Pearl Lane and towards the way they came.


The lalafell artisan’s words could have blistered paint off a wall, he was swearing so fiercely. Mika was silent, letting herself be lead as her face burned in shame. Scarred, overlarge, she had never been a beauty. When she was younger, she’d been svelte and graceful like a coeurl, more than making up for her plain face. But now, years of hard labor later, she was more buffalo than sleek cat.


“Don’t you dare listen to them,” Papataru hissed, squeezing Mika’s hand.


“It’s all right.” She replied dully.


“No it isn’t. How dare they say anything at all! I venture that when they were birthed, the healer turned about and slapped their mothers!”


The comment earned a little grin, but Mika’s wounded ego needed to sulk away and lick its wounds. She knew her friend meant well, but the reality of the situation was not beyond her. She understood how she looked, mannish and calloused, her lone feminine vanity the braid of onyx-black hair around her head.


“To the seas with them all,” the lalafell snapped. “Come, let’s go back to the Quicksand and get some dinner. It’s not the Bismarck, but it’ll do.”

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North Shroud





The caravan was progressing quietly through the Shroud, the empty carriage rattling faintly. The driver and the porter were gossiping amongst themselves, and the thaumaturge was somehow able to read her book as she bounced along in the back. Mikalaos brought up the rear, letting her chocobo Liam follow in the wake of the wheeled contraption.


The delivery had been of machined parts to Gridania to the carpenters’ guild, and Mika hadn’t much paid attention to the purpose of the parts. The guildleader and porter had spoken in droning tones about the lathes and asps, and if she was being honest with herself, Mika tuned it out. Her woodworking skill was mediocre at best, and the intricate detailing necessary for things beyond planks was beyond her. She had been passing fair enough to be allowed to work on the Victory, but that wasn’t furniture work or bowyer trade.


Sun filtered through the canopy, dotting the (very) green underbrush with splashes of gold and yellow. It never ceased to amaze her how verdant the Shroud was; her formative years were in Coerthas, and the past several she’d spent in the seascape of Limsa Lominsa. It was a pleasant change, the sun not so biting, the music of the forest playing around her. Birds swept overhead, and marmots scampered along digging for worms.


The cobbles underfoot were well-worn and smooth, patches of grass shooting up between rocks here and there. Their pace was leisurely, as they had been ahead of schedule and were not needed back in Ul’dah any time soon. From what she overheard, the porter and the driver had been quite happy with the outcome of the trip.


“What’s that?” the porter piped up, holding onto the side of the carriage as he stood up and pointed. The carriage came to a halt, and Mika trotted Liam along the side to get a better view. She rose up in her stirrups and scanned the treeline for whatever it was that the porter saw.


“That splash of white, yes?” The thaumaturge remarked, leaning over the side. “Right beside that big oak tree.”


The porter nodded. “Aye that. What is it?”


Mika dismounted from Liam and drew her axe from its strap at her back. Careful steps taken, she approached the mystery, taking a moment here and there to look through the trunks and grasses. When she got close enough to see what it was, she stopped dead in her tracks.


“What is it?” The driver called, as the porter and thaumaturge disembarked from the carriage to follow after Mika. When she was close enough, the mage gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth.


“’Tis a unicorn,” the porter said in an awed voice. He raised his voice and repeated his comment, turning back to the driver with a dismayed expression. The driver hopped down and jogged over to the small group.


They stood around the poor beast in various states of confusion. It was immediately obvious that the trio of arrows in its side were the cause of death, and the sawed-off end of its horn identified it as what it was. The mane and tail were missing, and the red blood looked obscene staining the pristine hide of the unicorn. Frowning, Mika approached the body.


“Who would do such a thing?!” The driver exploded, clearly agitated.


The elezen delicately removed an arrow from the beast’s flesh, checking over the fletching and the arrowhead. She scowled mightily and looked back to the others.


“Imperial arrow,” she said simply.


The driver swore; the porter and the mage made similar reactions, then went silent.


“We can’t leave her like this,” the mage whispered after several moments, wringing her hands together.


“She’s a creature of the Shroud, we should return her to it.” The porter intoned. Everyone nodded, and Mika got to her feet to look over the ground. She pointed to a shallow patch of grass and thudded her axe into the loam. The driver and the porter returned to the carriage to get tools, and the three of them began digging a grave. While they worked, the mage removed the other arrows from the unicorn and sang to her quietly.


The sun was sinking when they finished the grave, and Mika passed her weapon to the driver as she collected the unicorn’s body. She hopped down into the little pit and laid the body down gently. The mage passed over a wreath of flowers she had woven together, and Mika laid it atop the unicorn’s chest. She climbed out of the grave and the small group circled it and stood in silence for a protracted moment.


“Monsters,” the mage hissed, eyes swimming in tears.


Mika accepted her axe back and wiped the dirt from it, as the porter and the driver began shoveling dirt into the grave. A little spot of white caught her eye, and she stepped around everyone to approach it.


The warrior paused and knelt down, eyes wide. Hiding behind some shrubs was a little colt, its eyes sad and ears flat. It had a smear of blood on its muzzle, and was trembling badly.


“What’d you find, Mikalaos?” The mage called out.


“Hello little guy,” Mika said in a low, soothing tone. She reached into her pouch and removed one of the krakka roots she carried for Liam, extending it out to the animal. It paced back and forth for a moment, snuffing, but slowly approached the vegetable. It stopped to sniff at it, took a step back, then closed in on it to take a bite.


Mika blinked several times to clear the moisture from her eyes, but stayed still as the colt munched on the krakka root. When it was down to the nub of an end, the baby unicorn fixed its eyes on Mika and stared. It then nuzzled her outstretched hand and whickered sadly.


Carefully, Mika curled an arm around the colt and rose to her feet. It seemed content enough in her grasp, head turning to and fro to look around from its new higher perspective. She returned to the party just as the porter and driver were leveling the last few ponzes of dirt out.


“Oh, a baby!” The mage said in surprise.


“We can’t leave it here,” Mika commented. The others nodded and murmured their agreement, and once the grave was settled, they returned to the carriage and the chocobos.


Mika set the colt in the carriage and turned to mount up on Liam, but the little animal whickered and made as if it was going to follow her. She paused, then picked the colt up and brought it around for Liam to sniff at.


The chocobo cooed and touched noses with the unicorn, then looked back to Mika. She sighed and smiled, then resumed mounting up, the colt positioned over her lap in the saddle. The colt looked up at her with liquid, adoring eyes, ear flicking back and forth.


“All set back here,” she called out. The driver chirruped to his chocobos and got the carriage started, and the caravan resumed its course along the road.

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Ul’dah – Steps of Thal




The hammering in the Goldsmith’s guild was not quite the ring of hammers from the smithy, but it had a certain charm to it. They worked finer metals, precious gems and pearls, and it required a certain delicate touch.


Olivie watched a hyur painstakingly knot pearls onto silken thread, envying the precision of the man’s movements. Her hands were too big for such a task, but it was interesting to watch. He’d started with three of the gems and was now up to twenty.


“Look at this,” Mimila intoned, and Olivie turned to regard the lalafell’s artwork. The lines were meticulous; she was certainly Papataru’s daughter with that steady hand and eye for detail. “Do you think it’s suitable?”


“Yes,” Olivie agreed, leaning back to stretch out her back. “How long will it take to make?”


The lalafell grinned mischievously. “How much are you willing to pay?”


The elezen gave the jeweler a faux-shocked look, and Mimila broke into giggles. “End of the week.” She gestured to the rest of guild, artisans bent over tables and working the little smelter that liquefied the precious ores they crafted with. “We’re not terribly busy, but given how important this piece is, I want to be able to make it just right.”


“I understand that.” Olivie replied, turning to produce her gil purse. Mimila waved her away and turned to a stack of parchment to start filling out a form. As Olivie waited, her eyes roved the desk Mimila was working at, and they stopped on a strange triangular gem in a simple setting.


“What’s that?” she gestured.


Mimila looked up, followed the hand and made a face. “I’m not entirely sure. Some disheveled elezen fellow tried to sell it to us to cover the costs of his wife’s bills, but Serendipity wasn’t having it. We paid a few gil for it, then told the man to come back when he could pay his wife’s bills in full.”


Olivie snorted and commented, “I’m familiar with that sort. It’s a pretty gem.”


“I thought so too,” Mimila replied, propping her hands on her hips. “We still haven’t got the foggiest idea what it is, but I thought it’d look nice as a pendant. Why, did you want to buy it?”


Olivie stared at the gem intently, following its carved sides with her eyes, taking in the deep red color. Impulsively she said, “Yes, actually.”


“I’ll charge what we paid for it,” the lalafell said, turning back to the form to add another line to it. “As you’re a friend of daddy’s, and you scared off that fellow the other day.”


The dark-skinned elezen smiled. “Just doing my duty, ma’am.”


Mimila huffed. “Hopefully Stalking Bear won’t fall off any more balconies so he can come back to duty. Here you are, just give this to the girl at the desk, you can pay there. And here’s the mystery gem.”


Olivie took the pendant in her hand; she was startled to find the gem was warm, like it had been around someone’s neck all day. She gave it a curious look and ticked her eyes up to the jeweler, but she was already making adjustments to the sketch she’d made for Olivie. She hadn’t noticed? How peculiar.


The woman exchanged the form and gil for a bill of sale, then made her way out of the guild. She was poring over the pendant, its chain dangling from her hand, trying to make heads or tails of it. It almost looked like it was etched, and she ran her thumb over its surface. The color was nice, and it was just translucent enough to catch the sun and send it sparkling. It wasn’t too big, nor too small, but she could easily slip it under her tunic.


Olivie paused and stepped to the side, taking a moment to secure the chain around her neck. The pendant settled against her sternum, and she was pleased with the length of the chain. She tucked the pendant away under her tunic and continued on her way.

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Dufresne Estate





Olivie lazed off to the side of the tillyard, munching on an apple as she watched Martiallais put some of his knights through their motions. They drilled in sword and shield, the Dufresne sigil resplendent on the fronts of those shields, as proud as the people it represented. Olivie thought they might be new, but there was also a possibility that they were well-maintained. The rest of their armor kits looked to be cared for with diligence, so she wasn’t entirely sure which was the case. She’d ask later.


Mar barked a rebuke at one of his knights, and Olivie had to grin. It reminded her of better days, spending time in their own tillyard, polishing Mar’s form. As far as his sister was concerned, Mar was without peer, and he deserved more laurels than were currently about his brow.


It had been strange, taking her real name back up, but Mar’s determined insistence could not be denied. He believed in her. And he would speak to the Baron about her predicament. With the Holy See folding as it was, and the Dragonsong War coming to an end, there were many changes in Ishgard, and Mar was hoping to capitalize on that.


Olivie was content just being confident in her own skin, not dreading imminent recapture and finalization of her fate. For years, she’d kept an eye out for the Holy See’s Inquisition, afraid to step out of the shadows. She had taken any job that kept her in the background, and working at the smithy in Limsa Lominsa had been her best idea. She had blossomed there, but always felt a little stifled, like a flower in a too-small pot.


Why had she ever been worried? She had forgotten who Olivie was, in keeping up the mask that was Mikalaos. The win at the Tournament of the Lance had bolstered her confidence moreso, reminding her of the girl she once was, and the dreams she used to have. They were not beyond her reach now. Free of the dread of Witchdrop, she could see those dreams a reality.


The session ended, the dispersion of the knights brought Olivie out of her reverie, and she looked to her little brother and smiled. She was so proud of him. Though he often jested about his failure with the lance, she couldn’t see any fault with his form now. With sword and shield in hand, Martiallais was a force to be reckoned with.


That didn’t make him any less her younger brother.


“Hey, Knight-Captain!” she shouted, finishing off her apple to toss into a nearby rubbish bin. “You’re great at telling, how about some showing?”


Amusement crossed Mar’s face as he turned to favor his sister with a look. “Is that a challenge?”


“Mayhaps,” she laughed. “Come, these men need to see what a real warrior looks like.”


“But they see me every day.” He fired back, taking up a discarded shield.


“Halone praise, is that sass? Are you sassing me, Mar-Mar?”


“I might be.”


Olivie drew her massive blade from her back; it was not so different from the axe she’d been using for moons now, but this sword felt better in her hands. She felt a greater connection to it, one that never developed with the axe. A brisk wind whipped the stray strands of black hair about her face, but her attention was fixed on Martiallais.


He drew his blade and settled into a ready stance, and she did the same. With a grin, she rushed forward, and their dance began.


Sword met sword, skittered off shield, cut through empty air. He had the maneuverability advantage, but she had strength on her side. Years of working the forge had other tangible benefits.


Block, parry, touch. “First blood,” he laughed.


“Lucky hit!” she countered.


“Keep your elbows up.” He advised, gesturing with his sword tip. “You’re limiting your range of motion.”


Olivie nodded and corrected her positioning, then came at him again.


They were attracting an audience, but she kept her focus. How many hours had they spent together sparring? Once they were both old enough to fight unattended, they overtook the tillyard of their modest family estate. Weather permitting, they were there every morning, drilling first with lances, then eventually lance versus sword and shield.


Alfonse had been dismissive of Mar after his failed dragoon training. Perfect Alfonse, who never made mistakes, the peerless older brother. He had been a miserable sibling, always lording his triumphs over the younger two. He saved a particular scorn for Olivie, which only seemed to grow as they got older. He expected her to fulfill a certain role, and she always bypassed him.


“Touch,” he smiled, giving her a nod of appreciation. She smiled back at him, and they resumed.


She would never forget Alfonse’s face that last day, that smug and silent ‘I told you so’ as the guards took her away. In the early years of her exile, she had nightmares of creatures with that face and voice, constant torment from things she couldn’t defeat. It had been Alfonse’s voice behind every failure, every moment of self-doubt.


“Touch!” She laughed, pushing his sword blade away playfully.


Limsa had hardened her. It had been a challenge at first, coming from Ishgard’s manners and demeanor, but the longer she spent around the not-pirates, the more that polish came off. Losing her accent had been the hardest, but soon she could cuss just as well as the other salty dogs. Papataru’s friendship had kept her from become an ale-swilling loudmouth, but she was still a far cry from the poised women of the (now frigid) northlands.


The Heuloix siblings found a rhythm, ducking, dodging, weaving around one another. One particular avoidance by Mar drew a reaction from the little crowd of knights and servants, and not too-few cheers. They were fairly matched, even after all those years apart. They knew one another’s fighting styles well, knew what to anticipate, could read their next moves in each other’s faces.


They could have carried on for hours, had Olivie not over-extended her reach. Mar took the opportunity to rush in and shield-bash her greatsword, sending it from her hand to clatter into the grass underfoot. The Dufresne contingent cheered and Olivie made a big show of her defeat, throwing her hands up in the air and shaking her head.


“You’ve gotten good, Mar-Mar,” she complimented, moving to retrieve her weapon. He sheathed his sword and passed the shield off to a smiling servant.


“I had a good teacher,” he replied easily, crossing his arms over his chest.


She made an audible scoffing noise, affixing her greatsword to her back with practiced ease. The siblings shared a chuckle, then turned to leave the yard together.

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