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Through Ruin Or Redemption【Closed】


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He had always hated knocking on doors. It made him anxious. Not because of the possibilities that lay beyond the door, but because he despised etiquette and was yet hard-wired to follow it. Should he knock twice? Thrice? Should there be a pause between the knocks? No pause at all? Was one pattern of knocking considered more acceptable than the other? Should it follow a rhythm? How much force should be placed behind the first knock as opposed to subsequent knocks?


His contemplation was interrupted by a deep, masculine voice reverberating from behind the polished mahogany door. "You may enter." Maximilien breathed a sigh of relief, free of his cogitations regarding the nature of alerting one's presence to a door, and swung the door smoothly. His drachen mail was absent, replaced by a white doublet whose wrinkles belied his disdain for fine dress.


The Marquis chose not to face him, of course. The rustling coming from the front of the turned highback chair indicated that he was still replacing his mask. This time it was a full-faced visage of some kind of Far Eastern monster. The last time Maximilien had spoken to the man it'd been an eagle, and the time before that a cyclops. Lady Auzenne had alerted him to the Marquis' proclivity for masks, but the dragoon would be lying if he said he had adjusted to the former's habit.


"I was informed as to the existence of a sort of complaint with which you would like to file." The Marquis spoke in a rich, smooth baritone, still facing away from his guest. The stone walls reflected his opaque tone of voice quite well. It was a trick of the ears, intended to make him appear more full of presence than he actually was.


Maximilien dipped in a smooth, well-practised bow. "With all due respect, my lord, your subordinates saw fit to abandon another one of their trophies among the Highlands."


"I do not believe previously expressed concerns were placed." The Elezen twitched the corner of his lip. The Marquis' peculiar style of speech was another one of those quirks that he had never quite adjusted to.


"I had not because my lord had assured me that it would remain an isolated incident amongst eager zealots. If you signify your presence to this extent, however, the Temple Knights may begin asking questions."


A billowy snort was heard from the front of the chair. "No Temple Knight has yet to care a whit of the cold claiming another foreign body. Think me not of king or ruler; their activities express fervour of which I am unlikely to condemn."


It took a notable amount of willpower for Maximilien to keep from sighing in annoyance. Almost as if in response, the Marquis stood from his chair. He was a tall man, dressed in a gilded black justacorps, but in addition to the mask he wore a black hood that obscured much of his features, and his height and lankiness made it ambiguous as to whether or not he was Hyur or Elezen.


"There remain a reason regardless that your summons was made. I wished to be certain of the completion of aspects of your task."


The dragoon nodded rather grimly. "It's done. I received the support of the Convictors in hunting the dragon known as Kavir myself. The dragon's horde is scattered, for now."


"And the blood?"


"My retainers collected pieces of the dragon's remains to Miss Reeves' specifications."


"Were you seen?"


Maximilien shook his head. "I managed to secure the corpse by making an excuse of claiming a trophy. Speaking of Miss Reeves, I do hope she has been using her subjects efficiently. I find Inquisitor Bellamont's....collection to be distasteful."


The Marquis folded his arms, turning away from Maximilien again. The latter did his utmost to keep from fidgeting. "Think not of the Inquisitor's methodology. The specifications of the conversion process Reeves has narrowed down to a small number of possibilities."


"That being?"


"That information is not necessary. Suffice to say that the high possibiliy is that the threat remain one unique to Ishgard."


There was a pause, and this time Maximilien let out the audible sigh.


The Marquis waved a hand, transfixed on a large tapestry that had been erected behind his desk. "Your hunt continues with full endorsement, Valencourt."


"You have not forgotten?" Maximilien said, his gaze narrowing.


The nobleman's masked visage turned to stare at the Elezen in turn. "Your war will continue for as long as you wish."

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Over twenty years ago.



“That is disgusting, Rissa! Get that thing away from me!”


Josette shrieked as she bolted behind a tree, her already pale face now turned ghostly white with fear. Her fingers gripped so tightly to the bark that her fingernails were turning white, as if the maple tree would stand as her valiant protector against the dreadful thing in the center of her family’s garden. When the young noble child heard nothing but the distant chirping of birds, she peeked back around at her friend.


Rissalyn remained still where she stood, her violet eyes made bigger behind the thick glasses she wore as she stared at the caterpillar that was wrapped around her index finger. The bug was colored in bright stripes of green, gold, and black; it was thick enough to completely engulf at least three of her fingers at once, but the girl holding it did not care. She seemed fascinated by the freakish thing.


After a moment of making certain that her friend was not being devoured by the disgusting monstrosity, Josette released her hold on the hapless tree. She collected herself and arranged her black curly locks behind her shoulders and straightened her dress. After all, she was two years senior of her friend, and if Rissa was not going to be frightened by some measly caterpillar, then neither was she. She took delicate steps around the tree, her back straight and her expression poised.


“I think it’s trying to nibble at my fingertip!” Rissa giggled as she jutted her finger just ilms away from her friend’s nose. All Josette saw was its gigantic black eyes and equally massive pincers for a mouth that somehow grew threefold in size. She could swear that it was standing on its hindlegs to try and leap onto her face.


Eeeeeeeek!” The older child screeched, flailing her hands frantically as she made her hasty retreat. It was only when her backtracking brought her back squarely against to the tree that Josette saw her friend kneeling on the ground, gingerly scooping up the caterpillar that had been knocked off its perch in her panicked thrashing.


“It won’t hurt you, Josette.” Rissalyn murmured as she cradled the bug in her cupped hands. Josette marveled at how the girl seemed to treat such a hideous thing with so much care. But when the older child saw the look of worry in her friend’s face, she too approached, now suddenly concerned that she might have hurt the critter. Not that Josette ever cared for bugs, but it was clear that Rissa did, and Josette cared for Rissa.


“Did I hurt it?” Josette asked as she peered at the contents of her friend’s hand. She clasped her own hands behind her back and rocked back and forth, her lower lip protruding out guiltily. “I did not mean to hit it out of your hand…”


Rissalyn shook her head but did not take her eyes off the strangely colored thing, whispering something under her breath. Josette did not quite know what her friend said, but she held her own breath as her lavender eyes squinted, peering at the creature. She too was somehow willing it to be unhurt.


When the caterpillar squirmed again, both the girls squeaked with joy, bouncing on the balls of their feet. “Did you want to hold it?” Rissa held out her cupped hands to the older child.


“Aah! No! I don’t want to hurt it again.” Josette laughed nervously. “Besides, just because I no longer believe it will eat both of us doesn’t mean I am going to take it home.”


Rissa gave her a small smile and that knowing look of hers, before turning to a lush plant nearby. She set it atop one of its largest thickest leaves with care. “The larva spends all of its time eating. It needs a lot of sustenance to undergo the transformation in the suns to come.”


Josette leaned in close to her friend, both the girl’s violet-hued eyes studying the wriggling thing. “When will it turn into a beautiful butterfly?” she whispered as if to speak louder would disturb the process.


“A fortnight, usually.” Rissa pushed her glasses higher onto the bridge of her nose. “But I find this stage the most fascinating. It grows and grows, and splits its own skin and sheds it several times over.”


The older child made a face as she stood, staring at the girl next to her. They were best friends, and some would even mistake the two for sisters for all the similar features they shared… but sometimes Josette was truly reminded of how different a temperament each of them had. While she herself enjoyed the finer prettier things, Rissa always seemed to be fascinated by the not-so-pretty things, things that crawled and slithered. But when Josette took the time to listen and watch her, she always discovered that she too could find something special about them, through her friend’s eyes.


Josette smiled to herself, silently relieved that even though Rissa’s mother had left without word or warning, she had not lost her best friend in the world. She did notice that Rissa’s laughter had grown quieter and she fell into sullen moods more often, but when they played together it was as if nothing had changed.


“So… will I be seeing your brother at the Cathedral?” Josette changed the subject, and inwardly frowned at how her voice always rose an octave when Lewan was the topic of the discussion.


Rissalyn was still bent low, her eyes at level with the caterpillar. But even though Josette would not see her face, the new bleakness to the young girl’s voice was obvious. “I don’t think so. Since Lewan was sent to squire for Ser Ruisair, I don’t see him often.”


“Oh,” Josette sighed, her shoulders sagging with disappointment. “So it’s just you and your father at home?”


Rissalyn nodded without turning around. “Father has been especially busy with the work of the Church.” There was a small pause, and when she continued her tone had turned monotonous, as if to recite someone else’s words. “The work of The Inquisition to stem the tide of heretics never ends.”


“I am certain your father is doing all he can to protect us.” The older girl bounded forward toward her friend again, leaning in to draw Rissa’s gaze. “As is your brother!”


A soft sigh escaped Rissa’s lips. “Father hopes that if Ser Ruisair is sent to fight against a dragon and Lewan is instrumental in helping him, that he may someday be considered to join the order of the Temple Knights.”


Josette shuddered. “A dragon. How frightful.”


To that, Rissalyn straightened as she turned to the older girl. “I have never seen one. I would like to. I wonder if it is as beautiful as a butterfly?”


“Don’t you say such things, Rissa!” Josette leaned in quickly, her eyes suddenly scanning the garden around them. She knew her younger friend may not have yet learned to fear the Inquisition, but as the elder of the two, Josette knew better. Even the daughter of an Inquisitor would need to exercise caution, and this knowledge she would bestow onto her friend. She gripped Rissa’s shoulders, meeting her straight in the eyes.


“A man must gaze not upon the eyes of the dragon. A man must hearken not the words of a dragon. A man must lay his hands not upon the flesh or blood of a dragon.” Her tones were hushed but sober. The words flowed easily from rote memory. “The archbishop, his Holiness, declares thus, and thus is it law. Do you understand? No such foolish talk of seeing a dragon, or admiring anything of dragonkin.”


Rissa’s deep violet gaze regarded her a moment longer, almost quizzically, before she nodded. It was only then that Josette exhaled.


“Good then.” The elder girl released the younger’s shoulders and patted down her own skirt. “Now what shall we do?”


Rissa’s eyes widened and she smiled brightly. “Oh! I saved the last three skins of the caterpillar after it split and shed! Do you want to see them?!”


Josette’s face slowly twisted into one of disgust.


Ew! Rissa!!






Isene Daumois watched patiently as the Midlander woman took account of the boxes and crates that had been laid carefully in the main room. With but a wave of a finger from the Elezen, the men who brought in the special cargo shuffled out, their eyes never quite meeting the two females within.


The Hyur said nothing as she ran her white gloved fingers over the reinforced edges of the thick steel box, her thumb coming to rest against the lock in front of it. Her violet gaze behind the glasses narrowed slightly, and she made no movement to open the box for a moment.


“They belonged to the dragon named Kavir, Miss Reeves.” Isene cleared her throat. “The delivery of the requested parts were swift and seen with utmost care.”


Josette Reeves turned to face the Wildwood and gave her a succinct nod. “Send my gratitude to the Marquis, Miss Daumois. These components will greatly benefit my research.” Isene gave a pleased dip of her head, knowing that aside from the Seven Greater Celestial Wyrms, the remains of a named dragon was the best any of them could ever hope for. A part of her had doubted whether even such would be obtainable at all. And yet somehow the Marquis had managed it, all for the greater cause.


“The Marquis would appreciate an update in the very near future,” the Elezen added, her hands folding in front of her in a demure position. It was anything but; rarely did she feel any true deference to a non-Elezen, even when the Hyur in question was higher ranked in nobility. She practiced the formality with perfection however, such reverence was expected amongst the social hierarchy after all, but the Four Houses had set an undisputable example of Elezen superiority in her mind. “Can I relay any significant findings?”


The Midlander just canted her head. “I shall reserve them for when I speak with him.”


Isene narrowed her eyes slightly, a hint of annoyance etching lines at the corner of her eyes. While she was curious as to the details, Josette Reeves seemed disinclined to share any progress of her experimentation except to the Marquis himself. She had wondered how a Midlander of a minor noble house even came by such a knowledge, but having been recommended by Lord Jeaumis and Lord Garamond, Isene was in no position to question the woman.


“Now, if you will excuse me.” Josette turned and scanned the rest of the contents arranged in her work room, no longer paying any attention to the Elezen. “The potency of a dragon’s remains is directly analogous to its lifespan and rawness of the materials. They have been preserved well, but any further delay would be a waste of time.”


“Very well then,” Isene sniffed at the dismissal and turned. “I shall leave you to your work, Miss Reeves.” She paused at the archway of the thick double doors. “I trust you will take the appropriate precautions in dealing with such dangerous materials?”


The Midlander spared her a glance from the corner of her eye and Isene thought she spotted a small curl of her lips.


“Worry not, Miss Daumois. I have been looking forward to this for a long time. It will be most enlightening.”

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It was one of those rare nights when the moon seemed to eclipse every star in the sky, its white visage so full that it felt closer in its proximity to the earth. But its luminous gaze remained cold and distant still, as a single snowflake drifted and spun in the night unnoticed. It rolled along with of the waves of the cold Coerthan wind, dancing merrily despite the deathly howls that echoed through the darkness. It twirled one last time before it came to its gentle landing upon the ground, where it sank and dissolved into the blood soaked terrain.


The moonlight lent the sword that swung through the air a silvery gleam, just as it opened a gashing wound on the neck of a wolf, sending its twitching body to join its lifeless brethren on the frozen landscape. More snow wolves paced in a circle about the periphery of the clearing, all of their fangs bared. But they were now hesitant in charging forward, wary of the single figure that stood in the middle, surrounded by a pile of crimson-stained corpses.


Roen flexed her fingers around the hilt of her sword, its bloodied tip hovering just above the snow. She exhaled slowly, grey eyes scanning the ring of beasts for the next one to come within her blade’s reach. The exertion had already quickened her pulse, warmth of anticipation coursing through her veins.


Hungry beasts had been descending from the high mountains in droves to hunt livestock, some even attacking the villagers and their children. The local inhabitants called for help, offering a bounty for anyone to fend them off. Roen had grown weary of her stay at picturesque Fallguard, and venturing north back across the borders into Coerthas, she had finally found something to do.


The wolves paced still, circling and winding past each other. They are pack animals. They will likely coordinate their attacks, the paladin reminded herself. Where such thoughts might have brought tension to her frame years past, she now found herself calm and focused. Such endeavors, hunting beasts while fighting in freezing temperatures, it was all that she had known for past year now since fleeing to this frigid place. It had been an arduous way of life to complete the duties that she was assigned while trying to fend off frostbite; but she had welcomed such an occupation of the mind as well as the exhaustion to the body.


But now… such tasks were means of a release. As another wolf leaped through the air intent for her head, Roen slashed across its neck, the sharpened edge of her blade digging into its flesh below its opened maw. But when the tip of the sword dug into the vertebrae, there it stuck. She rolled to her side as the blade pulled her to the ground with its added weight, the paladin tucking and rolling with it as she dodged another leaping for her back. She skidded to her feet, and planted her armored boot on the carcass to dislodge the sword in time to bat another away her shield.


"You feel a need to be capable of doing everything. Capable of assisting everyone. This feeling of need causes you distress."


A yelp ended the breath of another beast as her blade sliced through its jugular. But it was the low rumbling voice of an Au Ra that echoed through her thoughts, and with it she suddenly felt the absence of a familiar presence. It felt strange that she was not fighting alongside Khadai for once.


"You believe my failing was that I spread myself too thin. Tried to achieve things that I was never capable of.”


Another beast came at her thigh, and its jaw cracked as it impacted the metal tip of her boot.


"Or that you did not rely enough on those who were capable."


More creatures fell, and soon the ice beneath her feet began to crawl with dark red veins across its surface. Her breaths were now coming in quick succession, her chest rising and falling hard beneath her armor. The pack was withdrawing back into the shadows of the mountain, fear overtaking their fury.


A deep growl broke through the chilly air behind her, accompanied by the unmistakable stench that could only mark a feral croc’s proximity.


Roen turned in time to see the croc’s charge, and when it was just within reach, it swung its massive mandible at her entire frame. She was able to raise her shield to place it between her and the creature, but the impact sent her sliding backwards on the ice. Her shield tip and boots skidded loudly over the frozen ground as she came to a crouching stop. The paladin grimaced as she saw the croc running after her again, this time with its large mouth open three ways and ready to swallow her whole. She could see the hungry gleam in its black eyes beneath the split upper jaw.


It must have come looking for a free meal after the commotion. The paladin rolled out of the way as it scooped up the fulms of snow where she had been standing. My job is done, she told herself. I should just go.


But when she regained her bearings, she looked not to the Haldrath’s March, but back at the scalekin. She flexed her fingers around the hilt of her sword again.


"You said you ran a sword through him to come to be. I will do the same if that is what it takes."


Another conversation whispered in her ear as the paladin scrambled up a rocky boulder nearby. They were the words that were exchanged between her and the man who wore her brother’s face.


"Then Prove yourself, Little Wolf."


Beneath the stone etched symbols of the Sactum of the Twelve the armored man had stood, his eyes bearing a darkness she did not recognize, his familiar visage twisted with contempt that did not belong there. It made her angry then---and it still riled her now.


"You will see I am no longer little."


The croc whirled about, the three mandibles of his maw wide open as the scalekin’s eyes searched for its prey. When it turned its head upwards, Roen leaped off from the apex of the boulder, her sword raised high above her head.







Roen wrinkled her nose as she lifted the matted rows of thick fur with the edge of her sword. Her lips curled with distaste as more flecks of dirt and ice fell to the ground loosened from its leathery coat and another pungent waft of odor greeted her senses. She gave a wide berth to what looked like some partially digested remains of some animal that had also dribbled out of its muzzle, her stride lengthening as she walked around the lifeless corpse. The paladin glanced over her shoulder to the rest of the remains that littered the hillside; her limbs were starting to grow heavier with fatigue. Her breaths came slower now, her earlier agitation having been burned off.


It was amidst a snowy bank like this where they had come upon another dead corpse many moons ago. She could still recall the expression of death on the Au Ra female’s face, the body speared through the chest and displayed out for all to see.


“Some agents of the Church stopped by Khadai’s inn room, looking for him.” Roen frowned as she recalled the conversation she had with Edda only a few suns past beneath the Fallguard’s canopy. “He was able to make an escape, though they are tenacious if nothing else. I am sure they will return.”


The noblewoman had come to the North Shroud to tell the paladin that she had ended her contract with Khadai but to also bestow a warning. While Edda no longer held the Au Ra to any obligation, it was clear to Roen that she still worried for the warrior.


"Whatever unwarranted sense of justice that clouds their senses is beyond me. All I know is that they came looking for him." Her practiced smile never left the woman’s lips, but Roen could sense that the affair weighed on Edda’s mind. "Will you not return to Ishgard soon? Though there is nothing I can do for him, you may yet be able to."


Roen’s fingers lightly brushed her belt pouch as if to remind herself of a certain pearl there--one that she, Edda, and Khadai shared. The Xaela had not spoken over the linkshell about any troubles, although the paladin doubted that he would do so unless there was true mortal danger.


Would he ask for help even then?


A sharp exhale plumed into a puff of steam as Roen reached for the piece of cloth in her belt pouch. She shook her head as she ran the fold of the cloth over the length of her blade, as if to silently chide the absent warrior’s stubbornness.


But would I do any different? The paladin heard her own wry voice tsking at her. A sigh sagged her shoulders and she paused. Would I? Still?


"I know not what goes through that Hyur head of yours sometimes, and I have come to accept that your life has made you wary of some things. But I think you should know I consider you a sister. You can keep me at any length, and I doubt what I feel will ever be different."


A quiet snort escaped her lips as Kiht’s voice rose to memory. It was an honest and unsolicited confession, one that had surprised her and it made Kiht a little sheepish after the fact. Roen pursed her lips in thought, to push away any other expression that might have risen. This was not a good time to get sentimental after all. But the thought of seeing her again, as well as many others that she had come to find since coming to the Shroud, did not fill her with dread as it used to.


It was at the Keeper’s and Delial’s behest that Roen had come to Gridania, to try and help her brother who had lost his way. It was a task that Roen had long feared and resisted, but she finally came to admit that she could not hide in Coerthas forever from everyone and everything she knew.


But what of Khadai?


Roen sighed again as she sheathed her sword, staring at the bright moon above. He is capable. I have to trust in that. Was that not his own advice? Certainly he would not fault her for abiding by his counsel. But she could not deny that she felt a certain stir of disquiet in the back of her mind, one that would not be put to rest until she at least knew why the Church was seeking him out.


But first things first.


Roen turned toward Haldrath’s March, taking the southern path towards the Observatorium and eventually back to the North Shroud.

I need to see that Gharen is set to rights.

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  • 1 month later...

The chocobo occasionally squawked as the Au Ra set about affixing the various satchels and bags that would carry his supplies. The merchant had assured him that the system would be simple to fasten to the bird, and yet the Au Ra found himself confronted with a convoluted system of belts, straps, buckles that seemed to be constructed with little more than leather and wishful thinking. The bird's protests--perhaps themselves a commentary on the nature of his purchase--were not lost on him as he continued to struggle with making sure all of the saddlebags were properly attached to the chocobo’s harness.


The situation was not helped by the gentle snowfall that had overtaken the Coerthas Western Highlands. Flakes would drift and tangle amongst the bird's coal-black feathers, causing it to violently shake every now and then in order to keep the snow from accumulating. Occasionally this action would jolt the buckles, causing them to explode apart from one another and leave the Xaela sighing in exasperation.


Roen had contacted him after several moons of silence wishing to speak with him. True to his word, the Au Ra had been avoiding Ishgard as best as possible, but the Falcon’s Nest and the Western Highlands were sufficiently removed that he could still engage in some manner of commerce. His arrangement with the knight--a glory-seeker wishing to claim credit for his hunts--had removed the need for him to enter Ishgard itself to collect and redeem hunt marks, and though the rate he collected gil was reduced as a result, the security of the arrangement was preferable to any profits he might collect.


The chocobo and the saddlebags both were a result of his planning a long expedition into Dravania. With the help of the aether compass, the Xaela’s hunts had taken him across the breadth of the Highlands enough to know that what he was looking for wasn’t here.


Kasrjin’s struggle was interrupted by a familiar and somewhat lilting tone chiming behind him. "Too tight and it will begin to chafe the bird. He will become unruly if not relieved." He did not need to turn his head to see who it was; Roen was always wearing metal sabatons that were heavier than what he expected her to wear, and so her footfalls--ever marked with an unconscious sense of consternation--were easy to recognize.


A frown split the Au Ra’s face. “I am aware, yet the creature refuses to be still and...these...straps…” He muttered a series of expletives beneath his breath before finally managing to wrestle the last of the buckles together.


Roen stepped up closer to the larger chocobo, clicking her tongue as she pulled on the reins slightly, brushing some snow off the feathers on the neck. Kasrjin noticed her own bird of burden--a hue of golden yellow--following her dutifully and swivelling its neck toward the paladin at the noise.


"How long have you had this bird?" Her hold on the reins were firm but her voice steady, her other hand still stroking the feather under the wing.


"Nine suns, give or take. We are...not yet overly familiar." The faintest of relieved sighs escaped from his lips as the Xaela began to test the integrity of the other saddlebags and pouches...only for some of the buckles to, rather predictably, blast apart in all directions, resetting more than half of his progress. "Novsh rem ila," Kasrjin spat, instinctively reverting to his own language as he scratched the side of his horn with a gauntleted hand. At the time, he had no reason to doubt the merchant’s integrity that these saddlebags were, indeed, “universally sized”. This exercise was a constant reminder that commerce was not particularly his forte.


"This circumstance is dire and requires a different skillset." A frustrated expression on his face was followed by him robotically cocking his head at the paladin's chocobo. "I request the opening of negotiations."


The paladin tilted her head to the sound of buckles and contents coming loose with a wrinkle of her nose. The look she gave him was one of patience, although there could have been a little amusement hidden behind a puff of breath released through her nose. "I can show you the basics. With some practice, it will become like second nature."


The Xaela snorted. "I do not require second nature. This animal is to act as porter, and little else."


Roen canted her head, releasing a longer slower breath. "The better you treat your bird, less trouble he will give you. Some come to be trusted companions to their owner."


"Karadwyr, voroi bakh." There was something intuitively comforting about reverting to a language he knew. Kasrjin’s mastery of the Western language, while improving, was still somewhat tenuous at best, his focus on clear pronunciation and proper diction overriding his sense of tone. His native language felt much smoother, and the chocobo seemed to sense a greater sense of ease from him, however slight it was. At the least, it appeared to fidget less.


Roen glanced over her shoulder to the Au Ra, a small lift to one corner of her lips. "Ah. So you can be soothing." She glanced between him and the bird. "You are a stranger to him, treat your bird with some care and..." She paused. "Does he have a name?"


Kasrjin rubbed the bird's neck. A satisfied warble gave him adequate feedback for this action. "His name is Karadwyr. The original name, as I was told, was..." A pause, searching for the right word. "Not complimentary. Perhaps for justified reason.”


"Hmph," the paladin snorted as she stepped forward, lifting up some of the leather strappings to work on the inner bindings first. She slightly leaned to the side as if to show him what she was doing. "Work from inside out, and middle to front and back." She began to re-fasten the buckles. "And intelligent animals reciprocate the attitude you give it."


Far too convoluted. Working with animals was for the Jungsai or Nayantai to deal with. A Khadai’s relationship with animals went as far as eating them or sticking them with enough pointy objects to fend them away from the camps or the hunting grounds.


Roen slid two fingers between the animal's hide and the saddle bindings. "Should fit snug but not too loose. This is easy way to tell."


"As you say," the Xaela grunted. "You wished to speak with me, regardless. I doubt it is about the nature of myself and this bird."


Her lips pursed as she paused, her gaze diverting from him back to the saddle. She worked on the buckles for a few more breaths before she spoke again. "Ah. Yes. There... was a matter I did wish to speak to you about..."


The Xaela cocked his head at her. “Is this environment uncomfortable for you? If you wish, we may appropriate shelter, or at least a tent.” He was certainly used to the cold--the glacier held far harsher conditions than this--but the paladin, while she held a stoic expression in the face of the elements, was not as resilient.


"Hm?" Roen glanced up at him. "Ah, nay. It is not that." A sigh. "I just am finding this a difficult thing to... hm." She glanced away again. Kasrjin tilted his head somewhat. It was unusual to find this typically headstrong woman to be this hesitant about something. Perhaps it was dire. Perhaps Ishgard was on fire, or sinking.


"I thought... well... if we were going to be traveling together... That is if you even want my aid..." She started then paused, her brows furrowing in thought. Rather than concern him, her hesitation simply confused him. What topic could exist that could make one so uncomfortable? "How important is... is your origin to you?"


“An odd question," the Xaela remarked, almost immediately. "What definition do you apply to 'origin'? The land where I have travelled from? The people from whom I derive my custom? The sire and dam who birthed me?"


"Yes. All of that. Where you are from. People who taught you. The land you grew up in." Roen started to absently fasten a few more buckles and check their fit. "How important are they to who you are as a person?"


The movement of her fingers upon the leathers slowed, and a long white breath plumed before her lips. She bit her lower lip in thought before she spoke again. "There are rumors amongst the lips of many Ishgardians, that speak of the dragons' hatred comes from their memory of the sins of the Ishgardian's forefathers. Would you agree with the dragons? That you should be judged by the act of your people?"


His emerald eyes shimmered at her in thought as he folded his arms before speaking. He had heard of the true nature of the conflict of sword and wings in this land. Long ago, the Ishgardians had murdered one of the dragons, thus starting the conflict. A war of vengeance. It was...an obtusely silly thing, to him. "Memory. Memory is an....unreliable thing."


Roen blinked. Where before her grey eyes were regarding him from the corner of her eyes, she turned her head slightly to better meet his gaze. Goldwind, having grown somewhat stiff due to standing still and waiting outdoors, decided to wander about, sniffing and scratching his beak on a few stone walls.


"There is a certain phrase taught to us early on. It would mean..." Kasrjin pursed his lips in thought, gears grinding in translation. "Perhaps...hmm. The equivalent would be, 'an arrow's echo cannot hurt you'. What do you believe your memory is to you?"


She furrowed her brow in thought, giving his words some consideration. "My memory lets me know who I am, where I have been, all I have seen and done. It shapes who I am, and who I decide to become from this moment. All those I have known, all my successes and the failures."


Kasrjin shifted his weight from one leg to another, some pieces of his armor jingling with the motion. "I have noted this. Your people...you measure the worth of your entire lives in memory. For your peoples, memory holds what appears to be infinite power. It governs every thought, informs every choice. Memory drives your...hm.” A pause. “Your passions. Emotions. Love. And also your madness. Obsession. Hatred. You believe that it is memory--the sums of your experiences--that determines who you are, but only the opposite is true. Memory is little more than an image created to make sense of the past. It carries no meaning, no truth, and no pain but what is ascribed to it.”


The paladin narrowed her eyes. "I believe we learn from our experiences. Our mistakes. And if your mistakes are dire enough, there are consequences that you must face." Her hands had stopped working on the buckles, although her grip on them lingered. She turned a bit more to look up at the Xaela.


"'An arrow's echo cannot hurt you'. Your experience provides knowledge you may draw upon...but any joy or pain you derive from it is from you alone. Not from your memory. A scar, too, causes no pain. It only reveals an echo of pain, an echo that cannot truly hurt you unless you allow it.”


Kasrjin shifted his weight again. “Many of my peoples are from other...tribes, of the Xaela. Some were conquered and absorbed. Some wished to join willingly. They carried with them the memories of their customs and their tribes that once were. Those memories hindered them at times. We taught them what a memory can do, and more importantly, what a memory cannot do."


“What if the memory is still fresh? The consequences still persistent? And the hostilities continue?" Roen had returned to looking at him from the corner of her eye. "The conflict between the Ishgardians and dragons have not ceased. It may have an action of their forefathers that started it, but the enmity continues. We fought a dragon, you and I, not too long ago. Based on a conflict that stemmed from history. Was not that dragon our enemy?"


"You wished to know if I believed the dragons' war to be wrong. I do believe it to be...wrong.”


It went deeper than that. The conflict at its core was inherently alien to him. Khadai never fought for ideas like vengeance or justice or righteousness. They fought to preserve their lives and way of living, yes, but past wrongs had never entered the picture before. Kasrjin could not even begin to explain this concept to her, though.


“To fight on behalf of a memory is pointless. It is the same as snuffing out a flame in the hopes that doing so will restore the tree. The dragons fight because their memory of Ishgard brings them pain. Ishgard fights for the reverse reason. They have yet to realize that the pain comes from what they ascribe to it.”


Roen seemed to chew on that for a moment longer. Her fingers rubbed together and a few expressions flittled across her face. His words did give her some reassurance, although it still was not quite at the heart of the matter. Was she still stalling?


Kasrjin unfolded his arms, laying them at his side to return to his neutral stance. “You asked this because you believe I place the same importance to memory as your people."


The paladin nodded, looking off at the snow that was slowly gathering height against the wall behind him. "I agree with some of what you said...." Another pause as she flicked another glance at him. "And your answer is clear that you do not." She shifted her weight, her thumb rubbing against her finger again.


He took note of her growing discomfort, and his own confusion grew.


"Khadai." She cleared her throat with a shake of her head. "I believe I am not being quite straightforward. So I will just... say this. There are people in Eorzea, who would see me as a spy, or an enemy of the state, because of where I was raised, the people I call parents, and the land I call home." She glanced about, her voice lowering. "I was raised in Garlemald. My parents are Garleans. I am... one as well." A slight pause in that admission.


A ridged brow raised itself as Kasrjin’s emerald eyes shimmered at her, but his expression was his typical stoic demeanour.


Was that it? The Au Ra was expecting something far more dire.


"...and what do you wish me to do with this information?" A hand reached up to scratch the side of his horn again. "I am unable to serve as courier at the moment. if you wish to convey this to someone else." Was there perhaps something else? Some hidden meaning that Kasrjin did not pick up on? His confusion swirled somewhat with anxiety that he was being introduced to some new foreign social convention that he would have to work his way around yet again.


A part of Roen seemed to stiffen in anticipation of his answer, but upon his bewildered nonchalance, she too raised her brows, then frowned. Her lips opened then closed. She slowly shook her head. "I... I do not know. I do not know what I wished for you to do. Perhaps I just wanted to share that with you. When you spoke of them, and called them the black ones, I... felt that I was not being truthful in letting you know I share a heritage, the same origin with those people you killed." Her frown deepened slightly, perhaps at her wording.


Kasrjin raised his shoulders. Shrugging was a gesture that was coming to him more naturally. "It is true that I have killed many black ones...Garleans. I question your intention. Do you believe yourself to be Garlean? That you should be treated as one?”


Almost brazenly, he reached a gauntleted hand out and touched her head, the side of her cheek, her shoulder, her waist....all with the same stoic demeanor as he usually held, though he did not notice her cheeks becoming flush at his motions. "You do not wear the armour. You do not wield the weapons. You bear no insignia, you do not follow their leaders, and you do not seek to conquer those that they do." The corner of his lip curled upward ever so slightly. "I have only your word that you are Garlean as you claim."


"I consider Eorzea my home. It is to these people I owe service and debt. But.." She looked away for a moment, before she peered back up at him. "It does not bother you in the least?"


"I am told my grandsire was Dotharl. A Xaela tribe. Violent. Their way was to absorb whomever they did not kill, and make them forget themselves in a frenzy of bloodlust and war." He scratched the scales of his chin. "As I recall, the chieftain of a conquered tribe tortured, then exhibited to his people as broken and feeble. After that, the Dotharl cut off the chieftain's head so they may drink his soul.” He shrugged casually. “Such as it is. I am Dotharl by association of my grandsire. Does this bother you?”


She stared at him, her eyes widening at the details. "You... do not practice these things. Your people, your tribe, do not do this." It was not quite a question and she stared at him intently.


A thoughtful hand ran itself through Kasrjin’s ponytail. "Then you have your answer well enough. You do not seek to judge me for the circumstances of my heritage. When should I judge you for yours?"


The Xaela shrugged again. "Truthfully, I question your eagerness to associate yourself with the label. 'Garlean'. Your name is not Garlean. Your dress is not Garlean. Your mannerism is not Garlean. How you speak, what you believe, what you feel, what you do and seek to do is not Garlean. I have only your word that you are Garlean. The only one between us who appears to believe that you are Garlean and therefore worthy of their shame is you."


She continued to gaze upon him for a bit longer, an expression relief starting to wash over her face. The corners of her eyes crinkled. When she dipped her head, it may have been to hide a curl of her lips. Kasrjin studied her expression intensely. Was this truly what she was so conflicted about? A matter of heritage? Heritage was important in this land, but the Au Ra had yet to believe that it brought any measure of anguish in this manner.


"Your sire was Garlean, perhaps? Your dam?” he continued. “Perhaps they dressed as such, acted as such, and sought to conquer my people as such. Had they approached me, dressed in the garb and evident in their intent to act as Garleans do, then I may treat them as only a Khadai can. Yet, they are not you. Nor are you they. In the same that I am not Dotharl.”


Her lips twisted this way and that as he continued. She shuffled her feet, making an absent show of scraping away a patch of ice on the ground. "I... understand your point." She huffed although it lacked any real indignation. "I am starting to feel a bit foolish."


Kasrjin snorted. “You continue to make the mistake of ascribing to me the behaviours of your own people."


She glared at the stubborn patch of ice. "It mattered to many others so..." She frowned back at him, although there was a slightly pause. It was as if she had words on the tip of her tongue ready to tumble forth, only to be held back at the last minute.


He wrinkled his nose. "If nothing else, your obsession with vegetable material for sustenance disproves that I am one of you." The disdainful gaze on the Au Ra’s face intensified somewhat. “To harvest fruit, berries, or herbs is one thing. But it is...barbaric, pulling plants from the ground to eat. And unclean." The faintest upward curl of his lips indicated that perhaps this was his first earnest attempt at humour.


Clearly his reasoning now has caught her off guard. It took her a breath, before her eyes slowly narrowed and her lips were tugged wider. "You should not dismiss the roots so easily. Popotoes can be quite tasty when steamed and prepared correctly."


He snorted derisively. “I have seen Yerenai no older than five cycles prepare foodstuffs better. You will excuse my doubt.”


Kasrjin paused, shifting his weight again. "...have your fears alleviated?"


She smiled up at him--a genuine expression she did not bother to hide this time--and nodded.


"That is...good. Though truthfully I am still ignorant of what reaction you expected from me." A wry grin crossed his lips, evaporating as quickly as it had vanished. "If you find that you trust nothing, you may trust that I will not hold the same demeanor as your peoples. Whatever you may think of them."


Roen dipped her head. "You would think I should have learned that by now," she murmured. She seemed to be studying his shoes. "You are not like anyone I have ever known." She crossed her arms, suddenly pulling herself up straight. "And I have known both good and bad." She gave him an odd look, although there was a hint of fondness in them. "I do not think I can attribute you to either."


His gaze was somewhat more stern. "I recognize your jest, but people are not simple. They cannot be easily condensed in such terms in the manner of, 'Miqo'te are numerous and possess a disproportionate desire to mate.' You would do well to remember that such simplicities cannot be attributed to individuals, much less groups of peoples.”


As the wind began to howl, the Au Ra glanced skyward at the worsening weather. He fastened the bird to the post and withdrew from his waistpack a series of folded hunt bills. "The climate deteriorates. I will require more hunts to be completed yet if I am to fully supply myself for this expedition." His gaze fixed on Roen again. "Are you...well enough to manage?" The phrasing was still awkward. It was not as if he did not know the words, but more that he was still unsure of his conveyance, even after all of this time.


The paladin glanced up at the dark skies and the whipping winds and snow. When Roen turned back to him, her expression had softened considerably since the talk had began. "Worry not, I can manage well enough." She canted her head. "I daresay better than you in somethings." Her words carried a hint of a tease as she looked around for both their birds that had wandered off. "At least your saddle will not loosen anytime soon."


Kasrjin’s head dipped in a nod. "My gratitude, then. Alert me if you see any Garleans nearby."


She nearly snorted out a chuckle as he strode away.

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  • 2 weeks later...

“Be careful! That is an authentic replica of a Behemoth’s head!”


One of the two Elezens standing on either side of the beastly wall mount gave a dubious look at the richly dressed Midlander who was directing them.


“If it is a replica, then how is it authentic?” the Wildwood asked as he paused with a grunt, resting his shoulder against the wall for support.


Reese Templeton stared back at him, his hands held frozen in mid-air, palms toward the two Elezen laborers. The Hyur was standing in front of his desk to supervise, while the two Wildwoods stood on step ladders set against the opposing wall. The velvet-cushioned chairs were pushed out of the way while a thick bear rug lay across the well polished floor. The daylight had already begun to recede from the windows, but the hearth crackled with a warm fire that chased away the night’s chill. Reese minded all these details as he continued to watch the two hirelings arrange his new furnitures, although one eye was now squinted in thought. He lowered a hand to rub at his chin and his well trimmed beard. “I suppose you have a point, good man. It was rendered by an artist who worked with a hunter that swore that this was an almost lifelike representation…”


When the Wildwood gave him a wry expression in turn, Reese just shrugged it off with a good-natured grin. “It looked frightening enough to send a child running back to his mother in tears, so it was good enough for me!” The Midlander sighed in relief when the two returned to their task of securing the heavy sculpture. It was true, he had no proof that this thing he purchased on the streets of Jeweled Crozier was as authentic as the merchant proclaimed, yet he bought it anyway, since she then took his card readily and repeated his name twice to commit to memory. In his mind, the more denizens of Ishgard that knew his name the better. He also hoped that mounting such a thing--as boorish as it was--in his new office in The Pillars, would impress some of his new clients. Being a newly opened business owned by outsiders, even a well-known company like Ganathain & Templeton Gridanian Arbitration Enterprise could use all the help they can get in building a reputation in this city. And what better to do that with than a trophy of an infamous beast that prowls the Coerthas mountain side?


As the enormous bust was hooked onto its final nail and the wall almost quivered with its full weight, Reese leaned back against the edge of his desk to admire the view. But rather than being obviously overcome with pride, the Midlander watched as the flickering light from the candelabra behind him gave life to the shadows upon the horns, the eyes, and the teeth of the demon.


“You are looking a bit pale, Mister Templeton. Does it look alright?” One of the Elezens stepped away from the wall, curiously studying his employer.


“Yes, yes. I am quite alright.” Reese withdrew a handkerchief from his breast pocket to lightly dab over his brows. Surely, it will look better in the morning. As long as it helps to reassure our clients that we take pride in all things Ishgard… He could already imagine the scowl of disapproval upon the face of his partner, Jeulerand, and mentally listed the reasons why this purchase was absolutely necessary. But he also found himself making a conscious effort to ignore the lengthening of the silhouette that grew from the horns of Behemoth.


Or perhaps I will take it down tomorrow. Reese pushed himself off the desk, his boots shuffling lightly over the soft rug that lay beneath his feet. At least, this purchase was a must! He quickly turned his thoughts around to congratulated himself. The floor decor said wealth, warmth, and welcome all in one package. He believed that all noble homes in this cold city must have it, and if they did, then so should he.


“Anything else, Mister Templeton?” The two Wildwood laborers looked to him once they were done replacing the chairs back beneath the wall mount.


“No, that will be all.” Reese shooed them out, carefully eyeing that they did not leave any dirt on the plush couch that faced his desk or the thick oaken bookcases that adorned two opposite sides of his office.


The Midlander leaned against the door once the movers had left, eyeing his new property. He smiled at the receptionist counter that immediately greeted his view from the entrance, and imagined a proper Elezen sitting there, welcoming his potential clients. A bottle of wine on one side perhaps, he thought. What better way to immediately relax them and warm them from the cold? Perhaps a vase with flowers. Or maybe a statue of Halone? Would a religious symbol sway potential new patrons?


But before he could let his imagination run wild with the possibilities, a quiet knock broke him from his reverie.


“I tipped you handsomely already--” Reese protested, annoyed, as he swung open the door, only to find that it was not his movers but a younger Elezen youth.


The youth was dressed in well tailored coat and pants, and although his garb did not say ‘nobility’, he was certainly employed by a well-to-do house. A squire perhaps? Such was the attention that Reese gave without thought, always assessing any new company. “Well, what can I do for you, lad?” he asked politely.


“Pardon the interruption, Mister Templeton,” the young Elezen bowed at the waist. “I was told to deliver this to you, courtesy of Lord Jeaumis. It is to congratulate you on your new abode and office.” He extended both hands, offering of a wrapped box.


“It is a tea set,” the youth said even before Reese had a chance to open it.


Setting the box on the receptionist counter, Reese bestowed upon the boy a generous smile. “Tell Lord Jeaumis that he is most kind and generous to remember his friend!” The Hyur did his best to hide his astonishment that the Elezen noble was thoughtful enough to remember him, and to deliver such a tiding on the first sun that he had gained access to his new office.


But that is Launce after all, generous to a fault, Reese mused. The Elezen noble with distant ties to the House Durendaire, was the only true friend and acquaintance that Reese had when he first came to Ishgard with nothing but hopes and ambitions. Since then, due to the generosity of his friend, he had obtained lodging at one of the deluxe Pilllars apartments and been introduced to a few notable persons within the city. The Hyur smiled suddenly at the prospect of making good on his first business arrangement with Lady Dufresne, and reminded himself to comb through the trade route arrangements that he had been working on since.


When the Elezen youth reminded him of his presence with a quiet clearing of his throat, Reese blinked and patted his pockets. “Ah. Well, let me get you something for your troubles lad…”


The courier arched both brows then shook his head. “No need, Mister Templeton. I am well provided for by my lord. I was just wondering if there was anything else you needed before I go.”


Reese humphed through his nose, impressed that an extra padding of a wanted hand was not what was expected. Does Launce treat his servants that fairly? “That will be all. Thank you.” When the boy left after another polite bow, the Hyur clicked his door closed with gusto. He had a good feeling about this.


“I will show Jeulerand that my bid to open an office here was not a mistake,” the Hyur said with a flare toward the empty receptionist chair. “He thinks of me as a lesser partner. He will eat his words when my clientele list balloons in this city.” The Midlander minded not the political tension that hung like a heavy cloud over the entire city. Surely there were needs of services that an Arbitration Enterprise like his could provide in such changing times. Reese rubbed his hands in anticipation.


“After all, these Ishgardian nobles cannot be as bad as dealing with Shroud elementals." His smile was ever hopeful. "Let’s see what this city has to offer!”

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“Ser Idristan Tournes, son of Baron Eaulaux Tournes, knight-captain of House Durendaire, you stand formally accused of heresy against the Holy See. The charges formally levelled against you are as follows: sabotage of the defenses of Camp Dragonhead, collaboration with subversive elements with the intention of committing apostasy, dereliction of duty, sedition, and embezzlement of military funds. How do you plead?” With an almost dismissive thunk, the hawk-faced inquisitor shut the large volume of Ishgardian legal code and glanced over his spectacles to stare disdainfully at the former knight.


Idristan had been stripped of his tarnished chainmail, covered in little more than functional rags, and his hands and feet clanked with the burden of heavy iron manacles. His eyes still held something of a sharp, defiant gleam, though he kept his gaze fixed at the bottom of the podium that sat in front of the inquisitor. It was little more than the assembly room of Camp Dragonhead adjacent to the mess hall, hastily converted into a courtroom with the help of the podium, some rearranged pews, and the two men-at-arms of the Inquisition standing at his sides.


“Not guilty,” he murmured, shifting from one foot to the other. There was a low murmuring among the assembled members of the clergy.


“What have you to say in your defence?”


“I have only ever been a loyal servant who has dedicated my life and honour to the preservation and prosperity of Ishgard and the Holy See.” Tournes’ voice cracked at the word ‘dedicated’. The murmuring increased. “If the Fury, by her grace, has seen fit to relieve me of my command and calling, then I accept Her verdict, but I deny any and all accusations that I had betrayed Halone’s trust in my duty.”


The inquisitor’s eyes narrowed to blade-like slits, a derisive snort escaping from his hooked nose. “Understand that if you are found guilty beneath the Fury’s gaze without confessing, the punishment will extend to all of those in your command. The prosperity of Ishgard is reliant on the removal of those who would plot the destruction of the Holy See and her people.”


“I understand the severity of my circumstances, Inquisitor. I deny the charges all the same, and request that those under my command be spared my fate.”


The murmuring increased in volume to a low mumbling.


“Whether or not your men will be judged is dependent on you, Knight-Captain,” the inquisitor growled. “Is it not a fruitful coincidence that your acceptance of your new mercenary charges occurred just before an insidious attack on Camp Dragonhead by heretics who had managed to infiltrate the walls?”


“I did not accept any additional freelancers. Deneith had been in my service for several moons. Her companions moved onto the city.”


“But you did exercise your authority in order to allow them entry, did you not?”


“Camp Dragonhead is a fortification under the ultimate command of House Fortemps. It is they who--”


“Yes, we are aware of House Fortemps’ frivolous association with outsiders, but it is not the decisions of House Fortemps that we judge today. Answer the question. On your authority, your freelancer and two outsiders were accepted into Dragonhead’s walls. Is this or is this not true?”


“...it is true.”


Sensing triumph, the corner of the inquisitor’s mouth split into a grin.


“And Camp Dragonhead was laid under attack by heretics who ingested dragonblood. Is this or is this not true?”


“It is true.”


“Ser Idristan Tournes. You have been brought before the gaze of the Fury to be judged for your crimes. Confess, and surrender your collaborators, and Halone will exercise fair judgment upon you.”


“I deny the charges.”


Idristan looked up at the inquisitor to stare at the latter’s beady hazel eyes. There was nearly an audible gasp amongst the assembled clergy, as if they could not believe that the obviously-guilty knight would throw away everything.


The grin spread across the inquisitor’s face.


“Then by the power invested in me by the Fury and the Holy See, I hereby order Idristan Tournes, son of Baron Eaulaux Tournes, and all those under his command, to be arrested for heresy and taken to Ishgard to face punishment.”


Idristan’s gaze wavered, and his throat caught, but not for the reasons he thought. Back to Ishgard? Not Witchdrop?


The two men-at-arms at his side roughly clasped his arms and began to drag the manacled captain out of the door. The clergy assembled on the pews nodded sagely to each other in agreement in a display of synchronized sycophancy. That sight alone almost made him sick.


“Fear not, Captain,” the inquisitor called out after him as a black hood was pulled over his head. “Given time, even you may be redeemed.”




That was many moons ago.


By the Grace of the Fury--perhaps an inappropriate thought for Idristan Tournes to think, given the circumstances--he and many others who had been held by the Church under accusations of heresy had been released. Lord Commander Aymeric's push for secularism had been almost unanimously passed by the newly formed House of Lords and House of Commons, and thus Tournes had been restored to his proper rank of knight-captain within the Temple Knights.


And yet, he found himself with more questions than answers.


Idristan Tournes was, for the most part, a loyal man who quietly and dutifully served his nation and faith in its time of need. And yet, someone saw fit to use the machinations of the Church to arrest him. But why?


"Good to see you back, Tournes." A grunted greeting resounded to Idristan from the entrance to the barracks. The Elezen turned, his mail armour only half-donned to greet an older Wildwood. Idristan gave a brief salute.


"Commander Marchand."


Marchand was aged but not yet wizened; his worn face held surprisingly few wrinkles or scars, but his eyes were sunken and cheeks somewhat gaunt, belying his status as something of a haunted veteran. Nonetheless, the Commander never let such things affect his command.


"They let you out of the stockades, eh? I'm surprised how many people the Church had locked up in their gaols. You'd only been held for a few moons but it's nice to see you still remember how to put your armour on."


"A poor knight I would be if some incarceration were capable of depriving me of that much," Idristan said dryly. He was conversing with his commander and yet his thoughts were elsewhere. The questions did little to abate. The Church is--was--strict and ruthless, but fair. If Idristan had been truly suspected of heresy, then the Temple Knights would have been the first to deal with their internal affairs as they had always had. Yet, someone skipped some chains and involved the Inquisition directly.


His mind wandered. "On your authority, your freelancer and two outsiders were accepted into Dragonhead’s walls. Is this or is this not true...?"


Were they after someone under his command? Deneith? One of her companions? All of them? And whoever authorised his arrest...in the months leading up to the end of the Dragonsong War, Marchand had received increasing number of reports of heretics in the city. Were they truly heretics, or was the same entity within the Church using the Inquisition and heresy as an excuse?


Idristan's mind gradually filtered itself back to reality.


"...brood, so it looks like the Lord Commander is itching to send some poor sods off to the borders. Not enough to re-spark the war, but it'll be uneasy having to fight with dragons against more dragons if the rest of the Horde refuses to disperse." Marchand was blathering on, as usual, though the commander jerked his head towards Idristan. "You ready, Tournes? Your squad has to leave tonight for Cloudtop."


"In a minute, Commander," Idristan said absentmindedly as he affixed the last of his armour to himself. "I need to prepare some correspondence."






By now you might have heard of my arrest.


Someone or something within the Church may have been using its influence to gather falsely accused heretics. There may be more innocents involved.


I cannot investigate. This is not an order; I am not your captain any longer. This is a request.


Be careful. Someone may be looking for you.



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  • 1 month later...

Over eighteen years ago.


Josette twiddled her thumbs.


The study within the Brooks manse was an imposing room if not a bit sparse. The polished floor tiles were made of carefully chosen and expertly carved stones, and they echoed the footsteps of any who walked about with haunting clarity. A vase filled with Halone Gerbera decorated each corner of the room, and the room's sofas and finely crafted chairs were arranged throughout the space to allow for conversations, yet distanced just enough to discourage anything more intimate. The dark bookshelves nearly touched the crown molding on the vaulted ceilings, and stood proudly on either side of the massive desk that was the central point of the room. Each shelf was filled with volumes of written history regarding Ishgard’s Thousand Year War and countless more tomes with interpretations and reiterations of the Enchiridion. A large oil painting of the fully armored goddess Halone hung on the wall behind the desk, her portrait gilded in a golden frame.


Lord Brooks had meant for the depiction of the Goddess to draw the eyes of all who entered the room. Lewan had said that it was because of his father’s singular devotion to the Goddess of War that he dedicated this room to Her glory, and also the reason he removed many other decorations once Lady Brooks was no longer present. Josette missed the thick ornate rugs that used to shelter the guests’ feet from the cold tiles, and the rest of the walls seemed barren without the paintings of the rest of the family that used to hang there. But since his wife’s departure, Lord Brooks had dedicated almost all of his waking hours to the duties of the Inquisition, and wanted his house to reflect his unwavering faith.


So it was with much surprise that Josette learned that Lord Brooks’ only daughter, Rissalyn, had come under the tutelage of an arcanist within the Scholasticate. It was well known that the Holy See frowned upon arcanima and summoning magic, for the latter was oft used by heretics. But supposedly there were enough proponents who argued for understanding such magic to better combat it, that pockets of research were being allowed. Anything to further strengthen Ishgard’s defenses against those who would threaten it, Josette could hear Lewan say. But still… none within the city would ever imagine allowing such teachings to their children.


Surely Lysa would have voiced such concerns to her lord if there was any doubt of this new teacher’s credibility and faith. Rissa’s nanny had become fiercely protective of her ward since her mother’s departure, and such a thing as this would not have gone past her notice. Josette felt a small pang of guilt in her heart that as Rissa’s best friend, she herself did not know how this came about. She knew her friend was quite skilled in calculations and numbers--those things that Josette had no taste for--but when did she express interest in studying arcanima? Josette blamed herself for her ignorance; she had not been spending as much time with her best friend lately, especially when Lewan had some reprieve from his duties as a squire.


Rissa would never begrudge me for spending time with her brother. She loves her brother as much as I do.


So when Rissalyn asked Josette to attend one of her lessons with her new teacher, Josette accepted the invitation without hesitation. Despite her apprehensions, she greeted the elder Elezen, Emert Fouinon, with her most pleasant smile and bearing perfect decorum, as any well bred lady should. But as Josette watched them carry out their lesson, she wondered if Halone herself would condone the education that was being dispensed just beneath her austere gaze. I am being silly, she chided herself repeatedly. Rissa’s own father must have approved of this and if it has an Inquisitor’s approval, who am I to doubt? She straightened the cashmere silk of her dress as she shifted in her seat, before turning her nervous attention back to the two other figures in the room.


Rissalyn was seated on the floor, and was intently combing over the details written in the grimoire that was opened in front of her. Josette could tell from her silence that her friend was in intense concentration, she had not moved or said a word in almost a bell since she was set to task.


Sitting on the edge of the desk a few fulms away from Rissa was her teacher, he too with a thick tome held in his hands. He was flipping through the pages back and forth, penning notes now and then.


“I am ready, Master Fouinon.” Rissalyn’s quiet voice seemed loud as any midday bell amidst the silence. Both Josette and Master Fouinon looked up at the girl, the latter closing his own grimoire.


“Do proceed, Rissa.” The Elezen adjusted his glasses.


Josette found herself leaning slightly forward in anticipation, intently watching her friend. Rissa’s violet eyes were narrowed, although her expression remained meek as ever. But her gaze was not upon any particular object in the room, it was staring into the empty air. Her hand began to move, as if of their own accord, and her friend’s pupils darted this way and that as if she saw imaginary shapes spinning in the air.


Josette gasped as a shaft of light pierced through the floor in front of Rissa, as if it was cutting through the ground from underneath. She could only watch breathlessly as the thin white beam then grew into a bright column to overtake her vision. Still, in the distance, Josette could see Rissa continuing to trace more configurations.


When the white glare faded from her eyes, a creature surrounded in light stood in the room. Its black eyes blinked curiously as it looked about, and its furry blue tail swayed excitedly. It was a creature like she had never seen before; its coat seemed to be made of the clearest blue summer sky.


“Very well done, Rissa!” Master Fouinon clasped his hands together. “How quickly you learned those calculations to summon a carbuncle! And with such precision!” The Elezen leaned over to glance at her grimoire, as if to scrutinize her work.


Rissalyn and the blue carbuncle seemed to be staring at each other wordlessly, its reflection bright against her glasses. The creature made no noise, nor did it seem affectionate, but it seemed lively and eager as it turned and hopped from one stone tile to the other. Wherever it went, that shimmering glow that emanated from its furry coat accompanied him, lending a gentle illumination to an otherwise dimly lit study.


Josette could only stare at the scene, her mouth agape. Her first instinct was to look at the door, to make sure that it was locked. Summoning was forbidden, was it not…? Josette was suddenly not sure. Was Master Fouinon allowed to teach such things to other Ishgardian residents? The Elezen seemed most curious about his studies with an eccentric and almost aloof personality, much like Rissa. But certainly someone from the Scholasticate would abide by the rules with more care than his student who was merely in her teens.


The older girl could only fidget her seat, ringing her fingers. Did Lord Brooks truly approve of all this? Josette was now old enough to observe that since the loss of his wife, the Inquisitor had been more willing to allow his daughter to spend her time as she wished, as long as she was out of his way. Not that Rissalyn was the type of girl to ask for her father’s attentions, but since he was away from home on most occasions, it was only proper that his daughter’s education was attended to with some diligence. Just how aware was he of his own daughter’s interests?


Even still, Master Fouinon and Rissalyn only kept their lessons to her father’s study, which was strategically located in the back of the estate. The servants were strictly instructed not to interrupt them, and Lysa enforced this without fail and even locked the doors for the duration. All the curtains were drawn to further secure their privacy, and only the flickering candles of the candelabra and the majestic painting stood witness to the practice of arcanima .


Josette fought a shiver as she was unsure of what to do. Then she paused.


Rissa had extended a hand to the blue carbuncle, her expression still bland. The creature tilted its head and hopped forward, sniffing at her upturned palm. Finding nothing here, it nudged her knuckles with its nose to turn her hand over. When Rissa allowed it, the carbuncle slid its head beneath her palm. The girl’s violet eyes widened at the sudden gesture, her lips parting with delight. The carbuncle stretched beneath her hand, and Rissa took the opportunity to run her fingers through its fur over the length of its back to the tip of its voluminous tail.


Josette too, somehow found herself smiling. The carbuncle… despite being a summoned creature, it was an enchanting thing. And it wasn’t some disgusting multi-legged crawly thing that Rissa always seemed to find fascinating. For the first time, her friend seemed somewhat taken in by something that could be considered adorable. Certainly the Holy See would not see such creatures as a threat...


“You seem to have a gift for this, little lady.” Master Fouinon adjusted his spectacles again, his expression beaming with both astonishment and pride. “To successfully summon on your first try! I knew you were talented, after learning the first two spells with such ease...”


“That was amazing, Rissa.” Josette finally peeled herself off of her chair, approaching the two. She kept a cautionary distance between herself and the carbuncle, but she could not help give it a curious glance or two as she smiled at her friend. “I had no idea your studies have come so far.”


“I was not sure she would be able to do it on her first try,” Master Fouinon observed as he stroked his chin. “And the carbuncle has taken to her rather quickly as well! I have seen these things run about unchecked in the hands of an poorly learned caster.”


“Can I summon other things?” Rissa looked up at the Elezen, her expression bright. It was a break from her usual subdued visage and it made Josette take notice of it. The question should have alarmed her, and yet the excitement that she saw renewed in her friend’s eyes--that light that had been absence since her mother’s departure--it too made Josette glance to Master Fouinon in anticipation.


The Elezen let out a laugh, although Josette thought she saw him glance at the door for an instant. “Ah… not so fast, dear pupil. I still need to convince the rest of the Scholasticate and my superiors that further studies should certainly be sanctioned. But you bring me hope that my research can educate and empower those who are willing to learn.”


Rissa said nothing, disappointment clear in her slumped frame. Josette maintained her silence as Master Fouinon gathered his belongings, gave instructions of further studies for his student, and then left the premise. The carbuncle also disappeared with a flash of light, leaving the two girls alone in the dark study.


“There are other things that can be summoned,” the younger girl said quietly. “Master Fouinon says that he has learned of a realm of untapped energy and creatures that no one even knows of. One only needs to figure out a way to open a portal to summon them.”


Josette had been parting the heavy drapes, letting the orange glow of the sunset wash into the room. She frowned as she turned to Rissa, who was still seated on the cold tile floor. The girl’s shadows were lengthening behind her.


“You heard Master Fouinon,” Josette warned sternly. “Do not take this summoning arts lightly. One dances too closely toward charges of heresy when dabbling in such things. If it was not for your father--”


Josette stopped herself when she saw Rissalyn’s face lose all the elation it held before. It was in that moment that she resolved to holding her tongue on the matter, at least not voicing her doubts to Rissa. It was clearly something that her friend was excited about, and Josette did not want to put a damper on it if she could help it. Perhaps she would ask Lewan for his council. Certainly, her brother would have some thoughts on this. Tying the drapes with a thick woven cord, she approached her friend and kneeled in front of her. She reached out and closed her hands around that of the younger girl.


“I am glad you invited me today,” Josette said quietly, bowing her head slightly to level her gaze with her friend’s. “I feel like we have not spent time in forever, and that is my fault. I am glad you trusted me enough to let me see what has captivated your attention so all this time.”


Rissa squeezed Josette’s hand back. “I am glad you were here.”


Josette beamed and pulled her friend in for an embrace. “I am certain your studies will go well, you are the smartest person I know when it comes to these... mathematical… things.” When Rissa squirmed within her arms, Josette rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean,” she waved vaguely with one hand.


“These things have names. They are intricate configurations and--” Rissa began to protest, although her words were laced with mirth.


Things!” Josette exclaimed as she reached around her friend, her fingers wiggling into spaces she knew Rissa to be ticklish.


Soon the two figures fell over onto the floor in a heap and sounds of squeals and giggles filled the hollowed halls.






Josette Reeves stared into the air, as equations from the parchment seemed to leap off the page and take flight. But the letters and the numbers would unravel like a ball of yarn undone, into a long thin serpent as it swam through the air, spinning into new shapes. It would form a circle that then grew into a sphere, cut in half by a triangle that then expanded into a pyramid. Then it would all unravel again to spell out a new modified calculation from before. All the while, her gloved hand continued to write upon the pages of the thick tome on the desk in front of her.


“Is the rack ready for a new subject?” she said without turning around.


Aurelieaux, a Duskwight alchemist from Ul’dah and her newest assistant appointed by the Marquis, sounded nonplussed. “Have you come up with a new formula already?” He stiffened when she paused in her work to turn around and face him.


“I may have not been precise enough in my calculations of an Elezen’s blood volume. There are small variables I had not accounted for.” She noted the empty bucket next to the Duskwight’s booted feet. The large laboratory apron that covered most of his torso was covered with crimson stains. “I will correct for these variables with the next batch of heretics.”


The Elezen gave a long sigh in response, wiping his forehead with the sleeve of his wrist. “But must the rack be pristinely cleaned after each subject? Bloodstains are not the easiest things to eliminate. Surely, the heretics need not the cleanest--”


“I will not permit any other variables to exist.” Josette cut him off sharply. “The Dravanian influence is thought to run through their veins. No other blood--not even miniscule amounts--can be allowed to affect the experiment. You know what is at stake.”


“Of course, Miss Reeves.” Aurelieaux straightened, his voice sobering. He dipped his head in acquiescence and picked up the bucket again, the coarse brush and bottle of terebinth rattling within. “I have not forgotten the purpose for which I was brought here to assist you. I shan’t object any further.” He nodded firmly. “Nothing must stand in the way of finding a cure to the Dravanian curse.”


Josette said nothing as she watched him round the corner, disappearing from her sight. Her gaze began to grow distant as the ghost of a memory came to her unbidden.


“Do you know what I ask? Do you know what is at stake?”


“I would do anything for you. Tell me.”


She spun back around, her expression blank once more as she turned her attention back to her notes. But there was a smallest furrow to her brow.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The ride had been rather arduous--the Xaela had never mounted an animal before, and found himself in a constant state of discomfort and unease at the motion of the black-feathered destrier--but the weather had thankfully been clear enough that they'd been able to make a full day's ride to Tailfeather with little incident. The hunters were amiable enough, having grown somewhat used to Kasrjin's hunts bringing him to their gates, and a quick exchange of coin allowed the use of their stables to store his bird. The sun was just about to dip beneath the mountains, leaving less than a bell before nightfall.


Kasrjin's relationship with his chocobo seemed to have ameliorated since the last time he had interacted with the animal like this; Karadwyr shuffled about noticeably less as he checked and re-checked the fastenings of the saddlebags that held his provisions. The chocobo was a massive black destrier meant to carry a fully-armoured knight into battle, so at the least he did not need to worry overmuch about a weight limit. The bird chirped what Kasrjin interpreted as solemn approval as he loosened the straps somewhat, running a hand between the soot-coloured feathers and the faded brown leather of the bags. He hesitated to begin removing the straps and armour of the bird out of a silent fear that he would not be able to re-affix them back onto the chocobo once they had been removed. Karadwyr helpfully warbled in a small protest of discomfort but otherwise, well-trained as it was, it merely poked at the ground with its talons, the buckles of the straps jingling lightly.


He traced his hand very carefully along the straps and fastenings before deciding that he was at least confident enough in his ability to remove Karadwyr's armoured helmet. Karadwyr chirped appreciatively at having been freed from at least the confines of the war helmet, and complied rather easily when the Au Ra shuffled him off into the stables to rest.


There was a telltale jingle of armour and footsteps that continually surprised him in how light they were. Without turning, he could hear the slight clank her gauntlets made whenever she folded her arms together. Kasrjin glanced towards the stables, peering at Roen from the corner of his eye. "Have you sought lodging? The stables are shelter enough for myself."


Kasrjin saw her brows arch and her face crease in combined consternation and curiosity. "Stables? Why not stay at the inn?"


The Xaela was taken aback by her statement, though he was careful not to show it. Roen was not the same caliber of outdoorsman as he was; it was unlikely that she ventured this far from Ishgard very often. Civilised places had civilised functions, but wild frontiers like Tailfeather had little use or reason for such luxuries. "...the only residence I could spy is the hunter's lodge," he responded somberly.


Roen pursed her lips. "You do not wish to stay indoors?" The paladin stepped towards him, her gaze scanning each building. "I have managed outdoors before, but only when there was no other option..."


"I do not seek to impose," Kasrjin grunted as he pushed open the stable windows, allowing the curious black-feathered chocobo to poke its head out and warble. "I am not even sure if there are residences for travellers to stay. The only available housing belongs to the hunters. Caravans often stay with their wagons."


"Stables it is...I suppose..." Roen muttered. The Xaela wasn't looking at her, but he could tell from her frown that she was disappointed and apprehensive at staying in a stable. "At the least, there is no danger of freezing."


He tilted his head at her. Was she not going to seek proper lodging? "I asked because I assume that you had sought shelter indoors. You need not subject yourself to the same conditions as myself."


Roen glanced towards the stables again before letting out a sharp exhale through her nose. "I can make do in the stables." She sounded a bit prideful--unusual. "After all, who knows if we will see lodging once we head further into Dravania. I might as well get used to the conditions." The paladin gave a firm nod, though it seemed to be more for herself than for the Au Ra. "I learned how to weather the cold in Coerthas. I am sure I will survive a night or two in the stables."


He shrugged in response. "As you say." Kasrjin stepped inside the stables. The last gleaming beam of sunset crested over the mountains of Dravania, indicating that nightfall would be upon them soon. He found an empty stable and closed the loose windows, settling down near an empty loft where the hay and straw laid out for the birds was almost impeccably clean. He lay his sword across his chest and leaned back against the hard wood wall, stealing some straw for himself to place beneath the small of his back before closing his eyes.


Roen followed him into the stables, although her steps were audibly uncertain. Another long exhale was released just before she rounded the corner to enter the stables. She watched him from the corner of her eyes before gathering some hay to arrange into something resembling a cushion.


"You are unused to living outdoors?" Kasrjin asked, his eyes still closed shut.


"Hm?" Roen sounded distracted as she arranged the hay, the shuffling of the straws sounding rather noisy in the confined stable. "Ah. Well...um. ...No. I Suppose not. I suppose I have always been used to some lodging. I have slept on a bedroll and in a tent... but not often."


One of his eyelids peered open at her in mild surprise. "You did not bring one?"


Her frown was almost audible. "I have one!" Roen gestured to the saddle she had brought in with her. "I am just trying to see if this stack of hay would be a soft base." Her voice sounded a bit unnerved. "I have never slept in a stable before. What do you do with this hay? Do you use it as bedding?"


"As a cushion, at most," Kasrjin responded. "Many Au Ra do not sleep on their back or sides." As if to demonstrate, he lightly tapped the tapered, sharp horns affixed to the side of his head. "I imagine you evenly distribute it before laying your bedroll upon it." His eyes were open and he glanced at her.


Roen blinked eyes wide, turning in her seat to inspect him. "You... do not lay down to sleep...?" She stared at him for a moment longer, cocking her head and narrowing her eyes to study his horns.


"It depends on the horns. There are some Au Ra who cannot sleep on their sides. Comfort does matter."


"So you learned to find... that position... comfortable?"


Kasrjin nodded. "It is workable, yes. It also allows me to respond quickly to threats."


Roen stared at him for a moment longer before self-consciously beginning to rearrange the hay, standing to retrieve her bedroll from the corner. She snorted at his response as she began to unwind the bedroll, not looking at him. "Practical.. but such vigilance does not make for restful sleep I would imagine."


"One learns to adjust," the Xaela said. "The beasts and the black ones both do not take particularly merciful stances to those they catch unawares."


He heard the clanking as Roen began to undo her gauntlets, tugging them off her arm. "Were you always so vigilant, even when sleeping amongst your people? I would imagine there would be some occasions where you could just... not be ready to fight. At least for a bit."


"Our role demands it," Kasrjin said matter-of-factly. "It is possible to have restful sleep and be alert simultaneously. Even when the....groups came together, I would imagine most Khadai would remain vigilant."


Roen's mouth curled into a frown. "Such a burden on those chosen to be Khadai." She turned back to arranging her bedding, working to unclasp her spaulder, beginning to fluff her bed. "If you could choose another role, what would it be?"


He paused before answering. "...whatever the Tsenkhai determined would be optimal for me." Tsuven Tsenkhai was in a different role, but Kasrjin could not even begin to explain the...disassociation he felt from his previous role.


Roen turned in her seat again, this time to sit on the top of her bedroll as if to test out its thickness atop the straws. She gave a lopsided grin at Khadai. "Oh, just humour me. What job would you imagine for yourself? If say... you were to choose as a Tsenkhai."


He pursed his lips in thought. "...I do not know. It is not something I have ever thought about." Kasrjin could not begin to imagine such. To determine one's own role, to attempt to judge one's own capabilities with regard only to wants? This was how people in this land determined things. It sounded like utter chaos. "Personal inclinations are considered, but such as it is, people do not know what they want to do until they have already done it. They cannot be relied upon to make such a judgment themselves. That is why it is--and should be--for others to decide."


"Well then," Roen said, putting her hands on her lap. "Perhaps then this is your opportunity to...do a lot of things. And see if it is something you want to do."


"I do not quite understand your meaning."


"You said it yourself, people do not know what they want to do until you do it. I have seen you fish, and work with leather, and hunt. Do you not take enjoyment in any of those things?"


Kasrjin frowned. "Those are...chores. They serve a purpose."


Roen rolled her shoulders. "People do fish, for fun. Why I have done it myself." A small smile tugged at her lips.


He did enjoy fishing. The Jungsai were loathe to bring one outside of their caste, but those moments were...enjoyable at times. "...I can see the appeal." His admission was quiet. "But all that I do has a purpose in it. I have yet to do any of these things for the sake of implicit enjoyment."


"...Have you ever thought to?" She regarded him curiously. "To do something just for the sake of enjoyment?"


"I have not. I am sure there are some among my people who have. But I have not."


Roen began to undo her belt, setting the metal plating that fell around her waist and hips aside. She set it aside along with her shield and sword. "Why not?" She glanced at him from the corner of her eyes. "Your people must know that enjoyment can replenish the spirit and the mind."


He frowned. "There are games of chance. War simulations. These things can be enjoyed, but as with all things, they are done with a purpose in mind."


The last thing she slid off where those boots, just the heavy metals were set aside to allow her to slide into her bedding unencumbered. "You can still enjoy those things, whether they had purpose or not."


"And I have. But they were not done solely for enjoyment's own sake."


"Ah!" Her eyes lit up and she held up a finger. "So what activities did you enjoy then?"


Kasrjin rubbed his jaw. "Fishing can be relaxing....although frustrating if the yield is low. Some of our war games can be amusing if the snow is not too deep. The Khadai, Jungsai, and Nayantai often compete in athletic contests." "Contests" was a bit of a generous word for it. The Nayantai always won the races. The Jungsai always won hunts. The Khadai always won the sparring. Still, there was some amusement to be had, even as the result was pre-determined by their capabilities.


"Hmm," she hummed, her gaze softening. She watched him for a moment longer before she slid further into her bedroll. It was after she shifted a few times over the hay, before she turned on her side to look back at the Au Ra. "Do you miss them?" Her question was quietly asked, a soft murmured thing.


"...perhaps what they represented," he responded equally softly, though he did not elaborate.


She narrowed her eyes in thought, as if waiting for him to elabourate. When such an elaboration failed to make an appearance, she just peered up at him for a moment longer. "I hope... I hope this gets you a step closer to finding what you are looking for." Roen let out a sigh, and her voice lowered even further. Perhaps she was getting sleepy, it had been a long ride, or perhaps she had grown somber for another reason. "Then you would be able to return to your people..." Her eyes grew half lidded. She turned in her bedroll to face the other side of the room.


He glanced at her, but did not say anything, merely watching until her chest began to rise and fall with rhythmic breathing, before facing forward and closing his eyes himself.

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  • 3 weeks later...

An unwelcome shaft of light snaked its way through the shuttered windows of the stable and blasted itself against his eyelids like a lightning bolt thrown by a particularly vengeful deity. Kasrjin tilted his head to his left to move his eyes out of the sun before blinking unsteadily. He'd never considered the sensation of wakefulness to be a pleasant one, a notion belied by his usually alert appearance. An emerald sheen could be seen as his eyelids fluttered open and his cognisant functions returned. The steel of his sword had chilled considerably during the night, though the hay was surprisingly pliable. He glanced over to Roen to see his companion still resting; she would wake up on her own, he supposed.


The Xaela set about affixing his armour back onto his person, doing so as quietly as he could. A part of him winced at the light jingling of the mail hauberk and the occasional clank of the iron sabatons impacting one another, but he managed with little trouble. Kasrjin was just about to set the greatsword in its harness upon his back when the noise from outside the stable caught his attention.


Metal. The characteristic warbling of chocobos. There were...commands being shouted. Tailfeather was a hunter's lodge, so some activity was expected, but judging from the amount of noise alone, it must have been some kind of cavalry unit. He glanced at Roen again, whose chest rose and fell gently in rhythm. She was either more exhausted than she let on or a remarkably heavy sleeper. Or perhaps the Au Ra was simply more sensitive to noise.


He crept toward the entrance of the stable, careful to keep from moving the door too much--it had a poor habit of creaking on the hinges, which was useful for alerting him to intruders, at the least. The hunters had affixed a simple bar at the front of the stables, but the gap between the doors was sizeable enough for him to reach a hand through and lift the bar if needed. The gap also enabled Kasrjin to spy outside.


The position of the sun indicated that it was but a few bells after dawn, with the blazing light just beginning to crest itself over the mountainous terrain of Dravania. Assembled in the common yard of Tailfeather were a group of Ishgardian knights and their mounts. Kasrjin nodded to himself. Nine...twenty...thirty? It was a sizeable force, comparable to a warband. The men and their birds both were lightly armoured, which meant that whatever endeavour they were engaged on required speed.


Pursuers? No, it was unlikely that whatever authority intended to harass them in the city would commit so many men to two individuals. Kasrjin leaned against the door to expand the gap, allowing him to observe more of the knights and their mounts. Some of the chocobos had some kind of rope lattice attached to the saddlebags. Nets? The men were all armed with bows and lances. Some dried blood could be seen caked on their faces. One man stood in a knight's uniform of plate armour, directing the men's efforts to something Kasrjin couldn't quite see. Judging from their state, they were returning from...something. A battle?


The armoured knight suddenly made a jabbing pointing motion at the stable.


Kasrjin quickly retreated as silently as he could, making his way into the stable where they had spent the night and shaking Roen rather violently. "We must leave," he urged. The Xaela moved to the opposite side of the stable and began checking the birds. Karadwyr warbled in annoyed agitation as the saddlebags were affixed to the destrier again.


They were here for something, but if it was them, he would rather not give them something to find.

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Sleeping in a stable was not a comfortable thing.


The ground was too firm, and the hay, despite the fact that she had put a generous layer of it below her bedroll, lacked the comforts of a bed. Had she grown so accustomed to the luxury of furnishings? Roen wrestled with that thought as she shifted every now and then during the night, trying to quell her pride that if Khadai can sleep under these conditions--sitting up no less--she should be able to get some semblance of rest as well. She would fall asleep, then waken a few bells later, only to try and drift back to sleep again.


So it felt like she had finally found a perfect soft spot to doze when a violent shake of her shoulder woke her.


“We must leave,” a deep voice rumbled through her consciousness.


It was not only those words, but the quiet urgency in Khadai’s voice that made Roen bolt up straight in her bedroll. Her hand was already reaching for her sheathed sword lying nearby, although it was mostly out of habit rather than the Au Ra’s tone. She took a moment to blink away the haziness of slumber from her eyes, but it did not take her long to note the stable doors were still closed and none had entered their particular stall. Khadai had already moved from her side, attending to his destrier. He said nothing more, but the distant sounds of shouting began to filter through the walls of the stables.


There was activity beyond, and it had alarmed him.


Roen began to equip herself without another word, even as she glanced up to the morning light that was peeking through the windows.Getting back into her armor with haste was something she could do half awake; such was the life of a mercenary soldier expecting attacks in the middle of the night. She could discern from the lighting that it was still early morning, so she doubted that the commotion was that of a typical hustle of hunters getting started for the sun. There were no telltale sounds of battle either. So even as she continued to fasten her gauntlets onto her hand, she glanced at Khadai’s back as he saddled his chocobo.


He had a headstart on her in being ready for whatever was walking through those doors, he was already fully armored and saddling his mount. She clucked her tongue to alert her own bird. Goldwind shuffled his feathers; the noise had alway awoken him, but his eyes blinked wide and his head lifted and swiveled side to side at her call.


Roughly sliding her sword to into her belt, Roen hurried to her chocobo’s side, yanking the saddle onto his back. Goldwind only bristled slightly at the hasty movements, but a nervous trill that rose from the chocobo mirrored her apprehension. The paladin squinted as she tried to get a glimpse in between the shuttered windows to see what was going on outside, but she could only vaguely make out moving figures. She tilted her head back to direct her words at the Au Ra on the other side of the stall even while she continued to prepare for a swift departure.


“So what are we dealing with?”

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"Knights," Kasrjin reported somewhat breathlessly as his hands carefully refastened the harness and the saddlebags. "Close to thirty. Not here for us, perhaps, but it is better that we do not risk it." The Xaela moved to the rear end of the stable and lifted up the bar, allowing the back doors of the stable to swing open before returning to guide Karadwyr out. The black destrier warbled slightly in protest to its bridle being tugged on by the Au Ra, but the sooner they got out of the stable, the better it would be. As the paladin and her bird followed, Kasrjin shut the back door and replaced the bar.


"War party. Nets, bows, lances. Dragons, maybe. They look to be camping here. We should leave, just in case." If he had to guess, the commanding officer wanted to appropriate the stables for their chocobos. "We are heading to the location known as Anyx Trine. With luck, we will not be harassed on the way there." If Roen had questions, the journey there would be an adequate opportunity to discuss them as well. Kasrjin placed a foot into the stirrup and hoisted himself over Karadwyr's back, quickly--and somewhat nervously, though he did his best not to let it show--checking the status of the saddlebags to make sure none would fall off during their exodus.


The sound of the knights beginning to shuffle their birds into the stable was audible as Kasrjin glanced at Roen. "I doubt we will be able to sneak. It would be best if we simply left in a hurry. Follow my lead." With a crack of the reins, Karadwyr let out a cry as the destrier rapidly accelerated from behind the stable and began to make a beeline for the river. There was a gate leading to the northern forelands, and it was much shorter than going around the mountains. Some of the knights seemed startled at the presence of the sudden rampage of the two chocobos tearing out of Tailfeather, but Kasrjin noted that none of them seemed interested past the initial noise. That was good; either they weren't here to pursue them, or he and Roen somehow avoided recognition. The chocobos warbled happily at being able to fully stretch their legs into a full gallop. Their talons made wondrous splashes in the river, though Kasrjin had to duck his head to avoid being clotheslined by the bottom of the river gate's portcullis.


After sufficient distance, he tugged on the reins for a few moments before briefly remembering that controlling Karadwyr required the use of his stirrups as well. Karadwyr's gallop slowed to a canter and eventually a comfortable trot as they made their way to the road, and the Xaela finally allowed him to breathe a sigh of relief. If those knights had been sent to pursue them, even he wouldn't know precisely how to act.


"Those men seem to have been on a dragon hunt. Do Ishgardians make strikes into Dravania regularly?" Kasrjin had never seen such a large party in Tailfeather during his hunts.

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  • 2 weeks later...

“Ishgard keeps most of its forces close to the city for defense,” Roen murmured as she glanced behind them for the third time, still finding no pursuers. Only then did she allowed herself a long exhale of relief, finally settling in her saddle. She could feel the lightness in Goldwind’s steps, her bird energized and happy from the unplanned morning run, oblivious to their plight. As she took a deep breath in the cool morning air, she squinted up at the shafts of sunlight spearing through the canopy of leaves above. The trees rustled quietly with the northern wind, and an occasional herd of white clouds drifting across the sky afforded them passing shade.


Even though it had been a familiar sight all her life, a wave of nostalgia in seeing that expanse of azure brushed her heart. More than a year had been spent in snow and ice, and Roen had grown used to the somber hues of grey. The recent suns spent in Costa Del Sol felt almost like a dream, and now riding through the forestlands of Dravania, every green patch of grass was a pleasant reminder that the rest of Eorzea was just as she had left it--vibrant and flourishing. Their sprint through the stream was exhilarating, and if it had not been for the possibility that they were in fleeing from soldiers, she would have considered indulging a bit longer near the fresh running water. It had been years since she had reveled in such an exercise. She could tell Goldwind was yearning for more.


“Perhaps the knights were on a particular hunt,” Roen wondered aloud, as if to refocus her thoughts back to the subject at hand. For the year that she had been serving Knight Captain Tournes, her squadron was never ordered to venture too far from Coerthas. Tailfeather was as far as she had ever traveled, and that was a rare visit, to assist merchants traveling to and from the outpost. She had never recalled as many as thirty soldiers being commissioned to anywhere in Dravania.


But having participated in the dragon hunt near the Convictory along side Ser Vaillancourt, she now had a better understanding of the numbers deployed for such a task, and how they tracked such creatures. The war party that Khadai had described fit such a group. Was there a new campaign to expand further into Dravania? Had the political canvas changed so much in Ishgard that they were willing to extend their resources and defenses this far?


Roen shook her head, chasing away the questions like annoying gnats. None of it mattered, as she was no longer serving under an Ishgardian knight. She had not heard from Idristan Tournes since her dismissal from his company, but after having spent much of her time in Coerthas serving under his strict but fair command, she could not help but wonder as to his welfare. But traveling further into the reaches of the Dravanian forelands, she doubted that she would be able to gain any news here. But she also had thought that encountering Ishgardian forces would be a rare occurrence, but now she was starting to harbor some doubts after Tailfeather.


Thought to purpose. We are traveling deeper into the land where dragons rule, the paladin reminded herself grimly. Even if they did not encounter any more Ishgardian knights, she doubted that this land would ever truly be free of the reverberations of the Thousand Year War. To even hope for such things would be folly.


“What do you know of this Anyx Trine?” Roen called out as she nudged Goldwind to hasten its stride to trot alongside the taller destrier. She gave Khadai a curious glance. “And how do you know that is where we should be heading?”

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The skies that were clear in the morning had begun to gather in ominous clouds, but tufts of rebellious sunlight still pierced through the canopy above. Kasrjin breathed in the cool air as Karadwyr chirped happily at getting to stretch his legs. The chocobos settled easily onto the dirt path that marked the trail leading out of Tailfeather. The forelands were home to many sights; more than once, he and Roen passed by a set of ruins, their stones crumbling still, having been set by the hands of a previous era. In the distance, a faint and ominous emerald smoke emitted a foreboding glow from atop massive insectoid spires.


"Anyx Trine is a location. The Ishgardians claim that heretics constructed it to provide a roost for their dragon masters," Kasrjin responded to his companion's query. From within one of Karadwyr's saddlebags, the Au Ra gingerly undid one of the buckles holding the satchel shut and withdrew a thin, leather-bound volume with one hand.


He carefully manoeuvred the volume to open with one hand, while his other hand held tightly onto Karadwyr's reins. "Perhaps you may understand it more. I had been given this information by one who had purchased my services. Its veracity is unknown, but it is a lead. This book describes the history of Ishgard’s conflict with the heretics. Our destination, Anyx Trine, is described as a fortification used by the heretics. The structure was built in collaboration between man and wyrm; wyrm contributed their strength, and man their magics. There lay a description of something...similar to what I am looking for."


The road stretched out to the end of the horizon. Perhaps now was an apt time to explain. A glance at the paladin's face revealed a curious gaze, which Kasrjin interpreted as permission to continue.


"This land contains a great deal of energy," the Au Ra began. "You refer to this energy as 'aether'. It is a resource that is drawn from the environment, or from within oneself. Othard, too, possesses aether, but..." Kasrjin paused and frowned. This would take a considerably great deal of explaining, on reflection, and he was not fully equipped to do so. Tsanai would be far better at explaining the circumstances...but given her abrasive nature, perhaps her absence was the preferable option.


Kasrjin’s frown deepened. He did have Tsuven’s knowledge base, but would that be appropriate to utilize? Again, Tsanai would know, were she here.


“In the area where my people roam, we utilize aether in a different form. Within a small area, aether does not...hm, disperse.” It was a force of habit that compelled Kasrjin to leave out details as to where his tribe resided, or where Karaad-El was. A part of him in the back of his mind insisted that such omissions were unnecessary, though that part of him was not sufficient to bring forth such details.


Still, describing what he had found and why they were approaching Anyx Trine without directly describing Karaad-El was getting increasingly difficult.


“In antiquity, my people worshipped this location as holy ground. Once we outgrew that superstition, we realized how aether was used. Heavy concentrations of aether become crystals here in Eorzea.” As if to demonstrate, Kasrjin waved an idle hand at the top of Tailfeather’s azure aetheryte, its presence just barely detectable above the cliffs that surrounded the settlement. “Where we reside, aether is transformed by our location into an...alphabet?” He was unsure of his description thus far. “This alphabet communicates information to us. We may inscribe the information this alphabet conveys onto stone, and give that information to others. It is a method of communication. This volume of heretics describes certain individuals doing the same.”


Gingerly, Kasrjin withdrew his hand from the reins and used it to flip some of the pages of the volume, careful to keep his balance. It would be less than optimal to fall off Karadwyr now. “The heretics used this in order to ease communication between themselves and the dragons, so it claims. If it is indeed the same method that my people use for the Correspondence--aether--then it is possible that what I seek is there. The aether in our location was growing erratic, and unable to be formed into comprehensible information. Our survival depends on our ability to utilize aether.”


Kasrjin suddenly ceased speaking: that was one important note of information he should not have revealed. A frown crossed his lips as he fell silent.


Roen held quiet for his explanation, presumably contemplating his information before making her query. “So… your people can somehow… communicate with the aether? As if it is a sentient being?” She canted her head. “Is this aether something more than just a form of energy from where you are?”


“It is a method of communication,” Kasrjin said somewhat solemnly. “It is not a two-way conversation. We may only receive information; whatever delivers it to us cannot perceive us. Members of the Tsenkhai are selected based on their ability to receive and interpret this information. Without aether, we are unable to receive this information. We are also unable to efficiently transmit this information to other members of the tribe. It is, ultimately, the basis of our organisational structure.”


“Just exactly what kind of information do you receive from the aether?”


Kasrjin shrugged. “The Tsenkhai receive much, though a great deal of the information is unusable without proper interpretation. It tells us when life is detected around our location; the Tsenkhai interpret this to tell where is good to hunt, or when enemies encroach upon our territories. It can reveal information about our environment; the Tsenkhai can interpret this to predict the seasons. It is with the aether’s information and the Tsenkhai’s interpretation that we survive. We remain one step ahead of all our adversities: the black ones cannot conquer us, the beasts cannot starve us, and the snows cannot overwhelm us.”


Roen nodded, her expression thoughtful as the paladin turned her gaze rising towards the road. “So you hope to find some hints as to how the heretics are able to communicate with the dragons, using the aether?” She shook her head, her expression growing more intent. “Even if what is written in that book is true… how do you figure we will gain such secrets from the likes of heretics? They are not known to take outsiders in… unless you are one of their cause.


“First, we will verify if the information is true. If the heretics still reside in Anyx Trine, then--”


Kasrjin's explanation was interrupted by a booming shriek echoing across the sky. Karadwyr squawked in fear, and a hand instinctively went to the greatsword mounted upon his back, his eyes skyward to look for the threat. A sweep of the horizon revealed nothing....until bursting from the gathering cloud cover came a streak of mottled green. "Karadwyr, vakh!" The Au Ra kicked his heels against the destrier's flank, causing the bird to break out into a fearsome gallop. Another streak of green emerged from the clouds to follow the first.


Mouths filled with formidable fangs and flickering flames snapped and hissed, as two wyverns descended from the skies in a fearsome divebomb. Another shriek, one audible in its hatred, resounded from the mouth of the lead. "Sah djahs afah an!" The second wyvern, slightly smaller than the one preceding it, unleashed a potent torrent of fire from its maw, scorching the roads. Kasrjin pulled the sword from its harness. Was the wyvern shouting? Was it speaking a language? He neither knew nor cared.


"Scatter!" is all he managed to shout to Roen before Karadwyr burst into a run. The terrain was unfavourable; it was mostly open ground. Several rocky spires pockmarked the horizon, but the wyverns had the advantage in speed and range. They could fly, but if the Au Ra's instincts were correct, the wyverns had attacked with an agenda. This wasn't a hunt borne from hunger, but from animosity. That was good. If that was true, then they could be goaded, tricked, and taunted. The wyverns could be spurred to make mistakes.


If his instincts were right.


Kasrjin was going to stake his life on that "if".


He grunted as he hefted the sword over his shoulder, standing up in the chocobo's stirrups in order to better keep his balance. The saddlebags and harnesses jingled as Karadwyr sprinted forward, and the roar of the wyverns could be heard resounding in the sky.

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Roen could feel the searing heat from the stream of fire that shot past her shoulder. She veered sharply left just in time after catching a glimpse of the wyvern's neck rearing back, and that was all that had saved her from burning.


She swore to herself. I need to find cover. Goldwind was in full gallop, spurred onward after Khadai’s warning. Roen could not possibly keep her eyes on her airborne pursuer while her mount was in full sprint. And the wyvern's speed and flight gave it much greater tactical advantage. And sooner rather than later.


Water splashed wildly as her chocobo raced over the shallow stream, Goldwind’s talons kicking up moist dirt on the bank as she turned him abruptly to race northward. Roen caught the wyvern’s shadow upon the ground pass over her head and the paladin looked up to follow the wyvern’s course as it circled back around in the sky. She knew did not have much time to reach her goal, and her gaze shot ahead upstream.


The stone bridge crossing the stream came into view, just south to the last ruin they had passed on the road.


The smaller wyvern let out a sharp screech that rang through the forelands, and though not accompanied by any audible Dravanian words this time, Roen recognized the intent of the cry well enough. What made her breath catch was the sound's frighteningly fast approach. She allowed herself only a split instant to glimpse behind her shoulder, and the creature had spread its wings to slow its dive, readying to rear its head. It would only be seconds before another gout of flame came pouring down.


Roen flattened herself upon the bird’s back and pulled the reigns lower upon her mount’s neck. As both rider and bird dashed under the stone bridge, she felt another wave of heat behind her, fire bathing the blocks of stone. With a hard yank of the reign, Goldwind dug its powerful talons into the ground, skidding to a half spinning stop under the bridge with a wild spray of water. The paladin leaped off the saddle, her armored boots plunging through the shallow stream as she brought up her shield and sword. With narrowed eyes she called upon the aether, a swirl of stone weaving around her limbs, then body, and fading from view once it had encased her in its invisible protection.


The paladin brought her shield in front of her, her other hand testing the grip of her sword. She scanned the ground for a moving shadow of the dragonkin. Goldwind clawed nervously at his watery footing, black eyes wide as he too glanced back and forth. Another angry screech echoed from above, before Roen spotted the beast's reflection upon on the water. The wyvern had been clever to hide its shadow, but she saw its distorted image along the stream as it flapped its large wings hovering in the air. Then a bright glare obliterated the reflection as she felt another blast of heat hit the stones above. But the slabs were too thick. The paladin knew the creature could not get to them from above.


The wyvern landed twenty yalms away from the bridge upon the running stream with an angry splash, its sinewy neck slithering low to get a better view of its prey. When the paladin and the dragonkin met each other’s gaze, Roen banged the front of her shield with the pommel of her sword, issuing a wordless challenge. The dragonkin answered with a toothy expression, its sharp fangs almost glistening with the reflection from the water. When it reared its neck, the paladin clucked her tongue, sending Goldwind retreating to the other side of the bridge. She ducked behind her raised shield, just as another wave of fire washed over her. Her shield and armor hissed in protest to the heat, but her stoneskin spell held fast. When she peered over her shield again, the wyvern let out another enraged shriek; its fangs were bared as it opened its maw wide, infuriated with the paladin’s ability to evade certain death thus far. It stalked forward, claws and wings punching the stream and spouting water with each step. The wyvern's lust for blood stood clear in its yellow eyes.


Roen was not sure how much longer her stoneskin would hold under the constant onslaught of conflagration, and she was certain that was what the wyvern was betting on as well. The paladin was not intent to wait and find out.


As the wyvern ducked its head under the arch of the bridge, Roen let out a loud whistle. She could hear the thumping of chocobo feet darting over the bridge overhead, and the wyvern whirled its head around as the noise did not escape its notice either. But the dragonkin had already approached too close to the bridge, and could not spin about immediately. Roen spotted the flash of deep yellow feathers as Goldwind came to land on the wyvern’s flank. When her mount delivered a somersault kick to the dragonkin’s wing, there was a resounding crack and it let out a painful cry.




Roen spun her sword once in her grip, sparks of aether crackling down the blade’s length. She charged.

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Kasrjin found himself having to constantly shift his weight as Karadwyr's full gallop sent them north. A quick glance behind him found that the second wyvern had broken off, leaving him with only one pursuer. His left hand held the great sword over his shoulder, ready to make a wide swing should the wyvern attempt to swoop close to the ground at him. They barrelled towards the canopy of trees to the north to limit the wyvern's aerial mobility.


But the beast wasn't breathing its fire. It was odd. One would think that the wyvern would attempt to scorch its target before the canopies would force it to fly low and with reduced speed. The wyvern, while still snarling and roaring, simply paced behind Kasrjin and his chocobo until they hit the treeline. From then, Kasrjin could hear its wings beating from above the canopy, but otherwise could not see it.


Karadwyr continued to gallop right off the trail, leading to considerably rougher terrain that forced the Au Ra to harness his blade and keep both hands on the reins. Why would the wyvern cease its pursuit? The trees limited it, true, but there was still enough room to manoeuvre and fly should it require it. Kasrjin himself was only a single individual and lacked the bows, nets, and lances of Ishgardians. If anything, the wyvern should be overconfident. It should have attacked by now.


So why didn't it? He tugged on Karadwyr's reins, slowing the bird to a halt. He could still hear the wyvern prowling above in the sky, but it was holding. Did it mean to drive him here into the forest? Was it herding him into a more favourable location?


"Let's find some cover," he rumbled to his bird, rubbing the chocobo's neck and snapping the reins again. Only the most rebellious shafts of sunlight managed to pierce the leafy veil, and every passing second added to the Au Ra's tension. He was not dealing with just an angry beast or a hungry animal. The wyvern was an intelligent hunter. It was waiting for something, but what?


They continued onward at a slow pace, Kasrjin keeping his eyes upward to listen for the wyvern. Karadwyr stopped and warbled in fear. A split second afterward, Kasrjin heard what his bird had detected. Something was in the undergrowth. In the trees, as well. They were being stalked by something other than the wyvern.


There was a low rumble, like a growl, and the Xaela only barely managed to snap his head towards the growl's source before a mass of orange fur, teeth, and claws had Karadwyr screeching and Kasrjin tumbling off his mount. The bandersnatch roared again, opening its massive maw to reveal several rows of jagged teeth, threatening to tear out his throat in a split second as one of its massive paws pinned itself against his chest. One arm felt struggled to hold the beast's gaping maw, the teeth digging into the metal plates of his gauntlets, while the other reached into his belt and jammed the handle of his dagger into the beast's throat, letting loose a spray of crimson fluid. Kasrjin had aimed the knife upward to stab through the bandersnatch's head through the roof of its mouth, and the feline quickly collapsed.


The Au Ra struggled to regain his footing and draw his sword, but he felt the wyvern before he saw it. The Dravanian had spent its time in the air eyeing the canopy for the perfect opening, and was rewarded for its efforts with a fearsome divebomb. The gout of flame came first, scorching the ground that Kasrjin had just barely managed to roll away from. He quickly recovered, drawing the sword from its harness in one smooth motion. The wyvern did not pause in its attack; it landed immediately, snapping its maw at him, its long neck shooting towards the Au Ra like a whip. He only barely managed to catch the beast's teeth with the flat of his blade, but one of the talons on the wyvern's wing made a lunge for him, a blow that was only barely deflected by Kasrjin skillfully re-positioning the handle of his sword above his head.


Almost immediately, the wyvern's other wing lashed forward and caught his armour by its shoulder plate. Its maw released his sword as the wing threw the Au Ra some distance with a violent swing. Kasrjin struggled to recover in mid-air, but the heavy armour left him tumbling along the ground and only barely did he manage to land on his knees with one hand holding his body up from the ground.


The wyvern's talon had punched a clean dent into the underside of the spaulder, and rather than ascend and wait for another opportunity to strike, the wyvern had lunged forward, hoping to finish what the bandersnatch started before the Au Ra could recover.


It snapped with its teeth. It made wide slashes with the talons on its wings. Another well-timed roll sent Kasrjin out of the way of its flames. It's using its attacks to keep me at range. Sharp, emerald eyes quickly examined the flexible wings and long neck. So long as Kasrjin was kept on the back foot, he was at the disadvantage; his sword could not reach the vital areas of the wyvern's body and was too unwieldy to match the speed with which the wyvern manoeuvred its head.


Kasrjin found himself running out of room; his back was to a river, and he would not be able to cross it without exposing himself to the wyvern. With one hand, he threw the knife in his belt, and with one foot he handily kicked a rock. Both were easily deflected by a wide slap of the wyvern's wings, but though the opening was less than a second, it was all he needed. A swift, straight thrust aimed straight at the wyvern's eye came screaming forward, the metal whistling in the air.


Unfortunately, the wyvern managed to manoeuvre its head such that only one of the webbed, ear-like appendages was severed. It roared in pain and fury and let loose another long torrent of flame, forcing Kasrjin to tumble into the river bank for cover.


From above, the Dravanian breathed more fire, keeping its head pulled back towards its body as it made jabs and slashes at him with its claws and talons. Kasrjin swiftly ran to the opposite bank, his arm straining with effort as he pulled himself up as fast as possible before another blazing torrent scorched the rocks where he had just been.


He had to get in closer. His lungs burned, his muscles were tense. The wyvern glared at him, eager to finish this quickly. In some ways, Kasrjin was lucky; if it was merely an animal, it would retreat and wait. But this was an intelligent being, with pride and anger. Too much pride and anger to simply fly away. It offered him the advantage.


Both the Xaela and the Wyvern stared at each other, the river between them. The wyvern was standing atop the higher of the two banks. Whoever attempted to cross the threshold first--fire notwithstanding--would lose.


Such that it was that Kasrjin took one step back before powerful legs launched him forward into a sprint, his sword held in both hands parallel with his body, the point forward. Another burst of fire came streaming forth, forcing him to make a diagonal leap forward to sidestep it.


One of his sabatons rested upon a rock marking the river bank. A launch forward, and Kasrjin leapt into the air. Not nearly as impressive or majestic as the jump of a dragoon--it was a few fulms high at most--but it would be enough. The point of his sword was aimed right at the wyvern's chest, and the momentum of his jump would be enough to guide the sword's thrust such that the blow would be mortal, even with his opponent's height advantage.


The wyvern had to make a snap judgment. Rather than press its offensive, it instinctively tried to step back, closing its wings together to protect its torso.


The blued steel of the greatsword easily pierced even the thick webbing of the wyvern's wings. A roar. Kasrjin grunted as he forced his weight on the pommel of the blade, driving it inward to the wyvern's ribs. The claws upon its feet slashed at him, trying to reach his innards and scraping against his waistguard, but the creature's own wings stood in the way of its assault. The Au Ra managed to land on the opposite river bank with just barely enough footing for another follow up.


With another effort-filled grunt, he pulled the blade across the wing, causing a spout of blood to burst from its wing.


Two smooth motions. One to withdraw the sword. One to duck beneath the talon of the wing aiming at his head. Another to thrust forward again.


This time, Kasrjin could see his blade bury itself deep in his opponent's chest. The wyvern's maw filled itself with fire but did not expel the gout of flame that should have come. He withdrew the sword again, and with a shout and a mighty swing, the blade soared upward to cleanly sever the creature's neck.


The head dropped onto the grass with a thunk as the creature's body collapsed.


Kasrjin was breathing hard. Every part of him was sore. His armour jingled as he collapsed to one knee, the sword falling to the ground. A decapitation was sufficient such that he didn't need to make sure it was dead. The Au Ra patted himself to check for wounds. Besides cuts and bruises and damage to his armour, he was mostly unharmed.


He breathed deep, catching his breath. The adrenaline continued to pump through him and his own heartbeat was pounding in his mind.


He did not envy the Ishgardians one bit in that moment.

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There was a wet hiss of steel as her blade withdrew from the chest of the wyvern. Roen braced her boot against its limp neck to aid in the effort, and as the dark blood of the creature began to spill forth into the running stream, she could feel under her weight the last shudder of life that ran along its spine.


She had seen such spasms before the veil of death finally settled upon any living thing, often followed the release of a final breath, and she imagined that it was the body finally following the path of the soul. The paladin bent to wash the length of her blade in the water, but she found her gaze drifting back to the lifeless face of the dragonkin. It seemed frozen in its rage even in death. Its maw was opened wide, rows of sharp fangs bared in a rictus snarl. She still remembered the Dravanian words that rang through the air as the two wyverns attacked, their proud yet hate filled cry of battle. Did these creatures attack because they represented their opposition? Did they consider all individuals who were not heretics nor Dravanian their enemy--automatically casting their lot with the Ishgardians in this conflict?


The paladin sheathed her blade and whistled for Goldwind as she exited the arch of the bridge. The chocobo had been bouncing with anticipation along the side of the bank from the battle, his adrenaline still not having fully run its course. He came trotting up to Roen eagerly, letting out a nervous wark in greeting. She bent to study Goldwind's legs, then his frame and feathers to make certain he did not suffer any injury. She herself bore a few scrapes and bruises in the clash, but was thankful that her mount had stayed mostly out of the wyvern's reach. She hoisted herself up onto the bird's back, taking hold of the reins. She glanced one last time to the Dravanian corpse that laid upon the stream, half of its body shrouded in shadow under the stone bridge. She had been able to goad it into coming after her physically, daring it to try and deliver on its threat where its roaring flames could not.


He was arrogant and fixated, she reminded herself. The intelligence of Dravanians was a thing of legend, but sometimes it was countered by a marked weakness in temperament. So how had she decided, upon arriving in Ishgard, that these creatures that communicated with each other and waged a thousand year war were unequivocally monsters to be slain? Was it their merciless ways and their determination to see to an end to all life in Ishgard that made it easy to justify no mercy? Or had she just refused to contemplate on it then?


Roen remembered her despair when she had first fled to Coerthas. She had been so desperate to fill her suns and her thoughts doing something, anything, that the Ishgardians call for aid seemed valid without question.


But now…?


A long sigh escaped her as she spun Goldwind about, her eyes scanning the landscape. There was no time to ponder these things now. She had yet to find Khadai. She caught a glimpse of him running ahead toward the treeline further north with the larger wyvern in tow. No word had come from him on the linkpearl, so she could either assume he was dealing with his pursuer as she had been, or that he was in some sort of trouble. She had seen him in battle against dragonkin before, and a part of her immediately reassured herself that he is quite capable of dealing with them, especially one to one. Still...


Best be certain. With a swift kick to Goldwind’s flank, they raced for the woods.

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Kasrjin had taken a moment to clean the near-acrid dragon blood off of his blade in the stream. Karadwyr chirped merrily with excitement, apparently unfazed in the aftermath of the fight. The Au Ra raised a brow at the chocobo's warbles. Was it expressing contentment at victory? It was true that it was a bird meant to carry knights into battle; perhaps such a sentiment was not totally beyond it.


Once he'd caught his breath and recovered from the experience, his hunting knife severed the largest talon from the headless wyvern's foot. As trophies went, it was fairly nondescript--certainly not as iconic as a mylodon's horns--but it might have its uses and could possibly be used for bartering. Nothing else on the wyvern was practical enough to take, so after blunting the talon against a rock, he unceremoniously shoved it into his bag. The dragon had shouted something audible before its attack, but its language was not something Kasrjin could decipher.


Nonetheless, the memory of it made him curious; the heretics used the Correspondence to communicate with their dragon masters during the construction of Anyx Trine, so it was claimed by this volume. The volume is purported to have been authored by a member of the Church for use by the Temple Knights, but that made little sense. Why would a member of the clergy--a role that was decidedly a non-combat role, as Kasrjin understood it--be writing what was ostensibly a military volume? And if the heretics did use the Correspondence and not some other means in an attempt to communicate with dragons, did that mean that the dragons and heretics had no methods of communication whatsoever? If that was true, how could they even begin to coordinate the construction of something like Anyx Trine? The details did not add up.


The Au Ra and the paladin made a simple rendezvous after he contacted her via linkpearl to relate his location. Roen did not seem worse for wear--a part of Kasrjin wished he could have witnessed her combat against the wyvern for academic purposes--and with little effort and a small amount of rest, they were on the move again.


The shafts of sunlight that pierced the lurid green veil of the trees above them as the sun began to approach its zenith. It seemed odd that their travel, the wyverns, and the combat took up less than half of the morning.


"North would be a better bet," Kasrjin said. "It is more perilous to scale and the cliffs are narrow, but there is less open ground. I think it unwise to approach Anyx Trine directly." They set their birds into a trot, following the river. The bandersnatches snarled but either favoured lonely prey or sensed the blood that the pair had recently spilled; the felines kept their distance in the shadows and brambles of the trees.


“So…” Roen glanced at him from the corner of her eyes. “One of these suns, I should really take you up on that offer of teaching me how to shoot a bow.” She tucked a forelock behind her ears. “Next time there might not be a woodline or a bridge to use for cover.”


Her gaze upon him lingered, as if to study him. “How long did it take you to learn? You said you were taught various things before you began your journey.”


“Khadai receive such training for bows for a duration ranging between eight to thirty lunar cycles, though bows are weapons are mostly reserved for those specialised in their use,” Kasrjin said neutrally, his head staying on an alert but slow swivel. “My training was expanded for another moon alongside additional hunting skills. The basics can be taught in less than one moon for unskilled volley fire, but accurate archery requires a great deal more practise."


Roen pursed her lips. “Well, perhaps some basics then when we can afford the time.” She paused, as if she was considering saying something more, but pressed her lips closed instead and fell silent.


The forelands were beautiful indeed, dragons and deadly animals notwithstanding. From a distance, the waterfalls that carved through the mountain could be heard unleashing a furious cascade into the river. As they had drawn closer the roar of rushing water increased in volume. Plumes of gentle mist exuded from the mouth of the river. The Au Ra's emerald gaze passed over the sight almost wistfully; this would be an excellent place to fish.


Kasrjin ducked his head instinctively as he heard the beating of wings--a large dragon, its hide speckled with blue amongst mottled yellow flew overhead--though let out a sigh of relief when it passed them by. He slipped off of Karadwyr's saddle, examining the falls and the river to his right, and a steep mountain in front of him and to his left. The rocks did not appear especially precarious; the slope was harsh, but not strictly vertical.


"We will have to scale this. How confident are you in climbing?"


Roen wrinkled her nose as she carefully approached the edge. It was obvious that she was trying to maintain a cool countenance, but she could not help but fidget with unease. “I am good at climbing,” she said matter-of-factly. “...As long as I do not look down.”


“What do you wish to do with your bird?”


The paladin chewed her lips for a moment in thought, her grey eyes scanning to the left and right of them as if to look to the woodline. “These birds are well-trained to come when summoned with this whistle.” She fished out a small wooden whistle from her belt pouch. “Although since we are going the direct route, likely you will have to give them sometime to catch up to us. It does have quite a range to it.”


Kasrjin frowned slightly. “We will use the whistle once every two hundred steps; we cannot afford to wait in this territory. At worse, we will have to find somewhere to deposit them safely. I will anchor. Lighter individuals go first.” Kasrjin pulled a length of thick rope from his saddlebags, and two pairs of leather harnesses. "Pull these over your leggings," he instructed as he finished tying a tight knot around the metal fastener on the back of the harnesses' waistband. He then affixed the rope around his own harness. The metal armour was not especially conducive to climbing--he was more used to climbing in furs and leathers--but by now he was well-adjusted to its weight and it offered him enough freedom of movement such that it would not impede him unless the circumstances demanded some extraordinary acrobatics from him.


Their scaling of the mountain was uneventful; it was a matter of luck that the mountain was as stable as it looked, and save for a few odd pauses of searching for handholds and footholds, they managed to reach the top. Only a few segments of the climb had a straight and vertical component to it.


The cliff afforded them quite a view; the branches and leaves of the of the chocobo forest stretched even higher towards the sky. The cresting towers of Anyx Trine could be seen clearly on the horizon. Looming above them was the towering crest of the mountain, its shadow casting its gloomy visage over the land as the sun began to pass behind it. Behind them were crumbling ruins matching the architecture of Anyx Trine. The chocobos held the majority of their provisions, but they carried enough with them to last a day. If their vaunted hearing was worthy of its acclaim, the whistle would ensure that Karadwyr and Goldwind would make find them soon enough.


As they paused to rest and feed, Kasrjin found his gaze drawn towards the ruins. At times, one of the yellow dragons could be spied trotting about inside or hovering around it. "Another roost for dragons," he mused. "I wonder of the lost builders of these places. They have been erased from this world, it seems."


Roen chewed on a morsel of dried meat while she followed his gaze to the stony structures. “Relics of time long gone,” she pondered out loud. “There are not much written about the years when these were built or about those who constructed them. Ishgard dismissed them all as the work of heretics.” She studied them as she took another bite of her ration. “But dragon and men working together. Can you imagine?”


“I cannot,” Kasrjin said frankly. “There are numerous inconsistencies in the information I have read regarding the union of man and dragon. I cannot help but wonder what these structures were for, and if they were truly built to accommodate both races.”


The Xaela was on his feet and the blued steel of the greatsword left its harness in a whish before he consciously acknowledged the presence of danger. His muscles tensed and his gaze faced skyward as a roar resounded from the sky above, beating wings sending gusts of violent wind over both of them. The dragon was not gentle in its landing, its bulk making a considerable boom upon the aging stones. It snarled, glowing eyes scrutinizing the two of them. Kasrjin held his sword battle-ready, but he was tense; they did not have the swiftness of their steeds nor the advantage of terrain. Their backs were to a cliff.


The dragon stepped forward, its hide gleaming with streaks of blue amongst a field of speckled gold.


And to Kasrjin's complete surprise, it spoke.


"Thy form be veiled with the scent of my kin's blood, children of men," the dragon's..."voice" seemed to be a wholly inappropriate term for how the being spoke to them, and yet it spoke with a force and resonance that was unheard of. Each resounding syllable made Kasrjin's bones rumble in trepidation. The dragon snorted loudly. "Thou hast lain low blessed brother and sacred sister, and now thou seek to befoul this summit?"


The paladin stepped up to Khadai’s side, her shield held in front of her. Her movements were careful, as to not alarm the great beast that now spoke to them. Her sidelong glance to the Au Ra was a quick one, as if to gauge his reaction. Surprise was clearly written upon her face.


“Your kin attacked us. We were but traveling through these lands when we were set upon without reason.” She adjusted her grip upon her longsword, but held it low and to her side. “Do you expect us not to defend ourselves?”


"Be there no end to thy transgressions?" the dragon growled fiercely, smashing its claws forward. Instinctively, they stepped back in response. "Thou wouldst hound us beyond sea and stone, yet seek fair passage among us? I shall see thy life spilled before me ere you treadeth further among these grounds!"


Kasrjin paused. The wyvern attack. Why had the wyverns attacked? They were but two decidedly random individuals; on any glance, they should not have even registered. And the way the wyverns had fought...anger. Hubris. Dare Kasrjin call it indignation?


"The Ishgardians," he breathed to himself. The war party. Bows, nets, lances. Heavily armed, heavily armoured, with chocobos. Armour caked in blood. "The Ishgardians. We encountered a war party in our travels. They attacked you."


The dragon seemed to pause, though the beast's suspicion was palpable. "With steel and silken screen did they wish to do us harm," it snarled after a long silence that had threatened to stretch to the end of time, or so the Xaela had felt.


"We are not among them. We do not seek conflict with dragonkind."


"Yet bearing arms dost thou trespass upon our domain. Reveal thy purpose, and know that lies beget thine peril."


The pact.


A reminder of the pact.


Kasrjin inhaled. And exhaled. He could see the characters flashing in his mind, even now.


Tsuven Tsenkhai knew exactly what to say.


"Beneath a conflict of swords and wings...we seek the blood of principle, ere it spill upon snow and mountains."


The dragon scrutinized the Xaela closely. It stepped closer. Kasrjin did not react.


"Thy bond is broken, child of man. Thine eternal march be fated to endure. The sea of mist containeth not the testament thou seek."


Kasrjin stared at it.


"It was never there to begin with. Ehs Daih. Allow us to cross to Ehs Daih."


There was a rumble in the dragon's throat.


"Thy words have not been uttered yet in this age, nor the age preceding." The dragon paused as if in thought, before beginning to beat its wings furiously, hovering in the air. "Thy flesh shall fall; thou hast arranged thine own betrayal. Forever a moth to folly's candle. Hie you unto the dark reaches, and snuff all light."


With those ominous words, the dragon ascended into the sky, retreating into the ruins amidst the waterfalls.


Kasrjin's throat felt dry. He held the sword slack, struggling for his waterskin, taking generous gulps from it. "The deepest reaches," he said. "There...is a cave. It will allow us into the mountain."

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Roen had watched the exchange intently. It was the first time she had ever heard the common tongue uttered from the mouth of a dragon, much less watch it hold discourse with one not of its own ilk. It spoke with an archaic inflection, each word rumbling with power. Roen's fingers twitched upon her sword hilt as Khadai tried to parley for a safe passage, uncertain whether the dragon might not just choose to immolate them rather than listen.


But then the Xaela spoke a phrase, one she easily recalled from memory.


"Beneath a conflict of swords and wings… we seek the blood of principle, ere it spill upon snow and mountains."

Khadai had spoken those words when they had first met, along with showing her a mystical composition of lines and circles that he had drawn on a stone wall. He was trying to explain to her his purpose of coming to Eorzea, and those were the words that drove him to travel to Coerthas. At the time, he could not explain what meaning it held or that it had anything to do with Dravanians.


But those same words, spoken again, gave the dragon pause. It stepped closer to the Au Ra, looming over him, but did not attack. Roen gripped her sword tighter, ready to summon aether to her side to protect Khadai.


He did not move. He only continued to stare at the creature. There was an understanding in his eyes, steadfastness in his still form. It was as if the very purpose of his journey had steeled his frame in this moment. But then something else happened. As the dragon and the Xaela continued to exchange words, Roen could see his sword starting to lower, and something flickered in his expression. She could not tell what.


Roen let out a breath that she did not realize she was holding when the dragon finally lifted into the air and flew away. As Khadai drank deeply from his waterskin, the paladin watched the dragon’s form disappear from their view. And as its last words echoed in her memory, she found herself growing eerily cold.


“What do you know?” Roen spun around immediately at the Au Ra. “Where is this… Ehs Daih?” He had not explained the prophecy before, if it could even be called that. He said he had not the capacity to do so. And yet, during that conversation, there was an exchange of knowledge that she was not privy to. Their words, however enigmatic, seemed to carry clear meaning to the two participants.


And how it seemingly left the usually stoic Xaela warrior shaken. The sight disturbed her.


She stepped closer to him, laying a hand upon his arm as if to press her point. Her firm gaze bore into his. “It warned us. Warned you. Of what?

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His head was pounding. He could feel the blood in his eyes pulsate. The Correspondence throbbed. Colours flashed before him, but they were not colours that were visible, not colours that could be described. The colour of memories that are recalled unbidden. The colour of unkind truths and pleasing fancies. The colour of grief that had failed to harden into regret. Kasrjin’s mind eye fled across the sea, across mountains and twisting valleys, over frozen glaciers and into black granite. Impossibly smooth stone, so smooth that he could feel the skin of his fingers split, even as they stood at his side.


And in the same instant, the sensations were gone. Mercifully, they had abandoned him.


“Ehs Daih...it is a place.” Kasrjin shouldn’t know this information. He knew for a fact that he had never been there. This wasn’t a case of amnesia, of remembering something lost...it was as if his mind reoccupied his body and found something that another mind had left behind. “A cave beneath the mountain. We should be able to reach it...there should be a cave up the mountain path where we can descend.”


And the dragon’s warning. Every time Kasrjin tried to remember the sensation--a part of him understood--his mind screamed in protest and curled itself away. Was it actually him who understood, though? Or was it someone else who knew what to say and when to say it? The dragon knew.


“The dragon was warning us of danger. Where we are going has things that cannot be fought with steel.” A moth to folly’s candle. Kasrjin recovered, slipping the sword into its harness. His balance returned, strength to his voice--and some measure of doubt--and his muscles relaxed. He turned his gaze to Roen, emerald eyes flashing. “Where we are going...it is an extremely dangerous place. It is a place of freedom. Freedom from laws and rulers. All laws. All rulers. Without exception.” he repeated as if for emphasis. “If you enter...you may not emerge as who you were. You may not emerge at all.”


Did he truly understand what he was saying? In some ways he did--Kaarad-El did not permit anyone but Tsenkhai for similar reasons--but in other ways he did not. “The dragon...I believe it wished to do us harm. I managed to convince it of our destination, but it seemed to believe that we would not return. Are you willing to take such a risk?” His stare had hardened, as if seeking an answer he could not find. Somehow some of his actions seemed to not be his own.

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Roen was not sure whose warning was worse.


A part of her expected ominous portents from the dragon; despite its willingness to forego a fight, it did little to ease the hostilities between them. But the grim questions that were now posed by Khadai, it began to fill her heart with dread.


Her mind raced as she considered the possibilities. His scrutiny and assessment of any situation had always been painfully forthright, sometimes at the expense of civility and patience. But here and now, he spoke of what awaited them with unusual apprehension. And there was a perplexity to his demeanor that seemed wholly not his own. Was it the way he spoke? His explanation? Roen could not quite put a finger on it.


“I said I would aid you in however way I can.” The paladin steadied her gaze upon the Au Ra and calmed her voice. Her hand still remained upon his arm. She marvelled inwardly that she sounded more composed than she felt. Her thoughts flitted from one thing to the next even as she gathered her next words, wanting find order in the chaos of questions and possibilities that whirled in her mind.


Khadai said that he did not know if they would emerge at all from where they were headed. He looked at her searchingly, as if to press upon her the gravity of their circumstance. Roen had never retreated from such adversities before, not out of any foolhardy bravado, but because she had always been certain in her conviction. Was this any different from before?


The paladin had come to falter in the last year, falling to periods of doubt and melancholy. But she was making her climb out of that pit, step by step. Her brother had been just returned to her. They had not fully reconciled all of their differences, but the rift of a year’s long absence was just starting mend. She had reconnected with Kiht, Delial, and Kage, all of who had helped Gharen. She was thankful that Gideon was once more back in her life as well, she had missed his friendship and counsel.


But now that Khadai was asking her if she was willing to risk throwing it all away again.


Just why did you enter into a contract with this man?” Roen recalled asking Edda the same question she would ask herself now.


Would you not do the same?” The noblewoman had answered with a small smile. “I could not abandon someone with whom I empathize.


The paladin breathed out a sigh. Not only did she feel empathy for him, there was something more. There was an idealist within the stern warrior that she wanted to protect. It was a familiar stirring inside her, one that she had felt long ago, that she could not ignore.


“So. I am in this, with you.” Roen took a step to stand before the Xaela, her eyes peering up at him without a cloud of doubt. “But I need to know more. So that we can be best prepared as possible. You never spoke of this Ehs Daih before. And now you say it is a place of freedom. But that it is also very dangerous. Why? What awaits us there?”


Her words were spoken deliberately as if trying to focus his thoughts as well. If indeed they were headed into great peril, she would do her damndest to not fail this time.

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“There is little that can prepare you, physically or mentally,” Kasrjin responded almost immediately. “It is a place without laws. All laws. It means that you may see rain fall towards the ceiling. Those who have died may yet live within. Time may flows backwards. Solid stone may melt beneath your feet. Erase all perceptions and assumptions you possess about our world and how it should work. It was a place constructed for absolute freedom. There is little difference between that and absolute anarchy.”


The Xaela began to stride up the narrow mountain path. There would be a cave leading into Mourn, and within would be Ehs Daih. And within Ehs Daih would be their destination. “My...mm, predecessor had some knowledge of this place. He was Tsenkhai,” Kasrjin continued to explain. He could not properly explain his relationship with Tsuven, given that he didn’t precisely know the specifics himself, but given where they were going and the risks they were taking, providing a thorough explanation could not hurt.


Kasrjin’s hand trembled somewhat with trepidation, but also with an odd kind of fear. It felt like a fear from a memory not his own.


“The place my people worshipped--a temple of sorts--works in a similar lawless fashion for all but those capable of using the Correspondence. I have been told that it is easy to be driven mad. The first of the Tsenkhai’s trials at a young age are to determine whether or not they are capable of weathering such chaos to an adequate degree.”


“We do not know who--or what--constructed our temple, nor what the temple’s actual purpose was. If my predecessor was correct,” Kasrjin winced to himself as his headache throbbed again. “Then it stands to reason that this place was built by the same peoples. Though for what, I cannot say.”


The mountain path was steep, but they managed to reach the opening of a large, deep cave without any harassment. That there were no dragonkin around on their sacred mountain only furthered Kasrjin’s suspicions that they had been sent here to die...or worse.


Before entering the large cave, Kasrjin withdrew a small length of wood--barely the size of his forearm--and a flint from one of his belt satchels, lighting the torch before holding it before Roen. “My night vision is adequate, but you may require this,” he said. “Once we enter Ehs Daih, it is very likely that it will separate us. When we are inside, nothing will work how you believe it should. You will...see things, hear things. Everything you perceive is real.” Kasrjin held Roen’s gauntleted hand in his and pressed his index finger hard on her palm, as if to drive the point home. “Everything. That is what it means to be a lawless place: there are no tricks and no illusions. That is why it is dangerous.”


The paladin closed her fingers around his hand before he was able to release hers. “What are you expecting me to do once we get to this place, exactly? What is our purpose?”


“It will reveal itself to you,” Kasrjin said. “It will--or should--know what you are seeking. What you want. Even if you yourself do not know what that is.”


She stared at him for a moment longer, before releasing her hold. Her eyes narrowed slowly as if in contemplation. “I am only here to help you. I do not seek anything for myself. If this will separate us… why do you need me here?”


“I have only ever accepted what aid you wish to give,” the Xaela responded honestly. “This is a threshold you need not cross, if you do not wish to. You are free to turn back now, as you have always been, should you wish to do so.”


Roen blinked. She took a step back from him, her brow deeply furrowed. Her grey eyes darted this way and that, before her hand closed into a fist and she straightened. “I have come this far.” Her jaw was set and she lifted her chin. “I will cross the threshold with you. Perhaps… it will reveal to me how I can help you.”


They continued into the cave in silence. What would he see? The colours of the Correspondence might guide him...but they might not. The chittering of dragonkin could be heard echoing through the cavern, but the path before them was desolate, empty.


And then, a dead end. The darkness of the cave stretched out before them, leading to nothing but jagged walls surrounding them on all sides.


Kasrjin could feel it. The aether seeping out, the colours flashing in the corners of his vision. This is where the pulse came from, when he first felt it in Coerthas during the blizzard.


Instinctively, he withdrew the runestone that Tsanai had given him--the colours on its carved surface had faded long ago--and pressed it against the stone wall of the cave, causing the wall to shimmer like water. It rippled, sending waves throughout the surface. And it screamed. An instantaneous howl of pain and agony in a voice whose gender could not be identified, as if someone or something felt the rippling of the stone in their flesh and bones. Bending, creasing, cracking. And then, it ceased.


The Xaela turned to glance at the paladin behind him, his hand still pressed against the wall. “All shall be well if you believe it to be so,” he said solemnly, holding his other hand out to her, as if waiting for her to grasp it. He felt her grip in his, and with an expression of grim determination, they pushed their way past into the rippling stone wall.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The sensation of pushing into the wall was odd, not unlike entering a column of seawater. Roen felt her nose filling with the scent of iron and her mouth with the taste of salt. It burned, but just as quickly as they came, they vanished.


She instinctively tightened her grip upon Khadai’s hand, only to feel it evaporate within her grasp; just as he predicted, they were separated in this foreign place. She did not even see him vanish. The paladin had not even blinked, but he was simply no longer present.


The torch sputtered in the darkness as if the very flame itself was frightened, struggling. The walls stretched and groaned all around, coiling like intestines.


“Khadai!” Roen whispered into her linkpearl. No answer came. Composing herself with a steady breath in, she unsheathed her sword and held out the torch in front of her. The shadows only dodged and spun away from the light’s reach, as if it was a pitiful thing.


The tunnel continued. The colors of the wall began to shift like nacre, the blackness giving way to colors that can be seen by the mind but not by the eye. The color of regret. The color of forgetfulness. The color of longing. The strange iridescence forced her to avert her eyes, to focus on the void that opened like a maw straight ahead. Her peripheral vision fled.


Roen did not know for how long she had continued on her path before the cave shattered open with a bestial roar. The paladin threw up a hand in front of her eyes as the darkness gave way to blinding light. It was all colors and none that flooded her vision, and when the glare faded, a bridge hewn from diamonds stretched out in front of her. Below was a seemingly endless chasm from whence gusts of wind seemed to scream forth; to each sides of the bridge were impossibly high spires of ice and snow, jutting upwards toward the sky. The shadows of the cavern fled back to their crevices behind her and the torch finally sputtered, the fire dying as if in submission.


Roen studied the veil of clouds above. She could not see a sun or any discernible source of light. Just what is this place?

The bridge was the only way forward. The paladin steeled herself, her eyes squinting as she looked across the vast structure. There was but one way to go; but once she stepped on it, she knew she would be exposed, like an insect in the desert. A strong draft from below whipped her cloak around her and the paladin paused in hesitation. She took one careful step, and the bridge cracked with brittle brilliance beneath her armored feet.


All shall be well if you believe it to be so, Khadai’s last words echoed in her mind. She exhaled and took another step.


Visions of the world--the real world--came to her in flashes. It raced by her too fast, as though her mind were flipping through the pages of a book, without fully comprehending what she was being shown. Roen shaded her eyes with a hand, but she continued to advance. The diamonds beneath her feet groaned and its edges crumbled away but the frame held fast. As she crossed, the bridge continued to lengthen, leading her to another tall spire of ice. The clouds parted around it, revealing a celestial haze that seemed to weave itself around the unworldly architecture. Stars shined above this tower, and it seemed to reach the heavens themselves. The light here also seemed different. The ice-crystal walls were invisible behind a luminous fog and the air was warmer.


As the paladin approached the entrance, she noticed that her shadow paced behind her, stalking the boundaries of the fog. When she crossed the threshold of the carved doorway, her shadow did not enter. Roen narrowed her eyes as she saw it remaining behind, as if it was not precisely her own.


A thousand rich and blinding colors filtered through the ice within the tower, like drinking a kaleidoscope. The hues shifted with every step she took into the circular center of the tower, the walls revealing shining corridors that branched out in all directions. In each and every corridor, the paladin saw her own image staring back at her.


KNOW YOURSELF, a voice intoned through the vaulted space.


Roen spun about, but saw no one else. “Who are you?” she called out. There was no answer. Her own voice echoed through the tower, a strange cacophony made up of her own voice coming from each of the halls.


“It will reveal itself to you,” Khadai had said. “It will--or should--know what you are seeking. What you want. Even if you yourself do not know what that is.”


Roen studied each passageway. What I want. What do I want? Each burned with a different glow, crimson red, sapphire blue, emerald green, and white pearly iridescence. She felt drawn to the one that shimmered with a blue hue as rich as the sky. She was always drawn to that color, it was her mother’s favorite.


But when she stepped in, she found that every facet of the icy wall was hard and with seeming limitless depth. As she continued into the chamber, azure wisps plucked at her senses. A voice reverberated again, THIS WAS THEIR SKY. The room opened, and an icy field spread itself before her. Up above, there was nothing in the terrifying emptiness but a hollow circle, a fierce old thing. The sky looked like glass, and the circle was pressed against it.


It reminded her of another crimson moon in the sky that she had glimpsed years ago. But that was when death rained from above. “Who’s sky is this?” the paladin called out again into the emptiness. She was again answered with silence.


The brittle blue barrier shuddered, as if it would shatter with the lightest of pressure. The empty moon suddenly flared red and hungry. The blue of the sky suddenly erupted with several dozen savage spears that rained down and pierced through the ice beneath her feet. Distant screams began to fill her ears and her head spun. She felt her stomach twist; somehow she could feel the fear of those who fell all around her.


Vertigo sent her senses spinning. All around, the field of ice shivered like a bubble. Was this even real? Why did all the terror that she felt that day when the blue sky was covered in smoke before bleeding red with ravenous appetite, why did all those memories return to her now? The sky was now black, as black as the void, and the red moon still burned. It trembled, and its surface cracked open. In between the fissures appeared a reptilian eye, and it glared at her, eager and greedy. The eye blinked, and the sky was devoured under a cascade of flame.


Roen fell to her knees, only to find herself back in the nexus of corridors, no longer in the chamber wrought with destruction. Her chest heaved with heavy breaths, and her vision was veiled with a pale blue tint. The memory of the eye throbbed in her head.


That salty taste returned in the back of her throat. The paladin shakily rose back to her feet, as multitude of her reflections continued to stare back at her from the other corridors. She let out a stuttered breath and steeled herself, this time stepping into the emerald vista.


The green permeated this chamber; it carried the scent of forests and of poison. Green was the color of life, even if it was wild or dangerous. Roen sighed with relief. After the last vision, she needed to see something else; that even after all that destruction, there was still life.


SOMETHING SOUGHT, the voice rang in the distance. SOMETHING LOST.


Roen found herself standing on the edge of a cliff, much like the one preceding the diamond bridge. Before her was nothing but a void of green lights. Rich and deep color of infinite depths and tints. It baffled and delighted her senses. A chilly wind brushed her cheek and she could smell the scent of pine. It reminded her of the forests that surrounded her childhood home. A part of her knew she could wander in this place forever like she used to. The mist was inviting, like a halo of northern lights.


A lone tree came into view, floating in the air; its branches were weeping and pulsing, stretching towards the infinite. The paladin squinted as she spotted something embedded in the trunk of the tree. Some kind of bladed, pointed instrument, carved of jade. From a hollow opening of the tree leaked blood. She did not know how she knew it was blood--it was the same soft shade of green as everything else--only that it was there. And yet, she could not leave it be, it was clearly wounding the tree.


The jade edge was sharper than it looked; even carefully grasping it by the flat of the blade, it cut a gash across her palms. Strangely enough she did not bleed and felt no pain, but the gash was a sickly green. The jagged edges of the instrument shimmered with light. Despite her wound, she pulled it from the bark with ease.


It felt light, familiar, but also... demanding. The tree was where it belonged. It had a purpose, a place. It was misused, and so was the tree damaged. The wound on the tree began to close, and as it did, the jade in her hand began to evaporate into dust. Suddenly, Roen felt a wave of disappointment and despair. Was it coming from the jade? Light reflected off of every speck of dust. The paladin blinked, her sight was dazzled, her perceptions confounded. As the last of the jade turned to dust, the tree began to wither.


Roen stepped back away from the dying tree, and found herself back in the nexus of corridors. From the vista that grew suddenly distant, she could hear mournful howls.


This is a test of some sort. Or… some kind of a puzzle. The paladin frowned and turned to the remaining corridors. She had entered this place willingly, she would see this through.


She stepped through the amethyst gallery, where the corridor was deep violet. The hue was like that of a glowing coral and the shadows drifted through the air like fish.


As soon as she crossed the threshold, her perspective confounded her. This place stretched away in every direction through a dusty purple haze, and it was as if she was floating in a cloud. The air was chill and crackling. Vast and shadowy shapes hung lifeless in the cloud, the fluid staining their silhouettes.


Once again, the voice returned, lifeless as leaden type. THERE WERE CASUALTIES.


Her sight suddenly pulled back. The violet haze coalesced together and condensed, smaller and smaller, tighter and tighter. It pulled together and began to crystalize. Roen tilted her head, and a jingle rang out. She canted her head the other way, and the jingle rang again. She blinked as she realized that the violet haze had solidified into a gem, and it chimed softly whenever she looked at it from a different angle. Beneath her feet, the floor had become a mirror, reflecting the purple night sky above, cresting over dry savannah and pillars of sand. The gem, an amethyst, floated gently above.


On the floor below her, were silhouettes, vaguely humanoid shaped. They reflected what was not there. In the corner of her eye, she thought she spied one of them moving--or did it?


Roen found herself reaching for the gem without thought. The amethyst and its teasing chime, it tugged at her memory. But when she closed her fist around the jewel, she felt the shape change. When she opened her palm, within her hand lay a familiar-looking memento, an earring set with an amethyst.


“That’s a little rude, don’t you think?” a voice called out from behind her.

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The voice sounded inhuman. A shadowy limb snatched the amethyst from her palm. One of the silhouettes set in the floor had risen. The outline was blurred, eerily so, contrasting with the lights and images of the sky above and the floor below. The silhouette flicked the gem--with its hands?--resulting in another chime. It had only the vaguest of humanoid shapes and no face… but Roen could sense a smile, somehow, somewhere.


“Do you remember how we came to that place? You were dressed for the occasion in scarlet and white, silver and gold.” The voice sounded as alien as it did before, but there were threads of familiarity--tinged with a trace of sadness, like the frost which silvered the night.


Roen stared at the silhouette shimmering before her. She did not want to hope, but her heart ached to believe. Every part of her denied this possibility, and yet…


“There is little that can prepare you, physically or mentally.” Khadai’s words were recalled with clarity . “It is a place without laws. It means that you may see rain fall towards the ceiling.Those who have died may yet live within. Erase all perceptions and assumptions you possess about our world and how it should work.”


The gem, tense and contrite, chimed softly.


“Of course I remember,” the paladin answered without hesitation. Her voice sounded raw and hoarse to her ears, but memories lifted her lips into a wistful smile. “You could not wait to get out of your breastplate and the buckles. You never did like formal wear.”


Roen stepped closer to the figure. There was a wanting, a wish. Her eyes carefully combed over that shadowy silhouette for perhaps even just a glimpse of the memories she had buried but could not forget. Suddenly, she wanted to remember all that was him more than ever.


“We were trying to forget our troubles, wandering about the woods.” She took another step closer. She did not want the shadow to fade away just yet. “Do you remember our dance?”


The silhouette did not answer, but pointed at the floor. When she glanced down, the shapes reflected on the floor began to stand upright, perpendicular to the mirrored reflection. There were so many. She was surrounded by them. She could not tell who they were, and their shapes were only distinct to her peripheral vision, save for the one holding the amethyst gem.


“This place is from you,” the shadow whispered. “Everything from you.”


The amethyst fog cleared; the reflections on the floor and the lights in the sky fled. There was silence. Then the sound of her own breath broke the stillness as Roen shuddered at the crushing pressure she felt upon her chest. It all felt so familiar. She could barely see the outline of the silhouette standing before her as it turned the gem in its hand.


“Listen. Watch. Remember. Snuff all light, and we can help.”


The figure turned the gem in its shadowy appendages again. A beam from somewhere refracted through the jewel, piercing the silhouette in its torso. A gaping hole widened, and the figure vanished without a sound. The amethyst continued to hover in front of her, as Roen frantically looked around the chamber for the being who was standing there just moments before. Just like Khadai, the shadow had disappeared, leaving only the gem behind. She lifted her hand to let it rest against her palm. She could not tell where the lights came from before, but as she angled the amethyst in her hand, she could see the refractions as it absorbed the illumination around it. Could she make the figure come back?


Without warning, Roen found herself expelled from the gallery, back in the nexus of frosted corridors again. There was now a mirror on a wall that was bright--brighter than the sun, brighter than ten suns. It was not there before. The path leading to the diamond bridge had vanished. I may be stuck here. Perhaps forever. The paladin shivered, as the cold realization that she may never leave this place settled upon her like a heavy cloak. She took a sharp breath in and framed her shoulders, looking to the next archway. Thought to purpose. Do not despair now.


Roen stepped into the next corridor that wafted with soft and pearly fog coiling within. Just as the tower seemed from the outside, the light within the chamber was soothing and the air was warm. The surface beneath her feet felt like the ocean, waves of light gently lapping against her boots. The pink sunrise on the distant horizon was calming, perhaps too calming. A single white spire stood alongside the rising dawn, infinite in its distance. The air smelled of salt.


The soft caress of the ocean breeze whispered for her to stay. She breathed in the moist air, and it calmed her senses. When she knelt to run her fingers over the floor, it had a smooth, glassy texture. The sea beneath the glass brightened further when she studied it, hues of emerald, sapphire, and gold glimmering within its depths. Mountains began to rise behind the spire in the distance, flecked with light, slopes veiled with evergreen forest. Mist streamed upwards and droplets of water rose from beneath the glass floor to fall upwards, each one lined in silver.


One foot, then another, she began to walk toward that spire in the vast distance. It looked familiar somehow, and she was somewhat amused how this place seemed to have some kind of an obsession with spires. But as she continued to walk, the vision seemed to clear further, and it looked tranquil. She yearned for its serenity.


Towers, ramps, galleries, and stairs of ice, raised and spun in impossible geometries around her. The greatest architect would weep at such a sight, she mused. No spider could ever weave so complex a web. The tower looked utterly pristine, untouched by mortal existence. She stepped across the glass surface, walking for what felt like countless bells without tiring.


Suddenly the imposing voice shook her from her reverie. CREATED TO FLEE ADVERSITY, it intoned.


Roen squinted to see what looked like reptilian features dotting the tower, though how she could see them she did not know; she was no closer to the tower than she was bells (moons? years? lifetimes?) before. Then her foot reached the outline of the shadow that the tower cast over the glassy ground. The paladin felt the amethyst tremble in her hand. She had nearly forgotten its presence in answering the spire’s call.


“Snuff all light, and we can help.” Those were the words of the shadowed figure.


Roen suddenly held the amethyst up, and it trembled in her hand. When the light of this place glittered against the gem’s cut surface, she saw the reflections in the glass floor beneath her begin to wisp away. The light being emitted from the spires was ravenously devoured by the jewel. It was a torrent, a flood of colors being consumed at a dizzying rate. Her vision flashed with spots and her head spun.


The iridescence died, leaving the paladin standing in darkness. Not complete darkness, no; the amethyst glimmered ever so slightly. It reminded her of the gallery, with a night sky above.


The silhouettes appeared on the floor again. One stood up, gingerly taking the gem from her hand.


“Better,” it said. The voice was still inhuman, but seemed stronger, more distinct than before. The shadows that made up the silhouette were slightly less pale than before, seeming thicker and darker. “Not quite a pleasant experience, that.”


Roen studied the figure in silence. The words this being spoke the last time, his demeanor, she was so willing to believe it was who she wanted it to be. But she knew, she could just be looking at the product of this place. Of her own thoughts and desires.


Everything you perceive is real, Khadai had said. But how could it be?


“How can you help me?” the paladin asked in a neutral tone, careful to guard her emotions this time. “Why does the light have to be snuffed?” Doubts and confusion swirled with a smallest tinge of hope, that this place could give life to the most impossible of wishes. “What are you? How are you here?”


“This light banishes all shadows. Such as we are, we cannot come into being,” the silhouette gestured to the surroundings. “We understand this place, this time. We can help through our knowledge.”


The shadows twisted around her, like children dancing in a circle. The darkness making up their featureless forms flickered. “We are drawn from memory, yet something of the original remains. Moths molded to shape around the candle. Snuff all light. Lessen its hold over us, and we can help.”


The figures began to melt away, save for one. “Talking in riddles is something of a requirement,” it intoned mournfully, its voice hollow, before it too melted away.


Roen blinked and found herself back in the central room of the tower. There was the mirror on the wall still, and it shined blindingly bright. But the light being emitted from the hallway where the iridescence once shimmered had faded away and died.


With the crimson corridor left unexplored, the paladin noticed one doorway that she had not seen before. Steam puffed and churned from this portal.


The entrance to the hall was flanked by churning cranks. As she entered, she was bathed in a cerulean light, thick as cream. It warmed her skin and filled her mouth with the taste of iron. She could hear the clanking of her boots on a metal catwalk until the hallway expanded to a large room. In front of her was an impossibly huge steel wall, filled with gears of varying shapes and sizes, revolving, spinning, and groaning. Each gear had a pale azure light that flashed between the teeth of the cogs.


ONE OBSESSION REPLACED WITH ANOTHER, that distant voice boomed again.


She did not hesitate this time. She lifted the gem up against the whirling machinery.


The cerulean glow being emitted by the gears swirled. The mechanical wall screamed and creaked as the cogs began to slow. They twitched, as if doing so was against their will. Steam bursted from unseen pipes, whistling once in great tufts before dying. Azure liquid leaked from the wall. The amethyst trembled in her hand, and the liquid swiftly became dead and colorless. The lights from behind the gears died and the mechanisms ceased their eternal churning, at last.


The shadow beings did not appear, save for one. It plucked the amethyst from her hand. “Another piece added,” it commented. “Such as it is. Quite noisy, though.” The silhouette’s form was now deeper, more tangible, and less transparent. It still had no features, and the voice was still alien and hollow, but it did not seem as formless or as faded as it once was.


“These places are from you,” the figure said quietly. “All places. Drawn from you. Gears spinning forever and ever, doing so because they believe they must, even if this mechanism powers nothing. What drove you, as these machines were driven?”


Sounds of metal upon metal began to scrape against her ears and the wall before her began to fall apart. The sound was intense, painful. Roen clamped her hands to her ears to stymie the cacophony of destruction as the gears slid off, impacting on the metal flooring beneath her feet.


Once all of it fell away, it left her with a single window. Inside, she could see a lone office, with a lamp. A man who must have once been relatively handsome was bent over the desk, feverishly writing something she could not see. He was surrounded by mountains of paper, eyes feverish with the gaze of madness, cheeks and hands gaunt and worn, streaks of gray running through his hair. His hands were bloody with the force with which he gripped his pen. The paper shifted to gears and metal. The gears and metal shifted back to paper. Again and again.


Roen’s breath steamed the glass as she pressed close against the window, her eyes fixated on that man.


“You were willing to kill for him, once, so you thought.” The shadow whispered in her ear. “To have him look at you, acknowledge you, to have him see you as anything other than complicit in beginning his obsession.”


The silhouette stepped forward through the looking glass into the office. The old man said nothing. The ghostly figure tapped the man, and the man’s form melted into a puddle of azure liquid. “All who obsess become what they obsess over.”


The shadow crossed over again, dropping the amethyst at her feet. “Know yourself. Challenge the mirror when you do.” The form evaporated, again leaving her in darkness with metal beneath her feet.


One final chamber.


Soon as Roen entered the crimson cavity, she found herself standing ankle-deep in a red river. A gentle white snow--at least, it appeared to be snow--fell around her in an arctic landscape. The sky above was similarly bloody and ominous as the water all around. The very color of this place had made her avoid it early on, but this was the last passage that she had to cross. The paladin found herself unable to move, as the red, viscous liquid lapping at her feet begins to churn and swirl. CRIMES ARE FORGOTTEN; THE SHADOWS REMAIN, the voice intoned.


The liquid at her feet bubbled, and she could see it stir. Rising from the depths were what could only be described as corpses. They were all bleeding from fresh wounds. The paladin dared not raise her eyes to look at any of them, lest she recognized the bodies. Some were short and squat, others were large and burly. One of the standing corpses jingled when it moved. She reflexively glanced up in time to see a gnarled hand, splotches of flesh falling off of it, reaching for her chest.


Roen felt the amethyst shake and tremble; she could feel its glow before she saw it. Time seemed to freeze. The crimson hue tainting the scenery became a muted, dull grey, and she could sense the light draining away.


Instinctively, she withdrew the amethyst, seeing its deep purple take on a gradient of wine red. The silhouettes appeared as the torrent of viscous red liquid crawled up her body, being vacuumed into the amethyst with great force. The shadows stepped forward as if to match the shapes and forms of the standing corpses that she had refused to gaze upon.


“Such as we were,” the inhuman voice murmured, its presence becoming more and more familiar. “We shall not be again.” Roen felt compelled to look to the rest, to stare at the cadavers as they trembled and shook, even as entire chunks sloughed off of their skeletons. “Your fear. Your horror. That your sword ran red when it didn’t need to be. That bodies fell when they could have stood with life. There are few born who are ever gifted with such precision. Complicity, guilt, these things are related. You were ready to charge, until you realised what the sight of blood meant to you.”


She could feel the gaze of the silhouette boring into her, the layered alien voice speaking softly. “One who fears the world’s workings will always fear themselves most of all. Know yourself, your obsessions, and your fears.”

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Roen blinked and found herself back in the nexus of frosted corridors. The mirror on a wall remained scintillating, brilliant, while the crimson entrance was no more.


But this time, the icy hall around her began to melt. Streams of viscous blood began running down the walls. The entire tower threatened to shift, as if to crush her beneath its weight.


“I did all that you wanted!” The paladin shouted to the vaulted ceiling, anger twisting her visage. “What more do you want?”


She felt the scenery pull away. She was again on a cliff. A lone tree floated in the air, its branches weeping and pulsing, stretching towards the infinite. Its hollow opening leaked blood--her blood. Embedded in its trunk was a jade sword--her sword.


The amethyst pulled the vibrant green and earthy colors away from the scenery. The tree withered and died rapidly, the rough jade weapon turning to dust. The blood hardened and froze into an amber-like substance. It all seemed to happen in less than a blink, and yet it seemed to happen too slowly. The silhouettes appeared again.


“You always sought something, always seeking, always losing something in return.” The shadowed figure knelt, holding the amethyst in its hand. She did not remember when she had dropped it. Its shadowy hand jabbed itself into the resin-like remains of the blood. “Seek a family’s affection, and what have you lost? Seek a blood relation, and what have you lost?”


The silhouette grasped the sword. “You sought the justice of the sword, and that was lost.”


Though the compelling voice did not return, she remembered its words.




“You sought purpose, again and again, only to lose something in return.”


The shadow approached the tree, grasping through the bleeding hollow to withdraw a still-beating heart.


“You sought love, only to lose. Gaining what you sought required losing something in return.”


The heart stopped beating, and turned to dust.


The silhouette held the amethyst jewel aloft, the gem jingling as it did so. All the ghostly shapes were almost solid now.


“Know yourself. Your obsessions, your fears, your doubts.”


Those words barely left her ears when the scene changed again, and she found herself in an icy field. Up above, there was nothing in the terrifying emptiness but a hollow circle, a fierce old thing. She was back in the chamber of destruction again. The red moon pressed against the sky, as if attempting to break through the fragile window that was the horizon.


Again, the amethyst appeared of its own accord, the colors being sucked out. It went by quickly, smoothly, as if the colors were never meant to exist there in the first place.


“This was their sky. The sky of those who fell that day, the sky of those who would fall again. Memory is a fragile thing, yet it is held onto so fiercely.” The red moon revealed a glowing, reptilian eye, glaring balefully at the surface below. “Beneath everything was a wish. Beneath the hungering moon was only a wish, a wish that had been destroyed the day it fell. The memories of those lost, the memories of what it wrought. You remember the hungering moon. You should remember their sky. This is where you began to seek. Seek what you could not have. This is where you witnessed the first of the world smashing itself into you.”


The silhouette held the amethyst towards the crimson eye, and she could hear a tremendous roar in the distance before the eye shrivels and died. “It hurt you. Left its mark on your soul. A part to be cast off, and yet you cannot release it.


“Know yourself. Your obsessions, your fears. Your doubts, your pain.”


Roen pressed her hands onto both sides of the head, too many visions and memories assaulting her senses. This place was hammering her with one scene after another, one emotion after another. She shut her eyes tight as if to try and shut out all the things they were trying to tell her and show her, to try and gain some kind of composure for herself. When she opened her eyes again, she saw that the floor had become a mirror, reflecting a purple night sky above. The amethyst, floated gently in the air and silence had fallen again. The silhouettes were now solid, opaque shapes. They still lack features, save for one; the shadows of his form wrapped around his body like a skin-tight suit. She could see the black tendrils clamour at his neck, reaching for a jaw crested with a pale black goatee. Fiery locks mix themselves with a nest of black soot. Piercing ice-blue eyes stared at the sky above.


It was the face that haunted her dreams. His face. The voice boomed in her head again. THERE WERE CASUALTIES.


He held the amethyst aloft. His voice was no longer alien, no longer inhuman, no longer layered like the cries of a million souls. It was clear and crystal, just as she had remembered it. “This place is your regret. This gem, your regret. Your guilt. Your wish to do everything again. Save those you lost.”


Roen trembled. All she could was stare.


“Know yourself. Your doubts, your pain. Your regret, your guilt.”


With another blink of an eye, the paladin found herself back in that all too familiar center of the tower. The glow being emitted from all the hallways had died, leaving a room wreathed in darkness, save for the mirror on the wall shining brilliantly.


The silhouettes gathered in a semicircle, all of them careful to stay out of the spot of light being emitted by the mirror. He--wearing the face that burned in her memory--stood near her, pointedly away from the illumination. “I’ve always said, nobody knows me better than I know myself, haven’t I?” He grinned. “This place has no laws and no masters. It’s shown all of this to you under the assumption that it knows you better than you know yourself.” He winced slightly. “I’m getting a little tired of hearing that phrase.”


The man reached his shadowy hand towards the light, recoiling as it evaporated some of his fingers away. “Well, none of what this place expects from you matters. If it were me, I’d just break the mirror. What it knows about you--what I know about you--does not matter. All that matters is what you know.”


The mirror had grown in size at some point, to the size of a doorway.


“They say mirrors are gateways to other realms. I don’t think anything is stopping you from stepping through, in the end.” He shrugged in his ever nonchalant fashion.


Roen lowered her gaze from the blinding glow, her long forelocks hanging heavily before her eyes. “I entered this place, believing I was doing so to help someone else.” She snorted bitterly. “Only, Ehs Daih had other ideas.”


The paladin glanced at the figure, that face that she both longed and hesitated to look upon. He was drawn from my memory, she reminded herself. “Why is it urging me to know myself?” She glanced from the figure to the mirror, her eyes squinting at its luminescence. “Why is it showing me all this? You say it is a gateway. Where does it want me to go?”

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The silhouette shrugged. “I’m surprised you’ve never heard of the mirrors bit. It’s a very common superstition. Old wives believe that when you gaze into a mirror, you’re not looking at a reflection, you’re looking through it to somewhere else. A parallel world, maybe. Who knows if it’s true or not? We’re in a place without laws. It might be to your destination.”


The silhouette shifted, the edges of its form flickering. “As for the ‘why’, who knows? Maybe you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do. Maybe it wants to eat all of your memories. Maybe it’s testing you. Does it matter why? If you know yourself as well as you think you do, then this shouldn’t be a problem.”


The silhouette reached forward again, the amethyst in his hands. “I’m not a figment of your imagination, mind. Your memory is the basis, yes, but it is more of a beacon than a template. This place doubles as a conduit to the lifestream. It uses your memory to draw fragments of the relevant soul to manifest here."


A smirk. “Although, at least I know that you’re not here purely out of altruism. I’ve known you long enough to be aware of that. You’re still using this quest as an excuse to run away, to run away from what you did to me, to run away from Ul’dah. Did you know that? If not...” he shrugged. “Then this place is more helpful than you think.”

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