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Where the River Runs Bright [Closed]

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He placed the gil coins that were spared of being placed inside of his pouch next to one of the draft barrels in the tavern. The amber lights didn't help his eyes adjust to light in the slightest. He still felt like he was moving slowly, having recently awoken at an odd hour in order to try to get as much sleep as possible before he was to embark upon a journey. A kind of journey that he was used to, but not the kind of company he had ever been with before. He had told her that he desired to go with her, but for no fuss to be made about it either. Ryanti was never a someone willing to make a spotlight out of his participation in anything, and he would prefer that no gossip about his latest venture would find their way to the ears of the men and women here. For some, they called this place their main area of conducting business - perhaps even home. For Ryanti it was but a place to stay, to stop. A temporary home as any. But there was no permanent home for him - it was indeed his life. So despite the feeling one would get from understanding the kind of intense travel they would have to accept, Ryanti looked very comfortable. Calm even. The beer helped a little bit. That was why he had placed the coins there. A kind of courtesy for drinking from the stock, though he only had one small glass of it. He just wanted the taste more than anything. With barley and hops fresh in his breath, the young man bent down to pick up what was to be his luggage for the trip - a smallish, black leather sack with several tiny pockets and one large one, which he strapped over his left shoulder, as his family's century and a half old zweihander was strapped to the other. Sensing the presence of another, he turned his head towards her, blinking for a moment, sighing out a breathe. "You're going through with it, aren't you?"




Jaliqai was used to traveling alone. Almost a decade spent largely on her own had seen her growing accustomed to moving on her own, taking care of herself, save for the handful of times that a job saw her moving with company. Even then, back in those days, it may as well have been the same as traveling alone. The Xaela had no interest in sharing anything more than the road with the men and women she had found herself traveling with, and only for as long as she absolutely had to.


Things had changed since then, and dramatically. Strange how a few moons' time had seen her life change so dramatically from what it had been for so very long. Stranger still that for every bit she had changed, another part of herself had stayed stubbornly the same. She was warmer now than she had been in those days, not as closed off to the rest of the world as she had been. Yet still, the thought of sharing in travels with another was a thought that made her uncomfortable still.


That had been the reaction that the man had initially gotten whenever he had offered to join her on her trip north -- a grimace and an uncertain, waffling answer. Only when she had sat on it for a moment did she finally relent and allow it. Circumstances being what they were, she knew she could no sooner convince Altai to allow her to make such a long trip on her own than she could convince him to let her wrestle a coeurl into submission with only her teeth and nails.


The sound of the door clicking behind her as she entered the Chest would announce her arrival, followed by her own heaved sigh. It'd already been a long day as it were, shoring up business in the city and making sure all her affairs were settled before she left. Her head bobbed in a nod at the question, moving to the bar to lean in against it. "Aye, I am. Don't figure I have a choice, even if I didn't want to go. Guild needs the contacts and the resources." She let out a bullishly stubborn huff, shaking her head. "You ready?"





His eyebrows hunched up a bit in her words, and his eyes swiftly read over her reaction. Ah, perhaps it wasn't the most ideal situation for her to have to be accompanied by a young man like himself upon her travels. He often forgot how some, if not most, had different views of the element of traveling the world than he did. No matter. He knew he was a much more polite traveling companion than most, and quite frankly, there were more important things to think about than that. There would be a time and a place. "Yes. I am." he mentioned to her, leaving the empty glass upon the bar top. It would be Ryanti's last glass here for a long time. Needless to say, in the present moment, it was not a thought that passed him by. His steps were soft - but sure in their conviction. He really did mean that he was going. "Normally I would jump at any chance to visit the Holy See. Especially after they had closed their doors for so many of my own years. Though this time around, it's for he pulled the door open for her. Ladies first of course. "There's other things too, of course. There always are."





Her nose wrinkled at the mention of Ishgard, expression shifting as if she'd just taken a bite out of an especially tart sun lemon. It was clear that the only recently opened city-state had left her with a particularly bitter taste in her mouth, and with little love in her heart. "Aye, and I usually make a point to avoid the place if I can. Last time I had the pleasure--" The last word held no small, uncertain amount of venom behind it. "--of passing through Ishgard was shortly after the gates opened. The particularly vocal knife-earred bigots didn't much care for scaled visitors. Even those decidedly not of the Dravanian variety."


Her jaw tightened at the recollection, tail giving a sharp side-to-side flick behind her that further betrayed her aggravation. Underneath it, however, was a layer of anxiousness. She wouldn't dare show it -- especially to someone she wasn't yet all that close with -- but the idea of returning as a potentially unwanted guest made her more nervous than she would have liked. Sure, things had changed in the last few moons. She had heard whispers and rumors of the changes that were going on in the north. Who hadn't? Still, she wasn't one to easily forget such incidents, and she knew all too well that deep-seated hatreds, grudges, and misguided prejudices didn't simply fade overnight. She herself was a testimony to that, at least.


"But if the Guild's looking to take on more work so far up north, we need a foothold in Ishgard, whether I like it or not," she conceded with another exasperated sigh. Raising a hand as he moved towards the door, she motioned him on. "I'll meet you outside, Ruffles. Got to change out of my nice city clothes and into something fit for travel. And damned if I'm leaving without a weapon."





That was another reason Ryanti wanted to go. Not only because he was curious of how the North truly saw the immigration of the Doman race from Othard, and not only because he was especially interested in just how true these rumors of change meant to not only Ishgard, but the continent at large. Another reason, one that he did not admit but was pretty obvious to see, was that he felt a need to protect her. Not so much physically.. he sure she would fully be able to take care of herself. It was moreso to protect her from being alone in a world where she may not feel very welcome. This of course being the realm of the Ishgardian Elezen and the North. But that was only a sliver of the people that they would probably encounter. The journey would be a long and tiresome one - one that would span from the reaches of Thanalan to the Shroud herself before they would even see Coerthas. They would navigate the entire southern half of the continent, and Ryanti was no stranger to it. Yet the young man did not look worried, moreso he looked excited. Maybe even happy. Perhaps it was the mentioning of his nickname? "Of course... though, don't take too long, Madam Red. Less we won't be at Camp Drybone by nightfall.." Upon slinking through the door, Ryanti emphasized his little travel bag upon his shoulder. "Wouldn't want to forget something you'll regret either. I forgot my toothbrush once. That was a terrible mistake. ... Meet me outside the neighborhood, yeah?" With that, he was gone.




Scene Change: The Goblet


It had taken the Auri woman a fair bit of time to prepare for the journey. After all, with a long trip north ahead of them, it would've been beyond stupid to go in unprepared. Not to mention the dangers of traveling over land, from beast and bandit alike. Simple traveling gear wouldn't quite do. In addition to the leather pack of supplies she'd gathered, she'd needed armor light enough for movement but still protective enough for the dangers of the road.


Choice of weaponry had been another source of long thought. Naturally, her hands had reached for the simple, unornamented greatsword they were so very familiar with. Yet with it in hand, she had begun to have second thoughts. Melee weaponry would require her to be far closer to enemies than she knew she should be. While she'd never had a problem with getting batted around by enemies before, it wasn't just -her- life that she was protecting now. Distance was the better option, as much as she hated to admit it.


Finally, she emerged some great deal of time later from the Goblet with her light set of leathers and chainmail and a well-worn bow over her shoulder with her pack. Stopping just short of the other, she adjusted the weight on her back -- a feeling she'd once been more than used to, but had grown unaccustomed to with her much more settled lifestyle. "Ready to go."




Despite Jaliqai's philosophy, Ryanti always carried his sword with him when he journeyed. The mere presence of the blade anointing his back was usually enough to ward off any kind of unsavory types. But of course, he did not possess the advantage of... distance with such a thing. There was little hidden gems in traveling with another. Company was not the only benefit, nor the most obvious.


He had been standing there for quite a while, daydreaming. His eyes had focused upon the leaves of the wide Thanalan trees in the distance, observing a bird feeding her nestlings within the branches. He felt rested, and his feet were far from soar. His armor was clean and his right pauldron sparkled in the sunlight from a fresh waxing. Even he had been busy when he was confronted with waiting. He did not make a move to notice her until she spoke of her presence, and that is when he looked.


His eyes did a quick glimpse from top to bottom, and the young man smiled warmly, with a little sound of confirmation coming from the depths of his throat. "Smart." Was the first word he mentioned, resting a hand upon the guardrail. "Fashionable still." He did indeed possess a sense of humor as well. Wouldn't that to go to waste. In that moment he glanced to his left, following a gust of wind that tickled his hair. "We should be able to reach Camp Drybone by nightfall. One day at a time I suppose. Good thing there's little need to consult the map - I've been doing this enough." With a flick of his eyes in her direction again, Ryanti began to walk - towards the road that they would begin their journey upon. "Have you ever taken a walk across the entire continent, Red? In those boots?"




Jaliqai lifted a hand, giving a softly dismissive wave and a dryly amused scoff at the comment on her lingering fashion sense. "Custom commissioned armor in the Guild's colors. One of the advantages of having deeper coffers." Adjusting her pack once again, the woman began to tail after him. If she was still re-adjusting to the weight of the traveling supplies, at least she was damned sure not to show it.


"Across the -Eorzean- continent? Not all at once. Stretches at a time? Damned near crossed over most of it at some point, I figure, 'cept the far north." Bounty Hunting work had seen to that, and was perhaps the main reason why she had adjusted so well -- at least comparatively, when held up next to her fellow Xaela -- to life in this new, different land. She wasn't a native here and still an outsider in many respects, and she couldn't claim to know much about the land's more complex histories and the like. But she knew enough about the land and the culture in general to be an effective hunter, at least.


"Anyroad, you've not got anything to worry about -my- feet," she mused, leveling him with a smirk -- amused and prideful, in equal measure. "I'm Xaela. I've traveled just as much in my life by foot as I have on horseback, and that's no small amount either way."




Ryanti was already keeping to a rather laid back pace. When he would make stops to the Gold and Glory - and especially on the job - he always seemed to be busy, or tense. He knew she had seen that before. In fact, it was in a way, how they met. There was a lesson in it though that Ryanti learned the hard way. With these long travels, it was no use expanding any more energy than he needed to. "You have done much already for a foreigner. Making most out of yourself - unlike most who come."


He had learned the word even before he had seen them. Xaela. The dark-scaled subrace of the Au Ra, known to lead mostly nomadic tribes on the endless Othardian steppes. "I suppose then, it means you know what blister breaks mean, for those little feet of yours." He mentioned with a quiet laugh that her horns could pick up from that short distance away. "This trek is no small amount. But we are not alone in our journeys. Everyone it seems is trying to make it North, to find new opportunity in a land that has been closed off for two decades... though I figure we would do much better than the average business do-gooder attempting the same feat all by their lonesome. I'm not really worried about you - I think you will fare pretty well, when you get used to what you are carrying, of course."


He took a few more steps towards the road, observing the tile break off into dirt, the beginning of a mountain road that spanned the side of the cliff and led down to the other side of the mountains. "There's too much time on these winding roads to solely worry about our destination, I think. Maybe.. I choose to look at it as seeing the world.." He looked away from her to focus on the road ahead. "It'll be fun, y'know?"




She couldn't help but bristle a bit at the words, whether they were well-meaning or not. Even not directed at her, it still felt a bit personal. A side effect of having too much pride in one's people, perhaps. "I had it easier than most. And even so, you Eorzeans ain't always the most welcoming and including to outsiders." Her mouth opened to say more before, instead, simply shutting again with pursed lips. They hadn't even touched the road proper yet. Best not to climb onto her soap box before they even really began their trip.


An audible huff followed at his teasing about her feet and her adjustment to the weight settled on her shoulders. Almost defiantly, she hyper-corrected her posture, puffing out her chest as she almost made a show of how little the pack was bothering her. It might've seemed like something done just for comedic value, if not for the furrowed brows, pursed lips, and the sharp side-to-side flicking of her tail. "Ain't having any trouble, Ruffles. I've carried heavier and walked longer." At least, she had before she'd settled, anyway. But there was little need in adding that on when she was trying to make a point.


"Fun.." she repeated the word quietly, falling in line as they started forward again. Her head turned to look back out over the Goblet, gaze lingering for a long moment before her eyes turned forward again. "Aye, something like that, I s'pose." Just so long as they had a home to return to by the time they were done and no one had killed each other in her absence.




He chose to focus on the fun aspect. For now. He was always the kind of man to try to see the bright side of everything. He was forced all too often to exist in the dark side of the world's misdeeds. There was another side to the world, however. A side that a deep breathe of the fresh outside air could remind him of. A side to the world that perhaps he wanted to show her on this 'business trip'.


Yet, her words of outsiders touched him a bit on the inside. There was a certain kind of a sombering look in the young man's aquamarine eyes. He was obviously deep in thought, but as he had told himself many times over, he just had to take a deep breathe. To breathe. At least he wasn't nasty to outsiders, he hoped... and perhaps he was too personal of a man. His openness and honesty had gotten him in trouble before, he didn't wish to make her so worried.


"Keep that posture up, and you'll be tired my mid-day, y'know. Relax.. I know you're tough, Jaliqai." Tough physically. Tough emotionally? He wondered.. that very thing as he followed her gaze to the Goblet silently, pausing for a moment before resuming his dialogue. "Seeing it as home yet? I have issues seeing anything as. Maybe that's why it's so easy for me to shrug off my worry." He allowed her the time she needed, ready at a moment's notice to begin the journey.




Stubborn as she was, she couldn't help but keep up that rigid posture even as she was reassured of his opinion of her. It was more a matter of pride than anything -- and that was something that Jaliqai had always had in excess. Only once his gaze followed hers out to the Goblet and her own attention wandered back to the question at hand did that posture slowly begin to grow more lax and natural again.


She was quiet for a long moment, reflecting as much on his own answer as she was on the question that he had asked of her. "Aye, something like that." Home had never been a place for her, so much as a concept. Home was where the people she cared about and wanted to protect were, and such was what the Chest had become to her in the past handful of moons. Not only were there people there that she cared for on a deeply personal level, but there were those that she was obligated to care for and protect as their leader. It was home and everyone there was her responsibility, whether they acknowledged it or not, and leaving for an extended time wasn't easy. At least she could rely on Ryssmyna to keep things going.


"You'll find it, sooner or later. Home, that is." It was as much of an encouragement as she could offer without delving head first into the vulnerable and emotional. But it was a state of existence that she'd went through herself, and one she'd only narrowly survived. But he didn't need to know the details -- not presently, at least -- and so she would keep her mouth shut.




Something like that.. Ryanti never felt like he had much of a home. There was a sinking feeling in his stomach, almost like a fear. A certain kind of fear that was from a reaction to the fact that he did feel numb. The Gold and Glory... it was a place where Ryanti did business. A name under which he tried to pretend his life was a little bit more normal, a moniker to disguise his sometimes less-than-popular methods of achieving the goals he set out to do.


That life was such a duality - what was the place to the man himself? Not to the agent that went by the same name, by the same look, and even shared the same body. What about him? How did he see it? Her comment to him was a bit of a surprise, and it froze Ryanti's facial expression for a moment as he glanced at her. There was sincerity in that statement, and meaning behind it. Ryanti knew.


"Maybe so." Were his words. Words that had just as much faith.. as doubt. Uncertainty was never Ryanti's strongsuit, but uncertainty defined his life. But he didn't want to think about all that right now. His demeanor matched hers in that way. There was the now, and the now was the road, and the astonishing landscape around them that awaited their coming. For Ryanti, it was a medicine in a way - two individuals with a weak grasp of the idea of home, would now perhaps find the entire continent theirs for a great number of moons. "Let's go."





Scene Change: Making their way to Scorpion Crossing.


Thus the halfling and the Xaela began their journey as soon as their feet felt the pressure of dirt upon their soles rather than tile. The tumultuous mountain road was their first obstacle, they simply had to get down. The Goblet's location rested upon the centerpieces of the mountainside to the west of Ul'dah's city proper, and the views of the canyons seemed forevermore. The winds were high at that medium altitude, never refusing to blow their hair aside and, every once in awhile, their eyes would catch a spec of dust.


But it was worth those inconveniences to bare witness to the massive brown expanse, and how the recent rains of yesterday due to the calamity had begun to bring life back into the soil, allowing for reptilians to scour the open air for objects of prey, despite the desolate nature of the terrain. Traversing it was easy enough, though it had taken a few hours to.


Ryanti spoke casually at times, about the nature of the cliffs and how the Ul'Dahn government was dealing with trying to make something of the area with it being near-uninhabitable all this time - that the trees alongside the walkway had been planted and the dirt artificially laid. But he kept quiet for the most part, choosing to take in the sun before it would get uncomfortable, since it was still the early morning.


By the time they were down, the mist had faded, and already the road to the Goblet was becoming more active from the Ul'Dahn side - they took the road less traveled by, however, and instead of ending up in the Emerald City, they found themselves outside of it. Ryanti checked his compass - which was strapped to his side - and aligned his body with a surefire direction, East. "Hmm.. the morning's quieter than normal.." It felt cooler than usual too. Had it rained the day before?







For all of Ryanti's idle chatter about the now barren landscape and the Ul'dahns' efforts to reclaim it on the winding way down the mountainside, Jaliqai herself had been rather quiet. She had listened, of course, that being the polite thing to do. Yet there was little for her to add in the way of conversation about either the government or the havoc the Calamity had wrought upon the land. After all, her first experience with Eorzea had come some almost six years after the lesser moon had fallen and changed the continent's landscape. She'd had no firsthand experience of what the land had been like before, and little mental concept either. It didn't serve any purpose for her, in her distinctly Xaelan pragmatic, practical view of the world.


Only once they'd reached the foot of the mountain did she seem to perk up a bit. The plain, almost lifeless, and overall dangerless mountain path behind them, the rest of what laid before them was far more interesting and full of life. And danger. Her half-lidded, almost bored gaze worn during their descent seemed to come alive as soon as the actual road was ahead of them. Her eyes were open, her attention sharp -- more of an instinctual reaction than a consciously made effort to pay closer attention. Life on the Azim Steppes where danger could come at you from any direction at a moment's notice had hard-wired that awareness into her being.


"Must be a slow day for shipments," she answered idly, eyes dancing between the docile cactuars gathering on the hillside to bask in the early morning warmth and sunlight. "Makes for more convenient travel, I guess." In the way of not having to share the road with bulky chocobo-drawn shipping carriages and groups of individuals coming and going. But then again, a mostly empty road made for little camouflage for two lone travelers.




Ryanti had indeed already seemed to have fallen in some sort of commentating role. He was, after all, the one that had lived in these life all of his life. There wasn't a natural thing he could do to keep himself from mentioning certain details every once in awhile. He, after all, was an incredibly curious person. His appetite for knowledge - for knowing more than what he truly needed to do about anything and everything - perhaps was a contrast to her. But this did not mean Ryanti neglected to understand reality when he was faced with it.


The view of what appeared to be an enormous gate of civilization lied within the horizon's distance, but it seemed eons away. More locally, Ryanti glimpsed as several individuals traveling down the road ahead of them, a younger one catching up to the older. There were idle shouts of children playing in the little rockfaces above and behind them. A few gardeners were tending to the shrubs on the road leading to Ul'Dah, obviously hired by the city-state. Yet on the road there was an immense absence of chocobo carriages, and merchant vans.


"Not just a day. More like months now." Ryanti commented to her as he continued to walk. "Ever since the incident with the Sultana and the Brass Blades, businesses here in Ul'Dah have been terribly hurt. Even the one to my name as well." The young man placed a gloved hand upon the trunk of the tree alongside him now, glancing out amongst the near-endless palm of Thanalan's view. "Ishgard opening helped... we were lucky it happened when it did." He paused for a moment, noticing that he was lumping himself in the same group as the Ul'Dahns. It didn't seem like a favorable thing to him. Identity and all. "Well, the people here at any rate. Still.. baby steps though. It will take a while for things to get better."




Jaliqai let out a soft hum in response, shrugging a shoulder. She never claimed to know much about Ul'dahn politics or business, truly. During her short stint working in the more underground side of the Jewel of the Desert, hunting information instead of beasts, she'd learned just enough to get by. But obviously not enough, considering how well she'd indebted herself to Ul'dahn investors to get the Guild running and turn legitimate. Surely that lesson would be learned eventually, but at least not any time soon.


"At least there's no shortage of demand for hunters," she answered as she followed along. "Might not be as much flow of goods as there was, but there's always people needing something or someone tracked down." And the adventuring crowd had certainly picked up on that. Gold & Glory was far from the only Guild or organization of its type. As well as they were doing presently, assuring that things stayed profitable required expanding -- just like they were doing now.


Giving another shrug, the Xaela moved past him, navigating around rock and shrub to start towards the path. "Let's get going, then," she prompted. Obviously, she wasn't one to linger for too long. They had a place to be and a job to do, and the sooner that was done, the sooner they could get back to business as usual.




Ryanti made a sign of agreement with his voice at the mentioning of her regarding goods and services. It was true, even in economic controversy or recession, their line of business would never find themselves out of work. She was smart in that regard... this kind of business was safe, in a financial safe. Recession-proof if you will. At the cost of having to deal with shady types, and of course the consistent and ever-persistent dangers associated with the line of work. "Services will never die. As long as anyone is still alive." It was an old saying, from someone back from his childhood.


He took a quick glance upon the oilfields in the distance, the hammers of Hammerlea pounding away for morning fuel. He remembered them being so much taller and imposing when he was a child. "Ah, don't mind me." He murmured to her, returning to her side after the reminder, continuing down the road as an eagle soared above their heads, briefly displacing his features in shadow.


"This is a popular spot for children - here. Though you don't see them past these steps. Of course the further we venture out the less we'll be protected by the... 'noble and elegant national guard' that is the Brass Blades." he said with a hint of sarcasm.




Her eyes rolled and she let out a loud scoff at the sarcastic comment. "Noble and elegant, my arse. Might be that I'm an outsider, but even I know that the Blades aint much more than thieves and highwaymen in fancy armor." At least, such had been the way of the few she had had the pleasure of dealing with during her time in the shadier side of Ul'dahn business. The people meant to protect the city's people seemed to her to be some of the most predatory. She had no shortage of distaste for them, that was certain. "The children might as well have a pack of hungry jackals in chainmail keeping a watch over them."


Giving a disapproving cluck of the tongue, she started down the stairs. "As for us, I'd just as soon the Blades keep their distance, anyroad. I can protect myself well enough without some half-trained shite-for-brains to trip over and aim around." Certainly not one to spare anyone's feelings, this woman.




Step by step, Ryanti's boots paced down them. Click. Click. Click. He could hear those soles connect with the concrete, and the memories of his childhood flashed by him. He was by far an adult now, and yet these steps remained unchanged. Some even possessed the same cracks that existed in them when he was but a kid.


"You're right." He mentioned to her about the Brass Blades. The answer possessed some of the same kind of melancholy that Ryanti had for the whole situation there. "About a lot of them. Of course, that does not mean there aren't Brass Blades about that genuinely care to protect their own citizens from harm. But it's the ones who scream the loudest.. that ruin things. They used to be.... a better lot of men. When I was younger." He shook his head vibrantly. He didn't want to talk about that subject for too long. The refugees, the influx of poor and crime. Ul'Dah had many issues right now. It was not the same city he grew up in.


"A lot of their corruption was found out. Their organization was shaken up by the Queen's men. The people who genuinely care about this nation's future. Despite that though, they are still around and in-force." He approached the virtual wooden fortress that was Scorpion Crossing. "Unfortunately, we are going to have to deal with them, as all travelers passing this way must be check in through this Crossing."




Jaliqai's brows rose, giving the other a look from the corner of her eye at the answer. Of course, growing up in this place, doubtlessly the man had far more experience with the Blades than her handful of usually sour run-ins. There was more there at that, too, she felt. Memories, perhaps, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Yet even if she was curious, she wouldn't pry. Not now.


"Aye, I'm aware. Good deal of the shipments headed up to the Chest comes through here as a last checkpoint. Passed through this place a fair few amount of times on my own, besides." And had snuck her way around it on even more occasions, even when she wasn't on less-than-noble business. The concept of her every movement being controlled and monitored in this land didn't settle well with her. It was a world apart from the Azim Steppes where one came and went as they pleased, and typically the only people to stop you were enemy tribes. There was no bureaucratic checking-in and paper-shuffling and bribe-paying. There was fighting and blood, 'til one side yielded or died.


Even if that part of her life had seemed like it had been another lifetime ago, after a decade spent away from tribal affairs, the lessons it imparted didn't fade easily. Even in this new, barely-sensical land of procedure and policy. Her posture straightened again as they approached the crossing, making herself look as big as she could manage. Even being tall for a typical Xaelan woman, her five-fulm-five-ilm frame didn't exactly cut an intimidating figure on its own. She kept a hand close to her belt, at that. While her hand remained empty, just its lingering presence so close might have suggested that there was something sharp hidden on her person nearby that she would be prepared to draw if necessary. You can take the Xaela out of the Steppes, but you can't take the Steppes out of the Xaela, it seemed.




When she looked, he did seem to briefly be in another place, in another time. Or perhaps the same place in another time. But walking these lands again to see them change, to be out and about on the doorstep of the wide open world was therapy for him. It was almost like comfort food to him. It kept his gut farm and his posture relaxed. Ryanti did not seem at all tense or ready to fend off anyone at a moment's notice. He knew that this was still land heavily regulated by the Ul'Dahn state.


While it was indeed a free state, there were minor annoyances of course. Necessary annoyances they would say. Ul'Dah cared much about the traffic to and fro in these lands, as if they lost anyone - or anything - it would mean a loss of profit. Plus, quality of life was beginning to become a trendy thing in Ul'Dahn society, even as the class gaps widened. Part of him was relieved that their journey didn't include walking through that city-state again, one more time. The price of ridding the world of fighting, of blood, was bureaucracy. Eyeing Jaliqai's posture, the young man sighed a little. Her mildly threatening gesture would either succeed in intimidating these men - or make them suspicious.


"Greetings, travelers!" The Lalafell brass blade mentioned to them the moment they were close to the gate. The Roegadyn in question hummed a noise from the back of his throat as he towered over the short-studded Xaela with a still glance. "Welcome to Scorpion crossing! Please state your business and display your traveling wares! We of course would not encourage any riff-raff coming in and out of the Sultana's city-state, er.. so we are required to check your bags a-"


The Lalafell paused for a brief moment. In actuality, Ryanti had slipped him a little gil coin, and disguised the action with a mild cough. Truthfully he wasn't carrying anything hostile or detrimental - this was merely a bribe to skip an inconvenience. Perhaps it was a polite way of not pestering the lady.


Though.. that Roegadyn was still towering over her, still. Looking. Glancing. "Hmmmmmmmm." The imposing man bellowed again. "..Well then, it seems that your bags are definitely safe for our passing thoroughfare, yes! Er.. right." The Lalafell stuttered from his lips as the Roegadyn man took a slow, deep breathe through his nose before speaking. "This woman's here's un' of 'm scalies. How w'd know whether or not she's a refugee eh?" The Lalafell waddled all the way over to him, and whacked him on the kneecap with a delicate closed fist. "Don't start trouble now! Excuse him, misses."




Jaliqai was more that content to let Ryanti handle the men. While she could play the part of charming, well-spoken lady when she wanted to -- particularly when on business, negotiating with investors and suppliers -- nothing about the men in front of her inspired that put-on sweetness. Just as the Roegadyn scowled down at her, she scowled right back, jaw stubbornly set. If he was expecting to intimidate her, he was looming over the wrong Au Ra.


Her attention moved away from him only long enough to look away when the Lalafell guard spoke, seemingly intent to let them pass. She hadn't needed to see the gesture to know that he'd been paid off. 'Inspections' were a joke, so far as the Blades were concerned. More like an extortionary toll. And Eorzeans thought that -her- kind were the savages.


The second that the Roegadyn opened his mouth, however, her eyes snapped back to him and narrowed. Whether reprimanded by his fellow Blade or not, the look on the woman's face spoke volumes: she wasn't keen on letting the disrespect slide. Straightening her posture again, she stepped forward once -- not so close as to seem immediately threatening, but enough to make it known that she wasn't afraid of the man over a fulm taller than her and at least twice as heavy.


"Jaliqai of the Qulaan, better known as Red. Guildmaster of Gold & Glory Hunter's Guild. I've got my bloody permits, and I pay my bloody taxes. -That's- how you know," she snapped, none-too-gently. "I'm 'bout as much of a refugee as much as you're a bloody pirate like the rest of your kin seems t'be. Or might be that's a bad comparison, seein' as it's not altogether too far from the truth, I figure."




Ryanti didn't like it either, but it was just this place was. He had a hardened face on his features when he heard her retort. This was not exactly the best way to handle the situation. He mumbled a few swear words underneath his breath, and pressed his thumb and forefinger against his eyelids, rubbing them and his lips in irritation. He knew that she was a smart woman, and a capable one. There had to be at least one chamber of thought in her head that was reminding her how foolish it was to become a pain to these men. Sometimes it was better to listen. It looked like he was going to have to reveal his own name again. Probably.


The Roegadyn's face was halfway masked by his visor on his turban, designed to protect the Brass Blade from the sun. He was not too animated due to his frame, but anyone could tell he was seething in his chainmail. "Nnnr... bitch has got a mouth." It looked like from his movement, that he was choosing about whether or not to act. Obviously violence was pretty high on the list.


Here Ryanti was, witnessing this: A man who was supposed to be civilized acting savage, and a woman who was supposed to be savage proclaiming she had much to her name. The irony was not lost, but also not welcomed. With authority, Ryanti simply extended a finger at the Roegadyn. With a booming voice, it was as if the young man increased his presence by ten fold. His charisma - one of his positive traits and bountiful within his demeanor, shined as he spoke of his own family, by his own pride. "I am of the Veanysus family, and if you even so much as think of laying a finger on her or myself I will make sure my mother knows of it."


With that said, afterwards the Lalafell began to hop back and forth in panic. "Ah-ahhh! H-he's one of them noblemen aye?" The Roegadyn man immediately faced Ryanti with a furious motion. "And who the hell do y-"


Within the moment, Ryanti had taken off one of his gloves, showing upon his right hand the sapphire family signet ring, with an irritated face. "And I will make sure to report my dissatisfaction with the service here. Are we clear?" The Roegadyn man sneered with exposed teeth, swallowing a harsh breath and stepping back and crossing his arms again. "Guildmaster this, noble that.." He was immediately elbowed by the Lalafell who was still in mild panic. "E-... enjoy your crossing, and do not hesitant to de-mud your soles and obtain the use of our services here, sir.. ma'am ... thank you."




Jaliqai's lip began to pull back in the beginning of what almost seemed like a feral snarl. The hand lingering around her hip shifted, fingers loosely curling around the hilt of the knife hidden away, always within reach no matter what sort of outfit or armor she wore. Already her mind was ticking in its usual methodical way. If the man made a move, he was so bulky and weighed down by chainmail that she was fair confident that she could make the first move. That was what it came down to, a great many times, in the killing of men. Ending it before it started. The blade of a knife quickly sunk into the neck, before the enemy's weapon could be drawn.


Of course there was a part of her that realized that such a thing was a terrible idea. Good idea or not, it didn't stop her mind from considering the possibility, working its way through the scenario even before it played out. That was why she had always been a better hunter of men than beast, her ability to think quickly and on her feet. But even still, even if her traveling partner hadn't stepped between them, the likelihood of the thought coming to pass was low. It was more a reflex than an active inclination, and thus ended up more a matter of posturing -- as a great many things were in this frustratingly say-much-do-little sort of land.


Her sullen, annoyed glaring continued even from behind Ryanti as he defused the situation. Even once everything seemed to settle -- or at least, as much as it could -- and they were welcomed into the Crossing, she could help but give the Roegadyn one last, sour glare before looking back to the Lalafell.


"Stow the bought hospitality," she scoffed dismissively, moving around Ryanti to make her way into the crossing, tail lashing in her wake like an especially agitated beast.




Ryanti stayed behind for the first few minutes after Jali had walked on. He had seen her pace herself ahead of him, walking with a bit of heat in her step, and agitation in her tail. It was strange how similar tails moved with emotion in her kind. Ryanti's tail however, was always still. As he apologized for his behavior.. or more like hers, to the Brass Blades, he couldn't help but feel like in the back of his head perhaps these baby steps out into the world were more difficult for her than he realized. Not in terms of business, but in this society as a whole. Despite that, what she did was detrimental to them, and placed the weight on his shoulders to solve the issue that should not have existed.


The crossing itself definitely contained a handful of hustle and bustle. Focused porthands controlled their breaths as they heaved cargo from one stand to the next. The boxes were tagged - they had to be placed in the receiving and shipping areas. It seemed business of that sort was finally picking up - somewhat. There were drinking fountains, a few tools to solve minor conveniences on the road as well. There were some chocobo stables, but they were unused, and the flag boys upon the catwalks overlooking the crossing seemed bored out of their minds. It was a slow start to the morning in Thanalan, but Ryanti knew that by lunch hour, this place would be fairly busy. Though he knew Jaliqai didn't leave a good impression for the guardsmen that day.


"I see you didn't listen to me when I told you to relax. There's a time and a place for that.." His words trailed off as he entered the crossing ahead of her. He didn't sound .. mad. It was moreso just the kind of accent one would have while being burdened by something. He placed the sole of one of his boots on the deck in the middle of the place, untying it all the way down. There was a rock in it, and the young man was also thirsty. He wondered to himself if she was always like that on the road. Such bitterness, he thought. Made more real to him because he understood her feelings perfectly. Fun.. would it be fun, in the end?

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The woman continued her irritated stomping for but a few moments longer, until she had found a spot by some crates and barrels safely out of the way of the workers milling about. Her gaze fell to the label on the outside, idly scrutinizing it, before deciding that she didn't much care who it belonged to. Turning, her hands gripped the edge, letting out a soft grunt as she pulled herself up to perch on its edge. The look that settled on her face dared any of the men carting goods to and fro to tell her to move. None seemed interested in taking the challenge, at least for the time being.


"Aye, there's a time and a place for it, alright," she huffed back at Ryanti, lips pursed. "When some lumbering shite thinks he aught talk to me like a whipped dog just because I have more scales'n he has brains, that's the time and place for it." Her gaze rose to stretch across the length of the Crossing, glaring daggers into the back of the Roegadyn's head. Even as he turned and glanced back in her direction, the defiant, proud look didn't falter. Instead, she spat at the ground, eye contact unfaltering. Small in stature, she may have been, but she was possessed of the heart of a lion -- or perhaps, more accurately, a wolf. "Ignorant lout best be glad that our paths didn't cross in the Steppes. His pretty armor and the city's laws and the money of his masters might protect him here, but none of it would mean shite there."


Of course, such was only the grumblings of an angry woman. A comment that was as empty as the wind she breathed the words into, speaking more of her own dissatisfaction with this new land's ways than anything that she could do about it. While she had adjusted well-enough in most ways, there were still parts of hers that missed the 'laws' of the Steppe. Coin and names didn't matter. One's own ability and strength dictated their place -- and their survival -- in that world. If you weren't prepared to fight for it, someone else certainly would be, and there were no written laws to protect the weak.


Finally, her gaze dropped away from the Roegadyn, instead moving to the white-haired halfling fiddling with his boots. Though elements of the irritation still lingered, it faded slightly as she regarded him, enough to where it was obvious that her annoyance wasn't directed at him. "Sounds like your name is worth its weight in gold, Ruffles," she observed, tone neither approving or disapproving. "Can't say I've ever seen a grown man threaten to report to his mother and the other fellow pissing in his breeches from fear and not laughter." Even if the words that had followed would perhaps come off as abrasive or judgmental, she still seemed to only be speaking in her usual blunt manner -- not picking her words with intent to wound as she had with the man at the Crossing's gate.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ryanti listened to her as he loosened the little criss-crosses in his laces, desiring to tighten them up to the kind of pristine amount of tightness that he was mildly obsessed with. Despite her words that seemed to carry as much of anger and irritation as did the weight on her shoulders, there was some truth in them. That he could not deny. Yet despite the tone of her letting off some steam, it was quite observant of him to note that while it impacted the atmosphere in terms of the mood, it did not lessen his image of her in his mind nor the image of the world around him.


It made sense. It made sense as much as the noon sky was beautiful and blue, as much as the sun's rays felt warm and inviting upon his brow. The relief of the wind blew across his locks once more, causing them to settle at a slightly different place than before yet all too familiar.


The spinning of a wheel distracted him for a moment, causing him to look away from her briefly. It was a carriage that seemed to be carrying a combination of people and goods - perhaps travelers on business. A happy chocobo with a fully tummy dutifully followed the path that they would be taking soon out of the rest stop where all traffic in and out of the city's proper had to take if they were coming from the west. Ryanti knew that they would never catch up to it, so even though it was going down the same path, he would never meet it again.


He wondered whether or not the people inside were foreign, if they came from distant lands like Jaliqai did. A land he never knew, but always wanted to.


And that land could be anywhere. Anywhere but here.


It was then that he turned his head more forwardly towards her, betraying that during the entire time she was talking, he was smiling. It was a smiled blanketed in nostalgia and warming up an aura of empathy for the woman he was traveling with, as well as perhaps laughing in the grand silliness of something he most often took very seriously; his lifestyle that he would never be able to escape. The only element of himself that he had pride in, his only hope of an identity.


"Who are you means everything here. Family means everything here."


He glanced over at her briefly, at those sulfuric eyes with his own before realizing that he did indeed need his vision to tend to his boot and make sure even the knot itself looked presentable. His fingers worked so nimbly - as if he was used to manipulating and pulling strings perhaps not just with his hands.


"Power has many faces. Pure strength; pure survival provides only minimal results in the world of educated men. That it what it takes to survive day to day in the eyes of the poorest of the poor. But if you wish to rise above that, you must learn all of the faces of power; all of its personalities. My family has spent nine centuries learning just that."


His fingers, which had remained still since he began to speak, started to move again. Delicately he weaved the laced together, as if he was his own tender mother - it was very easy to tell he had learned from her - that this very tender woman at home was the same that had inherited the power of his family throughout this generation.


"Intelligence and cunning, pride and worksmanship. Knowledge. All are required in this land I know. Mastery of it leads to wealth; to power. My mother is not the epitome of a warrioress. She is a businesswoman. Her arms are as soft as the wool of her tailored suits. It is her mind that has gotten her where she is. It is her presentation that allowed her to reach a point to where she does not have to say a word to anyone. She does not need to. She has already proved herself worthy of inheriting the respect of my family's name. Respected founded upon their past deeds."


He lifted his boot further upwards as he continued, though this time he returned his glance to the woman herself, eyeing her over for a moment before smiling again. He tied the top of the laces together into a nice little thin bow, then bent it downward to add a little masculine edge to the feminine shape. "Your clothing is fashionable and rather presentable. You even have a way with makeup like the girls do in the city - even at noon time when the sun is brightest. But speaking like that to others may cause yourself to have a reputation of being... difficult to work with, and that gets in the way of your business making money."


His boot suddenly came down with a rather thunderous thump of his sole to the floor, enough for the pool of sandy dust underneath to cloud up a little bit. With one other solid tap to the floor, he was satisfied. Afterwords, he approached the woman closer with a couple of steps, flanking his shoulder to her while keeping his gaze. "Perhaps your ancestors were great people, Jaliqai. Perhaps you are too. But they are ignorant of deeds that their mothers and father did not bare witness to themselves. It does not diminish one's greatness. It merely means you have to prove yourself. But sometimes the easiest way to do that is just... relax a little bit. Enjoy the journey. Let your actions speak for you. That's something I'm still trying to learn."


With moments, his head was looking around, trying to find a bit of a distraction for him - for her - maybe for themselves as a whole. There were several things for sale here. Drinks, pieces of fruit for the road. Books...


"But don't get me wrong. I know where you're coming from."

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