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From Ice to Sea [Closed]

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The wind that whipped through the lower levels of Foundations was biting. Even in the bustling center of the Holy See, the crisp morning predominated the senses of the knights, Brume born, and early risers among the gentry. What might have been a fine morning mist blowing off the mountains before the Calamity's perpetual winter was now a stinging blight that clung to clothing and armor alike, and formed ice crystals across the stiff fabrics of their coats.


Bundled though she was, Sounsyy could not escape the creeping frigidness of the morning since she had risen some time earlier before the dawn graced the eastern skies. Dressed in a thick, fur-lined military jacket and a coif made from karakul wool, she stood resolutely gazing out over one of Ishgard's many parapets across the Sea of Clouds. Sounsyy wiped her nose with her gloved hand, and with a round of loud sniffles hugged the throw blanket she'd stolen from her armchair more tightly about her.


The cold shouldn't bother her, she thought as she watched the sun rise. She was Ala Mhigan, after all. She had grown up in harsh winters, but nothing so lingering as this. She had also been a child, she recalled fondly, and children seldom paid any attention to the cold. With a faint smile, she pulled the blanket from her shoulders and raised her face into the morning sun and tried to picture her homeland. For a moment, the sun's first rays caught her cheeks and she imagined warmth, until that is, the next icy wave of air whipped around her and she buried herself in the blanket once more.


"Piss off."


It took her a half bell to shuffle back to the Forgotten Knight to huddle around the roaring fire with all of the other Brume born, adventurers, sellswords, and lowly knights of high houses. What a sight! The barkeep brought mugs of frothy ale about and the fireside sitters mumbled their appreciation. The fire crackled steadily while the wind outside picked up. Her ale nearly finished, there was little point in lingering. So she dislodged herself from her spot between two burly temple knights of Durendaire and made her way to the all but unoccupied bar.


"How much fer pen n' ink? I need to leave a letter," she said. Soon, with materials in hand she began painstakingly writing her letter to Roen. Each letter took agonizingly long to etch. Not because her hands were cold, but because the subtle curve of each character had to be correct, mechanical. This was important to her, having only begun learning to read and write when she joined the Knights of the Barracuda. She fussed for a bell it seemed over what she had written, reread, then finally signed towards the bottom in large, nearly illegible scrawl.




I have secured a connection with Maelstrom Command. A rescue party is being sent from Limsa to my crew. I must needs return to them with all haste. It would be foolhardy of me to attempt to cross Coerthas blindly once more. I would ask for your knowledge of this land to see me back west safely. Your service will be paid for. I will linger in Ishgard while I make preparations for the crossing or until I receive your reply.


My thanks,

Capt. Mirke



Sounsyy sealed the letter and handed it to the innkeeper with instructions to see it into Roen's hands the next time he saw her. With that, she set off up the stairs with her travel bag towards the Jeweled Crozier. The wind was howling now, so Sounsyy set a blistering pace with her head low. She was going to need fire shards, and lots of them.

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Roen shoved the letter into her belt pouch, blowing on her fingers to warm them before sliding them back into the protective shelter of her woolen gloves. The ever-present Coerthan chill seemed especially intent on seeping through her armor this night, and the flickering brazier flames that danced violently in the wind seemed unwilling to lend their warmth even as she sat close enough to to read the letter.


She dared not linger at the Forgotten Knight, not when so many authority figures frequented the inn. And the fact that it served as a gathering place to many adventurers on cold nights like this, it would also be likely that those looking for her would search the tavern. The dark alleyways of The Brume, on the other hand... those the champions of the Holy See seemed less inclined to roam.


It reminded the paladin of the last city that she had fled, Ul’dah, where one had to take care to walk through the backstreets of Pearl Lane for the fear of being robbed or becoming the target of extortion by the Brass Blades. She had left the Jewel and all the troubles there behind, to find a new start here in Ishgard.


And yet here she was, again hiding her face and ducking away from the eyes of the law. Only this time she knew she had done nothing wrong. Neither had Khadai. But the fact that there were armed men searching for them both had returned her to that familiar feeling of unease. Like many outsiders, she had learned quickly that in any inquiry that even hinted at some Dravanian threat, the Inquisition’s unforgiving justice was soon to follow. Steering clear of any disfavor from the Church was an easy lesson learned by any new outsiders arriving in Ishgard.


But what exactly was the trouble? The part of her that still demanded fairness and justice -- this the paladin reluctantly acknowledged with some irony -- wanted to know what spurred on this investigation.


They were looking for those associated with the events at that garrison, Dragonhead,” Khadai had told her. What little he had been able to learn while eluding his pursuers at least gave her some direction in which to start her probing. She wanted to send a missive to Ser Tournes, her former commanding officer and knight-captain, to ask him if he knew anything of this. But Khadai was quick to remind her that the Elezen knight, like every other devoted Ishgardian soldier, would be beholden to whatever authority was seeking them out.


Roen shifted in her seat, the old wooden crate beneath her creaking with the weight of her armor. Perhaps she could ask her current patron, Lord Theron, for assistance. Not only was he a personal friend of Ser Tournes, but he had also entrusted the education of his adapted Elezen son to her care. And he was part of the Ishgardian nobility besides.


Would he sympathize for or against mine and Khadai’s predicament?


Roen let out a long frustrated exhale as she extended her hands toward the flames, casually glancing to those also gathered near the fire. Most of them did not meet her eyes; many who sought the warmth of these outdoor fires had nowhere else to go. Roen imagined that their minds were already preoccupied with not freezing to death through the night. Still, a few men tossed a look or two her way, and perhaps it was the fire’s light etching harsh lines upon their face, or their shadows that wavered chaotically behind them that seemed to turn their gaze into glares. She lowered her head and pulled the hood a bit lower over her eyes.


Perhaps I too should have decided to stay out in the country as Khadai had chosen to do. Roen frowned at the memory of it, though a part of her did not know what vexed her more: that she chose to remain in Ishgard in a futile attempt to discern the truth of the matter regarding this Dragonhead investigation, or the lingering thought that Khadai was planning to head out deeper into Dravania to continue on the mission that had brought him to Eorzea in the first place. She had gotten nowhere on the former, meeting either uncooperative silence or dead ends, and on the latter… Dravania was a dangerous place, one that the Au Ra might get hopelessly lost in, yet again. The latter was not what was causing her disquiet, Roen told herself with a snort.


The paladin rose to her feet, the quickness of her movement betraying her annoyance. She ignored a few more glances thrown her way.


Perhaps it was best that this summons came now rather than later. Despite the fact that Roen had only known her for a better part of a sun, this Captain Mirke seemed an honest sort, very matter-of-fact in her answers with an unpretentious personality. She also seemed to not mind answering many of the paladin’s questions regarding the rest of Eorzea; the Miqo’te seemed quite knowledgeable when it came to the political tension between the Limsa Lominsa and Ul’dah. Considering her own knowledge on the matter, Roen could not help but press the subject a bit to glean more recent news from the Miqo’te. The fact that Captain Mirke was also an Ala Mhigan with strong opinions regarding the fate of those who shared her ancestry… the paladin did find herself drawn into the conversation with this Maelstrom Captain.


Roen shook off what snow had gathered from her hood, before she marched up the stairs leading back up to the Forgotten Knight. She was thankful that the innkeeper was either sympathetic to his patrons who sought privacy, or too busy to get involved in the first place. He accepted her letter addressed to Capt. Mirke without even a second look her way and tucked it under the counter.


Careful not to be seen, the paladin then made her way toward the Pillars. It was against her better judgement, but she had to at least give her wards some notice of her prolonged absence yet again. Lord Theron had been a more than generous in allowing her some freedom to attend to personal affairs and even taking some freelance jobs now and then. Perhaps the nobleman also suspected that his Elezen son was taking to the lessons in arms quite slowly and reluctantly. That was to say, not at all.


As the cobbled streets began to ascend toward the more polished and majestic part of the city, Roen withdraw a pearl from her pouch and inserted it into her ear.


“Khadai,” she called out quietly. “Captain Mirke has hired me to guide her back out through the Western Highlands in search of her crew. I have asked her to meet me at Falcon's Nest in a few suns. I was wondering... if you would accompany me?”

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The Au Ra glanced at annoyance with his knife, peering at it with a practised eye. One of the teeth of the serrated edge had been chipped off. With a tsk, Kasrjin diligently reapplied the blade to the tusk of the dead yeti he was perched on, making a mental note to replace the blade when he could. A hatchet may have been preferable. The merchant had assured him of the blade's quality. "Finest Ishgardian steel," he had said. If this was the finest quality they had to offer, it was no wonder they were losing their conflict against the dragons.


Kasrjin had been prowling the Western Highlands for almost fifteen suns now. He no longer entered the city at all. He had made an arrangement with an enterprising young knight eager for prestige; the knight would supply him with bills, coin, and provisions, while the Au Ra would hunt the beasts and allow the knight to claim the credit. It had been a profitable arrangement thus far, given the circumstances.


After pulling the tusk from the yeti--with some difficulty--the Au Ra tied the prodigious trophy to his back, swinging the blued steel upwards in order to prop it on his shoulder for travel. With this last trip, assuming the knight went through with his end, he should have enough for his expedition. Kasrjin had done little with his hunt earnings beyond stockpiling it and spending it on provisions. With this last hunt, there should be enough: one of the large birds for a mount, some survival tools, and provisions for at least thirty suns for one man. With this, he should be equipped to enter Dravania.


The Au Ra had only been to Tailfeather twice, but the climate was not nearly as harsh as the Highlands. Conversation with the huntmaster had revealed that danger took form in other ways: dragons, aggressive animals, and "beastmen".


If the Ishgardians are correct, the dragons will mistake me for one of their own. the Au Ra thought rather snidely to himself.


The pearl fastened to his horn chimed lightly, startling the Au Ra somewhat. By all rights the sensation should long have lost its power to cause Kasrjin to jump, but it was not used often enough for him to build a proper tolerance for the sensitive, almost imperceptible vibrations that the device made whenever contact was made.


"Khadai, Captain Mirke has hired me to guide her back out through the Western Highlands in search of her crew. I have asked her to meet me at Falcon's Nest in a few suns. I was wondering... if you would accompany me?"


Kasrjin frowned somewhat. That woman had been asking many favours of him lately. Self-reliance is hardly a virtue, apparently.


"I possess pre-determined plans to venture out. I will meet her with you, but I do not make promises to my participation."


A frown. Falcon's Nest was quite close to Ishgard. People had been looking for the three involved in Dragonhead; himself, Edda, and Roen. Would this be too risky? Almost subconsciously, the Au Ra did his best to tug the hood of his cloak over his head, though the large horns adorning his head still made distinct shapes emerge from even the largest of hoods.


"This does not sound like a venture you would take. For what reason do...." he paused. "We shall discuss this in person, then."


The wind was picking up. Best to collect his compensation as early as possible.

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The worn brass knob rattled loudly in the inn room. A small rat perched upon the made up bed reared up on its haunches and looked at the door as someone tried to gain entrance. Its glassy eyes stared alert. The knob jangled more furiously and with a round of guttural cursing, the whole door shook with a loud thud. The rat dove off the bed and scurried away into the dark recesses of some forgotten corner. Another loud thud, and the heavy door finally swung inwards, teetering lazily to admit passage.


A thick coated and heavily laden Mirke announced her entrance with an impressive string of mumbled curse words. Roen's letter held between her pursed lips. She flopped her travel pack onto the bed and immediately went to rubbing her left arm and shoulder where she had rammed the stuck door to get it to jar it free from its warped frame. The room was frigid, so she turned her attentions to the small fireplace and quartered logs stacked to its side. She had an appreciable fire blazing within ten minutes.


She discarded the letter on the bed with her other spoils of the sun and bits of clothing soon followed, burying the missive from view. Throw, coat, coif, gloves, and undershirt. Her bare arms goosebumped uncomfortably while she found a more comfortable sweater to slip into. She set her thighboots by the fire to dry out, but kept both pairs of socks on her feet.


The letter. She'd nearly forgotten. She shuffled through the things on the bed until she found it. She ripped it open and deposited herself in the armchair pulled up beside the fire to read. It took her a while to skim the short message, but Roen had accepted her terms and that was all that mattered. She could finally return to her crew. Her initial apprehension faded and Mirke felt a mild revitalization of her spirits and energy that she hadn't felt since she'd been here. Her stay had been overlong, a drain on her senses. But these Ishgardians never seemed to do anything quickly, for good or bad.


So too did she slip slowly into sleep while propped in her armchair, fire warming her cheek. Two pairs of eyes glimmering in the dark from atop the bed, the rat and a friend looking on from the safety of the deepening night.



On the morning she was to set off and meet Roen in Falcon's Nest, she rose early once more and went to organizing her pack for the long travel. Her bed still perfectly made beneath neat rows of rolled up clothing, potions, and knicknacks. Old and new maps of the Coerthas region rolled for travel. Though they were utterly useless to her, she thought it best to bring them none-the-less. Spare clothes were rolled into tight buns to conserve space in her small pack. What might have used to be a cigar case, was stuffed with crystal shards. She slipped this into the pouch inside her pack that held her other assortment of crystals shards and linkpearls.


Mirke was meticulously organized with her packing. If she could not fit something, she would take something out and reorganize. The largest section of the pack was packed with clothes and food, organized in tight, vertical rolls. A large wine bottle was nestled in the middle of her clothes rolls to protect it from harm. The maps rested to either side. In the inside pouch, crystals and linkpearls lined the sewn in pockets. Satisfied finally that she had been able to fit the entirety of her food supply within the pack, she closed the flap and buckled it off.


She rotated the pack on her bed, checking off the outside pockets. Ammo and firesand for her pistol in one. Her spare water canteen in the one adjacent. On the other side, a row of loops to carry tools, though only one such loop was occupied. A marlinspike was hooked there. She hadn't used the thing in some time, but it had proved to be a useful tool in the past, both on sea and land.


Ready. Undershirt, sweater, thick military coat. Two pairs of thick socks, thighboots. Thick gloves and coif, both blanketed with karakul wool. She tied her pack to her belt and thigh, draped her main waterskin around her shoulder, sheathed her sword into the scabbard above her rump, and holstered her pistol to her opposite hip from her pack. The Miqo'te turned about, eyeing her appearance in the early morning light that shimmered through the window. Oh, the final flourish. She withdrew her Storm Captain's insignia and pinned her rank to her military coat's collar.


If I die out there, at least they'll be able to identify meh.


She prodded the coals of last night's fire with her boot to make sure they were truly without life, then wrenched the door open with a few two-handed tugs at the weathered door knob. The rats were nowhere to be seen this morning, likely withdrawn somewhere warm to sleep after their vigil.


Sounsyy Mirke paid her rent at the front desk, and after she expressed her severe disliking for the charged price of her accommodations, she set off into Saint Valeroyant Forum. Much of the snowstorm had passed by now, and the Miqo'te was met with a light flurry. It swirled lazily about the square, coating the grey stone with flecks of white. It looked as if the city were paling with age. Mirke tightened her collar and started the long journey ahead.


As she weaved through the passersby, one small Miqo'te in a forest of tall Elezen, Hyur, and other races who made her all but invisible, she could feel the gaze of the headless and charred statue of Valeroyant upon her. She sneered at the statue on her way past, watching as it collected a fine coat of powder. Some great man or woman who had been elevated to status with a thrust of their spear. Sounsyy wondered just how many statues Ala Mhigo would have if her kin used the same criteria.


Across the city, she noticed temple knights everywhere she went. They looked cold and tired. Perhaps some just returning from the Front? How long had it been since this city-state had seen its last dragon raid? It all looked so at peace this morning, despite being littered with rubble. She made a small hmphing noise. Those were there troubles... and Roen's, should the Ul'dahn sellsword choose to stay here. So far away from the shimmering Jewel, the stifling heat, the blinding sands... Honest, can't blame 'er.


An Elezen knight collided full into her, knocking the smaller Miqo'te onto her rump into the powdered cobbles. The knight turned to look at her, but didn't stop, his conversation with his accompanying knight much too important it seemed. Sounsyy growled at him, but didn't push the issue. She pushed herself back to her feet with a groan and smacked the caked snow off her backside with a huff. She tested her forehead gingerly. There'd likely be a bruise from where the bottom of the knight's breastplate smacked her.


There was nothing for it. She pulled her coif down further over her forehead and after standing in that same spot, looking lost and baffled, pressed on. The sooner she was out in the middle of nowhere, well, the sooner she would be out in the middle of nowhere. Away from Ishgardians. Sounsyy was again reminded why she wanted the Hyur to be her guide - she lacked the disregard of the denizens she fought under. Isolation had fermented in their appreciation for others, up here alone on a mountain top in the center of the world.


The gates came into view. The Miqo'te captain picked up her pace, determined to reach Falcon's Nest before the morning was past.

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  • 2 weeks later...

There was tension in the air. It penetrated through the biting chill of the northern wind, lending a certain heaviness to the very air itself. The harsh lines that etched the expressions of each Ishgardian knight seemed deeper, their grimaces more somber. There were whispers of rising hostilities, as reformers and traditionalists clashed in their views of what Ishgard should be, and how to prepare for the conflict that seemed imminent on the horizon.


Perhaps this was why the Durendaire knights seemed to pay little--if any--attention to the paladin that strode past them without meeting their eyes, her stride crisp but not too hurried. She was trying to avoid any unnecessary attention, after all.


But as Roen walked about Falcon’s Nest, her eyes scanning both for the Miqo’te captain and Khadai, she could not help but overhear passing words here and there upon the lips of traders and artisans. Was there a true confrontation with the Dravanian Horde headed for Ishgard? It was the same threat that had always hung over all of Coerthas for as long as she could remember, but since she had returned from the Shroud, the unease amongst the residents seemed almost palpable. She had dismissed it to the ongoing political strife that had been on the rise since the shift in power within the Theocracy itself, and had done her best to keep herself out of taking sides.


She was only here to do what she can, taking a single step whenever possible. Perhaps assisting the stranded Maelstrom Captain and her crew was but one of them.


As she made her way toward the gates, Roen spotted Khadai on the road. By his slowed pace, she could tell he was exercising caution. His stride was usually long and agile, but today he walked up past the guards like a weary traveler. The paladin sighed inwardly when they only gave him a passing glance.


A second figure drew both the paladin and the Au Ra’s attention as a familiar Miqo’te approached both of them. Captain Mirke was as Roen remembered, petite but with a hint of wiry fortitude to her frame, and her stride sharp with purpose. The Miqo’te exchanged glances with both the paladin and the Au Ra warrior, her eyes narrowing only slightly at the latter. Remembering their less than affable encounter the first time, Roen drew her lips into a polite expression.


"I hope I had not pulled you away from other important affairs,” Roen said matter of factly, greeting Khadai with a nod. She then turned to the Captain. "I had asked him to join us since another set of swords in the Highlands is never a bad idea."


Khadai seemed indifferent. "I am undergoing preparation for an expedition into Dravania. I am willing to hear out your request of assistance in the event that the location of our goals coincide." His speech was still somewhat stiff, but it lacked the element of hesitation that it once held.


"How fortunate then,” Mirke answered nonchalantly. “Yers and mine own paths lie in similar directions. West, far west."


Roen could see Khadai’s eyes squint ever so slightly upon being reacquainted with the Miqo'te's Noscean accent. The paladin moistened her lips in relief that he made no note of it this time.


"I have prepared a mount and thirty days' worth of provisions for one individual.” The Au Ra took inventory of his supplies. “Spread across three persons it can be stretched to roughly ten days. The bird can be used as a draught animal."


Roen could not help but arch both her brows in pleasant surprise. “You actually kept your mount!" she marveled out loud. Last time they spoke, his frustration with his new bird was clear.


"It was necessary.” His tone remained stern. “This expedition was intended to be long-term. The bird can be used for sustenance in an emergency as well." Khadai tilted his head slightly at her. "And you did note that I was not utilizing my gathered currency very often."


Both the paladin and the Maelstrom Captain made a face at Khadai. "I'd hope it not come to that,” Mirke said dryly. “I've meh own foodstuffs as well. Provisions fer near a fortnight if I pace mehself.”


Roen quickly dismissed the frown from her face. Khadai never failed to remind her of his practicality at every turn. "You do seem prepared," she murmured. "I also did not realize you were leaving for Dravania so soon." She heard her tone dip slightly and wrinkled her nose again. "Well, at least all our paths coincide.”


Mirke glanced between them both, and tucked her hands into her pockets. “I paid fer a bird, but I left it with the knights back a ways, on the off chance one of yeh lot couldn't ride?" Her gaze swiveled to the Au Ra pointedly.


Khadai shrugged. "Khadai do not utilize mounts, but I am certain it is not something beyond my learning. If it came to it, I would simply use it as a draught animal."


When the Captain looked to Roen for a decision, the paladin shook her head. “Best not learn how to ride while we are trying to search for your comrades. We can use the mounts we have to haul our supplies. If we travel mounted, the birds would need food and shelter sooner." She looked up at the clouds. "The sky is light enough, perhaps the heavy snow will hold off for a bit."


The Miqo’te nodded in agreement. "Settles that then. We go on foot."


"What do you pursue this endeavour for?" Khadai inquired, his deep green eyes intently regarding the Captain.


The Miqo'te cocked her head, a slight puzzled look twisting her features. It was as if she was trying to figure something out about the Au Ra. "I take it Roen didn't 'ave a chance to explain. When yeh found meh in Coerthas some time ago, I were headin' from meh crew's shipwreck in Dravania to civilization to get contact with Limsa. Now I've done that, a rescue party is on their way. I need to be back wit' meh crew when they get there. And round up any stragglin' scouts too if it comes to that."


Khadai stared at her briefly before nodding. "As you say. The location of our objectives coincide, then. This arrangement can be upheld." He turned his attention to Roen. "This is something you wish to participate in?"


Roen flicked a glance at him. That was an odd thing for him to ask. With all the discussions and arguments that the two have held in the past, she found herself peering up at him, as if trying to glean some second meaning behind his question. "I had made an offer of aid when we met her the first time, and I intend to uphold it. And…” She lowered her voice. “It was a good reason as any to get out of the city for awhile." The paladin did not want to say more, lest she seed any suspicions of legal troubles in the mind of a Malestrom officer.


"As you say." Khadai nodded once. "We have reached an accord, then."


The Miqo’te captain snorted. “Shite, if I'd known yeh were tryin' to get out o' that bleedin' city, I'd 'ave asked yeh sooner." She made a lazy wave of her hand before turning back to the Au Ra. "Seems we 'ave. I promised compensation fer Roen's contributions to the Maelstrom. Yeh can be rewarded as well if it suits yeh."


“I will require some short time. I left my provisions in a location outside of the city, and I will have to retrieve the bird from the stables." Khadai replied to the captain in turn, and Roen was relieved to see that their exchanges were somewhat more cordial than it was the first time.


As both the Au Ra and the Miqo’te made their way to the stables, Roen squinted up at the skies. The grey clouds were still, and there were even patches where the sunlight was almost breaking through. Perhaps this journey would be uneventful after all. A small smile tugged at the corner of her lips. She did not want to admit it, but she was glad that Khadai had agreed to come after all.


She glanced back to the two before they were out of ear reach.


“Best get started while the winds are quiet."

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Sounsyy had to move quickly to keep pace with the Au Ra on their journey to the stables. His legs alone nearly reaching her chest. Her boots shuffled quickly across the slick, powdered cobbles to not get left behind, not that she couldn't have found the stables on her own, but she had a nagging feeling that the Xaela valued his intended schedule and would likely leave her behind if given the opportunity.


She recalled their previous, brief introduction in the Coerthan wastes. He was matter of fact, infuriatingly so, and he was devoid of Eorzean social niceties. The latter bit didn't truly bother the captain, she did understand that he was not Eorzean after all, but she added it to her list of silent grievances as they moved in silence towards their chocobos.


Once there, the captain wandered over to the stable fence and climbed atop it to sit with her legs dangling off one side while she waited. She passed furtive glances at her Auri companion from time to time in between patient stares at the Elezen chocokeep's balding head. She felt very out of place, perched on the fence. She imagined the Xaela might have felt similarly, perhaps even Roen did as well. A trio of foreigners traipsing across the waste in the pursuit of who-really-knew-what. She regarded her stoic companion again. He had neglected to expound upon his own reasons for traveling to Dravania. Not that it was really any of her business.


The Miqo'te let out a puff of steam from her nostrils into the chilly air. Her sharp green eyes following the tendrils until the dissipated into the wind and the Elezen's bald spot once more absorbed her attention. This silence was too much. It would be a long road.


"Do they have winters like this in the Steppes-?" She started to ask the question aloud, but she trailed off as the chocokeep brought forward two birds. Her awkward query forgotten, Sounsyy hopped off the fence and greeted her rental chocobo with a scrutinizing eye, but a gentle hand through its warm feathery coat. It gave an indignant "Warrk!" in response and the captain narrowed her eyes at the thing.


She began checking the chocobo's harness, keeping an eye on the beast. It appeared to be an older rouncey, with a pale yellow beak and bland feathers. It was much too large for her to mount properly, given her own stature. It likely once belonged to some Elezen knight, but now was reduced to ferrying strange Miqo'te captains out in the cold. The bird's snootiness reflected in its eyes, watching her as she adjusted his straps like some cantankerous old crow.


Sounsyy sighed when she was finished with the bird and divvied out a few more gil pieces for extra feed and essentials for their mounts. She attached these to her bird's saddle and rewarded it with a few leaves pulled from a head of gysahl. The old bird seemed a might more amenable afterwards, so the Miqo'te took it by the reins and led it back down the pathway to Falcon's gate.


She looked about, Khadai was not to be seen. He must've taken his bird already and moved on in search of his secreted stash of provisions he was on about earlier. With a shrug, she fed her bird another torn-off green and bid it follow her without further complaint. To the bird's credit, it only fluffed up its feathers and gave a defeated kweh in protest.


Before long the two were returned to the gate. Roen and Khadai seemed to be idling ahead on the path waiting for Sounsyy to return. She nudged the old bird forward until the two were level with the Hyuran knight errant from the south and the taciturn Xaela from the east. The Xaela indicated in which direction he had hidden his provisions and the trio set off at a steady pace with Khadai at the head.


The Miqo'te observed the path west before them. Where once there had likely been gravel or even cobblestone marking the westward road, now there was just a soft, endless blanket of fresh snow from the day before. The sky was clearing now and they'd likely make good progress until nightfall if they left soon.


"Went ahead and bought spare feed fer yer mounts n' mine. Blankets also, and the like," she said when Khadai finally stopped. Her bird gave a long warble, once more indignant of being reduced to a pack mule. Sounsyy gave it a look. It quieted, returning its pale beak to preening its feathers. The Miqo'te looked to Khadai then, speaking up once more. "Don't like civilization much, Khadai? Can't bring to mind another reason to hide yer provisions out here."

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Kasrjin's relationship with his chocobo seemed to have ameliorated since the last time he had checked on the animal; Karadwyr shuffled about noticeably less as he checked and re-checked the fastenings of the saddlebags that were to hold 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'd considered removing the saddle itself, but if the struggle with the saddlebags had been any indication, manipulating straps and buckles could only lead to his utter doom.


The Xaela's provisions had been hidden in the middle of a small, rocky outcropping at the bottom of a steep hill, blanketed by layers of rough animal skins and covered with what foliage he could find amongst the Highlands. The foul scent of the animal skins kept most benign scavengers--person and animal alike--away, while the accumulated shrubbery caused most carrion to be disinterested in picking away at said skins.


Kasrjin removed the stones anchoring the skins and swept some layers of dirt away from a pit to reveal several sizeable bags of hand-tooled leather. A cursory inspection revealed that everything was as he had left it; strips of brittle steinbock meat, dried through exposure to frigid winds, crushed snurbleberries, almonds, strips of cloth for bandages, tools, a fur-lined cloak, and a thick insulated waterskin to melt snow in.


"I have no qualms with civilization. I simply find yours to be obtuse to interact with at times," he grunted as he began to migrate the supplies to Karadwyr's saddlebags. "I also lack the means for personal storage and there are certain risks I do not wish to take within the city." Truth be told, he had no idea if those armed men were still looking for him, Roen, and Edda, but it would make him feel somewhat foolish to find out by being caught by them.


"To answer your earlier question, we do not live amongst the steppes. The mountains and glaciers serve as our home, and the winters there are harsh. Blizzards have lasted up to half a moon at a time." Kasrjin was careful to keep any accurate directions out of his description, though it was less out of mistrust and more out of simple force of habit. "You have your fair share of vengeful weather, but its touch is gentler than what I am adjusted to."


His supplies successfully transferred, an endeavour that brought more than a little relief. It was little more than luck that the Au Ra had managed to relocate his cache--though "relocate" was perhaps a generous term as he could not be entirely sure that this was the one he had intended to find--for more than once while gathering these provisions had he been completely unable to find the place where he had stored it, as the snow would sweep or obscure any landmarks he could make and his own sense of direction was...lacking.


At the least, somewhere out there were several buried pits of varying provisions. Perhaps they could use them in an emergency. Or someone could, at least.


Tracking was for the Nayantai. Kasrjin kept his sigh internal, and turned to face the paladin and the Miqo'te.


He glanced at Roen. "I would mention that my expedition may last longer than it takes for this endeavour to be completed" The paladin had made an offer to help him, but he was not entirely sure that she would be willing or able to commit to such a lengthy journey. "Should we find--"


A pause. He briefly had forgotten the Miqo'te's name. Mark...Lurk....ah, right. Think of cloudy water.


"Should we find Mirke's compatriots swiftly, you plan to accompany them until their rescue arrives?"


Karadwyr warbled again with a brief shiver, Kasrjin reflexively wincing as he imagined the buckles and straps of the saddlebags exploding apart again.

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A silver-grey canopy of clouds had gradually enveloped the sky in an oppressive gloom as the trio lingered at the base of the hillside. Khadai's gathered provisions were now fully piled onto the saddlebags of the black chocobo who, to the Au Ra's apparent consternation, began warbling and shivering with agitation at the new load.


But despite the apparent struggles between Khadai and his temperamental destrier mount, they seemed to have gotten at least a little more familiar with each other since Roen had seen them last. Perhaps he is growing on Karadwyr too, the paladin mused. Looking around the base of the hill, she also could not help but be impressed at how well Khadai had learned to navigate within the snowy hills of Coerthas. He apparently had hid his stash of supplies in an unmarked area and returned to it without trouble.


Roen wanted to believe that the maps and the compass she had gifted him many moons ago had aided him in learning the landscape.


A quiet warble from Goldwind brought the paladin’s attention back toward the skies. The anxious trill in the back in her bird’s throat echoed the worry that was starting to crease her brows, as the sun that had promised them fair travel was threatening to make its retreat. Beyond the western mountain peaks, Roen could make out a distant gathering of darker, more ominous clouds. While Goldwind was a sturdily-built rouncey--a breed able to withstand some harsh conditions--he had grown accustomed to the warmer and drier climes of Thanalan, and made his dislike of the blizzards here well known to the paladin. She lightly stroked the feathers on Goldwind’s forehead just above the beak to soothe the bird.


“It depends on what condition we find them in and how,” Roen answered Khadai even as she still continued to study the skies. “If they are in need of further assistance and aid, then we should stay and make certain they will be able to wait for the rescue.” The paladin glanced between Captain Mirke and the Au Ra. “We were hired to guide the captain back to her crew. It would do her no good if we just left them to fend for themselves thereafter.”


The Miqo’te captain’s inexperience under these conditions, along with her lack of knowledge regarding the lay of the land, had been made obvious. Roen was not simply going to trust that getting her to the intended destination would be the end of their job. At least, not until she was certain her and her crew could secure a safe shelter to wait for the rescue to arrive.


A ship's captain and her crew… Roen had only known one other such group of seamen. Were Mirke's men as tight-knit a group who trusted each other as those on the Second Forte? The question made her pause, though she did not quite know if she welcomed the stirring she felt within.


“How many are in your crew?” the paladin asked the Miqo’te, clearing her throat. She could already see the faces that were on the Second Forte in her mind’s eye, and while she only really knew Garalt and Daegsatz, she had at least become familiar with many of the faces there, from young to old. She marveled at how quickly those memories returned to her unbidden, especially in the middle of this frozen wasteland. Roen shook her head deliberately, as if to chase away annoying gnats of memory from her thoughts.


“That is… if all of the scouts returned to the ship safely and none were lost?” She hoped the other two did not hear the forced calm in her voice that seemed obvious to her own ears.

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