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An had spent over six bells observing the Garlean spy from the underbrush.  She was motionless, swathed entirely in soft black cloth save for her eyes, and a shielded lantern rested at her feet, its light entirely hidden behind thick black iron plates.


His name was Cato sas Longinus, alias Darrin Stormwalker, alias Bran Farseer, and An had her doubts "Cato" was not an alias as well.  He was a tall, handsome man with golden-brown hair and an easy, friendly smile, gladhanding the surly, redheaded Highlander he was meeting with in the clearing and lightly deflecting his sparring over money and payments.  Cato had been An's mark now for six moons, since he'd arrived from Garlemald to take the reins of the hidden outpost in the depths of the East Shroud where An had nearly lost her life.  His predecessor HAD lost their life, along with half of the garrison, in the explosive incident that had been visible malms away in Gridania and had nabbed headlines for the rumored use of black magic.


An had been in recovery for weeks, even after extensive aetheric healing from an unknown benefactor, and she privately admitted the outpost and those who remained within it had become something of an obsession.  She still remembered but little of that day, and of the explosion itself, only vague impressions of light and heat.


It took but a mention of that brush with death to flare anger and hatred in her Master Gogonji's deep amethyst eyes, to bring an edge to his voice as keen as that of any knife and cause his knuckles to whiten on his ever-present cane.  An, as sensitive to the slightest changes in his mood and demeanor as a windchime was to eddies of breeze, had learned to avoid mention of the topic.  But as long as she retraced her steps to the Shroud, she couldn't be wholly free of that day, and neither could he by extension.  But her plan was to replace those memories of rage and loss with Khamja's greatest victory:  turning a Garlean intelligence officer.


She had surveilled nearly every step Cato had taken out of the outpost since his arrival - and occasionally, at great personal risk, within it.  She knew his source network, which Adders and Wailers he was developing or had under his thumb, which well-respected mages and merchants were making the furtive trek out into the forest to receive their orders.  (She was putting the finishing touches on a blackmail package to present to Master Gogonji at their next secure meeting.)  She knew his tactics, his techniques, his style; Cato was cunning and subtle, a far more capable foe than Rosewater had been, and turning him would be a triumph of the highest magnitude.


And she was aware the risks she was running were commensurate with the potential gain.  White Cato favored a more delicate approach than the usual Garlean tactics of brute strength, overwhelming armed force, and naked threats, he still traveled with guards to his meetings, and a few weeks ago she'd grown careless and they had detected her surveillance.  She had managed to escape the ensuing ambush with only a gash on her back - tended to by Master Gogonji himself, much to her surprised gratification - but it had reinforced the gamble she took each time she pursued the Garlean:  with Khamja's operations, with her true identity, and with her very life.


Should the Garleans in the Shroud truly succeed in claiming her life, as they nearly had before, she wasn't sure if Master Gogonji would ever truly recover.  She had seen how fully the lust for revenge had consumed him when he thought his family dead in the razing of Doma.  Although his brilliance had achieved horrific destruction upon his enemies, his pain had spurred on acts of near-madness as well, almost resulting in his own death.  And when he had thought her lost to him before, his subsequent revenge had nearly destroyed a woman's life.


And yet, on some level, An had yet to shake the long-standing feeling her worth - to Master Gogonji, and more generally to herself - was based on her utility.  For her entire life, it had been reinforced to her that she was a tool, a blade, made and tempered to be guided by another's hand.  The incident of mind-control at the Runestone had been terrifying in part because the takeover of her will and her consciousness had felt so natural and almost right; only the small seed of individuality, nurtured so carefully by Master Gogonji and Chuta, had kept her from succumbing entirely to Belgorian Spellsmith's pervasive will.  Had that happened, An shuddered to think of the damage to her cover and persona that would've resulted - and perhaps someone would've died for it.


Whether as his tool or by her own choice, An was guided by Master Gogonji in all things, and his greatest love was for information.  She believed the time was ripe to present him with what she had learned about Cato and his aims, and develop with him the best way to snare the Garlean in their web.  As Tmesis Oan, Master Gogonji had lavished gifts upon his socialite betrothed, Annunu Nunu; it was in private and the utmost secrecy that An returned those gifts, in the form of data collected personally and on the most pernicious of targets.


She lifted the shuttered lantern by her foot as Cato left the clearing, and took her own leave, automatically sweeping the area with her gaze for any signs of someone following her or the Garlean.  No one weaved a better or stronger web than Master Gogonji.  All she needed to do was provide the silk.


* * *


The Mamluk formerly owned by Kabir watched as Bran Farseer left the clearing; he began to slowly count to one hundred in his mind, and only once he exceeded that count did he begin to relax, brushing his red hair away from his face with a calloused hand.  Bran had been full of promises and light on gil as usual, demanding information on the Ala Mhigan Resistance, especially the infamous Embers of Rhalgr cell, for a pittance of money in return.  Mamluk had excessively complained about the man's cheapskate ways but had been quick enough to take it, as befitted a former slave.  Of course, the paltry sum would barely fund the current operation for a week.  Damned stingy Garleans.  Had Mamluk truly turned coat on the Embers, he'd be insulted.  As it was, and as usual, he just felt tired.


"Was that guy really a Garlean?" Ornh asked from behind him.


"Pure-blooded supposedly, the Sandfox told me.  Doesn't look it to me - too pretty."  Mamluk cast a glance over his shoulder at his partner, cracking a smile for the other Highlander, an expression that felt foreign on his face of late.


Ornh squatted easily, a large rifle slung on his back and an easy smile on his face, as usual.  He wore that smile like Mamluk used to wear a mask, and likely for the same reasons, Mamluk thought.  "All Garleans should wear horns like voidsent.  I had a bead on him the whole time, as you asked.  A couple guards were a few hundred yalms off to the south - the guy's got balls, I'll grant him that.  They wouldn't have done much good had you been out to butcher him."


"Well, it wasn't our first meeting.  He thinks he's got a Resistance comms officer in his pocket - and he thinks I don't know who he really works for."


"Well, we're all a bunch of meatheads with no brains, didn't you know?" Ornh said dryly.  "Oh, and there was someone else out there in the underbrush - a lot more skilled.  Doman, probably.  Small, wearing black, probably a Lalafell.  Only caught 'em because there was a shift in the wind, smelled some lamp oil."


"Lalafell, huh?"  Mamluk thought on it a moment.  He was so tired.  But he had to think things through.  Carefully.  "Could be one of those shinobi working for the Scions.  Or Doman Resistance, if there is such a thing.  Or... coopted.  Not enough information to make an educated guess."


"Think their attention was only on Bran.  What do you want to do?  I got lucky to catch them this time.  If it's someone out to make trouble for us, we might not even see them next time before they make their move."


He rubbed at his face.  A Doman Lalafell.  Why did that tug at his memory?  There couldn't be that many of them out there.  Think it through.  Except he didn't want to think anymore.  He was so tired.  "Let's keep our eyes open for now, and if it looks like a bug's in our way... we'll squash it.  We've got more important duties."


Ornh saluted, and the two Highlanders made their way out of the clearing and back into the forest.  Mamluk was content just to execute the Sandfox's orders for now.  Whether here, feeding this Garlean misinformation, or hunting down Blackroad and Warsong.  All was for Operation Heavensfury in the end.  And then - he could finally rest.

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  • 2 weeks later...

((A week late, so not reflective of current events - I need to de-lazy and post more.))


Master Gogonji's orders had been clear:  Turn her efforts to the Highlander, the Mamluk once owned by Kabir, and coopt him from Cato sas Longinus.  An was fairly sure she understood why Master Gogonji favored a more indirect approach to the Garlean - he feared a lack of control that might result in another situation akin to the Rosewater incident.  Such a dog, he had noted, must be properly leashed and muzzled to be of use.  An was inclined to agree, given the intricacies of the hunt last time.


And so, this Mamluk would be the wolfhound to hunt their elusive wolf.  An set out to find out what she could first from open sources.  She knew from Mamluk's meetings with Cato that he had a most distinctive name, and that he was a member of a Sagolii-based cell of the Ala Mhigan Resistance known as the Embers of Rhalgr, led by a mysterious figure known as the Sandfox whose movements Cato had been keen to discover.  Mamluk was a giant of a Highlander, perhaps six and a half fulms and north of 250 ponz of pure muscle, red-haired and bronze-skinned with a heavily scarred body.  And that was the extent of her knowledge.


That unique name was certainly suggestive - or title, really.  A "mamluk" was an archaic fashion of referring to a particular caste of warrior-slave; indeed, public records indicated a slave known only by that title had had several owners over the past decades, most recently and substantially by an Ul'dahn merchant named Kabir Sandstrike.  While An could find no records of Mamluk's true name, records at the Gladiator's Guild indicated Kabir would fight Mamluk against other slaves and beastmen mercenaries in first blood or incapacitation-style matches for eleven years.  Kabir had owned several other gladiator-slaves over the years, but gauging from their win-loss records at the guild, Mamluk was his most successful, even being gifted another slave as a wife the year before the Calamity, though she was resold not long thereafter according to public sale records.


Another bill of sale indicated Mamluk purchased his own freedom some time after that, and continued fighting in the bloodsands as a freeman until an abrupt stop about a year ago.  That explained his scars, she supposed.


As for Kabir - old newspapers revealed he had disappeared several moons after Mamluk purchased his freedom.  His official status was "presumed dead".  Having caused her own share of mysterious disappearances, An idly wondered if Mamluk had been responsible, but there were no public record indications he was under suspicion of murdering his former owner.  Pity she no longer had access to the internal security service files.


More interesting to her was how he had obtained the money to buy his freedom.  Gladiator's Guild policy was that even slaves retained a portion of their winnings - in escrow at the guild if necessary, to keep the money from their owners' greedy hands.  Such funds were often used to buy freedom.  It was part of the "Ul'dahn dream" after all - even slaves could rise above their station, as long as the way was paved with gold.


But with Mamluk's win/loss record over the eleven years he was owned by Kabir, he should have made that sum several times over and been free far earlier.  An was intrigued.  Money trails were often the fastest route to the heart of any mystery.


That was all open source information revealed on Mamluk.  An weighed whether or not to approach the Arbiter.  Surely a hardened gladiator had participated in the Grindstone's lucrative bloodsport; but she doubted he would delve into his extensive records of participants without wanting to know why she wanted to know.


On the Embers of Rhalgr, she found little additional information in the press or other sources.  It was yet another Resistance cell without much reputation, one article wrote, making noise and doing little else out in the desert; another article claimed it was known for being comprised largely of starving refugees and religious zealots.  She did find one report linking the Embers to a raid on a Garlean supply convoy, but not in the Shroud and with a paucity of details.


An knew more about the Sandfox from her contacts at the Gilded Knuckle than she was able to find in open source research, largely because of the size of the bounty on his head.  Number five on the Garlean top ten most wanted list among Eorzeans, he was said to be a warrior-priest of Rhalgr and a thorn in the Garleans' side since the fall of Ala Mhigo.  He had been given the sobriquet "Sandfox" for good reason, known for thriving in harsh and barren locales, evading capture for years in the wilds, harrying Garlean troop movements and supply lines with infrequent but persistent guerilla tactics and inspiring many with fiery sermons on Rhalgr's will.


It seemed entirely within character for the Sandfox to be forging the Embers into a more effective and renowned force, An concluded.  Perhaps Mamluk had grown disillusioned with the Ala Mhigan cause, or with the Sandfox; certainly he had spent enough time at his meetings with Cato haggling over money.  A former slave was likely keenly sensitive to monetary pressure.  But it didn't quite add up with his history.  Too many unknowns still, and An didn't wish to theorize without data.  She had a baseline of information; now the true work of uncovering the man's contacts and motivations could begin.


* * *


Ornh's steady breathing on the other side of the camp told Mamluk he'd finally fallen asleep; the red-haired Highlander sat up and added a few logs to their low-burning campfire, though the night was so warm they scarcely needed it.  Jackals, though.


Mamluk's eyes dropped to his partner's sleeping face.  Who are you, really?  It didn't really matter, now.


They'd fought earlier.  It was probably inevitable.  Ornh had had a bellyful of death and was sick from it.  He was the type that handled grief with anger, fear with anger, loss with anger.  Mamluk understood that.  Anger was a lot easier to live with.


"How long have you been looking for an excuse?"


Since Cyrille, really.  Mamluk had obliquely answered Ornh with a story about Ser Rebeccah Price, however.  A woman he'd met who thought herself strong, wise, and mature, the Ishgardian knight had held court over a bevy of eager young bucks looking to get her into bed and steal away her heart.  It had been nearly a year since Cyrille for Mamluk then, and he had been trying to keep his head above water, air in his lungs, and nothing else.


He'd thought Ser Price understood he wasn't just another one of those bucks.  During the course of their friendship, he'd attempted to be a calm, rational advocate for looking before you leaped - not something dragoons did, apparently.  After Ser Price had declared her intention to hunt a murderer targeting dragoons, who had already successfully killed several, alone and unaided, Mamluk had rushed to Limsa and did his best to convince her not to go it alone.


As he'd walked away, he heard her laughing to a Roegadyn friend about how Mamluk was just like the others, only interested in getting her into bed, and should be castrated.


It was then that the drowning man had stopped struggling.  He'd let the waters close in around his head.  He hadn't been romantically interested in Rebeccah, but he had trusted her, the first person he'd dared to trust in over a year.  And Rebeccah had completed what Cyrille had begun.  Trust, especially in Mamluk's line of work, was a poison to the one giving it.  It burned on the way down before it killed you.


Now, he was Ornh, thrusting an arm down into the water to grab at him, because Ornh was sick of being left behind.  Ornh, with his anger and his cynicism and his quick jokes and his wariness of the Sandfox and of the cause and his habit of pretending his very real damage was just another quip.  Ornh had tried to walk away from the operation tonight  Mamluk's duty in that case was clear; Ornh had known that too, saying, "Do what you have to do when my back is turned."


Damn it.


Sometimes, you made a decision in the moment that was only revealed down the line.  Mamluk was pretty sure now he knew how all this would go.  He sent a sarcastic prayer of thanks to the Spinner.


He settled back down onto the ground and stared wearily up at the stars.  He had told Ornh he didn't trust him, and Mamluk didn't.  Trust burned on the way down.  But sometimes, that didn't end up mattering.  He didn't want Ornh and his anger to end up underwater too, so he supposed that forced him to grab ahold and hang on.


For now, at least.  Until Operation Heavensfury was through.

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A report in An's neat handwriting is left for Gogonji at his safehouse.


Master Gogonji:


I regret to open this report with an account of failure.  As I communicated to you the other day, my surveillance of Ala Mhigan Resistance members Mamluk Kabir (alias) and Ornh Wolfheart was detected.


I did learn some interesting information on both men prior to the detection.  They are, as suspected, leading agents of the Embers of Rhalgr cell led by the so-called Sandfox.  They appear to be partners in an operation given to them by the Sandfox in order to assess, develop, and possibly recruit two individuals they referred to as their "marks" - known only as "Warsong" and "Blackroad."  These marks seem to be Highlander adventurers of some renown, and Mamluk and Wolfheart indicated they wanted to sway them to their cause.


However, Mamluk detected my presence before I could learn more and although he did not directly confront me, he warned me away in the strongest possible terms and threatened to kill me if he detected me again.  As I was aware Wolfheart had skills as a sniper, and was brandishing a firearm at the time, I took the warning to heart and withdrew.


The recruitment of Warsong and Blackroad seemed to be part of a larger effort.  Mamluk referred to it as "Operation Heavensfury".  Wolfheart pressed Mamluk for details on this operation, indicating that Mamluk had been privy to the planning stage, and while Mamluk mentioned the plans were not yet finalized, the operation seems to be a bold strike by the Sandfox's cell into Ala Mhigo itself utilizing an elite, small strike force targeting the Garlean garrison stationed there.


Given what we know about Mamluk being compromised by Cato sas Longinus's own intelligence efforts, either Mamluk is also running a double agent operation against Cato, or Cato will have information on this Heavensfury operation from the door - meaning it will result in catastrophe.


I must deeply apologize for my failure and I submit myself to any punishment you deem appropriate.


Per your direction, I met with Erwin and a few of his most trusted men to determine a suitable agent to infiltrate into the Embers.  I selected a young man named Kelar, a half-Highlander, half-Midlander who grew up amidst the refugees.  Although he is too young to remember Ala Mhigo, he was raised to revere Rhalgr and seems as though he will assimilate well into a Resistance cell.  He is also fiercely loyal to Erwin and therefore Khamja.  I gave him a clandestine means of communication to give his reports to me directly.  (I feel that is preferable to filtering them through Erwin for both promptness of receipt and clarity.)  And I have instructed him quite strictly to remain safe above all else, especially if their cell has been compromised by a Garlean traitor.


Interestingly, Erwin reported he and some of his men were aware of the Embers' reputation and the Sandfox in particular.  The Sandfox has a certain repute in the Ala Mhigan ex-pat community as a firebrand preacher out in the desert with unusual charisma and passion.  Some consider him to be an extremist, and others a patriot; he is known to be virulently anti-Garlean and preaches against the occupation in overtly religious terms.  It will be interesting to see what firsthand information Kelar can provide for us, and if he can obtain any more information on Operation Heavensfury.  Whether it is a success or is doomed to failure, I feel it will be important for us to monitor.


Yours faithfully,



* * *


Mamluk knelt on a thick layer of carpets in the shaded tent, his hands balanced on his well-muscled thighs as the Sandfox continued his devotions before a crude altar to Rhalgr crammed in the back corner of the tent.  He wasn't sure how much the Sandfox had been listening to his report of their first encounter with Warsong and Blackroad; sometimes he thought the Sandfox began praying simply to fill the silence, or perhaps to make him wait.  Bowls of wind and ice shards circulated a slightly damp, cool breeze in the confines of the tent but did little to dispel a heavily perfumed, incense-like scent.  The Miqo'te woman who was ever by the Sandfox's side lay in a pile of blankets and pillows that served as their bed, naked save for a silk sheet wound around her body, her heavy-lidded eyes fixed on Mamluk with the usual undisguised hostility.  He waited.


At last, the Sandfox straightened and turned, his long black robes open to reveal his dark-skinned, scarred chest with a smattering of silver hair.  "So, Warsong was hostile to you both when you approached?" he asked in his strident, masterful voice.  It was that voice - and his eyes, burning above the loose veil that covered his face - that had first snared Mamluk, as he well remembered, and so many others like him.


"Yes, holy one.  He grew defiant at the first mention of Ala Mhigo, and spoke disparagingly of the cause."


The Sandfox made a contemptuous noise.  "Despicable coward!  Race traitor!  They will burn first, when Rhalgr unleashes His vengeance.  And we, of course, are the hands of the Lord, the tools of His will.  But forget the coward - he, like the deniers and the atheists, will be dealt with in due time.  What of the girl?  Did she follow him down this path of blasphemy?"


"No, but her loyalties seemed to be toward him alone.  If I had to guess, she had no opinion one way or another toward the cause."


The Sandfox knotted his hands in the small of his back and moved toward the tent flap.  "She comes from a race-traitor family - one might merely look at the denier Warren Castille to see how far her blood has descended.  But there are other levers that may be brought to bear.  Against her, and Warsong both, if need be."


Mamluk bowed his head.  "Ornh is targeting her as we speak, holy one.  If we can sway her, she can likely convince Warsong for us."


"Let us give the Wolfheart his chance to prove himself, then."


"If I may ask, holy one... we have men enough here for Heavensfury.  Competent and skilled fighters, even those willing to strike at the heart of the beast itself in Rhalgr's name."  Mamluk paused.  "Why are these two worth such a special effort to you?"


The Sandfox gazed out of the open tent flap, beyond the main Embers camp in the distance, to the blue-gold line of the horizon beyond that, where sky and sand met in a shimmer of heat-lines even at mid-morning.  His tone was reflective as he slowly responded.  "You are young despite your burdens, despite your dreams and longings, Mamluk.  Your memories of the fatherland are vague and dim, a child's recollections unbound by blood or heavenly fire.  But in me, in my heart - Ala Mhigo is home, and family, and honor, and faith, all in one cause, the personal and the immortal commingled.  With each strike at the serpent, I both strive for the goals of the Most High, and those of my people - and my own.  So it is with this."


Mamluk mulled over that answer.  "Yes, holy one."


"Now rise, and see your task through to completion, my son," the Sandfox instructed him.  "And report again should Warsong continue to be obstinate.  I am prepared to change course - both to shed ourselves of weakness, and to take a personal hand, should it be required."


"Yes, holy one."


The Sandfox swept from the tent, and Mamluk rose to follow him.  The Miqo'te rose unexpectedly as well.  "Mamluk."


He turned to regard her evenly, being sure to meet only her gaze with his own.  "Y'asah."


She sneered faintly, letting the silk sheet unwind from her body and slide free.  "You haven't changed.  Still merely a shadow of a man.  Pathetic."


He looked away, passing a hand over his eyes wearily.  "Nor have you, it seems."


"Though I suppose there's one thing that's different."


He had turned to go and was halfway out the tent flap; against his better judgment, he looked back.  "What's that?"


She smiled victoriously, viciously.  "Your eyes.  They no longer gaze solely toward paradise.  The Wolfheart, hmm?  Disgusting."  She spat, narrowly missing his foot.


Mamluk shook his head.  "Rhalgr watch over you, Y'asah."  He stepped from the tent and raised the hood of his dustcloak to shield his head.  He had most of the day yet to return to the heart of Thanalan and his mission.

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Mamluk sat by the fire in the Embers' camp, and across from him sat Hannah Blackroad, her face turned down toward the flames and her shoulders hunched.  They had taken her weapons, her money, her items and even her clothes from her before allowing her into the camp; stuffed into rough Ala Mhigan clothes a few sizes too small for her, already reddening from the blistering desert sun, she looked painfully out of place.


She was a handsome woman, Mamluk reflected, not much younger than him, strong and lithe, with luminous eyes so like her brother's - especially when she was angry - and a body that would make any red-blooded Highlander look twice.  Mamluk had already caught Ornh looking, far more than twice.


But when Mamluk looked at her now, all he could think about was how he had broken her.


Ornh had given him the tools, though he hadn't realized it at the time.  For all of the "Wolfheart" in his name, Ornh wasn't a cutthroat person.  He had cornered Miss Blackroad in the Coffer, and she had threatened him - not for trying to recruit her, Ornh had said, but to protect Warsong from him.  Mamluk had realized immediately Miss Blackroad would do anything to get them away from Warsong - up to and including taking his place.


Ornh was too gentle.  Mamluk had tried to explain it to him, and even still, Ornh couldn't understand.  He didn't understand how Mamluk intended to snap Blackroad's will using her devotion as a fulcrum, didn't understand how the strongest passions could be turned into the most devastating weapons.  Mamluk had found that out the hard way himself, once.  But what Ornh had understood was the news Mamluk had returned from the Sagolii with before, the Sandfox's implicit promise:  if they failed to bring Miss Blackroad back this time, the Sandfox would get personally involved.  Mamluk suspected if that happened, people would die.


That left breaking her.  Better broken than dead.  And best he do it himself.  Ornh was gentle.  Mamluk wanted him to stay that way.  He figured he was beyond saving, perhaps beyond the point of wanting to be saved.  He'd been drowning a long time, after all.


So he went to the Arbiter before the Grindstone, against the Sandfox's explicit orders, and informed him of what was happening.  What was going to happen.  They had been something like friends once, Mamluk and Warren.  That was surely over now.  Mamluk was cognizant that if the cause didn't kill him, Castille would.  Still better than the Sandfox's involvement, though.  Let it fall on his own shoulders.


Then he simply waited.  Ornh watched the bridge from a hiding place and alerted him when Miss Blackroad left the Grindstone, alone and in the black and red uniform that the event staff favored.  Ornh stood by Mamluk's side as he stepped out of hiding and called to her.  She had looked up at him, walls high, perhaps expecting him to draw his sword.  Their eyes met, and he thought of Cyrille, and of his own breaking.


It only took a few sentences.  Everyone's walls have cracks in them.  Thanks to Ornh, Mamluk knew where to strike.  The first sentence blew a hole through the wall.  The second brought it down.  From the third, she was crying.  He outlined for her, in those terse sentences, the inevitability of her worst fear coming to pass.  Warsong's soul belonged to the cause, just as theirs did.  It was their birthright, their destiny.  And it would never let him go.  Their very presence ensured it.  Seeing them would bring him to them, no matter what he felt about the cause, no matter how hopeless Ala Mhigan freedom seemed.  He was born to it, raised to it as a cattle was fattened for slaughter.  And as cattle raised to be meat walked single-file through the stockyards to their destiny waiting at the hands of the axeman, so Warsong would join Mamluk and Ornh.


She had cried.  She had cried so much.  He watched her impassively.  Ornh's face was a rigid mask as he tried to control his emotions.  Ornh was gentle.  But you couldn't be gentle when you broke someone's will.


And then, Mamluk offered Miss Blackroad a choice - the illusion of one, really.  Come with them in Warsong's place and meet the Sandfox, and they would never bother Warsong again.  And she accepted, because of course she did; broken as she was, she had no choice, none at all.  He could have asked for anything and she would have given it to him, anything at all to take that vision away.


Even now, over a day later, he could see the rubble of her walls in her eyes.  She was a terrified child now, staring down into the fire.  Fresh-slaughtered meat for the Sandfox, whatever that man had planned for her.


Mamluk looked at Ornh, sitting next to him, also staring into the fire as if it held answers for any of them.  They hadn't made eye contact since Miss Blackroad had joined them.  Mamluk thought of the first time he saw Cyrille's face, how she'd pulled her helmet free, sweat-dampened hair framing her heart-shaped face, how the fire's light had made her cheeks glow as if illuminated from within.  Fatigue crushed his chest and weighted his eyes.


He rose, and beckoned to Miss Blackroad to follow him.  He felt Ornh's eyes trace their progress as they left.  In the shadows at the silent edges of camp, Mamluk reached into his pack and offered her a gleaming linkpearl.


"Five minutes," he said.  A few new bricks, perhaps, to start to mend what he had broken.

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The following report was left for Gogonji at his safehouse.


Master Gogonji:


I am pleased to report success in our endeavor to infiltrate a source into the Embers of Rhalgr cell.  Agent K has successfully arrived and contacted me twice clandestinely to report on the camp, the cell, and its organizational makeup.


K estimates the Embers have grown to nearly one hundred armed fighters.  All are Highlander Hyurs of predominantly Ala Mhigan descent, as to be expected, and he estimates 80-90% are males between the ages of 15-35.  While many do not come from a martial or military background, new arrivals are quickly assimilated into the organization and provided extensive combat and religious instruction.


As may be expected in an organization led by a priest, religious devotions and teachings comprise a large portion of the Embers' day-to-day.  These devotions are exclusively to the patron deity of Ala Mhigo, Rhalgr, and mention of any others among the Twelve is highly and actively discouraged.  Those foolish enough to indicate they revere another one of the gods, or who refuse to participate in religious activities, have faced stiff consequences.  K recounted a tale of a young man who mentioned Althyk in a prayer being run out of the camp into the desert with no clothes or water; there was also a forcible conversion in a separate incident.  Those not devoted to Rhalgr, or not sufficiently so by the Sandfox's estimation, are termed "deniers" and are preached against with as much fervor as the "atheist" Garleans.  While these speeches have not yet had overtly racial bents, they have had nationalistic and ethnocentrist overtones.


New arrivals are stripped of weapons, money, and clothes should they not be wearing Ala Mhigan style dress, and weapons are not returned until a measure of trust has been earned.  K reports much tension and suspicion within the ranks, paranoia of outside spies, especially Garlean penetrations, so intense scrutiny is applied to all newcomers to ensure each recruit becomes sufficiently devout, loyal, and personally loyal to the Sandfox.  Naturally, this fosters an atmosphere of suspicion and informants, with every man willing to report his neighbor for the slightest hint of ideological of religious non-conformity.  Drinking alcohol and smoking fogweed, for instance, are highly punishable offenses.  This culture is reinforced by leadership handpicking those seen as most loyal for better assignments and higher pay.


The Embers compensate their fighters in three ways:  monetarily, carnally/sexually, and spiritually/emotionally.  They fund themselves by periodically raiding Amal'jaa enclaves in the area, which they consider good training for combat with the Garleans, despite the obvious technological disparities between the two groups.  To be killed or even severely wounded in such raids is viewed as unacceptably weak, and likewise no effort is made to retrieve captives or wounded left behind.  The raid objectives are the retrieval of treasure, especially caches of crystals or weapons, and Miqo'te prisoners.  The Embers then ransom these liberated prisoners back to their tribes for gil, food, weapons, mounts, or movement rights in the area.  Should the tribe refuse to pay, the Miqo'te prisoner is gifted to a chosen fighter as a slave.  This comprises the sexual compensation.  The camp also has a lax attitude toward predation on the Embers' small female population, which no doubt contributes toward the low number of female fighters.


The final reward is the "higher name".  You are aware of the Highlander custom of earned surnames; the Sandfox bestows such upon "heroes", often those killed in battle, by giving them and their families the new surname of the operation title in which they participated.  For example, Bron Thunderstrike is a young man whose father was killed in Operation Thunderstrike some weeks ago, a previous successful strike against a Garlean supply convoy.  The heroes' names are highly revered and culturally significant, and as many of these young men have not "earned" such names for themselves, they yearn powerfully after the honor and prestige.  Upcoming operations include Nettlesting and Goldhoof, both of which seem to be support actions for the larger Heavensfury, a strike into Ala Mhigo itself.


While the details of Heavensfury have been closely held, K reports the effort will be spearheaded by a small team of five who will utilize explosives to breach an entryway into the city, then disable the main Garlean garrison while the bulk of the Embers infiltrate the city.  Membership in the five-man team is greatly coveted among the Embers' fighters, as these will likely be the "heroes" that earn the Heavensfury name.


As a final note, Mamluk and Wolfheart returned recently with one Hannah Blackroad in tow, I assume the mark they were targeting.  She seems to have been somewhat coerced into recruitment, which bodes ill for her in this kind of environment.  I've tasked K to find more details on the operations and on the cell's leadership, as well as a timeline for Operation Heavensfury if possible.


Yours faithfully,



* * *


It was late enough that Y'asah could reasonably expect the Holy One to have fallen asleep entwined in her arms, but his breathing was still alert and a bit irregular, and his body had yet to fully relax into sleep.  She studied his face in the near-dark of the tent, weathered and worn like a cliff in the shifting desert sands, those blazing eyes closed in repose.


The Holy One, the Mouthpiece of Rhalgr, the Sandfox of the Sagolii - Davram Sandfox, a Highlander male old enough to be her grandfather, and Y'asah's owner.  She had been given to him as a tribute from her tribe's nunh nearly half a year ago now.  That act truly reflected internal tribe politics more than the Sandfox's own rising power in the desert, but Y'asah had worked tirelessly on his behalf since taking her place in the Embers of Rhalgr camp.  She had proven her loyalty, claimed his bed and his side as her exclusive place, and guided the Embers against local Amal'jaa warlords to win the respect and fear of Miqo'te tribes, as well as riches and slaves for their men.


She was aware but for her skills she could very easily be one of those slaves kept chained in the camp proper, used by the men for physical relief much as prized chocobo studs were offered humping posts.  To get and keep her status required working harder than everyone else, anticipating changes, exploiting divisions as well as creating them if need be, and reacting smoothly to circumstances as they arose unexpectedly.  The depths of nights were the perfect time for these efforts, especially since the Sandfox as an older man was rarely awake late.  And yet tonight, he was awake still; he likely had something on his mind.  She waited.


At last, he rolled over, his eyes opening.  "Still awake, my sweet?" she crooned to him responsively.


"Yes, dearest.  Today was quite the day, wasn't it?"  He smiled, dimly visible in the dark.  "Mamluk and the Wolfheart came through after all, and my daughter was returned to me."


"You said Hannah Blackroad was married to your son...?"  Y'asah was still absorbing that surprising revelation.


"She is his widow.  My wife gave me two sons, both of whom reside with her in Rhalgr's embrace.  My elder son was just becoming a man during the invasion by the atheists, and was martyred at their hands."  He pauused, his voice thick with old grief and pride comingled, then continued.  "My younger son, Finnegar, and my wife joined a traveling caravan after they fled the city, largely composed of those whose families were exiled under the King.  Finn died well, felled protecting the caravan last year as it was attacked by Amal'jaa raiders.  The last time I saw him was at his wedding, and I promised him that his wife would be as my beloved daughter from that day forward.  They were both so happy that day."


Y'asah listened, absently stroking his white braided hair.  "So now she is to join us... it makes sense now why you went to such lengths to recruit her and Heidrek Warsong."


"She will have an honored place among us, as befits a hero of her stature and lineage."


"But you're sure you want her to participate in Operation Heavensfury...?"


"More than sure, my dearest.  I intend for her to walk the path of Rhalgr."


Y'asah's eyes widened in shock before she could control the reaction.  "I - I see."


"And I think your proposal to have Mamluk take the place that would have been Warsong's is sound, even if the Wolfheart has been reluctant to assume a leadership role in the operation."


"Mamluk's heart is ready, I think, Holy One."


"I agree.  He has been a lost soul since the day we first met some moons ago.  I swore to him then that should he serve the Embers faithfully, one day he would walk the path of Rhalgr and shed his slave name for one higher.  The bell is almost at hand for his salvation."


Y'asah carefully kept her expression mild.  But inwardly, she was smiling broadly.  She had never cared for Mamluk and his dead eyes; he had too much of the Sandfox's ear.  "And Hannah Blackroad?"


"Much the same, my sweet.  She has long wandered in winter, lost since the death of her husband and caretaker.  Her very name - Blackroad - tells you of the stain on her family's honor from its exile, a stain only deepened by the sin of apostasy.  They are deniers, my dearest, turned from Rhalgr's divine face to the worship of a heathen god in their exile.  Now, Rhalgr returns her to me, yearning in her heart for a father's guidance, for the love and care only family can provide.  And it is my duty and blessing as her father, as a priest of the Inexorable One, and as the leader of the Embers to save my daughter's soul and bring unto her and her entire family a new, blessed name."


Even speaking quietly in the tent, his voice seemed to ring with the surety of true conviction, and his eyes were aglow with fervor before they slowly closed.  His breathing deepened, slowing, and his voice thickened with weariness.  "Surely you understand... you always understood these things, Freida..."  He was at last slipping into sleep.


Y'asah looked away.  Whenever he called her by his late wife's name, she felt a twinge in her chest she could never quite explain.  She gently detangled herself from him and dressed, moving silently from the tent into the night.


In the light of this news, it was now more imperative than ever to win Ornh Wolfheart to her side, and separate him from Mamluk.  She already had trusted men "guarding" Hannah Blackroad at all hours of the day and night.  If the Sandfox wanted her in Operation Heavensfury, Y'asah would keep Hannah hale and healthy until it was time to deliver her to him.  Then it was in Rhalgr's hands, she supposed - Y'asah didn't really believe in the Twelve.


And of course, in the meantime, she had her own work to do.  No matter how Heavensfury wound up unfolding, there would be a way for her to take advantage of it.

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A note was left for Gogonji in his safehouse:


Master Gogonji:


Per your instructions, last night after we parted ways I notified the Arbiter that I had sensitive information to pass to him regarding his sister.


Within the security of the Duskbreak, I marked the last known location of the Embers of Rhalgr camp on a map.  I informed him Khamja has equities within the camp and warned him in the starkest possible terms not to take rash action that might endanger lives; he promised to notify us well in advance of any assault on the Embers' camp, which I deem sufficient for warning K.


As you know, the Arbiter is normally an impassive man, especially in my presence, but he betrayed considerable emotion at receiving this information.  I relayed your exact words - that this came "from a brother, to a brother" - and his response was, "Give Gogonji my thanks."


A bit embarrassingly though, it was me he focused on after that.  He said you were lucky to have me.  I was quite flustered at that.  Somehow, the conversation turned to that horrible day when he and I crossed blades at the Castrum; he asked me, bluntly, what my aim was that day, and I told him it was solely to keep you alive - to save you.  He asked why I had fought for you, perhaps attempting to gauge the depth of my affection for you.


But with us, nothing is an easy or simple answer, is it, Master Gogonji?  "I loved him," the answer the Arbiter seemed to seek from me, was not the whole answer.  The bond we were forging in those days was a chain of many links:  love, yes, but loyalty even moreso, loyalty first and foremost.  Reliance, trust, dedication.  You had no one else but me that day.  And - as I told you before we infiltrated the Castrum, by the mark of Thaliak where we first met - I, too, had no one else but you.  I wanted to pull you back from despair and show you that you were not alone.  I gambled my life that my efforts, and Chachanji's, would reach you.


And yet still, I nearly failed you... nearly lost you.  Those moments after the disastrous failure of the Rousers were among the most agonizing of my life.  I don't even remember what I said.  Only that I couldn't stop crying.


Forgive me for my tangent.


Over a year later now, our bond is harder and stronger than adamantite, and the Arbiter still clearly does not understand it.  Perhaps he does not trust it.  No doubt he, like everyone else, simply sees me as your tool.  I am content enough that we have at last reached detente with him.  I assured him Khamja is not his enemy, nor am I.  I also offered my personal assistance when he is prepared to retrieve his sister.  Hopefully, we will achieve further improvement in the relationship with him, given time.


Yours faithfully,



* * *


Operation Goldhoof had failed.


The survivors returned slowly, on chocobo-drawn slings or slumped over the backs of their mounts.  Too few, and none unbloodied.  Twenty had gone north, the Embers' largest raid by far, an ambitious strike meant to obliterate one of the main Garlean supply lines going into the Ala Mhigan mountains ahead of Heavensfury.  Only seven returned, and four of those gravely wounded.


The few conscious survivors gave their story tersely.  The Garleans had been ready for them.  Somehow, they had known Goldhoof was coming.  The supply convoy had double the guards it was reported to have had, and a suit of magitek armor to boot.  They had quickly retaliated against the Embers' initial assault, instead of collapsing into confused chaos.  The survivors all agreed they had been lucky to make it out at all; a hero had detonated explosives under the magitek armor to disable it, which had allowed the others to escape.


They were betrayed, all agreed, both those who had been there and those who merely heard the tale.  Someone had tipped off the Garleans.


The camp was quiet, the mood grim and oppressive.  Mourners of the dead sobbed and wailed, their cries occasionally shattering the silence; knots of men muttered in corners.  There was a traitor among them.  An affront to the Destroyer.  Someone was responsible for all of this blood, all of this suffering.  It was their fault.


Mamluk sent Ornh and Hannah out to the salt flats for explosives training.  He didn't want them in the camp right now, not in this atmosphere.  They were still outsiders, both of them, and Miss Blackroad particularly so, and Mamluk wanted them to have some time away from venomous stares and suspicious mutters.  He felt particularly vindicated when Y'asah strolled into his tent without so much as a by-your-leave.  "There is a traitor among us," she announced without preamble.  "By order of the Holy One, we're moving the camp."


Mamluk bowed slightly.  "As the Holy One commands.  I will have the men break down camp at once."


She moved closer, her eyes intent on his.  He kept his gaze downcast, submissive, the image of a former slave.  "Does your faith begin to waver at last, Mamluk?  Now, so close to Heavensfury - to the reward the Sandfox promised you for your... ever-faithful service?"  Her mouth curved in a mocking smile.


Mamluk said nothing, remaining still.  It was a trap, of course.  Almost everything Y'asah said to him was.  Miss Blackroad and Ornh were out on the salt flats.  Let her focus on him now, torment him, savor her insults and lies flung his way.  It kept her gaze off of them.


She laughed lowly as if sensing his thoughts, and splayed her hands over his bare chest.  "Hmm... about... forty ilms should suffice.  I'll remember that."  She swept out of the tent, and Mamluk stared out after her; in the very center of the camp, just visible from his tent, someone had wheeled out a large steel cage, its thick bars blackened.

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The sun had just slipped below the western mountains as the Embers of Rhalgr gathered for evening prayers, the ruddy late-summer sky giving way to sand-choked charcoals and grays, obscuring the first stars of the evening.  Mamluk noticed the cage had occupants immediately, his spine stiffening, and as if of their own accord, his hands moved for Hannah Blackroad.  She glanced back at him, startled, as he took her shoulders and steadied her in front of him.  Ornh shot Mamluk a questioning glance as well.


"Whatever you do," he told them softly, staring straight ahead, "don't look away."


The three men had been crammed into a cage likely designed to hold one large beast; they were all new to the Embers, all young, their faces drawn and pale and their eyes large with terror as they jostled each other within the narrow confines of the blackened steel bars.  The Sandfox stepped out from his ornate tent on the heights at the edge of camp, Y'asah at his side, and held up his arms; silence rippled out over the assembled fighters. 


"My children!" he cried in a great voice, as clear to Mamluk as if they stood mere fulms apart, though Mamluk, Ornh, and Miss Blackroad were on the far side of the circled fighters.  "My children, we have been betrayed!  Goldhoof was revealed to the unholy enemy - and thirteen of our brothers lie in the arms of the Destroyer this eve, with perhaps more to follow, if it is the will of Rhalgr that it is so!  But for the heroism of he who shall now be sung as Grah Goldhoof, all twenty of our precious brothers would have fallen to this dark treachery, the work of deniers and unbelievers!  May Rhaglr the Inexorable accept Grah and all of our brothers."


There was a general murmur among the Embers of agreement and prayer.  Ornh mumbled something indistinct; Mamluk remained silent, keeping his hands still on Miss Blackroad's shoulders.


"O faithful ones, O warriors of the true God!" the Sandfox continued.  "In His righteous fury at His children's blood, at His vengeance thwarted, Rhalgr has revealed to us the cause of our failure!  Yes, even within this sacred brotherhood of holy warriors, as snakes and scorpions among us are those most loathed by our God!  Deniers, half-bloods, race traitors - these are an abomination in the eyes of the Destroyer!"


An angry, hateful buzz rose from the crowd, like a locust swarm.  The Sandfox again had to hold up his hands for silence, and it took far longer to descend.  "Before you, my children, are three of these - three cancerous tumors we must excise from our body, to free us from their taint of treachery and godlessness!  Gever - who pollutes his body by lying with one of the foreign lizard-people!  Briack - a denier who turned his face from our Lord and dared to worship another!  And Kelar - pig-blooded and half-bred, whose whore of a mother betrayed her people when she laid with a Midlander!"


The angry buzz was a roar now, epithets and curses flying at the men in the cage.  They cringed in as best they could, but there was no room.  A few people flung stones or shoes at the cage; a stone hit one of the men in the face, opening a bloody gash.  The Sandfox permitted this to continue for a time, his eyes burning as he stared out with satisfaction at the crowd, before at last he called for silence.  "The presence of these men defiles us, my children.  To permit deniers in our midst is anathema to the Destroyer.  It is because of them that He permitted Operation Goldhoof to fail.  It is because of them that our brothers lie dead, that the hero Grah Goldhoof had to sacrifice his very life and walk the path of Rhalgr to save those he could.  With Operation Heavensfury, the very hope of our people, the light of our brotherhood, mere days away - can we dare allow any impurities in our midst?"


Two large men were dousing the cage with liquid from large barrels.  The scent of lamp oil hit Mamluk in the face like one of those flung rocks, and it took a great effort to remain impassive.  He felt Miss Blackroad's shoulders go rigid under his hands.  "We must regain our Lord's favor," the Sandfox declared.  "We must purify the worthy and purge ourselves of the unworthy."


Y'asah stepped up to his shoulder, holding a burning torch, bright in the darkening evening.  He took it from her.  The three men in the cage, soaked through with oil, stared up at him, their eyes reflecting back the blaze of the torch.


"Accept from us this burnt offering, O Lord!" the Sandfox cried.  "By the divine fires of Rhalgr, be cleansed!"  And he thrust the torch into the cage.


Miss Blackroad's will to watch broke almost immediately, despite Mamluk's warning, and she covered her face with her hands, hunching inward.  The screams of the three men were nearly drowned out by cries of "Praise Rhalgr!" and "For the Destroyer!" from the gathered embers; fists and weapons were thrust into the air, brandished victoriously, and men sent up long, ululating cries of joy.  Fighters scarcely more than boys, hardly old enough to shave, drank in the sight of the growing flames with greedy, broad smiles on their faces, and women laughed and clapped their hands.


Mamluk gently turned Miss Blackroad around to him by her shoulders, and she leaned against his chest, sobbing into her hands.  Gingerly, he wrapped his arms around her, cradling her protectively against him.  He glanced at Ornh, whose eyes bulged with shock and rage at the scene before him; always anger with Ornh, who hid it so well behind smiles and jokes.  Still holding Miss Blackroad with one arm, Mamluk reached out with the other, placing a hand on Ornh's shoulder.  Ornh jumped, as if he hadn't been expecting the touch, and moved closer to them both.  Their eyes met.


"Give them mercy," Mamluk told him, and Ornh nodded, unslinging the rifle from his back.


The three shots which rang out were largely lost in the noise of the crowd, which circled the raging bonfire in the heart of the camp, still shouting praise and jubilation to the heavens.  Someone began to sing a hymn to Rhalgr, and more and more voices joined them, until song echoed out into the desert and up into the near-black sky.  Mamluk held Miss Blackroad tightly, and saw across the camp Y'asah's eyes staring fixedly toward them.


In the morning, the Embers' camp was gone, leaving behind in its very heart a large pile of ashes peppered with tiny fragments of bone which wouldn't burn.

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A note was left for Gogonji in his safehouse:


Master Gogonji,


I haven't had a report from K in two days.  I'm going to try and figure out what's happened.  I will be back soon.




She didn't return that day, nor the day after, nor the day after that.


* * *


"Can I see her?" Mamluk quietly asked the guards outside of Hannah Blackroad's tent.


The two men exchanged glances, clearly uncertain.  Mamluk's fall from the Sandfox's grace neatly mirrored Miss Blackroad's own; he'd lost his right to carry weapons, and stood before them now barehanded and humbled.  But he hadn't been publicly accused of attempted desertion as she had, nor punished as she had been; it was being whispered about now that Mamluk would be part of the Heavensfury team, as would Miss Blackroad despite her shaming, something many of the fighters envied.  They also were said to be lovers.  Mamluk knew the source of that rumor, however.


At last, the guard nodded.  "Ten minutes," he said, holding the tent flap open.


They had stripped out all amenities, all comforts.  Miss Blackroad was chained by the wrists to a thick stake driven deep into the ground; Mamluk doubted there was even enough slack in the chain for her to stand.  He knelt next to her, putting a hand wordlessly on her upper arm in greeting, and examined her back.


Ten thick, nasty-looking welts of badly burnt and blistered flesh striped her pale skin from shoulders to waist.  At least they'd allowed her a shirt now.  She hadn't cried or recoiled when the Sandfox had ordered her dragged out into the center of camp for her shaming and flogging; stripped to the waist, bombarded with jeers and raked over with lustful stares, she had endured it all without a word, not even reacting as the Sandfox denounced her as a sinner and a coward, a blight in the eyes of the Destroyer.


The Sandfox had only ordered ten lashes, but Mamluk recognized the kind of whip they used for these things - Garlean, electrified, favored because it cauterized the open wound it left behind, or so they liked to say.  The Sandfox himself had wielded the lash, flogging Miss Blackroad without mercy, as the crowd watching howled its approval.  Mamluk had kept his eyes only on her face throughout, and he shared within himself each flinch, each grimace, each muffled cry of agony.  He thought of the Arbiter, and of Ornh.


Mamluk took a jar of salve from his belt pouch now and carefully dabbed it along each welt with his fingertips.  She sighed in immediate relief at the easing of pain.  "These will scar, and badly," he warned her.


She gave a trembling laugh.  "Oh, so I'll have to live with it, what - three more days?  Damn."


"We told you not to try and escape.  Ornh told you.  I told you."


"He's mad, Mamluk... he burned three men alive for no reason than - dating an Au Ra, having mixed heritage!  H-how could you expect me not to try, after seeing that...?"


Mamluk said nothing to that.  There was nothing he could say.  She reached back and gripped his hand tightly in hers.  "Heavensfury is in three days, huh...?"




"Can you do me a favor?"




She turned toward him, and he saw tears shining in her eyes.  Her hair was stiff with dirt and touched here and there with dried blood; her face was bruised and filthy, drawn and pale from exhaustion and endured pain.  She had never looked more beautiful.  She leaned up to him, whispering in a low voice for him alone, and withdrew her hand from his.


"Time's up!" the guard called, and Mamluk stood.


"Can you do that for me?" she asked, turning her face away - so he wouldn't see those tears slip from her eyes, he thought.


"I will," he promised, and as he stepped from the tent, his fingers carefully hid the linkpearl she'd returned to him.


I will, Hannah.


* * *


An straightened from the pile of sand and ash, the hot desert breeze stirring the pale turban and dustveil wrapped around her head and her long hair.  Sand, ash, bits of bone, buckles and other metal pieces from clothing and boots that fire couldn't burn.  And a metal canteen with a partially-melted linkpearl concealed in the cap.


"Kelar," she whispered, her eyes closing tight.  She stood like that for a long few moments, lost in grief and regret.


Then she dropped the canteen back into the shifting sands where the desert would soon erase the lingering signs of the atrocities done here, and went to follow the faint trail that pointed the way toward the Embers' new camp.


Time spent with Master Gogonji had taught her the value of a sense of vengeance.

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  • 3 months later...

The flame-haired Highlander sat at the bar in the Quicksand, the ebb and flow of people around him barely registering.


He hadn't moved forward lately.  Not since the operation.  He wondered how Hannah Blackroad was doing, on occasion.  He wondered how Ornh was doing too, but that was done with.


"Haven't I seen you 'round here before, handsome?" Momodi asked cheerily, setting a fresh ale in front of him.  "What's your name?  Mayhap I'll recall."


"Garran," he said softly.  "Garran Heavensfury."


He'd earned it, after all.

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