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The Maidstealer of Othard [Story]

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This is not precisely a sequel to The Battle of Tributary Pass, as some time has passed since those events.  However, it is a continuation of Roland's pre-1.0 adventures.  Again, this is back-story but any comments and suggestions would be very very appreciated!



The troll stormed up and down to way. Its long lean body, tall but bent loped along with bestial ease. It was nearly covered from head to toe with greasy, long red hair. A long filthy mop of hair poured from it's head and down its back and shoulders. Its face was bestial too, its mouth far too wide and filled with jagged teeth, its nose almost snout-like, and its eyes all of a terrible yellow with a single pinpoint black pupil. It screamed near incessantly, as it paced, covering its ears. Occasionally, it would rip away a clump of hair. It had done this same for hours.


The maiden, stolen into its keeping, huddled into the cubby off the main passage. She watched the pacing wretch with a mixture of terror and hate. The same unnerving display she had seen since the disgusting knave had brought her here. It had stormed through the broken remains of the front gate, with her held in its unbreakable grasp. Inside it had leapt up the staircase, taking several steps in each hop. Finally, at a dead end hall, filled with locked doors and sagged walls, it had set her down.


In irrational fear she had scrambled away from it and into the alcove on all fours. There she had watched as it began its dreadful ritual. There was no escape, its large body ranged back and forth, but always in the way. She dared not move, not take action, lest to break its terrible trance and perhaps to provoke some worse response from it.


She could see the dying light of day through cracks in walls and around the bend in the hall where she believed there must be a window. If only she could leap through that window, leap into sweet freedom, even from the second story it would still be a freedom.


The scream startled her this time, she had been in too much a reverie, she had jerked and bumped her head against the low stone above her. Wincing she carefully reached up and felt the wetness of blood on her scalp. The creature continued its moans and its pacing.


The clapping of its terrible bear feet back and forth mesmerized her for a moment. A wail, and grunting moans as it manically stormed back and forth.


She thought of her father, a man of some importance, a builder of castles, fortifications and homes. His field had made him wealthy, and well known. He could surely garner some force to come and strike the creature dead. Her mother must surely be in a state of panic. Help must be on its way.


Only hours before she had been standing in her garden, tending it and watching over her dodos. She had looked over to see some frightful thing accosting her chocobos in their pasture. Thinking at first he was some terrible indigent she raced out her gates and across the field picking up stones to throw and screaming at the miscreant while calling for nearby laborers.


As soon as she neared the shattered stone that had held the gate to the pasture she took pause and looked finally at the snarling beast. In fright she knew that this thing was no man, he stood head and shoulders over her tallest Elezen relative. It had somehow destroyed the gate walls by sheer force, a terrible thing it must be indeed.


The body, roped with fierce muscle crossed the trampled clearing in a few steps, and seized her with a force that knocked the very wind out of her. As his arm wrapped tighter, she had tried to scream, tried to do anything. Her last thoughts before blacking out had been to look across the valley and to worry after the

field hands that ran to her rescue.


It was too quiet. She looked up. It was staring at her, holding the pinky side of its fists tightly against the sides of its head. It glared at her from between its elbows, thumping its fists against its head and muttering. Getting down on its knees it rocked back and forth, still staring at her.


"Oni hungry," it said, aloud at last. It stared at the ground. "Tall girl shouldn't have stopped Oni, wanted to eat big yellow flappy-beak." It slapped itself in the forehead trailing its words off into whining. Its whine continued until it spoke again, finally cutting its eyes up to her. "Oni doesn't like to eat people. Had to eat people on boat, had to eat people for tall man flappy-beaks. No, no, no, no…" It trailed off into a scream, holding its ears. "Your fault, talley girl, your faults!" Scuttling forward on all fours, it roared and reached out for her, she screamed throwing herself back against the wall, but a strange bird's screech outside the walls of the building made it still and listen. Cocking its head from side to side it concentrated on listening. The screech of the bird was answered by a second call farther away. Crawling back down the hallway on all fours the creature went on alert, but mumbling. She caught a final snatch of its monolog as it edged off into the darkness.


"Talley girl cries for tall man flappy-beaks, Oni hate her, Oni break her bones and suck out marrow." She began to breathe erratically, panic taking over. Her field of vision swam, and try as she might, conscience fled again.


The little valley glade sat quietly, not far from a nearby hamlet. The day had been calm of weather but other troubles were afoot in the town. The hamlet was surrounded by a little low wall and a watchtower. Within the walls women came and went hastily, urgency driving them today. One barefoot servant waited by the wall, staring up at the man standing sentinel. The guard, proudly leaning against the wall, kept the view. A male miqo'te, a rarity of rarites in the region, watched the distance with keen eyes. He turned and growled to the a man below to send word. Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.


"As I was saying, Gaf," said the first rider, a short knight looking up at the tall knight who rode next to him, "Its likely there will be gil to be made at this next village. There are villas and a few wealthy merchants. Add to that, the Ixal roam brazenly this close to the Canyon; someone will want something killed." Both men rode naturally on their chocobos, well trained chocobomen. Both wore chainmail, covered with dark plain surcoats, and clapvisored helms, pulled low. This was the common garb of a northern black knight, freemen who served none or all, for the right bit of gil.


"Aye, here's hoping, our purse is light and the cold season will be upon us soon, Leon." Gaf said, pushing his visor up and knuckling his mustaches, a nervous tick he had developed of late.


"Light purses don't kill anyone, but an over dangerous job might. Let's do no more of those protecting minor nobles from knaves. A kill and collect should be a better go by far." Gaf chuckled at his smaller companion. They rounded a bend, met by the welcoming smell of wood smoke and cooking meat. Entering the walled village gates the duo noted immediately the strangeness of the villager's behavior. Many raced around in a panic. Not that their behavior showed they feared or even noted the black knights, rather something else disturbed them and they running about in emergency.


"Oy, you there, louts!" shouted a stern looking wall of a Roegadyn. He walked directly toward them as they rode on to the square, his tabard showed him as a member of some important house. "Bas'rds, yaf me one reason no to beat ye and tos ye right on back outa the town. Wantrust such as ye, especially now." He cracked his big red knuckles, his jaw tightening noticeably as he grit his teeth.


"Such a glorious welcome, to your dear respectable hamlet, good sir," said the smaller Leon as he leaned from his saddle with exaggerated bow. "A good day to you, sire. What might we do for you?" The giant of a Hellsguard snorted derisively.


"Uncov'r ye faces, louts," he said as sharply as the silver shock of hair that stuck up from his otherwise bald head. Gaf chuckled, throwing his visor back all the way, and Leon, with a rap of his knuckles to his chest in feigned salute tipped up his as well.


"Concerned we were bogards, or some manner of tricky birdmen who'd managed to secure some armor?" said Gaf, finally engaging the massive man.


"A right to manny eh ye adventras wanderin the mount these days." He scowled, and hitched his thumb over his shoulder toward the sizable manor house in the distance. "If work ye seek, mas'r ill wanna speak to ye."


"Ah work, such a noble trade, and naturally what we seek, highness."


"Cram ye highnesses up yer chute, midge," he snapped turning his back and walking up the path. He flung his arm forward, pointing at the manor as if he could will the two knights to fly through the air and into the stone walls of the building ahead.


"Right good fellow he is, the manners in these mountains, city folk could learn a great deal, eh Gaf?" said the Lalafell Leon, leaning over with a mischievous smile. The taller black knight, an Elezen rolled his eyes dismissively.


"Your name sir?" he asked as he dismounted and began to follow the Hellsguard. The Lalafell grinned, and dismounted as well, following in their train.


"I am Mountain Wind," he said without gruff.


"What is the trade of your master, what would he seek of free knights for hire?"


"He needs ye not fer his affairs, a builder of homes, estates, and fortification. Not much pas' Prime some harrid thing broken inta village and grabbed his maid daughter. He wot tha' bla knights or like co' be hired ta finner."


"A horrid thing?" asked the Elezen, somewhat unsure of the words of the rough tonged Roegadyn.


"Beast of the Nine 'ells, t'was. Giant as ca be. Tall as I, and twice roped still wif muscle, like a ha'ry screamin mount'n." He shook his head, and looked back at the taller man. Gone was the bile, and ugliness he had shown at first, his face was generally desperate. He shook his head and covered it quickly with a growl. "We'v a travellin man mongst us. He told the good Lord de Harron, t'was a beast of the far continent called a troll."


"A troll?" the smaller black knight said, voice dripping with curiosity. He practically yanked his chocobo's leads trying to get near the Roegadyn. "I didn't mishear you, a troll?"


"Na mistaken it," said the Hellsguard. Man told us is a travellin merchant. Been ta all three great continents." The Lalafell walked along flipping through a book he had pulled from his saddle bags. The Hellsguard looked down at his book and shook his head. "Wassat to ye, midge?" he asked, clearly annoyed at the knight having anything but the right sorrow.


"Trolls are a beastmen tribe that was last seen in Othard, by the cartographer and explorer Orrick Ballard. Its been - well, ages." The little man wetted his thumb and paged over a page more. "Ah, here." He held up the book for the Hellsguard. His left hand pointed to an illustration illuminated on the parchment. It was large hairy hyur-like thing, with a long nose and a mouth full of fangs.


"Aye, thas the creature," he said glancing down at the book.


"So, we must, this creature defeat?" The Lalafell black knight said with a bit of awe.


"Shende the gods 'cursed varlet, and 'turn the maid unsull'd." Sighing, Leon shook his head.


"Gaf, I fear we've taken another worse than nobles and knaves."


The two black knights rode from the manor. They had spent relatively short time with the elder Elezen. He was clearly lost in his own terror, and offered them thousands of gil, and their own lands, manors, whatever they should ask. Gaf told them they required only their fee, at this Leon had rolled his eyes and smirked. With little adieu, the Hellsguard had shuffled them to the gates and bid them be about their work and hastily.


"East of here? That’s where he said the beastman fled to?" Leon asked, flipping though another text.


"I say, do you have a whole library with you?" Gaf joked. "The poor chocobo's back will break."


"Ah, here we are. Old maps, they are truly the best. Xelphatol to Abania of the Gyr," he muttered distractedly. "Ah, there is plenty about. But based on his direction, if the village churls can be believed, there is a haunted chateau some malms East. The legend of its haunting, as such, was relatively short according to the ruffian that ran their tavern. I confirmed the tale with a Miqo'te drinking herself stupid at the bar. The chateau is of the last few weeks been called haunted by travelers on the main thoroughfare. They came to town, telling tails of having heard a wailing and a cry raised from the locale. I figure the particular poltergeist of this mansion is our troll. If we stay on this road we'll come across the creature quite quickly."


Gaf looked at the smaller man with a shocked and impressed nod. "You discerned that from a single conversation with a tavernlord and a drunken barfly?"


"Well, that and the tracks on this road to the chateau are the same as the ones of the trodden pastures the troll destroyed as it grabbed the Elezen bird." Gaf reached over and slapped Leon playfully on the back.


"An excellent bit of detection, my dear fellow." Nodding down the road, he turned to the Lalafell. "Now, let us make haste, the maid is in danger." Spurring their steeds on they raced Eastward.


"Tall man flappy-beaks, they everywhere!" The deep voiced whined lisping. "Your faults, your faults!" It hissed with a whispering rasp. "Flappy-beaks everywhere! Dirty, awful man flappy-beaks. Hate them, terrible whips and awful screams." The troll held its head with trembling hands and banged its forehead against the musty floor boards.


In the darkness of the hall the girl remained in her alcove. Her thighs burned with cramping, but she dared not move too much, lest the creature overcome its fear and destroy her. The darkness shrouded her from seeing anymore pacing or angry face slapping. The only light she could see is the faintest traces of Menphina's light, and a doleful unnatural yellow light shining from the eyes of the troll.


As she considered the terrible luminescence, those eyes turned to her. Her heart filled with revulsion and hate. The burning in her legs fled, suddenly there was a burning in her jaw as she did all that she could not to scream in a terrible rage, lashing out at the terrible thing, alerting whatever filled it so with trepidation.


"Talley girl do this, if only she not throw rocks. Oni so hungry." The last sentence was utterly so loudly, so lustfully that it was as if the creature had forgotten its fear. She could take it no more, terror and rage gave way to action. She finally moved, pushing off the wall she used every bit of force her body could manage to dart into the hall. The thing lay wallowing in the floor is misery and self pity, she hoped to hop past it and perhaps to make it down the stairs before it could or would come after her.


She felt the enclosed tight air of the hall give way to the main foyer. At last Menphina's sweet white light allowed her to see the landing before her, the stairs, and after them the gate and the freedom of the night. Her vision danced before her as her head bounced off the wooden floor ilms from the staircase. Her ankle spasmed in pain as a crushing grip ground the bones of her foot against one another in the soft leather of her boot. The warmth and dampness told her the skin had been broken. Hopefully, her mind quaked, that was the least of it.


Reality snapped back to her dazed musing as she felt her whole body being drug backwards into the darkness and heard the gasping panting of the horror. She grabbed for anything, catching what she assumed was the banister she clung to it. Her leg jarred at the hip as the sheer force of the monster made her whimper and let go. As dread broke reason, she sicked up noisily and screamed like an animal.


Outside, the birdlike screech pierced the darkness, as if an owl the size of a Twelveswood boar called from the courtyard below. The cavernous walls of the chateau echoed it. She felt the terrible thing let go, heard it whimper in the shadows behind her. Kicking upwards irrationally she clawed her way toward the stairs. She felt a movement of air and her eyes adjusted enough to see the large mass of the creature pass over her prone form as it jumped her and crashed into the top of the stairs.


"Your fault, you will die!" it roared. All attempts to hide itself were gone. The maid felt her body betray her, she could not move, she could not will anything but panicked gasping. She saw it raise its two massive fists, to bring them down upon her, which must surely crush her to paste.


"Within, there were voices within!" a deep man's voice shouted below.


"Twelve preserve our souls, this place is surrounded by Ixal Scouts and a damned Boneknitter! Nyce knight, turn and flee!" squeaked a second voice.


"Nay, our quarry is within, Leon." Below, the remains of the door to the chateau crashed inward. The troll's body shook with fury. Ripping the entire banister from its roots in the balcony he smashed it over the girl. The world went dark.


"What in the Nine Hells was that? Come out knave!" shouted Gaf into the foyer.


"By the gods you're madder than ever, Gaf!" said Leon as he rolled into the chateau, hoping the gods might truly be good and save him from Ixali arrows. The Elezen black knight ripped the leaf bladed sword from its scabbard at his back and brought forward his shield.


The faintly visible circular mosaic on the floor was cracked, but enough moon light allowed the Elezen to see the muddy prints, massive and bestial leading to the wide spiraling staircase before them. It ascended off into the shadows. The crash had come from above. A blood curdling scream, deep and mad echoed down across the shattered pattern of a chocobo inset at their feet. Thud after thud sounded as something descended the stair, and Leon looked up to see a creature emerging from the darkness. Its body was massive and naked and terrible.


"Pardee," Gaf said in awe. "Althyk defend me," he uttered breathlessly. Coming up on his feet, the Ixali in the darkness forgotten, Leon drew his blood red long-sword and shield and stood at Gaf's side.


Screaming, the troll rushed them. Darting past Gaf's swing, it crashed bodily into Leon. The Lalafell, unconscious crumpled to the ground. The beastman then turned toward the Elezen. An Ixali call hooted in from the trees outside, and the troll clapped his forearms against his ears and screamed, its body bobbing up and down. Its eyes flickered back open, glowing an insidious yellow.


Gaf dropped his sword into a low guard and prepared to anticipate its movements. Seeing its body tense, he watched as it began to rush him. Maintaining a chocobo wide stance he sidestepped the creature's dash and came upwards with his Fastblade technique. The creature roared with agony as the sword tip laced along its exposed hip. It backhanded outward, its massive arm span allowing it to club its huge arm at Gaf. He raised his shield to block, only to be carried bodily backwards by the sheer momentum of the troll.


Crashing into the mosaic tiles he heard his chainmail scrape him to a stop. Looking up he only just had time to react in a roll to avoid a pounce by the beastman. The floor shattered where he had lain only a moment before. Coming up on one knee he held forth his shield only to be brutalized with swinging blows one after another.


Bringing his sword up over his shield he did a Flatblade slap, hoping to clap the creature on the head and stun it, if only to buy a second. The creature pulled back instinctively, and rather than the flat of the sword smiting his forehead, the sharp tip split the beastman's nose. A hot spray of blood flecked over Gaf as he came at last to is feet. Coming to a high-forward on guard, Gaf prepared for more brutality only to see the creature flailing holding its nose like an angry child who'd bloodied theirs at sport.


The creature stopped, looked at the still standing black knight, and with a wail bounded up the staircase with disturbing ease. Above, the knight could hear the crashing and cracking of wood. About to pursue, he heard the rip of cloth as the curtains of an upstairs window were torn away. As the moonlight poured in he saw the creature with maid on his shoulder smash the glass of the window with a throne-like chair held one handed. Staring balefully down at the knight the monstrosity fled through the window, across the balconied roof and off into the darkness.


Hoots and whistles filled the forest. The prey had gone to flight. In the darkness the lone knight heard the birdmen's cries fade into the distance. Despairing of what to do next, he went to work awakening his friend.


A small contingent of Ixali Scouts had held place near the chateau in hopes of their prey's return. When they saw the knight emerge with the second injured man they could not resist an easy slaughter of smooth-skins. The two had to bottle-neck them into the doors and to slowly pare them down. After several minutes the sole remaining Ixal fled hoping to find the rest of its brethren.


Exhausted and without direction the two knights found a small side chamber that had formerly been a stone-lined food storage and barricading the door they got what little rest they could, hoping to find some trace of the fleeing troll and a still living maid in the light of morn.


As Azeyma dawned the two men rolled the log away from the heavy wood door and dared the halls of the chateau. After some exploration they found they were not alone. They heard the moans and cries of the troll in the upstairs. Signaling for the Lalafell to stay out of sight, the Elezen dared the stairs as quietly as he could. Carefully leaping over the crushed landing the black knight weaved his way down the cruciform halls listening for the sobbing of the monster.


"Oni has her," the troll uttered. "I know you scuttle around corners like little mouse, Elezen." Gaf, surprised stood up and unsheathed his sword as he listened to the floor buckle under the large creature around the bend.


"Put up your stabby blade Elezen mouse," it moaned. A repetitive thump sounded from around the corner as the Elezen listened. "Oni ate, yes. Oni ate last night, but not talley girl, she is still alive. Oni ate sweet broken flappy-beak's." The knight heard what sounded like clapping. "Break the bone, sweet meat inside the bones, sweet marrow." The walls shook with a series of thumping sounds. "Made terrible screechy squawks go away!" it screamed manically.


"What do you want, beastman?" the Elezen finally asked, sickened by the odd diatribe.


"Play game, little mouse." A horrible squealing laughter came from around the corner. The Elezen shivered in spite of himself. Broken flappy-beak men feed Oni for a few suns. Oni give you three suns to find Talley girl. Then Oni make her suffer for her fault, then Oni eat her broken bone meat."


"Three suns of what?" the Elezen asked flatly.


"Answer riddle, find talley. Each sun Oni rest here, wait for Mouse. When Mouse comes, Oni riddle. Answer riddle, figure out where and find Talley girl. Only three suns, only three riddles. Kill Oni, girl stays hidden, then girl gets hungry, then girl shrivels up, girl then bones." It squealed its queer laugh again.


"So, I play your game, varlet. I come and I answer the riddle, the answer is where the girl is?" He heard the peculiar claps.


"Yes, yes. But not only fun. Mouse must pay for riddle. Can't just have riddle, Mouse. Cost, spendy, cost. Oni saw little metal covered Mouse. Oni saw horn on belt. Pretty horn, shiny stones, pretty gold. Horn pays for first riddle, Mouse."


"Very well," Gaf said, pulling the horn off its strap. He bent low, sliding it down the hall. A long, clawed hand reached out for the jeweled horn.


"Pretty, pretty," it whispered raspingly. "My teeth are crushed, my tongue tore out. No more the farmer's friend. My mouth now dry, Fall within and you will die, what little Mouse, am I?" The creature giggled.


"Is that your riddle, beast?" the black knight asked annoyed.


"Yes, yes. Now find your talley. We meet here next sun." He he

ard the rumble of the creature standing and racing down the hall. The Elezen chopped a nearby chair in half in frustration.


"A hole in the ground?" the short knight asked as they wandered the estate.


"Why a hole?"


"Fall within, " the Lalafell quipped, tapping his visored forehead.


"Now dry?" asked the Elezen.


"A well," they both said in tandem.


"Thaliak guide us, this estate must be twenty malms wide from what I can see," Leon said in a huff.


"Our prayers must be that the creature means the maid no harm. We have two suns and many bells left in this day."


"Best we regain our chocobos and split ways then," the little man said as Gaf nodded.


"We'll meet in the even at the manor and hope she's been found. Else, we'll await the beast and await his next cluing." The two black knights walked to the stand to the West they had left the chocobos in.


"Gaf, if you see ought, use the linkpearl," the tall knight nodded.


Pebbles and crumbling dirt awakened her. Her ankle throbbed, swollen and distended. Her legs were hurt. She had a suspicion, as she noted her surroundings that she had been bodily dropped into a well. She didn't have any broken limbs that she could discern.


As she looked up and saw the brightness above her she suspected it was just before noon-tide. The distance to the top of the well must be no less than thirty or forty fulm. She must not have been dropped the whole way, such a fall might well kill a soul. The terrible beastman had brought her down here and climbed back out.


Her shoulders ached, and her hip. Her skin was riddled with cuts and bruises, but she could do it. She had watched as the women of the valley gave in and cower before the beastmen Ixal. She had seen her neighbors carried off. She had seen her own mother give in to terrible monsters and surrender. She had only lost a leg. By luck her retainer, Mountain Wind, had shattered the creature's skull as it tore at her. All her fear was gone.


Rage and determination made her resist the aches and rise. The filthy water swirled ankle deep. It was cooling, refreshing as it covered her swollen ankle. Looking upwards she began to climb the jutting broken stones that made up the walls. She would never give up.


The day found wells, some broken, some whole. The manor was indeed large. Shouting for the maid brought nothing. All they found were empty wells, and a befouled cistern near the main chateau. Leon, upon finding a lone Ixal Scout managed to dispatch it.


Meeting back at the manor house they created an impromptu map of a scrap page from Leon's books and began to map where they had traveled. By dark they had plotted their travels for the following day. They would sweep back and forth meeting as they rejoined to report. In this way they hoped to cover the majority of the manor's overgrown orchards and fields. Somewhat discouraged but undaunted they returned to their stone lined pantry and sealed the passage.


She had made it most of the way up the well, propping herself against a small outcrop and resting late in the afternoon. She was exhausted and the aches had become overwhelming at times. Her lips were cracked and hunger made her feel as though she might black out at times.


She had dared not try the water, its odorous eddies had told her that there was likely nothing left of the spring that had fed it, but that it was only fetid rainwater trapped in the darkness. She could remember the bread she had had that morning. It had been so fresh, so warm. Just thinking of it made her stomach roil viciously.


When she had climbed on she had found another slab of stone large enough to prop herself against. It was in the dying light of the evening, against that rock that exhaustion had finally made her swoon. A crunch above her jolted her back to consciousness. Something had broken a stick. The strain of having been on high alert with terror and trepidation for the last suns made her shake uncontrollably, and as she managed to flinch her head up, she looked and saw the cold yellow orbs staring down at her, not far above.


"Talley bring flappy-beaks and metal Mouse," it crooned. "Talley girl climb well wall. Oni surprised at talley girl pointy-ear." She covered her head as a shower of pebbles rained down on her. "Oni well fatted on flappy-beaks and a wild goat, so Oni not hungry, but Oni will eat talley pointy-ear soon." A rustling sound came as the giant beastman lowered itself into the passage and grabbed her roughly with one hand, shaking her and then summarily smashing her against the wall. She felt the world fall out from under her, as vision contorted and twisted, then came darkness.


"Second riddle cost pointy-eared metal Mouse." It hid behind no walls this day. It stood fearlessly midway down a hall that terminated at an opened window. "Second riddle," it began, only to be interrupted by Gaf.


"A well, you godless cur!" The creature stared at the Elezen's face, both of them gazed with long at one another, their anger unhidden. "Where is she?" he shouted.


The troll covered its ears with its giant palms, its lips quivering with rage.


"Cost roaring Mouse his pretty ring!" the creature screamed, pointing at the Elezen's ungloved left hand.


"Fine varlet, take it." Gaf rolled the ring set with a inscription of a griffin rolling across the rotting floor boards. The troll scrambled on all fours, fishing it from the cracks.


"Dirty tricks, ugly Mouse. Nearly lost pointy-ears riddle." It heaved its body forward at Gaf, growling deeply in its muscular chest. It stopped midway down the hall, not completing its attack. "Let me make you riddle, Dirty Mouse." The creature twisted its head, and squinted its eyes thinking. "Behind the old wall, near the old house, look by the wall, Dirty metal Mouse." The troll nodded, pleased with himself. The black knight only stared. "Go quick, pointy-ears Mouse. Sun is short, then only one sun, and Oni eats." With a wheezing cackle it flung itself toward the window.


Leon crept around the corner and looked at the opened window. Shaking his head he stared at Gaf. "We walked most of the old wall in the center of the estate yesterday between us." Holding up a thick, well-aged tome, Leon grinned. "Fortunately, with the enchantment I placed upon the ring, I should be able to track him." Gaf finally allowed himself to smile. "Spend the day preparing our plans for battle with that terror. I should be back by this even. Once we know where she is hidden, we can slay the beast at sunrise when he returns."


"Finally freeing the maid, and to wrap up this terrible adventure." Gaf stepped around the corner, "May Nymeia weave a providence of protection on her."


The maid climbed the wall of the well. Hand over hand she plead with her body to keep fighting. The rage had subsided, the terror was faded, now all that remained was determination, mechanical detachment to live. She had ate the moss at the bottom of the well, and drank the swirling murky water. Desperation to live and a need for strength made her resist her fear of stagnation or illness.


Her hands bled, weeping with crisscrossed cuts and lacerations. Her muscles screamed and resisted, but her survival drove her to climb. She had heard the voices of men, not of beastmen, or of monstrosities, but of men. Someone had come to look for her, but the angry troll had gone off after them. That night had been a blur, but someone had come. Maybe they still lived, and even if they didn't it meant she should still free herself.


The blister on her left palm burst as she grabbed a sharp rock and leveraged herself up onto one of the large overhanging stones. Laying back she rubbed her palm and winced. She was once again about two-thirds of the way up the well. She hoped to whichever gods might deign to listen that the creature would not return, but she was pragmatic enough to realize it probably would. Her effort was to escape the well and flee before it returned.


Determination steeling its way through pain she began to crawl up the wall. Hand over hand, upwards, she must escape. She continued to scale, only one-third to go.


Leon watched the creature flail next to the broken walled well. It hammered its fists against the ground. Its helpless, rage finally gave way to a protracted whine. After several minutes laying prone, it shot up on its knees and began to speak to itself.


"Oni hungry, Oni's food gone, gone, gone! Evil dirty metal Mouse's fault! He plays games with Oni while Talley-pointy ear escaped!" Standing, the creature moved about, it sniffed at the air. Leon knew he was downwind of the creature so it was smelling for the girl. She had apparently climbed from the well and fled. Now as the evening drew on, she was in flight into the darkness and the creature was about to begin hunting her.


Leon pressed his head against the tree he hid behind. This accelerated the plans Gaf and he had created. He dare not leave Gaf to try and face so beastly a foe after the struggle he had the first time. However, if the creature were allowed to pursue the maid he may well kill her in a rage. The monster would follow the maid, and should the monster veer off to attack Gaf he could follow. So that settled his plan, he would trail the troll.


Seeing the creature move southward toward the main road, Leon began to run in pursuit. Waiting for time enough to utter a few simple phrases into the linkpearl, he watched for the right time to begin running. He would maintain some distance, careful to stay downwind of the creature. The girl was trying to escape home, hopefully the coming darkness would not dash her hopes.


Gaf saw the coming dawn. He had mounted his chocobo and sat on the main road. A message uttered hastily and hushed through the linkshell had alerted him to the change in plans, a whispered warning an hour ago had prepped him to go to the road. It would be another half-bell before he saw the tall thin and very haggard Elezen girl run up the road heading West. She looked up and saw him in the half-light and looked terrified. Seeing her fear he rasped to her in a loud whisper.


"Flee girl, keep running West, it comes behind you!" She nodded, her eyes sunken but still sharp met his and a whisper of a smile dared to cross her face. After a few more moments he heard the huffing wheeze of the creature coming. It rose over the ridge, and its eyes locked on him in an instant. Murder filled its face.


"Perish churl," Gaf said angrily, throwing down his visor. Couching his spear and spurring his chocobo, he raced toward the towering beastman. It roared in rage and hunched down low to the ground to pounce. Laying his spear across his shield he waited to see when it would take to the sky. As he closed the space the creature leapt, and he watched its angle to determine his next move. Leaning heavily to the left turning his chocbo with his knees and drove the head of his spear into the tender tissue of the creature's gut. Surprised by the knight's quick response the beastman wailed in agony and dropped behind Gaf, dragging the spear from his hands.


Dismounting, Gaf drew his sword and raised his shield to the beastman. It got up screaming and wailing, and yanked the now bent lance-head from its innards, and slung it with monstrous force at the black knight. It hit the shield so hard it shattered it to mere timbers and handles.


It was about to advance on Gaf, closing the distance when a blaze of fire licked from the forest and set the creature on fire. It rolled on the ground, putting itself out and got up holding its gut with its left hand. Looking to the wood it watched with twitching eyes as Leon emerged and aimed a staff at the troll.


Gaf closed the distance with a dash and cut the left hand from the creature, slicing through its vitals and right shoulder as he cut upwards. The creature punched him so hard in response that he flew bodily a handful of yalms backwards. Leon darted forward, a blast of lightning connecting his hand to the monster for a moment, it flinched back in rage.


It lowered itself by the side of the road and picked up a massive sign boulder to hurtle it at Leon. While it bent Gaf got back to his feet and prepared a new attack. Before he could cross the space to stab the beastman the Elezen girl leapt on the bent monster's back and both hands jammed a long jagged chunk of something into its neck. The attack was so complete that the object had sprouted from the other side of the neck. The life began to flow from the creature quickly.


All fight drifted from the creature's eyes. Too much of its lifeblood filled the dust of the road. The final attack by the Elezen maid had destroyed its throat. It groveled and groaned for a moment then stilled.


"Are you well, maid?" asked Gaf as he dropped his sword and walked to her.


"Maystow the gods blessings," she quot with an exhausted sigh. Her body began to shake as she wept.


"Gaf, are you well?" The Elezen nodded, pulling off his helm. Reaching into his chocobo's pack he pulled forth a skin of clean water and began to tend to the girl's hands.


"What is your name, black knight?" she said as she rubbed her forearm through the teary rivulets formed on her face.


"I am Roland," he said, as he dabbed away the blood.


"Gaf, no!" the little man quailed.


"Maugris, enough. I am sorely tired of, and more than through being a wandering black knight. Thewes of the Twelve preserve me from such foolishness, we shant ever take any more such jobs," said Roland quietly. He met eyes with the maid who stared at him boldly, "I am Roland Debreton, we come from out of the West, and found it needful to take rogue names and rogue jobs. My apologies lady."


"And of your uncle, then?" Maugris interrupted from behind him, somewhat incredulous.


"What care a few mount villages of Xelphatol for the machinations of a minor Western warlord?" Maugris nodded with a chuckle, unlatching his bascinet, and glancing at the Elezen maid.


"What is your name, dear maid? We failed to ask your father or the man-servant when we took the quest to deliver you." She bowed herself humbly toward him.


"I am Evelyn de Harron, of Harronshall. May you both be blessed, and my thanks for your quested efforts."


"Thaliak's dusty tomes, I had thought there no courtesy left in the North. But you have the unwemmed manner I had hoped so lovely a one would have," responded the Lalafell with a bow of his head.


"T'was nothing fair one," Roland agreed as he stood, helping her up.


"What of your name, dear sir?" Evelyn asked Maugris from chocoback.


"Why, me?" he asked with a humble grin and a bow. "I am Maugris Daigremont, long time companion of Ser Roland, fellow knight and sorcerer."


"A strange name for a Lalafell, tis almost an Elezen name." She touched her forehead, nothing the silvery jewel inset on his, "and a Dunesfolk, as well." She suddenly looked surprised at herself, "My apologies, I meant no disrespect good Ser, my days have been hard, perhaps my couth has suffered."


"Nay lady, it is no offence," he said waving it off. "I am not one to expound to heavily on my own past, but suffice it that I was raised by no Lalafell. As I child I was stolen from my parents and rescued from the cad and named by the fair lady who raised me and taught me the arts of conjury and the dark arts." He smiled at her start.


"Where did such a beastman come from Maugris?" Roland spoke, breaking the awkward silence, as he stared at the remains of the beastman. The little man turned, curious.


"I could answer you straight from its lips, Ser Roland," quot the maid as Roland helped her mount his chocobo. "It told me, as I laid in the well, that it had come from the far East, having traveled over the Jade Sea a crated creature. It had been captured by a Sea Wolf who supplied the menagerie of a wealthy Garlean with strange foreign creatures. Mid-sea a storm rose up, and many of the creatures of the East aboard were hurtled about, their crates broken. The varlet slaughtered his handlers and crew and fed off the supplies of the ship until it finally crashed into Abania."


"Quite a strange adventure for such a horror," Maugris said as he drew a sword from his bundles. He turned and walked toward the beastman. "His behavior was most peculiar even for a beastman."


"The creature told me that some strange explosion of aether had disturbed its mind. Something it had felt from the south." Maugris glanced quickly at Roland. "The Ixal captured it as was fleeing the Highlanders of Northern Abania, and had enslaved it. They used it to hunt people, until it broke free."


"Funny," said the little man, then he glanced at the maid who watch him. "Would you turn away, I intend to behead this troll as a sign of our work." The maid obliged. The little man continued conversationally as he did his grisly work, "Word came from the south a few moons back that the Garleans had engaged dragons, of all things, in Silvertear Falls. There was a terrible explosion of aether that was felt by those sensitive from hundreds of malms away."


"Well, that settles the matter of our mad troll in this strange place," said Roland as he brought Maugris his chocobo. "Now let us be back to Harronshall. I am certain the maid wishes to return to her home."


"What then shall we do, dear Roland?" Maugris bent and picked up his bascinet helm, the very construction painted the dull brown of a black knight.


"There are good people in Xelphatol, who need defenders and knights, rather than rogue mercenaries." he continued as he led the chocobo holding the maid. "We shall become knights of these people, if they will have us." The girl smiled at him as he said this, and Maugris watched the whole of the exchange with a quirked eyebrow and a bemused grin.


"Very well, let us be off, and defend the good people. Thaliak preserve us." He spurred his chocobo ahead a bit opening space between the two Elezen, the knight walking and leading his chocobo, the maid intently chatting with him. "Thaliak preserve me!" the Lalafell whispered with a chuckle. "I say, he's byjaped of heart already."

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