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Nero

Remnants

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Roen shrugged. “I knew no other way to deliver the message. And I was in the east for other reasons. But…” She frowned, studying the Xaela with more care. She knew not who this woman was nor her motivations. Roen only knew that she was likely capable enough to deal with two mercenaries and therefore should not be underestimated. She also guessed that a foreigner threatening those of her kind would probably not go over well.
 

“The threat is not mine. As I said, I seek a friend. He had traveled to the west, and that was where we met.” She glanced to Ashur thoughtfully before continuing. “I want to warn his people of others. Those who are coming for him. Or… more accurately his people.”
 

She crossed his arms and looked between the Xaela and Ashur. “If you can help us navigate the tribes at the Reunion,  then we can provide escort there, to at least ensure there are no others who would be tempted to rummage through your belongings.”

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Ashur nodded his assent. "You can be sure that we're a bit less foolish than to go poking around with shiny lights, at the least."

 

The Xaela's expression didn't change, but she shifted her stance from one leg to another, seemingly in assent. She traded hard stares between the two of them for what felt like too much time before finally sighing. "Then I suppose you two will do. I could stand to do significantly worse, that much is evident to me." The Xaela gave a meaningful and rather baleful glare at the unconscious Elezen on the ground.

 

Ashur breathed his own sigh of slight relief. While there were plenty of reasons to be apprehensive--he knew nothing about this Xaela--even having someone with a vague understanding of navigating the tribes at Reunion was at least a small comfort. It ensured that they would not be flying totally blind. Hopefully.

 

The Au Ra returned her thoughtful gaze to Roen. "Though, I must admit I am rather curious to know the nature of this warning. Your Khadai would believe it that much more if it came from me than from you, after all. If what you say is true, that is. Perhaps my name will convince you to tell me here? That is, if the name of Tsenkhai means anything to you. I would certainly be surprised if a foreigner did know of it, though."

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Tsenkhai.

 

That singular word alone made Roen freeze, her eyes widening with surprise.

 

“I was Tsenkhai, once. Capable of interpreting the Correspondence.” Even now, Kasrjin’s voice returned to her easily. And so did other stories that he had told her over time of his people. And recalling them, it drew forth a wary frown that darkened her countenance.

 

“You…” Roen looked to the Xaela incredulously. “You are a Tsenkhai?” Her crossed arms uncurled and fell limp by her side. “You are of his tribe?” She couldn’t believe it. His people resided in the north, near the glaciers. What was she doing this far south? Or here at all? But then again, Kasrjin himself had traveled all the way to Ishgard. They had magical means of making such a journey. It made her both relieved and suspicious at the same time.

 

“How do I know that you are one of his people?” Roen squinted her eyes, looking her over for anything obsidian she might be wearing. “Do you know whom I speak of? He had traveled to the west. Then he returned to his home.” She blinked, another thought occurring to her. “He did return home, to his people, didn’t he?”

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Ashur wasn't entirely sure what was going on at first, but when Roen seemed to label this Xaela as one of the tribe that they were looking for, he almost immediately stiffened. Just as quickly he was careful to try to relax his stance so as not to give away anything too untoward, but if the Au Ra woman's slight glance towards him was any indication, that plan already failed. She was a perceptive one.

 

The Xaela sighed, seemingly in irritation as she rubbed her temple with her index finger. "While you seem to know more than I thought, I can hardly say I am surprised at your reaction. For one, it is rather presumptuous of you to believe that I am constantly aware of every single Khadai present or absent. For two, you are the one who must prove yourselves to me. And for three, if you truly knew a Khadai, then you would know enough about them to know how unflappable they are about their 'duty'. Unless he is dead or his mission requires him to be elsewhere, then your friend is certainly back where he belongs."

 

The Au Ra paced ever so slightly, placing the firepit between herself, and Ashur and Roen. "Though, this does answer some of my questions. You won't find any Aljai at Reunion; not at this time of year, perhaps not for several years. And asking myself to prove my caste as Tsenkhai would more than likely both of you similar to...them." The Xaela waved rather dismissively at the unconscious Elezen. "I am sure you can tell that I do not have any of the implements that you foreigners usually require to cast magic. Your...sticks or books or whatnot. Such things are unnecessary. Surely that will suffice, unless you feel you require a firsthand demonstration." Her tone was one of idleness, almost boredom, rather than that of a threat or a warning.

 

Nonetheless, Ashur not-so-subtlely placed his right hand on his hip; the opposite side of his shortsword, but the implication was clear enough.

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Roen eyed the movements of both Ashur and the Xaela, holding out her palms towards both of them to calm the situation.

 

“I assure you, conflict with anyone from your tribe is not what we seek." She gave Ashur a pointed look first, before turning to fully face the Xaela. “We are not here to rob anyone. And… if it is as you say and the Aljai will be not visiting the Reunion in the near future… then you are the best chance we have.” Roen was not hesitant to admit things as they were.

 

“And I had asked about my friend because…” Her voice quieted, her brows pulled with concern. “I was worried for him. That is all. His time in Ishgard was not necessarily without danger.” She pressed her lips for a moment in thought, wondering if she should continue. But she had already decided to trust Ashur enough to accompany him, and now she needed to at least earn the same from this Xaela as well, if they hoped to gain her aid in any of this.

 

“You may not know all the Khadai, but surely you must know of the one that was once Tsenkhai.” She was gambling that such a thing was not a common occurrence within his people. “He was sent west to retrieve an item that would save his people. Surely, you must know of this particular Khadai.”

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Given how taciturn and eerily placid this Au Ra had been so far, Ashur at first thought he'd imagined it when her brow seemed to twitch in response to Roen's inquiry, and her pause was marked. He withheld a sigh. Why couldn't anyone just admit if they knew something? Everything had to be a damn secret, apparently; he was tiring of it.

 

"I know that such an idea you've suggested is absurd, and that you would think it such too if you knew our ways. For Tsenkhai to become Khadai is for a hurricane to become a stone. But I suspect it my fault for expecting such depth of knowledge from a foreigner. No, I don't know of whom you speak, and if there exists one who matches your description, then I doubt he'd ever be allowed to leave the homeland. So all the more reason to not wonder to his fate. At worse, he is in safe captivity." The Xaela snorted haughtily. "The outside world would not trouble him much."

 

Ashur didn't have a totally clear idea of what was going on, but what seemed to matter was that this Xaela woman was part of the tribe he needed to contact, and so far Roen seemed to know what questions to ask. He glanced at her meaningfully. How sacred of a relic was this keystone to them? It would surely not do to trespass on some tribal taboo, not when this seemed to be their only point of contact.

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Roen noticed the pause as well. She didn’t know this Xaela at all, and she was infuriatingly self-possessed, to the point of arrogance. Which meant that she felt no threat in this situation and she was used to controlling the circumstances and events around her. As Roen recalled the various details that Kasrjin shared about the Tsenkhai, she was not surprised. And it made her all that more suspicious and wary.

 

But this Xaela was the only point of contact they had so far. She was their only link. If what she said of the rest of her tribe was true, there would be none of Kasrjin’s people found at the Reunion. They had no choice but to deal with this woman, if what she claimed to be was true. But there were also her peculiar choices in words. Why did she phrase things as she did? As if Kasrjin would be forced into captivity? Not allowed to leave?

 

“You are right. I know not of your people. Only what I learned in the short time that I traveled with the Khadai of whom I speak. But I hope what you are implying is false. That he would be kept locked away for his own safety. He has a will of his own. He risked his life to fulfill what he was sent out to do,  to save his people. That deserves recognition, but also freedom so that he could make more choices for himself. He chose to return back home for the good of all.” Roen paused, before she accidentally shared anything out loud about the betrayal. That was his secret, not hers. But her frown remained. “But he hoped that should I seek out his people at the Reunion, that someday we may meet again. He did not return home to be sequestered away from the rest of the world.”

 

Roen watched her closely as she continued. “I know some things of your ways, and that the Tsenkhai decides what is best for all. Would you have decided the same for him then?”

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The Xaela seemed to visibly falter somewhat at Roen's words, and while her demeanour hardened relatively quickly, her expression was not as stony as it had been. Something about what Roen had said affected her. Ashur kept the mildly annoyed expression off his face--he'd have felt better had Roen forced the Xaela to reveal her hand by asking directly about the keystone--but as long as they got the results that they needed, their line of inquiry didn't particularly matter. At least not yet.

 

The Au Ra folded her arms together, exhaling softly. She traded glances between the smoldering firepit, the sky, and her leather moccasins. Even the shimmering light from her gleaming limbal rings seemed to dull somewhat, blunting their initial sharpness as she looked at Roen. Ashur didn't have much hope of comprehending exactly what their exchange meant...but perhaps they would give him answers later.

 

"Did he give you his name? This Khadai you speak so highly of." The Xaela finally asked.

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Roen was watching her carefully as well, and as the Xaela’s demeanor shifted ever so slightly, she wondered if this woman knew Kasrjin. Knowing as much, or little, as she did of the Tsenkhai, Roen knew them to be careful, calculating, and powerful. It would be foolish to trust this woman, she needed to keep in mind that everything that the Xaela had said so far, was likely for her own benefit and not theirs. They were strangers after all, and foreigners to boot.

 

Still, those small changes in the woman's countenance, it told Roen enough.

 

“Kasrjin,” she said quietly, grey eyes intently meeting the gaze within those limbal rings. “He was a determined man, driven, focused, but… also bluntly honest. And… good.” Her own expression started to soften as she reflected on her time with the Khadai. “He helped me, and I him. I aided him in retrieving what he needed to return to his people.”

 

Roen studied the Xaela as she continued, but she had not forgotten about Ashur. She knew that as the conversation went on, it was inevitable that more details would be shared, those that he would likely be keenly interested in, that she had purposefully not spoke of. But she too was getting tired of the run around and the insinuations. If she and Ashur hoped to help his mother, learn of the keystone, and also warn Kasrjin’s people, all the cards had to be laid out for everyone to see.

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The Xaela's expression softened considerably. "The only way you could know that is if he told you. Which means that by the end of it all, he must have held you in high regard...or, given his nature, enough regard. Which is its own sort of praise. Even a foreigner like you should understand that." While the Au Ra still held a stiff, firm stance, her steely demeanour seemed to retreat, at least for now. "In this particular case, you are right; I do know of him. He did manage to return, and he is currently being held in our temple. Not precisely as a prisoner, exactly...I'm not sure how to explain it in a way a foreigner would understand. A monument, I suppose? Though I am sure the nuance of such a distinction is lost on you."

 

Ashur could only guess at the greater context of this conversation, since it seemed to involve someone he didn't know and a culture of which he knew even less. Which was all well and good, but he was tired of waiting. "Did his return include a keystone?" Ashur asked rather bluntly. "Some kind of black rock, shaped in a sphere."

 

The Au Ra seemed taken aback by his forthright question. "It...did. I am beginning to think that encountering the two of you was more fortuitous than I initially thought. I can only assume that if you are asking about it, then you seek to take it."

 

"Would that be a problem?" Ashur grunted, folding his arms. To his surprise, the Xaela shook her head.

 

"Not quite, though the others of my kind would likely disagree. You will need me, however. A Tsenkhai is needed to approach our grounds safely, unless it was in your plans to fight through a glacier you have no hope of navigating," the Au Ra said. "Though if you had managed to run into some Aljai at Reunion, that might have sufficed, for a time."

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