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The Lonely Cart [closed]

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The cart felt strangely empty as it jostled into town, carrying a bundle of vegetables and two passengers. The older of the two passengers, a man with hair as black as pitch, sat at the front of the cart, guiding the chocobo along the path toward Gridania. Alana sat at the back of the cart, acutely aware of the empty space on the other side of the cart. Her brother had gone before dawn, leaving nothing but a note talking about fighting the Garleans and honour and glory and other such things that Alana couldn't quite comprehend yet. She was only 11, after all; her only battle experiences had been when she'd fought her brother for the last cookie or muffin. 


The sun shone through the trees in dancing columns, quiet birdsong that filled the air, the cart bounced the girl as it rolled over rocks and bumps and dips in the road. It was hard to imagine that there was an army threatening Eorzea. Why now? Couldn't they have waited a bit?


"Now, Alana, remember what I told you, alright? Just say hi to the girl, and you and her will be talkin' like old friends in no time," her father said from the front of the cart as they passed the Woodwailers guarding the gates. He didn't look back at her as he spoke, but Alana gave a half-hearted nod.


Her father had told her all about the Blakes' girl; about how nice she was, how similar she was to Alana, how close they were in age... So why did Alana feel so nervous? Her stomach felt knotted, and the feeling only worsened as Nowe the chocobo pulled them closer to their journey's end. A dreadful sense of inevitability settled about the girl's shoulders like an invisible, heavy cloak.


"We're here, Alana. Don't worry 'bout gettin' the stuff. Don't want to get your pretty dress all mucked up, do we now?" Bertrand said with a good-natured smile to his daughter as he tied Nowe's reins to a post. Alana looked down with a frown. It was a nice dress. She only had one that was nicer than it. It was a sky blue colour that had faded a bit, leaning more toward the white colour of its sleeves.


Alana took a moment to study her reflection in the shop's window.

For The Twelve's sake, Bertrand, she could hear her mother say, make sure she doesn't go in with dirt all over her face. And Alana didn't have a speck on there. Her blonde hair was pulled up into her usual ponytail, but a few strands of hair fell about her face. It was good enough.


Her father balanced a rather large pumpkin in one arm and rang the bell, and Alana fell into step behind him. Only because she was obedient. Fear didn't have anything to do with it. Not at all. If only her stomach would stop hurting.

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//Note: Obligatory apology about my English mistakes. I hope to keep learning >A<



Year 1571. Like every other morning, Clover had woken up early to help her parents with the store. That was all the 12 cycles old girl seemed to dedicate her time to, and despite how helpful she’d been, her parents had been worried about her alarming lack of friends. It wasn’t normal, not even healthy for a girl her age to spend all her time taking care of adult business, instead of playing outside with other children.


“Clover, you should start doing the things other girls do,” her father had said one day. “Wouldn’t you like to have friends you could play with?”


“...What for?” was Clover’s reply after an almost offending moment of silence, keeping the serious expression she usually sported.


Sometimes, her father had thought that perhaps she was too mature for her age. Other times, more so lately, he pondered on how maybe she’d just grown into a very clumsy, very awkward human being. Perhaps it was his fault; he should have encouraged her to play more when she was younger, instead of using all the help they could get to get their store running during difficult times.


That morning, a morning like any other, some familiar customers rang the bell. It was Clover’s mother who answered it, displaying a very bright smile when she recognized who it was.


“Good morning, Mr. Black!” She greeted the man, inviting him in. Clover bowed respectfully from her position beside the counter, albeit she still forgot something important. “Clover, smile...”  her father reminded her in a whisper, keeping a friendly expression as he looked at their customer. It was then that a petite figure caught both his and his wife's eyes.


“Oh, you must be Alana!” Clover’s mother asked, smiling sweetly at her. Upon hearing that name, Clover’s eyes darted to the blonde girl. She’d been informed of the Blacks’ daughter, a girl around her age she was supposed to talk to if the chance ever arose. Now that the time had come, however, she was unsure of how to proceed...


She stood there for a moment, tense and motionless like a troubled sculpture. Her father looked at her sideways with expectation.

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Alana shrunk behind her father at the attention. Bertrand just gave the Blakes an apologetic smile and joked, "You wouldn't think I've been tellin' her Clover's going to hit her or somethin'. Alana, look at the girl. Do you really think you need to hide behind me?"


Ever-so-cautiously, Alana leant to the side, looking out from behind her father. The Black girl was a bit short for her age, and her dress was a bit big for her. Her purple eyes -- while perhaps not intelligent -- were alert as they studied Clover's face for a few tense seconds. "Hello," she said quietly, finally breaking the silence. She shuffled out a few ilms from her father's back and stared around the awkwardly, floundering for words to say.


Salvation came in the form of her father. "Alright, then. I'll get the rest of the stuff in. Play nice now, Alana."


As Bertrand wandered out the door, Alana couldn't help feeling a little betrayed. Her silent gaze followed him out of the store. It wasn't quite a glare; it was too mournful.


Her father gone, she turned back to the family and did her best to curtsy. It was an awkward motion; one that she obviously had little practice in doing. "Uh... Nice t'meet you," she mumbles, looking at the ground rather than facing the people before her. Her speech was a strange mishmash of her father's rural Gridanian accent and her mother's Limsa Lominsan brogue. Of course, her own bashfulness made it even less likely she'd correctly pronounce words. And of course, none of this mattered to Alana. "Um..." She continued her study of the floor and the toes of her leather boots. "I... I help on the farm 'n' stuff. Sometimes I like t'cook stuff."

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As Alana spoke, Clover simply stared at her, curious, green eyes glued to the poor girl who’d been left alone in unknown territory. She didn’t notice how unnerving being watched could be; she didn’t even notice she was starting at her so blatantly, as if she felt like some sort of ghost who could observe her surroundings without being seen.


"That’s very nice of you, Alana!" Clover’s mother said, smiling tenderly as an attempt to make her young guest a bit more at ease. Of course, she didn’t miss this chance and looked at her daughter. "Clover is always helping us as well. You don’t know each other yet, do you?"


"Clover, why don’t you go out with Alana and show her around while we work?” Her father added, forcing the situation. “I have to help Mr. Black now; just leave everything up to us and don’t worry."


The brown haired girl’s lips parted as if she was about to say something, but nothing came out of them. Her father left the store with both a smile on his face and fingers crossed, while her mother placed an encouraging hand on her back. With no other choice, Clover took a few steps towards her new friend.


"Hello, I’m Clover..." she said without raising her voice much, as politely as she could even if she wasn’t smiling. Clover wasn’t visibly as nervous as the other girl -partially because it wasn’t her the one who’d been brought to an unknown place-, but the moment was also tense and awkward for her. "...Let's go outside, I'll show you around if you'd like..."

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With Clover staring at her so intently, it was probably a good thing the young Black wasn't looking directly at her.  While the other girl may have felt like she could observe unnoticed, Alana was acutely aware that she was the centre of attention at that point in time. She felt extremely uncomfortable. The Blakes talked, and Alana's eyes moved toward them without actually looking at them.


At least Clover's parents seemed impressed by her. That helped a bit, and the butterflies fluttering about in her stomach calmed a little, enough that the hands that held bunches of her dress relaxed.. Alana looked at Clover as she took a few paces toward her, Alana looked at her. She... Seemed nice enough, Alana supposed. Even so, Clover's chin was the spot Alana looked at as Clover talked.


Not versed enough in human behaviour to notice its significance and too nervous to notice it in the first place, Clover's tension went unnoticed. The suggestion to go outside seemed to brighten Alana up a bit, and her eyes darted up to Clover's as she spoke it. They slid to the side a heartbeat later, though. "Um... If it's not too much trouble," she said in indirect acquiescence, one of her hands rubbing at the back of her neck. "Don't want t'put y'out or nothin'..."

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It certainly was a strange situation for the two of them. The little guest’s eyes had quickly avoided the other girl, her nervousness was palpable, and Clover couldn’t but perceive a trace of uneasiness in her strange accent. Perhaps she didn’t want to go out after all?




The brown haired girl turned her head back to her mother in confusion, as if wanting to ask how good of an idea this actually was. The poor woman gestured with her hands now that Alana was looking at the side, encouraging –more like silently commanding- her daughter to take her new friend out. Just in case her signal hadn’t been clear enough (and judging from Clover’s silence, that seemed to be the case), she also spoke with her permanent smile.


“Oh, it’s no trouble at all! Clover will be happy to go with you. She needs a break from all the working! Have fun, girls.”


At that, Clover’s eyes returned to her new friend and nodded after a second, before she started walking out of the store. Both their fathers were busy with the merchandise and the friendly talking, leaving the girls to their own business. Clover kept walking, expecting Alana to follow her. She wouldn’t turn her head towards Alana until just a moment later, when they stood right on top of a bridge. A crystalline river greeted the view under their feet, gracing the moment with a soft, watery murmur.


Clover’s expression remained unchanged, serious as she usually was, albeit not necessarily unfriendly. “Is Gridania very different from the place you live in?” She asked, and it wasn’t just mere curiosity. She needed to know where Alana came from in order to figure out what would be interesting for her to see.

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All the working? A pang of guilt might have run through a more sensitive girl, but it just made Alana a little curious. Did Clover work harder than her? What sort of work did one need to do to run a store, anyway? She cast a cursory glance about the shop. Well... It was a lot tidier than her house.


Her reverie was about as brief as usual, Alana was never the kind of person able to wonder about too much and walk at the same time. Her eyes on Clover's back, she followed a few steps behind her. That budding curiosity was growing now that the worst was over. Clover and her parents hadn't made fun of her accent; they hadn't told her to take her dirty shoes out of their shop. Clover, while quite, hadn't made fun of her like most children her age were wont to do. Maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all.


Make sure ye talk to the girl. Her mother's voice rang in her head. Else she'll think ye just mute. Unfortunately, talking was easier said than done, at least in Alana's case. The blonde girl's mouth opened and closed a few times, though no words came. What do you talk about to someone you've just met? As her toes touched the first wooden boards of a bridge, Alana sighed a quiet sigh that the gurgle all but masked. Gurgle?


The river drew Alana's eyes, commanding her attention. Light danced on its surface as it ran beneath and beyond the two girls. She squinted as she leant toward the river's surface, resting her hands on her knees. Her ponytail brushed at her cheek, and she swatted it away absent-mindedly as she searched in vain for fish. They must be sleeping, she concluded.


"Huh?" She glanced up at the other girl when she spoke to her. It was a bit of a surprise, really, and not an entirely welcome one. Some small part of her had hoped that they'd continue the tour in silence. "Um... We live out near Moonspore Grove. Y'know, just a bit out of town." Her voice was quiet, but she felt a sense of something that was like, but not exactly, relief. "So, uh... It's kinda the same. Doesn't matter, though. Y'got any chocobos 'round here?" she asked with a subdued note of hope in her voice.

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At Alana’s question, little Clover’s lips parted slightly. She seemed lost in thought for one, two seconds, pondering on the situation carefully. Granted, she’d been told to show the girl around, but were they still supposed to wander far away from the shop? She hadn’t been informed of how long their parents had planned to take with their business, thus she was unsure of how much time she should spend with her new acquaintance. It might just be a bad idea. However...


Something else caught her attention, and it was strangely enough for her to reconsider her answer. Clover had perceived a hint of excitement on the otherwise silent girl. Perhaps taking her to see some chocobos would give her a good memory of Gridania; perhaps that’d make her smile...


It was odd -Clover thought right after-, but she found herself wishing for that to happen.


“We have a small chocobo stable here,” she finally nodded. “But it’s not very close to my parent’s shop. We’ll have to do some walking, if you’re up for it...”


Just in case Alana had a better idea of how much time they could spend outside, Clover let her make the final decision.

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"Walkin's no problem." Alana's answer was quick, and excitement shone through the quiet words. Walking was certainly no problem when chocobos were involved. "Uh... I mean, if that's not gonna put y'out or nothin'. I don't really want y'gettin' tired 'cause of me." Despite her words, Alana glanced around, straining her ears. She could hear the river and the sound of Gridanian commerce. She could hear cartwheels turning, people talking and hawking their wares. She could hear birds chirping somewhere nearby. She couldn't hear chocobos. "Er... It's kinda far away?"


Alana didn't wait for an answer. She wandered over to a nearby tree. and stood on the tips of her toes, reaching up and grabbing at a low hanging branch. The tree was dying, and the wood beneath its grey and black bark was hard and brittle. It took a few tries, but Alana eventually managed to break it off by bouncing herself from it. The girl and the branch both tumbled to the ground, but Alana quickly hopped up, looking as if she was doing nothing out of the ordinary. The branch was almost as tall as she was, but the wood was light. A few brownish leaves hung on to twigs, though that didn't seem to bother her as she took the makeshift lance in her right hand and rested the broken end on the ground.


"Um... I'm not too good, but don't worry about vilekin. M'dad was part of the Lancers' Guild for a bit, so... Uh... I mean, I can keep y'safe," Alana said as she scuffed at the dirt with the toes of one of her boots, watching the little clouds of dust. "Probably won't need it, but, well... Y'know, better t'be safe than sorry."

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There it was again, that hint of eagerness in Alana’s words, in her eyes.  Clover had been working in her parents’ shop for quite a while, she’d dealt with customers often, yet she had no memory of seeing anyone display that kind of interest for anything she’d ever shown them.


“Just a b—“ she tried to answer Alana’s inquiry about how far the stables were, but her voice faded quickly when the other girl started walking to a nearby tree. A pair of confused eyes followed her movements, observing how the blonde grabbed a branch and started trying to break it. Her risky movements would likely make her kiss the ground as soon as the wood broke, what would that accomplish?


“You’re going to—!“


It was the sound of the branch finally giving way what interrupted her sentence this time; there was nothing she could do to prevent the fall. Much to Clover’s surprise, she didn’t even have the time to walk closer and ask if Alana was alright when the girl hopped up on her own. The daring farmer didn’t look hurt; quite the contrary, she looked like she’d known what she was doing from the beginning.


For a moment, Clover could only stare at her with unblinking eyes and slightly parted, silent lips, listening to her vow to keep her safe.


It didn’t matter if what Alana was holding in her hand was a mere branch from an old and decrepit tree. It didn’t even matter if the trip to the stables would likely be a peaceful one, or if the girl confessed not to be very skilful yet.


Alana looked strong.


She was just a little girl like Clover herself, a little girl in a world at war. Yet she looked so strong.




Still at a loss of words, Clover’s silence lasted for a few more seconds when her gaze fell upon her new acquaintance’s pretty dress. The dust had been unforgiving. She didn’t comment on it, though; instead, her eyes returned to meet Alana’s.


“...I think we should be safe,” she finally said, not raising her voice much. “So long as we don’t go out to the forest, we should be.”




The walking to the chocobo stables was more eventful than what Clover had initially planned. There might not have been bandits or monsters on the way, but a group of little Hyur kids, much younger than them, met the girls as they passed by and followed Alana with great interest. “You’re new! Are you here to play?” They asked cheerfully, not even waiting for an answer before more questions arose. “Where did you get that pretty dress? What’s your name? Where do you live?”

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And though the stick didn't really change much; though it wouldn't do much good against anything tougher than a squirrel, it gave her a sense of confidence as they walked. It wasn't that she felt she could take down an ixal or anything, but it felt familiar, walking around with a stick. 


Her confidence wilted a little bit as the children swarmed her, and she just kept walking, answering their questions as quickly and succinctly as possible. "Um... We're kinda here t'play, maybe. N-Not sure." They barraged her with questions, and she felt a hint of annoyance as she glanced down at them. "M'dress's from m'mum. Why y'gotta ask so many questions?" That annoyance slowly began to creep into her quiet voice. "M'name's Alana 'n' I live out near Bentbranch." She gently prods at one of the children with her stick. "An' can y'give me and m'friend a bit of space, please?"


Without realising it, she'd taken on a few of her brother's mannerisms. He always walked about with an actual spear, though, her father's old weapon, not the branch of a tree. Even so, she was walking a bit straighter; the set of her jaw was just a touch more determined. She'd even gone so far as to call Clover her friend, a minutia that she would no doubt be kicking herself over later that day.


"If y'need t'follow us, y'can, but I don't want y't'trip Miss Blake over."

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Albeit Clover remained silent as they walked, she did notice how Alana had called her a friend. Not like that should have mattered much at that moment; it was just a manner of speaking, that much was clear. Clover might be no expert in friendships, but she figured they didn’t quite work like this.


The noisy kids followed them all the way to the stables, apparently not too intimidated by the foreigner’s annoyance or the use of her giant stick. There was a small “ouch” from the little boy she poked, yet he made no attempt to stop following her. She was a very interesting Hyur, after all! They actually wanted to be her friends, in their weird, childish way.


“Ohh, Alana has a very weird accent!” They exclaimed, deadly honest as kids always were.


“She’s not from the city,” Clover intervened quickly, her tone slightly annoyed. “To her, you might the one who have weird accents”.


That left the kids thinking. Thinking hard. And before they noticed, the cute cheep of precious chocobos could be heard from a near distance. The stables were right in front of them.

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Alana looked at Clover briefly. She'd defended her. That was unexpected. A small smile touched the blonde's lips. Her brother rarely did such a thing. The smile was small, but it was one that spoke of budding trust. Maybe her parents forcing here here wasn't such a bad idea.


"Here to see the chocobos, eh, kids?" A man wearing yellow overalls approached the children as they entered the general vicinity of the stables. He was in his middle years, his eyes small and kind. "Just over yonder," he said with a twitch of his head and wandered off, carting a large bucket of what presumably was gyshal greens.


That was as good as an enthusiastic invitation to Alana. She sped over to the pens, almost tripping on her skirt and the stick-spear. When she saw the chocobo, however, she slowed down, her face taking on an awed expression as she reverently approached the bird. Clasping her stick, she stared. "So pretty," she murmured, not taking her eyes away from the chocobo.

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The fluffy animal raised its yellow head to return Alana’s glance with unblinking, crystalline eyes. Its beak opened, and the cutest cheep emerged from it. Then, the chocobo moved a bit closer, curious.


Clover eventually approached Alana, placing herself at a certain distance of her side. It was sideways, but she took a moment to observe her expression; Alana seemed completely mesmerized by the chocobo, more than anyone the Gridanian girl had seen. A soft smile was drawn into her features as she turned her head to the animal again.


The younger kids were nearby, trying to feed -without much luck- another chocobo who happened to have eaten just a minute ago. Having found this new distraction, at least they wouldn't bother Alana much for a moment.


“I’ve heard that there are chocobos of different colours...” Clover commented. “Have you ever seen any of those?”

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Her first instinct was to touch it, and Alana's hand paused less than an inch from the creature's beak. The girl's purple eyes regarded the bird's beady eyes with the same curiosity that it showed toward her. She gently stroked it a couple of times before she leant the makeshift spear against the stall so she could pet it with both hands.


She didn't even glance at Clover as she approached. The chocobo was -- for the moment at least -- Alana's entire world. She could tell it was a younger one; that it probably had a few more inches to grow. She briefly pondered its gender before deciding it didn't matter, and then she finally turned to the girl that had guided her to the stable, studying her shoes for a bit before looking at Clover's face. It wasn't quite her eyes, like Alana's mother had told her to, but it was a start.


"Uh... Nope. We really only have Gertrude right now, 'n' she's pretty old," Alana says, taking her eyes off Clover for a moment to peer at the childrens' backs. "Dad says we'll get a couple younger ones soon 'n' maybe breed them, though." Alana shrugged, her brother's voice echoing in her head, reminding her that it probably won't happen. She took one hand from the bird's beak and glanced from it to Clover. "Y'want t'come 'n' pat it, too?"

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When Alana talked about her chocobo, Clover managed to return her glance—or what was almost a glance. Even if she was still unused to the farmer’s accent, the initial awkward feeling of spending time with a stranger had diminished slightly. Perhaps it was due to her interest in hearing those stories; Clover had never owned any chocobo, and albeit she had visited a few farms in the past, that kind of life differed significantly from her own. Alana was a bunch of different experiences, from the way she hung from trees to her coexistence with different creatures.


At the girl’s latest question, more like an invitation, Clover turned her eyes to the fluffy animal which definitely had been enjoying the petting. A slight nod was the first indication that she’d move closer, and so she did. Slowly, a hand travelled to the bird’s beak until a soft stroke was born from her fingers, much to the animal’s delight.


“I’ve never had a chocobo of my own...” she commented with an inexpressive tone, merely for the sake of comparing their experiences. Her eyes were glued to the happy animal she was petting. “Ah, I heard... that one of the chocobos would give birth soon, but…”


“The farmer said that one of his chocobos will give birth in a few days!” Two kids had approached them, excitement colouring their eyes and voices. “Alana should come to see it! Please come!”

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Alana watched the chocobo. It hadn't even occurred to her that Clover may not have been accustomed to handling animals. The friendlier things of nature --as well as some of the less friendly things-- were as much a part of Alana's life as breathing, and everyone breathes. As Clover pets the beak, Alana gently ruffles the feathers atop the bird's head, searching for ticks and lice with her fingers without conscious effort. She didn't find much, which she was a little surprised over. Gertrude attracted the things like... Well, Clover wasn't really sure what it was like, but Gertrude usually had a few.


Alana's head turned slightly when the other girl mentioned that her family didn't own a chocobo. It made sense after a moment. If they lived somewhere near their shop, they wouldn't need to cart goods into town or anything; they're already there. Still, it was a life she couldn't imagine. Alana enjoyed her own company as much as the next girl--probably more-- but with her brother gone, Gertrude was the only one she could talk to, and Gertrude never told her to go away like her brother did. That was a good thing.


"Give birth? Y'mean one's going t'lay an egg?" Curiosity along with a bit of surprise and excitement dragged Alana's eyebrows up. Of course, Clover had answered the question herself, Alana was just a little slow. The two children drove it home however, and she nodded, taking a couple of steps toward the children before looking back, waiting for Clover to follow. She'd left her stick where it was. They were relatively safe now, after all, even if she felt otherwise. Clover was one thing, but the children were small and loud and far too pushy for her to be entirely comfortable with. And it was almost as though they looked up to her. That was even stranger to her than the thought of not owning a chocobo.

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