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(The following is the contents of a letter scribed in flowing, artistic hand in the Garlean tongue.)


To whom it concerns,


The hand writing alone should reveal unto you the sender of this document. No further identification shall I place upon paper. While I am confident that your networks will see this parchment to your door, I am forced to entertain the rather real possibility that those Eorzean plebians might somehow conjure up a spark of intelligence and intercept it by accident.


After all, those cattle do seem to be enforcing a large degree of influence over you and your intended objectives in the region. Based on the reports I have been handed, one might think you've gone soft even, infected by their stupidity. Relishing in their coin. Really, when I was approached about this matter, I could scarce believe that you had come so low and were now sporting such a abyssnal rate of operational success. Honestly, I've seen peasants conjure up more skills in sabotage then you, yourself, seem capable.


Now, because of our joined past services, those whom consider themselves my better through rank alone have tasked upon my shoulders the efforts of assisting your labors. And, without choice given to me, I shall be joining you shortly. My skills are to be made available to you as they once were. Do see to it you begin gathering a collection of targets. I will not sit idle by, forced to inhale the scents of those primitives, because you were lax in preperation.


So be with good cheer. Soon you shall have the honor and pleasure of beholding my talents once more. Relish in it. And know that your fortunes shall change upon my arrival; as well the fortunes of your networks. Until we meet in the stinking wastes of Eorzea, stay well and stay vigilant as you serve the Empire.




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They were stronger than he was.


Berrod had always known it -- it was in fact, part of the reason he had invested himself in them. The ones who were weaker never lasted. Those were more numerous than he would have liked to admit. 


The Highlander found himself suffering his own moment of weakness -- a moment when his own selfish pride had managed to eclipse the pride he'd felt for those who had entrusted their learning to him. It was not a feeling he wanted to fester. After all, he had devoted himself to making them stronger, and to help them become leaves on the wind to both preserve and better what had nearly been lost. 


An obvious answer had come to him; if he was so stuck on being weaker than them -- at least relatively -- then he would just have to work harder to maintain his ground. No, not maintain, he'd reasoned, to climb higher, to always be able to teach and guide them. 


He had stagnated, and it was time for that to end. True, he had accepted his fear, anger and jealousy, and had decided to be content with that...but that acceptance had not come in moderation, and he had let it all bring him to a standstill. Now, more than ever he needed to raise higher -- and also sink deeper. Playing at retirement and a so-called normal life was not going to fix anything. 


Learning and growing was. 


The Goldsmith's guild. Little Ala Mhigo. Mor Dhona. The destinations instantly etched themselves in his mind. There was work to do before the dam burst and plunged all into chaos and blood.



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Firelight danced off of polished wooden walls, adding orange lightning at the backdrop of the red-embered glow. The fireplace responsible hosted two large, soft and red  armchairs before it, both placed down upon dark red carpet. Between the armchairs a simple stand featured several bottles of expensive alcohol and an ashtray, all of which remained untouched for the time being. 


A grey-haired Highlander man sat in the left chair -- rather comfortably, at that. He was a bit short for those of his kin, but his broad frame and hardened features made the mark of his clan unmistakable. Granted, he was dressed crisply in stylish Ul'dahn business attire. Loose, long-coated and adorned with gold trimmings and precious gems. An eye-patch concealed his left eye -- but not the horribly deep scar that cut through his forehead and cheek both above and below it. The other eye stared lazily into the fire, the reflective silver having adopted the red glow. Relaxed though he was, his body language spoke well enough of expectation. 


There was a knock on the heavy oaken door to the room, which bid no movement from him save his mouth. His voice was gravelly, yet held no shortage of authoriative confidence. "Come."


The portal was opened with not a sound, and an elegantly dressed Highlander woman entered. She was far younger than he -- yet still bore the presence of a person of ten and twenty. Her own colour choice was blue; a deep, evening shade of it that dominated the outfit, down to the earrings and the jeweled clasps that held her long black hair in one. The dress had left her arms bare; it was there, without the smoothing cover of blue material, that the harsh musculature and scars of battle showed -- at least, until halfway down her biceps, from where a long pair of gloves finished the outfit. 


Ordinarily the old Highlander stood in the presence of a lady -- but for some reason he remained seated, still staring into the fire with barely any regard for her at all. Had it not been for the minimal beckoning gesture toward the adjacent armchair, it may have been easy to say that he'd missed her entrance entirely. Nevertheless, she swept toward the chair and sat without complaint. 


"Help yourself to anything you like," He offered calmly. 


The firelight clashed with her brown eyes as she turned to look at him a bit warily. He still hadn't looked in her direction. "No thank you, I don't partake in any of this."


"That's fine. Do you know why I've called you here?"


"I can't rightly say that I do, but I did attend the function you requested me to. It was...pointless, and stupid. Almost insulting, how those people live while others suffer." She seemed to catch herself then, "Though I understand why you do it."


"Of course you do. Moving on, I called you here because I don't think Fyrhaerz will last long on the board. When he falls, I need you to take over. I trust you not to fall." The man's hands clasped on his abdomen, a fist cupped in a palm. "Will you do this for me, Oda?"


Oda turned her gaze away from him and tipped her head back. "The resistance needs me, Gunnar. You've done much for me, but I don't know if I can turn my back on this. The time is getting close."


Gunnar simply sat there in silence, his eye still on the fire. 


"...but if you supply my group with weapons and armour -- even a few mercenaries..."


"Consider it done."


"They can't know that I'm consorting with an Ul'Dahn businessman." 


"I'm not Ul'Dahn. I worked for this position so I could help in this way," He reasoned, "I'll muddle it as best as I can, but if people protest I need you to reason with them."


Oda turned to look at him again -- she allowed the incredulity onto her features easily enough; after all, he wasn't looking at her. "You're putting an awful lot on me here."


"It isn't without its reward."


"Or risk."


"That's how these things work, Oda. Do this for me, and you will get everything you need. Both for your group, and for your ambitions." The palm on his fist gestured subtly with fanned fingers. Whatever Oda's ambitions were, they were enough for her to lean back and consider in momentary silence. Gunnar was patient, though it wasn't long before she relented. 


"How long do you think Fire Heart has?" She asked carefully.


"Not long," He answered with confidence -- vague though as it was.


Her pause was again drawn out. "Alright. I'll take that time to prepare. If his students survive, I want them. They can do so much better than him."


"I'll arrange it," Gunnar promised. 


"Then we have ourselves a deal," Oda declared. With that said, she got to her feet. Gunnar seemed to take issue with it, though he didn't move. "Where are you going? Sit with me a while. You must be tired after the gala, and I could use the company."


Oda froze; even through the sweeping evening gown the tension in her body was obvious -- most prominent at her exposed shoulders and neck. Still, she managed to take a seat again...this time with her eyes firmly fixed upon the fire. "I don't need convincing any more, Gunnar, I said I'd do it. I won't turn back on that." In a complete departure from her self-assured tones, her voice wavered. The fire seemed to be the most interesting thing in the realm. 


Next to her, Gunnar slowly began to turn his head in her direction. He was blurred in her peripheral vision, but she could already see the white of his awful grin, and sensed the terrible silver of his eyes. Her breath quickened, but she steadied herself and centered her spirit -- she was strong enough to endure his pressure, his presence. For a while. Yet, every reminder of it filled her with terror, and that terror fuelled her obedience. Oda was very aware of how much Gunnar revelled in that. 


The glass bottles next to her began to crack, and even the fire seemed to struggle. The wood of the chairs they sat in creaked, and the air quickly gained the consistency of thick syrup. 


"You're a monster," She whispered.


"Never forget it."





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“You should think on what your master told you,” Ginny advised carefully.


The dark haired Midlander woman had deigned to pay Berrod's home a visit with a basket of fresh vegetables in tow. She'd been surprised to see the man tending a garden of his own, though she knew better than to comment on it. Berrod's pride and sense of masculinity was a fragile, stupid thing. Instead, she had opted to deliver the vegetables and very casually ask for a mug of water. He'd brought out a pitcher and two mugs for them to share while they leaned on the bordering wall to talk. Eventually he'd managed to confide his latest adventures and misadventures in her, and as ever, she had counsel -- especially on what his master had said.


“That I should stop buggerin’ men because if I do, I’ll get disease?”


Her pretty face contorted into exasperated discombobulation, and her arm gripped her mug in a manner that spoke loudly of the urge to pelt it. “Wh-- no, you idiot, not that part! The part about opening your -- things. What were his words again?”


“Ah, yeah," He murmured. In a more confident tone, he repeated the mantra that had been offered to him -- a reminder of a lesson taught years ago.  "Open the chakras to open the body, open the spirit to let it flow through, and open the mind to direct the stream.”


“He didn’t say that lightly, I'm sure. That sounds like one of your obscure training clues.”


“Yeah, it is. I learned that sort of teachin' from him, after all. Still...I’ve opened my body, an’ opened my spirit -- I’ve opened my mind, too, so I dunno what else I’m supposed to do.”


“Hrm -- if you think you’re done there, then I don’t think you’ve opened your mind quite yet,” She hummed behind a sip of cool water. 


It was then that it hit him. He blinked up at Ginny twice, dropped his mug, and grabbed the sides of her head. Her forehead endured the assault of a wet smooch atop it. "I love you," He groaned. 


"We've been over this, I'm engaged now," She grunted as she raised the mug for use as a bludgeon. It was enough warning for him to let go of her -- Berrod wasn't much of a gentle man, and had been squeezing the sides of her head quite hard. 


"Yeah, to that runty rich boy, I know -- but that's not what I mean. You're right. You're absolutely right. I still need to finish openin' my mind. Finish directin' the flow. I've been only directin' half of it so far -- the rest I've been dammin' up...lettin' it trickle because I'm afraid of it. That needs to change. Rhalgr's Levin, Gins, you're bloody brilliant."


Slowly, she lowered the mug and set it onto the low wall. "I'll take your word for it, Berry. It sounds like you figured out what he wanted to tell you," She smiled at him in that warm agonizing way that reminded him of feelings he worked every day to forget. "So I should head home and leave you to it. Tell the boys I said hello, will you?"


Berrod grunted and stopped to gather his own toppled mug, along with hers and the basket of vegetables. "I will. Tell your fiancee...bah. Don't tell him anythin'. I can't stand the bastard."


"I'll send him your best!"


"It'll be a lie!"


"I don't care!"


She had turned and whisked away down the street, trailing the scent of her perfume. The smell of it made him feel alive, good...and guilty all at once. Ginny hadn't been off the mark though. There was work to do, and the sooner he started, the better.




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"The gods will never forgive this affront!" the priest bellowed defiantly moments before his guts were spilled onto the floor of the church with a wet, splattering noise.  Gasping in pain and shock, his hands clutched at his spilled insides.  His wide eyes gazed upon the ruined mess as if he was frantically divining sacred purpose from the entrails.  Engulfed in the horror before him, he never saw the second swing of the sadistic looking axe that parted his head from his shoulders.  His head bounced away, rolling down the rows of burning pews as his body fell into a heap and twitched.


The butcher's eyes followed from beneath a hood that shadowed its face.  It beheld the remains of the congregation, now crimson ruins of muscle and organs, and their sacred site that was slowly being consumed by a hungry inferno of green fire which ate it's way through stone and wood alike with an unnatural appetite.  Hissing and popping filled the air, sounding as if a thousand vile serpents were filling the rafters.


Hefting the dripping axe, the armored figure stomped forward, their red cloak billowing behind them. Reaching the door, the hood and the shadowed face that lurked somewhere beneath turned to gaze at the crest of the Twelve.


A contemptuous snort filled the air.  The axe swung again, cracking the stone epitaph.  Over and over the axe fell, stone chips splintering away.  The last etching of earth to vanish was Nald'thal's, and this one was defiled with a noticeable enthusiasm in the figure's hacking. 


Once the figure was satisfied that his blaspheming was complete, they turned and strolled out into the cold night.

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Somwhere in the shroud


With a bit of caution a man taps his linkpearl and speaks into it.


"This is asset Crow, verification number 6613 utilizing emergency frequency. If there is anyone listening your honest working mercenary is well alive and severely lacking payment for all my hard work, I am unable to get into contact with empire soldiers on this side of the wall. Requesting a means to get beyond the wall and link up with command to get back to work and make good on my contract."


He ends the transmission, he has sent multiple transmissions but to no avail, he is hoping something will work out soon for the air is filled with the charge of impending battle and he plans to make quite the amount of coin off of it.

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The seats of the couch were soft. Too soft. It felt like sinking into a vat of bean paste, and the overpowering scent of incense permeating the room was nearly as foul. Every time Kagero attempted to adjust, the cushions would merely adapt to his movements and sink even further, and so he'd been restricted to keeping his body ramrod stiff so as to prevent further abduction of his body by the cushions and keeping his sheathed sword across his lap.


The exterior of the Ruby Bazaar was a rather nondescript Ul'dahn style building, but the interior was as ostentatious as it came. Lavish rugs, exotic incenses, and impeccably polished woodwork dotted the trade office as if a treasure hoard had exploded within its confines.


This is taking too long, Kagero thought to himself through slightly gritted teeth. It was supposed to be little more than a short jaunt; a brief meeting to clear up a discrepancy in the transactions. Trade with the foreigners had been profitable thus far, but the Kozakura clan's liaison with the East Aldenard Trading Company had been an infuriatingly tardy Lalafell.


"Are you uncomfortable, my lord?" Seated next to the Midlander was a fair-haired female Raen, dressed in the style of the western merchants and poring over a business ledger.


"If I find that any of the cushions in our estate are like this, I will be very upset, Sekka," Kagero muttered. "A cushion massacre may be in order." The Raen did little more than give an amused smile.


"Is he always this late?" Kagero glanced at the chronometer ticking on the wall.


"If Dadanzo appears in the next ten or so minutes, then I would say he is alarmingly early," Sekka sniffed rather disdainfully.


And so did ten minutes pass, with Kagero desperately trying to keep himself afloat atop the cushion before the double doors on the other side of the lobby opened. A squat, bearded Lalafell raised his arms in what was a worryingly facetious display of welcoming.


"I do offer my sincerest apologies for the wait! There had been certain issues from the home office I had to deal with."


"Not at all, ser," Sekka said politely. The two of them rose and entered Dadanzo's office. The Lalafell took a seat in a leather chair behind a desk, motioning for the Raen and the Midlander to take a seat. Sekka did so politely, but Kagero was more than happy to remain standing after the ordeal with the couch. Dadanzo raised an eyebrow but cleared his throat and spoke.


"To what do I owe the pleasure of the Kozakura's personal attention?" the Lalafell said cordially. It took a measured effort from Kagero to keep from frowning at the clearly disingenuous tone of the merchant.


"A dispute. Our estate sold your company twenty cases of Eastern liquors. I understand that we have only received payment for eighteen." Sekka stood briefly to place the ledger on the Lalafell's desk, pointing a finger at the appropriate entry. "My lord Kagero saw fit to accompany me in case you were not satisfied with speaking merely to a representative."


"I am only here to be window dressing, don't mind me." Kagero said, the corner of his mouth twisting somewhat. Trade disputes. Trade disputes were awfully boring, and the less time he had to waste with them, the better. "But an explanation would be appreciated."


Dadanzo sighed, adjusting his spectacles. "We've only received eighteen cases thus far. I expected that the purpose of this meeting was for you to tell me where the other two cases went."


Kagero raised a brow. "Truly? In that case, I suppose I have an inkling as to where they've gone." A gusty sighed escaped his lips, the Midlander scratching his head before turning to leave. "Sekka, send some dockhands to our warehouse in a bell or so." The Raen gave him a somewhat confused glance before nodding.




To call it a "cove" would be a bit too polite. It was little more than a tiny inlet just outside of Kugane. As Kagero expected, there was a small rowboat present, with two sizeable crates that he presumed contained the missing liquor. A trio of ratty-looking Midlanders were just about to shove off when one of them noticed him.


"Rasho," Kagero sighed again, rubbing his forehead. This was all such a pain. "Stealing liquor? Really? After going through the trouble of having gotten you legitimate work, too. Being a dock worker isn't all that bad."


The scruffy Hyur called Rasho scowled, pulling out a small knife from within his vest. "It'll be all we need to start somewhere else."


"You've sunk a bit low from robbing tea houses, haven't you? I don't mind that you've squandered your chance at...well, redemption is a bit too strong a word, but I do care that you're making trouble for me to the point where I was sent to the trade office." Kagero thumbed the circular guard of his sword. "Also, really? You tried to leave from here?" He jabbed a thumb at the clearly visible docks. "You know everyone can see you from there, don't you?"


"We'll just be leaving now, my lord, and then--"


Rasho's boast was cut off by a resounding thunderclap-like boom. The ruffian gurgled, blood filling his throat as a small hole made itself known in his vest, before the Hyur fell over. The smoking revolver in Kagero's hand made a small click as the cylinder cycled. "Yes, right, all of that," Kagero said with a remarkable amount of disinterest. He wagged the barrel of the revolver at the other two thieves, and then at the two crates they had loaded onto the row boat. "Bring those back to our warehouse, please. I don't like exerting myself."

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Another letter to Grimsong

((The package for @vanitysruin contains some Thanalan teas and a few… novels. The title of “Thirsty for Rhalgr” explained all that it needed to.))


To Ms Delial


I hope you are faring well and staying out of too much trouble? I have not heard back from you and I must admit to being just a little worried. Are you up to something? Something dangerous without me to look after you? ?


Roen received my gift and mentioned that she might gift Gharen her griffin. I think I have sent her too many friends? Do you think so? I remember your saying that you were with Gharen. Does he like the griffin? How are they doing, well I hope?


You are not off doing something dangerous are you? I have visited the Shroud. I have heard the rumors. I know what people are saying. I know how deeply connected and how much this can mean to you.


Please, please let me know if you need something. I am sure you are speaking with Roen more than ever too. Please.


You are a good friend.




The Lalafell laid on his back, surrounded by fur, feathers, and various other animal hides of his friends. Some were asleep. Others were competing with each other over who would rest next to Kage while the others were taking up spaces along the larger companions' backs and sides. Baloo's ears flicked at a sigh that the Lalafell let out before tucking his head to rest alongside his paws.


Kage's eyes were drawn to the east, that monstrosity in the sky. Just as he'd told Delial, he'd heard the whispers. The rumors. He had a pretty good idea that if Delial and even -Roen- was up to some danger, that was involved.


It was really quite tempting to go make sure that they did not do something so wholly.... well, himself. But, he knew better now. He would wait. He would wait for them to call if they needed it. He would wait and be ready to welcome them for a good long night's rest with good food when they came... back?


Where was 'home' for them now? For any of them?

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Berrod felt as if his face was going to explode.


It was true that he had quite a temper, but recently he had learned to still himself in the face of the many aggravating circumstances and provocations he faced on a daily basis. The not-so-simple ritual of breathing, thinking ahead, and remembering his place had served him well many a time. In that moment, that ritual was experiencing a critical failure.


The source of his ire was no less than his master, Ronsen Armstrong. Together they had traveled the dust-blasted landscape of the Fringes and entered the temple carved into the very mountainside by the first monk. The first Fist of Rhalgr. Schism was its name. Berrod had been told tales about it by Master Armstrong himself, but this was the first time he had ever laid eyes upon it – much less stepped inside. It was a dark, cold place, replete with the architectural stylings associated with the old order, including a statue of the Destroyer himself. The two Highlanders did not buy their entry easily; they were made to combat frigid spectres of spirits without rest, given corporeal form in one of the most horrifying fashions – bhoots. Nevertheless, the pair had persevered and their obstacles laid low. Berrod had felt a fresh exhilaration in the victory…until Master Armstrong chose then and there to have words with him on the very topic that would ever return.


“I am glad to be back here again, though my nostalgia is tainted with a sense of disappointment and sadness a tits state.” The man’s cold, pale blue eyes seemed to glimmer in the limited stream of light, “In many senses this temple reminds me of you. Strong; a call for nostalgia, a place of hope…now ruined…rife with potential yet bereft of the will to realise it properly.”


Berrod was glad that it was too dark for the absolute crimson at his neck, ears and nose to be visible, though he still imagined that Armstrong felt the heat that radiated from his fury. He stiffened in that awfully telling way that he usually did – and his master saw prey fit for the taking. The fuming Highlander wanted nothing more than to shatter the other man’s jaw with a good swing…but he knew better.


Ronsen Armstrong was already an imposing man by his own right – Berrod was tall among his kin, but Armstrong had the advantage of three ilms over him. While three ilms did not seem like much, combined with thick, corded musculature and damn near unbreakable bones, Ronsen was less of an old man than a golem made flesh. It was true that age had lined him slightly, and faded the red of his hair into a wild, coppery mane…but it had not brought weakness. Not a whit of it. The master knew as much, and so continued on his train of thought.


“You did one thing right, I suppose. You carried things on as I had asked, just in case…though your choice of pupils leaves something to be desired. I’ll admit that there are a few who showed great promise. That there was even one is a boon that a beggar cannot afford to be particular about. I’ll do what I can with them. You can rest and return to your pirate and wood-bloods.”


Berrod must have given something away in his expression; Ronsen’s own face perked with intrigue that tilted his head just slightly. The younger man was only barely able to perceive it through the haze of his fury.


“Ah,” The master hummed, “I’ve struck a nerve. I’ll not apologise for speaking truths, these circumstances are of your own making. We should continue – I want to keep this promise to you at least, before we part ways. You should be honoured that I’m still bothering.”


“Shut up.”


The words had left Berrod’s mouth without thought, and without even a moment for him to consider restraining them. The moment that followed was a deathly silence; Ronsen stopped talking and his entire face froze mid-word, while Berrod himself felt the chill of the cavern nigh snatch the soul from his body. Never before had he spoken thus to his master, and with good reason. Master Armstrong was a relaxed man because he was a powerful man, and that power was shamelessly brought to bear when applying consequences to ill thought-out actions.


Very carefully, the master gave the estranged pupil a chance to retract. “What was that?” The tone feigned a hardness of hearing while still threatening dire retribution in turn.  Berrod, however, had already decided to commit. If he was going to die there he’d die satisfied.


“I said shut up. I’m not afailure because I didn’t turn out the way you wanted me to. I’m not weak because I’m not strong as you. I’m not a bad teacher because my students are odd.” He jabbed a finger in Armstrong’s direction, “What I’m worth ain’t for you to measure. Never has been.”


Ronsen stood and listened with a stony calm that usually settled before a mighty storm. His eyes never left Berrod’s – even as the younger man continued to rant.


“You humiliated me in front of them, so much so that I don’t know if they like you very much. That’s not what I care about though. I don’t care about what you say or do to me. The way you’re goin’ now though – they’re gonna be miserable with you and I hate that idea. I hate that you moved from a man who just wanted to make sure that the art lived on to an arrogant old bastard who doesn’t know when to  mind his damn business and let people do what they need to do to grow.” That finger struck out again, “Stop talking about my family, they got nothin’ to do with you. If this is how it’s going to be, then you can choke on your swivin’ promise.”


Berrod was not given a chance to breathe for the next section of his tirade. Ronsen stood before him one moment, still and disdainful. The next, the older monk’s instep was but an ilm from the side of Berrod’s neck, moving with a speed and force quite capable of messy decapitation. He was fast. The younger man had only a fraction of a tick to process all of that and move accordingly.


Ronsen’s leg connected with a hastily presented left forearm, braced with Berrod’s right hand. The student’s feet shifted apart on the stone walkway as the impact sounded as cannon fire in the cavern. Pain exploded through his flesh and bone – which did not snap, for a mercy. Armstrong peered at him without expression, his leg still extended. Berrod suffered only a moment of conflict, but it was a moment that cost him dearly. Several rapid snapping kicks lashed at his guard from that very leg. They assailed him with such intensity that it was all he could do to stay standing and weather the onslaught. His arm felt like it was about to shatter, and his hearing was assaulted by the whipping crack of it – the cavern only served to echo and intensify the din tenfold. There was no choice left for him to retreat and retaliate.


Berrod could at least match Ronsen’s speed, though his left arm was useless for the time being. He blasted back in with a straight thrust toward the older man’s solar plexus, hoping to catch him in the follow through of the kicks. The old man was not so unwise as to leave himself open, however, and managed to turn the charge into a throw. Wrapped hands clutched Berrod at the wrist and belt; Ronsen used his standing leg as a pivot and took his student’s momentum to task. One spin sent Berrod flying toward the foot of the Destroyer’s statue. He rolled roughly along the dusty floor and collided with the pedestal. Spread-eagled and dazed on the floor, there was no hope for him to defend. Ronsen was over him in an instant, and pressed one of his gaiters firmly onto the younger man’s throat. The master glared down at him with unmistakable killing intent.


“Do you believe those words so fiercely that you’re willing to fight me to defend them?” He asked calmly. The older monk even had the grace to lift his foot a little and allow Berrod a reply. Berrod was not deterred, for the first time he felt a clear sense of purpose – even if it meant that his throat would be crushed for simply declaring it. He believed in himself, he believed in his pupils, and he believed in his path – and so he spoke.


“I believe in ‘em enough to fight and kill you to protect ‘em. I believe in my students, and I’ll protect ‘em with every breath I’ve got left.” The words came out as a bit of a breathless snarl, but they held weight nonetheless. He stared into his master’s eyes with conviction – no anger, no hatred…just purpose.


Ronsen nodded. “I see.” His foot applied pressure once more; Berrod was prepared to struggle to the last. Then…he removed it, and exhaled with an exasperated inflection that made him look twice his age, “It’s about bloody time.”


Poor Berrod was all but sure that he was about to die. While the reprieve was a relief, it did leave him quite flummoxed – too much for proper words, at first. “Buh…?”


The master simply deadpanned at him, then beckoned, “Get up, you look so stupid like that. You finally regrew your damn stones. I’ve been waiting for that since you came the first time. We’re going back outside to climb the rocks and visit the Circles of Answering. Rhalgr knows you need the practice.”


That was all he said; Berrod was only granted the sight of Ronsen’s broad figure traversing the walkway once more toward the cavern’s exit. “Are you gonna train me?” he asked somewhat hoarsely, “I thought I wasn’t your student anymore?”



“You’re not, fool,” Armstrong chided. His back was still to the younger man – though he stopped. “You’re my peer. I’m not going to train you. I’m going to train with you. Hurry up. The sooner we get this started, the sooner I can keep my promise.”

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Everything hurt. That in itself was not unexpected, nor was it any sort of hindrance. It had been a few days since Berrod's outburst in Schism; days that had been occupied with intensive training and assisting the Resistance when needed. Atop the Circles of Answering Master Armstrong had pushed him again and again. The younger monk had been convinced that the training would be his end -- but Ronsen only showed Berrod that he was too strong for that. 


Strong as he was, Berrod was not invincible. His left arm was still quite sore from the kicks it had been forced to endure -- not to count all the other blows that it had sustained during their training. Ronsen had done his best to provide some sort of healing...though time would have to do the rest. It wasn't a problem; Berrod was no stranger to soreness. 


He was very grateful for the moment's respite on the third day's sunset; the skies darkened as the sun sank beneath the wall in the west and gave way to the sweeping cool of evening. The monks had taken a short trip from Schism to the Velodyna to bathe. Berrod was grateful -- the day's grime was heavy upon him and he stank terribly. His clothes were soaked with stale sweat that had become far too sour to ignore, and his body had gone a stage beyond musky to the unbearable. Master Armstrong fared no better, and grumbled about smelling like 'a minotaur's armpit'. Their clothing would need to be washed the following day and left in the sun to dry; fortunately they carried interim outfits in their packs. 


The younger monk wasted no time in stripping down; he was still letting his hair down as he sloshed into the water. It was yet warm; the land below still afforded its heat -- night would come to claim it swiftly. The water was only waist-deep where he waded, but it did not stop him from submerging himself completely for just a moment. Refreshment coursed through him; every muscle sighed in relief. The outermost layer of filth was shorn from him as he emerged, and so began the active effort to wash it all off. Ronsen made his way a few yalms past, and set to bathing both his body and his gargantuan red mane. 


For the life of him Berrod had no idea why his master kept it that long, it seemed like such a hassle. He'd never asked, either -- something like that was none of his business. In the end, he didn't care about it for more than a momentary wonder. His cause for concern, however, laid in the myriad scars that mapped Ronsen's body. Cuts from blades, claws, and even a few puncture marks were all painted onto the broad muscles of the older monk's back -- many of which Berrod did not remember being there previously. A frown pulled on his lips as the other man dipped below the water to get himself properly wet. It couldn't hurt to ask, really. The pair hadn't had much in the way of small talk, and the topic of scars was as good a starting point as any. He took a deep breath and steeled himself for the awkwardness to come.


Ronsen emerged from the water like a wild beast; his hair flung water in an arc that splashed quite a line in the river. Fortunately Berrod was not hit by it -- that would have been an irritating circumstance. The older monk had resumed washing himself off, when he caught Berrod staring. Granted, it was not an unsavory stare; Berrod had just been waiting to start the conversation and had simply forgotten that gaping at another person was rude. Still, Ronsen's face crumpled into irritated displeasure. "You're staring," He grunted, "Stop that, that's disgusting. You're disgusting."


It was Berrod's turn for a facial contortion. First, a moment of confusion, then a move to outrage as the other man's words registered. "What? No -- get over yourself, I'm not starin'." A moment's pause. "Well -- I am, but I was waitin' for you to come back up so I could ask you something about your body." His hand made a general gesture in the other man's direction. 


The horrified look on his master's face both angered and entertained Berrod immensely -- though he hastily sought to clarify before things could escalate further. "I mean your scars. You've got a lot more than when we parted ways last. How'd you get them?"


That was enough to defuse the affronted and potentially accusatory air about the master, whose presence simmered as he simply continued bathing. "When we parted, I went to see to some unfinished business," He offered vaguely, "I'd say that you have too few scars." It was his turn to squint and stare -- which was evidently not at all a crime, "And they're all so light-coloured and faint. I have to strain my eyes to see them. I had so many more at your age."


"Yeah, well, maybe I'm just better at deflectin' harm than you were."


"Our training in the Circles would say otherwise."


Berrod had to chuckle at that. "Fair. You trained with the Fist, your trials were harder than mine, by far. I was just a refugee -- that and I had you and...and Gem to protect me."


It was strange to see how much Ronsen's face lit up at the mention of Berrod's mother's name. It was a painful-looking mix of fondness and sadness that made Berrod feel like a fist was closing around his heart. For just a moment, he wanted to smile...to remember her, to laugh with him about her. The woman he always had in his heart, mind and soul, even if he never mentioned her to another -- no she was too precious to share like that. Far too precious...


...which is why he sent a lashing splash of river-water in his master's direction. "Oi, oi! What's that look about, ah?! Don't be makin' that kinda face when I'm talkin' about her! Pervert!"


For a reply, Berrod received a well-aimed dousing, courtesy his master's sweeping palm. "Pervert?! Calling me that while you're staring at another man while he bathes! Gem was a dear friend and I wouldn't betray your father like that, even if he was dead!" 


Berrod was going to kick even more water at Ronsen, but curiousity stilled his hand -- or leg, in that case. "...what was he like? My father. Gem always talked about him, but she was biased, you know? I only see his face in dreams, and I don't remember what it looks like when I wake up." 


The older monk scowed and grunted. "He was annoying, just like you. He was a proper Ala Mhigan, though -- dark skin, bleached hair. Strong. Everyone was surprised when you took after your mother."


That fist around Berrod's heart closed tighter. How he hated to yearn after what was lost. "...did you get on well?"


"No, we didn't. People thought we were always fighting over your mother, but it wasn't like that. They were short sighted and foolish. We just clashed on a lot of things. I respected him greatly, regardless."


Berrod had opened his mouth to ask more, but Ronsen lifted a forbidding hand. "Finish your bath, and let me finish mine. I'm not going to talk about these things while standing naked here with you on an empty stomach. I'll cook us something and you can ask all you like. It's about time you did, too -- you were a damned constipated young buck." 


While the younger monk suffered the urge to clam up out of spite, he was truly desperate for Ronsen's accounts of his father, and of their life before. It was something to make him feel even more attached to the cause, something to fuel his fists as the worked toward liberation. It was something that would make it easier to join in on conversations with the twins about family.


"You got yourself a deal."

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Chaos in Bucket Street!


This article would be posted in Ul'dah's local newspaper.


From our reporter, N’haran Tia. 


Eyewitnesses say that it rained splinters last eve in Bucket Street, one of the infamous alleyways of lower Ul'dah. Although precise details of the events are scarce, one bystander was willing to indulge some information about the event to yours truly.   From what we can currently tell it appears the chaos in Bucket Street was the culmination of an argument between a small group of travels and "The Ward of Bucket Street', a gang of Brigands who have taken over protection of certain parts of lower Ul'dah in favour of the Brass Blades. Although this humble reporter can nay say if the intentions of 'The Ward' are benevolent or not, The Brass Blades strongly disapproves The Ward's business practices of asking travellers in the district for a toll.  


The eyewitness we've spoken mention that the group of travellers was intercepted by a group of Ward toll collectors. After an argument ensued, it became clear that the travellers were not intent on paying the toll with disastrous results…for the toll-collectors. During the brawl that ensued, the Ward suffered at least five casualties in what can only be described as an expert flurry of axes, arrows and formidable exotic weapon-handling. Although the members of the Ward are expected to recover from their wounds following treatment, it will take a while longer for some of the structures in Bucket Street. One eyewitness reports that one of the group of mysterious travellers was seen bringing down parts of the balcony connected to the Brass Blades guard complex from several tens of feet down onto the group of toll-collectors.


Although The Brass Blades have turned a blind-eye to the happenings in lower Ul'dah before, one spokesman of the city watch has mentioned that 'damaging Ul'dah's defensive works' is a crime several steps up compared to the brigand behaviour show by The Ward. The Brass Blades were at the scene relatively quickly, but the group of mysterious travellers had already made themselves scarce. The same could not be said for the members of the Ward, which were screaming in pain or were unconscious as soon as The Brass Blades arrived.   Although the members of The Ward will now all be called to answer for their crimes in court, the band of mysterious travellers still remains at large. The Brass Blades are said to start an investigation into their whereabouts.

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Dearest Annunu,


I write to you from the less than illustrious Castrum Oriens, just beyond - yet still falling under the shadow of - Baelsar's Wall in the Fringes of Gyr Abania. Given the speed at which the Alliance is seeking to finally press their advantage against the Garlean menace that holds such sway in the area, there hasn't been much time to improve the quality of life around the facility as of yet, but I seek to make do. I have managed to acquire one of the officers' chambers through no small efforts of my own, and while a bit spartan for my tastes, I believe I can manage for the interim.


I have even heard tell that the Warrior of Light himself has deigned to make an appearance in this grand operation, which is certainly going to be a great boon for our forces. While I have not seen him myself, I figure that is because the Grand Companies are likely keeping him busy with various odds and ends until we have determined the best way to utilize both his physical prowess and the general influence someone of his stature brings to the fore. They certainly seem quite complacent in assigning him menial chores and guard duties given his position.


As for me, I have been tasked to provide my tactical expertise to aid in Vice Marshal Pipin Tarupin's plans for assaulting one of the key Garlean facilities in the area - Castellum Velodyna. Given the ample time allowed to the enemy forces to build up and entrench themselves in this land, the campaign will be troublesome enough even without this tactically important location effectively corralling our forces through the Striped Hills and thus into the lowlands of the Peaks. A location which is overlooked by not one but two Garlean facilities - one of which is less Castrum and more giant weapon platform. It will likely be crucial for our forces to disable that facility and, as such, securing a more direct route for our forces is of utmost importance in my mind.


The issue remains, of course, how to assault such a well-positioned and well-defended location. Sabotaging the supports is out of the question, of course, otherwise we effectively cut off our own advance... and simply throwing numbers at the entrenched enemy will just deplete our forces with negligible effect on our enemy's. As such, my mind turns to something a little more subtle - some manner of misdirection to disorient the enemy and striking in the confusion with a spearhead force to seize control of the facility, preferably with the Warrior of Light at the forefront for maximum disruption. I cannot speak overmuch of my ideas here, lest this letter get intercepted by the enemy, and as such will simply have to speak with the Vice Marshal on the matter later.


For now, though, know that I greatly miss your steady presence at my side and do hope to swiftly return to yours once this whole mess has been properly sorted. Perhaps then we can finish our journey - so rudely interrupted by this war effort - to visit all the holy stones of the Twelve, and finally be joined in holy matrimony. You remain at the forefront of my thoughts as I aid in directing our Alliance's forces, seeking to secure a brighter future for both us and our descendants. And, Twelve willing, it shall be so.


Forever yours,

Tmesis Oan

Tactical Advisor to the Maelstrom

Castrum Oriens, the Fringes of Gyr Abania

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Oh, Chuta.


Did he truly think she didn't know about the hole he kept digging and refilling?


She didn't even bother to dig it up herself.  She wasn't the only one watching.  Was he too drunk to feel eyes on him?  Or maybe he wanted others to see, to know.  Those who keep secrets often want someone else to find out, after all.  An, whose life was nothing but secrets, knew that particularly well.


She just wished the tears that kept threatening to spill from his eyes as he stared into the hole would finally escape.  But a secret lost all of its power once revealed.

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"Got a moment?" 


Ki Grimsong paused to suck in deeply on the cancer stick that was smoldering fiercely from his lips.  Like a pensive dragon of the north, the miqo'te tensed as he slowly turned his head and shot jets of smoke from his nostrils.  He peered out from behind his round, shaded glasses at the face of the person that had been naive enough to waist his time.  Ki pulled his hands from his red jacket's pockets and rolled his fingers.  He sniffed and flicked his ears, the bomb earring he wore from his left ear shaking as he did so.


"Got coin?"  Ki replied in a gravely pitch, his tail twitching.  He was already late and this man was just increasing his tardiness.  Out here, in the Golden Bazaar, all there was to do was drink and make things. And he was on his way to do the first.


"I have an offer for you to make some." replied the figure.  The person, whom Ki was tempted to call male but couldn't be sure since they wore flowing robes and had their face wrapped up in a shoal, was annoying him. 


"Listen, pal, ain't really interested."  Ki spun and began his march toward the bar and blissful inebriation. 


"Is that a fact 'architectus veteranus'?"


Ki immediately went for the pistol at his side as he heard the rank,throwing his coat open as he spun.  The figure was already aiming a magitek pistol at him and Ki went deathly still as he looked from the weapon to the masked face.


"Who are you?"  Ki snarled, pointed fangs flashing as his lip curled.


"Mercenaries like you kill for coin, yes?  I want to offer you lots of coin to build us things to kill lots of people."  The figure drew back the hammer of his firearm.  "And, I don't think you are foolish enough to say no."


"You clearly don't know me." Ki replied.

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The postmoggle set flew into the Duskbreak, setting the letter on the table.  On the outside of the letter was Howl's name, as well as Warren's and Sei.  Once the postmoggle left, the letter would sit there to it was open by one of the others of the Dusk.  The others that would open it would find this letter inside.


Dear Howl, Warren, Sei, and the others,



We arrived at Castrum Oriens early yesterday morning and the unit is settling in right now.  No word yet on what Dagger unit will be doing and if we knew, I could not send word back to you and the others for fear of the Garleans getting their hands on the letter.  Sam...I mean Captain Robinton said that until they have a mission for us, we will mostly do patrols around the Castrum.  He is allowing some of us to return to Ul'dah to pick up some supplies.  I hope that I'll be able to return with the group to at least help with one more Grindstone before we are assign our next mission.



I also think that Sam and Tanya, as she is here with the Adders, are worried over the last flashback I had from when I was last held in a Castrum.  It didn't help that Fabrellet was in it for some ungodly reason.  I'm fine, really...I just miss you and the others.  I hope you are doing well, Howl, and I hope the next time that we see each other that I'll have a gift for you.



Please take care of yourself and the others.  I and Kit miss you and the others.




John Waterstrike

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The red head woman walk into the area that Samuel's unit has taken over when they arrived in Ala Ghiri.  Before she could go and speak to him, she was tackle by the blue hair and purple highlights miqo'te.  "Tanya, I need your help."  Even as she protested, and watching the amusement of the other soldiers in the unit, she was drag to the far wall, away from anyone that might overheard them.  "I need you to get this to Warren when you get home."


Tanya Waterstrike shook her head.  "John...little brother, you can send this by post moggle..." and trail off when she realize John was shaking his head.  Her eyes narrow at her brother.


John blush a little then pass the letter to her.  "Open it." he said, eyes watching as she unfolded the letter.  Green eyes moving over the lines of the letter.





I regret to let you know that I was unable to get a spot on the supply train.  I'm sorry I'm not going to be there to help you and the others at the Grindstone.



We have arrive safely into Ala Ghiri and have set up camp here.  Captain Robinton is with the other Flame Captains, working on the last details of the attack that the Alliance plan for Specula Imperatoris.  It is the one last gate before we move on to reach Castrum Abania and hopefully take out the massive cannon that could be aim at the troops as we try to push into the Lochs.  It will be only a matter of time from entering The Lochs that we we'll soon set to work on regaining Ala Mhigo.



I know that you and the others will be worried but with their own troops in Specula Imperatoris, they won't use the cannon on us during the fight.  Please make sure that Howl doesn't try to do anything rash.  I'll and the others will do our best to stay alive. I promise, Warren, that I’ll help free your and Hannah’s home from the Garleans.



I hope to be home soon and miss you all,

John Waterstrike



Tanya look up at John.  "Are you sure you should be sending this?"


"It's why I'm giving it to you." John said, tugging at his glove.  "I know you will get it to him.  And if you are attack...I know that you would destroy the letter before anyone could get a hold of it."


"I just worry.  This is war and we don't know what they will do with the cannon at Abania."


John shook his head.  "I have to believe that they are monsters...no matter what they did to me and Kit at that one Castrum."  He lean in as familiar yet not familiar arms wrap around him.  "They wouldn't attack their own people?" he said, though to Tanya's ears, it seem more a question to her.


"I'm sure they won't but still...please be careful.  It will still be very fierce fighting at Imperatoris.  Do not over use your aether, John...though, I'm sure that Howl wouldn't mind letting you sleep on his shoulder."  She pride herself with not giggling as she saw the inside of John's ears turn pink, and a muffle "Tanya!" came from her chest.  She release him from her hug and brush some of his hair away from his eyes.  "I'll make sure that Warren gets this, John.  You just stay safe."


"Eagle...come on, Cap is back!" the Ala Mhigan call out.


"I'm on my way, Pathfinder."  John gave her another quick hug before running off to join up with his unit.


Tanya shook her head, slipping the letter into her pack, and getting ready to make her way to say goodby to Samuel when a figure melt out of the shadow.  "Ack...." she said, staff already coming around to hit the head of the figure, only to be stop by a single dagger.  "I really hate that," she said, once she realize who it was.


Shun "Blade" Sanada lower his dagger before bowing deeply.  "Forgive me, I did not mean to over hear your and Eagle's conversation," he said.  "I was returning from my scouting when I saw you both."  His eyes focus on the miqo'te as he was lost into the crowd of other soldiers.  The pair began to move in the same direction as John.  "You need not worry.  Dagger unit will watch over him and each other."


Tanya smile.  "I know...yet, I just want him to come back home, safe."


"Then we will make sure he does." Blade said, bowing.  "The supply train will be leaving soon.  I think you should go ahead and say your farewells to Cap."  And with that, he was gone, disappearing into the crowd.  She move in a slightly different direction, making for Samuel.  Perhaps, once she reach Ul'dah, she should speak with that Captain Erik Mynhier.  John did speak highly of him and had heard from one of his members...Kestloan...Kestlona that they might be in need of healers for their unit.

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Chachanji sat quietly on the roof of his smithy, staring out across at the glittering pattern of lights that was a Goblet at rest. A Goblet winding down and settling in for the evening, ready to be wrapped up in the tranquil night until the morrow rouses it once again. And the cycle would begin anew.


But the little Lalafell couldn't sleep so easily, not after all that had happened. He could still feel the heat of the fireballs around them and against his back, the frigid bite of the blades of ice that had cut open his cheek as he sought to lay the attackers low. His fingers traced over where those icy shards had marred his freckled cheek, before they were erased away by the healing touch of sunlight. The burn on his back had been taken away in the same way, but not the memories of it.


No, the memories of the event were still there. But it wasn't the memories of the injuries that kept him from bedding down for the night, no, but that of what came after. Of those that had fought beside him, kindred in dealing with a shared foe, turning their hatred and malice against him once it was over. Just because of his beliefs, or perhaps some twisted view of him. He wasn't quite sure.


All he knew is that the moment his "usefulness" to them was over, they had forcefully cast him aside. Shunted him away. Degraded and berated him and took what needed to happen next into their own hands. As if he wasn't there, as if he didn't matter.


I don't know if I can handle being around them... Chachanji thought to himself - a strange mental voice separate from the one he used day-to-day. That one, affected by a mishmash of accent and slang he had picked up to first hide his heritage and then maintained due to it making people smile, was for others - to make them happy. In his own head, his voice was still that of the young, displaced Doman Lalafell who had left his homeland to chase after his brother so long ago.


They just feel so... hopeless. They've wallowed in it and steeped themselves in it for so long that it seems like even the briefest glimmer of hope has been snuffed out. Like they've forgotten to think about the good things in life only to focus on the bad. There is no bright side, only what darkness they see as little more than an eventuality.


Rather than embrace the light, to dare to hope for better things for themselves and others, they cringe away from it. Revile and vilify it; seek to drown it in their sorrows and their cynicism. To drag it down wherever they find it and smother it, so that others are as hopeless as them.


The little Lalafell quietly hugged himself - though not from the light chill of winter that even now suffused the night air. He recalled all too clearly how they mentioned, nay flaunted, the horrible experiences in their lives. Reveled in it - as if it put them on a pedestal above him because they had suffered so much. To the point that even Chachaji's own darker steps in life were pulled from the dark recesses of his mind, flung back at them as if it was a defense against them. But to no avail, for their darkness was overbearing.


... It's stifling. He noted, his grip on his shoulders tightening. Overwhelming. A sorrow and darkness that hits you like a tidal wave and seeks to pull you under. To have you join them in the blackest of abysses. A nightmare world where only the worst things can happen and all hope is extinguished.


And I don't know if I'm strong enough to pull them back out. If they even want to be pulled back out. That darkness is all they know now, all they want to know...


And yet...


Chachanji lifted his head.


And yet, they cling to her. Surround her. Like their light in the darkness, the lantern flame that attracts the moth. Even that gristled mountain of a man, whose life seems to be fueled by nothing but hate and blood, has done things I never thought he would for her. Still does such things - even if he tries to hide it in his ashy cloud of cigar smoke.


His hands fell from his shoulders to rest gently atop his knees.


I may not have suffered as much as they did - may never match that which weighs them down - but I know enough of that fear that seeks to sink its icy talons in her. Whether they're willing to believe me or not, I know it. Enough so that I'm not going to let her feel that, or the hopelessness that they exude so strongly even as they huddle protectively around her.


And... even if I can't help them, she can. I won't let them drown out the light of my hope, and I won't let them drown out hers either. And maybe - just maybe - through her they can start to see things in a brighter way once again. Begin to trust, to believe again.


The little Lalafell stood up, resting his hand against the armor-shaped weather-vane that twisted and turned quietly in the twilight winds. Feeling it move against his fingertips, seeking to escape his grasp and yet still ever-present all the same. Out in the Goblet, lights were slowly winking out one by one. Homes and businesses finally descending into slumber.


That one... she had asked me if I had hoped. Hoped for a better life, a place to belong, a place to feel loved. And if I had felt it torn away. I didn't know how to answer her, how to respond against that wall of despair and loss.


But I have had that hope, and I've had it shaken. I've lost a home to a blaze of hatred, I've seen a kindred spirit so lost to anguish that she wanted to forget everything, I've seen the furious gaze of a sibling staring blankly at me as he chants his offensive magicks. I've seen that same brother fall to my hand, rendered comatose and crippled so that thousands of others may live.


... And yet, I've also found a second home here in Eorzea, with good friends and my family at my side. I've heard of my own homeland taken back from the grip of the Garleans. I've seen that selfsame kindred spirit revitalize under the loving touch of her own friends and family, and return to her travels to see the world. I've watched my brother wake from that coma and, while he isn't - or may never be again - that loving and caring brother that I remember... he's still alive and has managed to find some manner of happiness of his own. And that's still something.


The leather of his gloves creaked as he tightened his free hand into a fist.


That's my answer: I've had that hope, but - more importantly - I still have that hope. And I won't let them take that away from me. And I won't let them take hers either, both for her... and for them. I don't want to see anyone else end up that dour and hopeless. I don't want to see them that dour and hopeless, but especially not my friends...


... Never my friends.

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An wasn't the type of person who was used to having other people's thoughts in her head. It didn't surprise her particularly that the first night was the hardest. Unfamiliar bed, unfamiliar thoughts, dreams of blades and serene skies and oceans of grass rippling in a foreign breeze.


They weren't unpleasant dreams, but An's mind was rigid and disciplined, and the first time it happened, she forced herself awake, her hand fumbling beneath her pillow for one of her daggers and her camisole soaked through with sweat. Nonsense, of course. It wasn't like they were nightmares. She knew intimately what those felt like, the weight of them in the hands, the beating heart and racing mind that took forever to school to stillness.


She rolled over to stare up at the inn room's ceiling, awake enough to sort through thoughts and emotions, categorizing each into neat mental boxes. An's. Annunu's. Now, Maboroshi's. She could FEEL the stone that lay on the bedside table as if her pulse ran through it, the sharp, precise edges, the way it was cool to the touch but warm at its very center like an egg about to hatch. She had never touched a soulstone before, much less had it react to her, accept her, sing to her like this one had. It unnerved her, and had it been anyone else's soulstone - had they not obtained it under the circumstances they had - she'd have flung it into the abyss without a moment's hesitation.


And there was the matter of Chuta to be considered. He, too, had recently acquired and begun to master a soulstone such as this one. How would he feel that An had been chosen by a stone far gentler, far less cursed, than the one that had guided the blade which had taken his wife's life? An knew well the torture that control of the stone was inflicting upon him. Their trip to the eastern lands in the summer had been proof of that, of that pain that continued to haunt him. And now a second trip, with Harvest and the strange Subtle Raptor to the wilds of the Azim Steppe, had brought An to Maboroshi's stone and her own uneasy journey.


And - she had killed again. Been forced to kill, yes, but she would have without hesitation. Chuta would be so disappointed in her. That weighed on her gut uneasily as well. An Imperial presence in the Steppe, violating Maboroshi's burial site, taking his sword, which she supposed was by rights Harvest's or perhaps even her own with the acceptance of the soulstone... and the mysterious Tribunus that had so easily deflected all of their attacks... It had been a very long time since she had felt so helpless.


The Tribunus had called to her specifically, to serve the Empire. As if Annunu Nunu, mistress of Neo-Khamja, would ever do such a thing. But another worry. Why her, and not Raptor or Harvest? Had he seen weakness in her heart?




She closed her eyes, Maboroshi's memories whispering in her mind. The young Harvest, learning the blade. The memory of the katana in her hands - Maboroshi's hands - felt right, even though she herself had never held such a thing. Her small hands were made for a perfectly balanced, and probably poisoned, dagger. Her way of fighting was the lethal strike from the shadows, the tricks of a shinobi, not the elegance and precision of a samurai's dance with death. She was... lower than that. Unworthy of that, perhaps.


But perhaps also... such power would be required to defeat that Tribunus. It would mean a lot to return Maboroshi's sword to Harvest, after all, and An found herself increasingly taking risks to protect him, for all that he was her ostensible bodyguard.


She rested her head back on the pillow, resigned to dreams of the sun-drenched Steppes.

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Loops' knock on Gunnar's office door was always distinct. For one, it rapped from far lower than many of his usual non-Lalafell visitors -- though the old man could always tell it wasn't a Lalafell due to its somewhat feeble impact. Feeble or no, it distracted Gunnar from his work of perusing several proposals and business plans to expand his mercenary wing of the company. They were all neatly laid out on the dark wooden desk before him like tiles of parchment, each one ready to be picked up and looked at at a moments notice. Gunnar had to admit to himself that the view of the crackling fireplace only a few yalms from his desk inspired some rather rash impulses. Nevertheless, he bid the boy enter.


Loops was less than impressive for a boy his age in terms of looks. He was hyuran, that much was sure -- and very likely of Highlander stock, given his three or four ilms' advantage over other boys. No more than thirteen summers of age, he stood with a head of dark, scraggly hair that fell on either side of a smooth face that was often flat with melancholy. His eyes showed interest in few things, dull save for the spark of intelligence behind them. Usually he was dusty, and dressed in loose, dusty clothes -- but today he seemed to have bathed and put on a set of tattered but laundered trappings. The shirt was a bit too big, where the sleeves went a few ilms past his fingertips and the lower hem skirted his knees. The trousers seemed to fit fine, though below them he wore no shoes. The boy made sure to close the door behind him before addressing his host. "Hello, Mister Gunnar."



Gunnar himself was dressed in his usual; a casual tunic of Ul'dahn style -- though today he eschewed the shirt underneath to leave his arms bare. With the densely packed, scarred muscles and his eyepatch, he looked quite a bit more like a desert bandit than a businessman. It was an intimidating thing, likely presented on purpose. His silver eye moved to the boy. "Welcome, Loops. I didn't expect you today. I'd have had your favourite meal catered and brought here had I known. Please, come sit." He gestured toward one of the two plush chairs before his desk. "To what do I owe the visit?"


Loops scuttled to the chair and climbed into it with enthusiasm that betrayed his age. It was a bit of a scramble, concluded with a wiggle that situated him properly in the comfortable cushions. He offered a polite smile to Gunnar before his face settled back into the default, yet harmless melancholy. "I saw you walking in Ul'Dah with Ulfarr yesterday." There was a distinct attempt at avoiding an accusatory tone.


Gunnar leaned back in his chair and set his arms on the rest. His head tipped to the left as he regarded the young boy. "And so you did," He confirmed, "What of it, then?"


While Loops' face betrayed naught, his hands did root from the oversized sleeves to find each other and wring amidst the loose cloth. "You're enemies now. Did you kill him?" This time the waver in his voice was there, as was the tension and apprehension that took his small frame. Fortunately the latter was mitigated by the absolute sheet of a shirt on his back.


Gunnar remained placed for a drawn out moment, then sighed, "I did not kill him." Loops seemed to deflate with relief, though Gunnar continued to speak, "We have in fact reconciled our differences, and allowed for bygones to be bygones. While he is not in my employ, I have invited him to remain as a companion -- and will work to make sure that his family's interests and safety are also taken care of."


Loops ended up with his mouth open, and his rickety torso leaned forward. He had not the mindset to try to hide how happy he was about what had just been said -- though a wariness took him before long. "...are you deceiving him? Is it a trap for him, or the others?"



Gunnar's laugh made the poor boy jump, and he had to offer a soothing apology before he responded. "Not at all, my boy. It -is- part of a design, but not a trap. You like, Ulfarr, no? You've become fast friends, if I'm correct."


Loops grimaced and embarrassment both scrunched and reddened his features. "I don't like-like him," He established firmly, "I don't like boys like you." He didn't like girls, either, but that was neither here nor there. Other people were nasty. "But yes, he's my friend, and if it's not a trap then I'm glad. I don't want him to die."


"I'm well aware of that," Gunnar noted, "Which is why, when all this is over, he will join us, and you will be able to build on your friendship. By extending my hand to him, I have ensured that you will suffer no loss. I know you've been agonizing over it. You no longer have to be caught between us."


Loops' melancholy had absolutely evaporated -- he leaned forward with both hands clutched on the edge of the desk, eyes and mouth wide in a smile of wonder and adoration. "...that's really wise of you, Mister Gunnar -- I'm -- I'm sorry I started talking to him without your permission --"


"You can speak to whoever you like, loops, you are a free man."


The boy 's chest swelled, he was called a -man- of all things, freedom be damned. Joy burst from him such that he lunged, scrambled over the table (and sent a few of the documents flying besides) to tackle the older man with as crushing a hug as his skinny arms could manage. "You're the best! You're the best! Thank you, Mister Gunnar!"


"Please, Loops, I only --"


"No, I mean it! This is the best thing that has happened in a long time! I promise I'll repay you for it! I'll use Bobo and Lobo to do whatever you want, no matter what it is!"


Gunnar lifted a hand to give the boy a few pats on the back, and was glad that the lad could not see the savage satisfaction and triumph in his nigh bestial grin. "I would like that very much, Loops. Very much indeed."


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Berrod saw the savage triumph in the dark eyes of his opponent when his leg swiped an ilm short of what would have been a finishing blow. The opposing Highlander had managed to push back at just the right moment, even after being led into the spot where he had stood. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Berrod at all -- he had been told that the man was skilled, and their intense bout had only served as proof.


Caine was his name -- a greedy bastard of a Highlander who stood just ilms short of seven fulms. The man’s body was packed with dark muscle, draped in loose, flowing tan cloth that allowed both breath and motion. Quite a bit of that cloth had become stained with dirt, blood and sweat during the fight -- some of the blood and sweat were not his own. His dark brown hair was securely tied into a compact bun at the back of his head -- though a few strands had come loose and matted to the side of his scarred, bearded face. Inky black eyes regarded Berrod with nothing short of astonished killing intent.


Berrod himself was dressed in ironic wares -- he’d donned a pacifist’s vest to meet his master that morning, only to be sent on a mission of murder. The gauntlets, bottoms and boots were of the standard Ala Mhigan variety. All of it was soaked with sweat and well-dusted. His exertions and rolling about on the floor had seen to that. Blood poured out his nose and smeared from a cut on his chin; it dripped to form a spotty, sweat-mingled delta upon the cleave of his chest. Two nasty, purple bruises marked his flank. The fight had taken its toll.


Yet, his finishing move had come short -- just one ilm short, much to Caine’s wild delight. The follow-through of the kick had left Berrod’s flank exposed, an opportunity that the dark-eyed Highlander full well intended to exploit. It was no easy matter; several of the flurrying, spinning kicks prior to the final missed one had crashed hard against his guard -- one had even crashed right into his chest. Both of his arms screamed in agony and his breathing was a chore. Still… still his chance had come. His victory was assured. For that reason he met the Armstrong’s eyes with smug triumph...only to see a cold, murderous finality in the other monk’s green gaze.


It was a chilling thing, that stare. Where Caine’s exultation had been wild and whooping, Berrod seemed to regard him in a manner that marked him as undeserving of life. In that bright green there was no remorse, no deliberation. Just simple, solid, nigh mechanical purpose that revolved around utter confidence even in the face of apparent folly. Caine found himself only momentarily intimidated before pure fury took hold. His outraged served to put motion back into his battered arms. Biceps bunched, forearms corded, and all was set in motion for a twin strike that was meant to reduce Armstrong’s kidneys to paste.


It was only after his arms pushed forward that he noticed the tiny, spherical distortion in the air between them. It had been left in the wake of Berrod’s leg, and in his haste to launch a counter-attack he had missed it entirely. The little sphere suddenly doubled in size, and with it came an alarming increase in wind-aspected aether.


All at once it became clear where he stood in the outcome of their conflict; why Berrod’s gaze had remained so cold and confident -- why he seemingly had no qualms about missing the kick. There was no way to escape it; to stop it. Both his arms flanked the sphere -- just as it expanded into a spherical, cyclonic blast. The last sight Caine saw was that of both his arms being reduced to red mist and shattered bone by the expansion of the sphere. It was quick and painless.




The resulting detonation of wind and lightning aspected aether flung Berrod back several yalms. He had yet to perfect the technique to the point of actually landing properly, and therefore tended to count on it as a finisher. The aftermath left him far too slow and vulnerable to allow otherwise. The sturdy highlander hit the floor in a dusty roll and skidded a yalm or two as the contained tornado raged within its sphere. It dissipated just as he lifted his head to survey the devastation; there was naught left of Caine save for a fine red spatter on some of the nearby shrubbery.


Slowly, painfully, Berrod got to his feet. He felt every last blow Caine had landed on him. None of them had been wasted. He’d need rest and healing before he went after the next. Yet...taking a life had never been something that sat easily, or well with him. The weight immediately settled upon his heart, to the point where he began to swim in the physical pain of his injuries to distract himself from it. The nagging, knowing dread that Caine was only the first was something he could not shut out. There was much work to be done, much blood to be spilled.




As he limped to the spot where Caine had met his end, Berrod considered the irony of the accidentally donned pacifist’s vest. It was meant to be the attire of Gyr Abania’s protectors -- monks who had sworn to defend. To wear it as he murdered wasn’t right. Next time he’d wear something else. Or perhaps he’d wear it again -- to show exactly how far he was willing to go to protect his friends, his family and his land from Bloodblade’s shadow.

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John Waterstrike knew, in that one moment before darkness claim him, that he had push himself too much.  It shouldn’t have surprise him, from worrying himself sick as Kit and the others climb down the ledge to Maril Hawker and Ruran Vas.  The pain from the corruption as the darkness the group face, grabbing the rope to pull Ruran and Athil Thorne up even as they pair climb up it.  It was probably a good thing that he wouldn’t feel the pain as he head it the path, leaving him in painless and dreamless/nightmareless darkness for hours.


The aetherstones in the cover of the book reacted, releasing a just as exhausted Kit from it’s hold.  ‘John?’ she asks in worry.  She place two fingers against his neck, feeling the low aether in him.  She look around but there was no one about at this time of day and she bites her bottom lip.  She didn’t want to leave him in this state but she had no idea on where the others were at.  She didn’t want to do it, this spell, but there was no choice.


She move her hands, forming the pattern that her Master had done, the first time that he use her for their first big heal together.  But she push the fear that she had felt for herself that first time.  She focus on the love and hope, that fuel her to be beside John and attack as her partner ability awoke the dragon, Ryuuga within Howl’s memories.  Remember that moment when John push himself trying to help a soul that was so damage that it was two instead of one.  How strange even now to see the world through John’s eyes.


‘John’ stood up, stumbling forward, and pressing up ‘his/her’ hands to the door.  Kit shook John’s head.  This spell…she remember how dangerous it is, especially if either of them was low on aether.  Pushing the door open, she check the surrounding but there was no one in the room.  She move to the hall, quickly finding John’s room, and ducking them both inside.


She stumble them both into a chair as she tried to get John to the bed.  It took a minute but she finally ended the spell.  Kit hover about John’s still body for a moment before settling against John’s neck.  She lean against his neck, taking exhausted comfort in that low but steady beat of aether.  She close her eyes, ‘love…you…’ she murmur, the fairy finally giving in to her exhaustion as well.


(Blog post can be found here.)

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The soft crashing of waves against the docks of Vesper Bay didn't slow the large private ship's docking in the slightest. A couple of the dock workers shouted random insults to one another, none the wiser that the gloomy skies above were potentially a sign from the Twelve of bad things to come from the arriving ship.


A well dressed elder midlander man waited patiently as the ship finished its final preparations. After several seemingly long moments, a lone passenger descended the ramp of the ship. The feminine figure wore a dazzling white and gold robe, with an equally elegant hood to hide her features. With the refined elegance of a lady, the woman in white approached the manservant and placed a hand outward with palm facing down. The servant quickly and gently took the hand before kissing the ruby colored ring in a clear sign of subservience.


"Welcome back, M'lady. It has been years since you've been to Eorzea, yes?"


The woman didn't respond, simply taking in the sights of her surroundings in quiet reflection.


"Erm," the elder manservant cleared his throat before continuing and held out a folder of various parchments. "As requested, I have status updates of all the individuals you inquired about. Their current relationships, their current jobs, primary residences, and so on. You should be completely free to roam anywhere of your choosing. That being said, I do advise that you stay away from Gridania and the Shroud for the time being. Though the evidence against you is indeed no longer in the picture, it's better to be safe than sorry. Is there anything else you require of me M'lady?"


The woman slowly removed her hood, letting her indigo hair flow freely and revealing a faint smile on her lipstick adorned lips. She took the folder offered her, flipping through the parchments therein for a brief moment. The many familiar names served a jab in her heart that brought forth a hint of rage in her eyes. "That will be all. I'll take it from here."


The man bowed and excused himself. It had indeed been years since Elza Ashfen Felstar had been in Eorzea. There was much to do. So very much indeed.

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I've been wanting to describe this scene where Chip discovers his new "superpower" for a while now, and since I wasn't sure if I'd ever post things like this again, I thought I'd toss it here instead of creating a whole new thread. Kudos to anyone who reads it all :P Chip, Lady Amara, and the snippit of Sorrel belong to meeeeee. I don't own the Ancient Language, which is used a time or two in here. It's the primary language used by Lady Amara and Sorrel because I like its unique and "magical" feel. I chose not to translate these words in the text because I'm lazy because it's fun to lookup the meaning of words. Please enjoy this post, and no, it's not my longest RP post ever. Huuuue. :cactuar: 


And if you like music, please enjoy this link while reading! 



After all those moons of purposeful avoidance, he still remembered the way there. Moving easily through the swamp gardens, he stormed into the humble abode with enough noise to give someone a heart attack, but its elderly occupant only smiled knowingly at his arrival and arose gracefully from a creaky wooden chair. “You have returned.”

“Yeah, so what?” Mumbled the timely intruder, whose argent depths glanced moodily at the interior. Nostalgia echoed painfully in his fragile heart—he’d not returned here since the few months after the Exorcism. “I ain’t ‘ere fer m’health.”

“A pity. Your recent actions suggest that you would benefit from a visit or two.” Gnarled feet tapped lightly across the floorboards, framed by a layered skirt of ragged fabrics that nearly reached the ground. Without hesitation she cleared the distance between them, ignoring his startled hiss as she cupped his chin with wrinkled hands and studied his pale visage with a frown. “You are regressing without even realizing it.” A whirlwind of thoughts were ushered through the invisible link they shared, a link that only telepaths could tap into. “I sense much anger in you. You are frustrated at what you can never control. Your power grows, but at this rate it will be your downfall.” She pursed her lips, the many wrinkles on her face deepening in an expression of disapproval. “This was not its intent.”

“Ye knew?” The fishercat swatted her hands away, taking a step back to reclaim some personal space, as his face twisted with disbelief. “Ye knew ‘bout all o’this?”

“I knew only that something very special resided within you.” The aging herbalist lowered her hands and continued to study the visitor with a knowing gaze.

There was a brief moment of silence while he processed her words. “An’ Sorrel... where is she?”

“So many questions.” It was as if she already expected the words that leapt unbidden to his tongue, gliding almost serenely across the floor to approach the worn wooden desk that was her study. A quill was plucked from its place atop an old leather journal, and twirled betwixt her fingers. “My finiaril is away on an errand. I thought it best that we speak alone. Think of it as one of our sessions we used to have.” Lady Amara gestured to the wooden chair beside her, a sight that was far too familiar to the young Seeker. “Come; sit.”

“...I ain’t broken no more.”

It was muttered sourly, but Chip obeyed anyway, settling stiffly upon the object. Months together had reluctantly taught him to follow any order Lady Amara gave, for the results that followed crafted a tenuous trust between himself and the old shaman. Curled fists were rested against his thighs, ears pressed tightly against an uncombed mane. A silver gaze shifted nervously like a hunted animal. “I wanna know wot it is. Every time I get angry, it feels like—“

“Hush, bran.” The elderly alchemist spoke in a voice like gentle ocean waves. “He is not back; he is gone forever. You are your own person now. The anger you feel is natural, but what facilitates from such an emotion is quite rare.” A visage framed with strands of starlight stretched into a warm and reassuring smile. “You are not broken, Chip. You have simply gained another talent.”

“Another... talent?” He echoed, his brows furrowed into an expression that was desperate to understand what she meant. It was not an expression unfamiliar, and it pained Lady Amara as she recognized the confusion that swam through his mind. This was oft his state when in the presence of an Ashkin brother. “Yes. I foresaw its presence, but knew not of its emergence until after you were Cleansed. Now that your aether no longer has its own elemental aspect, it reacts as it did so many árangrs ago. An example resides in your pouch at your waist.”

“M’pouch?” The younger fishercat obediently reached into the pouch nearest his backside, gloved hand clasping the velvet-embraced crystal nestled within as his expression morphed into that of sudden realization. “Skycat told me what’s inside would keep me safe... from him.”

“What is contained in the crystal is aether that is elementally aspected to a particular element. Your body absorbed the attributes of this element, causing you to reflect its characteristics for a short time.”

Chip gently pulled the crystal out of the velvet sleeve, inspecting the amber-colored tetragonal object with wonder in his eyes. “I did?”

“Indeed, vinyalenu, but it was never intended to be a weapon. Your brother had requested the aether simply to aid a hungry seithr, but he gifted its vessel to you instead. He now sees the crystal only as a weapon to wield against himself, but it will likely kill you first without proper training.” The aging herbalist held out a slender hand wrinkled with age, fingers akin to twisted branches outstretched and inviting. “I require its return.” Every syllable floated calmly off her tongue and endless patience rolled off of her humble form in waves. Chip was to be given all the time he needed, but Lady Amara also had her way of influencing one’s mind—naturally, of course. Her eyelids closed and she slowly inhaled as she listened to the caterwaul that was the young fishercat’s mind.

“But he...Skycat gave this to me.” Uncertainty ignited in the middle of his consciousness, beckoning bittersweet memories both recent and old that retold the sharing of two precious Starlight celebrations. “This is Chip’s Starlight present.” The gloved hand tightened protectively around the tiny crystal as a familiar voice echoed throughout the fragile chasm of his mind.

”Promise me... you’ll keep it close.

“That if anyone should survive the Reaper, it will be you.”

“...I promised him.” Though the words were nearly whispered, they were confident and resolute, bespeaking the youth’s incredible loyalty. “I can’t fail him again.”

Golden orbs were unveiled beneath opened eyelids as Lady Amara smiled sadly at the desperate Miqo’te. “You still carry so much love for him, even if he can no longer return it. It is a tragic burden.”

“It ain’t a burden.” A flinty glare met her own, but the herbalist only chuckled lightly at his anger, quietly noting how the crystal pulsed a faint amber in his fist. “Mor’ranr, young one. I do not mean to offend your yawë. I only marvel at its strength.” Saffron depths alighted upon the crystal, its color nearly matching her own gaze, and she exhaled what sounded like a sigh of dismay. “Though I fear your Starlight gift may jeopardize it entirely.”

The very air of the room shifted, and the fishercat felt his neck hairs prickle with a sudden sense of foreboding. A source of great power had been called upon, and with a startled gasp, he felt the crystal in his fist begin to tremble. “Eitha,” murmured the old witch, and immediately there was a blinding flash of light. Chip was quick to raise up his hands to shield his eyes from the brilliance, but it faded just as soon as it appeared. “Much better.” Spoke the apothecary, lips pursed into a pleased expression as she straightened against the wooden frame of the chair. The young Seeker slowly lowered his hands to frown questioningly at her. “What t’hell was—“

“A simple act of retrieval.” Replied she, her voice calm and unperturbed as she gestured to his fist with a nod of her head. “No need to carry my essence where it is not wanted. The crystal is yours now.”

Chip carefully unfurled his fist, his posture stiff and wary, as if expecting some sort of danger to his person. Unblemished and translucent, the empty vessel was startlingly mundane against nocturnal cloth. “...gone.” It was whispered to a hand that trembled faintly with a flare of emotion. “It’s gone.”

“Nan, Chip.” Murmured Lady Amara, quietly seeking to soothe the angry roar of his thoughts. “The crystal, your förn, is still right there. What has vanished is the weapon, which you are not yet ready for.”

“Then teach me.” Ragged and resolute was the voice of the wanderer. Argent depths gleamed with a determined light as his fist tightened once more around the plain tetragonal object. “I wanna save Skycat in whatever way I can.”

Petals widened into a smile tinged with sorrow as she heard the desperation in his voice. How he longed to help someone whose fate could not be undone. “I can only provide you with the knowledge to keep yourself alive. What you do with it is up to you.”

There was silence as the young Seeker took a moment to process her words. More might’ve been shared, but it was at that moment that the entrance was disrupted by a second visitor who paused with surprise in the entryway. Purest depths of evergreen took in the sight of Chip as her hands tightly clutched the basket of herbs she had dutifully gathered, but there were no more words spoken that afternoon. Quick was the young fishercat to rise from the chair and gather his things, and without a final glance at either of the hut’s residents, he exited the Crooked Broom.

Lady Amara merely sighed and scrawled a brief note in her journal.

“He’ll be back.”

Edited by Chip
testing the spoilers tag

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