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The Covington Manor, East Shroud, 1561


The door slowly shoved open, a pair of wide, blue eyes the color of a cloudless sky peeking in through the the crack a few ilms wide, a button nose set beneath them, and under it a pair of soft lips. Through the small opening, she could only see a forearm and a pale hand clutching a pen, busied without writing upon a parchment spread out across the desk. Just a little more... She pushed the door open a little wider, cringing as a loud creak broke the near silence, drowning out the sound of pen scratching over paper. Had he heard? The hand suddenly halted in its writing, and there was a pause before a voice calmly answered.


"I know you're there, Faye."


The eight-year-old frowned, puffing out her chubby cheeks and pouting as she shoved the door open all the way. The man sitting in the chair was a Hyur, tall and broad-shouldered, with silver hair that made one wonder if it had always been that way, or if it was simply greyed with age. Nicholas Covington was a high-ranking soldier in the Order of the Twin Adder, and never seemed to run out of work to do, always either out on the field or front lines, or holed up in his office. His eyes were a shade of blue similar to his daughter's, perhaps a bit lighter, keen and focused knowingly on the girl. Her lips parted to respond, but before she could manage to get any words out, another voice rang out from down the hall.


"Faye, dear, leave your father alone. He's busy. You know to stay away from his study," her mother scolded.


The child breathed an exasperated sigh, only nodding obediently to her father, who offered a gentle smile in return that made his eyes wrinkle at the corners. She stepped out of the doorway, shutting the door carefully and quietly behind her. She turned to see her mother bustling down the hallway toward her, a slender Midlander woman with curly, platinum blonde hair, violet-colored eyes, and the same soft features of her daughter.


"But, Mom, I'm bored," the young Faye whined.


"Bored? Impossible. You have plenty to do. Shouldn't you be studying conjury with your tutor?" 


Faye rolled her eyes stubbornly. "I don't want to study. Besides, why can't Daddy teach me?"


"Your father is a very busy man." She bent down to grab the child's small hand, already beginning to lead her off. "Come now, let's leave him to his work."

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The Covington Manor, East Shroud, 1568



The ticking of the clock was the only sound in the parlor, save for the occasional shift of papers each time the teenage Faye turned the page of the book she held above her face, reading sprawled out over the sofa. Her mother sat in the arm chair nearby, busy mending a busted seam in one of the girl's gowns. 


The older woman suddenly paused in her sewing, casting a glance toward her daughter before releasing her breath in a huff and continuing, though she spoke as she worked the thread through the delicate fabric. "You really need to be more careful, Faye. I don't know how you keep destroying these dresses."


Faye quirked one blonde eyebrow, looking up from her book to peer toward her mother instead. "You and Father keep telling me to work on my conjury. I can't do that cooped inside all day. I have to go outside and practice." 


"And you can't have some more grace as you practice? Honestly, darling, you're nearly sixteen years old. What gentleman will want a lady who can't even keep her garments intact? In a few more years, you'll be nearing the age that you will be no man's prime choice."


The girl's nose wrinkled derisively. "Then I suppose it's a good thing I haven't found any gentleman who I would want in return. I'm not in a hurry. I couldn't care less if I never marry," she protested, burying her nose in her book once more as she resumed her reading.


A look of offense crossed her mother's face, but before she could retort, the sound of approaching footsteps stole the attention of both women. Both straightened, Faye quickly righting herself, sitting upright upon the couch. They turned their heads toward Nicholas as he entered, shoving an envelope into the pocket of his coat.


"What do you think about the matter, dear?" his wife queried, hoping he had caught at least the end of their conversation.


"I think the issue of my daughter's marriage does not concern me until she at least finds a potential suitor. There are more pressing matters at hand," he replied, matter-of-fact. Faye offered him an appreciative smile before his full attention fell upon his wife. "I need to run a quick errand to Aleport. I'll be back before long."


"Wait!" Faye snapped her book shut without even bothering to mark her place, setting it upon the coffee table as she eagerly hopped to her feet. "Let me go. I'll do it. I'm sure you have more important things to be doing. I want to get out of the house for a little while."


Her mother scowled, answering before Nicholas had the chance, "Absolutely not! It's dangerous for you to travel so far alone. We'd have to send some of the servants with you, and that would just be more of a hassle than your father going."


The teen glowered at the woman. "I'll take my staff. I've been studying. I can use my conjury to keep myself safe, not that I will likely have the need. I can't just stay at home all day. I'll grow up to be a hermit. You always say Dad is busy. Let me do it for him."


Nicholas lifted his hand into the air, waving it dismissively to silence the two women and cease their bickering. "Let her go, Selene. She'll be fine on her own. She's practically an adult. If she's old enough to pawn her off for marriage, she's old enough to run a simple errand for me, yes?" He turned toward Faye, pulling the envelope from his pocket and offering it to her. "It's for Mister Dawn, the Roegadyn fellow. You remember meeting him, mm? Simply tell him it's from me."


Selene had no desire to argue with that, and Faye beamed victoriously.

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Skull Valley, La Noscea, 1568


Faye glanced up and down several time, looking between the strange terrain around her--vibrant formations of crystal and rock with senseless, clashing textures and colors assaulting her eyesight and making her cringe--back down to the map clutched in her gloved hands. She had studied and read plenty of maps... but actually following one was something entirely new. She had rarely been far from home, and even then she usually had her parents or an escort of some variety to accompany her.


She gritted her teeth in aggravation. She couldn't believe she was lost! Her first time venturing out of the Shroud alone, her chance to prove herself as her own woman, and already she had blown it and gotten herself lost. Scowling, she spared another glance around her surroundings, finding a tall formation of rocks. With some difficulty, she climbed to the top, using her higher vantage point to survey the horizon. Her lips spread into a triumphant smile as she found a rooftops in the a distance, a small village she was able to glance down onto her map and pinpoint. If she followed the road from the village, she could make it to Aleport in no time. She scrambled down from the tower of rocks, carefully folding her map and stowing it safely in her pocket with the envelope, and rushed in the direction of the town.


She could not have expected what she found there. The small, fishing town was completely abandoned, no one in sight... at least, that was what she thought. As she ventured further into town, she noticed splotches of blood splattered across the ground and walls. She stiffened, freezing in place and unstrapping her staff from her back, clutching it tightly in her hand. Her first instinct was to run away. Whatever had happened here was bad news. If she landed herself in any trouble, she would only make a fool of herself. How could anyone seriously believe she could take herself if she found misfortune on her first trip out alone? 


But what if there were survivors she could help? What if she could catch and apprehend the culprit? Yes, this was her chance to prove herself! She held her staff in a viselike grip, pressing onward with haste before she could change her mind. It wasn't long before she would stumble upon bodies--a couple villagers, several Maelstrom guards, and even more Sahagin. A shiver ran up her spine. Perhaps this wasn't the best of ideas, after all. She dared not venture close to see how fresh the corpses were, but they were certainly not rotting.


Startled, she barely managed to withhold a shriek as something stumbled out of an alleyway right in front of her, raising her staff in preparation to cast a spell. However, she hesitated, seeing it was only a young Midlander man. He looked to be about her age, though it was difficult to tell, for he was covered in blood. A vertical gash ran across the right side of his face, starting at his temple and ending at his cheek, cutting straight through his eyebrow and a closed eye, crimson blood seeping from the wound. "H-help," he managed to blurt out only the single word out before collapsing at her feet.


In a panic, she dropped down to the boy's side, resting her hand upon his shoulder. Her palm radiated with a soft, white light as she sent the healing aether into his own body. However, the gash across his face remained. She poured more and more aether into him, unknowingly drawing from her own energy. She had never healed more than her own small scrapes and cuts. The boy's breathing stabilized and she saw no more blood seeping from his body, but no matter how much she tried, the cut across his right eye remained. She felt herself growing tired, vision spinning and her limbs and eyelids feeling heavy, but she wouldn't stop healing him until she realized the sounds of several heavy footsteps and the clank of armor were moving toward her from behind.


The light around her hand abruptly flickered out and she whipped her head around to look over her shoulder, nearly losing her balance and crashing face-first into the dirt. She relaxed a little as she saw the figures rushing toward her were in Maelstrom uniform. "You two!" The closest one shouted to the two teenagers. "Are you all right?" The man gave a brief pause before reaching a hand toward his ear to speak into a linkpearl, "We need a healer here. We have at least two survivors--kids; at least one of them is injured. We'll need to question them if there's no one else. It looks like the Sahagin have been cleared out of town. Who knows how many they've killed, or worse, Tempered..."


The soldier continued to speak, but Faye had long since stopped listening, unable to focus on his words. A couple of the soldiers had rushed to aid her and the boy, but she barely noticed. She only stared blankly ahead, her vision swimming. Everything went black and she slumped forward, collapsing to the ground next to her unconscious counterpart.

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Aleport, La Noscea, 1568


It was dim inside the tavern, lit by warm candlelight and what little sunshine wafted through the few windows. Faye sat in a chair with a blanket huddled around her, seated across a small table from the Highlander man who had been the first on scene to aid her and the injured boy who now rested on a cot nearby. Several Maelstrom soldiers stood around, keeping watch in their scarlet uniforms. The Highlander fiddled with the envelope Faye had been tasked to deliver with his massive hands for a moment before tucking it carefully into his jacket. "I'll deliver this to Mister Dawn for you. You're in no shape to deal with that and it's no trouble for me. We'll just get you home. You're lucky to be alive and well, and the boy's even luckier..." 


At the mention of him, Faye spared a glance toward the young man before looking back to the Maelstrom soldier. "What about him?"


The large man pressed his lips in a heavy frown, offering a slight raise of his shoulders that may have either been a half-hearted shrug or a silent sigh. "He should make a full recovery and we've found no signs that he's been Tempered. You two are the only survivors. Everyone else is dead or... well, suffice to say, everyone's gone. The entire village was destroyed. I suppose that makes the boy an orphan now, but the lad looks just old enough to take of himself."


Faye only frowned at that, offering no response, deep in contemplation instead. She had never imagined how it would feel to lose her family and her home--she had never considered it a possibility. How would she feel. Lost? Alone? Scared? Vulnerable? Guilty? The man's words soon drew her out of her own thoughts.


"Don't worry about it. We'll find a place for him, yeah? Let's take things one step at a time and get you on your way back to the Shroud. We'll send a couple men to escort you. The roads should be safe--as least as safe as ever--but it's a precaution, you know... just in case. Don't want you runnin' into more trouble."


Faye spared another quick look back at the unconscious boy before turning to the Highlander. "I want to take him with me," she declared.


The Highlander raised an eyebrow in surprise at the sudden statement. "What?"


"My family has the means to take care of him, at least long enough to help him get back onto his feet. I'm sure my parents will agree to take him in at least long enough to find some place for him to go. One of your men can carry him, yes?"


The man scratched his head, still a bit caught off guard by the bold request. "Well, I s'pose I don't see why not. C'mon then, kid. Let's get you two home."

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The Covington Manor, East Shroud, 1568


"I knew it was a bad idea to let her travel so far on her own," Selene's voice wafted in from the hallway, muffled by the closed door. 


Faye narrowed her eyes, trying to drown out the sound of her mother's voice so she could focus on her sewing instead in the dim lighting of the guest bedroom, fixing a busted seam in the dress she had worn the day before that had ripped during her little adventure in La Noscea. 


"She has to grow up someday. We must teach her independence. She came back without a scratch," Nicholas responded in his usual tone, calm yet somehow strict enough that anyone would be hard-pressed to argue.


Despite her best attempt to ignore their conversation, Faye's lips curled into a pleased grin as she worked the needle and thread through the delicate fabric. Getting her father to approve of what she wanted was a certain victory.


Selene, however, did have the gall to protest still. "Without a scratch, and with an unconscious boy. She could have been hurt. You know, when I told her yesterday morning that she needed to consider marriage, I didn't expect her to literally drag a boy home."


Faye grimaced at that, the needle slipping out of her grip, the sharp point of it jabbing into the pad of her thumb deeply enough to draw a single drop of crimson blood. She inhaled a sharp breath, quickly bringing the thumb to her lips to nurse the wound and more importantly lick away the droplet of blood before it could fall on her dress and stain the white fabric. As she pulled her thumb away a faint white light sparked around her thumb, healing aether closing together the small tear in her skin. 


Her mother's words resounding in her head, she peered up at the Midlander boy in question, still unconscious in their guest bed. The deep, vertical gash that ran across his right eye was just beginning to close and mend. Nicholas had said he should regain consciousness within a couple days, but he would be lucky to still have full sight in his right eye. Despite their bickering even a day later, Faye's parents had graciously agreed to let the young man find shelter with them.


She had mixed feelings on the whole affair. The only child was not keen on suddenly having a complete stranger as a brother. Still, she didn't have the heart to question her parents. His entire home--and for that matter village--was destroyed, and the Maelstrom had not yet found any living and untempered survivors to report. He had nowhere else to go, and the Covington family certainly had the means to support him--and she had offered to drag him home with her, after all. 


Perhaps she also had a more intimate investment. Her unsuccessful attempt to heal his eye had felt like a personal failure, even though more skilled healers had failed just the same in their following attempts to close the wound. She had kept watch over the boy all day, but he had not awoken, the most life he had shown the occasional grunt or stir. She returned her attention to the sewing, resuming where she had left off before she picked herself, only to hear another groan and the shuffling of sheets. She ignored it, figuring it was no cause for excitement, at least until she heard a groggy voice speak up, "Where am I?"


She dropped the dress and needle, fabric, landing onto her lap and slowly sliding off onto the floor as she peered up at the boy, finding him weakly propping himself up from the mattress onto his elbows, staring at her with one eye, his right eye sealed shut. "Oh, ah, you're in my family's house, in the East Shroud." She cleared her throat, straightening her posture. "Welcome to the Covington Manor. Faye Covington, at your service," she offered the well-rehearsed introduction. She had no idea what else to say. How do you tell someone their entire home village is gone? Clearly, leaving things to the basic introductions was the best option.


He lifted one hand to cover his right eye, sitting up a little further. "Oh, hi, Faye. I'm Zularti. But how did I get here?"


Faye's teeth clamped down upon her lower lip to chew on it nervously. She couldn't hope to avoid the subject for long. Thus the words quickly spewed out, "Do you remember any of it? The Sahagin attacked your village. I found you bleeding and helped you, but you passed out. They couldn't find any other survivors and most of the homes were destroyed beyond repair. So, ah, my parents said you could stay here with us for a while."


Zularti stared at her blankly in silence for some time before offering a, "That sounds kinda familiar. What's wrong with my eye?"


Once the question had been posed, the dam was once again lifted to let the words flood out. "I don't know, when I found you there was blood all over your face. I tried to heal it, but I couldn't. I-I'm sorry, I did the best that I could, I tried and tried until I fell over, but I couldn't fix it. Neither could the healers who tried after me. Father doesn't know if you'll be able to see out of it."


He seemed to take the news rather well, asking without missing a beat, "Will I get a cool scar?"


Faye simply stared at him, baffled. She blinked her eyes, as if that could somehow help her comprehend his words, before asking, "What?"


"Do you think I'll have a neat scar? Will I get to look like some cool warrior guy?"


"Oh. Ah... sure."

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  • 3 weeks later...

[align=center]Outside the Covington Manor, East Shroud, 1569[/align]


Birds chirped, singing their songs from atop the lush forest canopies. Leaves rustled quietly upon the summer breeze. If one listened closely enough, he might even hear the occasional chittering or skittering of some wild creature. It was the soundtrack of a typical sunny day in the Black Shroud, not far from the Nine Ivies and the Sylphlands, and the perfect background music, Faye thought, to enjoy some reading.


She had to take advantage of the pleasant weather, after all. Of course, her definition of enjoying the fresh air and great outdoors seemed to be spreading a blanket over the grass of the back lawn and propping a parasol along the ground to shield her sensitive skin from the sun's rays. She lay sprawled across the blanket in the shade, propping herself upon her elbows as she flipped through the pages of the novel. However, the subtle sounds of summer were soon interrupted. A sharp noise rang out, echoing throughout the wooded surroundings.


Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.


Agitated, she looked up to see Zularti several feet away, swinging a stick at the trunk of a tall, thick tree in chopping motion imitating an axe. Perhaps stick wasn't quite the right word, though. It was a rather long and sturdy looking branch, likely quite heavy, but certainly not a difficult thing to find in the East Shroud. By a year later, life had long since settled back into a normal pace and it was as if the latest, adopted edition to the Covington family had been there along (and he indeed did end up with the neat scar he so desired, bisecting straight through an eye with an eerie white iris). 


Faye regarded him as a nuisance, but though she would never admit it aloud, truthfully she was quite grateful for his company. He was always chipper, and rarely ever did he speak of his real family or his old life, or whatever exactly had occurred that day in La Noscea. Faye sometimes wondered if that wasn't a bad sign. Was he in denial, repressing it all? Could anyone truly be so happy-go-lucky after enduring something like that?


"What are you doing?" she asked flatly.


"I'm pretending to be a lumberjack!" he answered enthusiastically, but he did also seem a bit baffled she felt the need to ask such a question. Wasn't the answer obvious? He didn't pause in his assault upon the poor tree as he spoke. "Maybe I'll be a botanist someday! That doesn't sound very cool... but it could be if I was chopping down really, really big trees! That's manly, right? Maybe I need something cooler, though..."


Faye rolled her eyes, not dignifying his words with a response as she returned her attention to the opened book, resuming on the page where she had left off. Not long after she had found her place despite the distracting noise of wood smacking wood, a small chunk of wood went flying just over her head, fortunately missing but tearing a hole through the delicate cloth of her parasol. She whipped her head over her shoulder to eye the damage before immediately shooting a glare in Zularti's direction, her face scrunching up in annoyance. "Hey! Watch it!" she snapped sharply.


Zularti, however, either didn't seem to hear or didn't seem to care. "I guess my botany could use some work! I know! I could be a super strong swordsman!" He switched his stance, now slashing and occasionally stabbing with the branch as if it were a sword. "I'll beat up lotsa bad guys and save everyone! I'll be a hero! People will tell stories about me and bards will sing songs; I'll be famous!"


The girl gave an audible huff, hoping he could hear it from his location, her narrowed eyes resting upon him in an angry stare. With one more slash, another piece of his "sword" broke and went flying through the air with impressive force and speed, though this time Faye nor her umbrella weren't to be its victim. Instead, it flew straight up, landing a clear hit on Zularti's temple and bouncing off. Faye's brow furrowed and her lips pursed into a frown as she witnessed the scene, setting down her book without thinking to mark her place and beginning her trek toward him.


The impact had been enough to break the skin, a line of crimson blood quickly forming upon his forehead and trickling down his face and the flesh already beginning to slowly bruise. "Hahaha!" There was a brief pause after his burst of laughter before, "Ouch, that kinda hurt." He gave a belated stagger, wobbling, dizzy and somewhat dazed after the sudden blow to his forehead.


"You're so dumb," Faye grumbled in that tone thoroughly indicative of only an irate teenage girl, lifting her right hand to rest it on his forehead above the wound. Her palm began to radiate with a gentle, white light and Zularti's mismatched eyes peered up at the glow of her conjury, watching her work her literal magic with curiosity. The wound began to mend, torn flesh closing itself, throbbing pain relieved and replaced with warm and fuzzy feelings all over. The healing hadn't completely alleviated the pain of the blow, but it certainly had dulled it and stopped the bleeding. The light around her hand faded as she dropped it back down to her side, instead fishing out a handkerchief from her pocket and beginning to dab the remaining blood from his face like a doting grandmother.


Zularti grimaced, craning his head out of the reach of her hand and the now blood-stained cloth it held. "Hold still!" she protested, stepping to closer to him but for some reason her legs felt uncertain under her weight. She fumbled her footing, nearly toppling over into him, but he lifted a hand to her shoulder to gently nudge her backward and back on balance before her face collided with his chest.


"Whoa! Are you okay?"


She blinked and simply stared at him for a moment, and wondered if perhaps she had been the one who had been struck on the skull. It would explain why she suddenly felt so dizzy and overcome with the sudden urge to take a nap. 


"Of course I am," she answered dryly. "Are you?"

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  • 3 months later...

[align=center]The Covington Manor, East Shroud, 1570[/align]


"Faye," Selene's voice rang out from the entrance of the parlor and Faye peeked up to attend her mother, "dinner is almost ready. Go fetch Zularti."


Faye exhaled an agitated sigh, rising to her feet. Why should she have to go find Zularti? If he missed out on dinner because he insisted on running out into the forest at all hours of the day, that was his problem. Still, she knew better than to argue the issue with her mother. Instead, the pushed herself from the sofa and made her way to the back door, slipping on her boots and lacing them, then throwing on her coat.


She began her trek into the deeply wooded forest of the Black Shroud. He couldn't be too difficult to find; he was never quiet. At least, so she had thought. However, she wandered through the Shroud, finding no sign of him. She knew nothing of tracking and trailing, after all. It was only with luck and nearly a bell of wandering that she manage to see him up ahead, the back of his head unmistakable with that auburn hair and violet highlights, as was the makeshift spear strapped to his back, a sharpened and sturdy stick with a pointed rock tightly bound to its tip.


"Zularti!" she called out, exasperated, as she drew nearer. He turned his head toward her, pursing his lips and holding it his index finger before them, silently mouthing 'shhhh.' She huffed, stomping over to him. "What is it?" she asked in a barely hushed tone.


"Quiet," he responded in a whisper, now using his finger to point forward. "The Sylph are acting weird."


Faye perked a brow, turning her attention straight ahead to eye the creatures, finding three of them a few yards away, watching them flit and float about. There was something strange about them, their movements quick and agitated, green leaves a sickly hue of purple instead. Then suddenly, they all froze, and so did Faye. Had she and Zularti been spotted? The sylphs all turned in sync, but not toward the two teenage Midlanders. Instead, they turned in the opposite direction. From behind them, a heavy boot emerged from the thick brush, twigs snapping as it landed upon the grass. A person stepped into view, a tall and imposing figure, clad in large and heavy armor in red and hues of black and grey, with a strange helmet obscuring their face.


The Sylphs did not take kindly to this presence, growling and seeming to ready themselves to attack. The Hyur pair did not need to exchange words, nor even a glance to understand that was their cue to leave. They both turned on their heels and took off running in the direction of the manor. Unfortunately, the nearest Sylph took notice and turned to pursue the onlookers, leaving the armored figure to its two kindred. Perhaps alone Zularti may have been able to outrun the creature, but in Faye's case, heeled boots and long skirts did not make for a swift escape. The Sylph was close on their tail, and Zularti withdrew his spear from his back, turning to thrust it toward the Sylph.


The Sylph evaded the attack easily enough, calling down a few strikes of lightning from the skies. Zularti leaped out of harm's way easily enough, rolling to safety and smoothly back onto his feet, and Faye tossed herself to the side, tumbling onto the ground outside of the strikes of lightning. However, the two were not the real targets. The lightning had caught a nearby tree, searing it and sending it crashing to the ground, right where Zularti stood regaining his footing. He moved to dash out of the way, but the tree managed to catch his right ankle to pin him to the ground.


Much to their surprise--and relief--the Sylph turned and retreated, floating off at a casual pace. Faye pushed herself to her feet and took a look around, catching sight of Zularti and rushing to his side. Fortunately, the tree was not overly large, and the two were able to push the log off him and free his leg. His ankle, however, was bruised and twisted. Faye grimaced, but before she could remark upon it, he was already trying to stand, though he made little progress before wincing and collapsing back onto the ground.


"Wait--" she finally managed to get the words out, "you're hurt, you can't stand. Stop moving around or you'll make it worse." Zularti huffed in annoyance, but he did as he told--mostly because he couldn't manage to stand, anyway. Faye placed her hand over his ankle, palm beginning to glow with a soft, white light as she mended his injury. The bruises faded, as did the light around her hand, and suddenly her vision spun. She'd never attempted to heal anything more than minor scrapes and bruises before.


Zularti quickly leaped back to his feet, digging his right foot into the dirt and swiveling it this way and that to test his ankle. Faye watched him as best as she could, feeling utterly unable to do much else at the moment before she noticed him brandish his spear again. She followed his gaze to see the Sylph had returned. Its retreat had been not a genuine retreat at all, but a trip back to grab its companions, the two other Sylph at its sides, all three gesturing angrily with their little, leafy limbs. "Get up, Faye!" Zularti called out. "We need to go!"


Faye attempted to push herself to her feet, but her knees felt weak and once she'd made it halfway up, she simply sank back to the ground, dizzy. "I-I can't," she stammered, throat dry, able only to blink helplessly up at him. Zularti glanced between her and the three Sylphs inching closer before he quickly tossed his spear onto his back, moving next to Faye to grab her by the arm and hoist her to her feet. Then, he took off running toward the house, all but dragging Faye behind him as she struggled to simply remain upright, stumbling over the underbrush as he pulled her along.


Everything else was a blur, a whir of green and brown and blue around them as they dashed through the forest. She didn't know how long they had run, how closely the Sylphs had chased behind them, or when exactly they had lost their pursuers. She hadn't been able to focus on anything at the time but keeping her footing, lest she fall and he literally drag her limp form along behind him. All she knew was that at last, they reached the backyard, and he finally released her and she simply collapsed onto the grass, and he shortly followed suit.


She rolled over onto her back, the two peering up at the sky as both caught their breath.


"I'm going to kill you," she finally managed to mutter the words to him.


He only gave a breathless laugh in response and a cheery, "It'd be worth it!"

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  • 5 months later...

The Covington Manor, East Shroud, 1571


A loud thump awoke the teenage Midlander in the middle of the night. She thought little of it, mind too bogged with sleep to give it much consideration, and simply rolled over onto her opposite side, hugging onto her pillow intent to momentarily drift back to sleep. But then there was another muffled thump. Then another. Then another. She groaned, burying her face into her pillow and tugging it over her ears. What was that annoying sound? It was coming from beyond the wall next to her, Zularti's room... No surprise there.


She lifted her head from the pillow with a scowl, glaring into the darkness of her room. It must have still been the middle of the night. She tossed aside the blankets, planting her feet upon the floor and standing from the bed, the silky white fabric of her nightgown falling down to swish about her calves. Her bare feet padded quietly at the floor as she crept toward the door--and at some point wondered why she was bothering to be quiet out of courtesy when Zularti was making such a ruckus.


She slipped out of her room and several paces down the hall, the mini-aetheryte crystal down the hallway whirring with its constant buzzing sound, the hum of its life, as it bathed her and the hall in a vibrant blue light. She paused in front of Zularti's door, light creeping onto the floor beneath it. She lifted one hand and balled it into a fist as if to knock before she thought better of it. Why bother? She gave the knob the a twist, finding it unlocked.


"Zularti, what the he--" she paused as the door opened and she squinted against the sudden assault of light, getting a glimpse of the man once her eyes adjusted. He was fully dressed, the spear her father had bought him strapped to his back, rummaging through his belongings and tossing them into a sack that was resting opened upon his bed. He paused, turning to face her, looking somewhat guilty as if she'd caught him in the act of something. "What are you doing?" she asked.


"I'm packing!" he answered simply with all his usual enthusiasm.


Faye glanced pointedly toward his bag, then back to him. "I see that. What are you doing?" she repeated.


Zularti exhaled a sigh, stepping closer to her. "I didn't want to have to tell you. I was hoping no one would see until the morning. I felt too bad about saying goodbye. I have to leave. I can't stay here any longer."


Faye's pale brow furrowed and she stared at him for a moment, finding some difficulty in comprehending his words. "Why?" she asked slowly. "You don't have to worry about overstaying you're welcome. My parents seem okay with having you here. And it's not as if we don't have enough mon--"


"It's not about that," he cut off her words, his hands curling into fists at his sides. "I have to help people! I can't do that here. I'm not helping anyone sitting around a nice house all day. There's no one else even out here in the woods."


"Help people?" she echoed. "Where are you going, then?"


"Up north!"


"North? North where?"


"To Coerthas!"


Faye blinked at the response, taken aback by that. "Coerthas? Why Coerthas of all places?"


"I want to train to be a Dragoon! Dragoons help people all the time, they protect everyone from dragons! And if I can learn to fight a dragon, then I can beat up anything!" he explained eagerly. Faye did not mirror his excitement.


"But if you leave. How will I--when--what if you--" she fumbled over her words, not even sure what she was trying to say. She had too many thoughts flooding her brain. Would she ever see him again? How long from now? What if he got hurt? He couldn't have picked a more impossible and dangerous task, after all.


"Don't worry, Faye!" he chimed, clapping one hand upon her shoulder in what was supposed to be a reassuring gesture, but held just enough force to make her faintly grimace. "I'll be fine! Just think, I'd be dead if you, your parents, and the Maelstrom hadn't helped me. It's only fair I help other people! Besides, that's the only way I can be a real hero!"


There went the hero speech again. She held her tongue, averting her eyes from his. Despite her doubts and fears, she could tell his mind was set, and there was no changing it. Stubborn as he was, he was match for even her own persistence. He was doing what made him happy, what he felt driven to do. Who was she to try to talk him out of it for her own selfish reasons? She dare not give voice to her worries of losing her best friend and brother to either distance or death.


A hint of dismay crossed his own features with her silence, his fingers curling tighter against her shoulder. "I couldn't save all those people back at my village, Faye. I wasn't strong enough. I never want to have to feel that way again. I want to be able to protect everyone. I want to always be strong enough. I can't fail again."


Faye's blue eyes flitted back to his face, and she had to swallow the lump in her throat before she could respond, only able to produce a shaky, "I understand."


Any signs of trouble were almost immediately wiped from his face, his beaming smile soon returning. "Thank your mom and dad for me. They're both really good people! I think they like to help people, too. I'm sure they'll understand!" He released her, moving to his bed to tie up his bag of meager belongings and lift it over his shoulder to rest upon his back behind his spear. He turned back to Faye, the girl eyeing him uncertainly.


"Don't worry, Faye! I'll be okay! I'll probably still come visit sometime if I'm not too busy training. I'll see you soon!" He stepped toward her, extending his arms to pull her into a sudden, tight hug. Faye stood awkwardly blinking for a moment, unsure how to respond to the embrace, her fair cheeks turning a subtle shade of pink. She wasn't used to hugs, having only received them from her parents, and even then not frequently, especially not now that was she was a fully-fledged adult of eighteen cycles. She lifted her arms hesitantly, returning the hug.


"Promise?" she murmured against his shoulder, resting her head there for a moment.



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  • 3 months later...

The Covington Manor, East Shroud, 1572


Just like that, the Covington Manor was quiet once more, and everything returned to normal. Things were the same as they once were. It was as if Zularti's arrival and departure had changed nothing, and yet, at the same time, at least for Faye, it had changed everything. What once would have been contentment was now boredom. What once would have been peace was now loneliness. No longer was she roped into danger and misadventures. No longer did she spend the day keeping some pesky boy out of trouble and keeping him in line. The lack of his presence was a strange, nagging emptiness she'd never felt before.


She tried to convince herself that she enjoyed the silence and solitude, that she was thankful to be rid of all of Zularti's annoyances, but it was in vain. With nothing but the rare visits from her father, the infrequent nagging of her mother, and her own idle hobbies to distract her, she often found herself wondering where Zularti was, what he may be doing, if he was safe, if he was happy, if he was successful. Some part of her was envious of him. To leave everything behind, be independent and ambitious, it sounded more appealing the more she sat at home reflecting on it.


But such was not the life for her. She was born into a family of wealth and responsibility, roles to fulfill, and so she lingered. Perhaps it was for the best, for it would not be long before Dalamud grew larger and closer in the sky until eventually, it fell, and the Calamity struck. Safe in her family's home, with all their coin and resources, it scarcely affected Faye and her family directly. But as she volunteered her services to the Twin Adders, she saw the horrors the Calamity had wrought as she helped the people of the Shroud to rebuild and assisted in healing their wounded.


It was as soon as Gridania had found peace and prosperity once more that it would crumble for the Covington family, a personal tragedy awaiting Faye on the heels of the Calamity. For a moment, it was if Zularti had returned, thumping and heavy footsteps waking her up once more in the middle of the night. In fact, that was the first thing to come her mind, still foggy with sleep. 'What is Zularti doing now?' However, she wouldn't ponder that before long. More loud noises were to follow: men shouting, women shrieking, steel clashing with steel. Some of the voices she recognized, others she did not. And then a loud noise, the loudest she'd ever heard before, echoing down the halls. A gunshot?


The sound was enough to both send her flying from the bed to stumble onto her feet and render her deaf for a moment. She clambered around her room, struggling to find her bearings before she reached the door, flinging it open. The hall was dark, the only light from the moon and stars filtering in through the windows and the soft, blue glow from the mini-aetheryte down the hall. The noises seemed to be coming from downstairs, but the rushing footfalls and barking voices were glowing closer, accompanied by the sound of jostling metal. Faye's eyes widened and she slipped back into her room, pulling the door shut but leaving it cracked enough to peer through at the scene, her heart thudding violently in her chest.


A servant rounded the corner into her view, running down the hall in terror. He would not make it far, however. Flanking him were two armed men, their armor an unmistakable uniform, the telltale black and red of the Empire. One of the Imperial soldiers held a spear within his hands, thrusting it forward into the back of the fleeing servant. Faye saw the head of the spear poke through the front of the man's chest as he came to a halting stop, his eyes going wide and unseeing, a gurgling sound produced from his throat right before the Imperial withdrew his weapon with a disgusting, wet 'schlink' sound of metal sliding over flesh. The servant fell forward, completely limp, face-first onto the floor right in front of Faye's door with a dull thud, blood immediately beginning to pool upon the ground.


Faye could only watch in abject horror, her body cold and numb. It was at that point she realized she had been holding her breath the entire time, and she drew in a choked gasp. Perhaps that was enough to draw their attention, or perhaps she had screamed at some point and simply not realized it, but either way, the soldiers seemed aware of her presence. The nearest one lifted his boot and swung it forward to kick her door open, forcing Faye to skitter backwards with a surprised yelp lest the door catch her in the face. Her own cry was rendered quite unimpressive in comparison as a woman's sharp, bloodcurdling shriek rang out almost immediately after from the opposite wing of the second floor. She was certain the voice was her mother's.


She had no time to dwell on it, however. Both soldiers loomed over her, beneath his helmet, a wicked grin displayed on the lips of the one who had kicked in the door, the other Garlean apparently quite stoic about it all, his sword and shield still strapped to his back. "Look what we've got here. This must be the girl," the first soldier mused, and Faye narrowed her eyes at him in an icy stare, retreating a step backward.


The man readied his bloodied spear, and Faye's fingers tensed and sprawled apart, the aether beginning to shift in the air around her as she began to conjure the elements. Another pair of feet rushed toward them, stealing not just Faye's attention, but that of the two soldiers as they turned to look over their shoulders, surprise and bewilderment crossing their features. Nicholas barreled into sight, sword clutched in his hand and his sleeping clothes already bloodied. Neither of the Imperials had time to react before his sword cleaved into the right shoulder of the man who had clutched the spear, knocking him to the ground and sending the weapon falling from his hands.


"FAYE!" her father's voiced boomed. "Run!" Faye was frozen, gawking at him for a moment before she remember how to move, though his focus had quickly returned to the Garlean spearman as he reached for his weapon and clambered back to his. The other soldier had found enough time to draw his sword and shield, advancing a step toward Faye. She clenched her jaw, calling upon the power of elementals once more to do her bidding.


She sent a powerful gust of wind toward the man, and though he raised the shield to block it, it was enough to keep him occupied and send him skidding a few ilms backward out of her path. She dashed forward in a panic, ducking around him and slipping through the doorway out into the hall. She froze, glancing left and right frantically, the servant's corpse at her feet and his still-warm blood lapping at her toes. To the left would be the stairs, the smell of smoke and gunpowder wafting that direction and all the clatter from the first floor. And footsteps... more pairs of footsteps hurrying about the staircase, at least two sets.


To the right, a few more rooms and a dead end. As she found herself frantically glancing back and forth between the two directions, weighing her options as best as she could with her racing thoughts, she heard the struggle continue in her room, her father's voice ringing out over the clash of weapons, "The aetheryte!" That's right... perhaps the right wasn't such a dead end after all. She turned to the right, sprinting down the hall as fast as she could, wet feet causing to her slide and stagger a bit at first before bare heels padded soundly over the tile, her nightgown's skirt flying wildly around her calves.


She heard thumping footsteps behind her, growing nearer and louder. She spared a quick glance over her shoulder to see two new soldiers in close pursuit behind her, weapons already drawn. She stumbled as she turned to face forward once more but managed to regain her balance and right her footing before she tumbled, dashing for the aetheryte with renewed purpose. At last she reached it, resting both hands upon the crystal and squeezing her eyes shut in concentration. It was difficult to focus, adrenaline pumping her veins, fear clouding her mind, and the Garlean soldiers drawing ever closer. Just as it sounded as if the soldiers were right upon her, she felt the strange, tingling sensation of her form entering the aetherstream. She had escaped.

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  • 3 months later...

Stillglade Fane, Gridania, 1573


Nearly a cycle had passed since that fateful night in the Black Shroud, and life was significantly different. Covington manor had burned to the ground, little more than rubble remaining. Some bodies had been found, others still had yet to be accounted for, though surely they had perished in the fire. Only Faye and several of the household staff had managed to escape the carnage. Most of them had parted ways, with her parents gone and the family's wealth significantly diminished with the destruction of their home and almost everything in it, though a couple of the former servants would still sometimes pay Faye visits at the conjurer's guild.


Stillglade Fane was home now. Or at the very least, it was where she laid her head. "Home" was gone, a thing that no longer existed. Now, her days were filled with studying conjury and learning to appease the Elementals. They were not exactly pursuits that interested Faye, but the studies were expected if she were to remain there, and she had little else to do with her time but practice spells and take walks through the Twelveswood, regardless. The elder conjurers would never let her do anything too intensive--they told her she had issues managing her aether, that she needed to spend more time among the elements. Though it seemed no matter how much time she spent wandering about the forest trying to learn... whatever it was she was supposed to be learning, she made no improvements.


She still did not know why the Garleans had attacked her home. The Order of the Twin Adder had investigated, but they could offer her few answers. They best they could theorize was that it had something to do with her father's standing among their ranks, and the work they did to protect the Shroud's borders from any Imperials sneaking through. They even feared it might be the first of many strikes targeting their higher ranking officers, but no more attacks yet followed. Faye simply tried to get her mind off the matter. She tried to forget the things she'd seen and heard that night. She tried to pretend everything in her life wasn't foreign and frightening. She tried to pretend she didn't miss her parents, or their staff, or her home. Sometimes, it even worked.


So she spent her days alone in the woods, or in Stillglade Fane with her peers, treating anyone who turned up in need of healing. Perhaps her life had not changed so very much at all, aside from the absence of her home, and her parents, and their fortune. Still, it was a relatively dull and unsatisfying existence, until at last there came a day of some excitement.


She was barely awake that morning as June, one of her fellow conjurers-in-training, zoomed by her, an excitable Midlander girl a couple years younger than herself. She skidded to a stop and whirled around once she seemed to realize she'd passed Faye. "Faye, Faye! The Wailers found some unconscious guy in the woods! Quick, let's go help!" Faye didn't even have time to respond before the girl snatched her by the wrist and tugged her off.


Two Elezen men garbed in the green armor and masks of the Wood Wailers stood on either side of a cot, occupied by the still form of a pale, shirtless man. The Wailers, awaiting June's return, turned attentively toward Faye and her peer as they arrived. "They say they think he hit his head, that's all. He doesn't seem to have any other significant injuries," June explained. As Faye drew nearer, she bobbed to the side to see past the nearest Wood Wailer and get a look at the patient's head, catching sight of a mane of purple-streaked, auburn hair.


Suddenly, she moved forward, nearly pushing the Elezen man out of her way before he skittered aside to let the conjurers work. "Whaddaya think? Isn't he kinda cute?" June asked as she loomed over Faye's shoulder, causing Faye's face to grow a shade whiter than its usual pallor as she glanced over the man's features, a familiar scar etched over his right eye. "No, he's not!" Faye responded, sounding more passionate about her answer than she probably should have.


June exhaled a half-sighed, disapproving "hmph." "Oh Faye, you don't think any man's handsome. I'd think you preferred women, but I never catch you stealing any glances at them, either." Faye paid little mind to the girl, instead settling down beside the cot to assess Zularti. He looked older, bigger, but overall not much different. He was covered in small scrapes and bruises, but sure enough, the only serious wound she could see was a bloody gash upon his forehead.


She reached a hand out to begin healing the wound, but June immediately swatted her hand away, moving forward to scoot in past Faye. "You don't even like 'im, let me have 'im! You're no good at this healing stuff, anyroad!" Faye scowled at the girl but held her ground, nudging her with her shoulder to urge her away as she went about calling upon the elements to tend to him, regardless.


"Jeez! You're so scary when you get like that," June muttered, backing away.


"If you want to help, get something to clean the wound," Faye murmured and June nodded before trotting off, soon returning with a dampened cloth. Once the wound was cleaned, Faye mended it, the two young women simply staring at Zularti expectantly afterward as Faye felt that all too familiar, nagging fatigue set in.


"He's not waking up," June stated.


Faye reached forward to unceremoniously slap the unconscious man across the face.


"Hey! You really need to work on that whole 'kind and nurturing' thing. I told you, you should've let me handle it," June snapped.


A moment later, Zularti's eyes fluttered open, blinking several times in confusion before his gaze wandered over his surroundings, scanning over the faces of the two women before it came to settle on Faye.


"Oh, hi, Faye. Why are you always here when I wake up in some strange place? Do you just follow me around and wait for me to pass out somewhere? Haha, you're a weirdo!" he gave a snort of laughter, grimacing halfway through. "Ow. My head hurts."


"Were you hitting trees with sticks in the woods again?" she asked flatly.


June cast a bewildered glance between the two. "You know him?" she questioned.


"No," Faye blurted out the obvious lie.


"Of course she knows me! We're like best friends!"

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