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Strands [Closed, reposts]

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He'd only been able to sit in the room for a handful of bells before the walls started to talk. It wasn't that he hadn't expected it; the extra room in an opposite wing of the Quicksand testified to that. He'd asked to inspect it prior to committing to it and that had gotten him some looks but he'd established enough of a positive reputation that the small hassle wasn't minded too terribly much. It was a smaller room, which meant the layout was different, and that was precisely what he was looking for. The upkeep on their - his, he corrected himself - room had been met for years, but Momodi hadn't bothered to ask why he would need a second one. She was canny enough, he reasoned, and his expressions were obvious enough. It had been seemingly a lifetime since Momodi had seen him and the "little Miss" entering together though she never thought to question him.


He resolved himself to try and stay in the room he'd called home since before Bahamut but he found himself unable to sit at ease. Too many memories and the wounds were too fresh for him to be able to ignore them. Thoughts turned sour and he wondered how, exactly, he had found himself in this predicament. It was some twisted lesson, some example in a fairytale somewhere. He'd thought he found a purpose in protection and dedicated himself anew to doing it for a living. He'd tempered steel as an excuse to watch those in the Bloodsands work their art, and he'd practiced the steps he'd stolen in the privacy of that very room back when he was the only one who dwelled in it. He'd met small success in starting out, then more in working behind the scenes showing those greener and less blessed than he how to move their feet, their shields and their swords. He'd done well enough to get the attention of the Sultansworn and had impressed upon them enough to be worthy of their title and station.


Now, with experience and resolve and the backing of those who did it for a living, he found himself completely inept at something he had apparently done years before. In the time since he'd set himself inside of pristine white armor, he couldn't count the number of times things had befallen and he'd been powerless to stop them. Even in the aftermath, his care was inadequate. He thought back to happening upon her one day, as if by accident or fate, and scooping her up in his bare arms and running back with her to the city, screaming for help.


For all the trappings of safety and protection, Warren never felt more cut off from the world. What good was armor when it stopped you from feeling? What good was a shield with no one to protect? What use was he? He stood opposite the armor rack, feeling almost as if he could scream at his shell. Resentment boiled over and he felt like all of his time was spent and wasted, years of practicing swordplay for nothing when he'd lost sight of the reasons why he'd begun in the first place. As he had first entered that room, with the shirt on his back and a pocket of gil, so too had he left it.

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He had taken to walking about the areas surrounding the city. Sleep wasn't coming easily now but that wasn't a terrible problem for him. He was afraid what came to him in the realm of dreams would be worse than what inflicted him while the sun burned high above, so while the moon walked its path so too did he pick his own. No grand travel it was by any means, merely into the reaches of Thanalan directly bordering Ul'dah itself, but the sunrise was something to behold nonetheless. He tried to shake his other memories of watching it rise.


He felt lighter in his steps when going like that, and to a large extent he was; He'd left an elezen's weight in armor and equipment back in the room and chose to make his way in just his clothes as he had years before. He felt leaner, too, though he suspected that was primarily just the lack of armor obfuscating his sense of self. He'd hoped it wasn't due to how little he'd been eating. He'd have to remember to wear bulkier clothing in the evenings, when a chance meeting was possible.


He'd stopped at the Scorpion's Crossing shortly after sun-up to see the hustle and bustle of the tradepost. There was something refreshing about seeing the day breaking over honest work that soothed the soul. It was there he'd intended to pick up something of a breakfast and make his way back to the city walls but he was stopped by a bearded and tanned elderly gentleman's plea to the public.


"Isn't there anyone who will help an old man?" He looked aged but not infirm. Humble, loose clothing adorned him and seemed every bit the outcast to the hard-bodied working folk plying their trades and loading their cargo for the day. Some paid the man some mind, turning him down and gesturing to the stack of boxes that awaited processing. Others ignored him entirely.


"What's the trouble?" Warren felt his heartstrings tug as the old man's eyes lit up in gratitude and excitement. He turned his attention at once the the highlander, walking and half-hobbling towards him.


"He was here when I bedded down for the night, but it's Oschon! Oschon's gone off! Kidnapped! Or maybe just out for a snack before breakfast..." The man's eyes darted here and there, looking off towards lodging at first, then towards the fields. Warren held up a large hand, trying to halt the man.


"Wait. Oschon?" He raised an eyebrow, wondering if this was a joke. He looked about to see the reactions of the passersby, trying to discern if he was being made a fool of.


"Yes, yes. Oschon! My prized aldgoat. We're coming back from the Silver Bazaar on a, uh, business proposition, y'see. He's a wonderful specimen, something to behold. Strong, radiant. Sturdy beast. Sometimes the other farmers need a little, uh..." He nudged Warren with an elbow and clicked his tongue twice. Eyebrows raised suggestively and Warren shook his head.


"I get it, I get it." He pondered this for a moment. "Your aldgoat walked off while you slept? An aldgoat named Oschon. Wandered off on you." He still didn't quite believe it, though the folks around him tipped off nothing if it was in fact a jest.


"That's right. Guess I asked for that myself, huh? The name fits, though. When he was a calf he'd wind up all over the place. My land, my neighbor's land, you name it. Can't keep a rein on the fella. I had him tied up for the night and everything, but he just won't stay put! S'fitting, I tell you." There was a sincerity to the old man's story, though Warren still felt he was being taken for a ride. Regardless, he didn't have anything else to do with his day...


"Alright. I suppose I can lend a hand for you. Where do you think he got off to? Maybe back to the bazaar, if there's some women around for him? Maybe he got lovesick." Warren smiled bittersweetly.


"Ayuh, that's a chance I guess. Probably not, though. He likes going forward, not back. I figure he's somewhere north of here. Or east. Northeast, maybe? Definitely not west, though. Likely not." The old man pointed as he spoke, though his directions didn't match his finger.


"How am I gonna know which one's yours? There's wild goats all over these flatlands, you know." Warren crossed his arms.


"Oh, you'll know." The old man grinned and presented a satchel. "Here. Apples from the frozen hills. His favorite. Hoping he didn't cut that-away for some. Shoulda known I'd have some for him, the old fool. I'll wait here for you, just in case he wanders back. Never does, though."


It was with this that Warren found himself wandering north, or maybe east, but definitely not west, probably, chasing after Oschon. He was a bell past the Crossing's limits when he realized he hadn't bothered to get breakfast. The pack of apples on his back didn't weigh him down physically but the idea danced across his mind.


I'll find the goat first, then I'll maybe have one. They're not for me, and you'd think I'd know better than to take an offering for one of the Twelve. Aldgoat or not.


The old man's story amused him. He kept an eye out for any other backpacked travelers looking for a special pack beast as he went, but the land was devoid of most any except the early morning caravans. A pang of homesickness spoke up in his chest, taking brief residence beside the other in his heart before he forced his attention back to the task at hand. He was familiar with the lands around the city well enough and sought first north to the bridge connecting the Crossing's road with Horizon's. The sun hadn't yet begun to beat down in earnest as he ignored the dry tickle in his throat. The thought of that stream was refreshing to him, and he was a man. Surely an aldgoat would think the same. He counted his blessings when the clouds blocked the sky, even if they looked somewhat ominous. The heat never seemed to care, but it seemed easier to manage without the full bright of the sun watching over you.

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The moments after seemed somewhat surreal. The goat was wounded in one of the many small alcoves pockmarking the Wells' stream and Warren sat beside it in the mud while they waited out the storm that had grown overhead. He paid small mind to the broken and battered body of the imp-like voidsent that had apparently been fixing for steak for lunch, sitting with himself between it and Oschon's muzzle. He was no beastmaster, but the goat seemed uneasy to stand on his own power. Strong as he was, Warren knew better than to think he was carrying the beast out of there. The rain came down as Warren removed the pack from his shoulders.


"You recognize this?" He spoke out loud, holding the bag out for the creature to sniff. His nostrils flared as his mouth opened, moving towards the straps keeping it cinched shut. "Now now, I can open it. You don't strain yourself." Warren did as he said he would and opened the bag, turning it upside down and dumping out a half dozen or so faerie apples. "Help yourself. They're for you, you know."


The creature wasn't waiting for an invitation, happily dragging his sideways body towards the pile and sinking his teeth into one of the fruits. Warren shook his head bemused and looked away. His thirst pulled at him but he looked back to the body of the imp and reconsidered putting anything from the stream in his mouth. He'd hoped it wouldn't make much difference by the time it got downstream enough to affect anyone. It was only one imp, but...


He shook his right hand, reprimanding himself for doing something like this without so much as a staff to defend himself while simultaneously being thankful for the time he'd spent mirroring the fighters back at the Bloodsands. He had no formal training aside from that of an unruly youth, but he seemed to retain enough. He kept feeling the awkward, tearing snap as the creature's wing gave way, the pathetic yelp as it flopped to the ground and turned, eyes wide with fear and hate.


He didn't want to consider the bruises, and he'd already felt the cracking blisters on his shoulder where the creature's one chance at offense charred and blackened the edge of his shirt. Warren immediately sank himself into the stream when he was sure the monster was dead and he swore he heard it sizzle when he submerged himself to the shoulder. He'd smeared himself with mud from the bank, hoping it would help cool the sear.


He spared a glance towards the aldgoat. While Warren had been reliving the experience, Oschon had been eating. There weren't even cores left in his wake, and he was working on the second to last fruit. The goat's eyes fell on Warren and he paused mid-bite, as if guilty, then resumed his mindless devouring of his gift. Warren reached out with his left hand, wincing as he stretched and picked up the remaining apple. Oschon loosed a small whine despite his mouth being full.


"I'll give it up under one condition," he mused, holding it up as the rain poured hard outside. The beast finished chewing and looked at him with sad, pleading brown eyes. Warren was torn between how silly he felt and how dumb it was, but there was a tug in his head and his heart that it couldn't hurt. Anything to keep his mind off of what came next.


"I'll go for help from your master and I'll turn over this delicious, crisp faerie apple if you promise me something." He looked at the apple for a moment, then turned his gaze to the goat. The animal's eyes were locked on the fruit, though it did spare him a glance every few moments as if waiting.


"You need to talk to Menphina for me." He paused, his face turning red. "I know you two are close. Do you think you could put in a good word for me? ...If it isn't too much trouble."


There was a long moment where Warren looked at the aldgoat as if expecting something from it besides animal instinct. Finally, he sighed and extended his arm to Oschon's face, letting it take the apple from his hand. He rose uneasily to his feet as the rain started to let up, though he reasoned in his worn out and dehydrated state it wouldn't do him much harm to go for a walking swim. With a firm pat on the neck/shoulder of the eating creature, Warren set foot out of the cave and back towards civilization.


"Hang in there for me. I need you to."

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He came to with a jolt. He wasn't sure when he nodded off but his back hurt from being braced against the door and for a sweet, blissful moment he'd forgotten the dull tones through the floor that caused his eyes to stain his face and his dreams to be the same as they were to begin with. Gone were the voices and the fire that burned in them and his footfalls were quiet against the ground, carrying him down towards the room he'd left them. For an intolerable long moment he was afraid of what he might find there, the haunting vision of thrown covers and tangled limbs and


There was nothing. Empty beds, made and orderly. A pitcher of water where he left it, empty glass before it. Alone and by himself. He reasoned they must have channeled aether to get out, since he'd been posted by the door with his sword at his side. He took one more look around before climbing the stairs back to the top and took a heavy seat at the table.


The space had cost him nearly everything he'd earned in his entire existence. All of the stained money from the Bloodsands, all of his salary as a Free Paladin. He nearly couldn't cover the cost, and had to give up his private room at the Quicksand to allow it. Momodi looked at him with sad eyes, even after he assured her that he wasn't quitting on her, just needing a place to get away to. She didn't press the issue that he kept the first one and sent him packing with good tidings.


Dark skies were looming. It was with them in mind he had named the building Duskbreak; His sun had set and night was coming fast. There would be need for safety, to hide away from prying eyes and convalesce and he was in a unique position to provide it. He'd hoped his lack of affiliation and association with the Company would keep him out of the view of those with ill-intentions, but he figured he'd blown that chance the night prior, literally.


He put the thoughts out of his mind for the time being. Too much to process there, too much on his mind to weigh accurately. He focused on being the wall, the shield, the rock. He couldn't trust anyone else to be.

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His senses return all at once, sneaking back in once the bubble of unconsciousness passes. Warm sunlight on his face, the sound of birds chirping outside in the daylight reaching his ears, her scent lingering from a place she hasn't occupied in recent memory. His thoughts return, the horrible realization souring the sweetness of it and shattering his misconception, dragging him screaming back into reality.


Across the room from him, propped up on display, is the uniform. No time for sentimentality, no time for romance or feeling sorry. Duty calls.

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His senses slip back in as they do every morning, one at a time. He can still taste her for a moment before the waking world removes the sensation, though the air carries traces of her as he feels the soft cloth between careful fingers. He rubs his thumb over the pattern, memory revealing to him the stitching in the shape of a heart. Lopsided and misshapen, but perfect. He sighs longingly before his eyes slide open, the sound of birds chirping unheard in his ears.



When he finally showed up in the Quicksand, Momodi was there to hand him a sealed envelope. He took it wordlessly before sitting before her in his casual clothing. She didn't say anything to him, turning to keep herself busy. He frowned, wiping his still-sleep-weary face and opened the document. It was marked with an Ul'dahn seal.


"Free Paladin Castille,


Your services are requested in a small matter. Camp Black Brush is in need of supplies on hand in Ul'dah and a caravan transporting them is in need of your protection. You will be compensated for your time. Contact vendor Nanabe in the Markets for details at your soonest availability."


Warren sighed.

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