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One Late Summer Limsan Afternoon [Stories]


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This Thread is Now the Home for all of my stories that relate to events prior to A Realm Reborn.  These Stories are included in my table of contents which I am maintaining in my Stranger in a Strange Land thread.  



One Late Summer Limsan Afternoon


Shamelessly inspired by Zhavi!


Kael watched from up the alley - a misty wind was blowing through the soggy streets of Limsa Lominsa that afternoon.  It was late summer, almost early fall.  For a refugee such as Kael, in his first year in the city, it was difficult to tell.  He had been old enough to remember Ala Mhigo in its full glory in the final years of its independence.  He had survived its fall, fleeing along with the nobles and the paupers, the family's carts stacked high with heirlooms, not yet pilfered by servants and ne'erdowells with baser things on mind than the preservation of tradition.


He spat onto the ground, that strange raised Limsan material, brick and concrete, hanging, suspended god-like, above the crashing waves below.  It was covered with scum, the residue of so many uncaring inhabitants.  These kids cared even less, they weren't supposed to be there, the city was closed to them.  But on long days of idleness the kids had little to do but sneak into the city, and look for trouble.


Today trouble came in the name of Masters.  At least, that's what they called him.  Ala Mhigan's were big, renown for their strength and toughness.  The damned problem was that Roegadyn were bigger yet, and "Masters" was no exception.  His real name was some unpronounceable gibberish, but since he liked to lord over smaller folk, he adopted a pseudonym they could pronounce with a suitable pleading vigor.


Masters was rumored to be 16 years old.  Too old for the street urchins; it was time already for the big leagues.  But he clung onto his childhood with a death grip: among the urchins he had his own gang, but there would be no such glory as a lowly runner in a real street gang.  Tensions had flared all summer between Masters, and those rivaling to succeed him.  They always seemed keen for a fight.


Today Masters and his gang were busy throwing around a batch of stolen fruit.  Apples, oranges, and other sweet, juicy delights.  Kael knew he wanted some.  And from his perch he waited, and watched, his own crew waiting nearby.


Then entered a towheaded girl, who could not have been yet, six years old.  Baby-cheeked and innocent as she walked up the alley, she was watched by a dozen pairs of eyes.  She smiled sweetly as she approached Master's group, watching the tossing of fruit with apparent delight, "Those look good, will you share? Can I have one" she asked with the plaintive demandingness of a child.



The girls voice gave her away, if the kids weren't already sure of it, they were now: she was just another damned refugee barging in on their territory.  "And jes why'd we wanna share wi' the likes of ye?" the Hyur boy twice-her-height answered, scowling.  Beyond the two, movement stirred along both ends of the alley; finally there might be some more excitement.


Baby-cheeks bit her lip, while twice-her-height took a deep bite of the apple, the fruit crunching under his teeth, as he chewed its sweet flesh with delight.  "Its ta' good runt.  Not givin' any ta the likes of ye, now get."


Kael's eyes narrowed, his muscles tensed.


The girl let out an anguished cry before making a leap toward twice-her-height, grasping at his arm and dangling from him, trying to wrest the fruit from his grasp.  As feet from both ends of the alley sprung to action, baby-cheeks was sent with a crash back to the pavement, the fruit-munching twice-her-height lowered himself, and set the apple down, to deliver a swift retaliatory strike to the side of her head, lesson enough for trying to steal his stolen fruit.


Kael was 13 years old, a blonde and striking youth, he towered over twice-her-height as he raced to the girl's rescue.  At his side were his younger brother, Osvald, 3 years his junior, but large for his age, and their friend Cedrix, another refugee who'd been in Limsa a few months longer than the brothers, and had been a sort of guide since they'd met.  The three entered the scuffle with a vengeance, fists colliding with twice-her-height, sending the hapless assaillent flying against the pavement.


Masters' crew of boys and girls went to work: a swirling melee ensued.  The Ala Mhigans were strong, but they were outnumbered.  Beaten and bloodied they retreated slowly, having protected the girl, they inch backward down the alley, trying to protect themselves from the punishment that was to come.  At last Masters made his presence felt, bursting through the crowd and delivering a vicious and decisive kick to the flank that left Kael sprawled on the ground, gasping for breath.


As the end neared for Kael, a yelling voice came clamoring down the alley.  It was a local Miqo'te ne'erdowell known as "Dole" who came flying, and screaming toward the melee.  "JACKS boys, the JACKS are comin'!"  he aimed to run through the engaged combatants, such was his fear, but the outstretched arm of Masters caught him by the scruff of the collar.  With barely a struggle, the massive Roegadyn pulled Dole before him, glaring at the boy's tiny features.  "Ye tellin' honest, cat-filth?  I'll kill ye if ye ain't."


The fear in Dole's eyes may have been manifested by Masters, or by the Jacks, or more likely a mixed terror of both.  Regardless, it was enough to convince the Roegadyn, who still scowled as he tossed the Miqo'te to the ground.  "GET!" he bellowed.  The alley quickly cleared, wounded helped along by their own.  Dole scampered away climbing up a wall and into another alley, while Osvald and Cedrix limped along with Kael until out of sight.




Kael sat upon the stacked boxes in the courtyard, bleary still from the blows he had sustained.  He could hear the steady pitter-patter of rain falling from above onto the canopies that conveniently shrouded the spot, making it one of their favorite places to hide.


As they recovered from the battle, the word's of his father voice echoed through his ears, "Remember, son.  Always lead.  Do not forget who you are."


He squeezed his hand into a fist.  It hurt.  The pain didn't want to subside, the more he squeezed, the more painful it became.  " If you remember anything, anything at all, always remember this: there are those born to lead.  Born to bear that responsibility, to do everything that is necessary for their families, their lands, and everyone who follows them.  That is who we are.  That is who you are."


His father's hands were huge.  He had always found them remarkable, like they could do anything, and protect everyone.  He looked at his own, tiny still, and useless.  "We've been dealt a cruel blow, but we must persevere.  We are Ala Mhigans yet.  And more than that, still."  Those hands couldn't save Ala Mhigo.  And they couldn't save the kids now, no matter how hard the man had tried.


Kael looked down at his battered army.  Cedrix was bleeding from a gash to the side of his head.  Osvald seemed to have it best, he always seemed to fight like terror possessed, and the worst marks upon him where the battered knuckles that had inflicted so much worse upon his foes.  Dole was there too, licking his paws, his head throbbing where he'd been thrown  to the pavement.


Into this inauspicious gathering, once more, stepped towheaded baby-cheeks.  As she entered the courtyard with soft steps, the boys all smiled, while the brothers breathed a sigh of relief.


Kael slipped from his seat, landing on his feet, he walked slowly to the girl with an outstretched hand.  He gazed at her worriedly,  "I'm sorry they hit you... you know we didn't mean for that happen."  She dismissed the concern with a warm smile as she looked up toward him with such affection in her eyes; a trail of blood flowed from a gash above her left eyebrow, framing her childish face.  Kael swallowed hard, he'd never meant for her to get hurt.  His eyes were a mixture of concern, and anticipation,"Aya?" he asked, "Did you get them...?"

Baby-cheeks let down the folded hem of her smock, showing the bounty of apples, oranges, and fruit.  Cedrix and Osvald leaned forward, their eyes staring widely at the sweet feast before them, Dole just licked his lips.  Kael patted his little sister's head, "Aya--you pick first this time."


She could not contain her grin, and neither could he.  It was just another late summer afternoon, under the rainy skies of Limsa Lominsa.

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  • 4 weeks later...


[align=center]The Last Measure[/align]


He forced his eyes open against the heavy, hot wind that blew across the weaving hillside meadows of the open land to the north.  Deep lines creased his face, the wear and tear of years of struggle.  His young daughter watched from a beaten cart just feet away, tow-headed and precocious she watched with a smile that belied her father's tension.


The tall slender soldiers were among the first Elezen she had ever seen, their full body armor glinting in the sun in a manner that made the Yellow Jackets look like disheveled amateurs.  The sneering contempt in their expression was something different, but also something familiar--they had all come to know it in the course of their travel as refugees.   Their dashing figures, tall, elegant, and graceful were something altogether new - as was the flowery lilt of their speech. 


She canted her head a little, narrowing her eyes against the gust, listening intently to the conversation between her father and the guards as they approached him.


"Refugees?" said the junior guardsman to his superior, "Don't they know Ishgard isn't accepting any?"

The senior guard replied only with a nod as he approached the Hyur man, casting a discerning look his way.  Thule had always been a proud man.  Eldest son of a storied warrior heritage, he had been unflinching in battle as a youth, determined in judgement as the head of his family, and an unwavering rampart for his family in exile.  Trials had stripped him of his trappings, left him clad in only worn linen and hemp.  Gone were the robes, the velvet, jewelry, and weapons.  Unadorned he cut the figure of a peasant, while stress has worn his visage, and roughened his complexion, beard grown grey, long and unkempt, hair chopped short and rugged with a bare blade.  His pride had been slowly flitted out, and now left gone from all but his piercing blue eyes, which turned upon the Elezen.


"We have our passport." he said, gruffly but quietly.


The senior guardsman gestured for the papers, while his second examined the cart the man had lead to their border.


"These can't possible be ours, can they?" he said in common, peering uncertainty at the aged, bedraggled pair of Chocobo that had pulled the four-wheeled cart over such a distance.  "Just... look at them!  What a disgrace!" he laughed derisively.



From the cart four pairs of children's eyes turned upon him, watching with a curiosity that matched his own.   "But they're gooood Chocos!" came the light little voice of the tow-headed Aya.  "They brought us all this way, and never stopped!"  The guardsman looked up with a start, noticing the smiling little girl, before retreating from the cart.


His senior nodded toward them as well, "Your family? How many children?"


The father nodded, hesitating for just a moment, "Four children.  Two boys, two girls."


The guardsman seemed to mentally check the list off, glancing back to the paper in his hands, "All yours?" 


Thule nodded, it was a lie, the fourth, Enna, was the daughter of the childrens' nurse, and had served the family for her entire life.  To Thule, she was worth the risk.


"Your name?" asked the guardsman.


"Thule", he replied with a pause, "of House Tharin, Clan..."


The junior guardsman, returning from the cart, laughed again, "I would not bother with that here, its not among the Houses we care about."


Thule's eyes turned upon the guardsman, fists tensed as his words igniting the firmness of his gravelly voice, "They have taken our Land.  Our Lives.  Our Pride.  They shall not take our name."  The Elezen stopped, bearing up an awkward smile, "Almost cute, aren't they."


Thule turned his eyes back to the senior, watching the Elezen as he offered a simple nod in reply.  Resistance burnt within his breast for a moment longer, sputtering, hissing, and then gone.  The father nodded, his hands relaxed.


"Hmmm..." the guardsman tapped his finger against his chin for a moment, eyes focused on the papers, "these do seem to be in order.  But, this is most unusual.  I'll need to talk to the captain."


Thule nodded, tiredly.  Just one more in a long chain of never ending obstacles.


"You don't mind if we inspect your carriage, do you?" the Elezen's tone was such that it was clear the inspection would occur regardless of the answer.  Thule closed his eyes, giving his assent with the shake of his head.  What, at this point, did he have to hide?




"It seems like the only opportunity you have left."


Thule nodded tiredly to his old friend.  His hand gripped the ceramic cup in his hand tighter, before pulling it to his lips, trying to draw the last of the mead from it.


"So what are you waiting for?"


The once great man shook his head, slamming the cup back onto the table with enough force it threatened to break in his grasp.  "Its the last thing I've wanted."


"I know," said his friend, with tone shifting to one of support, "You've put it off as long as you can.  You're not going to let the children grow up without a place to live, are you?"


Thule grimaced, knitting  his brow in frustration.  "No." he said cooly.


His friend nodded, "Then... to Ishgard.  Can you pay your way?"


Thule looked at his friend once more.  A fire behind those eyes that he had not seen for some time.  The tired warrior nodded his head toward the sword and sheath hanging against the wall of the tent.


"But... you can't..."


"It is all I have left, save the children.  It will have to serve the house, " he hesitated having to force the words out against every inclination of his spirit, "one, last time."


His friend looked taken aback, eyes widened in disbelief.  He swallowed hard, contemplating what it meant, taken in the full depth of the fall in one fell swoop.  "So... this is what it has come to..."


Thule sat silent, motionless.  The words stewing, his heart resisting with every beat in his chest.  Moments passed in awkward silence.


"Why...?  Why didn't you do what so many others did?  You could have died with glory against the Empire--why...?"  The question was asked with the earnestness only a fellow warrior could understand.  The two had grown old together in battle, a friendship forged in the flames of war, and quenched in a shared understanding of honor and glory.


The words lashed upon Thule as a weary assault, one that he had turned upon himself over, and over again.  Words that attacked the very meaning of his existence, and threatened to undermine the firmness of his resolve.  He stewed, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, the fire of anger burning with a smoldering intensity beneath his resigned exterior.


"The children were too young," he sputtered out at last in a tone that sounded almost angry, almost beaten. It was an undeniable truth, without him it seemed doubtful that any of his children would have survived the flight from the city, his eldest son as of yet too young to bear the burden of father to a desperate family.


"They," he said, turning his eyes back to his friend, "Are the true future of Ala Mhigo.  The fate of our people, our clan, our house, is in their hands.  I could have died with honor, and extinguished forever who we are.  An empty glory, for who... would be left to hear of it?"


His friend turned his gaze back toward the proud weapon hanging heavily from the flimsy structure of the tent.  Time tested steel, resting within an unadorned scabbard.  Like the family it served, a proud implement of a mighty city--now a vestige of a tradition threatened with extinction.

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  • 6 months later...



[align=center]A Day Remembered[/align]


The flags snapped sharply in the wind.  The crow banner, ancient and victorious, flew above the high rampart.  The memory stood as clear as day.  The boy stood in the direct sunlight of an early autumn afternoon.  The days grew shorter, the chill of Highland winter seemed to creep closer each morning.  He had walked into the courtyard as the flurry of activity subsided.  The welcome return of a successful hunt was always an occasion for noise and celebration.  Men stood, milling about in high spirits while the beast was prepared for an evening feast.  Some cleaned arms, told stories, and shared the news of the day.  At the center of attention, though, was the Lord of the keep: tall, powerfully built.  His once fair hair had long before begun to gray, his tightly coiled beard had grown dark in the fashion of the men of the family.  He laughed boisterously at a retainer's display with a spinning blade.


He drew his own sword from scabbard: grey steel that seemed dull in the full light of day.  The pommel simple, its elegance found in balance and the distribution of weight along the heavy blade.  With a deft motion he swung the blade around his wrist, grasping it again before it fell.  He made a broad stride with his left foot; his eyes were the very picture of concentration and focus.  He drew the sword from his right arm toward his left, mimicking the man whose display he was attempting to follow.  Before the sword could transition from one hand to the next, he jerked it to a sudden stop with a motion that threatened to send him toppling to the ground.


He let out an even louder guffaw, "You win!" he shouted with a voice that reverberated within the walls of the keep's courtyard, joined soon by the laughing good cheer of his men.


He strode a few steps away, catching his breath from laughter.  He stopped, peering down with a smile toward the boy who had wandered out to meet him. 


"Aaah Thule, my lad, my son!  A good day isn't it?"


"It is!" he answered excitedly, his eyes wide and bright with the energy of an inspired youth.  "That's your sword, father?" he asked, pointing to the blade the Lord of the House still carried in his hand.


The man raised the broad-bladed sword with another spinning motion, bearing the proud grin of a father.  "That, it is.  Our sword." he nodded to himself, as if in correction.


"Ours?" asked the son, "but don't we have many?"


His father laughed again, the grin undiminished.  "Our family has many swords.  Weapons of all varieties one could wish for." He narrowed his eyes, focused intently upon the uninspired-looking blade, "But just one ancestral arm."


The boy looked upon it with the astonishment only a child can muster.


"Ah, you like it then?" grinned the father. "Do you think it a tearer?" he asked, adding a slicing motion.  He turned it over as if to examine it, "A ripper?"  He looked at the lad with raised quizzical eyebrow,  "A slasher?"


He turned the blade over once more, grinning with a deep chuckle.  "Its a cleaver."  He pressed his lips together and nodded—lost in thought, and admiration of the blade he knew so well.


"The forger's name is lost to the mists of time.  As is how it was forged to have such strength, and mass.  The secret of its balance, lost.  How the edge stays keen." he shrugged, offering the boy a slight shake of the head, "Lost."


"It was my father's blade, your grandfather." he added, looking to the boy.  "His father's, and his father's before him.  For generations of our house it has served, and proved its loyalty again and again."  He nodded toward the sword with the same fatherly conviction he showed to his boy.


"Your great grandfather had a new blade guard made, in the style of the last.  Your grandfather, replaced the pommel." He glanced to the boy with one eyebrow raised for emphasis, "It took him ten years to find one with just the right weight to balance the sword." With a turn of the sword he showed the pommel to his son for examination.  Beaten base steel, pounded roughly into shape.  It was not a work of art.


"Would you like to see it?" he asked with an unexpectedly friendly smile, shifting the blade toward the lad who nodded in reply.  He remembered how the handle fit in his father's hand.  Palms that seemed like they could hold the world.  Fingers with the strength of a man's arm.  Hands that could shape, that could hold, that could protect.  Hands that could do anything.  They held the sword with a preternatural ease.


"Then you must promise me two things." came the father's voice in a full earnestness usually reserved for addressing adults. 


"That you shall wield it well.  That you shall wield it with honor.  And with respect."  He nodded slowly, solemnly.


"And." he paused, as if the second could carry more weight than the first.  "That you shall remember that it is you who wield the blade.  And not the other way around."


The son nodded.  The father carefully passed him the sword.  Son held the handle with firm, and sure grip.  Its heavy weight was too much, the blade struck hard against the ground.  Father laughed. 


He remembered.  He remembered.




Thule stood before the Seawolf.  His garments were simple, worn linens. The leather of his belt stretched, threatened to tear.  His beard was dark, tightly curled, and untrimmed.  His once fair hair, grey and crudely shorn.  He looked down at the sword laying on the counter.  Its dull steel refused to gleam in the mid-afternoon sun of the early autumn.  The grip had seen better days.  He had once hoped to replace it.  The pommel was of rough, beaten steel.  The imperfect accompaniment to the heavy blade, whose edge had not yet dulled.


"Fifteen hundred." repeated the scouringly deep voice that belonged to the Seawolf.  The Hyur looked up, his steel-blue eyes once shone like daggers.  Their pierce had dulled.  He was silent.


"Fifteen hundred, take it or leave it."


The Hyur chewed his lip.  He swallowed his words.


"That's enough to get off this island.  That's what you're lookin' for, right old man?" The Seawolf was sure of himself.


"Three thousand."  the words flew from the Hyur's throat as if sprung from a trap. 


The Seawolf laughed, "I said, take it or leave it."


The Hyur nodded.  And repeated, "Three thousand."


The Seawolf grunted.  "For this worn old thing?" he shook his head as he gestured toward the blade. 


The Hyur nodded. He swallowed.  Hard.  He nodded again.


"Twenty-five." he answered, the words a struggle.


The Seawolf sighed with a shake of his massive head, long braids swinging to-and-fro.  "Five-hundred, and passage to the mainland.  You are not going to find a better deal, old man."


Thule nodded.  He thought.  He nodded once more.  He agreed.


He looked at the sword one more time before turning away.  He remembered.  He remembered.




His eyebrows had grown thick and bushy.  His body, when standing, stooped.  His hands rest upon a pommel; that of a walking stick.  He breathed slowly; eyes staring straight ahead at the coal fire that burned with its quiet sizzle and pop in the hearth before him.  He remembered that day.  He remembered.  What he had given to buy his family's way to Ishgard.  This city where all had been lost.  This city that had swallowed a son.  This city that had stolen a daughter.


He sighed.  He closed his eyes.  His youngest, his only daughter.  Stolen in the prime of her youth.  Beautiful.  Kind.  Sweet.  Her voice would never be heard again.


He remembered her smile.  Her laugh.  How she had played and danced as a child.  The earnest, heart-warming joy.  He cried.


Sometimes he forgot what had come after.  The stubbornness.  The trouble.  The besmirching of the family's name, its pride, its honor.  He wished he could forget the words he had used.  He wished he could have them back.  That he could simply speak to her—hold her once more.  How useless his hands had become.


How much he would have forgiven, if only he could have seen what would come... he remembered.  How could he forget?  How could he forgive himself.  How could they forgive him.


The door opened in the tavern below.  The sound of familiar boots.  The sound of familiar voice.


"Uncle, where is father?"  he sounded excited.  Thule lowered his head, forehead resting upon his hands, upon the pommel of the walking stick; the final, mocking heirloom of a broken family.


The steps came heavy upon the stairs, despite their quickness.  They stopped in the hallway outside.


"Mother..." came the voice of his son, almost breathless.  "You must see this.." the door swung open.  The old man did not move. He did not see the parchment in Osvald's hand.  He did not see the handwriting upon it.


"Father.. father..!  Its a letter!"


The old man did not move.  Did not speak.  Merely breathed.  He remembered.  How could he not?


"Father!" repeated the voice of his agitated son.


"Its from Aya, father, she's alive!"


Eyebrows quivered.  The old man collapsed.  Crying.  He remembered.  He remembered.

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  • 4 months later...


[align=center]Father and the Ancient Wood[/align]


This story takes place in between the two parts of this thread's second post


The tow-headed girl's arms hung limply over the side of the wagon.  Eyes tired and dry--lids squinting tight against that sand-blasting wind of Northern Thanalan.  The scraping sound of dirt and grit slashing against the bare wood frame of the wagon added an accompaniment to the never ceasing grind of heavy wooden wheels against the deep ruts of the path. 


Her eyes had opened wide upon the sight of the high bridge, standing as it does athwart a mighty ravine carved by the power of an ancient river.  She had stood astounded at the sight of those high standing statues watching the way; the ruins of a civilization much older than their own.  She remembered them: it was the second time she had gazed upon these wonders with her own eyes.  They had passed this way years before in the other direction, possessed of a cart laden with the family treasures and heavy heart's filled with worry and hope at the start of their exile.


They had long since lost such treasure.  They were long since bereft of worry.  Or of much hope.  Their parents tried to excite them with the promise of a new home: but it is one they had heard so many times before.  Where once had been exiles of means with a real hope of settling down, now they were little more than vagabonds.  Wounds to pride had become wounds that cut far deeper.  The tow-headed girl glanced to her right, up toward father.  At his long unkempt beard.  The gray strands of scraggly hair.  The bare, worn linen upon his shoulder.  Torn, and in places barely held together by the thread-work of loving repair. 


She looked upon him with eyes too young to fully comprehend, but she remembered when he had not seemed so aged.  In the fullness of his glory.  The velvet cloak, the shining metal of armored plate upon his shoulders.  The strength of the entire clan in the authority of his voice.  The heart-lifting power of his smile and his laugh.   


Her lower lip pushed outward, covering her upper lip in an expression of incomprehension before she turned her eyes back to the roadside scenery.  The trees were growing taller, stronger, and more ancient with every weary step of the draft chocobos.  She faintly recalled the forest paths they had first crossed through in their flight from from the North.  Those days were little more than a blur of bewilderment.  She had been scarcely three years old, and all she knew was that the bad men had come, and their family would have to leave.  She had always expected to go back: Kael, her biggest brother, assured her they would see their home once more. 


Somewhere inside she knew they wouldn't, at least not on this trip.  But the sight of such trees could not but stir her hope that they would retrace those first steps they had trod upon the path of refugees, and return to the loving, happy home she barely remembered.




The hour grew later as they passed through the last stretches of Thanalan, entering the deep forest.  It had been almost a month since they had boarded the trading ship from a quay beneath the high white towers of Limsa Lomimnsa and their sparkling, pearlescent splendor.  Children adapt so quickly, and she had become fully accustomed to the taste of salt-air, and the spray of sea water.  Now she missed them, embarked upon an unwelcome voyage; having made yet another farewell in a young life filled with far too many. 


The early autumn day held just a hint of crispness in its breeze; a relief from the dry overbearing sun of Thanalan.  The trees grew taller yet.  Their ancient boughs now reaching so far over-head they cast a fullness of shade across the well-trod path.  She sat now with eyes transfixed.  While the other three children squabbled and played, she simply watched the forest pass her by.  Entranced by its lush green beauty.  The bounty of thriving plants, the smell and taste of the forest air.  The sight of the woodland's tiny animals bouncing and traipsing about their business.


She cast intrigued looks at the wary travelers who passed them by.  She imagined the magical lives of such accomplished life-long woodsmen: Elezen, Hyur, and Miqo'te.  Most of the travelers paid the family little heed beyond the cast of unwelcoming glares, but one friendly Elezen had walked alongside them for over an hour, enthralling the children with stories of the forest known as the Shroud.  He told them of the ancient nature of the Wood, of the Elementals, and the dangers of Greenwrath.


The angle of the shafts of light filtering through leafy heights grew low; the light less intense as the sun grew weary and prepared for rest.  The traveler at last left their company, with a word of parting advice: do not leave the road at night.  Father's jaw tensed.  Her eyes opened wide in wonder.  The Elezen trod off with one last wave.




Beneath those night-time trees, seeming so tall they must graze the starry canopy of the heavens above, the tow-headed girl's fascination grew to worry, and worry to fear.  The woods were alive with shapes, shadows and sounds: at once alluring and haunting.  She sat by her father for comfort.  They had lit only the barest of fires, enough to warm water for a meager tea.  The waning embers proved no more illumination than the starlight above.  He put his arm around her, and held her close.  She leaned her head into his body.  He did not say anything. He hadn't had to.  The sound of his slow, steady breathing was comfort enough.  The safety of his embrace would keep the Elementals away.  Greenwrath, whatever it was, could be no match for his hands.  His voice. His love.


She closed her eyes. She breathed softly.  Easier.  Easier.  She slept.  He would hold her until the sun rose the next day.  He would do whatever it took.  He would do anything.  The children were all that was left.  Their future was his.  Wasn't it the 'why' of everything?  To Ishgard.  To Ishgard, they would go.  A home at last.  A home for them, for he could never know one again.




She dreamed of forest green and lush.  Of running beneath the canopy, and of bounding across deep forest paths.  She dreamed of the full light of the moon.  Of fairy dust, spring flowers, and chill forest mists.  She dreamed of a she-wolf beneath the shade of trees; running at full stride.  She was the very essence of a freedom the girl had never known.  In her sleep she heard the howl of the Shroud, and would forever know its silence. 


It was a dream she would dream again.  Again, and again.  Once in a land, yet unimagined.  Beneath tall towers that would dwarf the trees.  Beneath spires of cold stone bereft of warm seasalt-spray.  Beneath the weight of history, and the burdens of name.  Within storied walls that clung fast to their wards.  Where freedom was naught but a dream of the wide open forest she had passed through once before.


In those distant days when father's embrace would no longer be enough.  When she would dream of so much more.  Of piney forest air.  Of the sound of leaves in free wind.  Of the feel of a forest path beneath her feet.  Of the howl of the Shroud beneath the full light of the moon.

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A Father's Duty - A Daughter's Dance


Lord of the Keep.  Protector of his Lands.  Latest of the line.  Scion of glory: the glory of the Crow Banner.  Victor.  Vanquisher.  Conqueror.


The mantle hung heavy upon broad shoulders.  The weight of history.  Of name.  Of traditions steeped in the mists of time.  His father had known.  His grandfather.  The great forebears, the giants upon whose shoulders all stands.  They knew.  They, alone, understood.


Candles burned low upon either side of the simple wooden desk: workmanlike and practical. He sat tired and still.  A deep grimace creased his face as he sat in thought throughout the full-dark of long night.  Tired eyes studied parchment splayed across ancient wood.  They trailed line by line along the words of the command once more.  There was no need; he had no doubt about the master's will.  The King's summons was unmistakable; as was the bloodshed that was his purpose. 


War was his duty.  Duty his purpose.  Purpose his honor.  Honor his very meaning.  A meaning to be found in the tenets of tradition undying. 


His gaze shifted to the unfurled map, dim in flickering candlelight.  He studied it with resigned purpose. He considered the road before him.  A road to hell marked by crosses of fratricidal blood.  A purpose that opened fresh wounds, summoning visions of destruction from across the planes of contemplation.  The King had unsheathed his sword, and planted his banner firmly upon the intersection of Duty, Faith, and Purpose.  He brooked no opposition.  No discontent.  No hesitation.  A King that would stand against Rhalgar, a King that would tear his land asunder for proof of loyalty.  A King that would put each and every one's loyalty to the most heinous of tests.  A test that lay as torment before the Lord of the Crow Banner, who silently studied his fate.


Fingers curled, clutching as empty balled fists, biting nails tearing palms to draw blood.  He had sensed the moment would come.  For months the machinations had brewed; news and rumor had spread.  The designs held the taint of malice.  The Fists of Rhalgar were loyal to naught but the very precepts that motivated the people of this land.  The Destroyer's Faithful were Gyr Abania's finest martial talent, and its most dedicated spiritualists.  As his father's before him, he had been bred to honor the god above all others.  Now Duty obligated he tear him down.


The silence broke at last.  A name softly escaped his lips: Adalberd; he called for his assistant..  Leaning forward the soldier-Lord, reached across the desk to coat pen-tip in ink.  He looked once more upon the order, readied for the sign of his name.  With a staid purpose, he drew the wetted pen-blade across the parchment.  Declaring—reaffirming—his Loyalty to the King.  He would commit to the order.


To safeguard my House.  No Duty can come before it.


 ...He could not have foreseen a distant time, when under flicking dressing lights, far below the spires of the Tower City, a young daughter would draw the powdered brush along her cheeks, applying the finishing touches of a light blush.  For years she had been trying to learn to dance, at last she had found a teacher willing to take her.  A stroke of good fortune.  And now the two of them grinned at one-another with the cherubic expression of excited school girls. 


Her parents fought hard against the challenges and temptation of the children's life on the deep streets of the Foundation.  Mother tutored her, as her own governess had once.  Proper manners, proper speech and forms of address.  How to dress, ho<w to behave, how to walk and carry oneself as a lady.  To read, and to write.  And how to obey.  Perhaps they had not all stuck, not when confronted daily with the realities of life.  A refugee girl living in a public house, trying to adapt to the streets deep within the stone city.  Most days she wandered for sight of shining sun, but, here she found herself with an opportunity to pursue what both mother and daughter dreamed.  To dance, and what's more, to dance amongst the children of high society.  As a proper young Lady ought.


 Her teacher leaned closer to inspect the makeup, and with a few more touches of the brush she declared it performance-ready.  The two continued the exchange of ebullient grins, and a giggle of excitement that her teacher could not help but share.


 If only my parents could see me!


The Lord exchanged a grip of hands with the Royal Officer.  He had accepted the order without hesitation.  Reports were clear.  The Protectors of the Temple would not back down, and the King had ordered an immediate assault.  The morning sun had yet to rise over the camp, but the men would soon muster.  He had agreed to answer the call of duty, and the moment of conviction was upon him.   An order for the indiscriminate bloodshed of Rhalgar's faithful.  To put an end to this once proud, once heralded temple.  He knew naught but horror that could await.


He closed his eyes, and saw once more the temple in better times.  In those days when the Destroyer was honored, and the glory of Ala Mhigan bravery exalted before the heavens.  Rhalgar's faithful provided not only the boon of the Destroyer in times of war, but also the realm's greatest weapons: The Fists, the martial spiritualists who turned their bodies into weapons of destruction.


He grimaced.  The alternatives assaulted him in battering waves of doubt.  He had committed to join the bloodletting.  To do this duty—could this really be his duty?  Would this slaughter mean Honor? Tradition?  What effect could these words have when blades and hands were stained with the blood of a sacrilegious slaughter.  Some said the King was mad.  Mad with power.  Mad with blood.  But how can one question an oath?


He tried to summon forth the presence of his father—his steady advice.  Could he yet make father proud?  All he could remember were these words: "It is you who wield the blade.  And not the other way around."  There could be no denying the implication, or his father's meaning.  He would own the bloodshed.  He would own every last cut and thrust.  Every last life ended.  Every life lost  There could be no escaping this responsibility.  Could it be worth it?  Was it the right thing to do?


And how responsibility weighed heavy upon him. To family.  To ancestors.  To King and Country.  To the multitude who looked to him for protection.  To honor Rhalgar, was to betray the King.  To betray the King was to betray those he had sworn to protect.  How could he betray their loyalty?  How could he abandon them to the same fate as this temple?  How could he become responsible for exposing his innocent wards to the bloody servants of the King of Ruin?


He could not.  No—he would do his duty.  Stand firm.  Protect his wards.  The Crow Banner would yet fly over this field of battle.  He would lend his sword arm, and do right by his King. 


He called for Adalberd.  Prepared to don his armor.  The servant joined his Lord, who in that very moment prepared to approach the Gates of Hell to shield him from the King's wrath.  He positioned the first piece against his Lord's outstretched arm, and pulled the straps tight. 


Forgive me, father.


The girl let out a little yelp of objection at the tug, as her teacher pulled the straps of her costume bindings.  Teacher laughed as she finished tying them off.  "You wouldn't want this coming loose, trust me!" she grinned, offering words of encouragement.  But the girl's excitement was rapidly fading to a sense of nervousness and impending anxiety. 


 Teacher offered a comforting grasp, fingers pressing gently upon bare shoulders.  She summoned the warmest smile she could offer, and reminded her ward of how hard she had worked.  Of the countless hours of rehearsal and practice.  How she had joined the class years older than the other girls, but how she out-worked all of them.  Of the talent she displayed.  Of how beautifully she danced, and of the many crowd-stunning performances that awaited her once she learned her way around the stage.  Some day, she said, the city of Ishgard would all know her name.  She smiled once more, offering a final encouraging nod before turning the girl around and hurrying her out of the small dressing room.


From the edge of the stage the young girl beheld the crowd for the first time.  A real crowd.  A real crowd.  She gasped, she couldn't help it.  For a moment she held her breath, eyes wide with a heart-pounding flurry of nerves.  She felt the comforting hands of her teacher once more.  She felt the encouragement.  Then she heard the applause erupt for the previous act.  The energy, and exultant joy that filled the hall in that brief moment.  It was her very first taste, and she imagined what it must be like to hear others applaud for you.  A few moments later she felt a little push from behind.


 She hadn't realized how she had been frozen in place, how she'd not been able to hear the instructions.  It was her turn.  They were waiting for her!  It was not much more than a gentle nudge, but it was enough to send her slightly stumbling out upon the stage.  For a moment she just stared in shocked amazement at the crowd.  Her teacher held her breath, contemplating a hundred disasters, but then collected herself, and quickly encouraged the musicians to begin.  As the music started with the sound of soft drums and then playful flute, the young girl moved, taking a few quick steps to her starting position.  The audience murmured: the performance was begun!


There are so many people watching me!


The muster had begun as groups of men became formation.  The air was filled with the heady sound of looming battle.  Heavy drums tolled the cadence; trumpets and pipes filled the air with martial tune.  The sound of clattering equipment and moving feet surrounded them.  The Lord of the Crow Banner turned back to face his men.  His head was held high, chin upturned and proud.  His dark beard in full glory.  Blue eyes burned bright beneath long blonde hair.  His armor glistened in the first glimmers of rising sun.  Cloak of red velvet fell from strong shoulders; a sign of station and of wealth.  His heart gave him pause—and wavered amid the moral confusion that was his irresolution.  But he could give no outward sign; not before his men.  They would depend upon his resolve.  They were his responsibility.


He strode beside the standard bearer who held the Crow Banner high above their heads.  He drew his ancestral blade: sharp, victorious, proud.  With a single motion he thrust the blade skyward, eliciting a deep-throated cry from his retinue.  He extolled their bravery.  Their skill at arms.  He reminded them in deep, powerful voice, of their shared victories upon the fields of battle.  He summoned forth memories of the generations that went before.  Of fathers, grand fathers, and ancestors who stood firm no matter the threat.  Of those who gave it all.  Of those who we remember upon the eve of each battle, and honor upon the don of every fresh living day.  Of the power of the Crow Banner.  Of the honor of a good death.  He urged them to glory.  To victory.  He lifted his arm once more above his head.  He turned his eyes forward, to the field of approaching battle, and to the opponents against whom they would meet.


Have strength.  They rely on me.


She lifted her arms above her head as she leapt lightly across the stage, drawing her arms back down as she completed the turning movement as one graceful motion.  As her hands fell smoothly back towards her sides, she looked out upon the audience, with smiling blue eyes that dared not reveal the depths of her focus.  Once the music had begun her thought had mostly flitted away, replaced by an encompassing sense of life and energy.  She felt the music flow through her, eliciting her body to move and obey its every whim.  She felt the rhythm and the tune, and knew they would guide her through the well practiced motions of the routine. 


 She listened to and heard in its voice each turn and bend.  She heard how the music, in its energetic and word-less way, called for each leg lift and every elegant kick.  How it begged her to leave the very ground itself, and escape in long athletic leaps of breath-catching audacity.  Each step she took and every motion of her body flowed in graceful continuity from the one before, and blended effortlessly into the next in a harmonious union with the energetic play of the musicians.  She allowed nary an excess sound as soft-soled shoe graced the floor,  nor an excess of motion as each movement matched precisely with what was necessary.  The full expression of her form a near perfection of balance and poise.


She was just a young girl, twelve years of age, but blossoming already in her youth.   Yet, she cut a figure comfortably exquisite—sublime.  An unexpected newcomer to the program.  A sudden and prized pupil of a well-regarded instructor.  The other children knew not of where she'd come, and their mothers whispered that she did not belong. 


 She was not lowborn, but foreign.  The beautiful white dress that lent an ethereal air to her performance was borrowed.  She did not belong; but in those happy, enthralling moments all that mattered was the beauty of her performance.  Not the accent upon her voice.  Not the means of a fallen family.  Not the tavern she called a home.  Just her display: delightful beyond her age.


 I wish this could last forever.


 As the army began its advance, all eyes came to focus upon the display of Ala Mhigo's martial monks.  They had emerged in quiet, perfect discipline from the opened gates of the ancient temple.  Ordered in exacting formation: row upon row of men and women who had dedicated their lives to Rhalgar and the art of personal combat.  The display itself was something of a performance—there really could be no other word for it.  It was performed for the effect it would have upon the enemy, as much as the impact it would have upon themselves: those rows of unarmed fighters adorned in the unforgettable, bright, ritual attire of their profession. 


Their entire formation moved at once, with complete precision through the sequence of ritualistic motions.  Each one designed to center the mind, and free the flow of the body's wellspring of aetheric energy.  But, there was more yet.  The silence of the display lent a pallor and chill to the air.  Amidst the blast of horns and the beat of drums, the monks made no noise, and allowed no clamour beyond the nearly inaudible whoosh of fabric breaking through still, morning air. 

What the King's men did not see was the preparation that had begun the night before.  The ritual cleansing.  The dawning of ancient, powerful symbols.  The making of final peace between man and god; man and man.  The setting of final words upon parchment, they knew would never reach their intended recipients.  The recitation of final poems.  The chanting of final rites.  The closing motions of their ritual were not a preparation to fight: but a preparation to die. 

Before this army of the doomed faithful, the King's marshal approached.  He recited aloud the King's charges against the Temple.  He repeated the King's order of destruction.  These were not words that mattered to them.


At last he ordered the King's soldiers forward, to claim what the King believed was his by right.  The Crow Standard flew high amongst the fore of the right flank.  They would meet the enemy head-on.  They advanced with steady pace; the monks stood motionless and still.  As the forward ranks closed, the monks adopted their defensive stance as a unit, flowing from the front rank to the back.  All as one.  The horns sounded the charge.  The men answered with a cry, and quickened their pace to a run.  The Crow banner snapped in the wind of advance.  The men beneath, threw themselves forward with a powerful surge.


I have arrived; the very Gates of Hell.


The performance approached its climax, as she threw herself across the stage in a long and high forward leap.  Her left foot, pointed, lead as she seemed to hover suspended in mid-air.  It was the most challenging moment of the entire routine, one she had never fully mastered it practice.  She could still see teacher impressing upon her the need for consistency, for a balance of posture and momentum.  Every departure must be the same, every landing precise in its execution.


 Though she had lost herself in the music, she could not banish all inhibition.  The thought of failure crept into her mind as she approached this penultimate moment.  She imagined all of the slips, all of the falls of practice.  She remembered the bruises and the wounded pride.  The stern looks, the exasperation.  She imagined everything riding upon this very moment: her entire future, her opportunity to dance, everything, everything, everything!  Coming down to this one, terrible moment.


 Her heart threatened to beat right out of her breast.  She felt the burn of flush upon her cheeks.  The surge of adrenaline as the full weight of pressure crashed upon her shoulders.  The expectation, the exhalation.  As she had taken the first step she imagined the embarrassment that could unfold, and how it would feel to be shamed before the entire crowd.  The boos, and worse even, the laughter.  The judgement of her teacher, the wagging of fingers and the shaking of heads.  The stern words, and then the dismissal.  A future in those dark, dreary tunnel-like streets.  The cries of her mother, the sighs of disappointment. 


 But, when the moment came, all such thoughts were banished.  It was as if her mind had shut itself, directing all attention upon well-honed routine.  She propelled herself forward with a dainty surge of deceptive athleticism; and then just floated across the stage, as if suspended by the wires of heaven above.  Gently, they lowered her back to the deck.  Her left foot struck with poise, followed by the right as her body flowed smoothly into the next turn.  She heard an exhale, teacher's relief, and suddenly her mind returned in a flood of excitement.  She turned upon her toe, and squeezed her eyes shut, struggling to contain the emotion.


 I did it! I did it! I did it! I did it! I did it!


He closed his eyes.  He screwed them shut.  But he could not unsee what he had seen.  He could not undo what he had wrought.  The terrible scene could only be obscured momentarily. This terrible scene of what some would call Victory: as if it deserved a name at all.  Not only did brother slaughter brother, but faithful slaughtered the revered.  A fratricidal bloodbath - in the name of what?  Upon the King's word they slaughtered their own.


A heavy rain began to fall across the field.  Some would believe it the tears of the God: but Rhalgar does not cry.  He mocks.  And he avenges. 


Had not the monks had been uselessly outnumbered?  Their skill in combat, that prowess so often exalted by their brothers, amounted to naught but greater casualties inflicted upon their foe.  They fought with the tenacity of Gyr Abanian pride, and with skill centuries in the making.  And though these would bring immortal shame upon the victors, neither could turn the tide. 


He tilted his head heavenward.  He could feel it in the heaviness of the drops, and in the murmur of approaching thunder: the Destroyer's mocking.


To every side of him, his own men lay dead, maimed and wounded.  Cries and gasps of suffering filled the air.  Young men hundreds of miles from home called pitifully for mothers they would never see again.  They gave their lives for the slaughter of those whom they had once been taught to revere.  These were the wages of this Crusade; a Crusade aimed directly at the heart of its own nation.  His own blade had cut from side-to-side, true to its reputation and its hone.  Cloth and fabric were no protection from its bite, it tore flesh and cleaved bone.  He had spilt blood, much blood—it would forever stain.


He opened his eyes.  Before him he stood the last remnants of the temple's defenders.  Their desperate final stand surrounded by the King's soldiers.  His eyes focused upon one young man, brown-haired and dark of complexion.  A handsome young highlander, one who could have been the pride of the Nation, and more than that: one he knew.  One who had lived under his own protection.  One whom he was sworn to defend.  One of his own, born and raised upon his land.  One who still returned home whenever possible. 


He felt a desperate urge swell deep within his breast: urging hope itself to come and sweep the man away.  Away from this place, away from here, away from this slaughter.  He had a lover, one who was with child.  Let him see her again.  Let him come home.  By the gods, do not let him die here!


The young monk would be swept away, but not by hope.  The Lord of the Crow Banner watched with a dulled sense of horror, as the young monk's chest was pierced full by spear.  The mortally wounded fighter fell to his knees, the felling shaft struck sure between his ribs.  He coughed blood.  As his life drained away, his eyes caught sight of his own Lord in the near distance.  There they stayed, focused, for those long final moments—casting that deathly stare, unflinching, begging the unanswerable accusations of the slain. 


What... have I done...


The audiences eyes were all upon the young dancer as she offered another curtsey.  She finally knew just what it was like!  She felt the heart-warming adoration of the crowd, albeit small, of well-to-do denizens.  She cast her excited, bright smile from side-to-side, eyes scanning the room one final, hopeful time.  How she had prayed her mother could watch the performance, but she had been told it just wasn't possible.  And, there was no sign of her. 


 Still, it was alright to be excited wasn't it?  She nearly skipped off the stage, brimming with an ecstatic energy.  Teacher quickly embraced her, grinning broadly, as the two celebrated the sweetness of shared victory.  Teacher was taking such a chance to bring a lowborn girl into her class.  The parents of her other students would never permit it, but she just knew she'd seen a talent in the girl that couldn't be squandered.  At last, at last, she felt, her persistence had paid off! 


 Mother hadn't been there to see, but she could never have been so proud.  That night she would ask her daughter to tell her about the performance again, and again.  To spare no detail, to tell her of the auditorium, of the crowd, and how prosperous they all looked.  To tell her how they applauded her, and how beautiful she had been. 


 Mother too had so badly wished to watch the performance, but never once did she share her disappointment, instead she reveled in the excitement and joy of the moment.  Her daughter danced, and danced so wonderfully.  Not only that, but among high born students who one day might accept her as one of their own.  What more could she ask for? She was so proud!


 It was so wonderful, mother, you'll have to come next time!


What more could the King ask for?  The Lord and his men had dutifully pursued battle, and the slaughter it entailed.  But now the King wanted more.  He wanted them to enter the monastery: pillage, ransack, and destroy. 


The Lord of the Crow Banner gathered his men, and rallied them to the banner. He offered the comfort he could to his wounded, and they sent up prays for the deceased, beneath the mocking gaze of the Destroyer they had once all professed to.  The Lord cleaned his sword, but he knew the blood on his conscience would not be so easy to wash away.


He turned to look toward the Temple, and then away.  He lead his men the other direction, away from the field of battle, away from the monastery.  Away from the coming slaughter.  The Marshal would be on his own.  Had he not done enough?  Had he not done his Duty?

What would father think?  Wasn't that all he had ever wanted?  To make his father proud? To stand tall with his ancestors, and make right by them?  What would they have done?  What could they have done? 


Those who opposed the King would pay for their insubordination in blood.  And what worse punishment could await oath-breakers?  Had he not stood firm and loyal to rightful liege?  Had he not done right by what he properly owed? Why then, couldn't he banish this guilt?  Why couldn't be forget the vanquished and slain?


Father!  Are you not proud?


She couldn't forget. She just couldn't forget.  How proud mother had been.  How happy she had seemed.  How wonderful it had all been, for once.


 Now she stood before the door of the tavern they called home.  Uncle's establishment.  The note was rolled in her hand.  Wrapped with a pretty ribbon.  It was so much nicer than everything else she had, so proper and fancy looking.  But it was a deceptive little thing, bearing the worst possible news she could imagine.


 Now she had to deliver the message to mother.  At least she didn't have to pretend.  She didn't have to hide tear-stained cheeks.  To pretend everything would be okay.  She knew better.  She only hoped mother would forgive her.


 Teacher had always known it was a risk.  She tried everything.  She wanted, so badly, to have the young girl as a student.  She had provided so many lessons, and included her in so many recitals and performances, never once asking for the compensation offered by the other students.  But, teacher couldn't help it.  No matter how firm she had stood: no matter how she had insisted it was a matter of principle, a matter of art, and of grooming talent.  It simply hadn't mattered. It couldn't matter. 


 Teacher had heinously foisted a forgery about the other children.  Exposing the scions of high society to a girl that wasn't even lowborn, but not even of Ishgardian birth!  It simply would not do.  A reserve of charity amongst the well-to-do mothers had preserved teacher's position, but the Ala Mhigan trollop would have to go.


 The girl rolled the note around in her fingers, glancing down once more at the pretty ribbon.  She wondered how long she should wait before letting the rest of the world crash down around her.  At last she opened the door.  She climbed the stairs, slowly, one by one.  She greeted her smiling mother, who all-too-soon realized something was amiss.  She showed mother the note.  There was no need for her to read it.


 Mother cast the unopened note into the crackling fire pit, pretty ribbon and all.  She embraced her daughter and held her tight; she cried a mother's tears. 

Mother... I am so sorry...


 The young maid fell upon her knees before the Lord of the Keep, weeping a mother's tears.  She had served the House since her childhood.  She was helping raise his children.  She served them still. She begged; she pleaded; she reminded him of her loyal service.  She found herself begging for her life, and for that of her newborn child.  The King of Ruin reigned.  His Crusade knew no limit, no border, no inhibition.  It was not enough to destroy Rhalgar's Temples, and slaughter his faithful, but their families too were made to pay.  Her lover, the father of her child, was a Fist of Rhalgar.  His Temple had been destroyed.  She knew naught where he was, though her heart suspected.  She knew there was no sanctuary to be found.


A guilt welled deep within his heart.  It haunted the darkness of long nights.  She was a mother, and a widow too—this he knew, though he could not answer her.  He wanted to embrace her.  Console her, and tell her that her lover were safe.  That they would be together again.  That all would soon be well.  But he knew better.  He knew.


In the swiftness of an instant every facet of her once comfortable life had come crashing down.  She knew her Lord was loyal to the King.  She knew he could turn her in, he could take her life and no objection would be raised.  She begged as a last, final desperation.  For her life.  For her child.  There was no hope.


He felt the pang of naked unworthiness.   She was a wretched sight, he knew, but not compared to the wretchedness of the lordly man who stood before her.  She begged his forgiveness.  For his pity.  But he knew it was he who could never be worthy of her forgiveness.

At last, he managed, a weak, broken voice.  He asked the child's name.  The weeping maid looked up, tears flowing upon reddened cheeks.  "Enna." she answered in a voice filled with trepidation.  He summoned a deep breath, and steadied his voice, "You need not fear, my dear."  His tone was comforting, and earnest.  "And Enna." he nodded slowly, "She shall be as one of mine..."


 It is not enough.  Not nearly enough.


 The well being of his family, and his wards, were his guiding star.  He never lost sight, not unto the end of travails.  The King would fall.  The Kingdom would crumble.  Ruin would befall all.  They would flee, enduring the long road of refugees.  But, one day, she would smile.  She would smile.


 Had it not been worth it?  Wasn't every sacrifice, every last measure worth it when his precious tow-headed daughter would sit upon his knee and just smile?  When he held her close, and they could just stare at the stars together?  He would see his sons grow up strong and tall.  His daughter grow lovely and graceful.  What more could a father ask for? 


 So much would happen... so much would happen...


 How many fathers died young beneath my blade?


The heavy beams of the Ishgardian inn shuddered with a powerful groan.  He remembered his promise, from long ago.  Those words he'd uttered in a moment of such bare nakedness.  He rose to his feet with considerable effort, his hand clutching his trusted walking stick: one remaining faithful companion.  The tower foundation of the city shook all around the building.  Coal rattled against the stone hearth, furniture creaked and groaned. 


He left his room, and started the difficult descent of the main stair toward the ground floor.  He could hear the commotion in the common area of the Public House.  At least a dozen voices were raised to a near panic.  Everyone seemed to worried about those they couldn't find.  No one knew where the others were.  But the din of voices hid he sound of his stick upon the wood of each slow, steady step.  He reached the edge of the common area and heard the distinct voice of his wife, worried but never panicked.  She was asking after her sons: no one seemed to know where either Osvald or Kael were.


He knew.  She always worried too much.  Osvald would attend to his filthy shop.  Kael had his own children to look after.  Regardless, his own heart was set on another child, the last of the three still living in the city whom he could be responsible for.  He pushed his way through the front door, barely escaping notice of the others as he slipped out onto the cobblestone pathway that counted for an avenue in this part of the Foundation.  He turned on his way, making slow but steady progress; each step preceded by the sound of his wooden stick upon stone.


The entire structure of the city seemed to shake with the energy of the assault above.  Militiamen rushed by the old man, trying to reach their rally points and silently praying that the Dravanians wouldn't made it that far.  He had a rally point of his own in mind.  He knew she'd just been off to the market, a small make-shift affair that opened in a square several blocks away.


A father must do, what a father must do.


Far away, in the desert city of Ul'dah, the dancing girl, once a tow-headed little cherub, had begun a new life of her own.  She laughed amid the bustling din of the busy tavern, moving from table-to-table greeting each patron with that same brilliant, flashing grin that had once charmed Elezen ladies of Ishgard.  A light giggle spread the good cheer, and encouraged every celebration she met.  For others, she offered the comfort of a warm smile to help drown sorrows and lift weary spirits.  She was no longer within Father's grasp.  In that, he had failed.  But she lived, she lived; she smiled, and for that he would have given anything


 He could protect her no more, but he had once done everything within his power.


 And, perhaps it wasn't what he had once envisioned, but as she hurried to-and-fro under the attention of the Lalafel proprietress, she carried the same joy, the same beauty and bountiful energy that had cheered a father's tired heart.  As she carried drink, after overflowing drink to customer after customer they could never know, never have suspected by how narrow a thread the young woman's life had once hung.  What end she may have met at the end of Ruin's blade; or of the price of her father's loyalty.


 Now she laughed.  She chatted.  She flirted, and grinned her way to one tip after another.  She had become part of the very life of the place, Ul'dah just wouldn't be the same without her.  


I only do what I must.  The children are our only future.


The old man reached the little square without hurrying.  A crowd had gathered there, huddled together for protection; screaming and crying amidst the shudders of the foundation and the sounds of battle in the levels above.  He looked through the group, eyes still good enough to pick out just what he was looking for.  The brown haired Ala Mhigan woman who refused to ever leave his side.  With a startled gasp she caught sight of him, and the soft smile hiding behind his unruly gray beard.  She ran toward him with a look of panic. He smiled a little more; she looked at him just like a daughter should.


"Enna, my dear," he gently patted her worried hand, "Lets say we go back home now hmm?"  He turned with her, back up the avenue to begin the walk back to the inn.  She stammered.  Unsure.  She turned to look back toward the relative safety of the square.  Still, she knew well enough that argument would be of no avail.  She put a steadying arm around him as they walked, and tried to hurry him back along the avenue as fast as his feet and walking stick would carry him.


His sons would see after themselves. His daughter had long ago fled.  But this one; this one he would watch over still.


She shall be as one of my own.  To the very ends of Hydaelyn.  To the very end.

Edited by Aya
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(I have heavily re-written the preceding story.  My original version did not live up to my inspiration.  I really felt like this was a special concept, and I wanted to do it justice.  Hopefully that's now been done ^_^


I'd like to thank Berrod, Reiner and others for inspiring the ideas behind it, and for introducing me fully to the King of Ruin and the Crusade against the Fists of Rhalgar.  They've added an intriguing and dramatic layer to the life and character of Thule, Aya's father (who, like Aya herself, is nameless in this story). )

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  • 1 year later...


[align=center][An Ishgardian Ballad - Just a Story][/align]




[align=left][ A story from Aya's life in Ishgard.  A story inspired by Noir - and by Cowboy Bebop (my favorite anime).  I encourage anyone familiar with it to read the narrator in Jet Black's voice.  If you're not familiar, I still hope you enjoy〜 ]


Music Part One:





The maid huffed.  It was a huff of indignation.  A huff of curiosity.  A huff that resounded with a full measure of spontaneity, but was in fact fully rehearsed; being the sort of gesture one learns through repeatedly encountering the same situation.


She shook her head with a look of annoyance.  People were always leaving their junk here.  Sometimes it seemed they just wanted rid of it.  Other times it seemed as if it were something special in search of a new owner.


This was just a little wooden box.  It looked like it could contain just about anything.  The woman cocked her head and stared inquisitively wondering just what it was, what its story could be.  Junk is junk, but most that found its way here had a story of one kind or another.



Now, you might be thinking this is just another one of Aya's boring stories about tea time, or another one of those friendly conversations beneath the setting sun, or some such stupid junk like that.  But this isn't one of those stories.  Not at all.  Its a story of family and honor.  Of doing what is right, or at least what's necessary - or just your best.  Oh, yeah, and its a story of young love.  So, you know, if that's not your kind of thing you can just save yourself the trouble and stop right here.


The woman known as Aya Foxheart, wasn't always known by that name.  Once upon a time she was known simply as 'Aya'.  You know all of those performers out there known by only one name?  Well, yeah, that was her doing.  When she first made her name in Ishgard she didn't think she had another name worth sharing.  So there it was, just 'Aya'.  Somehow it stuck, and those others just want to be like her.  Now you know.


She's also thought of as one of Eorzea's greatest heart breakers.  A darling and a delight.  Or just trouble on two legs.  And she'd have it no other way: you'd think the whole world would just bend over to get out of her way. 


But it isn't always so.


She'd tell you that she can't remember just how it all happened.  Or where it all started.  Maybe somewhere with fairy tales of knights and damsels.  Told by a mother passing on everything good in this world to her only daughter.  She always said: 'When we lost everything, only our stories remained.'


And here we are: her knight, at last: Charlesemile.  Char, as she knew him.



There he was again: tall and strong, even for an Elezen.  She imagined him as a knight: no simple swordsman of the Temple, but the kind who stormed keeps and castles for true love.  His long dark hair, raven-pitched, matched eyes that seemed capable of limitless depths.  They were undeniably an object for the feminine gaze, and reflected affection with an effortless ease that belied his otherwise calm demeanor.


She could not help herself in her admiration: his was the sort of smile you never forget.  She didn't know how many times she'd seen him there back stage, or at some of the wilder parties thrown down there.  He was probably just another nobleman's son, pawning off his influence for an evening's fun with the chorus girls, dancers and actresses of the lower-city stage.  Their shows were more fun, and the girls themselves all-the-more entertaining, than those of the upper classes.  They were also rather more appreciative of the bobbles and favors the young men offered.  To young aristocrats, life down below the surface seemed altogether untouched by the frigid frost that defined the life of Ishgardian courtiers. 


Oh yes, she'd know just the sort.  She'd seen it all before.  She competed for their patronage.  She wore their jewelry.  She played their game, how could she not?  And why not?  Wasn't she enjoying herself?



She wasn't quite famous yet.  At least not like she would be.  Just a teenager, and soon after her first starring role as an Othardian Princess in a great tale of heroic romance - you know the one.  So, you could say she was a hot thing, but not quite that hot, if you know what I mean.  And, with her charms, its not all that surprising that he fancied her.  Weekend after weekend he went out of his way to find time with her during one event or another. 


We pick up again, somewhere, sometime, just off-stage.



"Aya," he said with that bewitchingly soft tone of his, "How many times have I seen you like this?  With all this company?  With the noise? And the parties?"  He offered up a disarming smile as he drew himself closer, pressing his arm to the wall just above her shoulder. He smiled with the gentleness that came naturally to his placid features.  "Its you I want to see.  Not them," he admitted with a hint of nervousness.  He offered his deep, dark, pleading eyes ot hers. "As much as I enjoy these shows, the only real reason I come down here any more is for you..."  


She gazed back, stunned.



She'd like to remember a thousand thoughts coursing through her mind in that moment.  Carefully weighing her options, and noting everything the man before her offered. That she was guarded, wondering, parsing.  But that wasn't her.  She was a just charmed girl in love. There were only two things she felt: relief and excitement.


It wouldn't be easy.  Is it ever, truly?  But, this is a hard-scrabble story, you realized that already, right? Still, young lovers find a way.



Their relationship was a spirited whirlwind.  A torrid little thing buried in the frozen city.  They spared every moment they could: walking the silent galleries of the lower city late at night.  Slipping away from parties.  Together, she visited the surface for the first time in years.  She visited the Pillars and the Hoplon. She strolled past the villas of the rich and the famous.  Well dressed men and women respectfully greeted her in his company.  But, even then, the warmth of the daylight sun, and the pleasure of such easy respect, never compared to how wonderful Char made her feel.


He was everything that she was not: upstanding, of station, proper, educated, and full of a poised restraint that seemed ever to personify the Elezen of Ishgard.  His was a practiced manner, forged by a rigorous upbringing and quenched in the halls and classrooms of preparatory school.  But in those quiet moments alone with her, he allowed the mask to slip.  He embraced the warm, effortless joy that she readily offered the world.  He smiled, he laughed, and together they grew to be more than either could have alone.  Together they dreamed.  Together they strayed.



Of course, Aya was already a sought after woman. Charlesemile was not without his competition.  And for her the danger was thricefold: to admiring men she owed her patronage, her fame, and so her future, at least whatever future she could make of her own.  She could no more offer them a cold shoulder than she could wish away the Ishgardian cold.  But even the greatest of men are prone to jealousy when a lovely young thing is involved.  And so there she stood: pressed from all sides by dreams, needs, and fear.


Despite her best efforts, things weren't always calm.  There's one night in particular I'll never forget.  I get to tell this one:



I can see it now: a flurry of snow drifting down from the heavens.  Descending flakes briefly caught in the lamplight of towering spires long before reaching the warm glint of lamps on the cobblestone streets of the less heavenly city below.  The relative peace of the moment was interrupted by the sound of shouting voices.  That age old concern: young men ready to fight over a young woman.


Then, all at once, they fell silent with the sound of a 'crunch'.  Cold steel striking the firmness of a young man's face.


There quickly followed a second, 'crunch'.  The same young man collapsing in a crumpled heap upon the snow.


Several more remained standing, swords drawn and ready to taste blood.  The not so poor fellow laying prone and regretful on the cobblestone was Reginald de something-or-other (its really not important at the moment).  Above him, wiping the blood from sword-hilt stood Char.  The others were Reginald's friends, or lackeys, depending upon how charitable you're feeling.


"I suggest you three get him out of here, you've given us enough trouble for the evening."


The trio looked back and forth, unsure of what to do with the sudden absence of their ringleader.


In the moment of hesitation the subject of the altercation strode into the proverbial spotlight.  Though slighter than the Elezen, Aya's always had a presence about her, and with her fearless poise and pose she seemed to momentarily tower over the rest of them.  I can see it now: blue eyes shining with the full ferocity of highland defiance.  Tensed, ready fists lingering waist-height just behind her. And she showed not a care that her bodice had been slit from top to bottom, leaving her Ala Mhigan bounty threatening to spill into plain view.  She wanted nothing more than to return the disgrace that had been shown her, and given the chance she would more than pay it back.


The fury of Highland women is something of legend, and once witnessed can never be forgot.  Such is the lesson of this parable- or something like that.


Anyway, faced with the charming knight, and his enraged damsel, the trio of well-heeled goons beat a hasty retreat dragging their barely conscious provacateur with them.  And though he couldn'tt feel his feet as they banged along the cobblestones, he managed enough to hurl threats upon the couple: "You'll pay for this you wretch! And your cheap wench too!"


It doesn't take much imagination to know how this scene ended.  And there were more of the sort.  Despite the challenges, they still found a way.



And so it was.


Sometime later Aya found herself at Heathrow's Emporium.  It's her favorite kind of shop: the sort where you can find anything and everything.  In other words: just another junk shop.  And Heathrow's one of those talented old guys who always seems to know a little bit about everything.  He also managed to have something new in stock most of the time: a neat trick given the difficulty of trade since the gates were sealed.


I've always found it strange that the girl is drawn to this kind of place.  I wouldn't say she's some sort of expert on junk, I sure hope not, but I'd believe she were Eorzea's foremost expert on the purveyor's of junk.


Ah hell, there I go talking too much again, lets get back to the story.



"...yes, my dear, it plays an absolutely beautiful little tune.  Sweet and lilting."


"The sort to remind you of a girl you love...?" She asked with a heart-warming unassumingness.


He laughed, "I'd imagine its exactly that sort."  Then the old man paused, bushy eyebrows twitching.


"Say... its not for that handsome young master..."


She nodded, silently, as the old man laughed, "And here I thought it was supposed to work the other way around.  Guess I'm just old fashioned."


"But, but..." he cautioned earnestly, "As I said, the box doesn't work any more."  He scratched his head, peering at the little device, "I have not been able to figure out how its broken.  Until it's fixed it won't play any music at all, whether for pretty girls or not."


She stared at it intently.  It was perfect.  Small and he could take it with him anywhere he might go or travel.  And everywhere he went, he could play the tune and think of her.  But could it be made to work?


She stared at it all the more, as if she could make it work through the force of will alone.


The old man laughed, humoring the girl, "Ah... well... perhaps it just needs the power of love.  You are welcome to give it a try, anyway.  Its yours, just bring it back if it doesn't work..." 



Now, Aya's got a knack for tinkering.  Anything mechanical, even magitek.  If its a widget or gizmo with gears or crystals she can figure it out given enough time.  I don't know where she got it from.  I really don't, but sometimes its just a joy to watch.


What she can't do is fabricate replacement parts.  And that's where I get to have my part in the story: for that she needs a brother with a hammer and a careful touch. 


Well, she's a pretty amazing girl, and with my help, she had that damned little box working again.



♪Tinkle-dee-dee-dun-da-da-dee♪ sang the delicate little chimes.  It was a lovely tune.  It wasn't sophisticated or deep, but she knew he'd think of her whenever he heard it, wherever he might be.  She wound the spring again, and flipped open the lid to listen once more.


"Well, whadya know, sis.  It works!" announced Osvald, her brother the smith, still wearing his smithy apron.


♪Tinkle-dee-dee-dun-da-da-dee♪ it played again and again.  She grinned with the sort of excitement that only she could muster.



You see that guy there?  That's me, her brother.


Music Part Two:





The week came and went, and she had not been able to see Char.  This was not altogether unusual.  He was a busy young man: already in the final year of school and training for the military career that awaited him.  It was not altogether easy for him to slip away, and she truly didn't mind.  Eventually, they knew, all would be right, and they could be together like they had always dreamed.


All she could think about was presenting him with the gift of the little music box.  She opened it, and listened to the tune, imagining him in years to come playing the tune in some distant garrison and imagining rushing into her arms. He'd never feel alone.  He'd never forget.


The days came.  The days went.  There was still no word from him.  She could barely wait, and at last she  could no longer bear it. If he were so busy, then even now he could use a reminder of her love.  She'd left him messages before, and this would be no different.


After dinner she slipped from the family inn and into the streets she called home.  This was her city.  Her place.  She had no trouble making her way in the dark to the surface streets, and the Pillars.


There she gently rang at the servant's entrance, as she had before.


The sweet-smiling butler answered the knock, and with the exchange of a few kind words, accepted the gift to deliver.



Of course, a young woman's dreams rarely come so simple, do they?



She slipped quietly into bed, unable to sleep with the excitement that swelled within her breast.  She imagined Char's face when receiving the gift.  She imagined him listening to the sweet little tune again, and again.




She was helping with chores the next day when the carriage pulled up out front of the tavern.  She nearly leapt in excitement, imagining a summons from her Prince Charming.  She ran to the door, throwing it open and announcing herself, "I'm here!"


There was quite a bit of activity within the rest tavern in response to the unexpected visit.  Her cousins quickly began to look for 'Uncle', the one man in the family with enough standing and knowledge to speak with a member of a representative of a Noble House - no one else could afford such transportation. 


The Elezen gentleman who disembarked from the carriage offered nothing but serene disinterest.  He stood at a majestic height, supported by an ornately decorated walking stick, and draped in what appeared to be a new fur coat: an extravagance.  His short dark hair was just starting to gray at the temples - a gray that clung fully to the neatly trimmed beard that graced and distinguished his chin. His eyes scanned the environs of the modest inn.  One could feel his silent scoff at the dimness of the light in the tunnels of the lower city, and the bare dinginess of the entire scene.


Aya stared at him, agape, from the open door.  At last, he took a few long, slow strides toward her before letting out a labored sigh that wiped the last remnants of smiling from her features.  He brought his stick to rest, leaning lightly upon it. "You must be Aya..." His voice was sanguine, unaffected, and possessed of the cool, collected refinement of the masterly class. 


Uncle had been born and raised in the city, as had his father and grand father.  He was a lowly inn-keeper, but still a respectable man who knew how to handle delicate situations involving men of higher status.  Ishgardian was his native tongue, and despite his lower-levels dialect he could affect a proper-enough tone to not offend the sensibilities.  It was this man to whom Aya would have looked for rescue, but this was not the man who arrived.


Instead the sound of a heavy walking stick quickly descending the stairs announced the arrival of a fellow of an altogether different character.


"I... yes...?" She answered, with a downcast stutter, "..ser!" she added with same panic.  Her fingers clutched defensively at the door frame.


His countenance betrayed no hint of emotion as he accepted her reply without comment, before slipping a gloved hand into the interior breast pocket of his coat.  Unfolding his hand he presented to her the small, familiar music box. "And, you are the one who brought this to our home, yesterday evening?"  There was a slight tilt of his head, expressing curiosity without intended harshness.


The color quickly drained from the girl's cheeks.  Her body tensed and then drooped.  She fainted, her body threatening collapse at the sight, and the revelation it proclaimed.  Only the sudden intervention of a strong grip prevented her plummet to the pavement. 


Her father.  Harsh.  Strong.  Ala Mhigan to the very core. 


He had never bothered to learn Ishgardian.  His grasp of the tongue is not just rough, but often borders on incomprehensible.


He grasped her around both shoulders, fingers clasped around her arms, bodily holding her up with a gentle tenderness reflected in the worried expression upon his grizzled features. 


The Elezen pressed his shoulders back, folding his hands together in an entirely proper posture, while more of the family arrived in the entryway behind the girl and her father. 


Her uncle was the next there, but he was already too late.  Her mother let out a wail of surprise, as the two of them took hold of Aya leaning her back and trying to revive her. 


With his daughter being cared for, the man who had-been lord, grasped his heavy walking stick and raised himself to his full height.  He strode confidently forward, with the learned bearing of a fearless man of the battlefield, hunting ground, and dueling yard.  He approached the unfazed Elezen with defiance: the worried expression replaced with a look grim and terrible: his heavy brow taut and furrowed, blue eyes filled with barely restrained malice.


"This is my daughter." He stated, matter-of-factly.  "Who do you think you are?"  He turned his chin up toward the wiry, graceful nobleman, inviting confrontation.


The Elezen had felt the pang of sympathy at the sight of the fainted girl, but he could not but dismiss the mockable sight now presented him.  He gazed down his nose upon the might of Ala Mhigo's conceit, in all its broken glory.  "A man whose acquaintance neither of you deserve." He replied with cold and patient form.


Ever fiber of the old Ala Mhigan's body stood on edge.  His voice growled to life with an agonizing fire, "You dare speak to us like this!"  The old warrior raised his stick menacingly, glaring with rage. 


His interlocutor refused to flinch, he only drew his own cane slightly higher, perhaps to guard against a potential blow, but otherwise refused to budge or shout - still, exasperation shown through his voice, "I shall speak to you however I please.  But I am only hear to speak to your daughter, and as mercifully brief as possible."


From the entryway her uncle shouted to both of them for calm. 


Her father glared, but dared nothing further, just yet.  He slowly lowered his cane, glowering with narrowed, threatening eyes.  "You knife-eared scoundrel if you have dared to touch a hair upon my daughters head, I swear before the Destroyer that I shall strike you down!"


"Twelve forfend!" gasped the Elezen in a manner that defused the situation.  He folded his arms across his body, raising his head indignantly, "I know not your daughter.  Nor do I ever care to.  That is why I am here."


The Ala Mhigan relented, if cautiously.  "What the hells do you want with us, then?"


The Elezen again presented the music box, "Are you aware that your daughter has been spending an inordinate amount of time with my son?"


The Hyur looked puzzled, but Aya shouted from the doorway where she had recovered.  "Father, its true!"  Tears streamed down her cheeks.  Her father knew not what to make of anything in that moment: except that this man was still terrifying his daughter.


His posture quickly relaxed, and he returned to her side, speaking to her softly in their mother tongue.  "Aya... what is going on?"


The graceful Elezen let out a sorrowful sigh, "Now... now...  I did not mean to be the cause of such... trouble." He hesitated, searching for words of comfort rather than offense.  "There is no need for tears.  No harm is intended for anyone today." 


Her father turned back toward the man once more, father and daughter staring at him hostilely, as her father replied, "I have my doubts, Elezen.  Speak your business then, and begone."


"My son."  He started, pausing to take a breath and start over.  "Charlesemile, is a man of great potential.  I do not know what you are aware of, but I was not born to the gentry.  Our family have been loyal retainers for generations.  Centuries of carefully kept records attest to that.  I was fortunate enough to marry a daughter of the family, I..."  He paused, stifling a sigh while momentarily closing his eyes, "... I do understand what it is to marry for love.  She became an unlikely heiress, and our son was raised with a future in her class.  When she died, her title and name did not pass to me.  They are his to bear.  But you understand, I presume, that if he is to secure his family's position he must marry into his own station."


 Having finished the statement of his business, he rather abruptly presented the music box once more.  "And what's this?" Asked her father, still standing by her side.  The entire family watched the exchange from within the building.


 "A symbol of love, professed, I do believe." Stated the Elezen with clinical precision.


 "Now.  I have every reason to believe that your feelings are sincere," he stated, with a carefully sincere intonation of his own.  "And that knowing this, you will do what is clearly best for him.  If you do not stay away from him he shall lose his standing, title, and every potential for his future.  I pray that you satisfy yourself with once having known one of Ishgard's premier men, and one of her greatest knights."


Her father rapped his stick powerfully against the paving stones, "She's not good enough for you, that's it?" He growled, before snarling a choice Ala Mhigan phrase toward the man.


 The Elezen bore the assault without flinching, and then addressed Aya one last time.  "Is everything understood?"


 She wiped the tears away with her fingers, steadying herself just long enough to nod and answer him, "It is."



The old Elezen was a bastard, no doubt.  Glad we don't have his type as an in-law, and honestly I find myself wishing father had just throttled him right then and there for all of us. But Aya was the wiser, and we'd all have paid, in the end, for the gesture. 


I know she thought it over for days.  She agonized.  But, in the end, what could she do?  It wasn't like there was somewhere the two of them could run to.  Not at this time.  Not in this city.



 "... what are you saying?" she had never seen Char so emotional as he was in that moment.  "You cannot mean it!" He exclaimed, his voice cracking.


 "I do..." she repeated, struggling to force back her own tears as she sat passively next to him.  She had summoned every last ounce of control and reserve. She was doing everything she could to be strong for him.  "I do mean it."


 "But..."  he let out an unaffected sob.  The plaster-like veneer cracked before her eyes.


 "We are from different worlds, Char..." she repeated the carefully rehearsed words.  Though they did not, and could not reflect her true feelings.


 "We cannot be together.  I will hold you back..."


 "I don't care!" He yelled in frustration, leaping up from the bench as he turned toward her, his voice full of passion.  "I don't care about any of that!  All I want is you!"


 "And... you cannot..." she could not fight back the tears and longer.  Her heart broke again.  She sobbed.  Chill rain fell from the cloudy sky with a crack of thunder.


 "That... this... this is it?! After... after...." he lost his train of thought, his own tears joined hers as they fell through the cracks and fractures of youthful dreams.


The rain poured.  It soaked them both, as the biting wind nearly froze them in place.




 "Yes?"  He raised his eyes, with a faint sense of hope.


 "Thank you.  Thank you for having loved a girl like me..."



It seems like that was a long time ago.  So long ago.  Eventually, Aya escaped this cage-like city.  Found herself a new name: 'Foxheart'.  You know how some of that story has gone- more than me, probably.  Some, well, none of us will ever know just everything she's been through outside these cold walls.  Out there, in the vast rest of the world.  Sometimes I find myself wondering if she would have been the one to hold him back, or if, truly, it were the other way around.


Meanwhile things here kept on, like they do.  The world never stops.  We went on with our lives.  Never forgetting.  I'm sure Char didn't either, how could you forget a girl like that? Sometimes I wonder if that bastard father of his ever had second thoughts.  Ah well.  Eventually, as you know, there was another Dravanian attack on us.  Then, another day, they swung open those big gates.  I never thought I'd see it.  Had to let in adventurers, that's just how bad things had got.  And then, one day, with the gates open again, she returned home...



Dread.  A deep-seated dread that stills the heart, and then retreats to its darkest corners as we try to forget.  As we try to move on.


She'd heard.  But she had to know.  Had to be there.  Had to see it, no, feel it for herself.  It was raining.  That awful, awful, cold rain.


Her fingers followed the indentation in the stone.  The memorial engraving in that cold, ungiving, uncaring stone.  "... Charlesem..."


She tore herself away.  Then she did what she did back then--what she always seems to do: she ran.  She ran away.  Away from the memorial.  Away from the name she loved.  Away from the memories.  Away from it all.  Just... away.



I did say this was a sad story didn't I... I guess I probably should have...



 The maid stared at the little box that had been left behind like so much junk.    Curious, at last, she flicked open the lid:




 She smiled at the lovely little tune, and mused to herself "I wonder what old Heathrow will think of that...?"




(Screen shot by @kiskiphelone via tumblr, and used with grateful permission!)



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