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Keepers of Employ [ooc welcome]


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((Follows Company We Keep))




For D'hein Nunh


Airos had a change of heart, and as you surely understand, I will follow her wherever that leads. So we go to Drybone, for a week. She found new employment and it takes her there before we will return to Ul'dah. I thought you should know.


I am sorry for all that you have had to weather. Perhaps you will help me lay Aijeen to rest when we return.




Antimony Jhanhi


The letter Antimony left sealed and addressed, to be delivered to the Dodo at the mail carrier's earliest opportunity. She would then leave with her living daughter for Drybone via chocobo, their possessions packed neat and tightly into a pair of leather duffel bags.


They left early in the morning, when the sun had barely begun to peek over the horizon and the air was still chill with dew - more comfortable to travel by than the heat of midday. It took most of a day to reach the hole in the ground tucked into Eastern Thanalan, and the journey was thankfully uneventful. They arrived in the dust-ridden town late afternoon. Antimony would have been relieved if she hadn't been fighting back a steady dread the further they moved into the region.


"Your new employer is providing you a place to stay, yes, Airos?" She questioned her daughter as they dropped off their chocobos with the quartermaster so that the birds could be tended to.


They left their mounts at the local chocobokeep, and then K'airos, who was wearing her full set of Brass Blade armor, walked ahead of her mother. More out of distraction than hurry. She carried her bag over the shoulder, holding the strap with one hand while the other held the instructions left to her by the captain. Her chainmail boots made loud sounds against the wooden ramp that lead to Drybone proper.


"Uhm, I don't know." she replied, looking at the piece of paper. "This doesn't mention anything about accommodations. We should see if he's at the inn."


Furrowing her brow, Antimony held back her concerns regarding that lack of information for the moment, not wishing to worry K'airos needlessly. She followed and did her best to resist the urge to look surreptitiously around in search of familiar faces she hoped desperately to not see. "Only to meet him in Drybone? I will not be intruding, will I? I certainly wouldn't want to get you off on the wrong foot with your new job."


"Uhm." K'airos repeated, slowing her pace so her mother could be beside her instead of behind. It had taken her a rather large moment to notice that she was going ahead. "I guess introducing myself as 'Hello, I'm your guard. And this is my mom!' will give him the wrong impression."  she said, waving one hand around.


Antimony pressed her lips together. "I would, of course, like to meet the man whose life you will be protecting, but..." She glanced towards K'airos. "What would you prefer?"


"I think that's a good enough reason!" she chuckled. "I'm sure he has a mother, too, so he'll understand." They reached the bottom of the ramp. K'airos took a moment to orientate herself before moving towards the inn. Both of her ears dropped at that point.


Keeping pace with K'airos, Antimony rested a reassuring hand on her daughter's shoulder briefly before letting her arm drop. Her fingers wove together by her waist. "Don't worry, dear. You're more than capable of excelling in this job." She offered a small smile. "You excell in anything you put your mind to."


Strangely, that did not cheer her up. "I'm not worried." she said in a low tone. Then she was walking and glancing at the instructions again.


The inn was not far. It was located at a corner of the town, carved like a tunnel into one of the cliff faces. There were three men at the door. One of them, covered in a bright blue tunic and an equally bright hood, was waiting  on the side of the door while the other two seemed content to stare into the distance a few meters away from him.


K'airos looked down at the paper one last time when the men came into sight. "Bright blue? I think that's the merchant." she pointed out.


"Oh?" Looking up and following K'airos's gesture, Antimony smiled. "Well he at least doesn't appear to be a ruffian. Go on now. I promise I won't embarrass you."


The young woman nodded and hid the paper messily in one of her pouches. She walked directly towards the blue man, passing in front of the other two. They ignored her completely.


The blue man didn't, though. He pulled his hood back when it was clear the Brass Blade was headed to speak with him. This revealed that he was a Moonkeeper with dark grey skin, black hair and golden eyes. 


K'airos stopped in front of him. "Hello! Are you Qion'li?" she asked, and then glanced down, wondering if she had gotten the name wrong.


"I am." the man nodded. "You must be the Blade I requested." When he was done saying this, he looked past her towards Antimony.


Staying a few steps behind K'airos, Antimony watched her daughter greet the man, a small, soft smile on her face. She glanced towards the man, offhandedly noting his ancestry before realizing he was looking towards her. She offered a quick but polite bow in greeting but held off on introducing herself. This was her daughter's moment, after all.


K'airos stood frozen in place, awkwardly looking at the man as she took a better look at his features. She shifted her weight, and took a step back.


The man looked back at her and, noting the awkward silence, raised his brows. "I hope you were not expecting to stay in Drybone. Has it been long since you arrived?"


"Ah...we got here, just now..." K'airos mumbled, pointing backwards to where her mother was staning, out of pure coincidence.


"I can spare a bell for you to rest and stock on supplies, if you need. We'll be going to the Golden Bazaar, and I cannot afford delay. Is that lady coming with us?"


K'airos was awkward again before replying hurriedly. "Ah, yes. She's my mother. We live together so I couldn't...leave her in Ul'dah alone."


"I apologize for intruding like this." Clasping her hands together, Antimony furrowed her brow as she thought over the man's words. "I hope you won't hold it against my daughter. I promise she will be wholly professional."


Qion'li bowed his head slightly and to a side. "I have no doubts about that. I'm sure I have nothing to worry about." he said, and looked at K'airos. "I hope you will not wear the Blade uniform once we reach the Bazaar. I don't want the locals pestering you about their troubles. I'll provide you with a new set of armor, if you require it, along with accommodations."


"Yes, about that..." K'airos started, but was immediately interrupted by Qion'li. 


"You will be accommodated near Highbridge later. For now, I only need you to follow me to the Bazaar. If I'm content with our results I will extend the contract for a longer term."


"If I may ask," Antimony began slowly, "what are your intentions in the Bazaar? Should my daughter not know what to expect so that she can be fully prepared?"


K'airos looked at her mother with the expression daughters use when their mothers say something that just embarrassed them. She turned then back to Qion'li. "Yes, I was about to ask that." she said, staring at one of the man's blue shoulders.


"It should not be difficult. I bought an article from one of the locals and expect to retrieve it." he replied.


"Oh good, that doesn't seem overly troubling." Antimony relaxed visibly. "It makes me wonder why you'd feel the need to hire a bodyguard, but I suppose it's not my place to question. And you are providing work for Airos..."


"The simple answer is the Amalj'aa." Qion'li replied again, stiffly. "A man in this region was working to them, selling them information so they could kidnap travelers and patrols to temper them. Or whatever it is the beastmen do with their captures."


K'airos adjusted her duffel bag, swinging it in front of her in order to change sides. "I doubt we'll find any so far north." she offered, more to her mother than to the man. She turned to her, smiling, though her ears were angled oddly. "We should have something to eat before we depart again."


Tail shivering, Antimony nodded. "Yes, it wouldn't do to travel more on an empty stomach." She gave K'airos a softer look. "You'll want plenty of energy for work. Come. I recall them serving food inside."


"I will await you at the chocobo keeper in one bell." Qion'li said. "I will arrange for our transportation." He moved away from the Inn, past K'airos, who was moving towards it. When he passed in front of the two other men, their heads turned to look at him in unison and after a moment followed behind.


Once they were gone, K'airos commented "Well! He...seems like a serious man."


"Businessmen generally are," Antimony nodded. She could recall dealing with many of that type during her time with her previous work. She stepped towards the inn, setting a hand lightly on K'airos's arm. "Don't let it bother you. What food would you like?"


"I'm not...bothered by that." K'airos said before pondering about food. "We should get something light. Some fruits, maybe?"


"Ah, refreshing." She made to guide K'airos inside and towards a nearby table. "You should rest. Conserve your strength for the job ahead. I will see what fruits they have."


The young Miqo'te sat down obediently, letting her bag resting against the floor under her chair.

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Not long after they had sat down, there was movement among the keepers of the inn. The attendant summoned the priest, and an old man appeared at one of the doorways, robed in black and appearing wane. As though he expected something to happen, he cast his gaze to the inn's open doors, taking solace in the shining sunlight, and then turned his gaze on the two women sitting in the inn before him. He did not approach immediately.


But long seconds later, he ventured in a weary voice, "K'airos?"


The young woman shifted her weight on the seat and turned her head to the man, facing him. "Yes?" she replied hastily, out of instinct.


Antimony turned from where she'd been speaking to the innkeeper about an order of fruit, brow furrowing at the robed figure approaching K'airos. Leaving the counter, she stepped back towards the table to rest one hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Who are you?"


"I apologize," the man raised one hand to the two women as he stepped over. "I am one of the priests from the Church of Saint Adama Landama. I know D'aijeen; your sister, correct?"


K'airos ears dropped, angled backwards. "Yeah. That's correct." she answered in a low tone. She paused a moment. "I'm afraid she won't help the church anymore. She...passed away, recently."


Antimony pulled in a breath, pursing her lips. Could they not get one day's peace? "If you don't mind, sir, we would prefer to mourn in private."


"I do apologize. Believe me. If there's anyone who knows mourning, it is myself. You can tell from the smell what Drybone is known for, and guess from that what I do for a living. However. I do need to ask." He asked emphatically, though in as courteous a tone he could manage. "Are you absolutely certain that D'aijeen has expired? Beyond all doubt?"


"What...kind of question is that?" K'airos shifted her weight again, and crossed her arms. Her tail raised in a straight line behind her.


Antimony's hand tightened on K'airos's shoulder, green eyes falling shut. "A very inconsiderate one," she spoke stiffly.


"I would not ask if I did not need to. Perhaps a more approachable question. When did this happen? Please, it is more important than you realize."


"Three days ago, in Vesper Bay." she replied stiffly. She looked up at the man, her lips pressed into a thin line. "Why is this so important?"


"Because she was here. Or, so I believed she was." The old man spoke slowly, carefully. "Yesterday. Perhaps I was mistaken. But... she is a very recognizable girl, even in the state she was in."


Antimony's eyes snapped open and she spoke firmly, "That is quite simply impossible."


K'airos stood up, almost throwing her chair backwards into the floor. Luckily, the furniture recovered it's balance and simply smashed it's front legs loudly against the floor while she spoke up. "What? Where? In what state she was in?"


Antimony took a sharp step back before leaning towards her daughter, "Airos, the man must be mistaken. Do not..."


"If I am mistaken you will have to explain it." He lifted his hand once more, placating, but also asserting. "A thin, small miqo'te with green hair who looks at me with recognition? I know of no others. Her state was quite... dire. She had the most terrible wound to her neck, and her body was badly burned."


K'airos shook once, looking away and rubbing the back of her head with both hands. She walked in a small circle next to the table, her breathing fast and uneven. "Where is she now?" she asked, ignoring her mother.


Ears and tail shivering, Antimony shook her head and made to step around Airos. "No, you were either too far into your cups or you are utterly mistaken. I will not endure this prodding. You should leave."


The man gave Antimony a look over, one that was not without pity, but did not seem to soften either. The he looked at Nomikos. "She is no longer here. A man brought her here, himself covered in burns. However. D'aijeen, in her condition, should not have been alive. I'm afraid something terrible must have gotten inside of her. When we attempted to ... do as we must, the man who brought her here took her and fled."


K'airos grabbed her mother's arm, gripping it with both hands. "Where? In which direction? Do you know?"


"A man--" Antimony felt as though all the strength was about to give out in her legs, and she clung to K'airos with one shaking hand. "This can't be. The voidsent was gone... Ulanan saw it.."


"Let's not move too quickly." The old priest said. "We should speak. You say D'aijeen died three days ago? How did this happen? When I saw her, her neck was nearly severed and her chest burned through. She should not have been able to lift her head, yet she seemed little more than uncomfortable."


The young Miqo'te had trouble finding the words to explain it. She sat down, her tail lowered, not raised, along with her ears. "She was possessed by a voidsent and started a fight." she managed. "Then someone...someone..." She gestured at her own neck, rubbing it with the tip of her fingers. She ran out of words.


Antimony pulled K'airos close. "We saw her die. It... was as you described." She did everything in her power to keep her voice steady, for K'airos.


"Then there's no other way for me to interpret what I've seen." The old man sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "The man carried her away from town. We did not see where they went. However, the man later returned without her, this time carrying an injured man from one of the local Miqo'te tribes, whom we treated for a concussion."


K'airos leant at the table, placing both arms on it and resting her forehead against her open hands. "The man that carrier her away. What did he look like?" she asked.


Brow knitting in confusing, Antimony turned her face towards K'airos's hair. She remained silent for the moment, processing.


"A man with red hair, his body brutalized, especially at the second meeting. At some point between or meetings, he was cut and burned, but did not appear to be in pain. We had to force him to accept treatment. The man he carried back, the one with the concussion; I believe the fought. But the second man would not tell us what happened either. However." The old man faced both Antimony and K'airos squarely, speaking in a leveled, deliberate tone. "The man who protected D'aijeen was also the walking dead. I have no doubt of this."


K'airos looked at Antimony. Her eyes were wet. "We need to tell Ulanan and the Roegadyn lady about this."


"Red..." The color drained from Antimony's face, and her eyes went to her daughter. "K'ile was in Ul'dah not a few weeks past," she breathed. She wavered on her feet then. "I... yes. We do.."


The old man's brows knit. "Do you know this dead man?"


K'airos shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe. But K'ile isn't the only red-haired man in Thanalan." She sighed, her breath steading itself. "Did the other man, the concussed one, say which tribe he belonged to?"


K'airos was right. It was silly to think it was such a coincidence. But then who else would be with her daughter... Feeling faint, Antimony dropped heavily into the closest chair, though she kept one hand on K'airos. "If Aijeen is... is it even her or just her body..?"


"Huntresses from the Hipparion Tribe retrieved the concussed man." The old priest looked down at Antimony. "I cannot answer that question. I am sorry."


K'airos looked up to the man. "That's our tribe!" she exclaimed, and dropped her head for a moment. "Or...former tribe. Do you know where they are?" She recovered, though, and looked up at her mother, feeling the need to explain. "They will know more."


Letting out a shaking breath, Antimony curled her tail against her legs. "They'll... Airos, they can't... we will send word to Ulanan."


"I'm sorry. I didn't ask where they'd gone. Nor do I know what has become of the walking dead; either D'aijeen or the man protecting her." He shook his head. "We did everything we could. But they fled and fought with inhuman tenacity."


K'airos dropped her head into her hands again. "This is awful!" she whined, moving her palms to the sides of her face. "Thank you for telling us this." she sighed, after a moment.


Antimony pet her daughter's back comfortingly, though she did not look comforted herself. She could not bring herself to thank the priest, not for news such as this. Instead she just bowed her head in silence.


"I regret that I cannot give anything more. I wish that all I can do is confirm my own fears, and offered renewed ones to you."


The old man took a step back. "I think I will give you some room. However, let me know if you choose to take any action."


"And what good would that do?" Antimony murmured wearily.


K'airos, on the other hand, just nodded sadly.


"I understand how you feel, but this affects us all."


"She is not your child. If you know of nothing else..."


K'airos sniffed. "I'm a Brass Blade. I'll let the captain know about this, and he will tell you anything we find out." she said.


The old man's face curved into a dark frown. "I knew D'aijeen for some time. All are my children. Remember that." He turned away then, walking out of the room.


Antimony's shoulders slumped and she dropped her head to her hands as the man stepped away.


"This is awful!" K'airos whined again. "We should..." she paused, took a breath, and continued. "We must tell Ulanan at once."


"Airos, your job..." Curling her fingers against her face, Antimony shuddered and then straightened. "I will write her a letter. We..."


"It lasts a week." K'airos said, crossing her arms over the table and burying her face on them. She spoke again, but it came incredibly muffled.


Leaning forward, Antimony curled an arm around her daughter's shoulders, pulling herself close. She wanted to tell K'airos not to worry, that everything would be just fine, but she had no way of knowing that was true. It felt too much like lying at this point. She felt ill at the thought. "I will protect you," she murmured. "You have nothing to fear. Ulanan and that woman will... they will be able to resolve this."


K'airos let out a muffled whine, and then nodded.


[10/31/2014 9:40:51 PM] Kyle: And Megiddo kills three people just off-screen.

[10/31/2014 9:41:20 PM] Ildur: And finally Qion'li raises them for the lulz.

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K'airos and Antimony left the inn about an hour after their meeting with the priest. The young woman didn't let those news demoralize her, and so she walked normally for about four seconds before her ears flung themselves downwards and her tail failed to swing in unison with her movements. She kept walking like this, carrying her bag of belongings on her back, until they reached the chocobo keeper above the town.


As he said he would, Qion'li was there, with all the needed chocobos prepared. His two stiffly silent assistants could be seen walking towards the Golden Bazaar further ahead, not very far. They had no mounts, having chosen to go by foot instead.


Antimony kept close to her daughter as they walked. Part of her thought it might be best to stay here, wait for Ulanan should the lalafell arrive, and perhaps help in some way. But then most of her simply wanted to run - run from those chasing K'aijeen, run from the thought of her youngest being still alive. Or... not alive. An abomination. Her tail shivered. She would go with K'airos; she couldn't leave the girl alone after this. "Perhaps the duty of this trip will help distract you for a time," she spoke softly to her daughter as they approached Qion'li. Once near enough, she greeted the Keeper with a polite bow of her head.


K'airos didn't answer to her mother. She tried to look more eager for the job, but failed quite a bit at it.


"You look discouraged." Qion'li said, raising his hand in greeting to them. "Did you have enough time to prepare?"


"No. No! We...we had enough time." the girl replied, moving to one of the chocobos. She was about to toss her bag on top of it when she looked over it and saw the other two men walking away. "Uhm...are your other...escorts not coming with us?"


"I told them to go ahead. If they see any ambush they will let us now."


"I can't imagine an ambush will be something we will need to worry about," Antimony interjected, looking towards her daughter, tone conciliatory. "I'm sure everything will be quiet."


The blue hooded man nodded. "I do not think the northern roads see much in the way of danger. As long as we keep away from the Invisible City we will be safe."


K'airos secured her bag on the mount and then looked at her mother. "Do you need help with yours?"


"Thank you, Airos. You are so thoughtful." She made herself smile, "but you don't need to worry yourself over me." This said she made to secure her own bag to one of the other chocobos and, soon, was sitting upon it.


K'airos did the same, and soon they were moving northwards steadily. She did not feel much like speaking, so it was going to be a very silent journey.


If Qion'li hadn't spoken, that is. "Are you both from Ul'dah? If you don't mind the question."


Antimony cast an uncertain look towards K'airos, taking up her chocobo's reins. Her shoulders shifted with a faint sigh. "No, but we are from the region."


"Close enough." Qion'li said, keeping his head facing forward. "I do not enjoy the city too much. It's a bit...crowded, I'd say. My brothers enjoy those more than me."


"Ah," Antimony's expression relaxed just a hair, welcoming conversation at least someone removed from the difficult conversation of an hour earlier. "I can understand that feeling. We are not city miqo'te."


"From one of the local tribes, I wager? I was born in one of those. Except in the Black Shroud of course. Not many moon keepers decide to live on their own in a desert. Not that I know of."


K'airos chose to keep quiet, apparently.


"It must be difficult for you to travel here," Antimony acknowledged. "Are you alright with the heat?"


"I have gotten used to it. I prefer it to the Shroud's pests, actually."


"I've heard they have giant insects there." K'airos commented, her voice edging on the 'impossible to hear' spectrum. 


"That's true. And most of them fly. It's quite disgusting."


K'airos shuddered.


"It is not a friendly place," Antimony agreed, offering K'airos an empathetic look. "Thankfully the worst we get in the desert are fly swarms."


"I'd say Thanalan is quite a friendly place, sun and heat notwithstanding." Qion'li replied. "It has as many beast tribes as and as many unsavory individuals living inside the city as anywhere else. Not a bad place, considering!"


"I suppose not." Grateful that this Qion'li fellow was at least pleasant company, Antimony worked to distance herself further from the earlier stresses. If she could lead by example, Airos would find greater comfort. At least that was how she imagined it. "The open spaces are relaxing. And there is no worry for the woodwrath."


The man huffed. "Ul'dah has the Syndicate to make out for their other lacks of obnoxious recipes for disaster. But at least they can be dealt with, eventually. Supernatural powers are much harder to uproot."


K'airos lingered behind them. She got a little closer, but not too much. She had placed her Blade mask on and seemed to be more concentrated on keeping her eyes and ears on their surroundings.


"Ah, yes, the Syndicate. But... it is as you say." It took some effort, but Antimony managed a small smile towards the Keeper. The hesitated and then ventured, "I hope I am not intruding overly much, but what are your economic interests in Ul'dah?"


"They are the richest city and the most pompous." he started. "Our guild specializes in the crafting of glamour crystals. Plenty of rich merchants and lords like to use magic to impress their fellow citizens at expensive parties. I'm sure one of them will find a much less reputable use, though. But that's inevitable."


"Glamour crystals? That certainly seems a wise investment. But surely the competition is quite high?"


"I can complain about the competition, just as much as they can complain about me. One or the other will eventually drive the other off or devour it. Just business as usual."


Antimony nodded at that, glancing back towards K'airos. She tried for a smile to her daughter. "You are fortunate to have such a business-wise man as your new employer, Airos."


"Yes. Ah..." K'airos answered, smiling back. "How long did you intend to stay in the region? I mean...my contract is one week only, but since you spoke of an extension I was wondering."


"I'll properly answer that question once we reach Highbridge. I will leave to conduct my business in Gridania for a few days, and fate is capricious little weasel." he huffed at that last part. "I might get a fever, or the Elementals might decide that I'd look funny with a boulder on my head." He turned briefly around to face the woman, and chuckled. "We'll see, that's what I'm saying."


"Did you not say he would keep you on payroll and on-call, Airos?" Antimony's ears shifted.


"Well, yes, but...he could change his mind." Her ears shifted a bit.


"We'll see." Qion'li repeated. "Let’s pray to the gods that no bandit or monster makes me doubt your ability."


"I have every ounce of faith in Airos's abilities. She is a grand huntress and the best Brass Blade you could find," Antimony stated proudly, lifting her chin.


K'airos, on the other hand, sunk her head between the shoulders, embarrassed. Fortunately, Qion'li didn't seem to mind. "I'm sure your confidence in your daughter is well placed." he said.


"Of course it is. As the one who has observed her from swaddled babe to grown adult, I know he capabilities best of all. Perhaps moreso than herself," Antimony nodded.


K'airos got her chocobo a bit too close to Antimony's, making the two snap their beaks at each other for about a second before forgetting all about it. "Mom!" she hissed lowly and barely added a "Please, stop." afterwards.


"What?" Antimony lifted her brows at her daughter. "I am helping your reputation, Airos. You should have more confidence in yourself."


She hissed again. "It's embarrassing!"


Green eyes blinking, Antimony furrowed her brow. Then she sighed. "Very well. Your mother will be quiet now."


"Thank you!" 


K'airos pulled her mount away so the chocobos wouldn't try to peck each other to death again. Though that was an exaggeration, of course. Qion'li didn't seem to notice their little exchange. Or perhaps he was just pretending.

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  • 1 month later...

Qion'li was a strange one. During their journey to the Golden Bazaar, and then to Highbridge, K'airos couldn’t make her mind up about the man. One hand, he was friendly enough. He was constantly speaking of his business, which was actually only an excuse to jump into speaking about his travels. He had apparently been everywhere in Eorzea and had taken pride on having friends everywhere. Including kobolds, somehow. K'airos found that one suspicious enough to put in doubt everything else he had said. 


But lying during idle talk wasn't something that bothered her.


What bothered her was a feeling of being watched by the merchant. She could only recall to moment in which the man was glaring at her, but they could be easily dismissed as nothing. Coincidences. The man certainly had a right to direct his eyes to wherever, or whomever, he pleased.


Then the thoughts that Qion'li could, perhaps, fancy her in some way made her blush and forget what she was doing.


She recalled what she was doing after she slammed her forehead against the door. It was certainly a novel way to knock.


The house was a small building against the northern cliffs of Thanalan, with only two rooms, with a really small bathroom to the side. So small there was no tub. Just a shower with a curtain and a toilet. Their kitchen was the fireplace, and their dining room was a thin and long table near it with just enough chairs for her and her mother.


The house was close enough to Highbridge to be able to see most of the buildings, and certainly the famously high bridge. It was also a very recent construction. Perhaps Qion'li was behind that.


She found her hands full of things, so she knocked again. This time, she used her foot. "Mom! I'm back!"


Antimony straightened immediately from where she'd crouched in front of the fireplace, carefully nursing a nearly used up fire core back to life so that they might cook a meal later. Her back protested the sudden action, and she slowed her movement with a wince, one hand shifting to rub at her spine. It couldn't weight down the smile that came with greeting her daughter again for long, however.


She hadn't been certain about accepting Qion'li's hospitality regarding this small house at first, but now she was simply glad to have a place K'airos could return to for security and love.


Tucking a few stray strands of grey hair back into one of her braids, Antimony stepped towards the door and opened it wide, her smile softening at the sight of her thing-burdened daughter. "So you are, Airos. Come, put those things down. You didn't run into any trouble out there, did you? You should let me check you over for injury."


"Wha- no, I just brought food!" K'airos announced, stepping in and finally paying attention to the baskets she had brought. The topmost was filled with comestibles. Nothing particularly expensive. Or tasty. Or abundant. But it was edible and she figured that was the important part.

She walked towards the fireplace and let her burden down next to it, getting one off the top of the other, revealing its contents.


"And blankets, because those beds must be covered with mites."


Antimony pursed her lips, watching her daughter carefully for a few seconds longer. "Depending on how long we stay here, we may wish to take the time to air them out." She smiled at the baskets, considering them a demonstration of K'airos's learned responsibility. Then she startled and turned back towards the fireplace, where the fire core had begun to sputter. She turned it carefully with a stick. "Has Qion'li told you how long he expects you to remain here?"


K'airos went to the bedroom, where two beds were placed against either side of the door, with a wooden dresser on the opposite side. The house was small enough that a conversation could be had comfortably from one end to the other. 


"Well... he's going to meet with someone tomorrow. The day after that he'll go to the Shroud. I don't have to actually follow him there, just up to the frontier." she explained, starting to take off the sheets from the beds. "But he's coming back in a week so...I'm guessing we should stay here until then. It's still paid work!"


Setting one hand against her back, Antimony lifted her eyes to the main room of the structure. She didn't bother asking if she could attend K'airos on that trip, not wanting to overly pester the young woman, though the thought of even that day without her daughter made her heart clench. "It is. I'm very proud of you." Her expression softened. "While we await his return, perhaps we can find the ingredients to make some of your old favorite meals here."


"I don't think we are close enough to the Sagolii. There's a huge chasm dividing Highbridge from everything to the south." K'airos pondered out loud, face neutral. "The tribe might be close, though! K'ile said they'd be moving-" she paused herself. Leaning back to look at her mother through the doorframe, she added: "Maybe that's not a good idea, though."


Antimony swallowed at that, dropping her face back towards the fireplace. "Perhaps not." Closing her eyes briefly, she took care to keep her ears up, keep her posture straight. "... We will make do, regardless. I'll provide for you in every way I can."


K'airos moved back into the main room carrying the bed sheets. They couldn't be older than the house, but they still had signs of having been there without use for a long time. "What happened with that Agency you were working with?"


"Oh, how did--" Antimony shook her head slightly and stood carefully from the fireplace, rubbing at her back a moment. "There was a... circumstances forced me to quit. But it was likely for the best." She turned to watch K'airos with a small smile. "I would not have wanted to be assigned away from you."


K'airos smiled and then stopped, because found out she hadn't emptied the other basket. Thus, she chose to drop the sheets she was carrying on the ground before peeking the new blankets up and heading back to the bedroom.


Antimony stepped over to the blankets K'airos had dropped, draping them over one arm and stepping towards the front door. "Have you kept up with your studies over the... years?" Her voice faltered for half a moment, but she quickly recovered.


"Studies?" K'airos sounded a bit stumped.


"Well... yes." Antimony fidgeted her fingers in the dusty blankets, suddenly unsure if she'd stepped too far into the past. "I know it was never your favorite thing, and I suppose as a bodyguard you don't need... but I think it's important to be able to write and know your numbers."


"I know those things already." The girl didn't seem to understand what her mother was trying to get to. She kept placing the blankets on the beds and flattening their surface. They were a bit too big. "There are infinite numbers, because you can always add more to either side." she stated, trying to prove how she knew -all- mathematics.


"Ah... of course." Taking in a deep breath, Antimony opened the door. "One moment, Airos. I'm just going to lay these out. I'll be right outside should you need me."


"Alright!" the young Miqo'te nodded, rearranging the sheets so they wouldn't bulge everywhere. They certainly were bigger than she expected.


Once outside, two voices reached Antimony, coming from somewhere on the other side of the house. Apparently, the walls of the building were very sturdy and made to suffocate the outside noises. Perhaps that was where all the invested money had gone: instead of size, it had very well made walls.


"Who could have said the Shroud would be so warm, hot, and dry?" said one, having the distinct feminine squeak that most lalafell women had.


"This isn't the Shroud, it's Thanalan," the second voice said. Also a female one but much more grave and somber, carrying a Lominsan accent across every word.


"How would YOU know? You've never been here in the Shroud!"


"Actually, I ha-"


"Shut up! Let's see if anyone in this house can show you how WRONG you are."


Antimony blinked, pausing a short distance outside the house to tilt her ears towards the voices. As she listened in confusion, her eyes sought out nearby stones upon which to lay the blankets. Rather than to stones, however, Antimony's feet carried her around the front of the house.


"Who is there?" She called out, adjusting the blankets over one arm with a frown. "You are in Thanalan, for what it's worth..."


The origin of the voices were a lalafell woman wearing a straw hat and an incredibly yellow tunic with a purple sash on her waist. The other woman was a pale midlander with short and messy chocolate hair covering her head. She was much more sensibly dressed for the area: just white and light brown clothes that made her almost look like a refugee.


"See, I told y-" started the midlander, and never finished.


"Shut up!"


The lalafell turned to look at Antimony with her green eyes, placing both hands over them even though they were safely under the hat's shadow. "Hi! I'm Nuronon Nuron, and this is Nurona."


"Actually, my name is-"


"Shut up!" she interrupted her again. She turned to face Antimony and walked towards her. The Midlander followed with shy steps behind. "My companion is under the DELUSION that we are in Thanalan. But we are in the Shroud. Correct?"


Lifting one brow, Antimony flicked her own green eyes between the pair for a moment before flicking her tail. "No. This is Thanalan. Ah, the eastern region, to be exact." Pressing her lips together, she glanced over her shoulder, silently hoping K'airos was alright alone inside that house, and then looked back to the hyur and the lalafell. "Though if you were looking for the Shroud, you are not far off."


The lalafell's lips curved downwards, dissaproving, while she stabbed Antimony with her sight. "Oh, is that so?" she finally said, adjusting her hat around. "Where is this Shroud that I have so little idea of where it is, and how come I haven't reached it yet?"


"It's in that dire-"


"Shut up!"


The Midlander sighed.


Antimony's mouth quirked, and her boots scuffed against dusty ground as she shifted her weight. "It is just north a ways, past the bridge. Perhaps half a day's walk, less if you hurry." She smiled slightly. "Have you been lost long?"


"No, we are not lost. Do we look lost to you?"


"If you followed the directions you were given-"


"Well, we are not!" the lalafell continued, ignoring her companion. "We are just having some travelling difficulties. Everything in the Shroud-"


"Thanalan." the other corrected, raising one finger.


"-in Thanalan looks the same to us. How do you do to find your way around here?"


"They probably-"


"Shut up!"


Antimony's ears pressed back for half a moment before she shook her head and lifted one hand. "Alright, a moment, please." She paused, as though waiting for them to quiet down, but then just pressed on, "You're not far from the Shroud, so don't worry overmuch. Though should you get lost again, the sun is as true a guide as you will find. It rises to the east, falls to the west."


"Duh." the lalafell mocked. "We know that. We are Lominsans. We just...don't have a boat!"


"We could have wagon. That's like a ground-ship. I don't think your sense of direction would be any better, though." the taller woman said, rubbing her chin.


The lalafell threw daggers with her eyes to the Midlander for at least ten seconds. "Who asked you?" she barked.


"Calm yourselves, the both of you," Antimony chided with a frown. "It's no wonder you got lost if you spend as much time arguing as it appears." The older woman shook the blankets hung over her arm, and a gust of hot, dry wind billowed them out. She had to struggle a moment to keep them in place before continuing, "Are you hungry? Food and water may help you keep on your direction."


"Thank you, but we have supplies arranged for the travel." the midlander replied, nodding her head.


The lalafell, instead, pouted. She grabbed the wings of her straw hat with both hands to not let the wind take it off. "Just point this awful ignorant where the Shroud is located so she can be proved wrong." she said.


The other sighed, shook her head, and offered an apologetic look to Antimony.


Pursing her lips, Antimony sighed as well and then gestured with the arm carrying the blankets. "Highbridge is less than a malm away. Simply head north - there is a quite clear road that you should likely want to remain on."


"There's no adventure on the roads." The lalafell continued to pout, turning her head in the direction Antimony was pointing them to.


"Maybe we'll be ambushed by the Amalj'aa." the other one commented. This, somehow, cheered the lalafel up, who essentially hopped twice in the town's direction.


"I guess that's the best adventure we can hope for in this stupid Black Shroud!" 


The midlander sighed long at that. She bowed in Antimony's direction before following the suddenly happy, but still grumpy, and moving lalafell.


"Ah, you shouldn't hope... for... that," Antimony finished in a mutter, lifting her free hand vaguely in farewell. She stood for a moment, watching the pair, before letting out a heavy sigh and starting for a few flat, nearby rocks.

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The rest of the day was uneventful. Qion'li sent word that he expected K'airos to be ready to escort him by the next morning to escort him to Gridania. But nothing else. 


With new blankets and, presumably, new beds in a new house, K'airos had a good night of rest, dreaming of strangely water filled fields and a white mountain in the middle of it. And Shelly, the smallshell she had adopted for all of a moment back in Thanalan's coast. The tiny crab was clenched to her arm. She waved it and giggled, trying to get him off. But it did not work. Instead, its tiny cute claws continued to press against her skin. She waved again. He answered with a playful bite. She asked him to stop. It replied by clacking its pincers and, suddenly severing her arm.


Out of the dream, the girl woke up with a shout, kicking the blankets to get them away but instead getting them all tangled on her feet.


Antimony snapped awake with every instinct of an aware mother at her daughter's cry. Her thoughts barely had time to coalesce around what she'd heard before her legs took her from her own cot to that of K'airos's. A panic Antimony hadn't quite realized drained quickly when she recalled the security they both rested in. "Airos, Airos, walk with the light. It is okay." Soothing hands pet at the young woman's hair and shoulder. "Calm down now. You're safe."


K'airos mumbled confusedly, eyes wide and looking up to her mother. She stopped kicking the blankets. Instead she looked at her own arm, which she was very sure was cut off. She found it perfectly normal, at first glance, and that was enough. 


She mumbled again: "My arm's fine?"


Green eyes blinked, the lines around them deepening with a vaguely worried smile. "You're all fine, Airos. Though you've got yourself rather tangled up."


The girl closed her eyes. "But my arm feels funny." Her voice kept being mostly a sleepy mumble.


Antimony's smile broadened somewhat, and she moved one hand behind K'airos's shoulders to urge the woman to sit upright. "You likely just slept on it oddly. It'll pass."


K'airos sat up, rubbing her arm. "It's not funny like th-ow!." she exclaimed out of nowhere. She stopped the movements and bent her arm to look at it with more attention, getting it near her face. There was various long, thin strips of skin that were missing, the flesh underneath slightly green. It wasn't bleeding.


Antimony furrowed her brow when K'airos made a pained sound, leaning forward slightly to try and see what her daughter was looking at. When she did, she just blinked at it, not quite comprehending what she saw. "Airos, did you get hurt while with Sir Qion'li and not tell me?"


K'airos first reaction was, in retrospective, not the proper one: "-Sir- Qion'li?" Then she focused on the wounds again. "I didn't do anything dangerous. Just watching him- I mean...I paying attention to...for dangers. And stuff."


Narrowing her eyes, Antimony reached out one hand to rest it upon K'airos's arm. "Show it so I may see clearly. I won't have you brushing off injuries as minor. It could get infected."


She lifted the arm and kept it immobile. "I should clean it. Maybe these blankets have...I don't know." She looked down and passed her other hand across the blanket's surface. "Jagged...edges?"


Pursing her lips, Antimony ghosted her fingers over K'airos's skin, exercising an aether-sense she'd not had much reason to use in some time. Her frown deepened for a moment as she did this, tail shivering anxiously, but then she forced herself to look up and smile at her daughter. "Certainly not the blankets, but perhaps the frame has splintered in places. Regardless, we should clean this so it does not get infected." Antimony stood then and turned to consider their stores.


While the house was certainly small, Qion'li had made sure they were properly stocked. If anything was missing, it was likely to be found in Highbridge. Or perhaps that was just the Moonkeeper's logic.


K'airos avoided rubbing her arm again for less than an inch. She moved her legs off the bed, draggin the blankets with her. She gasped. "What if there are bugs from Gridania? We are close, and maybe they migrate and taste people's arms! Like mosquitos."


"I think we would both notice if bugs had infested this place," Antimony murmured distracted. She perused the sparse shelves, found nothing, and moved to the single cabinet built out of the wall. She shouldn't have been surprised that the medical supplies Qion'li had furnished them with were not the kind she knew and trusted. There was an ointment with a smooth smell (she picked out honey in the midst of it), and some dusty gauze bandages which she shook out as she stood. "I will perhaps take a walk later and try to find you the proper things for your care, but this should do for now. Do you feel any aches elsewhere?"


K'airos spent a minute or two untangling her feet, still feeling dozy. She left the blankets were they were, half on the floor and the other half on the bed. "No, just the one arm."


"Good." Returning to her daughter, Antimony took the young woman's arm in a gentle but firm grip. "Be still," she reminded before beginning to carefully apply the ointment to the cuts. Her tail curled as her fingers moved over the wounds; something about them did not look right. Something did not feel right. After a moment's hesitation, she murmured a few, ancient prayers over her daughter's arm and set to wrap the gauze around, so as to seal the ointment in place.


"I think I'm going to sleep on the floor next time." K'airos commented. "Maybe once Qion'li is in Gridania we'll be able to refurnish the place and get -proper beds."


"You may take mine," Antimony said firmly, nodding to emphasize her words as she tied off the bandage. "Certainly I did not wake with any new wounds."


"But then you'd have to sleep on the floor."


"It would be not very different from what I did most of my life." Antimony lifted one brow, smiling slightly, and then tapped K'airos on the shoulder. "Take my bed. You are the one whose job requires your top condition. I would worry far too much if you didn't get a good night's rest."


K'airos looked at her now bandaged arm before nodding to her mother with a slight smile. "Okay. That makes sense. Thank you."


"I will always do everything I can to help you. Now," Antimony paused to rest one hand on her hip, "I will send you off with replacement bandages and ointment. You must promise me to not let your work get in the way of your health during your escort."


K'airos hummed in thought. "Bodyguards do that. They throw their bodies in front of other people’s bodies so they don't catch any arrows." She stood up. "But don't worry! I'll be careful. And I have a shield."


Antimony brought her hands together, wringing them. "Please don't remind me, Airos... I'm going to be worried sick while you're gone!"


"I'm sorry! Ah..." The woman raised both hands and tapped their fingers against each other. "Don't worry! Nobody's going to shoot arrows at us."


And then she added, out of reflex: "Probably."


Antimony just sighed and ran her hands down the front of her clothes anxiously. Forcing herself to turn away from K'airos, Antimony set about gathering up the small number of first aid items for the young Blade to take. As she did this she spoke, "I hope only that you find less life-threatening work in the future, dear."


K'airos forgot completely that, perhaps, she should be checking what time is it. Instead of doing that, she moved to her mother's former bed and sat on it. "Maybe after this job's done I'll consider something else. Is office work fun?"


"I find it rather engaging," Antimony nodded and then hesitated, turning around with a small pouch containing the first aid items. She held this out to K'airos and gave her daughter an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, listen to me going on as though... I won't force you to do anything /you/ don't enjoy."


"We'll talk about this later...wait." She stood up, extending her hands to take the pouch. She groaned with s slight realization "It's too late to go back to sleep, isn't it?" She finished with a sigh and then made to the closet. "I'm going to prepare my armor."


Startling at the realization of time, Antimony spun back around. "I will ensure you have plenty of food for the journey."


The young Blade was quite disappointed that she couldn't go back to bed, but the fact that she had time to have breakfast and forget about nightmare Shelly cutting her arm was good enough to cheer her up. 


She made to the door with the healing pouch tied to her belt alongside a waterskin, another pouch but of dried fruits and the Blade mask. She was covered from neck to toe with her chainmail on, a red and black turban on her head, scimitar on her hip and the Blade's signature buckler on her left hand. The bandages were covered by the armor, hidden completely from sight. 


She stepped out of the house.


Kairos was immediately greeted by a Lalafell, blonde-haired and ashen-skinned and pale-eyed, with a small tuft of beard below his black lips. The elegantly garbed man stood directly in front of the door, an unmistakable dark silhouette against the pale sand, with his dark blue coat, black pants and black shoes. Even though he was dusty from his surroundings.


He lifted his gloved hands over his head and called out happily. "Hello! Do you live here?"


K'airos staggered backwards as a slight panic unfolded upon her thanks to not expecting anyone. She recovered quickly, however and bowed her head slightly. "Ah...I...guess I do live here. At least for a week or so." 


The scare made her forget to properly close the door.


Inside, Antimony was going through the supplies Qion'li had provided them for perhaps the third time, making mental notes of deficiencies she would rectify while K'airos was away. Her ears quirked and she lifted her head in curious confusion at the sounds of her daughter conversing just outside the house.


"That's good! I was looking for just such a person who lived in this very place, but only for the next week." The Lalafell nodded. He clapped his small hands in an idle gesture, glancing at the stones around him. "Maybe you're the person. The very person. You're employed by Qion'li?"


"Uh..." K'airos turned her head, watching the tiny person sideways. "Yes? Did you need to meet him?"


"No, no." The Lalafel waved his hands in front of his head. "He ordered a custom hauberk for his bodyguard to wear. And I can see why. That chainmail won't stop an Amal'Jaa spear quite as well as high-quality plate mail."


"Oh. Did he? That's...nice of him. He should have told me about that before, though."


"Airos," Antimony called from inside, "is everything alright out there? You don't want to be late!"


The girl glanced back to reply. "Yes, just...someone Qion'li sent." And then she went back to looking at the lalafell.


"Oh, are you in a hurry? I won't keep you!" The lalafell spun to a wooden handcart that sat nearby, partially obscured by a bush and some rocks. "I just need you to put it on and make sure ti fits right. I'll walk with you if I'm making you late."


Antimony straightened, brushing off her knees, and made for the door. "Well if Qion'li sent him, surely they would know you are on a schedule," she chided as she stepped up behind K'airos, looking around her daughter.


"Yes. I am on a schedule!" She nodded, and gestured past the lalafell into Highbridge. "If he really wants me to put on that armor I'll slip into it before departing. How did he...uh...get my measures?"


The lalafell opened the box and pulled out a rust-colored plate hauberk. "I pulled the Brass Blades armor issuance forms from your files. Sssh! Don't ask how and don't tell anyone. Trade secret." He walked towards Kairos, holding the hauberk out and almost hiding himself behind it. "Every tradesman needs a few good tricks, after all."


Pursing her lips at the lalafell, Antimony set her hands on her hips. "I am well aware of the privacy expectations surrounding such records. What is your name?"


K'airos let her mother do the heavy social and scolding work while she herself took the hauberk off the lalafell's hands.


The lalafel glanced briefly towards Antimony. "Kibkibdo Dededo at your service, miss. If you have a problem with my business operations, you may file a complaint however you feel." He then returned his attention to K'airos. "There you go! Don't try putting it on over that bulky old Blades chainmail. It'll never fit!"


"Of course not!" K'airos giggled. "And....uhm, thank you."


"Hm. Perhaps I will," Antimony cautioned. She found herself distracted by K'airos's giggle, though, and turned to smile at the young woman. "Go and change quickly. You are on a schedule, remember!"


"Just let me know if it's tight at all!" Kibkibdo bounced.


She nodded once to each person and started walking away. "And...how do I find you, Kibkibdo?"


The bouncing ceased. "Well I'll wait until you have it on and then I'll be just outside."


"Oh. But..." K'airos trailed off, and inclined her head towards the town. "I'm going to meet with Qion'li first. He should have sent you earlier!"


"No, no, you have to put it on now or else I can't fix it if it doesn't fit!" The bouncing resumed. "If you show up with the armor and can't put it on it'll make us both look bad and then Qion'li will never hire either of us again."


"He will hardly blame Airos for your shortcomings, Mister Dedo." Antimony gave him a warning frown.


"Dededo!" The Lalafell staggered.


Antimony waved one hand dismissively.


K'airos stopped walking and turned around, looking at the poor little man with a stumped expression on her face. "I'm sorry, but I'm already late. You can come with me and we'll explain it to him! I'm sure he'll understand."


"Augh!" The small man stomped towards K'airos. "No wonder you work as a bodyguard. Your skills as a servant or serviceperson leave much to be desired. Explain it to him! Feh! Like you've never been employed before." Kibkibdo stomped right up to his little push cart, opened the box atop it, and reached into it. "Just a moment."


"Do not speak to my daughter in such a way," Antimony warned with a snap, practically looming towards the lalafell. "You will be patient and accept what ill may come of your inability to consider the schedules of others."


K'airos waited for the lalafell to take out whatever he was looking for in his box.


Kibkibdo stood away from his box, turned, and swung his arm over his head as he did so. A blur of gray moved with him and flew from his outstretched arm as a long, wickedly carved blade flew directly at one of K'airos eyes.


The woman yelped, raising her hands to cover herself. The hauberk was on them, though, and so the blade hit it instead. She dropped it to the ground after that and reached for her sword.


Antimony flinched bodily, green eyes flashing wide as the weapon flew towards her daughter. Instinct wanted to throw herself at the man who had dared threaten her child, but something else froze her in place.


"Gah! Twelve damn that stupid hauberk!" The Lalafel turned back to his box and began to dig around in it once more. "'Try to avoid doing irreparable damage to organs,' they said. 'Try not to mess up her face,' they said. 'Here, use this hauberk,' they said. Well to Thal with it!" The Lalafel withdrew an iron sword that looked far too big for him.


K'airos was not polite enough to wait for the lalafell to stop, or even start, mumbling to himself before she was already running and lunging towards him with her sword coming down.


The Lalafell fixed his grip on his sword and hefted it in front of him. "Now we'll see what gets the job done!" He turned on K'airos, and then went wide-eyed when he saw how close K'airos was to him. She was already well inside of his swing area, and all he could do was slam his weapon against her side as the woman's sword hit him dead on with full force.


She gave two uneasy steps to a side as she lost her balance, and then turned it on her favor, shifting her weight to spin around and slam the tiny man with her buckler.


Antimony just kind of clung to the doorframe and feared for K'airos's life.


K'airos recovered good footing, turned to face the attacker and paused. Then she noticed her initial slash had fallen between the man's shoulder and his neck, leaving a gaping wound from there to the middle of his torso, with all and an enormous red stain covering half of him. And then, of course, she had slammed her shield against the man without thinking. She didn't wage the damage that had caused on top of the first attack. 


"Go to Highbridge! Get the guards to come." she exclaimed to her mother but without looking at her.


Breathing deeply, Antimony pushed herself away from the door to hurry around the gruesome scene. In this, she would take her daughter's orders, instead of the other way around.


The poor Lalafell knelt against his cart, the massive iron blade well off to one side. Mostly limp, Kibkibdo's small body bled quickly, his face limp and darkened. He gurgled through blood, "Heh. What're guards gonna do? Stupid."


From where she was, K'airos shouted a question: "Why did you attack me?"


"This isn't done just because you broke your sister's body." Kibkibdo chuckled. His large eyes, outlined in red, turned on K'airos and looked her over. "Yeah, yeah. You wanna know? Put on the hauberk."


The woman didn't hesitate. She walked to the lalafell, her eyes set on him with a frown, on his limbs. On his eyes. "Tell me what you know." she growled.


"Make a deal." The little man smirked. "Put on the hauberk and I tell you as much as I can before I die. I've only got a few minutes, but I can talk fast."


Antimony broke into a run once she was a good ten or so fulms away, heading straight for Highbridge. Her panicked waving and expression would flag down the first Blade or otherwise she ran into.


The woman glanced at the hauberk. When she looked back at the man, her eyes were open wide, her mouth curved in a crooked line and her hand gripping the hilt strongly. "You have two seconds."


The Lalafell chuckled, shaking his head. "Nah. You first."


K'airos didn't count to two. She counted to three and, when she was done, she raised her blade and slashed the man's stomach without another word.


The man's smile didn't linger. His lips fell into a straight line, and he looks down at his gut as it poured out. "Shoulda just... done things... my way." His head drooped forward, and he exhaled and went still.


The young Blade moved towards the house and then turned, looking at the man while she walked backwards. Five steps and she hit the wall of the house. She let her weight slide her back down to the ground. She sat there, waiting for her mother to come back.


It took a good ten minutes or so for Antimony to return, a confused and uniformed Blade following after. The woman huffed, trying to catch her breath, but sped up when she caught sight of K'airos sitting on the ground against one wall. "Airos!" Her voice pitched up, terrified that her daughter had been wounded. She couldn't bear to look at the blood and guts that spilled over the ground around what was left of Kibkibdo's body. The Blade, looking a little green, dealt with inspecting that as she rushed to her daughter's side. "I returned as quickly as I could! Are you hurt? Oh, Airos, don't move, I will take care of everything--!"


"I'm alright." the woman replied, standing up. She smiled at her mother. "I'm fine. I don't know what that was but...that should be fine. I'll-" She paused, leaning to a side to look beyond Antimony's shoulder. "Did you call Qion'li, too?" she asked suddenly, in a lower tone.


The man was approaching towards the house, in a ridiculously elaborate white and pink tunic. The darkness of his skin and the fact he was the only one wearing that in a hundred miles made it clear who he was to those who knew him.


Antimony stood with K'airos, putting her hands on either side of the woman's face and inspecting her closely with an anxious gaze. "You don't look hurt, but... ah, what if he struck you and caused internal damage!" Antimony spent a few moments practically panicking over this before she turned coincidentally and spotted a certain Keeper approaching from Highbridge. "... What is he doing...? Ah! Probably concerned over your lateness..." She spun back to K'airos. "Don't worry, don't worry, Airos. This horrible event is more than enough of an excuse..."


Qion'li spared a glance on the dropped hauberk first, finding it more interesting and out of place than the dead lalafell. When his eyes moved to the dead man while he walked by, he didn't seem to find the sight disgusting. 


"Were you attacked? Is anyone hurt?" he asked the women, tone neutral, turning his head to them.


"We are both fine, we just..." K'airos started, feeling like she was shrinking for no reason. "...that man attacked me when I was going to meet you."


"Let's go inside for a moment, Airos," Antimony urged. "Get you something to drink, some time to collect yourself." She snapped a frown towards Qion'li as she spoke and finished it with a curt, "You should choose your commissioned crafters more carefully."


Qion'li raised his eyebrows. "I do not understand."


"He claimed you had hired him to make a new armor for me." the young Blade replied, pointing past him to the dropped hauberk. The man followed the motion to look at it. "He was...really upset when I didn't want to put it on."


The merchant walked towards the armor. "I did not send for anything of the sort to be made for you or anyone else, Miss K'airos."


Antimony turned on Qion'li, hands on her hips. "How else could he have known of her whereabouts? Either you sent him, or you were irresponsible with records, but it put my daughter in unnecessary danger."


"Following. Magical scrying. Or simply waiting." was Qion'li's answer. He crouched next to the armor and held one hand on top of it, trying to sense any aetheric auras. "This is the only road to Gridania, and it would not be hard for my competitors to make the educated guess I'd pass through here."


"I don't think this is the work of your...competitors." K'airos mumbled.


Brow knitting worriedly, Antimony looked back to her daughter. "What do you mean, Airos? I can think of no other reason but this man that your life might be in danger."


K'airos lips curved down slightly while she took a moment before replying. "He mentioned D'aijeen, and that 'it didn't matter' that...she had...." She looked away, making a little circular gesture with both hands.


Qion'li stood up and turned to look at them with a frown, but said nothing.


Antimony paled, ears lying back, and went very quiet for a few seconds. Her mouth opened, then closed, and she lifted one hand to K'airos's cheek.


The man spoke up: "I am unconvinced. With enough coin, your captain would have revealed you were hired by me. Angry competitors probably used your sister's demise to throw you off your guard and, dare I say, get you to forfeit this contract."


K'airos kept quiet, likely as she gathered her thoughts on the matter.


Drawing in a thin breath, Antimony watched K'airos in silence for a moment longer before letting her hand fall. "Do you want me to send word to Ulanan, Airos? They may be able to help." She largely ignored Qion'li for the moment.


"You should." the girl nodded, and then looked down to her feet for a moment. Then, she looked at Qion'li. "We should depart now. Any moment longer we spend here is more time they have to learn that their attack didn't work."


"I agree. But if you are right and these men were targeting you personally, then your mother is also a potential target." The man gave a few steps towards them, looking at Antimony. "I can arrange for you to stay in Highbridge until your acquaintances arrive or, if you prefer, transport back to Ul'dah. I'm sure you'll be safer there rather than on this little cabin of mine."


"I will not leave K'airos alone here," Antimony shook her head firmly. "Ul'dah is out of the question, but... I will accept your assistance in Highbridge."


"Then you will have it. Take a moment to recover and then come meet me at the town. I will have the preparations ready when you arrive." He finished speaking with a slight bow. He turned around to walk back to the town, but he stopped and turned to them again. "What do you intend to do with the armor?"


K'airos shrugged. "I don't know. They wanted me to wear it, so I'm -not- doing that."


"Certainly not." Pursing her lips, Antimony thought a moment. "Have someone inspect it. That lalafell could have been attempting to curse my Airos! Or worse."


Qion'li nodded. "I agree. One of my brothers is a thaumaturge. Once I'm in the Shroud, I can bring it to him. He lives close to my usual route, so it would not affect my own schedule in any considerable amount. I could take it to him and have it examined...if you do not mind."


K'airos looked at her mother, hoping she'd know more about what was the right thing to do than her. Magic had never been her strength.


"Keep it out of sight and Airos, do not even /touch/ it!" Antimony turned in place a moment, tapping her fingers against the sides of her legs and then just wringing her hands. "I will prepare a binding ward bag for it, if you could help me collect the ingredients."


"Sounds reasonable." the man said. "If you can give me a list, I will check the merchants who are resting. Some might prove to be helpful."


"Yes..." Antimony looked around again, anxious face casting about as though in search of further danger. Then she watched Airos for a moment before nodding and repeating more firmly, "Yes. I will be right back." And she went inside to prepare said list.

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A willing moogle would carry the following letter to its intended receiver, one Ulanan Ulan known to be somewhere near Drybone in Eastern Thanalan. How the moogle found the lalafell is not clear. Some kind of crazy moogle magic, likely!


The letter is brief and hastily sent - the ink smudged where it had not yet dried before being folded and given to the moogle.


Dear Ulanan,


I fear I must interrupt your quest and for the worst possible of reasons. K'airos's life was threatened today, the morning of writing this, by someone who claimed to be sent by her employer. We have reason to believe this was not actually the case, however, and K'airos said the assailant spoke of K D Aije the voidsent. You and your friend may find it useful to come to Highbridge. The assailant is dead.


Antimony Jhanhi

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((Skipping to just outside Drybone now, with Ulanan and Burned Cypress, tagging onto their scene that ended in Wolves in Sheeps' Clothing))




"Kupo! Mail! You have mail! A letter! It's made of paper! You like paper, don't you? Kupo!"


Ulanan was awoken by the distinct tingling voice of a moogle. She opened her eyes in turns, slowly, as she took the world around her. She leaned backwards and stretched her arms upwards, tilting her enormous hat with the action. The morning sun blinded her, making her complain loudly with a huff. "Cypress! Are you awake?" she asked to the air, still blinded but looking around with her head anyway.


Cypress lay flat upon her back, exposed red skin soaking in the rising sunlight; traditional garb and boots having been shed for rest. "Of course," she responded, voice not any rougher than it usually was, unaffected by disuse over the night.


"Kupo. Kupo! Kupo. Kupo kupo kupo. Kupo kupo kupo kupo KUPO!" the moogle insisted, slowly at first and then very quickly. He shook the letter as if it was some kind of deadly flail that was also on fire.


The lalafell snatched the paper out of the tiny creature's hand. "Why are you bothering me and not her? She's awake already." she groaned, opening it.


"That's not the kupo that the letter was sent to, kupo!"


"I am also unable to read, if you have forgotten." A bandaged head turned towards Ulanan's voice.


"You could have given it to me when I woke up..." Ulanan groaned, reading. The moogle didn't waste any more time on them, and flew away, making strange noises that the small lalafell woman found extremely annoying.  The letter, however, distracted her. "It's Antimony again. Someone attacked K'airos."


"Does it say who?" There was almost a bored drawl to it.


"No." The lalafell stood up with a jump. She folded the letter and hid it between the pages of the book she had chained to the belt. "But who attacked her spoke of D'aijeen. They are in Highbridge now."


"That is not far off the path that we were on?" asked Cypress, tall, broad body sitting up as her hand reached out for her leathers.

Ulanan rubbed her chin with one hand, thinking and imagining a mental map of Thanalan. "I imagine the tribe won't go anywhere. But Antimony and K'airos could be attacked again at any time."


"That is not a particular concern of mine. But we should not leave a stone unturned." Fingers felt around her edges of the worn dragonhide, before figuring out how to put it back on, slowly covering her body back up.


"Of course not. People dying? Who cares! Voidsent loose? We must do something lest they...kill people!" Ulanan mocked, throwing her arms into the air. She started gathering her things. "If we hurry, we might reach Highbridge before tomorrow. Do you want a mount?"


"I would not put it past the woman to cry wolf." She paused her dressing momentarily, "I'll ride if that is what you wish."


The lalafell opened her book with a smile and sat on the ground right where she was. "Well, I'm small enough. So one mount should carry both of us."

She passed the pages on it, tearing them out and throwing them in a pile besides her.


"You hate voidsent. What about Arcanima?" she asked.


"Arca... What?" Cypress was unfamiliar with the term.


"It's a discipline of magic. I guess we'll find out now."


The lalafell stood up with another jump and turned around. She saw her pile of paper...and grimaced at how some had not only fell out of place but also how Thanalan's wind was moving them away. "I forget I need to do this indoors. Get up!" She waved the book forward, a stream of aether bursting out of it into the pages. It settled on their surface and then raised with them, forming a big sphere a few meters in front of the lalafell. Then two thin long wings sprung out of the shape, along with two tiny arms and two equally small legs. Finally, a big round eye was drawn in the front, with one silly happy smile under it.


Cypress could feel the aether around them twist and bend as the lalafell worked, stilling her hands as they pulled boots onto her feet. Then it all settled back out. "What was that you did?" asked the woman unmoving, boot half-on from where she sat on the ground.


"I created a mount." she replied, tone slightly smug. She walked around the construct once, both admiring and examining her own work. She didn't want it to dispel midflight. Or explode.


"I'm sure you will be best friends until the aether runs out." She patted it's side and, with the other hand, pointed at Cypress. The paper creature flew to her side, with wings to thin to be able to lift even a loaf of bread, and sat next to her loudly. "Whenever you are ready, ride it."


"... How?" pressed Cypress, pulling the rest of the boot on before standing.


"Sit on it. Its shape will accommodate to your...uhm." The lalafell gestured vaguely. "Then I will guide it."


"You haven't answered my question."


Ulanan raised one eyebrow. "How what?"


"How did you... create a mount? I felt... That’s what you called Arcamina? Whatever you did?"


"It uses mathematics, geometry and aether travelling across a geometrical shape. Yes. If you aren't hating it, I think we are fine," the lalafell nodded.


"It’s... strange. But it is as much a part of this world as you." Cypress moves towards Ulanan's voice, holding a bracing hand out in front of her.


She grabbed the roegadyn's hand and lead her to the 'mount'. "Over here."


She followed, hand eventually passing over paper. "This will not hold."


"It's magical. Of course it will hold!"


"..." Cypress tried to climb onto the thing awkwardly struggling, but mostly successful in the attempt.


Ulanan assisted her as best as she could, considering she barely reached the roegadyn's knees. Then she climbed herself, much more skillful in it than her companion, sitting in the front. The construct's structure seemed to bulge in a little bit before the aether on it shifted its shape to better accommodate the passengers.


"To Highbridge, then!"

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Though Qion'li had provided Antimony with a safe shelter in Highbridge - a bed in one of the shared barrack rooms - she did not linger there long. The rank smells of mercenary soldiers and the uncomfortable awareness of her lack of place in that setting drove her to the surface an hour or so after the Keeper and her daughter had left. She blinked into the sun, facing west out into the scrubland of Eastern Thanalan, then east towards the dry forest that would thicken and dampen into the swamp of the Shroud after several miles. Before the two had left, she'd been able to prepare a warding bag, to seal any curses on the hauberk, but she couldn't shake a niggling doubt in the ingredients, cobbled together as they were. Nothing out here was the same as she knew.


Worry for her daughter's safety set her walking, under the steady gaze of Blades going about their duty guarding the narrow bridge. She watched them stop and process two traveling carts, trying to distract herself by predicting the monetary value of the shipped goods from a distance, before the worry became too much again. She turned away from the bridge and ventured along a set of wooden stairs that traveled a short distance down the side of the cliff.


Setting her hands on a railing, Antimony let her gaze hang over the edge, down towards the river that surged far below, and let out a long sigh. Even in her death, K'aijeen haunted them. Morosely she wondered if it was because she had delayed in sending the girl's spirit to rest. She should have done it in Vesper Bay, but she had been too cowardly and grieving. Perhaps she should have done it many years ago in the Sagolii, when she had been lost the first time.


Pushing back from the railing, Antimony paced down the length of one pathway, and then turned to angle downward again, lost in thought.


As Antimony walked down the narrow steps, lost in her thoughts, someone else walked up those same steps lost in her own. Light glinted off of Antimony's glasses, and that light glinted off the glasses of the woman who approached. But the similarities stopped there.


The ashen-skinned Duskwight woman failed to notice Antimony, large-shoed footsteps heralding a collision course.


The greying miqo'te woman's nose brought her head up barely in time to avoid said collision. She skirted to the side hastily, leaning against the railing and muttering a quick, "Excuse me, I'm sorry."


"Hm?" The woman turned her head curiously, looking in Antimony's direction but well over the miqo'te's head. Behind her glasses, eyelids narrowed suspiciously over pink eyes. As she turned, her feet turned as well, but her legs didn't stop moving. The Elezen woman failed to get footing on her next step, stumbling forward and leaning back so that she wouldn't fall.


She leaned too far back and ended up a pathetic image of flailing woman as her lanky limbs windmilled in attempts to regain her balance, ultimately releasing her to topple backward down the stairs with a clatter of metal armor, a thud of leather shoes and the smack of bare legs.


Antimony yelped and flinched back against the railing, barely out of the way of flailing, toppling limbs. Then there came a thud from the Duskwight bottoming out on the stairs, and Antimony rushed instinctively down them. "Oh Lady, I am so sorry! I wasn't looking where I was going and this is such a narrow path and I didn't mean to startle you, please forgive me. Are you alright? That was an awful fall. Don't move, you could be hurt!"


"I don't feel hurt." The woman sat up crookedly, her back bent over long legs askew. Her chest and shoulders were armored, but her long legs were mostly bare, with only a short red skirt to cover her thighs. This accentuated how large her shoes were. "Well, hurt, yes. But not injured, that I can feel. Curiously numb in obvious points."


Brushing her pink hair out of her face, the Elezen woman looked up at Antimony. Then she squinted, scrunching her face up, a pink mark shaped like a heart on her cheek wrinkling, her pink lips frowning. The very pink-faced ashen woman stared for a moment before saying. "Are you a dust cloud?"


Her glasses were bent beneath one of her shoes.


Antimony crouched near the woman anxiously, long enough to rescue the Duskwight's glasses before Antimony's back protested enough that she had to straighten. Tail twitching anxiously, she held them out to the woman.  "Pain can often be delayed in such injuries. You should see whatever medic they have here for your fellow Blades. Aah... I can help you up! Oh, I feel awful. I am truly sorry..."


The woman failed to see the glasses being held out to her, likely for want of her glasses. "Oh, I'm not a Blade! And you don't have to trouble yourself with helping me. I'll just." She pulled her feet up in front of her, placed them together and then rolled her weight on to them. She immediately let out a small, high-pitched squawk and collapsed onto her side again.


"Aaah please, don't make any sudden movements!" Antimony waved her hands frantically in front of her, shuffling around to the Duskwight's side. "Ah, I'll just... I'll..." She pressed the glasses to the other woman's hand as she considered how to get the woman up. Height differences being what they were, it was unlikely Antimony could safely carry or drag or otherwise move the woman on her own. "I will get help."


"Nononono. Please don't!" The woman took the glasses, putting them over her face. They were bent dramatically, and so only rested over one eye at a time. "I believe I've still got one good ankle. One and one half. How many does a girl need?" She forced a laugh, which came off sounding a bit like she was in shock. Then she tried to get up again, and this time succeeded, wobbly though she was.


"It is not your ankle that you should be worried aboouuuuu--slowly, slowly!" Antimony hovered close, green eyes wide behind her own glasses, brow furrowed and forming thin lines of worry across her forehead.


"It's okay. Look, I'm fine." The woman continued her small laughter, waving her hands either to deflect Antimony's concern or to maintain balance. She squinted at Antimony through a cracked lens of her glasses. Then she blinked. "Oh. Oh, you look- whoops!" The large axe on her back shifted position suddenly, throwing off her balance and making her tilt.


Antimony's hands flailed out to uselessly try and steady the woman. "Please, be careful! I couldn't bare being responsible for... Just, do not try to walk yet."


The woman instinctively grabbed one of Antimony's arms, then tried to catch her balance by spreading her stance. Of course, one ankle gave out. "Ouch!" Her knees bent and she fell onto her haunches, still holding Antimony's arm.


The miqo'te woman squawked and flailed her free arm out to try and find purchase on something as the Duskwight's weight dragged her suddenly forward and down. Her hand found the railing, and she managed to stop herself from falling completely on top of the other woman, though not without wrenching her shoulder. "... As I said," she muttered. "I really should get you help." And she tried to extract her arm from the Duskwight's grip.


The woman let her go, but gestured desperately. "No, please, please don't! I'm absolutely... repairable! I'll just sit a time."


"They would be far more capable of helping you up safely, miss! Please, just..." She took a step backwards up the stairs, "... stay there. Do /not/ move!"


"No!" The woman reached after Antimony. "If you leave I promise I'll move as much as possible! I might even fall. I don't want help!"


"What, why--" Antimony brow wrinkled further in confusion. "Don't be ridiculous." Then she turned to head up the stairs.


The woman groaned, and then exclaimed, "Antimonium, just wait!"


Antimony stopped mid-step, blinking towards the landing above for a few moments. Then she half-turned to look back over her shoulder. "Ah... what? How do you know... or, almost know... my name?"


"Was I wrong?" The woman squinted through her single aligned lens again. "Antimonium Tartaricum is a compound made from a tartrate of potash used to treat respiratory ailments among those who can't afford high-quality medicine..." Her voice trailed off, as though she were going to say more and then decided not to. "You dwelled in Limsa Lominsa for a time?"


"Ah, that's... it's Antimony," the miqo'te woman murmured awkwardly, ears fidgeting in opposite directions. She wrung her hands together by her waist and tried but failed to place the Duskwight into any familiar box. "You truly need help. Why do you refuse to accept it?"


"Because I no longer work for the Agency! I'm an adventurer now." The woman leaned back on her hands and stretched her legs out in front of her, wincing at the weight of her large shoes on her ankles. "There is much ado about an adventurer's reputation. Can you imagine employing an adventurer that cannot walk? Or cannot get herself up after having fallen down? I cannot."


"Work for the..." Grey ears twitched, and finally she just sighed. "... Alright. Just, be careful. And take it slow."


"I will sit for a time." The woman's pink lips curled up in a forced smile, though pain still showed in the muscles of her face. "Ah. Do you... Uhm. Still work for the Agency?"


"The Agency.... oh!" Antimony's hands went to her mouth in realization, but she quickly forced them back down into cooperation. "Oh. I..." She strained her memory to try and recall the Duskwight again, but... perhaps the stress of late was too much. Pressing her lips together, Antimony returned carefully back down the steps and then bowed her head briefly towards the other woman. "Ah, no. I do not."


Trying to look casually, the woman crossed her legs, maintaining ehr smile through a small whine of pain that slammed her eyes shut hard enough that tears sprung up in their corners. "Ah! That's so... Ah ha. Are you an adventurer now as well?"


Watching the woman with concern, Antimony paused a step or two away and forced out an anxious chuckle that fell horribly flat. "Oh, heavens no."


"Ah, well, perhaps leaving the Agency is just the 'in' thing now." The woman tilted her head back, looking at the sky. "Ah, let's think. I remember us having some things in common. Though we only met twice or three times."


"Did we?" She wracked her memory again and came up with helpful suggestions like: Limsa Lominsa and the CRA. "Well, people can usually find at least one thing in common, I believe..."


The woman chuckled and smiled through her pain. "You don't remember me, do you?"


"Ah now, that's not to say you're not a perfectly lovely individual! And certainly having worked for a respectable organization like the Agency, and really it's been some time and... oh dear. How are you feeling? Where does it hurt?"


Wincing one eye up towards Antimony, the woman waved away the concern again. "The numbness is fading into pain. Which is important and good, isn't it? I don't hold it against you that you don't remember me. Feel no guilt."


Antimony winced but chose to press her concern instead of floundering in embarrassment, "It's important to tell me where it hurts so I can determine if you are seriously injured."


"Only the places that the stairs hit." The woman uncrossed her legs and sat forward. "I'm fine. I think I'm ready stand now."


"Ah ah, be careful! Slowly!" Antimony leaned forward slightly, arms hanging stiff in front of her. "Use the railing for assistance..."


"But knowing my luck the railing will give way." Nonetheless, the woman leaned enough to take hold of the railing as she brought her feet below herself and pushed up on them again. To distract herself, she continued speaking. "And then I shall plummet from this significant height." She achieved a standing position with much of her weight supported by the rail. "And into the bleak chasm below." She turned took down over the edge, and her stance wobbled again. "I find myself nauseous."


"Do not think on the height," Antimony hastened to reassure, pursing her lips as the Duskwight wobbled. "The construction is perfectly sound." She didn't know that, but she could think of no reason for it not to be.


"Hrm. I would be more reassured if such insistence came from an architect." She tried to straighten for a moment, and then did not. "I think I will stand here immobile for some time. Potentially forever."


"Take your time, of course." Antimony kept near, watching the other woman's balance intently.


The woman quite inadvisably gazed over the edge of the walkway once more, and then distanced herself from it, keeping one hand on the railing though she took the majority of her weight on her feet. "I can walk."


"Please--" Antimony took a step back to avoid being stepped upon but otherwise remained close. "There's no reason to push yourself. Is there any weakness in your legs?"


"Not in my legs specifically, no." She let go of the railing and took a very tiny step forward, wincing, and then took hold of the railing again. "Darn it!" She frowned. "I apologize for the outburst."


"It's... quite alright," Antimony winced. "Is the pain in your spine? Hips? Perhaps you should not have stood so soon..."


"Oh, no." She set blinking eyes on Antimony. "Mostly my ankles, but for surface-level swelling and bruising, I'm sure. I'll just get off this darned dumb walkway and sit for a while. Then I'll be fine."


"Oh. Good. Yes, that would be... wise." Antimony cast a brief glance up the stairs, then back to the Duskwight. She spent a few moments in awkward silence before venturing, "... an adventurer, you say? That must be very... well, exciting."


The woman laughed quietly. "This is the most adventurous thing I've done yet, actually. But. Have to start somewhere." Her eyes snapped open. "Yes, I'm an adventurer now, and I can handle some stairs." So she forced herself to take begin walking up the steps, very slowly, wincing with every step.


"Oh... I see." Wincing, Antimony followed after the Duskwight, hands up and ready as though she could catch the woman were she to fall - unlikely, all things considered. "All the more reason for you to be careful, I should think. Adventuring is dangerous work, I hear."


"The axe isn't for chopping down firewood." The woman forced out a jovial tone as she winced with every step. She went five steps up and then stopped.


"No... I suppose not." Antimony stopped when the Duskwight stopped and watched the other woman with careful expectation. "Ah, your name! Er, I'm sorry I... well, refresh my memory?"


Opening one eye to look down on the miqo'te next to her, the woman exhaled a pained chuckled. "Safer to ask than get it wrong and humiliate yourself, yes? You'd probably make a better adventurer than I as well. Kibroth."


"An adventurer, me? Oh no, certainly not. In fact, I 'd hazard to say I would make the worst adventurer." Antimony shook her head, tail quivering briefly behind her. "Miss Kibroth, then, it is a pleasure to meet your... re-acquaintance."


"I'm sure it would be more pleasurable had I not collapsed upon the meeting."


"Oh, that was entirely my fault. And again, I am very sorry. I should have been paying more attention. And--oh no, what if I've ended your adventuring career before it's barely begun, and all because of a stupid distraction!"


"If an adventurer can't handle an auditor in her path than she wasn't going to have much of a career anyway." Kibroth still hadn't moved since she'd stopped, and at this point she nodded. "Well. From now I shall start my career as one who lingers unmoving on this precarious walkway."


Antimony frowned. "You really should allow me to get you help. I've half a mind again to do it anyway."


"I would jump immediately." Kibroth's eyes opened, then one closed as she looked through her glass(es) at Antimony. "Although, since you have already witnessed my incompetence, I could accept help from you without suffering any loss."


"That is what I am trying to do," Antimony muttered and then clasped one hand over her mouth, clearing her throat. "Ah, if you would like assistance walking, I... will do what I can."


Kibroth frowned down at Antimony. "Not if I'm being a bother. I wouldn't wish to burden you physically if I'm already crushing whatever cheer you had."


"Oh, it's quite alright." Antimony held back the thought of there being no cheer to be had. At least this was a distraction. She stepped up alongside Kibroth. "I'm unsure I will make the best crutch, though, considering... well."


"Oh, I'm sure you will excel. I'm really quite light and, at any rate, am afraid to touch you. So I doubt I'll put much weight on you at all." The Duskwight released the railing and offered her right hand.


"There's nothing to be afraid of." Reaching up with one arm, Antimony took Kibroth's hand and guided it to her opposite shoulder. "Here, lean some when you need it. And move slowly."


"Very well." Kibroth leaned a modicum of weight on Antimony, just putting very slight pressure on the woman. Then Kibroth moved her large shoes to begin taking steps. Quickly, the weight increased. Though Kibroth was truthfully very light as far as elezen went, she was still an elezen wearing metal armor.


Antimony grunted and couldn't help bending forward under the weight. She reached out with her own hand to grip the railing. Her joints were not going to appreciate this later, she knew as they made their way back up the stairs.


Kibroth walked very slowly up the steps with her weight on Antimony. Several times she tried to pull her weight off the woman, but it would fall back on her quickly. "I'm very sorry about this."


"Quite alright," Antimony forced herself to sound cheery but breathed a heavy sigh of relief once they were at the top. "Now then, you really should find a place to rest for a time - a few days minimum, with that kind of jarring."


"Days?" Kibroth squeaked, a rather strange sound to come from a Duskwight's throat. "Where is a woman supposed to rest in Highbridge for hours, much less days?"


"Ah, well... perhaps you can take a chocobo to Drybone? If you don't stay off your injuries, they will get worse." Antimony frowned.


"Ah, yes. Chocobo. I could rent one. In theory." Kibroth lingered, looking about, frowning.


"In theory...?"


"Chocobos are unruly and dangerous creatures." Kibroth straightened, speaking very seriously. "They're killers! I won't go near them."


"They... what?" Antimony's voice lifted slightly, ears swiveling in a befuddled gesture. "Hardly! They are incredibly docile creatures. I've ridden them for decades."


"And survived! I don't think your luck would keep for me, though." She gestured broadly. "I've been on foot all this way from Limsa. I suspect I left not long after our meeting, though those memories are lost in a storm of crisis and self-discovery."


"On foot from Limsa? Surely that is impossible." Antimony's brow quirked in disbelief. "As for chocobos, your fears are unfounded. There's a reason they are used for transport by nearly everyone."


"And you see how many people walk precarious pathways such as those that nearly climbed my life now, and how many travel the deserts despite the dangers of sun and dehydration." Kibroth shook her head. "Oh, no. It's unthinkable."


"You're being ridiculous." Antimony set her hands on her hips. "I suppose you'll simply continue your wandering then, with an injured ankle?


Kibroth ducked her head, looking at her feet. "No. I suppose I'll remain in Highbridge somehow. Taking a chocobo anywhere would simply be beyond my ability."


"There is a decided lack of places to stay in Highbridge," Antimony replied, tail shifting in concern.


"Which is a reality I must confront. There are some very comfortable looking... walls and... holes... I suppose."


Twining her fingers together, Antimony looked off to one side. "You could, perhaps, seek refuge among the Blades who sleep here..."


"The blades are even more dangerous than the chocobos! And I know I'm not wrong about that."


"Then I suppose you are stuck with walls and holes." Antimony almost immediately regretted saying that and winced visibly. "Ah, though, I'm sure you can find a nice, shaded one...? And they can be quite comfortable!"


Frowning down at Antimony, Kibroth muttered. "I don't suppose you've ever had to face such a prospect as sleeping propped against a wall, with the hopes that someone does not assail you in the night. At least it's only until my wounds heal, though I loathe to be so exposed in such a helpless state."


"Ah, you might... be surprised..." Antimony fidgeted. "Take heart! With so many guards around, you are not likely to be assailed."


"They are blades." Kibroth muttered, limping forward. "They are likely to be the ones who assail me."


Antimony sighed in distress. "I'm very sorry I can't be much more help... if you would only use a chocobo..."


"You don't need to be of help." Kibroth paused and lifted a hand. "Ah, I should think you for dragging this useless woman up from the treacherous walkway. Perhaps I can cook for you or buy you something you are in need of?"


"That's very kind of you." Antimony offered a small smile to Kibroth. "But entirely unnecessary. It's my fault you're in this situation in the first place."


"By what logic?" Kibroth continued her limping.


"I nearly ran into you!"


"Contrarily, I nearly ran into you, and ran into myself by mistake."


"No, no, my head was in the skies." Antimony pursed her lips. "I should have been paying attention to where I was going, and for that I apologize."


"Then we're both sorry to each other for something neither of us demands apology for. The only possible solution is to let the apologies stand on their own regardless of need." Kibroth paused and took her glasses off, trying to straighten them. "Are you in Highbridge alone?"


"Hm?" One of Antimony's ears lilted, her gaze sliding eastward for a moment before she returned it to Kibroth. "Oh, no. Only for a day and a half at most. I came here with my daughter, but she left on business."


"A day and a half and then moving on? Antimony, we pass one another like two ships moving in different directions, clipping our bows and then fading into one anothers' horizons."


"That's... very poetic of you." Antimony sighed. "But yes. I may not be here long."


"Then I'll cook! Far better than just buying precooked food or purchasing paraphernalia on your behalf." Kibroth smiled, glancing around. "I just need a stove or a fire and place to purchase foodstuffs and something to cook them on and utensils and... You wouldn't happen to have a stove wherever you're staying?"


Antimony's lips pursed. "Well... no. Not... now. We were staying in a small place just northwest of here, but that changed. I don't think the barracks have such amenities."


Kibroth gasped. "You're staying in the barracks? With the Blades? Oh, you poor thing, that's a horrible idea!"


Antimony held back a wince. "It will be no trouble for one night. Necessity pressed us to it, though."


"Well need must needs press you... Needs must need..." Kibroth appeared to have confused herself for a moment, and then she shook her head. Putting her hands on her hips, she proclaimed with confidence, "We'll have to camp."


"I cannot disrespect my daughter's employer's generosity in such a way," Antimony shook her head. "No, I will sleep in the barracks. But... I can perhaps help you set up a camp of your own." Antimony thought to herself that she likely hadn't forgotten how to do so.


"I'll be worried sick all night with you sleeping alone surround by Blades." Kibroth exhaled, pondering as she continued working over her glasses. "But, I suppose, I am just clipping your side as I sail off on my own." The glasses in her hands gave way and broke into two suddenly.


Antimony flinched and opened her mouth to comment on the glasses. Instead she just sighed after a moment and twisted her hands together. "Yes. Well... We should find you a suitable location. Not far, considering your condition."


Kibroth's face was directed down at her broken glasses. She spun the two halves in her fingers for a moment, and then whimpered. that lasted only an instant, however, before she truncated it to say bravely, "I'll at least wait until I'm alone to invest my evening in tears." She lifted her face pointlessly. "The desert is flat around us. And I'm not likely to wander off a cliff if I can't walk."


"... Oh, I can't do this to you!" Antimony exclaimed suddenly. "You are... Look, there is a small cabin just on the other side of the bridge. It's fully stocked with whatever supplies you may need. Please, stay there for however long you need."


Kibroth's brow dropped. "I can't break into someone's house, no matter how great my need."


"Breaking in won't be necessary. I have the keys." Antimony's tail swung once as she lightly touched a pocket in her tunic. "It was where I was to stay, originally."


Kibroth spun on Antimony to ask her a stern question, but put weight on the wrong ankle and ended up falling on her keister again. "Shoot!"


"Ah!" Rushing forward, Antimony bent near Kibroth, wincing at the ache in her own back. "What did I say about moving slowly?"


"I'm fine!" Kibroth laughed that not-so-fine-sounding laugh again. "Why are you staying in such a dangerous place as a Blades barracks when you have a place so near here so well-furnished?"


"I am far safer with the Blades. There were some, ah, logistical issues. But!" Antimony smiled. "It should not be a problem for you. Are you... do you think you can stand?"


"Yes! I have incredible confidence in myself." She patted her bare legs with her plated hands, but made no attempt to actually stand. "I'm not sure how I feel about imposing upon your provisions."


"Don't worry yourself over that. They were expected to be used, so used they shall be." Not wanting to get down on her knees, Antimony nonetheless inspected Kibroth closely. "Do you need assistance?"


"No." Kibroth's expression suddenly turned to concern. "Can you go there long enough that I can cook for you there?"


Antimony considered that for barely a moment. "Of course."


The Duskwight smiled broadly at that. "Ah, good!" She pulled her big shoes beneath her again and stood with deceptive ease, exhaling a low, long whine as she did so.


Antimony protested the hasty standing wordlessly, hands flexing in the air as she half-expected the Duskwight woman to topple over immediately once again. "... Yes. Ah, well. If you think you can manage, it is just... this way." Antimony gestured in the direction of the bridge, due west.


"All right. Let's see. If I set my ankles very carefully." She took an experimental step, wincing. "Then, yes, there is all the pain but none of the toppling."


"Here," Antimony murmured, stepping forward to take Kibroth's hand and move it to her shoulder. "We will go."


Sighing, Kibroth muttered. "Very well. I will accepted extended help because it would be rude at this point to reject such."




Kibroth's wincing did not improve as they walked to Antimony's abandoned abode, nor once they were then, but the woman's swollen ankles were mostly concealed by her large shoes and as soon as she was there she set about gauging the cooking situation. Utensils, pot, fire, food. She didn't require much. She was apparently a master of very simple gourmet, not at all like one would expect of a former Lominsan.


She would begin cooking immediately, utilizing only one pot and a single fire. "Like business, for cooking I find it is usually the simplest rules that keep the best."


Antimony's mouth quirked as she watched Kibroth, wary for signs of the woman falling. Every so often she cast an uneasy look around the small cabin. She hoped she had not made a mistake. "Then we have something in common," she observed after a moment.


Kibroth sat herself down next to the hearth, the pot and fire well within reach of her long limbs. Bottles of spices were arrayed next to her. She leaned back and gave Antimony a smile. "Hopefully, however, you're one who appreciates effort more than results. I apologize in advance for what is likely to be inarticulate flavors."


Antimony resisted the urge to offer her own assistance, thinking it would likely be rude when Kibroth have wanted to cook for her. Instead she just offered a small smile.


"These aren't bad accommodations. The Agency scarcely ever provided me more than a one-bed room at the local inn." Kibroth looked around the room, smiling at its quaintness.


Antimony furrowed her brow. "I don't think you ever told me what you did with the Agency."


"I was an auditor, like you. Remember, I had to oversee one of your deals because our superiors had it out for you?"


"Did you...?" Antimony's ears pressed back briefly. "Ah, I'm sorry. My memory is... well, it's been a rather busy few months." She shook her head.


"That's fine." Kibroth gave a blind smile to the room. Then she held half of her glasses sup to her face like a hand-monocle and considered one of the spice bottles. "I only remember so vividly because it was the eve of my revelation. I left the Agency only days after."


"Your revelation?"


"Yes! That I was born not for a life of books, but one of adventure. Although." Kibroth reached beside her, to a small bag that had been on her back with her axe before they'd come inside. From the bag she produced an arcanist's tone. "I did not give up books entirely."


Antimony blinked at the book, tilting her head slightly to try and see its cover. "I certainly can't say I've ever shared that precise revelation. But... I suppose it is a good thing you found your calling."


"Yes!" She set the book aside. "Now I just need to find an adventure."


"I have heard there's no shortage of need for them these days. Were you, ah, heading some place in particular?"


"No." Kibroth added some red spice to the pot. "I think I'm getting dangerously close to Gridania. And I don't want to go there. It's dangerous for someone like me."


"The Shroud is quite close, just east of here. But--ah--someone like... you?"


"A Duskwight, loathed of the Wildwood. You don't know?"


Antimony blinked. "... Oh. Well. That... is rather rude." Her lips pursed.


"It is what it is. They say all Duskwight are bandits and Vagrants, and it's not as though I've never met any Duskwight for whom that is true, but-" Kibroth stopped suddenly, and her head tilted. Then she looked at Antimony. "Wait. Am I a vagrant?"


"Ah... no!" Antimony shook her head firmly. "You're an adventurer."


"But a vagrant is just a person who wanders from place to place!" Kibroth leaned forward, eyes wide. "A person who wanders about idly and has no permanent home or employment. A vagabond! Is that not what I've become?"


"You're not wandering idly, are you?" Antimony leaned back half an inch. "You are searching for work... er, well, an adventure."


Kibroth directed her face at the floor. "I appear rather idle at the moment, don't I? And I have garnered no adventuring contracts since I set out."


"Now you are recovering," Antimony countered firmly, pursing her lips a moment after her words. She paused and then leaned to one side, "Ah, should you not keep an eye on the food..."


Kibroth gave a blank look in Antimony's general direction and then held up one half of her glasses in either hand. "I am not keeping an eye on anything."


"... Oh! Oh... of course. Ah, I'll just..." Sidling around Kibroth, Antimony approached the hanging pot, taking up a wooden spoon to stir its contents. Her nose twitched at the mix of scents bubbling up from it.

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