A Realm Sundered - Claire_Talon (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Scions path - Part 1 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 2: The Vermin path - Part 1 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 3: The Scions path - Part 2 Chapter Text Chapter 4: The Vermin path - Part 2 Chapter Text Chapter 5: The Scions path - Part 3 Chapter Text Chapter 6: The Vermin path - Part 3 Chapter Text Chapter 7: The Scions path - Part 4 Chapter Text Chapter 8: The Vermin path - Part 4 Chapter Text Chapter 9: The Scions path - Part 5 Chapter Text Chapter 10: The Vermin path - Part 5 Chapter Text Chapter 11: The Scions path - Part 6 Chapter Text Chapter 12: The Vermin path - Part 6 Chapter Text Chapter 13: The Scions path - Part 7 Chapter Text Chapter 14: The Scions path - Part 8 Chapter Text Chapter 15: The Vermin path - Part 7 Chapter Text Chapter 16: The Scions path - Part 9 Chapter Text Chapter 17: The Vermin path - Part 8 Chapter Text Chapter 18: The Scions path - Part 10 Chapter Text Chapter 19: The Vermin path - Part 9 Chapter Text Chapter 20: The Scions path - Part 11 Chapter Text Chapter 21: The Vermin path - Part 10 Chapter Text Chapter 22: The Scions path - Part 12 Chapter Text Chapter 23: The Vermin path - Part 11 Chapter Text Chapter 24: The Scions path - Part 13 Chapter Text Chapter 25: The Vermin path - Part 12 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 26: The Scions path - Part 14 Chapter Text Chapter 27: The Vermin path - Part 13 Chapter Text Chapter 28: The Scions path - Part 15 Chapter Text Chapter 29: The Vermin path - Part 14 Chapter Text Chapter 30: The Scions path - Part 16 Chapter Text Chapter 31: The Vermin path - Part 15 Chapter Text Chapter 32: The Scions path - Part 17 Chapter Text Chapter 33: The Vermin path - Part 16 Chapter Text Chapter 34: The Scions path - Part 18 Chapter Text Chapter 35: The Vermin path - Part 17 Chapter Text Chapter 36: The Scions path - Part 19 Chapter Text Chapter 37: The Vermin path - Part 18 Chapter Text Chapter 38: The Scions path - Part 20 Chapter Text Chapter 39: The Vermin path - Part 19 Chapter Text Chapter 40: The Scions path - Part 21 Chapter Text Chapter 41: The Vermin path - Part 20 Chapter Text Chapter 42: The Scions path - Part 22 Chapter Text Chapter 43: The Vermin path - Part 21 Chapter Text Chapter 44: The Scions path - Part 23 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 45: The Vermin path - Part 22 Chapter Text Chapter 46: The Scions path - Part 24 Chapter Text Chapter 47: The Vermin path - Part 23 Chapter Text Chapter 48: The Scions path - Part 25 Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 49: The Vermin path - Part 24 Chapter Text Chapter 50: The Scions path - Part 26 Chapter Text Chapter 51: The Vermin path - Part 25 Chapter Text Chapter 52: The Scions path - Part 27 Chapter Text Chapter 53: The Vermin path - Part 26 Chapter Text Chapter 54: The Scions path - Part 28 Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 55: The Vermin path - Part 27 Chapter Text Chapter 56: The Scions path - Part 29 Chapter Text Chapter 57: The Vermin path - Part 28 Chapter Text Chapter 58: The Scions path - Part 30 Chapter Text Chapter 59: The Vermin path - Part 29 Chapter Text

Chapter 1: The Scions path - Part 1

Notes:

APPENDED NOTE 13/6 2024:
this fic was originally posted 2022-07-29, but had to be reposted after I foolishly deleted it while having intended to remove a completely different fic...
note to self: double-check whatever story it is you aim to mess around with before you do anything -_-

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“You must hear, you must feel, you mustthink”, master Matoya had once urged. “When life is rough and your circ*mstances seem to work against you, you have to remember these, Tola. It may very well be what allows you to excel.”
She had not been wrong, that old shrew, had she? She rarely was and is, as much as that could gall people, especially her oldest companion. And this is what Y’shtola proceeds to do now, hearing the waves, feeling the wind and thinking on their conundrum. And they all point to one resolution – everything is not as it should be.

The pale white irises of the light brown-skinned miqo’te gradually and carefully unlid themselves, and she draws them to and fro, in order to assess the ambience of the atmosphere. Her slim and elongated cat-like ears expel just the simplest and graceful twitch, and she slips fingers through the right flank of her platinum blonde bob-cut hair. In the ocean breeze from the west, her long-sleeved and tall-collared white jacket, inclusive of outstretched sides and back, scurry lightly and she can sense it sliding across her black thigh-high boots and in under the front end of the jacket, towards the rather diminutive black shorts, which does not fully cover her thighs. In the north, this was rarely the most advisable of attires to wear, to have the chilly air lick her exposed skin, but in the present, she does not mind at all. The warmth is pleasing to say the least.
Adjusting her position, the sable-colored deadwood staff she brought with her dips into her back, and though it rests strapped to her for the minute, everyone who knows her is aware that it can be brought to bear to unleash terrible destructive magicks in the hands of its wielder.

As she screws her face up a bit to take in her companion at this time, the brown claw-adjacent facial markings she wears are but furrowed to the minutest degree. Well, one cannot say that she ‘sees’ him, as she cannot view the world as many normally do. But she’s aware that the older elezen before her – his skin a darker brown, his face hugged by a mighty fine white beard along his jawline and connecting up to a white receded and slick-backed hair, forehead imprinted by the white tattoo of a Sharlayan Archon, clad in a vestiary of black and white not unlike her own, but with sturdier boots and leggings, a light white scarf and an enchanted tome at his hip rather than the staff – is at present likely meeting her facial orientation to some degree, as he can practically detect how his aide and one of his closest friends has something to address him with.

Louisoix Leveilleur is, for his age and origin, a peculiar elezen. A man of all but youthful passion and perception of justice and fairness for people, one who seeks out and borderline fatally toils to achieve their redemption and liberation, sacrificing his own positions and comfort in order to ensure that there are those who can live in a little less misery. It’s something which Y’shtola has ever admired and looked up to with the man. It’s why she stood by his side and followed him across the seas, delving past borders and fought for dear life to have his back, even with her disability potentially hampering her in other people’s perspectives. Although his decisions may be foolish in the end; or perhapsbecausehe accepts that there is every possibility that they are.
Could their present journey and appointment be one that is deemed as just this type of half-baked? Y’shtola wouldn’t presume to state one or the other, plausibly halfway as she is engaged in it.

The two are standing in tandem upon a rather lonely and anonymous pier off the western coast of the isle of Vylbrand within Eorzea, a number of miles north of the one humongous city on this land, Limsa Lominsa. Although she cannot distinguish it herself, Y’shtola knows it is evening, the brilliant sun – that cavalcade and explosion of aether in the celestial roof – touching the rim of the sky, soaking the heavens in colors which she has never truly comprehended.
The purpose for their coming was simple, and yet irksomely complicated – they sought to explore an outpost off the coast of the southern city-state of Ul’dah, one crafted and set down by the Garlean Empire. Those northern invaders from the continent of Ilsabard struck down against Eorzea roughly one and a half decade past, a time which Y’shtola only barely recalls. Although she herself hasn’t yet clocked in 30 years of her span on this world, and hardly being a teenager at that point in time, she did live on this continent as the Garleans first barreled into the northeast, onto the city-state of Ala Mhigo. It was an easy target, a horrifically vulnerable and scrumptious meal for the uninterruptedly charging imperials, who devoured the city during its internal conflicts and skirmishes. Something about a tyrant king and a rebel group.
Y’shtola herself was housed in the then-Sharlayan colony in the northwest, which she had grown up in. But the neutral island-habitants immediately withdrew once they caught on to the Garleans’ first cut and left Eorzea. Abandoned them, some might suggest. One of those holding this belief was Louisoix himself. And though the war ended prematurely – a command sent from the highest order, their ‘Eternal Emperor’, Solus zos Galvus – the Garleans never factually departed the continent. They have remained for one and a half decade. Waiting, watching,preparing. Everyone should know by now that war is coming once more. War isalwayson the rise whenever the Garleans are related.

Having sailed to Eorzea to seek more answers, Louisoix and Y’shtola wished to explore one of the bases set up to the south, allegedly in agreement with the Ul’dahn government. Sadly, none of the smaller crews showed any amenability to this proposal, even against the background of Louisoix providing a healthy sum of gil for their troubles. And why should they? Which of these pirates and smugglers and raiders woulddare, despite their belligerence, to anger the mightiest army in the world?
Well, as it turns out, one smuggler does. Maybe. The one name a random trader was disposed to supply them with was someone called Joltin Dazkar. Quite a perplexing first name if one asks Y’shtola. And the surname is clear as crystalnotEorzean, so one of the many nonnatives who’ve possibly made the trek here. Another unfortunate refugee, or a fortune-seeker?

With the air licking her thighs, the strands tickling her cheeks and her belly moaning in displeasure for supper, Y’shtola now feels spurred to make mention of an aspect to the old man, her political mentor.
“Master”, she says softly in the Sharlayan tongue, which does not vary immensely from the Eorzean one, “I have doubts about this ‘trader’ who sent us the clue. If they are to be trusted. Coming out here in the middle of nowhere, in the evening, not even any reassurances…not to mention all the pirates which might swoop in…
You honestly believe that they were telling us the truth? That this ‘Dazkar’ exists? What if it’s a trap?”

Louisoix smiles at her, exceedingly knowingly too. Y’shtola doesn’t register how those with effective eyes would perceive it, but she herself can glean a slight shift in his aether displacement, which she indexes as a smile.
“You must have faith, Shtola”, he replies, the removal of her clan initial being a sign of affection. An acceptable affection, one should add, for she has known this man for over half her life. The closest she’s ever had to a father. “Yes, our circ*mstances are…dubious, and these fellows have a notoriety for not being the uttermost freehearted and licit, but I can handily credit that they see a valuable opportunity when it appears.”

Y’shtola lets a breath slip out of her nostrils and raises her arms to knit them above her chest.
“Remind me – was this not what you told me when we took that wagon north of Werlyt? You know, which nearlyrobbedus?”

The old scholar tilts his head back an inch and then pats a wrinkled hand off her left shoulder, drawing his eyes instead inland, as he watches the streams of light landing on the grass and the trees, inducing sparse and thin shadows.
“Dear, when was the last time I told you that you’re sounding more likeherevery passing day?”

“Hmm. Two weeks, I surmise?” Y’shtola’s lips then thrust upward, her feline tail dancing amusedly behind her. “And only since I’m right.”

“…debatable.”

“If Uri was present, he would back me up”, the miqo insists, making a reference to her closest friend, and Louisoix’s oldest student.

It is, however, thus that the old elezen slopes his head in an inquisitorial manner.
“Would he?”

“He would.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite certain.”

“I can’t recollect a day where he chose to pick your side so rashly, dear.”

“He doesn’t while you’re listening. He does it afterwards, informs me that he agrees with what I proffered.”

Louisoix chuckles soothingly.
“Is that so? Does this infer that you’re saying he is a man who would not be keen to spout his opinions publicly and in earshot, but rather surreptitiously and without backbone?”

…dammit. She’s letting him twist her words, like he has before. She scrunches up her nose and frowns in a lightly irritable routine.
“…that isn’t what I said, nor what I was getting at, master.”

“Is it not? And yet you’re insinuating that little Uri would not dispute me to my face, nor make means or opportunity to contradict me in a mode which would benefit you and his supposed ‘real’ judgment. Is that not an act and illustration of sheer cowardice, one would say?”

“…I never said it was, nor what he did.”

“Then what was it that you were implying he achieves by not being frank, hmm? Please enlighten me, my dear.”
Y’shtola’s ears perk lightly, and her tail flits left and right in a very obviously aggravated way, something she hasn’t ever been able to utterly conceal when she’s not in a cheerful temper.
“Also, might I add, you’re making your mother’s face now too.”

The last drop, the last pinprick right into her skin, which indicates both that he’s cognizant of where he has her…and that he’s won. Not that she would concede to this, or even submit…but she doesn’t have to. Preferably, she drifts her face to the sea and closes her hands that are held beneath her arms.
“Hmph. We’ll see about that…”, she mutters.

But with the light self-aggrandizement of the elezen simmering down with the waning of the sun in the sky, Y’shtola’s consciousness is pulled elsewhere. To the west – to the sea. A sparkling aura is fast approaching, an assemblage of aether which can only amount to a clutch of individuals in Y’shtola’s knowledge of objects and concepts she has viewed in her life.
“Someone is coming”, she weighs in.

Louisoix reverses to follow her gaze and beholds the selfsame article sailing inwards at their spot, his arms treading to his pockets.
“Ah yes, there we are. It’s a ship”, he articulates. Most people would not need this to be uttered as they could facilely notice it all on their own, but Y’shtola does not command this natural ascendancy. Albeit she could doubtless have figured it out, even if she appreciates the sentiment.

As the vessel nears, the miqo’s tail slows in speed, ears jerking, and she glooms.
“Is it armed?”

Louisoix takes his time to examine the craft and she discerns a stirring in his aether, that he moves.
“I would conclude that it is, yes.”
…she should’ve known. Shedidknow.

Raucous voices, the dragging of rope, the stomping of feet on wood, the waves being knocked aside…the unsheathing of weaponry and the loading of armaments. Now that it’s in closer range than earlier, Y’shtola can oversee the group in a grander aspect as well, and realizes that it’s not an enormous boat; mid-sized, perhaps, with only twenty or so people on board, give or take. And she’s fairly convinced that this creaking commotion is a set of cannons becoming relocated and aimed straight at their section, even if remaining some tens of meters from them.

The crew of pirates sail in as close by as their keel would permit and one of them moves nearer to the railing. It’s a large man, Louisoix can see with his furrowed face, a light grey-skinned roegadyn with a bushy blonde moustache and beard. His shirt is open to reveal an equally hirsute chest, which is not excellent coverage, but he likely doesn’t require armor in this affair.
“Lewis and Yrsha?”, he barks out from his position, evidently incorrectly.

“Uh, Louisoix and Y’shtola, in fact, my good man”, the scholar calls back to him.

“Yeah, whatever”, the pirate tells him and angles his sword in a course to them. “Don’t move a muscle, pal. You’ll be jumping on board in a sec. Try anything, and you’re gonna end up sh*tty little stains on that dock.”

Louisoix’s shoulders sag lightly and disappointedly, resisting the desire to sigh. Y’shtola draws her face now to her comrade, her ears peaking. Not worried, in and of itself, merely sharp.
“Should I tell you, ‘I told you so’ now, or after we’re dragged to the slave pens?”

“Shtola, please…”, he mumbles. The elezen then amends his pose and clears his throat. “My apologies, sir, but I would figure that you have the wrong people. We are simple travelers and explorers, and want nothing-“

“Ye’ll be wanting a godsdamn healing potion in ya if you don’t shut up and prepare to board, ya old f*ck! This ain’t a friggin’ negotiation, it’s a demand, alright? We know who you are, and you don’t wanna be messing with us, so best to just follow orders, ya dig?”

One of the miqo’s brows crests upon hearing this and she steers a skeptical face at him.
“Do you now? Then educate me of my function, sir, after flagrantly butchering my name.”

“You’re outlanders and some important ones at that, judging by your snotty tones and behaviors. Bet ya got gil in those ugly coats too.”

Ugly? The man incontestably has a faulty understanding of fashion, if that open-chested shirt described to her by Louisoix wasn’t adequate testament.
“Ah, I see. So you are familiar withwhatwe are, on an insultingly rudimentary level, but not certifiablywhowe are or what we represent. I believe that was an unambivalent misnomer, sir. Pardon my knowledge checking you so crassly”, she tells him in a manifestly passive aggressive tone.

Louisoix sighs defeatedly.
“…my dear girl, must you always?”

And much more active aggression soon radiates out of him, gritting his teeth and clutching his fists, before he points at her and stares at another pirate.
“If they decide to move, blow that smugbitchto smithereens first.”

Well, to be soundly frank, Y’shtola does not relish a fight in this scene. The angle is awful, the numbers are grossly misaligned, there is water in between them and she doesn’t trust that she can set their ship on fire prior to them blasting her to said little pieces, unless Louisoix can show some uncharacteristic haste with the erection of a shield.
But her strategizing, the pirates’ threats, the soaring wind and the reverie of the beauteous setting is all interposed by a singular matter – a distant metallic roar. And as it covers more ground to them, it seems further and further to Y’shtola’s keen ears as the sound of…an engine? Something which the miqo would virtually rate as imperial. But that doesn’t…

With both the pirates and the duo peering out at sea, rounding a corner which routes one into this tiny out-of-the-way harbor, shoots another vessel – smaller, slicker, more advanced and most importantly,faster. It’s not quite small enough to be classified a dinghy, but not beyond sizable to be a proper ship either. A sailing boat, reasonably. But what modifies it from this is that it appears to be equipped with a proper and discernibly efficient motoric engine, better than what she’s seen from many Garlean ones and definitely stolen versions among outlying areas.

The ship bursts in and circles the larger ship at least once, previous to it managing to respond or even shoot at the smaller. Within, on the deck, is but one person, which Y’shtola can only see the aether radiance from, but Louisoix beholds a person, a fairly short woman, in a scarlet and white fur-trimmed coat, ornamented with black belts and golden metal, plus black leather gloves, boots and pants. On top, he sees the outlines of a spiky blue ponytail with white highlights and what makes to be black horns at the side of her skull.

She fixes her boat in order for it to be between the pirates and the duo, and thereafter loads a mass of magical aether and blasts herself up in the air andontothe pirate ship. The pirates are so flabbergasted that they can’t foresee the tiny woman leaping up and brandishing a hi-tech…gun? Sword? Some manner of outlandish amalgamation of the two?
Equipping it and pushing a trigger, a sword blade folds out, while she’s in the damn air and she slams into her first foe, smacking him to the deck, puts both feet to his chest and backflips to kick the next square in the jaw.

She then deviates to the shore and waves at the outlanders.
“Get in the ship!”, she shouts, indicating her own vessel. “I’ll get ya outta here!”

Well, this is an entirely abrupt development, one that neither Y’shtola nor Louisoix had in the books. That it was a bad idea was what the miqo thought in the course of her master clearing up the scheme for this outing, and whilst Louisoix was sure someone would reach them, it wouldn’t be as a godsdamnedsavior. A savior, truly?
But the conundrum now faced by the miqo is not one whether the help would be there, nor if it was worth it, but rather – can they just leave her behind to do the clashing? With a pair of pirates leaping at the horned woman, she cuts those down with a twosome of smooth slashes of the gunblade and follows it with a spin to aim the barrel right on top of the blade at a pirate who had barely lifted a pistol and shoots bang at him with it, unleashing an aetheric charge which downs him, the recoil from the blast making her arm fly back somewhat. My my, she is experienced at that. Then again, this supremely equipped boat would suggest a strain of exceptional individual.

But as Louisoix and her together leap to the deck of it, Y’shtola pinpoints that the lady has begun to struggle – the head pirate has rolled in with a mighty axe, which she to her credit does block no sweat, but three more exploit this window to flank her. She kicks one away, but has to dodge the axe to swing herself away from two more and drops into a corner, where she’s getting outnumbered.
Reading between the lines that the cannonsshouldn’tbe pointed at them in this hour, Y’shtola grabs the staff from her back and summon an entity from within her. The familiar warmth of magic, of aether conjured, diverted and transformed into raw power, into heated and ferocious flames, of an umbral calamity which shall bear down on her foes. She tilts her body a tinge downwards, uses the deadwood in her hands as a conductor and flings one heavy orb of destruction and fire upon the enemy vessel. It impacts it straight into the side and partway upon the deck, and as it hits point-blank, rocks the vehicle mildly sideways, making the pirates stumble for a second.

Y’shtola follows the source of what she figures is the aether of the woman.
“Well, do you intend to keep us waiting or what?”, she exclaims.

The horned lady blinks in surprise, and then grins at the emphasis and vigor of her rescuee.
“Boy oh boy. Can see why these guys had trouble with ya”, she calls softly and postdates this by sinking to the floor and enacting a spinkick to the passably disoriented pirates. This grants her the chance to sprint ahead and fly out of their range, to the railing which she latches onto and catapults across, touching down safely to her own boat.
Glancing around for a second to warrant that her guests are present and that nothing is lost, she nods and sheathes her gunblade.
“Right. Let’s ditch these chumps.”

After saying this in an abundantly local accent of the Eorzean tongue, she snatches the controls at the front and turns a wheel which moves the boat to the west. Slapping some sort of button, the engine pours out an eager and satisfied hum that speeds them away, at some three to five times faster speed than a regular one of this magnitude.

With the bobbing of the more minute ship below their feet, the sea breeze rushing through their hairs and them grasping the rails upon the sides of it, Louisoix gets a grander occasion to inspect their would-be savior and relays the info to his comrade below the noise – to this, he attaches elements of her lighter medium brown exterior, the smooth facial appearance, thicker build of the moderately short-reaching body, although with arms and legs that he would presuppose are quite well-trained, the piercing by her left eyebrow, the gold-trimmed shades over her yellow eyes and the…scales above her chin and neck? Ah, now Y’shtola comprehends – she’s an au ra, one of the races originating in the east. Few of their kind are ever visible in Eorzea, but they do occasionally pop up in parcels of western Ilsabard.

Upon gaining some distance, the lady tugs another knob to decelerate the boat and draws herself to them. She dusts off the front of her coat and smiles at the duo, now that the speed is more manageable and the bluster not at screaming echelons.
“Hey, sorry ‘bout that late arrival. Got news on two strangers looking for me outta nowhere, but I kinda freaked out as they told me the spot. Don’t make a lick o’ sense why you’d wanna meet up on the Bloody Executioners’ beach, with this being a famous slaver’s lure and all.”

Louisoix and Y’shtola blink in unison, glimpse at one another and the miqo exhaling harriedly. Louisoix unlatches his throat a touch awkwardly.
“Ah, this was…a simple misunderstanding, I would opine. But more than that, we were in fact notified by someone we hypothesized was your ally. They told us to come assemble with you at this hub, should we seek further travels.”

“Huh?” Joltin curves one of her eyebrows and looks at them a tad faraway, but also confused. And then it strikes her smack-dab in the jaw and she heels herself into the steering wheel. “…kobold ballsacks. Okay, this is…bad. If they asked you to hit this spot and me at the same time…this musta been a set-up. Yeah, they gotta have tried to run me to earth and you two got roped in…
f*ck. Sorry for that.”

“Pardon, but for what reason would they target you?”, asks Y’shtola.

“Oh, I got enemies, girl. People who don’t always agree with my business or vice versa.”

“…right.” This woman is…whimsical. Then again, this is what you get for dealing with smugglers, she supposes.

“Aaanyway…now that we’re all hands on deck, so to speak, what did an old man and a pretty lady come calling to me for?”

Louisoix gravitates at her, brushing the hem of his beard lightly.
“You are Joltin Dazkar, then?”

Joltin dips herself onto the board with the wheel, but not at it, dumping her gunblade on the floor, putting her hands behind her and only slightly folds her legs in front of her.
“The one and only, yeah.”

“I see. Then we are privileged to acquaint ourselves with you – I am Louisoix Leveilleur, a scholar from the Forum in Sharlayan and this is my colleague, Y’shtola Rhul.” The miqo plaits her arms, but only nods. “We seek escort towards the south, you see, off the coast of Thanalan.”

The au ra suddenly rolls her eyes and draws her mug away from them, approaching sea.
“Ahh, right right, got ya. Afraid I gotta burst your bubble, pal, but I don’t do sightseeing gigs. Not my thing. Find someone else.”

Louisoix looks visibly puzzled and furrows his brow.
“Miss Dazkar…we are mindful of that you are a smuggler. We are not sightseers.”

“You’re definite as to that? Cuz you said ‘escort’. Sorry, but no escorts either. I can take ya to Limsa, though, as a recompense for this mess, and you can find someone-“

But Y’shtola sees here that she must intercede, and self-assuredly barges in, interrupting the au ra.
“We aren’t mere travelers, miss Dazkar. We wish to survey the imperial base off the coast of Thanalan.”

Oh yes, this got her attention. The au ra snatches herself a look of the good-looking cat-eared lady, scrutinizing both her and the older scholar up and down carefully.
“You…wanna spy on the imps?”

Louisoix releases a sigh of relief.
“’Spy’ is a…strong term, but it is mostly correct. And what I was trying to reach, miss Dazkar…”

“Well well. Why didn’t ya say so to begin with? Shoulda just shot with that one, buddy. You’ve got yourselves a ride, then.”

Notes:

Y'shtola wears the HW outfit btw. Also, I know that Louisoix's cranial tattoo is not his Archon tattoo in the game, but it is here

Chapter 2: The Vermin path - Part 1

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“You are a pity. A languid, waning and wretched blight upon the coldest and least gainful gulf in the far-flung north. Forgotten and rejected from the residuum of the continent, you retreat forever inward, losing yourselves in your own meagerness and substandard latency. You have no magic, no technology of utility, no accomplishments, no opulence, no visions of grandeur. No future. You languish in your own failed portrait of success and appetite, a debasem*nt of your beliefs and artifice, and squander every millimeter of frosted dirt which you call home. You fight amongst yourselves, kill your fellows and as good as forfeit their bodies to be taken by the land, by nature, and evanesce forever from anyone’s memory.

You arepatheticand seem content to remainpathetic.I shall be candid with you from my innermost soul – it disappoints me so. To behold as those with such a strong, such astoutheart and penchant for survivability and to surpass the odds against them, would suddenly forget themselves and misspend their lives in this meaningless void, when they could become so muchmore. You could be kings of the earth, empresses of the sky,titans among mere ants!You could reach for the stars and pluck them down, fire at the moon and perceive it shattering, storm upon the ground and sense itbend. Had you but the essence of understanding, the will of iron and the benefit of history, you would rule this land. Youshould. Ilsabard would be but a minute speck in the endless reaches that was the very beginnings of your hegemony, if you simply let yourselves raise your fingers andtake it.

That is why I have come. That is why I extend my hand to you and bid you but a sole object – follow me. Pick up your swords, raise your chins and set yourselves at my heel, and I shall lead you to splendor everlasting, power deathless, the very soul of the undying incarnate. Throw yourselves at my feet and your empire shall not dwell a dream, but be the one and truereality.

This was the promise once proposed, the speech once given, and the future once glorified. Or so the Garlean books of propaganda regarding the Eternal Emperor’s arrival paces on. That title and the documentation surrounding its rise, or lack thereof, has been an enigma for plenty of foreigners for the foregoing decade, in part as the Garleans had streamed in from bloody nowhere to take ahold of anything.

The one real deal which people are entirely concluded on is that the Garlean Empire emerged and mounted the world at some moment a century beforehand, up in the arctic and unforgiving north. Anterior to the Empire’s ascension, they were but a nation known as the Garlemald Republic, a mostly ignored government and area of effect, for its lack of opposition and noteworthiness. Some of their own histories claim they were chased to the topmost region millennia past, across scads of war and strife, but the materiality of this assumption is in question.
Regardless, the Garleans had little and were little, and consumed many of their hours either trying to get on by or to skirmish amongst themselves. They were unable to properly channel aether into magic and consequently not feared. But as their lands provided nary adequate to sustain even themselves, they also never became a target for subjections, and were free to handle this nonsense on their own.

That was, until Solus zos Galvus. The Garleans, as per their alleged chronologies, say that they had not had an empire nor emperor for two thousand years, and to use the middle name – which in Garlean culture denotes rank and status – ‘zos’ was both arrogance and bravery itself. Solus stepped into the vacuum of hope and sinew and outed himself as demanding to give rise to another Empire. An Empire of Garlemald.
Proclaiming to be the long lost descendent of an emperor ancestor, Solus stated that his forefather had shot from the grave and injected him with the power of eternity, with lack of death, and the facility to control magicks upon which no other mage or aether manipulator could ever throw themselves against. He stated that, should they follow him into the oblivion of immortality, he would craft an empire for them, one that would be remembered for ages, never cease to exist and conquer the world. And he shall rule it as their Eternal Emperor.

His oath was, unquestioningly, misbelieved and dismissed. That someone would even utter such drivel was lunacy and heresy. And was someone who could wield magick at all truly Garlean?
But Solus both proved his knowledge of Garlean history, his compassion and love for his people, and most importantly, his strength, by singlehandedly killing five grand Garlean warlords in their so-called Republic – not with magick, but by utilizing technology which they had never before witnessed, crafted from a material known as ceruleum. Afterwards, there was no further doubt, no additional complaints or judgments. The Garleans went behind their Emperor into glory and fortune, to lay their neighbors low.

Is the Eternal Emperor real or a mere symbol? Did he ever perform any of the acts maintained in the histories or are they plain excuses to rally their people to war? Is the Eternal Emperor one person or a dozen in a long line of impostors and puppets for the past century, to uphold this delirium?
In the end, what does it matter? The Garleans are a threat, and they must be forestalled.

Or rather, these are the expressions of those who fear the ongoing overpowering by the Garleans, since they have for the past century been unstoppable and unslowable. Every half or full decade, they protract deeper and longer, taking area after area. Practically the whole of Ilsabard is below their imperium and the east has followed suit. Merely the western lands of Eorzea and the diverse island states in some directions have either defied them or not yet caught their eye. And once they are finished here, will not continents beyond, such as Meracydia and the New World, be next?

Independent scholars and strategists are one in a singular aspect of their methods, however – it is the unison of their superior technologyandtheir subjugation of nations which has given them the victory every turn. Domination of mind, soul and earth. The Garleans do not, usually in any event, roll in to devastate your lands, but take them for their own. They crush the opposition, and then convert them into productive citizens and obedient troopers, to capitalize on them for future reigns of foreign lands. In point of fact, nonindigenous Garleans are more than welcome to soar in the hierarchies of the military and the government, provided they avoid going for alimitedcount of tiers, such as the highest lords of the homeland, or the seats of legatuses. As the Garleans take your homes from you, they often let you keep it, to govern in their stead and under their name, to make you tell your people what the Empire advocates and aspires. Your military, however, becomestheirmilitary and you adapt the positions and designations which they tell you to, slapping their naming conventions into the mix.
And joining the army is not demanding, nor is it comfortably eluded. Pretty well everyoneshouldbe serving the military in some standing and to some duration, whether young or old, foreign or native. Some volunteer for it, even, welcoming their new lives as would-be invaders and shacklers of freedom sayers. But the vast preponderance is forced into this lifestyle, conscripted by either their own leaders or the Garleans.

But is it invariably this straightforward, of one or the other? What if the pair of them applies to one person? Or one being feels that the first has set the second in motion? The sentiment of conscripting yourself. Could this be applied to Fordola? Honestly, it’s beyond her intent or knowhow at this point in time. She doesn’t know what draws her forward, what has maneuvered her onto this track and pushed her to stay on course across the rails to hostilities and warfare. She knows no other than that she does what she situates as the exclusive path for her.

One of the few matters which she does yet ponder is what has brought her here, back into the center of her motherland, onto the trodden and remodeled roads of the eastern apexes of Eorzea. For half a decade, she has been grooming herself for this moment, the critical turning point, the exigency where her tomorrow and past will congeal and forever detach.
To numerous folks, she is but her exterior – the tall height and medium brown shade of a highlander hyur, the midneck-stretch of her red-blonde hair, the unyielding green gaze, the wavy dark red facial tattoo adorning her left cheek and upper left brow, the flexible bends of her well-honed physique and mighty battleaxe hitched to her posterior.

But Fordola is more than the people which encompass her in the present, as they stride forth into the Peaks of Gyr Abania, towards one of the most high-powered bastions of imperial firepower in Eorzea, Castrum Abania. She has exercised and strained and fought and bled to make it here, to for once be acknowledged as someone who can dig away at the infeasible and execute the impossible. A person who the Garlean subduers can depend on and slam like a weapon into those who she felt has betrayed and left Ala Mhigo out in the cold, into death’s claws.

Perhaps it is…ironic that she would then hurl herself at the feet of those who plenty of Ala Mhigans deem to be this very doom and humiliation, but Fordola sees it otherwise. She does not blame them for acting ruthless and ever-devouring, just as she would not condemn a predator for harassing and ingesting its prey. For predators the imperials doubtless are. That the Garleans would smash and tame the continent, including Eorzea, was and is assured. It was foreboded and unstoppable. You cannot hold back a train with your bare fists, which is generally speaking what many nations have done, even Eorzea.

What one can potentially stage is an advancement inside the craft itself, under the stare of their imperial masters. Therein, she can be someone, an entity of which she has never so much as grasped or fantasized of previously. She may not be much more than a couple of summers beyond her 20th birthday, but Fordola has proven to the instructors and the talent seekers that she is an up-and-coming legionnaire. Fordola was tested outside Eorzea before this, as were several conscripts and volunteers of Ala Mhigo, against rebels in varied elements of western and southern Ilsabard, which has once and for all underpinned their value. And now, a couple of years down the line, she has returned. Been sent back to the one thread that was left unspun and unneedled – her own home. The greatest trial ahead, to best a nation yet self-subsisting and contravening Garlean rule.

As the harsh sun glares upon her and a few dozen or so added natives, within the dusty and arid soil, they have been marching in line with true imperial man-at-arms, westward from the city, towards where Castrum Abania lies. No mounts, no vehicles and no backup, they have been taken without word of where the next step is, but only been told that they shall ‘serve in the glory of the Eternal Emperor’s will’. That was enough for Fordola.
Whilst they file into the hi-tech fortress, the neon lights, magitek sheen, robotic clamor and imperial commandments plugging their every sense, Fordola can smell her peers’ reactions. There is nervousness oozing predominantly from those who were conscripted into the army. She can’t foreground which of these were picked as fodder and who stood above the rest, having been elected for their prowess. She hopes she is of the latter, but ultimately, she’ll likely never know. Not that she stews over it one way or the other. Why they picked her tocomethis way is irrelevant. It’s what she pulls now that she’s fetched this place that will determine where she’ll stand.

Her immediate notion of the area is one of intrigue, though. She had not expected so many of varying origins. Sure, she had foreseen there’d be a bunch of Ala Mhigans stationed somewhere, as well as the Garleans themselves, but she can glean virtually every race and creed represented within, much more so than what may be the pale-skinned northerners.
Pending her education and honing inside imperial military grounding, she has visited a number of separate imperial bases and headquarters in western and southwestern Ilsabard, some more humongous than others, but she has seen few that have been this heavily fortified and furnished with armors, cannonry and machina. They wander past corridors and courtyards, below some bridges and pillars which emit lights that appear to glare down a heinous and uncomfortably cognizant aura, as if it tells them that the Empire and the Eternal Emperor are ever surveilling. Imperials of every race and root march to and fro, and there’s a stench in the air, an ambience of…anticipation. They are all waiting for something to occur. The coming of war or a reality far grimmer?

Eventually, the Ala Mhigans are cast to one of the outlying courtyards, where they’re told to stay and be due for someone’s approach, their supposed CO and upcoming assignment. At long last, Fordola is to be delivered arealpurpose.
Piercing the patio, what they come to count on is an altitudinous, robust and barefacedly high-and-mighty Garlean, a northerner swathed in the grievous and adversary garments of their armors, staring at them with blackened mask and fearsome scrutiny, conning their every fidgeting and judging them. Even if this initial personhood is not the one which leads the entire garrison, or by any chance a legion by itself, all people of genuine power that Fordola is witting of has Garlean blood in them.

Nonetheless, this is not the person who exits the mechanical gliding doors, but instead a much scarcer presence, a creature not of Garlean basin, not possibly Eorzean either. Feline ears and tail betray her stature as that of a miqo’te, a race which Eorzeans and Fordola herself are keenly informed of, for they lodge in most sections of the land. Fordola has met, encountered and even slenderly befriended some, despite the shallowness of this relation. Although she is awfully more knowledgeable of Sunseekers and their ferocity. This one is not of that kind – her pale grey hide, and scarlet rounded irises would convey that she is the secondary variety of famed miqo, one of the moons’ followers.
And not solely is shein no waydressed in Garlean armor, privileging a tight, pitch-black, high-collared and generously buttoned cloth coat, but furthermore, what catches people’s awareness and apprehension straight off the bat is the enormously lengthy and broad claymore clenching her rearguard, one Fordola would surmise could cleave a person in two. But can this lady truly carry it? She is outwardly toned and somewhat muscular, but not behemothic. What’s more, simply one eye is discernible below the neck-length and somewhat unruly raven-colored hair, the other ensconced underneath an eyepatch, which also bespeaks a gruesome scar below.

A contingent of fifteen or so imperial soldiers, all of them seemingly nonnative Garleans, tread after her tractably, and stops as she does. They dash their arms behind their backs, whilst she folds her own. The miqo halts some ten meters from the arriving Ala Mhigan troops, auditing them ploddingly and oppressively, her eye cold and practically disdainful. Fordola inwardly grasps for a moment where she is singled out, but it does not occur. Thereafter, the miqo opens her mouth, her fangs coming to light, and she vocalizes in a daggerlike tone, but one that decidedly reeks of a foreign accent, not Garlean in the slightest.

“Ala Mhigo-born troopers – welcome to Battalion Subzero. They call us ‘The Suicide Vermin’. Why would they be keen to enact such a name, virtually an offense, I hear you wonder. Two reasons stand out – 1) because we consist foremost of foreign and previously conquered legionnaires, with little imperial training. And we are expendable. 2) Because our Tribunus is goddamn insane.
You have landed here in Castrum Abania for you were foolish enough to enlist or since you were foolish enough to remain alive to be conscripted. However the circ*mstances, you will serve the Empire unconditionally and presumably die for the Empire forgotten, your efforts only acknowledged by your similarly doomed fellows; myself included.
I am Jhera eza Rakkan, Primus Ordinarius of Battalion Subzero, and our Tribunus’ second. You will obey what she demands first and foremost. Second to her, you will obey what I demand. Refuse or talk back, and our enemies won’t be what finishes you off.”
She does not utter it, does not even properly intimate it, but they know what this would bode, for the edge of that ghastly, staggering claymore tantamount to licks itself.

Fordola…does not comprehend what to make of this one, nor her speech. It was stern, forward, almost brutish one might indicate. But is she not frank with her soldiers, what this assignment will entail, and that death is around every bush? Fordola can respect that manner of directness and promise. The omen which awaits all and sundry.
Furthermore, studying this cat’s exterior, it’s clear that she’s beefier than she would let out, for discounting the magnitude of that blade, she does not falter, not showing difficulty by whatever means to move about. It’s almost…terrifying to consider that she might actually be able to swing that thing without burden. Or perhaps comforting, as they’ll be fighting side by side.

With the lady at last nearing them now, closing the gap more than she had earlier, Fordola would not esteem her to be the ugly sort. She has a whetted sort of niceness to her, although she practically shines of something…haggard? There is but the tiniest vestige of bags under her eye, a line of displeasure to her dark-painted lips and a floating impassivity hemming her creased brow.
She sizes each of the first sequence of soldiers up and down, evaluating and gauging their external advantages and standings, albeit not doing anything physical. Then at the end of the section, she homes in on none other than the woman herself, stifling her step by the red-haired Ala Mhigan, but laconically raking over the axe and the highly undecorated outfit she’s slapped into, a mixture of metal, moss green, brown and white cloth, plus a measure of leather about her feet and hands.

“Name”, she states simply.

“Fordola”, comes the retort, with an undisguised local accent. “Fordola Hext.”

A couple of the other natives who weren’t aware of her identity glance in her track, but do not comment.
“That surname mean something?”, wonders the Ordinarius.

“To some”, says Fordola, equally terse.

“Doesn’t ring a bell to me, but I have read the report on your performance. Some of your evaluators praised your muscle and response under stress. They were impressed to a degree, but I want you to know that mattersnothingwhere I am concerned.Iwill decide where you go and will determine it based on your reactions undermycommand. Understood?”

Direct and plain. Fordola likes that, regardless of the heavy-handiness.
“Without a doubt, ma’am.”

Jhera seems oddly…pleased with her unhesitating answer? But Fordola is only judging that by the short nod and lack of further cuts at her, foregoing that she moves to the sequential soldier.
Once she’s established a dram of a bond with each of the fresh recruits, Jhera takes a step back to her initial foothold, to knit her arms strictly yet again.
“Alright, now that I have met you succinctly, there are a couple of names which may be decent to have in your heads during the hours we’re out in the field.”

She gestures with her arm and a trio of figures untangle from the dozen, to saunter right below Jhera’s stage. Fordola can make out one black-haired and paler-skinned hyur in lighter black imperial clothing with a half skirt and armor, including a foreign-looking blade at his belt. Second, a tall fair-skinned elezen in almost shoulder-length light grey hair drabbed in flowing black and white robes with a peculiar seeming device hanging at his back. And lastly, one of a race she’s only viewed on her trips beyond Eorzea, a dark purple-hued and white-horned au ra, wearing leather pants, boots and a longer coat, not forgetting the imperial gun at her hip.

“The first is Decurion Hien of Doma, our frontline assault lead”, she states and the hyur man fulfills a quite strangely formal feat, putting his hands to his thighs and bowing deeply. Doma is exceedingly to the east, isn’t it?
“The second is Decurion Urianger of Loezwhan, our frontline medical lead.” A message followed by the elezen elegantly sweeping his hand to his chest and equivalently bowing. Loezwhan, that’s a locale Fordola has never heard of. A backwater somewhere?
“And finally, Decurion Milisandia of Werlyt, our frontline marksman lead”, which instigates the au ra to straighten her back and raising her arm in a more traditional imperial salute. Fordola is keenly sentient of where Werlyt is, though, as it’s one of the most adjoining states on Ilsabard to Ala Mhigo.
“This trio will be administrating their respective tasks on the battlefield, and you will be scheduled to one of their squadrons, most likely. Get familiar with them prior to your first real assignment. Other than that, make yourselves comfortable here in the Castrum – find a bunk and the suitable environment you need to perform your job with the highest efficiency. In Battalion Subzero, we do not forgive failure and we never ignore demerits. Tribunus laticlavius Livia tol Junius expects and attunes fully to perfection in her duties and so should you. Otherwise, do not assume you will last long.
Dismissed.”

Notes:

Haven't fixed a proper image with it, but Jhera actually wields something akin to Law's Order Zweihander

Chapter 3: The Scions path - Part 2

Chapter Text

The stiff wind, the rippling waves, the ostensibly forever-journeying blueness of the sky, and the depthless untraceable darkness of the seas below, half waiting to swallow you. Joltin does enjoy the sea more than she cares to admit, having sailed on it for too many years, even prior to the accidents and calamities of yesteryear. It’s one of the few places which she would surmise is where one can feel truly and unconditionally free. Or if nothing else, it’s the region where others have a tougher time to lock her down. This is naturally boosted by the element of that she possesses her own ship and a customized engine which overshadows the plurality of those at hand for the masses and the Empire. What she’d do without it, she doesn’t even wish to entertain.
That said, she doesn’t normally let there be guests contained on her deck, whether she would consider them hot or not, which she can absolutely proclaim for the miqo that she’s joined by. And the old man is, at minimum, courteous.

Having set her ship on an auto-forward mode, seeing as it’ll take some hours to descend to even the faint neighborhood of their target, she’d grabbed her portable cookware and started whipping up a stew, on top of frying some eggs. Try as she may have to disguise it, Joltin had taken note of the growling from Y’shtola’s belly, and she is not someone who lets a lady on her ship go peckish.
With the completion of it nearing, Y’shtola has at last went up in reach of her and chosen this moment to leap into some light questioning.

She cases the au ra, folds her arms and levels herself to the railing.
“You are…not from this region, are you?”

Joltin has opened the buttons on her long coat, authorizing the wind to sink against her skin and beat its tail, whereas the shades have remained on, something that may block the cat’s visibility of where her own sight wanders.
“Heh. What gave that away, eh?”

“Your weapon is…quite exceptional and not native, this much I’m aware. Too progressive technology. Plus, you are au ra, yes? They do not inhabit this land in greater numbers.”

Joltin laughs.
“Yeah, won’t deny that.”

“And yet, your accent is…impeccable. Far better than mine or master Louisoix.”

“Well, I’ve always had it easy with getting to know languages or local tones, so I can weave into the culture without barriers. You ain’t wrong, though – wasn’t born in Eorzea. I’m a child of Othard, to the far east.”

“When did you make it to Eorzea?”

“Some years prior. Like many others, I sailed as a refugee trying to break loose from…well, war. The Empire is in every godsdamn nook and cranny, and the east especially isn’t an exception in that math.”

“I see. Not indelibly eccentric, I would speculate. And you are…what I would pass for a smuggler?”

Joltin squirms lightly and hangs a hand to the posterior of her neck and scratches.
“Uh, hehe…it’d be pretty meaningless to poke holes in that, huh? I’d hazard you heard as much before you met me.”

“This wouldn’t be farfetched to assess, no.”

“Frankly, I can’t very well say it’s myonlygig. I’ve routed a huge deal of separate and flexible jobs during my years in Eorzea, therefore I don’t wanna be looked at like an outlaw. While I declare this, though, it’s…uh mainly been smuggling, yes. It’s kinda handy when you’re in partnership with pirates, ya feel me?”

Y’shtola exhales.
“Fair enough. Were you a smuggler in your previous life too?”

“Ah, no. I kept busy with other…combat-related junk back in those days.”

“This is where you learned the finesse we witnessed earlier?”

“More or less.”

“Why elect to partner up with the likes of these misdoers, then? Was it as you had no alternative, or a mere aptitude for this recipe of activity?”

Joltin lifts her shoulders carefreely.
“No idea, not gonna lie. I don’t love or hate pirates and raiders, but I’m not captivated by ‘em either. I do what I do cuz I’m up to it. And with my line of skill, it was either join a mercenary band, an army or something pirate themed.
Let’s not think I’m a pirate myself, though – smuggling is not that bordering to piracy, right?”

“Perhaps, but smuggling can be equally damaging. Occasionally, far beyond.”

“Not with my rendition of it. Sure, I’ve supplied illegal items in numerous regions, but it’s not like I ship grade-A toxic sh*t.”

“Not human trafficking, then.”

“No! Are you nuts? I fightagainstthat sh*t.”

“Narcotics?”

Joltin clears her throat.
“Uuuh…that may have been on a shipping list or two.”

Y’shtola snorts and flicks her head left and right.
“Figures.”

“Hey, don’t judge me too quickly, girlie. I’ve dished out stuff to good effect as well. When I get the chance, I set down crates with supplies to conquered regions, getting ‘em goods and supplies that the Empire leaves ‘em high and dry for. So like, it’s 50/50, right? Good guy, bad guy.”

Y’shtola ‘peers’ at the au ra and weighs this in the balance of what she’s bestowed.
“You enact your own sense of…rebellion against Garlemald, you could say?”

“Yeah, don’t believe that’d be getting it too twisted.”

“I take issue with your other methods and articles, but…I might’ve spoken too soon, in that case.”

Joltin chuckles and hikes her shoulders temporarily.
“Meh, I’m accustomed to that. When you’re an au ra in Eorzea, life strays towards being kinda wonky.”

“I’d wager so, but I should not exacerbate it.”

“Hey, don’t sweat it. If ya wanna pay me back, though, how ‘bout you answer some of my curiosity?”

“Such as?”

"You’re from Sharlayan, right? Never been there myself.”

“Correct. We represent the forum, the…I suppose you might call it the governmental division of our homeland, but they are encompassed in every aspect of its lifestyle.”

“And you’re a…scholar?”

“Evidently, yes.”

“I’ve met some students of…knowledge or whatever, in Limsa.”

“Ah yes. I don’t suppose it would be objective for me to contend that we differ, but in our disciplines and learnings, I would say that there are some…separations there. Plus, Limsa’s scholars have taken after Sharlayan in more than one characteristic.”

Joltin peeks at Louisoix, who is yet subsumed in the crossroads of his work.
“Is he your…boss? Colleague?”

Y’shtola chortles.
“A morsel of both, I should think.”

“Are you related?”

“No, no. He is my superior, of a fashion, but past that he is my…mentor. I have operated as his closest aide for no few years. We share motives and core values at that.”

“Why’d you two get over to Eorzea then? I mean, I’m aware you’re here to take a peek at the imps, which is…uh, rare for you Sharlayan types.”

Y’shtola makes to hesitate and folds her arms.
“We are in Eorzea for a mission of a…personal nature. Or goal, one might deem it.”

“What’s the goal?”

“Not a matter which I can relay to you willy-nilly. Suffice it to say, it’s important for the future of this continent.”

“Wow. Not sure if that’s hyperbole or caution.”

“This will depend on what we map out, but I’m confident you realize the danger which the Garleans pose to this land at large. And you would not wish for them to take steps to succeed.”

“Oh yeah, ya got me there.”

“Then we are aligned, I should think.”

With the meal beginning to reach completion, Joltin gets some bowls out and dips her eyes at the miqo.
“You mind if I ask something a little…private? Or very.”

“That would be determined by the quality of it.”

“Your uh…eyes. They’re without a doubt kinda…different.”

Y’shtola snorts and shrugs at the Captain.
“So, this has you curious. I might have counted down the minutes for this inquiry to emerge. Yes, I’m under no illusion that you haven’t greeted a flock of people with my vision. I have visual impairment, you see – as in, I am blind.”

Joltin looks startled.
“Whoa. Uh…but you gave me the idea that you can see me.”

“In some manner, yes. I am clinically blind, though, inside and out, and have been from childhood. Fortunately, as a child, my first master was swift to coach me in the secrets of a small trick to view aether. I am unfit to behold the world in the capacity which you might, nor can I read accordingly, but besides aether, I may view the outlines of existences and items through this spell. And of course, magic. For everything else, I would have to utilize something further tactile, such as my hands.”

“Oh, so you can’t see, like…my expressions?”

“In a manner of speaking, I am in a position to do so, yes. Rather, I attend to the flows of your aether, the cycles which it passes through in order to form, for example, a frown.”

“Riiight. Okay then. Sounds…complicated.”

“It is more arduous than the method which you reserve, I’ll say.”

“Do you ever like…miss it?”

“Hmm. A problematic question to field. How would you miss something you’ve never possessed?”

“Ah, hah. When you put it like that…”

Joltin shortly begins spooning the stew into bowls, but in that process, she infers that Y’shtola’s whites have trickled closer downwards, at her arm.
“With the application of my altered sight, I have been eligible to see that your arm is…quite conspicuously different.”

“Erm, different how?”

“Well, you only have one.”

Joltin unexpectedly halts her motions and stare directly at the miqo, blinking with muted shock. This is a phase which transitions in the short term to a chuckle, and she lifts her left arm, eyeing it through her shades and interlocks the fingers and palm in a grasp.
“So, your spell made ya notice this, did it? I won’t challenge that, cuz you’re on point.” Peeling off her glove, she tosses it to the floor and bellies up to the miqo, coming with her hand for inspection to Y’shtola. “Touch it.”

Y’shtola constricts her vision a tad and now with them sitting only a few meters apart, she can discern the silhouette of…a contraption. A disturbance in the flow of her aether, as if a block of an implement is in the way, meaning her arm is not empty through and through, but Y’shtola can’t quite make out what, as there is no vigor to it.
With her digits landing on the appendage, the whites expand, taken by the notion.
“It’s…metal?”

“Heh, yep. It’s a prosthetic – a magitek replacement, to be exact.”

Magitek, hmm? The scholar takes her fingers off the appendage and overlays her own arms once more.
“You had someone build you one?”

“Yep. A close friend o’ mine is a real expert at that stuff. I…lost my real one in my youth and I’ve had various prosthetics ever since. Would’ve been done for if it wasn’t for him too, seeing as he assembled a bona fide arm that’s almost as good as a flesh one. Almost…”

“Was it the Empire which…subtracted your original one?”

Joltin does not expose a heap of mournfulness or remorse as she settles her hands at her hips.
“I’ll let you guess.”

“Have you lamented at all to being in this business with such an egregious disadvantage? Your substitute does lend you adequate capability, I shouldn’t doubt, but as you infer – it is not the whole spectrum.”

“Lamented?” Joltin ponders this. “I dunno. Like, you ever regret going all the way over here, fighting for what you believe is right with this old man?”

Y’shtola does not equivocate and shakes her head.
“I do not.”

“Then that’s your answer right there, beautiful. I’m on your page with this. We’re each rolling with our downsides in the eyes of others, but what does it matter? In the end, we’re choosing the unescapable path for us. We’re set on heading onto it regardless of the price it’ll take. I believe in what I’m doing, and I won’t allow anything to stand in my way, even my own gaps.”

With her receiving a bowl of hot stew, as well as some stored bread and cheese, including a cup of ale, which to Y’shtola is quite a bounty with her stomach in such a grave craving state, she commences consuming it within the realization of their apparent community in thought and experience, plus the heart to clash with the detriments and fallacies of this world.
This trip is imaginably panning out to be exceedingly further exciting than she had conjectured.

Chapter 4: The Vermin path - Part 2

Chapter Text

Fordola has never been one to back down from a fight. She grew up and was fostered in the core and fires of conflict and having fled from her home at a young age, she is quite familiar with the sensation of fear, and confronting your own fight-or-flight response. She feels she fled too much in yesteryear that she can no longer tolerate anything but resistance.

That said, this intuition was ignited hard and fast upon her becoming the one chosen to spar with Ordinarius Jhera. The second-in-command had instructed the Ala Mhigans that they were to be tested physically in sparring showdowns and Jhera did not kid around as she'd told Fordola that she was going to be the one to judge her abilities - she handpicked Fordola for her own first trial.

And being in the thick of it at this very second, Fordola can make one clear and quite painful conclusion - she's an extremely skilled combatant and damn rough too. From the first, Fordola had her qualms whether Jhera could wield that behemoth blade without stumbling, which turned out to be the most foolish of all her wagers. Not only is Jhera masterly with the claymore, she's unslowable and unmerciful, dangerous to a fault. She swings it as if it was a one-handed blade, the edge singing with its howl for blood. To top it all off, Jhera is uncommonly defense-minded, and blocks the preponderance of Fordola's descents all but prior to that she's made them. Who is this godsdamn demon?

Fordola does not like admitting defeat, wouldn't ever dream of bending the knee to anyone again, but she is coming nearer to that sequence as matters stand. It's beginning to come off like she would either have to lower her weapon in capitulation, or Jhera might end it for her, with her head falling flat onto the ground. And she has too much left to accomplish.
Fortunately, a heartbeat of respite appears once a shadow emerges to their left - a heightened woman with blonde hair and lighter skin, dressed in a regular uniform has exited a door to stand at the rim of the courtyard. Curiously, Fordola notes how Jhera halts, the apex of her blade coming down and Fordola believes she has to follow suit.

However, this tall and penetrating variety of woman smiles in a sharpish capacity at Jhera and flourishes her hand.
"Don't let me interrupt your little play, Ordinarius", she offers. Fordola would designate it as rather...uncomplimentary? Okay, she's getting who that is now... "Proceed."
Fordola gets a fairly harrowing sense of tension from the two. Hostility, perhaps?

Regardless, Jhera seesaws her head and obeys, hiking her blade in the stream towards Fordola once more. The recruit expands her eyes and pokes her axe up just to spare herself the sword's bite.
"Defend your life, newcomer", Jhera speaks feelinglessly.

This complete and severe disciplining proceeds for no less than five further minutes and Fordola doesn't quite know what she's done to earn it, but she does end up on her knees. What she will not lean into or open up for at any point, though, is begging for mercy. She will not plead for her life or demean herself, which Jhera dissembles to respect; even if this isn't a life-or-death conflict.

At long last, Jhera sheathes her weapon.
"Enough", the Ordinarius blurts and Fordola collapses to her knees, out of breath and narrowly capable of keeping her axe in her hand.

"D...damn...you are godsbleeding talented", Fordola concedes. A second after, she stares up. "Can...can see why ya'd be picked for this role." Jhera does not return anything.

On the opposite hand, the top officer chuckles.
"On the assumption you feltthatwas burdensome, you wouldn't be in a capacity to fight her for real, recruit - the Ordinarius went easy on you. My second contains gifts darker than words can recount."
Jhera doesn't get any terms in here either, dedicated to her inarticulation upon the subject. But at least Fordola has her answer – this is her. This is the feared madwoman who heads up Subzero, Livia tol Junius.
Henceforward, Livia claps her hands to be granted the spotlight of the courtyard.
"Alright, that's quite enough everyone. Form up! I want five lines straight in front of me."

They obey the austere speech which is shot onward connate to that of a real commander and Livia positions herself at the fore, arms behind her posterior. Jhera is situated near the new woman, and the trainers helping her out are after these two.

"Splendid work, glad to behold that each of you can follow simple orders. Allow me to greet you properly - I am Livia tol Junius, Tribunus laticlavius of Battalion Subzero, or the commander, including the second-in-command to the Fourteenth Imperial Legion, spearheaded by legatus Gaius van Baelsar, who shall bring us to glory by the resolution of the Eternal Emperor."

Fordola from her seat pretty near to the utmost front row tries to get an amended peek at the Tribunus, eyeing the woman who must be somewhere above 1,90 meters, possibly even two whole ones. Her hair is shockingly white-blonde, eyes a dim blue as the ocean, her nose moderately knifelike, with a beauty mark adorning the right edge of her mouth. She's practically elezen-like, if not for the lack of their idiomatic ears. Her body is firm and honed, but not excessively brawny. At the apex of it all, by her forehead, Fordola catches onto the blistering gem at the center, or the 'third eye' as they label it, the explicit mark of a pureblooded Garlean.

"My Ordinarius has in all likelihood supplied you with a silver platter of stern and stone-colddrearyrundowns. She has that propensity, you see, but it's nothing to concern yourselves over.” She begins padding left and right, to oversee the troops ahead of her and to cement her own standing above them, and that she monitors their every motion and plausibly any stray thoughts. "The truth of the affair is that we are all servants of the one and glorious Eternal Emperor. We amount to his living tools, his blistering and burning weapons of fury and vengeance. I personally steer Subzero in the capacity which I fancy is in the spirit of what his Imperial Majesty would yearn for, but furthermore what we as a team and as a devastating force represent.
There's no short supply of detractors who look upon us, uponyou, as common sacrifices, human shields which the Emperor has etched into the sole of the Empire to enable his greater qualified troopers to tread above our corpses and charge forth. This rings royallyfalse, for all of our members are brought legitimately into Subzero in light of that you epitomize and showcase a patented and poignant skill. You lie in my hands as your commander with an eye to that I value this diversity of competence and can exploit it to its most extreme measure. Under my management, you shall flourish and pass the Empire's trials with flying colors, transformed into the weapons which eternity lusts after.
One must not misjudge me, nor will I act evasive with you - Idoharbor sorely high requirements and presuppositions. Prevail or be cast out - those are your choices. And plunging into an exclusion from my squads will not grant you much favor in your future career, remember this well. The Empire frowns upon those who blunder overmuch.
Having proposed this, know that on the likelihood that you indeedprevail, you shall be immensely awarded and honored by myself and all our peers. And I do not privilege natural-born Garleans in my brigades either - blood or heritage matters not here, only what youachieve. Giving your all is in demand within Subzero, and I empower you to flourish. Likewise, I appreciate and permit curiosity to be an ingredient of needfulness upon the battlefield, but do not let this descend into insubordination - wecrushany wayward souls.
My foremost frontline officer is Ordinarius Jhera, but she is not simply in charge at the nose of onslaughts, for she is my mouth. Her word is law, unless I speak otherwise. Are we clear regarding the rules thus far, recruits?"

She does gain what she anticipates now, and the Ala Mhigans tender their crisp and obedient imperial salutes, elevated closed fists upwards and their arms held before their chests.
"Yes, Tribunus!", they shout in response.

Livia beams gleefully.
"Excellent. Excellent, indeed."

To Fordola, Livia does behave as a passably funky individual, one whose conduct is a motley of exhilaration, viciousness and discipline. And yet, she can't quite sense that this officer is uncaring from top to bottom, for at the furthest, she acts like she imposes maximum efficiency on her troops, to serve the Emperor and Legatus Baelsar. She doesn't, outwardly at all events, profess to idolize some interpretation of sadism or ruthless slaughter. Results and the best profit from any situation is her goal.

"Our mission contained in Eorzea is one that shall serve the Empire well, a beneficial consequence of our almost full-scale conquest of the continent. That said, it is likewise a task which will necessitate stealth - the Emperor hasn't delegated us the right or leeway to enact a full-on assault, which reflects that we have business in being careful. Against the Emperor's caution, Legatus Baelsar supposes that Eorzea is to be prepped for the upcoming takeover - and compatible with your knowledge of Garlean advancement, wewillsubjugate this land.
Therefore, Battalion Subzero, in the privilege of running upon the front of this project, will attempt covert and destabilizing operations across Eorzea, and we'll be dispatched far and wide. We shall weaken their armies and resources, poison their wellsprings and eliminate leaders which pose any obstructions for Garlemald. Our initial task involves the Ananta, beastmen which reside within this region, a lamia-akin folk as you're highly aware of. They have set themselves up as the foremost resistance to the Empire's might and the Emperor's word. This willnotbe tolerated. Their deaths are not our central objective, but we will subdue or slay anyone who stands in our way, prior to piercing the mainland of this continent.
Be vigilant, be crafty, be decisive, and Subzero will make it through this conflict with pride and triumph."

Chapter 5: The Scions path - Part 3

Chapter Text

At last, their destination is within sight. For a day or two of sailing, they've been drawn with the currents to a cluster of islands in between Vylbrand and Thanalan. Joltin hasn't done everything to push her engine too harshly, as she knows from experience and by input from the vehicle's creator, that it can't run forever, even though it actually is constructed to absorb energy from sunlight, but this recharge may take some time, which is why fillings of ceruleum can certainly help out faster; an energy source Joltin doesn't possess carts of, sadly.

However, this specific journey isn't the longest she's ran and therefore the ship has no real trouble taking them there on a medium pace and soon, they've spotted their location coming in. Even so, Joltin isn't at present in full confidence of that everything is as it should and for the last few hours, the two Sharlayan representatives have spoken amid themselves in the rear of the ship, voices hidden by the moderate sound of the engine. She doesn't know what they're up to, but her curiosity is gaining strength and she doesn't aspire to be kept out of the loop.

Decelerating a tad, so that they're only on a faint drift, proceeding with the waves of the sea, Joltin steps up to her passengers, and sends them both a wave of her hand, which of course Y'shtola only remarks partway.
"Yo, just wanted to tell ya both that we're almost up to the goal. Shouldn't be too many minutes until we can tread water and watch...whatever it is you two wanna get up to."

Louisoix looks pensive at this and nods.
"Good, good. Then we can...well, yes."

By his side, Y'shtola keeps her focus in the now and homes in on Joltin.
"Was there something on your mind, miss Dazkar?"

Well well, that sly cat. Nothing escapes her, huh?
"As a matter of fact, yeah. Dunno if you two will be up for letting me in on it, but...as a fellow not-the-Garleans-biggest-fan person, I'd like to be informed of why you're actually asking me to bring you here in the first place. What's the significance of this island?"

The old man and the pretty lady glance at one another and despite that Joltin can't interpret the man's blank face much, Y'shtola protrudes a faint smile and a shrug. Louisoix therefore exhales and bobs his head lightly.
"Very well, very well. I suppose you deserve to know, and we don't precisely have any motives for covering the reality up from anyone. So, the facts - the Garleans will invade in the near future."

Joltin blinks, but nevertheless doesn't appear shocked inherently. Isn't that simply the nature of the Empire after all? Still, puzzle pieces remain.
"Near future? How near? What's your basis for this?"

"Prophesizing an exact timeline is...challenging, but the range of 'near' is not. To decipher the factuality of this statement you must be cognizant of the complexion and tone of the Empire itself, and how it has come to snarl at the borders of Eorzea.
As you’re probably mindful of, the Garleans have invaded and subjugated large sections of the continent to the east of this one, Ilsabard. Besides some minor pockets this way and that, the bulk of entire lands were swallowed in their endless hunger for more. What you may also be apprehensive of, but perhaps had not considered as fiercely, is that the Empire conducts 'pauses' in their advances. Every five to ten years, they halt their marches in regions, seemingly without cause, and wait for some manner of...signal, from their so-called 'Eternal Emperor'. These intervals also differ in length and in locations; sometimes the Garleans cease their advance in one region and proceed in another, and vice versa. Additionally, their scope can be everything from a few months to a few decades. It is upon these hiatuses which I've based the progress of their onslaught towards Eorzea. Since the previous one, they've achieved much development in the east and in southern Ilsabard, and hence their line of sight would naturally turn back to Eorzea."

Joltin lowers her head slowly.
"Okay, that's...worrying, but what you're saying is quite logical. That why you and Y'shtola here went to Eorzea?"

Strangely, the old man shakes his head.
"No. Well, not quite, anyhow. Our purpose is not to stop the war itself - we're solely two people and for us to assume we could make a major difference would be the epitome of hubris. No, our foremost goal is to perform research as to the Empire's true intent."

"True? You mean the invasion is not the real trigger?”

"I do not believe so, no. We do not have proof ofwhatthey're striving for, merely speculations and indications, but there have been leftovers ofhowthey may be executing this unknown strategy - what you might deem as 'scars' upon these lands. I have both learned of through rumor-gathering and personallyseenduring my many excavations a plethora of regions of Ilsabard containing scorched and harmed sections. Larger places, such as a white desert which they designate 'The Burn', down to so minor as half a quarter of a city, where aether has been virtually fully drained. What's interesting is that these scars coincide perfectly with the areasandtimeline which the Empire invaded and conquered said lands. Furthermore, the rumors speak of all sorts of activities, from the Garleans using these confiscated settings for experiments or weapons testing, all the way up to potential human sacrifices."

And now, Joltin is undoubtedly taken aback, her eyes widened beneath the sunglasses.
"Holy...sh*t. Uh, but for what?"

Louisoix snaps his fingers and points at her.
"Precisely. Shtola and I have concluded that the Empire - or plausibly the Emperor himself – is intrigued by a matter which goes beyond mere invasion of their subjects. Not only forwhatare they using these particular emplacement, butwhyare they doing it? This is what Shtola and I mean to discover."

"And you think...Eorzea is next?"

"It's inevitable, a statistical certainty. And I'm afraid that, with so little of this part of the world left, they may be coming to the finale."

"...sh*t. sh*t! But if you Sharlayans knew of this, why haven't you guys acted earlier?"

To Joltin's confusion, Louisoix hesitates and peers down, prevailing on Y'shtola to snort.
"Because they do not believe us", she says.

"Excuse me?"

"Time and time again, master Louisoix have proffered and laid the reality of his excursions and discoveries upon the Forum's table, but our countrymen are unwilling to involve themselves in war, up to the point where they've ceased not only trusting in my master's words, but also cut all funding and support. We are on our own."

Louisoix exhales and deflates, peering out at sea.
"Sadly, she speaks facts. We...have not come here with the backing of the Forum of Sharlayan, nor with their faith. Likewise, I am no longer a member of the Forum."

"You were kicked out?"

"Yes. They deem me a madman, and a delusional old fool." Curiously to Joltin, he does not let this defeat him, and his gaze toughens and meets her again. "Do not mistake our wishes, miss Dazkar - we have not surrendered. I believe more than ever that my revelations have the veracity of the ages behind them, and Iwilltrack down the self-prescribed Eternal Emperor's purpose of enslaving this world. Mark my words."

Chapter 6: The Vermin path - Part 3

Chapter Text

Her first assignment since coming back to the southwest, to the arid, rocky and somewhat sandy region of Gyr Abania. Fordola knew that the road would be hard and that there would without doubt be resistance to face, but she's up for it. She's never in her life felt this hybrid emotions of agitation, heedfulness and thrill, yet looking out across the landscape of her old home, the land of her birth, despite that they're going at it after sundown, this is the exact and instant response she has.

The squad she's been initially assigned to contains a singular squad leader and one that potentially was most suited for one like Fordola - Decurion Hien of Doma, the frontline assault lead. She was set under his command with a handful of Ala Mhigans, plus those who landed here with Hien himself, people distributed from across all the Empire within Ilsabard.
Up until this moment, they haven't had much chance to speak, as they were issued from the base and out into the field immediately and Hien has had to organize everyone after him deprived of any real suitable direction. But as they arrive in amid a portion of rocky outcroppings, Hien instructs them to lie low.

"We have to await squads Alpha and Gamma prior to moving out, so let's get into positions and hold for the moment."

Everyone nods and fetch their chosen tools to get themselves combat-ready, including Hien, who's wielding a mildly curved blade at his hip, one that's foreign to Fordola's eyes. Hien is, from what she has been able to deem, quite a decent leader. In terms of fleet-footed and decisive action towards a strategy, he doesn't waver, which this early positioning is proof of. The man himself is generally seen with someone by his side, a person possibly above two and a half meters tall, a type of wolf-like being, a member of the beastfolk, but not from anywhere near these regions.

As they've allocated themselves between the rocks, Hien has ended up not too distant from Fordola herself, who's standing with her back against one of these protrusions, her greataxe with the head against the ground, the handle in her hand. He nods his greeting at her, and she does the same. He clears his throat.
"Well then...seems we'll be stuck here for a little while."

"Guess so", she responds tersely.

"We...haven't had much of an opportunity to speak, have we? I'm Hien. Well...you know that already, I suppose."

"Fordola."

"Ahh...the one who dueled the Ordinarius, yes? She seemed to like you."

Fordola snorts.
"You reckon? After the beating I got, didn't feel that way."

He chuckles.
"I haven't known her for long, but she only lays her spotlight on those who interest her, so I hold that you'll go far." He gestures at the wolf being. "This is Hakuro, my second and confidante."

Fordola dips her head at him, and he does the same.
"You from the east too?"

"Indeed", says Hakuro, his voice tremendously deep. "I am lupin, from the Gunji clan of Doma."

"So you know each other from home. Must be weird wandering all the way out here."

"Sometimes."

Hien exhales briefly.
"We've travelled many miles from home both to the north and west, and thereupon this isn't a presently unusual occurrence for us", Hien admits. Beyond this, he does look reluctant to divulge anything more of his background. The eastern and somewhat shorter man eyes her up and down. "Mind elaborating a bit on your skills, by the by? Figure I should decide where to put ya."

"At the front, if possible, sir." She grasps her axe a tad harder and knocks her own chestplate. "I'm trained for brute force and defense. I'm not all that swift or stealthy, but I can knock most people flat in a second."

Hien rubs his light beard and peers down.
"Hmm, that would be mighty handy up front, yeah. You're not too different from Hakuro in that sense as well. We could level you two together." Fordola glimpses at the lupin as this is said, and Hakuro bobs his head politely at her. Hien proceeds. "My own tactics traditionally involves rapid and explosive ambushes. I'm not the stealthiest man in the world, to be fair, but if you're quick, that normally makes up for it. With you and Hakuro keeping their attention, it would fortify the rest of us."

"Sounds good to me."

Hien folds his arms and a slightly devious look comes to him.
"Well, since you're far bigger than I, at least I'll have a shield!", he jokes.

Well, that's...kind of funny, perhaps. Enough for Fordola to snort. Maybe he had hoped for a little more, by the look on his face. Hakuro then chimes in.
"Apologies - Hien is always like this. His humor is at best...an acquired taste." Surprisingly for them both, against this, Fordola actually chuckles.

She can sense that Hien is less energized to serve than Empire than she is, yet he is a spirited man nonetheless, one who hides a troubled mindset. If nothing else, he's not cynical like Jhera, though.
"In any case, you likely know the Ananta better than we do", he suggest.

Fordola, however, shrugs.
"Only a little. Gotta understand that I never fought 'em, and I haven't lived 'round these parts for years. I was off fighting for the Garleans, getting myself suited up."

Hien nods thoughtfully, rubbing his chin.
"Ahh, that does hold up. Nevertheless, I say we stick by the tactic we have. You and Hakuro will make a fine duo, I suspect."

Thankfully, Hien's tactic does genuinely work wonders - with an ananta outpost lying settled in the midst of a clutch of rocks, Fordola and Hakuro move in as frontal deviations, chasing out the lamia creatures from their hideouts. Fordola learns that Hakuro wields a rather humongous version of that curved blade, a 'katana' as they call it, and he uses it together with some manner of aether ability to summon explosions made of dragon-like heads. However, Fordola and Hakuro are together only the veneer that the ananta see, and whilst the pair holds their notice off, Hien and the rest of his squad launch into the rear, cutting apart the ranged attackers and subdue any other opposition.

As Fordola and Hien meet once more at the front entrance some minutes down the line, with no ananta deaths and everyone captured, Hien approaches to lower his head at her with a smile.
"Very well done, soldier. Effective and loud. I'm pleased with what you accomplished by Hakuro’s side."

Although her lips only curve the slightest, Fordola sets down her axe's head on the ground and hits her chest in respect.
"Same to you, Decurion. You're a highly efficient team leader."

"Hah! Glad to hear you approve. I'll let the Ordinarius know your performance later on."

Chapter 7: The Scions path - Part 4

Chapter Text

At last, their target is within sight. Internally, Joltin has thought ahead of the region that they would be sailing into and to match her speed in order for them to hit the perimeter of it roughly as the sun was going down or already had fallen into its horizonal bed. She has cut over this land on enough occasions by now to know the hour of twilight.

The islands themselves are not humongous, but sizable enough to construct bases that could contain thousands of troops, a dozen ships, cannons and shielding emitters. It's a rocky place, practically a miniature mountain in its center that spears up at the heavens, and minimal vegetation grows across its hull. This would be preferable for the Garleans anyhow, as they'd try to shed the trees should they have made themselves an obstacle.
The headquarters are what you could anticipate from Garleans too - high, metallic, probably electrified and advanced in tech, shimmering with blue, red and white lights. This remote from the border of the minor landmass, there aren't a ton of troops visible, but both Joltin and her passengers can spot the patrolling boats, some manner of gunships, with an out-of-the-way warship emplaced in the waters between the islands and the continent, with its weaponry directed at the larger of these lands, in case of offensives.

Louisoix has brought a pair of peculiar-looking binoculars with an upper piece that unfolds and produces some form of orb that pulsates with indefinite energy. Y'shtola is by his side, keeping a bag in her hand with a bunch of additional materials and gear, but she speaks very sparsely, as does Louisoix, for the first hour that they sail in a circle of the isle, constantly asking Joltin to alter her course minutely.

When they're at least initially satisfied, Louisoix lets the instrument dip down and his arms entwine, with one hand rubbing his beard.
"So, what's up? Anything we can use?", wonders Joltin, standing by the controls.

"Hmm. Well, the craftmanship and the defenses are of interest. The quality of the walls, how they've implemented their structures upon the terrain, the patrol patterns...intriguing indeed."

Joltin arches a brow.
"I kinda hear a 'but' here."

Louisoix blows out air from his nose.
"You do since these are all facts which do not rivet my attention. There is nothing explicitly out of the ordinary - there is no aberrant glimmer of aether, no clues of supply ships which we could've kept our eyes peeled for, no outward vessel that strays from the course. This looks simply like another military facility, which is not what I watched for.."

Joltin angles into the steering board and takes a moment to evaluate their operation, a mite displeased that not a sole pointer of something sinister would've even bubbled up.
"Well...what do you-"

She is thereby interposed by Y'shtola.
"Not so fast. Out there, by the beach of the eastern strip of the island - is there a person down low? I'm getting a read on an aether signal, at minimum..."

Narrowing his own lenses, Louisoix can't suss out much and thus he checks with the binoculars, scanning the entire field of the outermost sands that his apprentice pinpoints.
"Hmm, there isn't a great deal that I'm capable of-" But his words get to a full stop upon noting faint twitching past a low dune, ones that descend and latterly reappear. "Twelve curse me...there we are, like you said. I notice a person crawling near to the water. I...I believe it's a man? It's rather bothersome to estimate such objects from this stretch, but right you are!" He glints at Joltin. "Captain, is there any chance that you might steer us in reach of him?"

Tapping her right horn in reflection, Joltin studies their milieu.
"I mean...it's gonna be a tight squeeze, but providing you two get ready for a dustup if the imps spot us, I'll do my best."

Y'shtola draws her staff elegantly from her back and swirls it into her hand, pushing the bottom onto the deck.
"We shall be steeled for it, Captain, if you are."

"Let's punch it then."

Joltin sails the ship into the confines of the beach, hiding underneath the twilight of night, and the engine running on low force, in order to produce lesser noise. Joltin is the one to hop off, with Louisoix and Y'shtola attending their surroundings and whether any Garleans advances on them, which at the moment is unforeseeable.
In moments, Joltin pulls back in, carting a person over her shoulder. Gently dumping him on the deck, Louisoix perceives a man lying there, his skin a medium brown albeit paling, his hair a long black.
"Hmm. I believe this might be a highlander, yes?"

Joltin is pulling off her boots that she just climbed into the water with and takes off her coat, both of which are quite severely drenched.
"Phew. Yeah, that he is. Kinda tall, which is normally how you spot the contrast from midlanders. He's extremely thin, though."

Louisoix droops his head in concord.
"Plain as day. Blatantly injured and undernourished to boot."

Y'shtola kneels, one hand on her staff and the other grazing the man's abdomen.
"I can sense some indentations across his skin, and a patchwork of pulpier parts, potentially wounds and bruises."

Out of nowhere, the man groans and he's sounds as if he's waking up, possessing Y'shtola to rise and remover her fingers for the time being, while retreating to Louisoix. On her side of the boat, Joltin impulsively grits her teeth and staggers, clasping her forehead with a palm and leaning into the railing as to not fall. Even though the man does not fully stir, this makes the duo look upon Joltin pensively and distressedly.

Shaking her head and heaving for a couple of seconds, Joltin re-unfurls her eyelids and gapes at the man, her fingers weighing heavily onto the metal. Imminently, she peers at her associates with a measure of awkwardness and coughs.
"Um...he was tortured and experimented on."

Y'shtola narrows her eyes, and Louisoix curves an eyebrow.
"How...did you decipher this?"

Joltin's head swivels.
"Just uuh...take my word for it. I know he was."

"Take your word?", wonders the miqo'te. "Lacking clear testimony or material? I don't quite fathom how we would be satisfied with a meager answer of this caliber."

"Well, it's like...complicated, alright? I know what I know, and Iknowthis guy was experimented on. The torture you can figure yourselves, but the experimenting was...wild. Intense. We gotta get 'im to a healer."

Whereas Y'shtola is cynical as to the affair, Louisoix angles his head to move them on.
"If that is your assessment, we shall consider it."

"Master...", Y'shtola quarrels, but he shakes his head.

"Healing him is not my specialty, but I may endeavor anyhow. It will be an arduous struggle, I surmise."

"That's killer", says Joltin, "cuz then let's head to Limsa, and I'll introduce you two to a lady back there. She’s a doctor." She orients her front to the wheel and reignites the engine. "She'll have us covered on that field, if you guys can keep this fella alive."

Louisoix bows lightly.
"We shall do our utmost, Captain, but I suggest full speed ahead."

"Way ahead o' ya, buddy."

Y'shtola is the only one not in on the subject for the time being, flickering from Joltin and to Louisoix, up and down, prior to sighing and following that she won't get much out of either until they reach their destination.

Chapter 8: The Vermin path - Part 4

Chapter Text

The higher-ups had been pleased with their performance, or at least that's what Fordola had caught from a recent missive that Hien had been supplied with from the HQ. Not that these rather minor tribal outposts had provided a great degree of opposition. Fordola doesn't want to talk down against them, as they've struggled so hard in their defense measure so far and she doesn't enjoy besmirching a worthy foe, but equally, the Garlean forces are crushing anything that gets ahead of them without concern.

Furthermore, Fordola can hereby profess that being set in Battalion Subzero has been both productive and satisfying, as she's learning a little bit of this and that from all of these troops sourced from various lands of the continent. Some from outer lands may dislike them for this eclectic mix, but Fordola is convinced it's a strength of theirs. She can say that Hien is a decent squad leader too, and one that she's appreciating to be working for, which is why she's stood and speaking with him in the center of another minor Ananta outpost that they took rather newly.

It is at that hour, when they're discussing future strategy and potential celebrations once this is all over, that a sense of reverie is interrupted.
"Decurion Hien!", a sharp voice calls out.

Hien delivers his gaze to the origin, prior to narrowing his eyes faintly.
"...dammit." Fordola blinks at that and turns about to face the oncoming figure of a dark purple-hued and white-horned au ra in leather armor and a long coat, wearing imperial pistols at her hips. Ah, isn't that another one of the squad leads? "Decurion Milisandia", Hien responds as she nears them, albeit with a less enthused voice.

"Good job taking this outpost with speed", she tells him, which Hien shrugs at.

"We all do what we must."

"You ought to be proud of your troops' capabilities."

“Well, that much we can agree on." Another internal struggle, perhaps? Fordola is sensing a handful of those already, which may be part of the battalion's weakness.

Milisandia disregards any furtherance on the discussion with Hien at that moment, and diverts herself to the highlander.
"Fordola Hext?"

Fordola nods.
"That's me."

"I've been ordered to withdraw some troops from this outpost to a larger camp we're about to occupy, including yourself. And this comes from higher up, Decurion."

Hien exhales, as if he never aimed to revolt against her words to begin with.
"Very well, if the Ordinarius believes this is for the best, who am I to argue?"

Milisandia dips her head and glances at Fordola.
"You're coming with me, recruit."

"Okay", Fordola responds. "What are we hitting, exactly?"

The au ra does not appear to take kindly to this phrasing for some reason, and wrinkles her brow.
"Who do you reckon is the superior here? I wasn't looking for questions, only your obedience. And I want you to get a move on."

Hien rolls his eyes at her heavy-handed approach, whereas Fordola commits herself to sucking it up and breathes in.
"...alright then. Then tell me where to hit and how hard, ma'am."

"That's better."

As she gestures for the trooper to join her, Hien acts beforehand and snatches Fordola’s arm.
"Be careful out there with her. That girl is one of the Legatus' children."

Fordola's eyes extend in surprise, and she peers back at the easterner.
"From...van Baelsar?"

"Yep. He's adopted several youngsters out of countries he was a part of invading and conquering. Don't ask me what his motive is, as I don't got a clue. What I do know is that these kids are terribly loyal, and generally pledge themselves to his sometimes brutal example."

Fordola isn't positive of whether she ought to be intrigued or anxious regarding this trait.
"I'll...keep that in mind, thanks."

Milisandia's bossy voice cries out once again.
"Recruit, get over here!"

Hien sighs and lets her go.
"Good luck."

Gathering every trooper that she was meant to collect, Milisandia takes her own squad and these extras to another location, several kilometers to the south of this position.
"We located this fresh outpost not too long ago, which happens to be the local Ananta tribes' main camp", she briefs them. "Were we to take out this village, their minor outposts along the way would surely relent, and it would send an adequate signal to the rest of the tribes in Gyr Abania that you do not wish to stand against the Empire."

"Any notices on strategy, ma'am?", asks a roegadyn fellow.

"Same as we've exploited thus far - we pull up for distraction attacks on both the front and the rear, in order to force them into the open and exhaust as much of their energy into defenses as possible. As for how we solve it without enhanced bloodshed, I have an idea for that."

She doesn't elaborate on the premises of this scheme or whether she would ask anything further of them, but rather tells them to get in and get prepped for their job.
The preceding battle is also not executed with utmost efficiency, by virtue of the very straightforward tactic of 'rush the enemy' and thus they're left with little else than Fordola running first in at the front to secure a spot, while some of the other troops plant barricades at the soil, where they can fire their guns from. This in turn impels the Ananta to leave the safety of their walls to head out with spears and shield, which opens up for attacks at the rear of the camp and dangerous gaps in defenses.
Even so, the imperials yet have to sacrifice a bunch of their own safety and welfare to guarantee this posting and that some of them fall is a certainty, one that Fordola isn't greatly for. The Ananta at this placement do in fact put up a respectable effort and regardless of that the Garlean squads are not even on an off chance about to lose this, they will cause quite a bit of damage.

Everything comes to a sudden halt when an individual shot is fired from the back row at one particular person among the Ananta, hitting her straight in the belly. A bevy of gasps erupt from the Ananta, which notably comprises the matriarch in charge. Milisandia then walks out onto the field, gun held in proximity of her shoulder and the barrel of it smoking from a shot newly pointed and fired at the victim in question.
"Ananta tribe members, I've just opened fire on your matriarch's daughter, the heir to your leadership. Surrender yourselves to the Eternal Emperor's mercy and we will employ our healers to treat her. Refuse, and I finish the task I started right now."

Seconds float by as the Ananta hold their ground, but the Battalion does not advance instantly, instead both are hoping and awaiting a response that is positive, in order for them to not have to continue and potentially yield further soldiers to this attack. The ananta themselves can be categorized as having fallen on an even line, as they would not desire for their leader to fall into despair or for them to be bereaved of the next generation.

Begrudgingly, the matriarch sighs and slithers forth.
"We...we surrender ourselves to the Garlean Empire, and hope that your promise of fair treatment is justified."

Fordola doesn't personally have a word to speak on this matter, but she does feel that she learned something new of the Empire's methods.

Chapter 9: The Scions path - Part 5

Chapter Text

Limsa Lominsa, a city-state externally famed as a locale of pirates and scavengers, fettered with ne'er-do-wells, thieves, raiders and those who long for nothing beyond chaos consuming the world. In reality, while some of these elements undoubtedly inhabit its grounds, first and foremost it has become an epicenter of marine trading and transport, seeing as the Admirals in charge would rather concentrate their efforts on accruing welfare for their people than hunting their foes and stealing what little wealth they can get into their hands.
The metropolis is rather abnormally built and emplaced upon a number of cliffs outside the southern coast of the island called Vylbrand, constructed as a network of castle-like structures with bridges in between them.

It's by one of these castle structures that Joltin lands herself and her fresh comrades, waving to some of the docking personnel, and second to this, hikes and carries the unconscious man straight up into the city. They're taken to one of the western reaches of Limsa and Joltin brings them into the hospitality of the Arcanists' Guild, greeting its motley students and researchers, prior to snappily explaining their dilemma.

To where Y'shtola and Louisoix are eventually taken is by a bed in one of the rooms dedicated to medical assessment, where another peculiar and nonnative woman distributes her gear once she enters. She's a tall figure, somewhat below the Sharlayan master, but above the ladies. Her blonde hair with white highlights is tied into a short and low ponytail, and much of her body is covered in a type of white robes with a count of black leather straps above the arms and waist, although it's a set of clothes that does not extend the whole path down, for one can see she's donning white pants and shoes too. The warm dark brown hue of her skin is marked by a clutch of white tattoos above her face but under her eyes, shaped as a line with three dots below plus two small triangles by her nose that highlight the center of her nasal bridge. In the midpoint of her forehead rests a ruby-like gem, visible as her bangs are brushed to the side to frame her face. Full lips, her body type itself rather curvy, and her facial features generally viewed as quite soft, there are two things that stand out - the tip of her nose has a slightly lighter tone, as if to emulate a rabbit’s and similarly, a pair of lengthy, erect and floppy rabbit-like ears poke out of her head. For those who have met the kind, it cannot be mistaken that she is one of the viera, a people that is generally found in eastern Ilsabard.

As the others stand and watch her beginning her examination of the wounded man, Louisoix protrudes a question.
"Well met, I'm Louisoix from Sharlayan, and this is my assistant Y'shtola. How is he looking?"

The young woman, or what they presume is young, glances sideways at them with her light blue eyes, and intermittently, her fingers snap to cast some form of minute spell, likely to enhance her inspection.
"Kjat Sja-naris, foreign medical expert", she enunciates with a smooth and blatantly foreign tone too. "He has been brutalized quite severely. Broken ribs, legs and arms - especially the scapula - quite severe impacts by the abdomen. Abnormally short hair growth in certain places, namely the arms and feet, as if it has been forcefully removed...and there are more." She glances at them. "Where did you find him?"

Louisoix hesitates and Y'shtola sighs.
"It is lamentable, but we can't, at present, give an answer to this question."

Kjat crinkles her brow at the miqo'te, but then shrugs.
"As you wish." Raising her hands, she launches into the magical exhibit which they may have been awaiting, and her hands contort, her fingers bending to draw in aether, and snapping them, she gathers a golden light within their center, which she floods across the man's form, gradually mending his outer wounds.
Later on, as he seems to have regained some of the color to his body, Kjat ceases her procedure and glances at them once again.
"He'll live, but there are a few disturbing developments. Part of his aether has been ruptured, something I cannot fully heal, but if his shape has not been altered at the molecular level, it should recover this on its own, in time. Furthermore, I divined in my reconditioning of him definite validations of torture and insertion of extrinsic materials. Whatever was done with him, I would surmise he was experimented on."

Louisoix and Y'shtola throw glimpses at Joltin, who's stood by a wall to the side, her arms folded.
"Y...yeah, don't worry, Kat, we had that covered already. Sort of." Kjat arches one of her blonde eyebrows at the ship captain, but then shrugs, expecting she will get a response in the long haul. For Y'shtola, the employment of a nickname at least showcases that they know one another.

"Could we speak with the man?", wonders Louisoix.

Kjat appears mildly distressed by the inquiry, but she doesn't dispute them.
"You could, yes. I have a spell that can temporarily awaken him, but usage or even repeated usage of it could damage his recuperation."

"That's alright, we only wish for it to occur once, as we harbor some integral requests." Although she is not pleased with the prodding, Kjat reconciles herself to it and presses two fingers to his temple and another golden wave of light washes over him. The highlander's green eyes flutter open and comes off as quite groggy. Kjat leans down, provides some water and whispers words of comfort for a second, saying that he's safe in Limsa and that she is a healer, admitting that it's hard to tell whether he fully comprehends or believes her. Louisoix then advances. "Greetings, my good man. I am Louisoix of Sharlayan. Could you tell us where you're from?"

A question that is mainly proffered to test his current mental state.
"A...Ala Mhigo", he surrenders in a hoarse voice.

"You're one of the refugees?"

"To...to Ul'dah, yeah."

"Might you explain what happened to you? We found you by a beach outside an imperial facility."

Some pain washes over his face, but it's bleary whether this is psychological or physical.
"I...I was kidnapped by Brass Blades and taken to the Garleans. Me and...and a bunch of others. Held in confinement. They...they did things."

"Things?"

"Yes...tous."

"Did they experiment on you? Using needles and tubes perchance?"

"I...I think so. They never spoke of why...or what they were using it for. I tried to escape many times, but...too weak. I couldn't get...far."

"Did they hurt you?"

He shuts his eyes and bites his lower lip.
"...yeah. Hurt all of us."

"How many did they jail with you?"

"...I don't...know. Many. Hundreds? Not...not sure."

His voice begins drifting off and his body settles into slumber once again. Kjat checks his vitals and glances at them.
"He's asleep and I would suggest not repeating this process. He needs rest."

Louisoix nods crisply.
"And he deserves it. I merely sought to confirm one of our suspicions. Thank you, miss Sja-naris."

Chapter 10: The Vermin path - Part 5

Chapter Text

To subdue a people of an entire region is quite busy work and Fordola did not expect that she would have the chance to cool down much during it with assignments that didn't include direct combat. However, with a major portion of ananta being captured and thrown into certain prison camps to get the others to abide by the same rules and follow imperial creeds, Fordola was dispatched to one of these outposts and got a chance to view the inmates and defeated in person, and hold them in these ranks. In accordance with Legatus Baelsar's wishes, the Garleans are here toconquerEorzea, not wreck it from end to end and therefore its people must learn to live under imperial rule.

Fordola was reassigned into defense duty after arriving immediately from the frontline in these offenses, and she deems the disparity of it to be practically jarring. For her, frontline duty was the very nucleus of why she was engaged in accepting this appointment and serving the Empire in achieving something meaningful in its success. Apparently, though, being set at the defense is another aspect of imperial soldier life and even if she would identify it as unimaginably dull, it is at the least quite leisurely.

The topmost frustrating segment of this role is the hostility between jailors and captives. The imperials can barely walk five meters prior to having hisses and malcontent grumblings hurled their way and this is amped up by a number of degrees towards Ala Mhigans like herself. She wouldn't be shocked to hear that they're taken as the worst of the worst, being traitors.

The one item of some appeal to Fordola is a fairly eccentric figure who she has only recently gotten to know and explore, now that they're assigned to the same area. She approaches the spot where she's meant to link up with him today and pauses herself next to an exceptionally tall, but furthermore moderately skinny man - Urianger, the Decurion and frontline lead of the medics. They've merely had the room to speak twice thus far, but he seems like an okay guy.
He's somewhat new ground for Fordola in this battalion, due to the phenomenon that he doesn't truly order people around much. At best, he makes requests for people to come with him, to guard or assist him in mending one of their patients, but he doesn't requisition, even though that's his right as their superior. Additionally, he's...quite markedly formal. Even in backdrops where they're just soldier to soldier, his word usage can seem a bit stiff to Fordola and she hasn't pinpointed whether that's his personality, origin or their more or less strict environment.

The elevated elezen smiles at her nearing and he dips his head in greeting.
"Good morning, recruit Fordola. Is your health at adequate levels upon this time of day?"

She clears her throat and scratches the back of her neck. Why does he talk that weirdly? She still can't work it out.
"Yeah...yeah, I'm alright, sir."

"Splendid. I motion that we refocus our efforts towards attending to the afflictions and indentations of our captives and restore them to a well-conditioned status, should you have no remonstrances."

Fordola furrows her brow in a befogged fashion.
"...no what?"

"No objections."

"Oh. Uh, no, sir. I'll follow your lead."

"As you desire."

And thus begins their routine for the day, where Urianger treads across the camp and heals up the ananta prisoners, and he does so with ease, consideration and compassion. To Fordola, his actions and his perspective are not solely offbeat, they're downright un-imperial. How is it that he cares, where no one else does? Even some of his aides grumble when the ananta hiss at them, yet he doesn't.
As one of their captures practically slashes him a few minutes down the line and Fordola has to tell this woman to calm herself or get disciplined physically, Urianger simply simmers down the antagonism between them and goes on about his job.

After the fact, Fordola helps him patch up his arm that got scraped and she stares at him rather lost.
"Doesn't this annoy you?"

He reangles his pale yellow gaze at her.
"Specify."

"That they do sh*t like this", she points out and levels a finger towards his arm. "They hate your guts, despite that you're nursing 'em back to full health. Isn't that, like, infuriating? Would be to me."

Urianger, on the other hand, shakes his head.
"It is not, nor can I conceive of an equation where it would be. These people have a right to be hostile and vicious."

Fordola breathes out and shrugs.
"You're a pretty nonsensical trooper. Sorry, sir."

Urianger does not look offended by this breach of protocol and merely proceeds with applying some magic to his body.
"Do not express remorse for putting your feelings into words, recruit Fordola. My logic for this comportment is reasonably simplistic in its composition - my land of origin was invaded by the Garleans in my youth, and though my countrymen opposed my selection of enlisting with the their military, I judge our situation that we cannot improve the balance of the Empire deprived of exertion. To make things better, we mustbebetter. Does this rationale chord with your own?"

Fordola scuffs the rear of her head and gestures with her shoulders.
"I...I can't tell."

"I assure you, recruit Fordola, that I am a healer first and foremost, and against the notion that I am intending to serve the Empire, this would not preclude me from treating our enemies with sympathy and dignity, and forgo the truths of complete abandon and heartlessness. Such dismal angles are not the creed of the Eternal Emperor, are they?"

"I mean, some might say it is, but...with you, I'm not so sure."

Urianger smiles at her.
"Should there be any spectrum to which you become more proficient in the comprehension of the military from me, recruit Fordola, I hold out hope it is to compass the value of benevolence."

Fordola snorts and speaks no more. His utterances may be quite ridiculously formal, but she won't deny he's a kind soul and a decent healer. A useful asset to have on the battlefield, if nothing else.

Chapter 11: The Scions path - Part 6

Chapter Text

There was sort of an inevitable outcome that had to occur once the examination of the refugee was over with and Joltin knew it. Internally, she had debated whether she should ignore them and flee for her life, hide away in some corner of Limsa and later bust out with her ship, something she's pulled prior to this when she hasn't wished to get involved with an annoying conundrum.
Somehow, though, the two newcomers she's recently been acquainted with have opened a rift in Joltin's heart, one that she cannot wholly ignore. She can't tell whether that's a development based on their conviction or a reversal of her own emotions.

Nevertheless, standing in a solitary room and gazing out the window, she finds herself confronted by Y'shtola and Louisoix, who pierce this space with expectant faces, although thankfully not highly suspicious ones. In fact, the old man can be taken as rather curious and Y'shtola showcases a blending of worry and contemplation.
"Miss Dazkar", starts Louisoix, "now that we've dealt with the fugitive that we saved and expanded our knowledge somewhat of what the Garleans are attempting in Eorzea, there were a few questions which we wished to dispense at you on top of this."

A gradual sigh sips out of Joltin's lips and she keeps her arms folded, shrugging after peering at them through her shades.
"Yeah, I kinda pictured already that you might."

"Then you would not find it offensive were we to ask about more personal matters associated with yourself and your person?"

Joltin chuckles.
"Hey, people usually don't ask me first if they're allowed to interrogate, so no, I don't mind."

Louisoix dips his head in recognition and takes a deeper breath.
"How did you know he was tortured? It was quite blatant that he had been injured by someone, but your instincts told you in no time flat what our circ*mstances were. How?"

"Furthermore", says Y'shtola and enters the chat, "you reacted rather...peculiarly. I noticed a small spurt of aether from you at the moment where you clutched your head."

To begin with, the au ra does not respond to their inquiries, standing with absentminded eyes aimed at the floor, and they can't discern whether this is to reminisce or if she's registering something they don't. At last, she scratches her neck doubtfully.
"I..." She exhales. "I dunno what you'll say to this. You'll probably think I'm nuts, but…sometimes, I get these...visions."

"Visions?", Louisoix questions.

"Yeah. It's something I've had ever since I was little, back in the east. At times, and during special contexts, I can...see people's past. Like, not the whole bit, but surface memories that pop up in their minds. It was the same with this guy. I saw what happened to him - and we're not talking viewing the scene outta his eyes. No, I could watch practically like a little bug on a wall that swooped 'round the place and witnessed as...well, the Garleans did their thing. Tortured the guy, forced to stare at his pain and misery while doing...nothing. Never picked up on why it happens orhowit does, but it does."

To her mild relief and puzzlement, neither of the two laugh or so much as glow of skepticism. Preferably, they smell of thoughtfulness and reflection against this notion.
"Master", goes Y'shtola, "do you think...?"

She turns to meet his eyes and the old man personally stares intently at the floor and nods ponderously.
"It is possible, yes." Raising his vision towards Joltin, who has now turned right into her own mental fog, gestures with his hand at her. "Apologies, miss Dazkar, this is simply not the first time where we have encountered the mentioning of someone with your...gifts."

"Wait, really?"

"Quite. Along my comprehensive travels, studies, questionings, and research, I've heard of people having such highly erratic abilities. Mainly they reveal themselves by use of rumors, but in latter years, I also discovered secretive Garlemald files which brought up the subject. They did not define the nature of it, nor demystify how or where they would've come upon this knowledge, but they refer to these mental talents as 'the Echo'. The origin for this phenomenon, how it interests the Garleans, and likewise the extent of the power which it wields, are unknown to me.
What Idoknow is that imperial agents hunt, capture and possibly eliminate those who are gifted with the Echo. In fact, they may have enforced this since the very inception of the Empire."

Swallowing involuntarily, Joltin has to fold her arms once more, her eyes shooting from side to side in rumination.
"Uh, that...that sounds bad. Like, kinda scary, actually. Even saying that, though, ain't had anybody chase me for it. Not that I know, anyway. I've only rumbled with Garlean soldiers, not any special spies or agents or whatever."

"Does anyone know of your abilities?"

"Only those closest to me. Ones you might call...family, I guess. I don't tend to make a big deal of it, or drop the news to others. Not clear on why that is, just...it might've gotten dangerous otherwise."

Louisoix swings his head down in concord.
"Good instincts, miss Dazkar. You're wiser than you realize. With us, of course, your secret will be safe. Stopping the Empire and their Eternal Emperor is our foremost goal in life."

"Yeah, that...was kinda the point of me feeling alright with doing that."

"Are visions of the past your sole gift?", asks Y'shtola. "Or does your Echo manifest in separate ways?"

Joltin now peers at the pretty miqo and shrugs.
"I mean, yeah, a couple. A family member of mine once figured that the reason I learn languages so easily is this weird power I got. No one else manages as quickly as I do. Plus, I can understand other...beings."

"Beings? Such as?"

"Uh...animals, actually. Even spirits. I've had talks with nature spirits that normal people can't even see. Beasts too. It's...I dunno. Some people find it weird."

At Joltin's uncertainty, Y'shtola originally overlooks this facet, but coming to terms with that the au ra may suppose she sounds unstable with the inkling, Y'shtola smiles reassuringly.
"Worry not, miss Dazkar. Master Louisoix and I have beheld and crossed matters far more unconventional than a human speaking with animals. We will not judge you for such matters."

Chapter 12: The Vermin path - Part 6

Chapter Text

At long last, Fordola has returned to Castrum Abania. Having been all across Gyr Abania to test the resolve and the strength of the ananta together with the rest of Battalion Subzero, there is a certain sense of homecoming after this first week or two. She wouldn't say that the time has been wasted either, as it has given her space to reacclimatize to her home, get acquainted with how her own fighting style manages across foes in this region and to learn where her fresh comrades stand. The Decurions are inevitably a colorful bunch and even if she may admit that she likes one or two more than the others, she carries esteem for them no matter their origin or personality. After all, everyone is in this together, to bring down the final stronghold of the southwest. It is here it will begin, the complete dominance of the Empire and Fordola is proud to see it through.

What has boggled her a touch has been two things - being called in to see Ordinarius Jhera once more, and furthermore, some manner of assembly that everyone present in the Castrum has to attend. Meeting up with the Ordinarius once again is an idea that she has no hard feelings for, but she hasn't seen Jhera at all during this entire 'integration'.
On the far side of her absolute trouncing to the miqo’te, they practically never spoke another word to each other and thus Fordola couldn't assess whether her superior was displeased with her or not. She had guessed not, as she wouldn't be standing here alive should that be the case, but equally, why hasn't she spotted the Ordinarius on the field? Was she busy elsewhere? Was it an act calculated for the arriving troopers to get to know the ground folk? Or was this a simple test?

Either way, her renewed encounter with this superior of hers is not one she had foretold nor one that she could've somehow estimated as being part of the narrative surrounding her journey in the military. As she gets back to base rather late after having been transferred in the afternoon, the sun above Gyr Abania having sunken into its bed and the stars almost on the way to overtake the skies, the moon keeper miqo surfaces in her path towards the courtyard where she was told most troops are gathered, clad not in the black jacket that Fordola had noticed her in last time, but quite a heavy and mildly dented armor, one with navy blue and black plates intermingled with white cloth. Doesn't fully look imperial, but close still. Expectedly, hanging from the officer's back is the massive blade which she's noted Jhera with every time they've stood face to face, one eye patch covering half her sight, with the other staring at Fordola bereft of clear intentions.

"You're late, Legionary", the Ordinarius tells her blankly.

For what, exactly? Was she supposed to get back way sooner?
"Uh, apologies, ma'am. Decurion Milisandia had me finishing up some perimeter scouting which took a while. And then the chocobo ride here wasn't as fast as I woulda liked."

"I know", Jhera confirms. "Merely stating facts."

"O...okay. Uh, if I may ask, what precisely am I late for? I didn't get anything really explained to me, ma'am."

"There's a meeting. Big caravan arrived from the east recently."

"Carrying what?"

"Personnel from Ala Mhigo. First and foremost of these would be Gaius van Baelsar."

It is now that Fordola is entirely stupefied, shaken out of complacency and stability. Gaius van Baelsar, The Black Wolf, The Red Thunder, Conqueror of Nations...he has a plethora of nicknames and is said to be feared from the western coast to the east, his reputation only outdone by a handful of people, the main ones of these being the Eternal Emperor and the First Prince. The last out of these nicknames is no joke and no hyperbole, as Fordola is very much aware. Rumors and factual history have spoken of how he has taken down several city-states and even full-on nations, with the former being one that Fordola herself experienced. Although he never managed to take all of Eorzea, it's indisputable that his track record and his fame for serving the Empire in an exemplary fashion makes him and his strategy a threat to any adversaries and a hope for those who follow him.

"The...the Legatus has arrived?"

Jhera snorts and peers sideways.
"No doubt prepared to hold a grand and inspirational speech", she says, but Fordola does not hear awe or admiration from her voice. The comment is snarky in effect. "Come along."

The closer they get to the right courtyard, the more Fordola is brought to the reality that this is not a minor huddle, but a rather huge conference of soldiers who're ripe to listen and to obey a figure of majestic and pivotal standing. Falling in line with them right next to Jhera, she at last beholds him and for the very first time, she gets the sense that she's poised in front a legend, before the magnitude of history. His armor is an amalgamation of Garlean exhibition and intimidating factors. The black plates, the blood red cloth underneath, the jagged edges, the horned helmet; in some regards, he may come off better as a human in dragon form than the regular man he is. Well, 'regular' is an understatement, for he is in no way normal to most of his victims and subjugated folks, having defeated several supposed heroes and leaders. In fact, Fordola is extremely aware of some of them and would not kid herself regarding his might.
Fordola would not say that she adores this man, nor that she looks up to him. He is a pacifier, a warrior of more than a little experience and success, to some a tyrant and a killer. What she feels is closer to a compounding of fear and a fellow warrior's appreciation. She can if nothing else respect a fighter for being this triumphant and that as her superior officer, there is no one else who can command his inferiors' loyalty; forced or not.

The flocks below his station on a somewhat raised platform are buzzing just prior to his arrival, but as he steps further out, the murmur disperses and anyone's eagerness to make themselves heard dissipates. The Legatus stares out across the troops' presence and their stances, as many raise their shoulders and straighten their backs. Jhera's is moderately levelled beforehand, but she doesn't make any obvious additional efforts for it.
"Soldiers of the Garlean Empire, proud adherents to the Eternal Emperor, members and warriors of the XIVth Imperial Legion - the most ferocious in the Empire - stand up and raise your heads! I would look upon you and know that I have found the intensity I expect out of each of you, for those who will roar with the Empire's fervency, stride with the Empire's might and hold the Emperor's will in their hearts! I am Gaius van Baelsar, your Legatus and your liege. You may have heard of me, you may have spotted me on the battlefield where I stand by your side, but today and from this moment forth, you will know me as your honored commander, ready to charge with you as we once and for all bring this former homeland of yours into the grip and unity of the Garlean Empire. It has been 15 years since my previous attempt, one that got far, but not far enough, and I anticipate a great and glorious battle which these savages will grant us, as we roll across their hills, deserts and forests and show them the truth of the future. You may flinch as I call your former countrymen with such a title, but savages they are and will forever remain, until such time that they have seen the candor and brightness of the future. Do not mistake my words to signify that I deem you on their level, for this I do not. You are soldiers from Ala Mhigo or nearby borders, ones who have accepted the civilization which the Eternal Emperor has devised for us and graciously spread forth. You are their betters and their image for uplifting.
This is the goal which the Eternal Emperor has set for us within Eorzea. Your former countrymen, those who stood against the Empire on our last foray and those who have not yet seen our light, theywillcome to join you or they will fall as we barrel over them with the steel and iron and glory that we bring wherever we so please."

The bravado and ferocity with which he utters these words nearly inspire Fordola. Without a tremendous speaking device to enhance his voice, he's yet capable of being heard from a great distance and with some ease. Van Baelsar is without a doubt a man who is adapted to power and liable to be obeyed. Although Fordola does notlikethis man, she can appreciate that control over the mind and disposition for combat. She wouldn't be surprised even remotely to witness that this nation will find itself lost in but half a year or less, should Gaius be at the head.
One who may not share her view is to the side and as Fordola glances at her, Jhera stares at him lacking any manner of excitement or fondness or even vigor. Her vision is hardened and cold, but this is quite regular for this woman. What the Ordinarius furthermore might emit, should Fordola peer closer, is a level of contempt. She has ascertained that Jhera isn't from this region, no mistaking that, but that makes Fordola rationalize - is Jhera born of another defeated and humiliated region then? Does Jhera yet carry a grudge from what she forfeited?

"You in Battalion Subzero have a vital mission", Gaius goes on. "Whereas the Eternal Emperor has not thus far given us the authorization to begin our invasion in earnest, this time will come and it will not be far away. To pave the road for our increased and accumulated future troops and adjoined legions, we need a group to sow chaos and intersperse weakness into the joints of our foes. To loosen the jar, as it were. Battalion Subzero's members have been handpicked for just this measure and I have no doubt that Tribunus Junius will see you along to that goal and that you will all win the favor of the Eternal Emperor with your success."

Chapter 13: The Scions path - Part 7

Chapter Text

The stay in Limsa is growing past an hour which Louisoix can accept. Whereas the info drawn from both Joltin and the refugee have proved conductive to their purposes, they can't tarry within this city forever and not test their theories of the Empire and the Eternal Emperor. They need to evaluate and lengthen the boundary of the thesis and review whether it holds any application for how to halt the future invasion of the legions. So far, up to a certain point, this progress is showing to be of some use, but it craves more to stem the tide.

As they're partaking of breakfast in a hallway that's still within the Arcanists' Guild's purview, Louisoix is having himself a fish sandwich, with Y'shtola sipping on a cup of tea and across the table, Joltin is munching on a plate of scrambled eggs. The au ra's peepers are flying left and right between the two, whilst the Sharlayans are either looking at the roof or 'looking' at the table, each of them in reflection.
"I still feel we need to the address the matter of the experiments themselves, master", argues Y'shtola. "Why would the Garleans employ such research on a refugee? Particularly one originating from Ala Mhigo."

"A valid question", Louisoix concurs. "It is clear that they would and could attain one out of their captured territory in the north. What would be the crux in abducting a refugee, rather than one living under their yoke?"

"Precisely. Is there anything innately distinctive to those who fled that they're curious of?"

"It isn't impossible, but in such a case, I would presume that this wouldn't affect Ala Mhigans alone. Peculiar indeed." He steals a glance at Joltin. "Miss Dazkar, you've occupied Eorzea for a stretch of time, yes? Do you retain any enhanced knowledge of Ala Mhigo, Gyr Abania or its denizens?"

Having to swallow and taking a swig out of some juice, and thereafter wiping her mouth, Joltin shrugs without much care.
"Uh, a lil' bit, maybe? Got some minor knowledge of the people, but haven't logged a lotta time in Gyr Abania itself. I've worked with a buncha refugees previously, both by hiring 'em and getting enlisted myself. Actuallygettingto Gyr Abania is...uh, tricky? I've sailed some along its borders, but not stepped foot inside - there's this gigantic wall that blocks out a lotta land travel, plus the sea is heavily watched by imp ships. Any excuse for them to strangle the ways for people to get in or out, as that's a priority for them."

"So, you cannot enter whatsoever?", asks Y'shtola.

"Hmm. You'd stand a chance of locating entry from somewhere in the Black Shroud, I'd bet."

"The Black Shroud? That's..."

"The forest just to the south, yeah. Big place, big trees, crammed with monsters and beasts and...well, it's interesting, but also quite risky, from one perspective."

"My investigations brought me to that land once upon a time", claims Louisoix, "but it has been more than a few years since last I had reason to intend a clean entrance. It's fascinating that you would raise the subject, though, Captain. Perhaps we should indeed bring our inquiries to Ala Mhigo immediately. Tell me, would it be plausible for us to engage your services in bringing us in that direction?"

Joltin scratches her head as they've furnished her with a real stumper and she appears to calculate their chances.
"Uuh...I mean, I could sail ya to the outskirts of Gridania - that's the city-state over there. I kinda know the way 'round that forest and could possibly steer us to the wall, but from there, it'd be a tight squeeze for where you'd have to look."

"Would it not be feasible that we might encounter some Ala Mhigans of our own, closer to their home?", wonders Y'shtola.

"Yeah, sure, but think the coeurl's share of ‘em actually live in Thanalan. If you'd rather take a look 'bout the source, I have no qualms on routing you to the forest. Gotta be prepped to fight the beasts that look hungrily at us, maybe."

"...have you had a fair share of such encounters, Captain?"

"You don't wanna know."

More questions may be upcoming, but their discussions regarding Ala Mhigo and the barricades of the region come to a standstill as an additional voice joins the fray.
"You have a ship that can transport you to the Black Shroud? Would there be a spot for another traveler on this vessel?"

Since they hadn't counted on anyone else being in their proximity, there's a tad of surprise written across all three faces as they turn and stare at none other the viera who organized the resuscitation of the Ala Mhigan refugee.
"Doctor Kjat? How unexpected", says Louisoix.

Kjat, on the other hand, shakes her head and places her hands inside the pockets of the white and black-rimmed coat she's presently donning.
"I'm not an assigned doctor, mister Louisoix, merely a paid medical expert."

"Very well, if that is your wish; miss Kjat, then. What can we do for you? You...wish to travel to the Black Shroud?"

Kjat bobs her head and gestures with a hand at the door.
"I was passing by and couldn't help overhearing your conversation as to where you're going. And obviously I was intrigued by your questioning of my patient earlier."

Joltin snorts.
"Eavesdropping, Kat?"

The viera's far-reaching ears twitch slightly and she glares less than amused at the independent sea captain.
"...not on purpose, Dazkar."

"Sure, you didn't. Yer cute when you get busted."

"...shut your mouth, if you would, ‘Captain’."
The au ra laughs heartily.

To Y'shtola, this is an entrancing view to catch sight of, as it helps inadvertently to constitute that these two have some manner of relationship to one another, which does appear fairly friendly.
"Miss Kjat", starts Y'shtola, "should you have caught our discussion and figured in our mild interrogation of the refugee which we held earlier, you must decidedly have pinned down the gist of our actions. This has not deterred you?"

Kjat redirects herself at the miqo.
"That you are delving into the affairs of the Garleans? No, it wouldn't and it hasn't. And should you require it, I offer my own expertise on both them and any medical matters that you might acquire."

"You'd provide medical assistance even if we oppose the Garleans?"

"Certainly." She peers downwards. "I...have my own concerns with them."

"And what would those be? If we are to band together, it would pay to be informed of our associates."

"Yes, I...suppose so. I looked around a little myself, and heard that the two of you are researchers from Sharlayan, which is a respectable land and I have no scruples against such personages.
As for me, I...I'm from Murotsk."

Out of the blue, Louisoix peers at a wall and rubs his beard.
"Murotsk...a city in eastern Ilsabard, I want to say?"

"Southeast, but yes. It's a city-state with fine research centers and a proud people, but one that was occupied before my birth. I am over sixty, should you be wondering, but we viera live longer lives than others. I was born and raised under imperial rule, and thus I learned my medical proficiency beneath Garlean tutelage, but I've expanded and enhanced much of it on my own. Due to complications at home, I was pressured to depart from Murotsk and found sanctuary in one of the last non-occupied territories, Eorzea. To earn my keep and to eke out some level of living, I've freelanced as a medical expert ever since, which is about six months now. Most of this has been spent within Limsa, but also some in Ul'dah.
Although I am not a great fighter or one that has enacted a world of research, perhaps my life spent in the Empire and my talents may be of service to you. And anyone who stands tall against Garlemald, I would consider an ally."

Her words are fairly inspirational, becoming ones that incite a smile upon Louisoix, a nod from Y'shtola and a grin out of Joltin.
"See? She's kinda stuck-up at times, but she's got the heart in the right spot", reasons Joltin.

The viera's eyes roll.
"And I would prefer if you had your mouth aligned better to not give such backhanded compliments, Daz", goes Kjat, prompting yet another piece of laughter.

Y'shtola does not let this distract her from casing Kjat's form.
"May I ask as to your skills, miss Sja-naris? You are a capable user of a certain type of magic which we lack in our little band here. I've encountered materials touching conjurers from parts of Eorzea and other places, who employ white magic for use mainly as healing. To me, this would appear to be what you accomplish."

Kjat tilts her head left and right in consideration.
"This is partially true, but the conjurers and white mages I've personally crossed both inside and nearby Eorzea do not operate like we do in my homeland. Our magic differs in appearance, energy and occasionally in its utility.
In my people's tongue, we are Soln sachatel – ‘Sunseekers’. What you call white magic, we classify as Soln valaska – ‘Sun's grace’. The sun is not merely of symbolic value to our particular school of thought, but also very much presumed to be interlinked with it. And no, as Captain Dazkar has asked me before, this does not insinuate that my skills can merely be run amid daylight."

She stares at the au ra, who shrugs in her defense.
"Hey, I dunno! Just sounded like it, since you got two ideas surrounding the sun. Don't blame me for your poor branding!"

At last, even Y'shtola does chuckle a touch, finding their interactions quite a fresh wind.
"Well, your outline is most appreciated, miss Kjat and I believe we should take you up on it. Make provisions for setting sail first thing in the morning."

Chapter 14: The Scions path - Part 8

Chapter Text

Joltin can't recollect when last her ship was this cramped. Counting in the four people, plus their bags and such, it's starting to feel like she doesn't have a load of space to herself. That two of them are beautiful women denotes that she can be a tad forgiving towards this element, and it's not as if the boat itself gets weighted down much, as she's carried several ton worth of materials on it before. In some ways, she might almost say it feels positive, for she has possibly involved herself in something major. Something meaningful.
Plus, at least one of them has visited her boat in the past for a short interval and she doesn't have anything profoundly against that Kjat is on it yet again, for she's proven a trustworthy companion in those situations, even if the two of them don't see eye to eye on everything. Their banter should if nothing else indicate to the guests of their extant relationship.

There's yet something which nags at Joltin, though, as she's undecided of where exactly everyone stands on a committed topic, but it's a matter she'll have to explore right away, prior to landfall. Decelerating the pace of her boat, she glances back at her passengers and lays a hand onto the control board.
"So, got a quiz for you guys - anyone here visited the Black Shroud before? It was just the old man, right?"

Louisoix clears his throat with a touch of annoyance at that appellation, whereas Y'shtola chuckles lightly.
"That's correct. I have no experience with it, I'm afraid."

Kjat shakes her head, crossing her arms and reclining into the railing of the vessel.
"Nor have I. I had considered this prospect by virtue of its fame for a local variety of what you deem 'white magic', but I had to reevaluate, as ultimately it is near imperial territory and thus too close for my comfort."

"And you haven't spoken to any white mages after this?", wonders Y'shtola.

"Not as of yet, no. Perhaps in the future. In the end, it is not of great consequence, nevertheless. It is not out of scientific curiosity I’m in Eorzea, but necessity."

Louisoix oozes of a smidgen of uncertainty himself.
"I have...dwelled there, yes, but this was years back. Sadly, it was during the era where Sharlayan yet had an outpost in Eorzea, fifteen years ago, and we no longer maintain such a position."

"You don't believe they are ever returning?", wonders the medical expert.

"Sharlayan?" He snorts. "No, I doubt the Forum would in these times make an effort to reestablishanymanner of outpost in treacherous terrains. We have seen the last of Sharlayan exterior presences, I believe, besides if we defeat the Empire, I suppose."

"Well, that's fair enough, I guess", says Joltin. "The Shroud itself ain't a bad place - dangerous as f*ck and hairy to navigate, but it's not like horrendous. The area is guarded by a...uh, a type of entity, I suppose? The Gridanians call 'em 'elementals'. Some sorta...forest spirits which might freak out and send their weird ghostly beings against whatever they don't like. Seen it happen once or twice."

"Magical in nature, I'm assuming?", says Y'shtola.

"Yeah, I think so. Don't rightly know, though. It's also jam-packed with like...beasts and monsters and all that jazz."

"Hmm. Can you not converse with these animals, however? Using your Echo abilities, I mean."

Joltin scratches her cheek in light skepticism.
"Eh, I mean...not exactly. Not all of 'em. The Echo as you guys call it, it only has partial effect on things. Tamer animals, like chocobos for example, are a doozy to handle, but it don't extend to those who wouldn't listen to us anyhow. So big beasties are a no go, to be honest."

Kjat stares at the ship captain with intrigued eyes.
"Hmm. I heard what you told them in that room, but since you haven't ever relayed this to me in previous days, I find this phenomenon...quite extraordinary. I don't believe I've ever met someone who can address beasts that directly. I would like to view your interactions with one such entity later, if we can."

Joltin smirks at her.
"Kat, don't let your curiosity get the best of ya. But...reckon I might give it a shot later, sure. I...don't enjoy doing it most of the time, as people might freak out. Not that you folks would."

"Captain, might I inquire something?", wonders Louisoix.

"Yeah, sure. Shoot."

"You told us in Limsa Lominsa that you were sailing us to the Black Shroud, but not purposely Gridania. Are you taking us to the South Shroud?"

This appears to be a mildly awkward interrogation for Joltin, who scratches her neck and looks off.
"Uh...yeah. Basically, yes. Sailing straight into Gridania, I...would recommend we don't. Not for me, anyhow. Those peeps are highly suspect of any outsiders, you might say. They don't like people they don't know well, and even then, you gotta win their trust pretty ferociously. Think it's got lotta do with the elementals. Plus, my ship may be...recognized and not super welcome."

"Why is that?", asks Y'shtola.

"Completed some errands 'round Gridania some months prior and um...their guards weren’t too big on the gear I brought inside."

With an epiphany at what she's insinuating, Y'shtola appears unamused.
"You smuggled illegal goods."

"...they weren't illegal in Thanalan!"

"That's besides the point."

Joltin shrugs haplessly.
"...was what they told me, yeah. Tried scrapping with some of their 'Twin Adder' people - verbally, that is - but they were havin' none of it. South Shroud won't be as nasty, however. There's a small port over there and further in, 'round Camp Tranquil, the wood guards placed at it know me and ain't hostile. If we speak to them, they might take us all the route to Gridania by wagon."

Chapter 15: The Vermin path - Part 7

Chapter Text

There aren’t a whole lot of sites in Eorzea that Fordola has visited beyond Gyr Abania. She didn’t come out of a wealthy family nor a societal tier that would’ve allowed abundant traveling. She can vaguely recall having spotted the grand woods of the Black Shroud and heard tell of the mountains of Coerthas or the savannahs of Thanalan, but she has never personally viewed either in any direct capacity, nor had that been her idea of what she would’ve been into doing. She hadn’t been especially enthralled by the concept of going to seek out any of these regions either, in later years, for she has no great fondness for this land, this outcropping of Ilsabard. For her, Eorzea represents a failure of her past, where she, her family and her people were abandoned and humiliated – and it’s time to pay back.

As she exits one of the airborne vehicles which took them towards the west, though, she hadn’t ever figured that the first bit of traversal she would enact in her old home continent would be to a warzone. Well, not anactiveone, but a warzone nonetheless. Mor Dhona is what they call it, this land in between, a place which was previously filled with dangerous flora and supposedly ancient riches, generally eschewed by the population of each of the city-states, besides archaeologists, historians and wayward treasure hunters. She had never gone inside when it was yet a land of potential and prosperity, and after the incidents, she had certainly not been convinced to reanalyze it.

It was here that the Empire was once stopped, though, fifteen years ago. Fordola isn’t quite sure what exactly had been their foremost goal in travelling this far west, besides situating themselves in the center for favorable invasion spaces in the future, but they hadn’t yet taken the Black Shroud and other territories, and thus it would to her seem tactically foolish to throw oneself in headfirst. Perhaps Legatus Baelsar had other plans, however.
Nonetheless, it was by the Silvertear Lake where things turned for the Empire and they somehow awakened the Dravanian Horde, genuine dragons from the far northwest flew in and hurled themselves straight at the invading Garleans. Judging from the stories, a particularly giant dragon crashed into the imperial flagship, the Agrius, destroying it. Upon the beast's celebration, however, the internal ceruleum tanks ignited, causing momentous damage to both the environment and to the opposing armies, and the Empire was ineluctably forced to retreat, as they might’ve sustained far greater losses from ambushes. Without any clear purpose for it, the Emperor thereafter called off the invasion, which has thus been delayed for one and a half decade.

And Mor Dhona has not exactly been a land that has attracted travelers since. These days, the majority of the formerly lush and well-populated monster territory is one of rocky wastelands, crystallized hills, and wreckages, with only the occasional pieces of vegetation that has survived or regrown. The crystals that cropped up from the ground are noticeably ones that Fordola finds curious, as she hadn’t heard of such giant things existing previously. That is, except for the one.
There are in fact two pieces of ‘intriguing’ landmarks in the terrain as of yet, and one of those is the gigantic crystal tower in the center of the wasteland, one that has ever existed to her knowledge. Supposedly, it was a creation of the old Allagans, a civilization dead for millennia, who constructed it for unknown reasons. The second is a fresher entity, which is none other than the vestige of the Agrius and the withered corpse of the humongous dragon laying on top of it, one that similar to the tower can be spotted from miles away, like a beacon of the war and the devastation wreaked by it; the Empire’s greatest defeat in the west, one might assert.

As they’ve made a landing zone in a sort of ‘forest’ of crystals, Primus Ordinarius Jhera walks out to the edge of the camp that is to be prepped and crosses her arms, looking towards what the landscape has to offer and possibly what they might be anticipating out here. Fordola is not far from her, having paced to this border ahead of her superior, and though the Ala Mhigan glances at Jhera, the miqo’te simply views the wastes themselves, her right and non-eyepatched side moved at Fordola.
“So, this is the cost of an imperial defeat”, mutters Jhera. “A ridiculously severe one, I must say.”

“And one that most don’t wanna pay”, Fordola responds in an equally somber and dull tone.

Jhera merely bobs her head.
“I don’t blame them.” The red iris climbs a tad and homes in on the corpse upon the imperial vessel. “And that has to be a dragon; orthedragon. The dragon that scared away the Garleans and the Black Wolf himself.”

Can the Legatus be terrified?
“Erm, yeah.”

“From the reports I’ve perused, they call that one the ‘Father of dragons’, but not clear on how accurate this is. In my homeland, there are stories and myths of dragons, and even further among the Garleans, where it’s said a markedly gigantic one roams the wastes of Garlemald.”

“Really? Never been told that one.”

Jhera shrugs.
“Soldiers spin yarns, but not always ones of any consequence.” At last, she routes her gaze at Fordola directly. “Some say dragons originate from Eorzea, however. You ever seen one up close?”

Fordola meets this sight without flinching and shakes her head.
“Nope. Generally, dragons are said to come from the northwest, in the Dravanian mountains.”

“I see. Well, I believe that’s about to change.”

The Ala Mhigan blinks her eyes and intends to question her on this, but her contemplations are interrupted by the voice of Tribunus Livia.
“Alright, soldiers of Battalion Subzero, gather up on me this instant!”, her shout rings out to all hands.
Turning about, Jhera and Fordola both stomp up to their superior, along with the several other hundred soldiers that are being assembled into one space, getting fully set up for listening in on the mission at hand. Livia has her helmet off for the moment, but the rest of her body is settled in a white higher officer armor, with golden linings, arm-attached gunblades, and a scarlet cloth at the midsection. She looks pleased as everyone flocks and nods.
“Splendid. I’m confident that all of you have taken in the magnitude of the moment and the space that we’ve entered, but I welcome you nonetheless to Mor Dhona – the site of imperial pause upon our glorious nation’s previous assault and the greatest testament of the price that savages must endure, should they oppose us fully and in order to hold off a merefractionof our might. The gist of our impact inside this blighted zone is to establish a minor hidden outpost deep inside the continent, to better watch the Eorzeans where they themselves may not trespass out of superstitious notions, and furthermore to investigate what is imaginably the most pivotal - the sinking of our former dreadnaught, the Agrius. It was once the capital ship and the grandest vessel in the imperial western assault region, gifted to our XIVth Legion by the Emperor himself in order for us to take Eorzea from the skies. Sadly, it was shattered upon its maiden voyage by what is believed to have been the leading monster of the draconic Dravanian Horde, and while we took the mighty beast with us in the explosion, the Agrius was yet lost. The goal of Battalion Subzero’s initial mission to this region will be to survey and determine what we might salvage of the wreckage from the Agrius, as our technical personnel back in the base trusts that there may have been plenty of useful and critical elements that we had left behind while we retreated.
To achieve our goal, I shall split our forces into four teams, each led by one of your Decurions, as well as the Ordinarius herself, who shall be at the fore. While I won’t be with you all at every step, you’ll nevertheless see me up there from time to time. Recall my words from our original encounter, and that the Ordinarius’ orders are law - what she says is what derives from my heart. Trust in her leadership as you would trust in mine.”

At that moment, Jhera side-eyes Fordola and speaks to her in a personal tone.
“Ready yourself – you’re coming with me.”

Fordola blinks, not having predicted this linear expression aimed at her, and not so soon. She feels a strange sense of shock, as well as an underlying vigorousness in her chest, which she has only felt while she was elected to spar.
“As you say. You can trust in me, ma’am.”

Chapter 16: The Scions path - Part 9

Chapter Text

Joltin had not been kidding about the forest, which is an aspect Y’shtola comes to terms with as their ship sails into port. The Black Shroud’s trees are enormous pieces of vegetation and they grow tremendously tight, allocating anyone who approaches very sparse visibility and no foreshadowing of what might abide for them further inside. What’s more, Y’shtola is qualified to discern the energy which the forest irradiates, especially with her eyesight that can solely track aether, where the particles flowing from them sparkle dissimilarly from many other woodlands that the miqo’te has come over, which is almost cognate to that the flora itself may be watching them advance. She doesn’t speak on this, but she does pull her coat closer across her body.

One who looks likewise perturbed is Kjat, who folds her arms and scowls at the tree crowns.
“Something unsuitable, miss Sja-naris?”

Kjat blinks for a second and glimpses at Y’shtola, fondling her own cheek.
“Not…in and of itself. I just…erm, this realm reminds of another.”

“Oh?”

Returning her gaze to where it were, the viera breathes in.
“Mm. It conjures up flashes of when I once visited the Golmore Jungle.”

“Which is…?”

“The homeland of my people; or rather, the origin of viera, many predict. For many generations, our ancestors abided in nothing but the jungle, below thick canopies and among the shadows that they cast. They trusted no one and traded with few, passing off the outside world as merely filled with barbarians and fools. My family was one of the first to depart the greenery and settle in civilizations elsewhere, for which they were shunned. This was only in the region of some centuries ago, which is fairly recent in our history, you see.
On the other hand, the jungle is still populated by the majority of viera and thus I chose to pass by at one point in time. I found it rather…unsettling and highly foreign from Murotsk. Like the area was…judging me unworthy.”

“And therefore parallel to the Black Shroud.”

“Indeed…”

Meanwhile, Louisoix has paused by Joltin as she smoothly pilots the last couple of meters up to the pier and readies a length of rope to tie it against.
“Captain, will we have to use our feet the rest of the way, then?”

With her sunglasses yet on, the burlier au ra bobs her head at him.
“Yep, that’s the drift. Well, notours, exactly - once we swoop into the village they got here in the south, shouldn’t be too thorny to acquire someone to drive us.”

“By wagon?”

“Mhm. Traders and stuff make regular runs to it, ‘specially from afar. Certain people, like myself, don’t wanna dock in Gridania, so we make a stopover in this region instead.”

“Yes, well, we have now come to terms with your purpose for that, but I suppose we should not blame you.”

Joltin winks at him, and follows this by heading up on the pier. She assists Y’shtola first by offering a hand, and though the miqo doesn’t necessarily find herself inordinately hampered, it is accurate that she can’t fully see the edge of the landing and the support is appreciated.
“Right, we oughta look around, find someone who’s willing to take a couple of wanderers up north. Getting someone who can bring us partway, to Camp Tranquil, is a decent start. I know the peeps over that station and we got a good thing going.”

“You are the expert, and we will follow your heading, Captain.”

However, once they step off the deck of the boat, Joltin herself stutters in her step and peers about the adjacent territory. This gradually drifts into a remote look in her eyes, as if she grows absent. The only one who fully takes note of this reaction is Y’shtola, as Joltin has discontinued her pace and Y’shtola saunters to her, taping her shoulder.
“Miss Dazkar?”

Joltin blinks and turns, coming unexpectedly close to the opposite woman, letting them feel each other’s breath on their skins. The au ra coughs and looks aslant.
“Oh, heh…sorry ‘bout that. Erm, guess I…trailed off for a sec.”

The Sharlayan shakes her head.
“No worries at all. Did something distract you, Captain?”

“Uh…yeah, kinda. I…” She averts her face once more at the woods, but through the stream of aether, Y’shtola cannot follow what it is that caught her. “You guys can’t hear that, right?”

“Hear?”, wonders Kjat and her tall, leporine ears twitch. “I overhear the voices of the villagers, the dockworkers and the guards, plus wagons rolling and what I daresay is merchants haggling. That is not what you were pointing to, was it?”

“Erm no, not exactly. Thought you might not, though. I can feel that there’re…emotions of worry from the woods. Figure there has to be some stuff that’s upset the elementals.”

Y’shtola finds herself much greater intrigued by this.
“Can you describe your mental process of this insight?”

“Well, the air itself is like…shivery, I suppose? And I can make out distant…growling on the wind.”

Growling? Y’shtola perks her feline ears for a moment, but there is nothing she would identify as the call of a beast in any nearer setting, which means it can’t be anything that she would normally be able to classify.
“Should we…take precautions for this?”

Joltin shakes her head.
“Nah nah, we’ll be alright. Don’t worry ‘bout it. Prolly just like…an ongoing storm or whatever. Nothing to pull ourselves apart over.”
This being the case, with her comrades asking around for a wagon, Joltin approaches a couple of the dock workers and choose to ask around, but it’s not until she encounters an older roegadyn fellow that she gets some answers.
“Hey there, pal. Was wondering about some sh*t, if ya don’t mind answering a couple of quick questions.”

He shakes his head and responds in his rather blank and baritone voice.
“Not at all. Shoot.”

“Ya seen anything weird going down as of late?”

“Weird?”

“Like…rising bandit groups, roamers who don’t normally stop by, unusual wares coming in…that kinda stuff.”

The man considers her request for a moment and rubs his beard while at it.
“Hmm…nothing special lately, ‘s far as I recall. None that you spea-…
Well, there was actually a passerby just a day or two ago, now that ye mention it. Hyur, Ala Mhigan. She hung out in the local tavern for a day or so, seeking info ‘bout the nearby miqo’te tribe, the Coeurclaws, and then left.”

“Where to?”

“North. Didn’t say where she was heading besides that.”

“So, maybe Camp Tranquil?”

“Hmm. Not that I know. Overheard someone saying she was going for the northwestern trees and not straight north.”

That’s curious, actually. An Ala Mhigan? Could it be that Joltin has tracked down someone who might help them? They’ll simply have to wait and see along the route north.

Chapter 17: The Vermin path - Part 8

Chapter Text

Fordola hadn’t considered that her first outing with one of her furthermost superiors in Battalion Subzero would be one out in the wilderness, deprived of any real and proper challenge, but she can’t gripe too heavily about that, perhaps. The crystal-infested void of Mor Dhona would not have been her first choice either, and she’s better inclined towards a concrete battlefield than broken trees and rugged stone, but the silence is useful for one thing – you get to talk fairly undisturbed. That is, if she had the guts to get into such an activity. So far, she’s merely been marching together with the squad that she was assigned below Primus Ordinarius Jhera, through the wilds and inchmeal at their final destination, which is aimed to be the corpse of the Agrius.

She does find her moment at one juncture, however, and that’s when they’ve fixed a camp at one night below some trees in the proximity of a hill, having set themselves up with some of the dried rations that they were distributed from the brass, as they aren’t assigned to go hunting. With a side-glance, Fordola notes how Jhera splits from the rest of the squad to head up against the hill, possibly to locate a vantage spot to spy from. Drifting after her, the Ala Mhigan is reminded of that Jhera has looked a mite different in the course of their trip here, for she has donned an ocean-blue and silvery armor with intermittent white cloth, some of the metal shaped to be jagged and intimidating, but the miqo’te doesn’t make to have any grander complications with her mobility.

With Fordola advancing up to an equal site, she gets marginally taken by the speed with which Jhera susses her out – with arms crossed and her one eye peering out over the terrain, Jhera addresses her.
“Haven’t seen anything quite like this Mor Dhona, although there have been parallel desolations in some lands.”

Fordola is on the cusp of twitching, even though she should’ve been the one to floor the Ordinarius, but nothing seems that smooth in Subzero. Instead, she clears her throat and pretends nothing happened.
“Worse or better?”

“Can the loss produced by war ever be good?”

“I…maybe not.”

Jhera shakes her head, and Fordola currently catches that she has dropped her blade against a nearby rock. Is this a sign of security in someone else’s company?
“To answer your question, it’s worse. Not worse in sheer length of devastation, but the way this battle appears to have burnt and transformed the land is…not wholly unprecedented, but nearly.”

Fordola gets to Jhera’s right flank and positions a hand onto her own hip, but tries not to make a big deal out of staring at the other woman. It’s at this nearness that she truly starts to make the connection that Jhera is quite shorter than her, probably by at least 20 centimeters, maybe more.
“They say dragons are magical in nature and their powers clashing with the Garleans’ tech could’ve created an explosion of energy.”

“Reasonable conclusion. Unfortunate, but reasonable.”

Doesn’t take too many seconds until Fordola gets uncomfortable, but not out of the stillness resting between the two, rather that she has inquiries she wishes to pose which she’s afraid might annoy the Ordinarius. How could she tell what reactions she can urge out of Jhera, when she’s never honestly spoken with her? It’s time to put that through the wringer.
“Have you…seen a lotta battlefields across Ilsabard?”

Jhera snorts.
“Trying to extract intel about your CO, legionnaire?”

Fordola coughs lightly.
“No, I-…just hoping to get to know you, ma’am. We haven’t exchanged more than a handful of sentences.”

“I see”, Jhera says, but is no more forthright than that. For a few seconds, nothing comes out of her, but she doesn’t seem to have stonewalled Fordola, more like she’s contemplating the topic.

Fordola figures that going first might do the trick. Better be ready to open up yourself too, right?
“I mean…you know barely anything about me, right? Besides that I’m from Ala Mhigo.”

“Correct.”

“Well, I wasn’t that old when it occurred, only…five or six years. Lost my home cuz of everything that went down and…yeah, suddenly I was thrown into the Empire’s hold. When I got to a better age, I decided to sign up for the army rather than linger in some kinda sh*tty lower rung of society.”

“You willingly gave yourself to the army?”

Fordola furrows her brow a touch.
“Yeah. There were…issues, not just with the life I was leading, but also with the people. I couldn’t forgive some of the actions taken by my countrymen.”

This drives Jhera to peer at her with more intrigue.
“Is this an expression of anger against your home?”

The Ala Mhigan shrugs.
“Sort of. Maybe. I wouldn’t lay all the blame at my own home city either, but…I could never appreciate that our neighbors did nothing. They simply stood by and watched, let Mhigo get burnt and shattered. It’s true that we didn’t have the best leader back then, a tyrannical and self-centered sonuvabitch King, but what of all the people? Were they happy brushing it aside, ignoring the civilians, especially children, losing their homes and lives?” She shakes her head and clenches her fingers. “But some of my people…weren’t the best either. They fed us false hope and bullsh*t that caused more deaths. So many children wouldn’t have lost their parents if those idiots had realized we weren’t gonna win that war, but no…they kept struggling until practically everyone laid smoldering on the f*cking ground. I’m not happy ‘bout that ending, don’t let anyone tell ya otherwise, but…I trust the Empire, in a way. It arranges us with a strong path forward, something you can believe in and know that they won’t fall into despair. And when they sense a serious loss, they’ll fall back and recuperate. Haven’t been as secure in my whole life until I enlisted with the army.”

“That’s a stupid and self-deprecating manner to consider it”, Jhera states in an affectless tone.

Yet it’s stated with such harshness that Fordola can’t help but nearly wince, and her own internal peeve rises.
“That’s-…I don’t feel that way, though! I merely respect the Empire’s might, how it survives regardless of the circ*mstances and keeps on trucking down across every land it faces. Even though it's not instant, the Garleans won’t lose in the long run. Don’t you too, since you fight for it?”

To her mild surprise, Jhera shakes her head.
“Hardly.”

“Why not?”

“I just comprehend that there’s no hope. I’ve fought for the Garleans for…over five years now, I believe. I’ve seen what they’re capable of and what they represent. There can be no salvation when one faces their stock and thus I have stopped believing.”

“You’ve been under the Tribunus that long?”

“Not all those years, no, but she and I have had to endure one another for at least that period, yes. Similarly, I have been with groups that are akin to this Battalion.”

“How come? Why did you end up here? If ya don’t mind me asking.”

Jhera eventually tosses in the mental towel and exhales in an exhausted state.
“I’m from Nio Volos, a city-state along western Ilsabard. It was trounced by Legatus Gaius and this Legion in his campaign to illustrate to his peers and the Emperor that he hadn’t met his match in the previous loss and that he was steeled to conquer Eorzea once and for all. My people were crushed and in some cases, disgraced. We gave our everything…and won nothing.
As for me, I was bested by the Legatus, but he chose not to cut me down. I allied with the Empire upon his demand.”

Fordola’s eyes bulge slightly at this revelation.
“You…you were recruited by the Black Wolfpersonally?”

“Conscripted is a better word, but yes. And it wasn’t a privilege and still isn’t.”

“Why didn’t you just fight to the death?”

She seems to hit a certain type of chord here, for Jhera’s brow rumples a bit further.
“Because…there exists some things in this world more important, worth preserving. Later, he made me a grunt in his army, but I never gave up. For years, I fought my way up, took down others to gain the rank I needed. Throughout this time, these years of battle and exertion, I haveneverrespected him, nor his customs. Life comprises entities and perspectives more worth one’s devotion than war and the devastation of those they call ‘savages’. I may yield that we couldn’t surmount their challenge, but we are no worse as people for that.”
Abruptly, she swivels at Fordola and stares directly into the Ala Mhigan’s eyes, the scarlet in hers nearly seeming to tremble with wrath.
“And should I get a second window,I will kill that man.”

Turning her back towards her subordinate, Jhera grasps her blade from its resting place and leaves. Fordola doesn’t let out a breath until approximately half a minute later, feeling her nerves on edge. Well then, at least she’s learnt something touching the story between Livia and Jhera.

Chapter 18: The Scions path - Part 10

Chapter Text

Joltin’s instincts did not turn out to be mistaken, nor were the emotions radiated from the forest. The further in they went, the more concerned the whirring and the keening from elementals came to be, and she started contemplating to herself whether there was anything in the air or some failure of the Gridanians to appease these spirits. However, if that was the case, would she not be hearing angry bellows rather than plain muttering? Okay, it’s a little louder than that, but not thunderous and not adequate to devastate her hearing. And yet these voices are telling hersomething, she just can’t fully interpret what.

She does eventually gain a manner of epiphany, but not quite out of the outlet she may have been counting on – as opposed to scoring a sign from the trees or some distant vision, what she reacts to is the squawks and the whining out of the chocobos. Although the handler, an elezen man, tries his utmost to soothe them and shows genuine puzzlement and unease at how his animals are out of sorts and nearly reluctant to continue, he can’t fully grok what it is that has spooked them.
To aid him, Joltin gets to her feet where she was sitting next to Y’shtola on one end of the wagon, while Kjat is next to Louisoix. She moves to the front and taps her knuckle against the back of the handler’s seat.

“Yo, I reckon I might know what’s up with your chocobos.”

The elezen blinks and directs his face to his back and stares at the fairly short woman.
“…excuse me? How’d you know that?”

“Cuz I got a feeling for what this is about. I wouldn’t have thought that-“ Soon thereafter, not only she, but the others hear a far-off growl of some unknown beast, and a batch of shouts that result from it. Joltin frowns. “sh*t…there’s something in the woods.”

Y’shtola compresses her eyes to somehow peruse the aether in their midst, but there’s such surplus of it that she can’t read anything in their vicinity.
“What would you surmise that it’s-“ And just as she asks these words, Joltin doesn’t wait for the cart to stop, but leaps off the side. “…miss Dazkar?!”

“I gotta check this out!”, Joltin calls back and disappears into the darkness of the woods.

The Sharlayans end up in the same seat as the handler, where the entire trio are bewildered at her actions, and don’t have a ton to add or suggestions to make. The one who deviates is Kjat, who simply sighs, practically in a familiar fashion.
“Well, I suppose we should follow her…”, she mutters.

Louisoix coughs awkwardly and looks at the other elezen.
“My good man, could you potentially steer your birds after our companion?”

“I mean, I could try”, he responds, “but they seem seriously jumpy on this road right now. Dunno what’s going on…”
Nonetheless, he pulls on the reins to direct the beasts to the left, after the au ra, and they at least tentatively follow suit.

Somewhat ahead of them, having burst in between the trees and feeling her hands twitch to grab her weapon, Joltin hounds the distant noises, ones which keep circulating what she perceives as a fight. Could these be mere hunters of some sort, or wayward travelers who went totally off course? If it’s the latter, she has to pitch in at minimum, for she wouldn’t leave a parcel of helpless people to their fate. It stands against everything she’s been taught and all of the things she’s ever believed in, whether they got themselves into this scenario or not.

She ends up being correct in part, for there is absolutely a beast loose in these woods and one that Joltin may have foreseen that someone might encounter in the deepest edges of this monster-infested territory – to her and many others, it would virtually come off as the rage of the woods manifest, as its body is made up of what looks like a humongous mass of vines and roots, centered only by a whole den of razor-sharp fangs in the middle of a drooling maw. In the common tongue, people know it as a ‘morbol’ and it’s been the death of many a wanderer, plus probably a heap of Gridanian guards. If it rears its head in proximity to a Gridanian outpost, this usually means trouble and that the forest is somehow enraged. From Joltin’s knowledge, she’s also aware that its appearance might spur further and smaller beasts from joining it and she’s right on that bet too, for at its flanks and back walk a pack of wild hound-like creatures, ready to nibble at whatever meal that the morbol will take the first bite out of.

The beings which these beasts beset are quite a peculiar setup, though, for on the one hand she can scan a group of grey- and pale-skinned miqo’te armed with swords and spears – mainly women – and on the other, there’s a taller and brawnier hyur woman with medium brown skin, probably a highlander based on her height, with flowing blonde hair in a high ponytail, wearing a red vest, fingerless gloves plus hardy and armored scarlet boots. Joltin has to admit to some confusion that the latter lady isn’t even aiming any weapons at the beasts, but rather keeps her fists up and her legs set into a combat stance. Is she gonna freakingpuncha morbol?

With the wolves rounding the battlefield and coming at them from the sides, the head of the miqo’te shouts something to the hyur, followed by the cats leaping at their minor foes. The hyur cracks her knuckles and trains herself at the large plant-like being, prior to charging at it with breakneck speed. To Joltin’s mild shock, she doesn’t do a poor job of it, as her blows and jabs around its lower parts are fast and harsh, and if one can believe it, manages to make it flinch and retreat mildly from the pain that it endures. To think that someone would dare go into a fistfight with a morbol…she has to admire the guts.

Her wager, however, is no good, for the beast is not defenseless and once the hyur takes a faulty step, one of its thick and broad vines slams into her chest, striking her just right and launches her into the air. The hyur goes flying and slams onto the ground probably ten meters off, rolls a couple more and then has to groan and cough while recovering. In that moment, Joltin notes how the beast preps a real attack, one that might very well devastate her, as it’s the signature defensive mechanism of this creature. Joltin has never seen it occur, but she knows its effects.

The hyur opens her eyes and crawls to her knees at the moment that the morbol is ready to open its monstrous maw and spew out a true bad breath straight into her face even from ten meters away, and she’s totally exposed to it. Luckily, Joltin bursts right into its path, standing two meters ahead of the hyur and flicks a switch on her gunblade, hikes it and fires, projecting an aether-crafted shield before her which bumps off and protects each of them from the foul-smelling green wave that is intended to wash over them. With its onslaught failing, the morbol roars in anger and dread that anyone could stand up to it.

Deactivating her defense, Joltin shifts about and offers a hand to the hyur, who smiles appreciatively at the au ra.
“Phew, that was a close one. Thanks.”

Joltin pulls the other woman to her feet.
“No problem. Gotta be careful with these bastards, y’know.”

“Hah! Yeah, I noticed.” She brushes off her front, and Joltin scans the appearance of this lady, seeing that she’s wearing no more than shorts and a white tank top under that vest; the latter which unveils her well-honed abs and her muscular arms. She brandishes a smile at her savior. “I’m Lyse.”

“Joltin. Nice to meet ya.”

“Same to you!” She stares at the morbol. “You know how to fight this thing?”

“A lil’ bit. If I remember the hunters’ words right, ya gotta use either fire or hit one of its weak spots real hard.”

The hyur grins and lifts one of her arms, slapping the fingers on the second hand around its wrist.
“I got a mean right hook.”

Joltin smirks back at her.
“Heh. Target its chin, then, punch girl.” Joltin rests her gunblade over one shoulder. “I’ll be your shield.”

“Sounds like a plan!”

The two of them face their foe side by side and the morbol seems to realize what’s about to go down, roaring in hopes of keeping them away. Joltin then decides to make the first move, scraping her gunblade around the ground and flings some dirt right into its kisser to draw its attention.
“C’mere, ya oversized broccoli!” The morbol howls in indignance at such a move and rumbles at her.

Joltin recedes slightly from her position, putting up her guard to knock aside whatever the monster comes at her with, which entails various vines swinging at her left and right, some of them trying to grab her and another foul breath or so. Conveniently for her, the shield she’s got keeps lasting, and whenever one of the vines dare to step even within an adjacent territory, she lashes at it with her gunblade, letting the tip carve apart a portion of its hide or even all but slash one off. She can’t leap away from this forever, but she knows she doesn’t have to.

Her partner in this performs just as swiftly as she would’ve hoped and whilst Joltin keeps its attempts at bay, Lyse backs off and rounds the beast to intrude upon an angle that it won’t notice. With its flank oriented at her, the highlander jumps into a storm of tremendously sturdy punches and kicks, smashing into its side until it can’t endure for long and buckles an inch. That’s Lyse opening that she was plugging away for and as the sun glints across the metal of her gloves, she bends her knees, zeroes in on the jaw and drills straight up. The forest almost seems to echo with the sucker punch that the beast receives, as the brawler holds back nothing and the morbol can only stagger away in agony and shame. In moments, this predator realizes that its opposition is no prey and makes for the trees once more.

Landing on the ground, Lyse laughs in triumph and walks up to Joltin, bringing one of her hands up.
“We did it!”

Joltin chuckles at that enthusiasm and their hands connect in a high five.
“Nice clobberin’, pal. Haven’t seen anyone just straight up sock a monster this size, but that was cool.”

Lyse grins and slaps her fists together.
“Giving assholes what they deserve is what I do best.”

Although the miqo’te clan manages to chase off the wolf pack with minimum casualties, their joy is short-lived. In a minute, with the monsters having fallen or fled, the wagon driver is taking his chocobos into the clearing and beholds the miqo’te in shock.
“Hold up, those…those are Coeurclaws! Watch out, they’re bandits!”

The miqo’te clan frown in unison and aim their weapons rather at the wagon, and hiss, preparing to strike at him. That’s when Lyse steps in between to hold them off.
“Wait! We can’t fight out here. And clashing with innocent locals wasn’t part of the deal, remember?”

This does not turn out as she’d have imagined either, for the miqo’te veer their hisses rather at her instead.
“And we never accepted that clause! You think we’d work with or even in thevicinityof Gridanian scum?! Then you can forget about any agreement. Coeurclaws, we’re leaving!”, calls the leading woman.

As the cats retreat back into the woods, carrying their wounded with them, Lyse peers after them equally disappointed and hopeless.
“Well…sh*t. You can’t really negotiate with people like this, I guess. Regardless of if it’s for a good cause…”

Joltin scratches the back of her neck and glances at Lyse.
“Uh, sorry ‘bout that. We just wanted to help out.”

“No, no, it’s…not your fault. I shouldn’t have held my hopes up.” She directs herself at both Joltin and the carriage that the others are yet sitting in. “So uh…do you guys possibly have another seat?”

Chapter 19: The Vermin path - Part 9

Chapter Text

They’d made it to the Agrius at last; or at the very least, they’d disembarked upon the shores of the little island in Lake Silvertear which the airship had nose-dived into when the mighty dragon leader had shoved its claws right under the metal and destabilized it. Once Jhera’s team and the others had scouted ahead and led the way, Livia had been swift in tracking their steps and aiming the rest of Subzero forward when the coast was clear, leaving merely a skeleton crew back by the landing zone to take care of the extraction process once it was time. To reach the island, they had to employ some of the amphibious functions available on the machina they’d brought, ferrying them across.

What was nearly terrifying to Fordola was how massive the Agrius actually is up close. She didn’t have any assumptions as to the true size of it from afar before, as she could distinguish it as pretty damn big, but once alongside it, that thing is the size of a goddamn small town. In fact, even though the dragon corpse laying on top isn’t too far below in magnitude – which itself is enormously unnerving – it really can’t compare with the bulk of this vessel either. For all intents and purposes, then, the Garleans were practically piloting a fortress through the skies that they sought to dominate Eorzea with. Fordola can’t decide whether to be impressed or spooked by the thought.

With everyone present, Livia gives the order to scout the area and find the best route inside. It would seem that their goal in evaluating and strip-mining this piece of garbage is to head in under the hull, which would make sense – wouldn’t the engine or whatever be somewhere in its guts? Not that Fordola wishes to volunteer to go in there, but with the sheer level of ruin they spot outside of the wreckage, she can’t imagine that anything at the exterior could be employed for worthwhile measures. Surely you’d have to go in below the shell and find the juicier bits. Or someone should, even if she’s not keen for that particular task.

However, it’s when they’re out here and rummaging through the piles of scrap that something in both the air and the physical location turns over and a new challenge surfaces. As Fordola is with Jhera and looking past a makeshift bridge that might need a little budging first to get across, they catch the noise of shouting and rifles being fired. The duo looks at one another and then bolts through the scenery to reach an area nearer to the water once again. Here, out of nowhere, they spot how the battalion has been beset by a large contingent of beasts, a mixture of unknown creatures and predators, plus what Fordola might classify as dragons, albeit small samples; flying, horned and lizard-like, most of these no larger than a hound. Somewhere in the back, they spot incoming larger specimens, ones that may reach dimensions of actual vehicles, and when they dock on this front, they open their maws and exude streaks of pure fire.

Having passed to this spot a little ahead of them, Livia has already began giving orders, although her calls and instructions aren’t doing as much as she may have wished for, it seems.
“Calm your nerves, troopers! You need to maintain focus against this foe or else we’ll be overwhelmed!”

Personally, the Garlean commander doesn’t come off as having much issue fighting, cutting through some of the minor animals and dragons using her arm blades at high speed by following the momentum when she bolts ahead. Even without aether to harness, she carries herself as a deadly foe.
Sadly, not all are as efficient as she is, and when one of the more humongous dragons bears downwards and flies at them, it tears through a whole squadron, ramming its head and horns into a dozen of them who get flung in every direction, dropping down either injured or stunned by the stunt, granting the beast a chance to rip open the closest with its claws. The Battalion is flagging a touch at this sudden display and they need a leader to show them the path forward.

That’s when Fordola strives to find a gap for her to slip into, but she’s halted by a sensation that pricks her skin. A shiver careers down her spine which she originally can’t completely file in her head, but she finds her answer by peering sideways – Jhera has equipped her immense greatsword with one hand, although it’s the power she conjures forth in the other, a pitch-black shadowy fire stained by crimson, that derails her. Fordola has heard buzz about the Ordinarius’ techniques, even felt some of them while sparring with her, but she has seen nothing like the darkness which presently weeps out of the miqo’te. Where did this skill originate from and what does it entail?

There isn’t a moment for questions, though, as Jhera shoots forward straight at the big dragon, and with an aether-infused leap, she reaches it in no time. She starts her rush by bringing an overhead slash down on it, impacting the right side of its hide with such muscle that it staggers, and then spins to cut at its front legs. As the dragon growls in either rage or agony, Jhera unleashes the darkness she’s accumulated with a single cut, pinpointed expertly at its neck and rips a large gash straight across it. Weirdly, no blood spurts out of this adversary, but that doesn’t matter for the moment, for by nothing except her own might, the Ordinarius has shown the way and defeated the closest knot for the Battalion’s hesitation.

After this devastating move, she aligns herself with the claymore at her flank.
“All squads: Formation Garmonius Alpha, behind me!”

The Legion squadrons appear strengthened by this display of mastery from their leader and they hasten forward to follow her commands, with the sturdiest of warriors pulling up shields to flank Jhera, positioning themselves to appear like metal wings. The Decurions from each of these squads get the closest to Jhera and give more specifics to those who aren’t placed correctly and Fordola is right opposite to the miqo’te, stood as the posterior guard.
This suffices quite a bit to keep off the beasts from them and as another humongous dragon swoops down to land before the miqo, she raises her hand and erects a magical barrier of the selfsame black-scarlet energy. As the fire licks the surface of it, nothing touches her, but rather seems to get completely warded.

From somewhere in the center, Livia lifts her own arm-gun and routes it at the frontal dragon.
“Sharpshooters, take aim!” The riflemen from the battalion all line up, placing themselves on their knees for the initial line and then standing postures for the second. “Fire!”

A wave of bullets and aether bolts get launched, along with Livia’s own shots, eliminating rows of the beasts and ramming into the dragon which Jhera is keeping back as well. The Empire shows its strength in unity here, by tearing down the opposition and once both Hien and Milisandia enact their own strikes at the monster, it can’t last for more than a couple of seconds, before it too crashes to the ground. A roar of celebration and victory exudes from the imperial troopers as they see their foes falling around them, but Jhera merely deactivates her aether shield and gives orders to the others.
“All squads: Advance! Finish off the stragglers!”

With the battle at last dying off due to the legionnaires hunting down the final foes, from somewhere below the debris of the Agrius, a couple of extra soldiers are returning.
“Tribunus!”

Livia diverges at them and takes off her helmet.
“Ah, my forward scouts. What news?”

Two hyur and one lalafell have made it through the jungle of junk and pant as they brake before her, having to catch their breaths for a second.
“We…we looked around the area, ma’am, and best we can tell, the beasts came from deeper into the wreckage. There might be something underground, but we dunno for sure.”

Livia rubs her chin in thought and considers her options for a number of seconds. Afterwards, her brow knits and she nods.
“Then we’ll have to do something about it. Ordinarius!”, she shouts.

A couple of the others twitch at her volume, but Jhera merely reacts by turning to her.
“Yes, Tribunus?”

“Take a squad with you of our elite fighters and investigate the heart of this area.Killwhatever is inside.”

“Understood.” Briefly surveying the landscape, she doesn’t require much time to come to a verdict. “Decurion Hien, Decurion Urianger, Decurion Milisandia, Legionnaire Fordola, Legionnaire Maltin, Legionnaire Iraut, Legionnaire Harthuba”, she calls out, the last three being a midlander, an elezen and a roegadyn. “On me.”

They salute and closes in on her, but Fordola looks mildly troubled.
“Only us?”, she speaks in a lower tone. “Seems a lil’…risky.”

“We won’t need more, trust me”, goes Jhera and stares ahead. “Let’s move out.”

Chapter 20: The Scions path - Part 11

Chapter Text

Camp Tranquil is not what Joltin would deem the most secure military base she’s ever ran into, being essentially an encampment in a marsh placed on plateaus with trees as the foundation, which can thereby simply be cut or burnt down by a besieging enemy force. As a trading post, though, it’s fairly convenient and safe. The Order of the Twin Adder out of Gridania who run it have never faltered in their duties and considering how firm their relationship is with the nature and the elementals of this forest, they can keep beasts away without trouble and proffer a secure haven for traveling merchants. Joltin herself has viewed it in that capacity as well a lot of the time, when she’s elected not to take the sea route to Gridania and if that path wasn’t so much faster, she might’ve gone by land every time. Not the least since she’s got a decent rapport with the guards of this camp.

Having gotten here with the wagon from the southern port, they instantly launch into a portion of investigation and look around for info that they might benefit from and a potential ride to Gridania. Or rather, Joltin does, due to that she apparently is the one who knows these people best…or at all. The local Twin Adder people seem skeptical, however, especially the two elezen guards she’s yapping with at the moment.
“I dunno how many wagons are heading along that way right now”, one of them says. “Been a load of monster attacks on the road up towards Central Shroud in the past couple of weeks. I’d reckon some of our teams from Gridania are trying to clean it up.”

The second man of the two bobs his head.
“Aye, and then we heard of some weird fog that swept over East Shroud only last week that was…concerning. Some are saying we might be the ones dispatched to look closer at that…”

“What? When you’d pick that up?”, wonders the first. “Wouldn’t they send the Quarrymill squads before us, at the very least?”

“Maybe, but you know how panicky the brass reacts to these things…they’re gonna send for us soon enough.”

“Ugh…”

Joltin coughs to intrude on their complaining.
“Right, well uh…are you really telling me we couldn’t find even a single one?”

The first guard shrugs.
“No, that would be underestimating it, I’d say, but much fewer than average, is our assessment. Might even be delayed for a week, depending.”

The second indicates her as well.
“Also - and this is just a scrap of friendly advice - you more than anyone ought to be on your guard. After your last run to the city, some of our people might be holding onto a real grudge. This is why we told you not to flee if you get into trouble and rather wait for us to speak with them for you.”

The au ra groans and scratches the back of her neck.
“Yeah, yeah…I know yer right. It was just…it’d take you guys like a week or whatever, and I couldn’t sit by that long.”

“Well, if you happen to take steps towards that again, don’t reenact that stunt is all we’re saying.”

“…noted.”

Once she’s done with this errand, she goes to meet up with some of her present allies and gives them the news that she’s accumulated, looking somewhat dejected in that process.
“So, right now, looks like we’ll not be in a great seat to journey anywhere. We might try travelling to Quarrymill, though – it’s only a day’s ride away. But yeah, wagons directly to Gridania looks…uh, rough to encounter here anyhow.”

“Reasonable”, says Y’shtola. “It’s understandable that the locals would not be keen to brave dangers if they have no dire need to.”

Out of the group of four that they are currently, Lyse stands slightly in the back of them all and surveys their appearances with folded arms, coming off as intrigued more than insecure.
“So, you’re winding your way to Gridania, are ya?”

Louisoix nods firmly.
“That would be our temporary stopover, if nothing else. We do intend to go onwards after that.”

“Ooh, I see. Well, maybe we might hike together then, if we’re aiming for the same route.”

“That would depend”, goes Y’shtola, “on who you truly are and what your purpose is.”

Lyse blinks her eyes snappily and thereafter chuckles nervously, scratching the rear of her neck.
“Ah, hehe…guess you guys wanna know who this random lady is, huh?”

“Seeing who you were associated with and what you were discharging in the forest, our interest has been piqued, yes. Or our disquiet.”

“…that’s fair. Erm, well, like I said on the wagon, I’m Lyse. Originally from Ala Mhigo, but I’ve been pretty much all over Eorzea, even if I hadn’t had much chance to roam about the Black Shroud until lately. I emerged in this forest maybe…a week ago? Something like that. I was testing the waters regarding…uh, conducting business with the Coeurlclaws.”

“Why’d you wanna put in time with them?”, asks Joltin. “You’re aware they’re hostile to Gridania, right? Pretty much all of ‘em are outlaws in the eyes of the Twin Adders.”

“…I am, yes. And it’s not that I sought to insult the fine folks of Gridania or anything of that sort, but…well, I was picking through the area for people to hire for an expedition and no one else was willing to offer a hand. The Coeurlclaws on the other hand are no strangers to danger.” Shortly thereupon, Lyse sighs and shrugs haplessly. “…like you saw with their reactions, though, the locals don’t work well together. If they’re even in proximity of one another, there might be action.”

Joltin nods and smiles sympathetically.
“Yeah, been down that road myself. Had similar affairs with them in the past and it never ends well. I don’t even think it’s the Coeurlclaws’ fault, it just looks to me as if they’ve fought so long against one another, they can’t stop now.”

“Yep, we’re two in that belief, pal.”

“Well, if you wanna head to Gridania, you can ride with us. When we find a wagon, that is.”

“Oh, sweet! I’d love to hang with a reliable crew like you guys up until there, yeah.”

“Apologies if asking would be viewed as intruding”, says Louisoix, “but where was this expedition of yours going?”

Even further uncertainty is summoned on Lyse’s face while she strives to find a response to that.
“To…the north.”

“To Gyr Abania?”

“…might’ve been.” Examining them, she notes how Louisoix strokes his beard in thought and glances at Y’shtola, who equally gets lost in thought. “Why? What were you guys getting up to?”

“Well, as a matter of fact”, starts Y’shtola, “we seek to enter Gyr Abania too.”

“Wait, really? No one goes in there, though, other than former natives like myself. What’s your goal once you get inside?”

“Our purpose is to investigate the matters of the former Garlean invasion and the ongoing Garlean occupation to a certain extent. We wouldn’t wish to get into details, but suffice it to say, we’re intrigued by the contents of that land, since it was the one to suffer the most on their previous onslaught. In Gridania, we were planning to forage for a guide of some sort.”

Suddenly, all of Lyse’s face lights up and she looks entirely enthralled by the idea.
“Ooh, holy crap. Maybe uh…our ideals might align then. I know a secret passage into Gyr Abania past Baelsar’s Wall – if you’re gunning for a guide to lead you through it, you’ve found her. I’ll take you there.”

Chapter 21: The Vermin path - Part 10

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With their orders received and their direction designated, Jhera and her squad move out across the terrain, nearing the base of the Agrius with determined steps that will not be denied. The miqo’te sticks to the fore of her crew, with the other seven sprinkling themselves proportionally over her posterior spaces in order to be of use. The Ordinarius has a major impact on most of them Fordola realizes, as her confidence and sincerity in what she intends to do, intermixed with her sternness, boosts most of their morale, for they know she will not falter. If they can take anything for granted in this world, it’s that Jhera shall not capitulate.

Once they reach what looks like a gap in one of the sides by the wreckage, Jhera studies the height of it provisionally, and then swivels to her squad.
“Milisandia, you’re going to stick to the topmost center, to watch for fissures in the integrity of this wreckage during battles, in case we must find ones to advance without further struggles.”

The au ra raises one of her pistols and rotates it over her finger, but there’s also a more considerable rifle stuck to her back.
“On it, Ordinarius.”

“Hien, you’ll take the flank by the front, and get set to strike when the enemy shows weakness.”

The eastern hyur dips his head in respect.
“As you wish, Ordinarius.”

“The rest of you, besides one, will accompany Milisandia in the middle and provide support or ranged attacks. I’ll be taking the van for this one. Legionnaire Fordola, I want you at the rearguard, monitoring for ambushes.”

Fordola initially senses pride waving across her, that she will carry an identical role as their leader even if at the back, but that is halted by a hesitant thought.
“…okay, but…is it wise to put our commander at the front? You might get too exposed. If you fall…”

She doesn’t expand on that suggestion, but Jhera doesn’t look to be insulted either.
“Unnecessary, Legionnaire, for I will not. This will be a lesson to you then, that this is how I lead.”

Shrugging, the highlander heaves her axe over her shoulder.
“You’re the boss. I’ll follow you through whatever you require, ma’am.”

“Good. Then let’s get a move on.”

The first strike does not delay for long, however. Penetrating the interstice in the wall, making their way through the darkness and readying lamps to see anything whatsoever in this abyss, somewhere from deeper inside, a growl chases their movements from ahead of them. Jhera pulls up her hand in an instruction for everyone to cease, which they attune to. And that’s the moment it all comes crashing down, for wingless dragon-esque creatures crawl at high pace straight at them, in conjunction with a number of gliding insects and minor dragons.
“Their offensive begins!”, Jhera shouts and unsheathes her enormous claymore, putting one hand before her. “Squad, to your positions!”

“Yes, Ordinarius!”, they bolt in response, while emulating her strategy.

Making darkness crawling across the length of her blade, Jhera hoists it for a second and bobs it back down tip-first, stabbing the earth. Upon the impact, huge obsidian-violet magic in the shape of claws springs up, slashing every enemy in her vicinity and near-missing her allies, which Fordola can’t judge whether that was deliberate or not. This is more than sufficient to attract their attention, in any case, and open up for counterstrikes from her allies, which is what Hien comes through with on the dot – drawing out his blade, he jumps forward and delivers two lightning-fast strikes against a duo of enemies on the left flank, one cracking with ice and the other producing sakura blossoms which float carelessly across the air.

Having the rest of the people concentrated on their immediate foes makes the situation rely even heavier on that Milisandia keeps her eyes on the road ahead, and she does not desire to fail in her duty. Using one of the special lanterns they’ve brought, she spies deeper in and searches the layout of the terrain.
“There doesn’t look to be any clean passage onwards from here, Ordinarius, but I believe I’ve discovered something.” Digging into her inventory, she fetches one of the grenades she’s got stored in a satchel and lugs it with all she’s got towards the wall, shooting it with a pistol as it sails nearby. The blast catalyzed through this process shatters the exterior of a portion of debris that blocked the route. “And there we go, an open road. That’s the track we’ve gotta take, Ordinarius! Looks like it’ll lead us downwards.”

Jhera cuts one of the reptiles almost in two and swings her eye to this segment.
“Excellent work. Everyone, get yourselves in shape! I’m ushering us at that opening in a second.”

Making this claim, the Ordinarius conjures a black-scarlet orb into her fingers which she hikes up overhead and then crushes in her palm, prior to slamming it into the ground. As she leaves that position, there’s an implosion that occurs in its mid and a patch of the ground is painted red, which seems to bubble at the surface and drags all the enemies straight at it. Upon making contact with this concoction, it explodes and sends the beasts flying.

“Now!”, she yells and pushes forward. With the diversion laid, the team rushes along, into the opening and glide down a slope until they arrive inside a compartment with equally lacking amounts of escape routes. Furthermore, their ordeal is not over, as additional eyes shine up in the dark. “Secondary assault incoming! Get behind me!”

The party aren’t given pause and obey the orders of their superior to not get strafed by any stray bolts or bursts of fire. Thankfully, there are no real major dragons or anything that gets summoned in this chaos. What does occur, nonetheless, is a ruckus that raps right into Fordola’s ear and she’s forced to pinwheel.
“Ambush!”

Coming straight ahead of the hyur are two weirdly bipedal draconic beings, with scaly hides, spiked backs and massive claws. They seem to have lain in wait and practically vault up from their hiding spots, as Fordola only fares to narrowly bounce their attacks off her. After the second equally clocks her axe, she staggers rearwards and gets halfway to falling onto her knees. Fortune smiles on her this day, though, as two magical bolts blaze straight into their chests, exploding with starlight and beating them back a couple of meters. Coming next is a refreshing cascade that inundates Fordola and imbues her with energy which gets her back on her feet.

Browsing over her shoulder, Fordola sees none other than Urianger standing poisoned behind her and he nods.
“Oh…thanks, sir. That was just in time.”

He smiles politely and bows his head.
“From my angle of vision, Legionnaire, I was rather conveyed the impression that the stars were purely aligned in your favor.”

“That’s...one way to put it, sure.”

To demonstrate that she’s no slouch herself, Fordola gathers all her internal schooling and applies her aether capacity into a tremendous strike. Leaping into the air, she impacts the ground in between the draconic foes and fragments the ground beneath them, booting them to one side each. Targeting one of them, Fordola lets go of her greataxe with one hand and summons an aether-infused chain in it, with which she hurls at and pulls the left foe back at her. As it’s not prepared for this move, nor qualified to reinforce itself, it’s entirely rendered unconscious once she flatsides it with the axe and grinds it into the dirt.

Her attention is channeled away seconds later, as she minds squawking by the roof and some scaled reptiles soar about skyward.
“Another raid, from the air this time!”

Before any barrages can be vented, though, Urianger raises the strange orb encircled by magical cards that he exercises as a weapon midair and stretches his arms sidewards, fashioning a domed ensorcelled barrier which endures every shot that crashes into it and shields his allies from harm.
Whereas there’s no entry, there is a possibility for discharges from within, which Milisandia takes advantages of – spinning the rifle off of her back, she takes aim and marks each of the flying foes, before she loosens a couple of bursts for all and brings them low.

Owing to the absence of extra enemies in the closest vicinity, they get a few seconds of breathing room and Jhera peeks back over her shoulder.
“Well done, everyone, we’ve cleared what I surmise is the first wave of monsters to wherever we need to go. There’s no time to lounge quite yet, though, as we have to off whatever monstrosity is beckoning all these hordes against us. I speculate the answer will be less than pleasant.” Heaving the sword along her shoulder, she peers straight ahead and toughens her gaze at the next opening. “Onwards we march.”

Chapter 22: The Scions path - Part 12

Chapter Text

It doesn’t take a lengthy journey for the quintet to reach their goal, once they’ve entered the far end of the Black Shroud. Since they elected to avoid heading into Gridania, they’ve rather travelled through the forest and up towards a type of machinery which appears to nearly block out the terrain further beyond it, the black surface absorbing all attention and the red lighting along its distance warning every comer to be on alert that this is the Empire’s zone. And as they exit the edge of the forest to see it, Lyse is the first one to speak.
“This is it – Baelsar’s Wall. That’s what we gotta get through to dock into Gyr Abania.”

Louisoix snorts lightly and crosses his arms, whereas Y’shtola simply stares straight ahead, unable to see much of anything.
“What do you think?”, wonders the miqo’te.

“It’s an eyesore”, Louisoix tells her softly, as he starts to describe his view to her. “I’m nearly glad you can’t see this as you wouldn’t be the biggest fan of it. An oppressive and discordant bit of architecture crushed into the ground to keep two states apart. If nothing else, the Garleans have marked their territory, I suppose.”

Y’shtola shrugs.
“Oppressors of their kind do have that tendency, to drag their hands across every surface that they see and let everyone know they’re always watching.”

Once they take step outwards, to near the region that’s still several kilometers away, Kjat turns to Lyse.
“This has stood here the entire time?”

Lyse shakes her head.
“No, not-…well, I mean, not since before the Garleans, no. The wall was constructed during the initial couple of years after the occupation and it covers the majority of the path to the Black Shroud. To my knowledge, no one has tackled any attacks or bombardments of it or anything, so I can’t tell ya much about how much it can withstand, but it's alwayslookedsolid.”

“Mm, I would maintain the same. And this is the only path inside?”

“Well, the sea route isn’t impossible, but the Garleans have ships patrolling pretty much the full coastline, even if not every single yalm. There are passages between either of these, but I’d recommend crawling through the ground one, cuz if you know what you’re doing, the wall is a safer bet.”

“And you do?”

“Yep. The mountain here has caves and tunnels that lead underneath the wall, provided you know the way – which I do.”

With the others taking a few steps forward, especially Joltin sauntering at the van, Kjat opts to stick close to Lyse, finding herself somewhat intrigued, possibly by their matching backgrounds.
“Miss Lyse, may I inquire a bit about you?”

Lyse peers up at the taller woman, a fact that she rarely has to do and eyes her for a second, prior to proffering a smile.
“Yeah, sure, go on ahead.”

“You appeared quite capable when battling that monster earlier, with Joltin. Are you a soldier?”

“Oh uh…not really, no.”

“Where did you learn to fight with such proficiency then?”

Scratching her neck, there’s a clear level of discomfort on Lyse, but she doesn’t wholly dodge the idea.
“Um…my father was a soldier, actually. He fought in the King’s army and all that.”

“The King? What King?”

Lyse blinks up at her.
“Wait, you dunno?”

Kjat rocks her head sideways lightly.
“There is little doubt that I don’t. I originate far to the east of here, and only entered Eorzea some six months past. I’m not fully versed in the intricacies of this continent’s politics just yet.”

“Ooh, right, right. I did think you looked…different, yeah.”

The medical expert glances amusedly at Lyse and briefly wiggles her tall ears.
“These did not give me away?”

Thankfully, it has a highly positive effect on the other lady, as Lyse is brought to laughter.
“They did! I just…like, didn’t know if you were one of few or not. You said your people were called viera, right?”

“Yes. I believe some viera may have visited these lands before, but I haven’t met anyone else.”

“Yeah, we sometimes get folks from all across Ilsabard and stuff, but usually not in huge numbers. The au ra, like your Joltin over there, I’ve only seen them fairly recently too. I think your ears are super cute, though, so don’t worry ‘bout turning me off or anything. I like how bouncy and fluffy they are.”

Not fully the remark which Kjat had expected, but it’s reasonably predictable, due to how minute her people’s numbers are here. Thus, Kjat giggles in benign tones, which does please Lyse.
“Well…thank you, I suppose. I do take good care of them.”

“And you should! Anyway, you erm…asked of the King, right? Well, Ala Mhigo used to be ruled by a royal family, the latest one named Theodoric. People mainly know him as the Mad King or the King of Ruin, though, as he controlled this land with an iron fist, and his tyranny eventually brought the people against him. They defied him and his decrees, which started a civil war that endured for years. It did seem like the rebels might’ve taken the victory, but both sides were extremely sapped and exhausted from the long struggles…and that’s when the Empire struck. They came at us too easily and swiftly, breaking everyone and everything apart. My dad was one of those rebels, and early in my life, he wished for his daughters to be strong and therefore we began training under him.”

“Daughters? You have sisters?”

“Heh, just the one. She was a lil’ younger than me, though, so I trained plenty without her.”

“Is she not with you?”

A shimmer of sadness flows across the hyur’s vision.
“No, I…I haven’t seen her for a number of years. We had some disagreements and eh…haven’t spoken much since.”

“I see. I’m sorry to hear that. But your father didn’t teach you everything, then? Since you said you ‘began’ under him.”

“No, no, our parents…uh, they passed away to the imperial attacks. Since my sister and I became refugees, I had to sorta learn to make it on my own; in Eorzea, the best way to achieve that is to fight. I’ve gotten into all type o’ crap after I left Ala Mhigo, from adventurer nonsense to mercenary work and manual labor.”

Kjat bobs her head slowly.
“I get where you are coming from, for I too am from a city-state that has been occupied – the city of Murotsk - although since previous to my birth. On the other hand, we did not suffer that severely, presumably by reason that my people never offered as heavy resistance.”

Lyse snorts and stares once again at the wall.
“Yeah, the Garleans really do love bullsh*tting ‘bout how they’re gonna civilize the world and make everyone grander by living under the ‘enlightened’ imperial rule, but they do nothing but crush everyone else beneath their tyranny. One day, they’ll get theirs.”

Chapter 23: The Vermin path - Part 11

Chapter Text

Into the shaded abyss they’ve ventured, hoping and endeavoring to find answers which remain locked somewhere in untraversed tunnels. Tunnels which proceed into gallingly expansive distances and snake about without an abundance of logic or intent. It’s fairly galling to some of them that they take a few turns here and there, but there’s seemingly no end in sight and no options for them to head elsewhere. Or maybe ‘galling’ is the wrong word, and ‘alarming’ is a better one, for Jhera has noted that her allies - particularly the legionnaires sans Fordola - have displayed signs of a growing sense of panic. She wonders just how long they’ll last into this gloom, and if she should send them into retreat. Then again, she doesn’t know whether she’d be qualified to track the route to the surface, so how could they alone?

Then finally, a light uncloaks itself, some hundred meters apart into a distinct conduit and opens up further. The contours of the garb for this radiance does hint at that it may be a larger chamber ahead.
“Could that be a cavern?”, asks Fordola from her rear position.

“It would appear so”, says Jhera.

“I wonder whether that bodes good or ill”, mutters Maltin.

“Well, anything is better than staying in these cramped spaces, don’t you think?”, suggests Iraut.

“Eh, I feel like we’ll be more susceptible to draconic fire if we’re somewhere without cover.”

“Maybe…maybe it’s the way out?”, intimates Harthuba carefully, although sounding overly hopeful more than certain.

“Tsk, hardly. We can only wish that, I bet. Probably an even larger dragon’s lair or something, with our luck…”, goes the cynical Maltin.

“Close it up”, commands, Jhera. “We’re moving forward. Let’s go.”

Along the course that goes into the cavern, they don’t speed it up needlessly, and rather look around for signs of what might present itself, by scanning the walls and analyzing any leftovers or scrapes that the beasts might’ve shed, but nothing of that value is presented. Instead, Fordola thinks it’s too cold and lonely, as if this place was forsaken in the distant past. Well, wouldn’t it have been? This is where a gigantic imperial vessel crashed, after all. She wagers every single life, even bugs, would’ve conked out to that kinda explosion.

It's when they simultaneously ponder and seek to predict the finality of this length that a spooky and abnormal event takes place – a deep voice echoes in their heads.
“Intruders…take heed and turn back. Venture nearer and you shall find only tormenting doom…”

The three legionnaires besides Fordola stop in their tracks and practically jerk, whereas the Decurions and Jhera slap hands onto their weapons.
“Wha…what was that?”, asks Harthuba.

“Well, it sure ain’t the wind…”, mumbles Maltin.

“It was absolutely a voice, I know that much”, they hear from Fordola at the back.

Milisandia glances sideways at her taller comrade.
“Could it’ve been a psychic?”

Urianger brushes his fingers across his thin beard in contemplation.
“Not an impossibility. Such personalities and beings exist in historical treatises, equally from supernatural and more worldly sources. Whether it was an abomination or a mage, I am further skeptical of…”

At the front, Hien approaches and looks to Jhera.
“Ordinarius, we should investigate this, no? It could be one of the dragons with a deeper intellect, that we might grasp and recover something from.”

“My thoughts exactly”, goes Jhera. “Squad, we press on. Do not hold for anything. And keep your wits about you.”

As they defy the voice that they heard and pace ahead, they mind it once more, this time hissing.
“You…have…been…warned…”

Upon waltzing into the compartment, the initial picture that everyone seem to attain is that this location comprises a whole heap of various technological pieces – gears, barriers, bulkheads, barrels from unnamed guns, cylinders and more. Most of them don’t give off the theory of sitting in the best of working orders, nor like they would be admissible to salvage. The furthest substantial component is one which makes to be some manner of turbine, another circular or cylinder-shaped construction with blades, tubes and a variety of attached buttons. It’s colossal, would be better way to describe it, but to top it all of, practically busted up from side to side.

“Ordinarius, my limited knowledge of engineering would calculate that’s the engine. However you cut it, it wouldn’t be operable in my mind, though”, says Milisandia.

“I see”, says Jhera. “We should take a closer look, just in case. Fordola, take the other legionnaires and post yourselves at the entr-“

Her words are cut off by movement from the ground beneath them, which rumbles and shivers, as if something large just entered, but though they look for a physical origination, there is none. Instead, above the engine, a translucent and scintillating creature surfaces, like an incorporeal being or a ghost. Its humongous physique is several times above theirs, the size of a castle, but furthermore goes on to be far-reaching, akin to a serpent. Its protruding snout gets raised to lay bare the knifelike fangs in its maw and all along its head and spine, they spot bulging spikes and fins. The irises which swing at them glow in a baleful scarlet and a clangor exits the oral cavity, equivalent to a growl.

The imperial troopers out of a pure knee-jerk reflex step backwards, a few gasping, and someone – possibly Harthuba – erupting a curt scream. It’s Urianger who is the first to speak. Or mutter, to be precise.
“Twelve have mercy…”

“Holy sh*t”, says Fordola instinctively. “Isn’t that…”

Jhera is simply frowning, but her hands are clutched firmly about the hilt of her sword, possibly turning pale beneath the gauntlets.
“I believe that it could-“

All of them shut their mouths and practically fall to their knees as the entity gives off a cut-off roar and buckets its head for a moment.
“Minions of the Devil of Bygone Lands – I warned you”,it hisses slowly, words once more echoing in their heads rather than from the being.“But like your master, you never heed sage words, as I suspected. Then behold my form and despair - I am Midgardsormr, and you have trespassed upon my lair! You shall fathom your endless folly in your own doom.”Against one of her flanks, Fordola overhears Urianger mumbling.
“No, it…it can’t be. The father of dragons…”

The hyur glints topwards at the taller man to her right.
“You know that name?”

Blinking his eyes, bailing from some form of inattention or distance that he’d been subsumed in, Urianger peers back at her, his vision concerned.
“Yes, I…I read it somewhere, but did not fully parse that this was the being which the tomes were referring to. According to reports and eyewitness accounts, this was the existence which faced the mightiest of vessels, the Agrius.”

“Whoa. The…father of dragons, did you say? But wait, if this is the thing that fought the Agrius, shouldn’t it be dead?”

Not having heard the last of Midgardsormr, he ignites once again.
Pitiful mortals! Thy abominable contrivances can never wreak destruction to lifeforms beyond your comprehension! In contrast, as a superior and purer existent from a plane which your eyes would burn at the sight of, I do irrefutably possess the means of shatteringyou…and your playthings.”

Opening his majestic and astronomic jaw, Midgardsormr unclothes how a fire has begun flaring inside, propagating into larger and larger magnitudes, until it overflows throughout the whole gob. At that second, he unleashes the conflagration and the soldiers find the whole area atop them growing flooded with luster, like a vision of shooting stars. Except, as the initial ones land some hundred meters remotely from them, this likeness gets increasingly more disturbing, once they explode conformable to proper high-yield explosives, quaking the earth beneath them and hurtling closer and closer to the imperial spaces at the rear of the cavern.

With obliteration getting constantly nigher, Urianger judges that sprinting is not a viable strategy and pulls up his own outlandish tool which he avails himself of as weaponry and stands where he is.
“Flock to me!”, he calls, and spreads his arms to erect an arcane shield.

Hien and Fordola are the only ones in proximity and stroll up to his side. As the barrages slam down upon the surface of it, Urianger grits his teeth, his eyes closing and his back bending onwards, as he strains to keep it up. He does live up to the task and holds out for them to bypass him, but it cracks at the end and the healer himself collapses to the ground.
“Urianger!”, shouts Hien and dives to his knee to help the elezen up.

Around the contrasting margin, Jhera ascertains how she is being chased by means of correspondent attacks and she won’t make it if she relies on her legs; nor will Milisandia, who’s right beside her. Facing the reality that neither of them have great chances of survival, Jhera veers about and holds up her sword before her.
“Decurion, behind me!”

The au ra’s widened eyes are at her, and out the gate, she nods and slides in to take cover by her superior. Pulling from the deepest and darkest abysms of her soul, towards the edge of the twilight of this world, Jhera heaves her sword overhead. As the stars advance on them, she slashes straight into the air, creating a purple-black stream which sings out with a dirge that rockets towards the balls of fire. She’s in luck and strikes it head on, and though her bash is nowhere even in the vicinity of destroying the two that were badgering them, she does redirect their vectors enough to slam them aside. However, the shockwave out of the impact of the stars against the ground still makes Milisandia go flying to the ground and Jhera herself suffers a close call of an identical variety.

Hiking her eye to look for her allies, Jhera gets only a split second to see how the three legionnaires applies themselves to sprint away, but are pursued by a duo of the radiant assaults...and they are not swift to the point of getting away from this surging death, which crashes down on them. As the dust settles half a minute later, all the Ordinarius can spy is her three lessers prone and unmoving on the ground. Staring at them with a stupefied eye, Jhera goes with what her instincts tell her and calls out.
“Maltin! Iraut! Harthuba!”

No response, no fidgeting, no mild resonance even. Jhera grits her teeth and provisorily closes her sight, staring into her heart at what to dabble with next, which path to go for. Something awakens inside her, an old intuition, a dread that lies close to her and that she fears to ever experience again – to lose those who trusted her, who served under her as they believed in her leadership and who fell because she butchered the command she was bestowed. She will not allow that to occur again. Never will she stand by to observe a wipeout of her loyal men and women, not while she yet draws breath.

Snatching Milisandia’s arm, she pulls the au ra to her feet and gazes at the others.
“Get up and move out! We have to retreat, pronto!”

The survivors struggle to rise up, and hearing her orders, they do perceive the merest fleck of inner struggles, that the mighty Jhera would howl with apprehension in her voice. Could she be…afraid? Impossible. But letting it sink in how this is their one shot at riding this day out, they nod, gather themselves and hit the gas, fleeing towards the entrance.
However, the fates are against them in this regard, as the vengeful dragon has no intent on seeing his prey get out of his claws. Taking his snout roofward, he releases a booming, piercing roar that quivers and thrums the entire comprehensive scale of the guts of this vessel.
“Children, brood of an absent star, rise and hear Midgardsormr! The slayers of your sire seek to preserve their tender, spineless lives! Do not sanctify such meager acts! Come hither upon my calling and lay these vermin and their corrupted hides to waste!

Jhera and her team are already propelling themselves out of his reach, but have to come to a firm halt, as rotten bodies and languished skeletons of dead beast, of fallen dragons, materialize from every corner and out of all discernible gulfs, to block their passage. With a frustrated and somewhat antsy outline to her visage, Jhera breezes to a stop and inclines her claymore in her foreground.
“Battalion Subzero, defensive positions!”

Chapter 24: The Scions path - Part 13

Chapter Text

“This is it. The first stage across Gyr Abania. We call this place ‘The Fringes’”, says Lyse in an instructive manner, as the five of them have crossed into a region novel for the majority of them.

In fact, not even Joltin has had a justification for looking in on this territory along her stay in Eorzea. Not that it would be outlandish to explain why she’d keep her distance, in virtue of the colossal wall that’s stood amid the two separate lands, but it’s nonetheless a tragic denouement that she’s never had the occasion.
The Fringes, as Lyse called it, is not a particularly beauteous region in terms of foliage, since there are skimpy amounts of trees and bushes. It’s an arid and mountainous zone, with rocky plateaus, pylons, cliffs…and just rocks, to be fair. It’s the outer area of the land of Gyr Abania, the one that frames the Black Shroud, but does hold bountiful examples of rivers and minor lakes too. It’s gorgeous in the rugged kind of fashion, and the one blemish it contains is the unsightly, black and spiky Baelsar’s Wall, smashed right into the ground, with no heed paid to where it might fit in aesthetically.

They wander across the terrain for a stretch, feeling out the heat of the air, the cragginess of the stone, taking in the intriguing sights…and of course, keeping out of visibility from any imperial patrols that pass by. Just the same, in current events, the specter of Garlean assaults are rather minor and they’re good to cut to whichever road they will.
Once their leading curiosity is sated, Louisoix peers at Lyse.
“Miss Lyse, are you mindful of any points with a high concentration of aether activity? If not, perchance a font where the Garleans might have had cause to alter the landscape or use magicked means?”

The Ala Mhigan scratches her neck in hesitant thought.
“Uh, a lotta aether activity? Can’t promise that I do, as I’m like, not super magically trained myself, but…” She suspends her sentence and then stares towards the south. “Huh. Wonder if what fell out down at Bittermill might do the trick…”

“Bittermill?”

Lyse hikes one of her hands and points to the south.
“Yeah, it was a small village only half a day’s travel from the wall. The Garleans set up camp around it no more than a few years back. Said it was outta some basis to create a…weapons testing site or whatever. Never saw it personally, as this just made the rounds among Ala Mhigans refugees, but I did witness the remnants of it. It’s just some empty shacks and piles of rubble these days.”

Louisoix shares a look with Y’shtola, and the miqo’s brow is wrinkled in contemplation. Kjat plaits her arms and traces them with her eyes.
“Would that not constitute an object of concern for you two?”

“It certainly would”, expresses Y’shtola with firm tone.

“Miss Lyse, could you guide us to this compartment?”, asks Loisoix.

The brawler nods her head determinedly.
“Oh, you bet. Road there ain’t too tricky to track at all. Tag along.”

Directing their course along where Lyse figures is the right path, they stay by the minute portion of trees, boulders and riversides, rather than following the avenues that might’ve ran transports earlier, since not only is it not intolerably arduous to tread upon the edges here, seeing as there’s barely anything in the way, but furthermore, imperial patrols bypass them from time to time, containing usually a vehicle or two with troops, sometimes tinier machina or some flying robot up in the sky. Not a densely packed territory, but disconcerting regardless.

Once they fetch the outskirts, they oversee the environs of what Lyse designates as Bittermill, and the signs are not favorable – onetime some manner of hamlet for apothecaries and farmers, there is little prevailing today besides an occasional building or two, plus older steel walls that have either fallen over or been broken apart. There isn’t even anyone guarding the ashes, which gives the team a direct beeline to the center. Upon exploring the earth below them, however, it looks blackened in some places, blue-green in others or occasionally violet. What’s clear is that no vegetation blooms inside this particular area, and no life seems to near it. Y’shtola and Louisoix separate a touch from the others and the older of the two equips a form of mechanical goggles, pretty large and dome-like, which he puts before his eyes and scans what few buildings, dirt and leavings he’s capable of discerning. Y’shtola merely applies her ‘blinded’ sight, one that they’re sentient of contains the faculty of taking in the contours of ambient aether.

Sweeping the undivided region for clues and standout items, the other three hold out and spy around for a phase on their own, but their eyes aren’t fit to scope out extraordinary stuff as detailed as the gadget or the sorceress, it’s clear to say. Sooner or later, it’s Louisoix who goes first, his fingers stroking his beard reflectively.
“Hmm. I do detect blatant manifestations of aether manipulation. Shtola, dear, can you validate this claim?”

“Undoubtedly, master. Residuals of static aether and other impure materials litter this place. I believe the Garleans may have gambled to…extract a class of power that one should never pull from.”

“As I thought.”

On the northern perimeter of the ruins, Joltin is scraping her boot over the soil.
“This ground looks kinda…scorched?”

“Not scorched”, assesses the miqo’te. “Corrupted.”

The au ra flinches and looks immediately at her.
“Uh…what’d you say?”

“If you lean closer to the dirt, is there a color or element which is not in the style with the other substances?”

Kneeling to the ground, Joltin employs her gloves to poke in the radius of herself and raises her shades to survey with her yellow gaze.
“Huh. Oh yeah, there’s like…some purple bits in this stuff?”

“It would be, yes, for patterned on the stale, fetid aether in this region, creatures of the Void were summoned inside this village.”

This causes the secondary part of the team to interpret the news with shock, getting on their feet and facing the Sharlayans. The Void is known by many, but properly explained by few. A distant and separate realm with no understandable source, giving rise to demonic creatures that kill and consume people and contaminate the known world that they live on. Barely any have witnessed the summoning of monsters which one may pry from that land, but these three are not ordinary folk and all have some knowledge of the horrors which might spew from it.
“Why the hell would they be doing that sh*t for?”, asks Joltin.

Kjat furrows her brow and surrounds herself with her own arm, while her ears squirm in consideration.
“I have perused reports of similar acts from imperials, but I trusted it was falsehoods or simple rumors…”

“That’s not all”, says Louisoix and unclothes his head of the gadget, meeting their gazes. “I presently theorize that the citizens of Bittermill may have been mobilized to summon forth this creature from the Void, presumably as sacrifices.”

These are the words that upset the whole premise, and the group as a total become woozy and distressed.
“S…sacrifices?”, stutters Lyse.

“That is…highly upsetting. For what reason would they…?”, wonders Kjat.

“I do not know”, says Louisoix. “The conclusions are quite indistinct as of yet, but we have to work to extrapolate such answers. Miss Sja-naris, might I trouble you to fill in the blanks for miss Lyse respecting the man we brought to you in Limsa Lominsa?”

“O…oh, yes. Of course.” She peers at Lyse, who pierces the gaze of the medical expert. “They had liberated a captured Ala Mhigan in an imperial prison somewhere off the coast of Ul’dah. From what I could untangle out of the wounds he’d suffered, it stood out to me that he had been injured severely and meticulously, likely by torture or frequent blows to comprehensive zones of his body, plus dehydrated and starved. These two Sharlayan researchers postulated that there may have been others and that what this man have simply been a commencing victim to assess the usability of Ala Mhigans for…something else. Something more…dire.”

Lyse’s face contorts, jaw setting, her fists tightening and knuckles darkening with strain. As she unseals her mouth, her teeth are grinding.
“This…thispisses me off. Freaking…sc*msuckers! Those assholes sacrificed my people for some godsforsaken insane ritual!?How f*cking dare they?!”

Not being taken aback, but instead seeming sympathetic to the outburst, Kjat lays a hand on her shoulder.
“Easy now, miss Lyse. I share your pain, believe me, but we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves in this abandoned village, or else their deaths may have been for nothing.”

Lyse slams her eyes shut and takes in a quaking and fuming breath, in an attempt to settle down.
“…sorry, this is just…a bit too much for me. I can’t…think straight here. We gotta leave.”

“Indeed”, goes Louisoix. “To go any deeper into Gyr Abania may put us on slippery ground, and we have proof to analyze and conclusions to draw as to the root cause of the Garleans actions. Let us take some samples and return.”

Joltin and the others help out with this assignment, and beyond running its course, it’s Y’shtola who addresses someone next.
“Miss Kjat, from my limited literacy in the skill of white magic and schools compatible with it, such principles generally retain the expertise to purify both people and nature. Would this be accurate with your own background?”

Kjat nods self-assuredly.
“Oh, by a great deal. I have less exposure to the healing of the wilds, but it shouldn’t be too strenuous for me.”

“Then might we appeal for your assistance with this?”

Kjat reflects on this request, and finds that another pair of eyes is poking into her at the same juncture. She looks at Lyse, who stands there biting her lower lip.
“I…would appreciate that too, Doc.”

Though she chooses not to call herself by such a title, Kjat can’t prevent a smile from forming at the soft tone, and noticing the level of necessity for Lyse as to some measure of ease, she elects not to oppose them.
“Very well. Then stand back a little, please.”

Upon the others having taken approximately ten steps away, Kjat inserts a hand into her robes and pulls out a metal amulet fastened to a leather strip, which she rotates about her wrist. Kneeling, she runs her hand across the tarnished ground, not to paint symbols, but to feel the earth and intermingle her own skin into its essence. Mumbling words in a language none of them comprehend, probably her native tongue, she rises, faces the sky and spreads her arms, as if inviting an individual or force that they cannot trace. In time, she pulls her hand with the amulet to her chest and stomps her foot to the ground, and with that power, a pillar of light shines down from the heavens, surrounding her for a couple of instants, prior to slowly spreading out over the landscape, even hitting some of them and filling her witnesses with a sense of warmth and comfort. As she ultimately separates her arms once again, holding up the amulet, the radiance out of the sky for a short term brightens, despite that this intensity hurts none of their eyes, and when it diminishes later, the corruption has all but been burnt away, leaving a fertile and employable base anew.

Chapter 25: The Vermin path - Part 12

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Gritting her teeth, steeling her scrutiny, pressing her feet into position, Jhera looks like her heart is pumping a million kilometers per second, desperate to prevent the action that is about to be taken, a blowback she dreads will occur that she isn’t unfamiliar with and which she is to be the single bulwark to stand in between. Fordola had never anticipated that this kind of outlook to the Primus Ordinarius existed, one that oozes of refusal to lie down and see it happen once more. She doesn’t look afraid for her life, but fearful of losingotherlives. She stands ready to sacrifice her own position and defensively carry everyone else from this aftermath. What in all the hells does that stem from?

In any condition, the resuscitated dead dragons spring out of their individual holes and crevices, crawling and surging at them at a pace which will not be denied, and gnaws foremost at the injured members of their crew. At the sheer second that the initial claw nearly reaches them, Jhera is at it, her sword ramming into the earth and carving sideways to cleave it off, prior to rotating the tip back down into the head of another. She kicks off arms, severs wings, battering skulls apart in order to preclude anyone from nearing her crew. Still and all, the dragons do not relent, being pliant to the roaring hail of their father.

In spite of Jhera’s brave and defiant staving off of these first few attackers, however, they are not deterred from pressing on with the ongoing assault and the imperial fighters are imminently instilled with a big gulp of disquiet as a raucous call shoots out of a throat at odds with its comrades. From the roof, another colossal dragon makes its way towards them, its magnitude frightfully above the previous ones that were held at bay, its scales a sickly green and its eyes flaring with a foreboding scarlet shade, indistinguishable from the image of a ravenous predator laying the groundwork for a meal. Crashing into the floor, its maw unhinges and a jumbo ball of fire is getting ready to sear the entire bunch.

Jhera knows she can likely shuffle out of this one with ease, but should she do that, half of her squad will not make it out in time, on account of Urianger’s exhausted stage. Grating her teeth and fangs, the Ordinarius pivots the claymore in her hands.
“No! You will not have my people!”

Slamming her feet into the ground, she gives off a sensation of that she’s invigorating herself for the impossible, to contend with this attack head-on, duplicating the maneuver she executed earlier, but at a much nearer proximity. Fordola can’t envision how she’ll blow through that. The remove from their foe just isn’t enough, and there’s not an inclination where she might endure it and deflect it elsewhere.
“Ma’am, you gotta retreat!”, she exclaims, but Jhera ignores her.

Taking in a shivering breath, Jhera digs into her heart, looking for something indescribable, an arcane vein which you can’t simply call out for, you have to be mindful of where it emerges from at the start. It’s that faint gleaming hope in the core of every human to desperately survive against all odds, be the one-in-a-million card to haul out at the storm – to break one’s limits.
Fordola doesn’t follow what it is that Jhera seeks with this move, but the miqo’te heaves her blade and cuts into the sky, opening a tear in the air, a blackened gap into the vacuum of the abyss. To the faculties of the Ala Mhigan, it stinks somehow of the darkness of the void, but this could easily be superstition as well. In either case, stretching her hand at that hole, Jhera snatches some level of it with chains and drags it towards her, careening the chains into the ground and at the very final second, this shadow veers to form a domed barrier which rises in between the dragon and Jhera. The fire rams into her shield, trembling and grinding into it with such might that the Ordinarius can’t remain on her feet, falling to one knee. Once it finally collapses, she falters and gets barely singed over one arm and leg, burning below her armor, but she doesn’t succumb to it and the barrage was held off.

What in Rhalgr’s name is with this cat? Fordola is stunned by these protective cues which flourishes out of Jhera for her soldiers. When she met the Ordinarius, Fordola took it for granted that this lady had only disdain for those below her. She seemed dismissive, inflamed and nigh-on begrudging of their all-out existence, as if their wish to enlist with the Battalion was a meaningless exertion which only obstructed what they were to stand for. Sure, that may have been simple affectations to put a nudge of a fright in them, but Fordola could’ve never forecasted that they were unadulterated lies, meant to obscure an inner vulnerability. Could that be it? She truly cares for her troops, more than her own life?

A restorative and fuzzy radiance soon sweeps about the Ordinarius, rejuvenating her, and as she stares sideways, she finds Urianger plunged on one knee, his breath heavy, exerting his remaining energy to heal her up.
“You…do not stand alone, Ordinarius.”

Fordola glances at him, once more viewing his benevolence and concentration on helping others, in contempt of his own drained state. That’s when Fordola’s eyes toughens and she uplifts her axe to her shoulder.
“He’s right. We’re with you, ma’am.”

Merely a glimmer of appreciation sparks out of Jhera’s eyeline, previous to her getting up and facing the dragon once more.
“No, back off. Let me attend to this one.”

“No way!” She dashes up to Jhera’s flank and braces herself for combat. “We ain’t letting you take this big f*cker by yourself. An army is a team effort, isn’t it?”

Joining the fray, Hien rushes ahead and situates himself on the contrasting end.
“Got that right. We may be Vermin, but we would never forsake our own.”

Milisandia snorts amusedly at their bravado, staying by Urianger’s side.
“Don’t have the best of angles from the rear, but I’ll back you up.”

Jhera breathes out, in a capacity that Fordola thinks may be relieved, but her words endeavor not to betray such flavors.
“…stubborn bastards.”

Their moment of unison has to conclude very abruptly, as the dragon has recouped itself too and barrels into them with its rock-hard head in the foreground. Jhera springs back into the vanguard and protrudes one of her fists to devise a simpler barrier for the others. That’s when Fordola sees her chance and hacks at one of its front legs, inducing a halfhearted retreat from the dragon, which is only summarized into a counterattack that Fordola has to make off from.
“Whoa!”

“Legionary!”, yells Jhera. “Break off from the frontline! I have this!”

“No, I figure this can work! Hold it for us and we’ll tear that thing apart!”

Jhera crinkles her brow, but not everything of this value is disapproval, as it’s similarly teeming with unease.
“You do not give the orders, soldier;I do.”

In this one deal, though, Fordola chooses to hold up her principles and stands firm against Jhera.
“Then order me to kill that thing,ma’am.”

Not terms that pleases Jhera exactly, but Fordola finds a secondary fountain of support in Hien.
“She’s right, Ordinarius. We can nail this one, if you just keep it steady for us. Lend us that window and the dragon shall be cut into pieces.”

Jhera glares at him.
“Not you too…”

Her protests will have to be postponed, as the dragon does not let itself be stalled and lunges headlong into them once again. Being the bulwark she is, Jhera builds up another orb of darkness that fences the rest of her comrades, qualifying them to point their own techniques on offense.
“Just like that! Keep it locked up and we’ll be golden!”, yells Fordola.

Jhera’s teeth grind together.
“Whatever you’re planning…make it quick!”, she strains.

Fordola drills her boots into the ground, charges onwards and lashes out, crashing one of her reinforced shoulders into a leg. With surprise induces into the dragon, it flinches and steps backwards, opening for Hien to swish inside, almost under its belly, to target this soft end of the beast and carve up a goodly wound. From the polar flank, Fordola matches this aggression by embedding the blade of her axe into flesh and slashing downwards like a knife through butter.
The dragon is uniformly enraged and devitalized by this assay, having to catapult itself forward and fully into Jhera’s shield. The miqo manages to reduce the impact, although her lacking energy rears its head as the shield flickers and dies, with Jhera falling backwards.

For all that, this is precisely the crack that the warriors necessitated. Milisandia gets up and pumps a couple of bullets into the nearest half of its skull, drawing it down on its knees. Erupting into a battlecry, a murky scarlet aura momentarily flashes about Fordola, while she wrenches a heap of her inner aether of blood and fire. With the mightiest of swings, her axe explodes into an enormous incision, one that nearly breaks the beast in half. Additionally, she succeeds in striking some internal body part with a ghostly glow, that cracks and spurts a puff of smoke. Once the dragon flatlines, a single mournful roar rises from Midgardsormr, who then turns silent.

“That’s our chance”, says Milisandia. She stares at Fordola. “Soldier, grab the Ordinarius and let's bust out of here.”

Jhera is not in on this standpoint, shaking her head and gesticulating with her hand at the road ahead.
“No…I’m too sluggish right now. Press on without me.”

Fordola once more braves her words and mutinies against her superior’s wishes.
“Excuse me?”

“Leave me, Legionary. I’ll only slow you down.”

“Are you f*cking insane?! I won’t abandon you after what you’ve done for us! We’re not leaving anyone behind!”, shouts Fordola, leaning down to grab one of her arms.

Hien has returned from his frontal seat and assails from the opposite angle.
“The Legionary has the right of it, Ordinarius. We’ll support you out of here. None fight for us, and thus we must stand for each other. Isn’t that right, ma’am?”

Jhera slams her eye shut and clenches her fists, but as they bring her to her feet, she doesn’t oppose them. Why is it that no one ever listens when she gets to be the one to sacrifice?

Notes:

yes, the thing Jhera performed against the big dragon was a limit break. only the first time, though, as the rest were normal DRK stuff

Chapter 26: The Scions path - Part 14

Chapter Text

And so, the scholars of Sharlayan, the medical expert from Ilsabard and the two women from Eorzea cleared out of Gyr Abania and snuck back inside the Black Shroud, letting the discoveries and the potential answers they tracked down in Bittermill churn inside their minds. Not exactly a positive outlook, of course, and Joltin herself has been wondering as to her status of holding this ‘Echo’ and what the Empire might do if they get their hands on her. Is this possibly how they exploit individuals like her? They experiment and tear them apart, unravelling what hides inside them? Well, she’s not gonna give up either way, and this has just handed her better incentive tonotbe roped in by them.

Kjat’s concentration during parts of the return journey has instead lingered on the Ala Mhigan among them, for Lyse has appeared absent. She hasn’t spoken many words in the wake of the eye-opener she received, and naturally, Kjat can’t overlook the knee-jerk response Lyse had in the village. She must yet have locked rather dire and vengeful thoughts inside of her, arguably melded with portions of grief. Just like so many other nations, Ala Mhigo was steamrolled and grounded down by the Garleans, and they won’t stop until they’ve come upon whatever sinister goal that they conceive there will be at the end.

Regardless of this, Kjat can’t brush Lyse aside from her mind and realizes she has to confront the other woman, albeit gently. Upon entering the woods and with the Ala Mhigan wandering a handful of meters away from the others, Kjat increases her pace to catch up with her. Hoping not to startle her, she speaks first.
“Miss Lyse?”

Blinking herself out of some reverie, the blonde looks up at the taller lady and attaches her gaze to Kjat’s.
“…huh? What is it?”

Suspending her hand, Kjat lays it mellowly upon Lyse’s shoulder, offering a sympathetic and caring gaze.
“You have barely spoken with us since we left. How are you doing?”

Clearing her throat, the brawler dithers for a number of seconds, likely reluctant to unveil her innermost concepts.
“I…uh…I guess I’m fine. Mostly.”

“Are you certain? You reacted rather…explosively to what we saw. Not that I would reprehend you for it, but you seem to be suppressing your feelings after this. It may not be healthy for you.”

“That’s…” She sighs in a mild sense of defeat. “Uh, maybe a little bit.”

“As a doct-…ahem, medical expert, it is my duty to look after both one’s physical and mental state, after all, and I do not wish you to stew in your own sorrows. If you care to talk with anyone of what you experienced, I will listen.”

To Kjat’s satisfaction, Lyse does unwind a nudge, and spews a faint chuckle as well.
“Thanks, doc. I really appreciate your sincerity and it would be nice, but…like, that’s honestly not what I’ve been keeping my mind on. Well, maybe the first day or so, but not right now.”

“Oh? Then what is amiss?”

Considering that she’s broken out of this weird sorrowful trance she was in, Lyse rotates herself and heads for the remaining trio, while bringing Kjat with her.
“Hey, can we…talk for a second? I have some questions I’d wanna lay at ya.”

Louisoix and Y’shtola are the two mainly addressed, whereas Joltin shrugs and stays somewhat in the background.
“You carry certain misgivings as to our intents, I surmise?”, wonders the old man.

“Yeah, that stacks up, I think. What is it you’re doing in Eorzea? You said you were investigating the Garlean occupation, if I’m not mistaken. How come?”

Louisoix jogs his head and folds his arms in front of him.
“Right you are. We are scholars of Sharlayan and our inquests and analyses are all part of a singular ideal – we seek to find the hidden, underlying goal of the Empire, which I believe their invasions point towards and additionally, to warn Eorzea of a nascent coming invasion.”

Lyse’s eyes sharpen at his words, her fingers pressing together into fists, her jaw setting.
“You believe the Empire will invade again?”

“It will”, says Y’shtola. “By its very nature,it must. As sure as the winds blow across the oceans, the Garleans will rain down on your lands a second time…and in this occasion, Eorzean victory is not guaranteed.”

Exhaling with further irritation, Lyse peers sideways.
“I knew it. Iknewthis wasn’t over. I believe you and that the Empire will be coming for us. I’ll agree that it’s unavoidable…” She diverts herself to face all four of them. “And that’s why I’ve chosen to be candid with you guys. My name is Lyse, but that’s not the full context – I’m Lyse Hext.”

For the three adjacent women, the exposure of that surname presumably means zero, for their faces do not oscillate in any capacity, mostly staring at her in expectation of clarification. The one contrast is Louisoix, whose eyes widen and he takes a shocked breath in.
“H…Hext? Are you related to…Conrad Hext?”

One side of Lyse’s lips swirls up a notch.
“So, you’ve heard of him. Yes,theConrad Hext – leader of the rebellion against the King of Ruin, Theodoric, and the resistance against the Garlean invasion – was my father.”

“Oh dear…”, mumbles Louisoix.

“Master? What’s wrong?”, wonders Y’shtola.

Louisoix’s vision is shrouded by a thoughtful demeanor as he attaches a hand to his chin and strokes his beard.
“Conrad Hext…it’s been a spell since I was acquainted with that name.”

“You knew my dad?”, asks Lyse.

“To a certain degree, yes. When we Sharlayans built and attended a colony in northwestern Eorzea, I spoke out and convinced my colleagues to dispatch supplies to the rebellion against the oppressive King. And when the Empire took the field, I stood up and orated for the Ala Mhigan’s cause, that it is our obligation as fellow believers in justice and liberty to aid the resistance…” For a short bit, there’s a dazzle of anguish to his expression, and his eyes fill with regret. “…but they refused. They stated that we must remain neutral to the Garleans at all costs. Even as I pleaded, they would not hear me and left these shores. I personally stayed for some months, until Conrad himself advised me that Imustreturn home. I rue to this very day that we could negotiate no more for your home, miss Hext.”

Thankfully, there is no vehement comeback from Lyse, who does little else than smile at him.
“Don’t blame yourself, mister Leveilleur. If what you say is right, you did what you were able to, and it was a helluva lot more than what our neighbors dared. Without the remaining city-states of Eorzea, Ala Mhigo was dead meat anyway.” Breathing in through her nose, she fixes her hands to her hips and her visage grows somber. “My dad…he perished in the invasion, as did my mother, and I’ll never forget the sacrifices they committed in order for those of us of the next generation to survive. I haven’t given up, and I won’t. The resistance has died in effect after its defeat, besides cells that I can count on one hand inside Thanalan and the Black Shroud. Just the same, we’re gonna press on, and my main pursuit right now is to revitalize ‘em and take back our homeland from the occupiers. Should you guys be in the market for a strategy to protect Eorzea,allof Eorzea, then I’m with you.”

With her passion unleashed and the truth outed, the other women appear invigorated by her mini speech. Kjat is especially satisfied that she has returned from a lapse of despondence. Still, it’s Louisoix who steps ahead and offers his hand.
“And we would be honored to welcome you, miss Hext. We can’t say yet what this band of ours calls itself, but…we do have something in common.”

Lyse grins and snatches his hand, shaking it enthusiastically.
“To cause the downfall of the Garlean Empire.”

Chapter 27: The Vermin path - Part 13

Chapter Text

Everything doesn’t work out splendidly each time, even for the mighty Empire, that’s a nugget of wisdom Fordola has earned as of late. Not that she had been so naïve as to believe that they’d never lose, but she can imagine that this must’ve been a wake-up call for some of the troops. And it’s not like they truly yielded to the enemy, as most will now recall – after having shot out the way they came, and the ‘father of dragons’ had gone quiet, the ghostly dragons had stopped coming…for about a day. It had fed the soldiers with hours to rest and recuperate a little, but not adequately to set them up for a second round. Luckily, the Tribunus had seen this fact and ordered a retreat, leaving the Agrius to its grave for the time being. Fordola is uncertain what this would’ve symbolized. When they struck that final dragon which nearly took down Jhera, was part of Midgardsormr’s soul in there? Was that why he was temporarily silenced? But seeing as the ghosts were later replenished and assaulted them again, does that rather showcase that he can’t be brought down for good? In the end, Fordola doesn’t really care. It’s not a topic for her warrior-y brain to mull over.

What she has rather pondered since they left and traveled westward, to make a camp somewhat outside the crystallized landscape, is Jhera. The Ordinarius got pretty badly hurt, and though she lived thanks to her comrades, she hasn’t said anything again. Might she have taken further damage to the interior than they anticipated, or was her heart perhaps ravaged from the losses of their fellow legionaries? Fordola did remark how taken the miqo’te had been by the loss of three of them under her command. Only two days have elapsed and it’s not as if Jhera really is a talker, and yet Fordola itches for some feedback. Maybe that stems from her worry that she could get reprimanded for technically ‘disobeying’ Jhera’s orders by pulling her out of there. The Ordinarius wouldn’t be that cold-blooded, though, would she?

Merely an hour later, Fordola does in fact get her answer. As she’s off to fetch some rations, she sees how her commander is walking in her direction, carrying two packets in her hands. Her claymore is yet with her, fixed to her back, but instead of the armor, she’s wearing her normal black coat attire. Surprisingly, she saunters straight up to Fordola and looks into her eyes with the sole one that the Ordinarius has. Two seconds of disquietude passes, prior to Jhera holding up the packet in her left hand.
“Hungry?”

Is she asking Fordola to dine with her? So to speak.
“Uh…yeah, I was actually gonna get something to eat.”

Jhera dips her head and then bucks the one she held forward to Fordola.
“Take this. And…if you don’t mind, I’d want you to come with me.”

“Sure thing”, Fordola responds, gladly receiving the meal.

Together, the two of them head off to a silent corner in vicinity of some trees, which grants them shade. They eat some simple sandwiches and dried vegetables, with solely water to wash it down. It’s not much, but out on the field, these moments are ever ones to bestow Fordola with relief. It’s not just energy, but a respite and a confirmation of that she’s still alive. It’s good to get that from time to time.
What doesn’t make her as assured five minutes later, nonetheless, is that Jhera has yet to say anything, and their joint provisions are all but over. Did she invite Fordola just to sit by her for a short bit, hoping that this would suffice, or is she hesitating? Maybe the Ala Mhigan should be the one to verbalize her thoughts, then.

“You’re pretty protective of your soldiers, for someone who said we were all expendable.”

There’s not an instant retort from the Ordinarius, even supposing she’s ceased her eating process. Fordola nearly predicts that Jhera might clear off once more, as she did another time they spoke, but she stays put.
“I…never said I felt that way”, she utters softly.

“But that time when you introduced yourself, you said-“

“What I told you was theEmpire’sbelief. What the Garleans would have us comprehend, because it is how they view us. It is the truth of our existence.” She folds the paper container which was previously around the sandwich in below her fingers, crushing it lightly and stares at her own fingers. “I do not shy away from facts. I deem each of you worthy to learn what shape of world you’ve entered by enlisting with us…but I’ve never suggested that I share the Garlean ideals.”

Huh. That fight really must’ve shook something in Jhera, awakening the urge of honesty and possibly companionship, being that the Ordinarius doesn’t seem to have many friends. Hey, neither does Fordola, to be fair. Looking at the miqo thoughtfully, Fordola sets down the paper and stuff on the ground, folding her arms.
“You don’t like the Tribunus, do you?”

Peering sideways, letting her eyepatch be the visible side at the Ala Mhigan, Fordola yet perceives how there’s a tightening of Jhera’s visage.
“I hate her.”

“I’d figured from the day we met.”

“I hate her almost as much as the Legatus. If she perishes, I will cherish that day dearly.”

There’s no great passion in her voice, but Fordola is able to note a deeper emphasis at the furthest, a determination to breathe until such a period comes to pass. All the same, the Ala Mhigan doesn’t quite follow her logic.
“So, why don’t you simply kill her yourself?”

Jhera veers her head a touch and side-eyes her.
“You could be charged with treason for so much as uttering such words.”

No sarcasm there per se, but by now, Fordola figures Jhera is still not being serious. Therefore, she shrugs in return.
“Only if you tell her.”

The miqo snorts and stares back at the ground.
“…I have my reasons.”

“Does she realize you hate her?”

“She does. I believe she…finds it amusing.”

“…what a weirdo. Then why’d she make you her second?”

“Because she’s discerning of that I will not raise my hand against her. And I am efficient at what I do.”

“You two have a kinda screwed up relationship.”

“I’m aware.” Giving it some secondary consideration, running a thumb across the paper in her grasp, Jhera appears to be approaching some manner of ruling in her head, where she ought to proceed. Fordola doesn’t quite get where her own bravery derives from, to at last speak honestly and bluntly with her commander, but perhaps facing death head-on and glaring into its eyes have instilled a new color in her. Thus, Fordola patiently awaits the Ordinarius, until the miqo turns to her once more. “Those three we lost in there…I will not forget them.”

Fordola takes in a deep breath and exhales unhurriedly.
“Yeah. It was…rough. They deserved better.”

“They did. No soldier is expendable, Hext. No life is…worthless. To me, each of you are my proud and pivotal troops, who endure the same as everyone else – including me. Somehow, I sense that you feel as I do.”

Meeting her superior’s gaze, Fordola can’t fully judge what’s in that red ocular pool – is it laboring to assess her, or beseech her? Either way, Fordola nods a tad.
“Guess I do, yeah.”

At that, Jhera extends her hand at Fordola.
“Join me.”

“…what?”

“Become my second. Stand with me and we will do everything we can to pull every single soul through this hell that we’re able. Let’s keep Battalion Subzero alive together.”

Chapter 28: The Scions path - Part 15

Chapter Text

And so, they were five. Five people seeking an unknowing path towards a known goal, a solution that will alter the very framework of the world, but fixed at such an excruciating level that the road to it may be nearly impossible. As the quintette are still wandering together through the forests of the Black Shroud, though, there is no sense of defeat or anxiety against this enormous wall that they’ll have to clamber, only decisiveness and an urge for rebellion, for carving their spikes into it and reaching the top, come void or high water. Perhaps having a considered blueprint towards the end won’t really be beneficial anyhow, for how could a party this small actually know how to fell an empire?

For the moment, they’ve merely paused for a break on a suitable spot below the leafy canopy, one that never seems to end. Louisoix has elected to sit upon some rather thick roots while perusing a notepad of his, Kjat is counseling Lyse regarding where she should put her stuff in a bag she bartered for in a village they recently bypassed, whereas Y’shtola and Joltin are situated at a consistent corner by some rocks. Joltin has removed her coat for the time being, having only a tank top beneath which exposes her rather generous chest above a robust torso, as well as a well-trained right arm and bulky black magitek left arm. Of course, this is not viewable to the miqo’te in detail, since her lack of physical vision doesn’t permit her to see people in this fashion, but the flourish of the au ra’s aether does at least bestow her with a concept of what Joltin is up to – and what she’s doing is working out, enacting some pushups on a less grassy patch. Leastwise this is audible to her as well, per the Captain’s mild exhales below each push.

With her legs crossed, Y’shtola is not hiding the fact that she’s staring at the ship Captain, although if asked, she could potentially rationalize it by saying there isn’t much else to see that she’d have a stake in. Once the au ra finishes up with her partial workout session, she heads off to her own backpack and fetches something which engrosses the miqo even further, with particles that invade her nostrils. She endeavors but fails to codify it, though.
“Captain, what have you got there?”

Joltin blinks just as she’s about to put on her shades once more and glances at Y’shtola.
“Huh?”

“There’s a special smell in the air. It’s quite pleasant, mind you, but…I can trace it directly to you.”

“Oh um…sorry, hah. I was just applying a type o’ deo I picked up some weeks ago in Ul’dah. The fragrance was made out of uh, some foreign flower, I think they said?”

Y’shtola knowingly bobs her head, touching her own nose out of reflex.
“The Western Peaked Phlox.”

The captain is a touch taken aback by this, prior to letting out an amazed chuckle.
“Oh wow. Yeah, reckon it was that one. You got a sharp nose.”

The miqo proffers a smile in return, one that does come off as nominally proud of the compliment.
“One of my dissertations in the academy was on certain flowers used in perfumes and other olfactory sources. Plus, it is as a matter of fact one my better well-conditioned faculties.
I noticed you were exercising and didn’t feel the need to intrude, but I was in the dark that you care about your scents.”

“Heh. Well, I mean, there’re smelly things in these woods out the wazoo, and since I know some pretty ladies don’t appreciate that, I take a minute or two to rectify my own, so I don’t scare ‘em off.”

Y’shtola snorts at the response.
“Does it usually help to attract any?”

“Sometimes. Particularly when the ladies in question ask me ‘bout why I smell so good.”
The miqo avoids replying with words, confining it to merely shaking her head, but even Joltin can perceive that there’s a pleased swish to her tail and twitch by her ears.

From his end of the clearing they’ve sat themselves in, Louisoix unexpectedly pulls up his nose from the book he was browsing.
“Hmm. I haven’t fully managed to determine where we ought to wander in order to fare with our stated target. Where might the Garleans be concealing their secrets? Or at minimum, crumbs for us to deconstruct.”

Regarding him, Lyse ascends from her bag and deposits a hand at her hip.
“Could I offer a recommendation?”

“By all means, miss Hext.”

“Well, after what we all saw in the Fringes, I’d wager gil on that you guys are going big on debating the nature of the Void. If so, why don’t we go see the Thaumaturge guild in Ul’dah?”

“…the what now?”, asks a confuzzled Joltin.

Kjat is standing at the side of Lyse and lifts a hand to rub her chin in contemplation.
“Hmm. A guild dedicated to the study of black magic, not unlike miss Y’shtola’s own capabilities. I have not attended them, but you hear buzz of them everywhere.”

“Yeah, those guys”, Lyse agrees. “The way they tell it, those people pore over loads o’ stuff about the Void and comparative subjects. They’ve got some of the most talented magic-wielders in Eorzea. Plus uh, I got some business in Thanalan to attend to as well.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”, wonders Joltin.

“Not anything to sweat over, really – I know plenty of Ala Mhigan refugees have gathered in that region, as it’s not equally hostile as the waters of the west or the Black Shroud gravitates towards being. Might find recruits who wanna sign up with the new Resistance.”

“Ul’dah…”, Kjat utters pensively. Her ears retract a touch and her face stares downwards with a sheen of uncertainty. “I must go on record to express that the idea of landing in Ul’dah makes me tremble somewhat.”

“Oh? How so?”

“Will there not be Garleans within reach? I hear they’ve negotiated a treaty with the UI’dahns. This could be…troublesome for me to tackle.”

“Well…yeah, they have, but we won’t have to be everywhere in the city. Plus, I can tell ya with some assurance that those bastards won’t be tromping about on the streets. That’d scare off other Eorzeans, for sure.
To be honest, what do you even have to fear? It’s not as if any imperial bucketheads are gonna recognize ya at a glance, right?”

What garners the notice of not just Lyse, but the additional three to boot, is the pause Kjat exudes at that question, as if it puts a strain on her to ransack her brain for a decent retort.
“Well…I’m afraid I can’t begin to explain that one. I had a couple of concrete contacts in my earlier life which might have earned me a spot on the wanted list.”

“Of the Empire?”

“…yes.”

“Geez, okay. You didn’t spit on the Emperor or something in line with that, did ya?”

“No, but…I did deal with matters which would not be approved of by certain authorities.”

“I see…”

“Nonetheless, should you claim it’s safe for us to tread those streets, and the group is in agreement, I shall not contest the collective decision.”

Lyse glances at their comrades.
“Well, what’d ya say?”

Joltin shrugs and looks to be pulling her coat back on.
“I’ve been to Ul’dah. Never had any hugely hard cases there.”

Y’shtola dips her head in approval.
“I would like to speak with this Thaumaturge guild you cited, to glean what they may have to fill us in on. I say we follow your idea.”

“Any imps get in our way…” Joltin starts and then slams one of her fists into the palm of the others. “Leave ‘em to me.”

Chapter 29: The Vermin path - Part 14

Chapter Text

The recovery procedure of Battalion Subzero had fared rather well, and many of the squads have gotten back on their feet in a well-timed moment to return to the field. They’ve continued their march westward, for now letting their air support hang back and stay out of view, as they’re closing in on the coastline of western Eorzea – or Aldenard, which the ‘mainland’ of the region is known as – staring out above the Strait of Merlthor and towards the island of Vylbrand, where one may locate the regional city-state. Getting there will requiring sailing and some smart maneuvering, but they’re not quite primed to take the coastal metropolis just yet.

For the time being, the Decurions of each squad have been gathered in a secluded spot, upon a grassy field hemmed in by white-surfaced boulders, joined by several of their closest troops – including Hakuro – for a special announcement. Jhera and Fordola are positioned in the center, but are holding for their senior. And Livia does arrive in mere moments, clad further lightly in a more casual unform, and rolls her hand at Jhera.
“Go ahead, Ordinarius. Get to what you had in mind.”

Jhera bobs her head at Livia and thereon stares at her comrades.
“I’ve collected you to this location on this afternoon to award someone among you. For her courage and decisiveness, for swiftness and commitment, Fordola Hext is to be commended, as she embodies the ideals which Battalion Subzero seeks to live up to. The only route for her from this day on is upwards – it is thus that I, Jhera eza Rakkan in my power as Primus Ordinarius, am promoting her to the rank of Centurion.” She peers about at the rest of the team. “Decurions, Centurion Fordola is hereby elevated to third-in-command of Subzero, behind Tribunus Livia and myself. I expect everyone to comply with this decision and honor it to the fullest of your abilities.”

The Decurions do not waver, nor do they seem to be unhappy with the call that has been made. And why should they? Fordola stood tall with those present in the battle against Midgardsormr, being one of those who struck the fiercest and most critical of blows, establishing without question that she has what it takes to go far in this assignment. It is therefore that Fordola gets to watch as the Decurions and their squad seconds salute her in the imperial manner. The Ala Mhigan herself doesn’t quite know how to reply, but she does get filled with a perception of pride, of elation that she’s not only executing what she’d leveled herself at, but illustrating to Garleans methodically what her people are reliable for.

“I’ll do you proud, ma’am”, says Fordola. She also salutes Livia. “And prove myself to you, Tribinus Laticlavius.”

From her wing of the gathering, even Livia raises her hands and claps slightly, albeit not with much volume, and the smile she sends Fordola, regardless of whether it’s deliberate, that appearance does produce the impression of being condescending.
“It’s about time we had a Centurion. We’re nearly a comprehensive military unit then, comparable to other battalions, aside from missing some ranks. For all that, we have been running with a handicap from the very onset, and thus I applaud one and all of you for that we’ve come this far.
Now then, let’s cease this little ceremony. We have a genuine mission brief to run forward with. The real matter at hand which we are to broach appertains to our next task, which in actuality embodies our definitive goal of the operation against these nations – to destabilize and devitalize Eorzea in preparation for our full-scale invasion. To accord with this principle, we’re getting the ball rolling with Limsa Lominsa.” She points a finger outwards of the continent, letting the officers and their seconds look out towards the island off the coast. “The city-state of Limsa Lominsa, located on the isle of Vylbrand, is one mainly dedicated to the exploits of piracy, nautical trade, marine fortification and raiding their enemies. What I will give them is that they are more than qualified at their game.
Presently, their governance constitutes three ‘Admirals’ from three discrete crews – the Bloody Executioners ruled by the roegadyn Hyllfyr Faezmoensyn, the Knights of the Barracuda ruled by the miqo’te Ihrahe Rojia and the Maelstrom ruled by the roegadyn Merlwyb Bloefhiswyn.
To tamper with this region’s power stability, we shall strive to assassinate all three, in addition to their highest-ranked staff.”

Fordola blinks her eyes.
“Assassinate?”, she wonders. “I thought we were all about stealth. Wouldn’t this be a…in-your-face kinda deal?”

“Precisely, Centurion, and consequently we should keep in mind that stealth is yet paramount and these deaths will have to be misdirected. Limsa has maintained a lengthy although cautious alliance with the beast-folk of this tract, known as the Sahagin and the Kobold. Our posit in this scenario will be to make it appear as if these two groups eliminated the admirals by allying with a minor and self-seeking pirate crew, which our battalion shall disguise ourselves as. We will achieve our ends by depending on our latest intel pertaining to each of the crews.
The Bloody Executioners’ main source of income is raiding and salvaging. The conclusive strategy which has been devised is to beguile them into a seaward ambush and wielding imperial tech to craft a mist, through which we shall board their vessels.
The Knights of the Barracuda survives on protection services and proffering paid combat tutelage. To stamp the woman in charge out, we shall lure her to the cliffy landscape further up on Vylbrand after commissioning a well-paying assignment and appeal for her immediate interference in the negotiations.
Lastly, the Maelstrom are best recognized by their smuggling and trading. Their admiral is the one out of the trio who heads out the least to sea, but according to imperial spies, there is a personal angle – she has a father who went missing amid his sailing sessions some years past. Both they and I believe we might exploit this to our benefit and draw her into a trap.”

Whereas nearly everyone else is listening patiently and letting Livia express what she has gathered for her presentation, Jhera crinkles her brow at the last item and immediately goes in for it.
“I disagree, Tribunus. The way you’re depicting the state of affairs with this…Admiral Merlwyb, I find it unlikely to succeed.”

Some of the Decurions peer between the two, but they don’t look to be shocked; after all, it’s fairly common for them to butt heads. Livia illuminates a somewhat displeased face at the protest, as if she’d hoped that she wouldn’t have to hear that from Jhera today, but then crosses her arms and nods towards the miqo’te.
“I see. Well, I’m open to suggestions, Ordinarius. What would the problem be?”

“This might’ve produced a contrasting outcome should she have been a mere military sailor, but we’re speaking of a pirate who has risen to the top of her organization. Their ilk are not wont to be sentimental. She won’t buy this bait you’re laying out for her.”

“Says you, but our spies were firm with that the Admiral is still rather attached to the notion of her father being alive and has gone out to sea more than once when wind of him has been encountered. Plus, on the note that she’s a part of a society that doesn’t adhere to formality as arduously as a regular fleet, she has the possibility of heading out to investigate whenever she wishes.”

“Simply because she has looked into it before does not give us cause to trust that she’ll run straight into a snare like this, Tribunus. In my personal opinion, this final plan will fall to pieces.”

There’s a frown now exuded from Livia, but she doesn’t get extremely outraged, merely disappointed to a degree.
“Noted. Either way, the decision has been made and we are going with this,Ordinarius.”

She sounds rather decisive in her articulation of this last line, making Jhera merely shrug.
“Very well. It’s not up to me if we miss our mark, anyhow.”

Chapter 30: The Scions path - Part 16

Chapter Text

Ul’dah, the jewel of the southern deserts of Aldenard, the very image of exuberant wealth and ever-rising prosperity. Well, at least if you already had a window open towards success and fortune. Although every single one of the city states of Eorzea thrive on trade, Ul’dah is perhaps best known for its mineral resources and its attractive markets, for none of the others can match its capability to draw in traders from far and wide. This would of course include Garlean ones and to this day, Ul’dah is the solitary city state which has maintained a cordial relationship with the imperial invaders that were technically beaten back. No one would mistake this for being anything else than a pure survival instinct, and perhaps to plan for a grimmer future, should other Eorzean defenders fail to shield themselves against the eternally subjugating monster that is the Garlean Empire, but since everyone needs the coffers and the materials Ul’dah yet provides, they have not been frozen out from the companionship of the separate cities.

This is what instills one member of the traveling crew that’s looking into the Garlean’s affairs with a sense of both interest and nervousness as she peers about the streets of this city for the first time. Kjat has never had the occasion nor the potential to stay in Ul’dah during her months of habitation inside Eorzea, but beholding the finely paved streets, the soaring and sturdily crafted buildings and the mass of people heading this way and that, she does in a way admire the strength of Ul’dah and its inhabitants. By its appearance and natural offerings, it’s far more evocative of her home city of Murotsk than the coastal Limsa, the snowy Ishgard or the forest-caged Gridania.

On the other hand, one that is impacted by this view of Kjat walking about with clear hesitation worn on her sleeve and especially those lengthy ears twitching unhappily, is Lyse. She gets where the viera is coming from, having been another outsider in the past with problems to fit in, even if theirs don’t align perfectly. Besides, she…likes Kjat and doesn’t take pleasure in this lovely lady framing such an unhappy face. Eventually, she approaches and tugs at one of the tall woman’s sleeves.
“Hey, you wanna follow me?”

Reacting towards the motion at her side and hearing the friendly voice she actually knows by now, Kjat relaxes a touch and peers down at Lyse.
“To where?”

“Well, I can show ya around. You don’t have much of a clue ‘bout the insides of Ul’dah, right? I do, kinda. I’ll be your guide, if you’re up for it.”

Despite the kindness of the proposal and that Kjat doesn’t appear to be disagreeing, she does ooze an unmistakable view of incredulity.
“I…don’t know whether that’s a good idea.”

“What? Why not?”

Kjat nervously rubs her hands together.
“If people see me here…if the imperials were to, then…”

“C’mon, it’s not that bad. You can just wear a cloak, if you’re insecure.”

The viera blinks at her as if these words carried a slightly foolish tinge to them and Kjat clears her throat, gesturing up.
“But um…what about my ears? They would be tough to hide, besides under a helmet…”

Being taken aback, Lyse looks up from the pretty face and right at the fluffy appendages above, held upwards at the moment.
“Oh, right. sh*t, I’d forgotten. Hah, which is kinda dumb to do when they’re there all the time. Still, a bunch of other people on these streets cut an ‘unusual’ look, if we wanna call it that, and still don’t get harassed for it. Au ra refugees, miqo’te with their own feline ears, and occasionally we get other horned people, not to mention from non-human tribes like the amalj’aa. You shouldn’t have to worry for your own image at that point, right?”

“When you put it that way, I suppose not…”, Kjat mutters and yet she doesn’t put on the shell of security that Lyse would’ve hoped.

With an idea cropping up to ease the concern in the medical expert, Lyse approaches and offers one of her arms, nearly flexing it at Kjat.
“No need to fret, y’know. I’ll protect you, beautiful”, she says and complements it with a wink.

It's high time then that she gets the response she had pledged for, as Kjat genuinely giggles softly, a terribly precious and enchanting sound, prior to laying her hand on top of the stronger arm of the Ala Mhigan.
“I don’t believe it would be gracious of me to refuse such a chivalrous gesture. I shall be in your care, miss Hext.”

“Heh. I’ll lay myself out to guarantee you don’t go feeling unsafe, miss Sja-naris.”

Wandering across the crowded streets hand on arm, Kjat does get a slight sense of enhanced comfort and Lyse isn’t complaining, given that the tall woman does press her softer and shapely frame closer to her escort. A couple of glances are thrown in their direction here and there, but not as abundant like Kjat had feared. People in these quarters patently have their own problems to contend with and one more foreign-looking person doesn’t really dazzle them or their everyday lives. It’s conceivable that this was an effect that she had to anticipate.

“So uh, I can call you Kjat, right?”

A chuckle leaves the viera’s lips.
“That is my name, yes.”

“Okay, good. So, Kjat, what do you know of Ul’dah?”

“Hmm. Well, I have studied parts of its lore, to the point that I’ve read it is one of the foremost financial axes in Eorzea.”

“That’s right, but it’s more than just that. For example, it’s the most populous city on this continent, and not solely due to the refugees. The wealth they spew and the trade markets they offer do invite plenty of travelers and visitors, in fact. Some people have profited from this like you might imagine, but the lower classes don’t get to cash in on much of this. Ul’dah has always been ruled by a Sultan or Sultana, to my knowledge, but the real power among these streets reside with the Syndicate – the wealthiest and most powerful traders and land owners, who kinda direct the flow of merchandise and gil under the royalty’s seat.” Lyse huffs with irritation. “People always claim that Ala Mhigo had a lousy king and we absolutely did, but Ul’dah’s leadership is no better. They exploit the poor and the needy, devastate landscapes if it’s lucrative, buy up or ruin natural habitats and line their own coffers with every modicum of coin that they can find. Huge quantities of refugees came down to Thanalan in hopes of making ends meet, but look at ‘em now”, she states and issues her hand towards the corners of sideway alleys and in the shade of streets, where people are sitting in rags or practically half-naked, many undernourished, dirty or bruised up, mainly hyur. As they pass by, there’s even a few men getting dragged off by guards. “Ala Mhigans, my people, suffered after being ran over by imperial invaders which we were the first group to defend against…and our peers simply go blank at our calls for help. Some tell us that if the royal family was in the power of their old capacity they’d stand up for us, but that’s a load o’ chocobosh*t. They’ve either ignored the plight of the north from the get-go or been meaningless to act. To an Ala Mhigan’s eye, Ul’dah has ever been the government of the greedy nobles, the pitiless royals or the ruthless wealthy. Or all three.”

Kjat stays silent during Lyse little rambling, analyzing the words spoken and the situations therein.
“I see. I can’t pronounce to be well-versed in any of these claims, but I have heard the rumors, of Eorzea suffering just as any other continent. It would certainly be true from this perspective that some reigns of Eorzea are worse than sectors of the Empire.”

“Maybe, I wouldn’t know. I just doubt that it would be better with the Garleans.”

“Oh, in that, you can be wholly certain.”

Peering across the street, Lyse discerns how a couple of particularly armored patrolmen with specifically colored shoulderpads and headbands walk past, making her brow wrinkle and she nudges Kjat to the opposing side of this avenue.
“Keep your distance from those people. Brass Blades”, she says softly.

Kjat’s ears draw together a little and she lets herself be led to the side.
“Ah. Joltin has referred to her run-ins with them. Guardsmen, right?”

“More or less. Hired mercs is a better wording, though. They’re basically the lackeys of the Syndicate; thugs with badges on ‘em. They would definitely turn you over to the imps if asked to. Or if they knew that there was pay involved. They’ve had a couple of ‘encounters’ with my fists as well…”

Attending to the intensity and antipathy in Lyse’s voice at this inequity, strikes Kjat with a smile.
“Do you regularly bicker with types like them?”

“Often, yeah. I try to stay clean, but these sleazeballs keep getting in my way. Dunno ‘bout you, but I can’t look away as people wither in poverty and oppression. Authorities who assume they’re better than the people they rule…I can’t stand ‘em. Fills me with a rage that can’t be repressed. Ineedto loose it on those scumbags.”

Some of that antagonism and indignation that she currently spews is yielded once Lyse awakens to a certain notion – Kjat stroking the top of her arm. Their eyes meet and she notes the smile on the viera’s lips.
“You know…I really enjoy that rebellious spirit of yours.”

Sensing her cheeks warming, Lyse’s eyes widen moderately.
“R…really? Huh, that’s uh…a little perplexing. Cuz you seem like the calm type o’ lady yourself. Not one that gets up in arms.”

“Hmm. Yes and no, I suppose. Then again, you have to recall that I fled my birthland once I opposed the rules and commands of the Garlean potentates around my home city.”

“Oh yeah, that’s true enough. Guess ya kinda are a rebel too, just one that had to stand back for the moment.”

“That is not an inaccurate viewpoint, yes. To be fully honest, however, the main aspect of you which piques my curiosity is that your behavior makes certain people in my home come to mind, who stood with your beliefs. Those who…stuck up for the hope of freedom and independence. Well…and those that held a strong flame in their hearts as well, I suppose.”

It brings another smile to Lyse’s lips to hear that there are those who rise to the challenge of fighting the Empire beyond Eorzea, no matter if they or their predecessors lost in the past. This weirdly instills her with a distant sense of optimism too, that she doesn’t have to fear tomorrow. That said, with Kjat being so close to her, the scent of the medical expert accessing her nose and their hands practically intertwined, drives Lyse to take a modified approach.
“I remind you of people back home? Huh…only the charming and pretty ones, I hope.”

This unpredicted nudge of flirting gains the correct product from Kjat, who can’t help but giggle in surprise. Lyse is rapidly realizing that regarding Kjat’s sweet face and her cute ear wiggles when she’s happy is an aesthetic the Ala Mhigan adores.

Chapter 31: The Vermin path - Part 15

Chapter Text

The circ*mstances had seem a little too advantageous. Admiral of the Bloody Executioners, Hyllfyr Faezmoensyn, had been persuaded by a portion of his crew members to inspect a recent discovery along the northern shores of Vylbrand. A supposedly underwater path had led to some manner of cavern which was brimming with previously undiscovered valuable minerals that they could profit from, should they track down a suitable method towards mining them. Hyllfyr hadn’t been sure if he trusted the initial suggestion, especially as a result of that he himself is not a miner, nor are his crew, but if they can identify the area and lay claim to the region by the whole ‘first come, first served’ rule that Limsa is partially run by, they could get an upper hand at last which has been long in the coming. He doesn’t really fancy competing to a fault against his fellow Limsans, but after Merlwyb - the daughter of the previous Maelstrom Admiral - had taken charge of that faction, it had swiftly risen and claimed the position as the foremost crew by quite a margin. In order to stay relevant, the Executioners needed fresh materials and incomes. Since the captain he’d dispatched to shake down the underwater passage had actually returned with positive news, even if she hadn’t seen the valuables just yet, Hyllfyr was convinced he had to take a look on his own.

What he doesn’t like is exactly how ridiculously available it all seems to him still and even if his people reassures him that it’s quite real, there is this hunch lingering inside which is telling him that something is off. He’d brought three ships with him, one of them being overseen by the captain who was sent to scout the area, yet what he spots ahead of them and that they’ve now sailed into is a deep and obscuring fog. Taking them through the exterior of it, it’s practically impossible to see anything of worth with normal eyes, and his more than any. He’s getting old and his body is not at its best after a number of illnesses he’s suffered in later years.

Walking up to the bow of the ship, he finds one of his fore lookouts, a young miqo’te fellow. Being far taller and heavier than him, the roegadyn’s weighty footsteps are not overlooked as he approaches, but Hyllfyr elects to call out nonetheless.
“P’riv, got anything yet?”

The blonde man, roughly in his early twenties, lets his ears twitch and then stare over at his superior who comes up close.
“No, Admiral! Can barely see my own hand ‘afore me. It’s so godsdamned foggy I almost wondered for a sec if we’d sailed straight into a wall of foam.”

Hyllfyr furrows his brow and folds his arms.
“Mm, it is oddly thick, isn’t it? Don’t recall Captain Kirsten painting that picture to me beforehand.”

“She didn’t? Huh…wonder where this weather came from then, sir.”

“Got no idea myself, but so long as it doesn’t get in our way…” He stares upwards a tad. “Anything from the crow’s nest?”

“Uuh, I figure it’s Enasur up there right now, sir. Told me he can see a little above this cloud o’ foggy crap, but hardly jot once he tries looking down at the waters. Feel we’re somehow surrounded by this stuff, at least while we’re making for the underwater route, being that it’s located somewhere ‘round these parts.”

Hmm, surrounded. His young lookout has the right idea with that this is how it comes off to Hyllfyr too, but the Admiral hadn’t viewed it in that capacity earlier. Why does that somehow feel…wrong to him?
Facing forward five minutes, his disquiet and assumptions find themselves partially rewarded, or possibly justified may be a better point of view, as noises erupt from the surface of the waters, which passes to him for bubbling and possibly surfacing objects. Raising his head to peer across to the opposite side, he notes how some of his people initially don’t react, but this changes swiftly as whishing sounds are heard throughout the area, which is momentarily replaced by metallic clanks hitting the flank railings – hooks.

“What the…” He goes, but five seconds later, he and a couple of others are further flummoxed by a black-clad being, a miqo’te by the look of her ears and tail wearing an eye patch over one side, clambering up onto the deck and bringing down an absolutely ginormous claymore onto the first pirate who stands in her path. “By Llymlaen’s spear, where did she-…argh, never mind! Men, rustle up dammit! We’re being boarded!”

One after another, additional hooks are launched onto the railing of the ship, and based on the rattle out at sea, the same is occurring to the other two ships. Down in the waters, there are metallic, black and people-sized cylinders which unbeknownst to the pirates are troop vessels launched from an imperial submarine that’s been situated in the area.
“Secure the perimeter!”, calls Jhera, who was first up of the invaders from Battalion Subzero.

In seconds, more people have made their way up from underwater, completely inundating the minds and bodies of those who stand on top of the deck, keeping weapons in their hands which they instantly launch at the pirates with.
“Who…who in the seven hells are they?”, utters one of the sailors. “They came from-“

“I don’t f*cking care who they are!”, roars Hyllfyr to them. “Get ‘em off my ship! All of you lousy bastards, consolidate your efforts on those hooks! Cut or throw ‘em away!”

Sadly for him, the duo administrating the invasion on this vessel are Jhera and Fordola, who were the two initial arrivals, and they defend their comrades’ ascension with their lives – and if there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s holding the line. Jhera unfolds as a particularly acute foe to take down, not solely beholden to her deadly skills and her claymore able to cleave a man in one or two hits, but the dark powers she emanates and the sheer measurements of the sword has people staggering in resignation at it.
Once every imperial has gotten past the length up to the ship, it’s clear that they’re still partway outnumbered and they have to fight off quite defensively-minded pirates, but one thing they have in their bag against them is that they are tougher than these Limsans, better schooled in warfare and hold more advanced gear. Another leverage that they push is that the pirates aren’t able to originate them, since they wear nondescript outfits, and Jhera’s team aren’t about to relay their identities either.

Whilst heaving her sword left and right to procure a suitable level of range between their positions and the pirates, Jhera additionally surveys their foes to locate who their real target is. When finally tracking him down only seconds later, she makes direct eye contact with Fordola and nods her head in that direction.
“He’s yours to kill.”

Fordola optically chases the referral which Jhera hands her, and upon mentally interpreting what the Ordinarius is telling her, her own eyes widen.
“You’re…sure? Shouldn’t this one be yours?”

“No. You’ve earned it. Go.”

Without holding for a counterargument, Jhera spins, kicks and slashes another advancing pirate who was going in for a backstab at her and then strokes her hand down the width of the flat end of her claymore, making it glow with an ominous black-scarlet flame.
“Alright, people”, she calls out to her underlings, “slay every single one of these pathetic bastards! Leave not even their deckswabbers alive!”, she shouts, hoping to sound pirate-y.

Upon Fordola attempting to break through the crowd of pirates in her path, Jhera smashes into them first to give her hand and the others something to focus on. With Hyllfyr standing on a higher platform, Fordola has to rush up a set of stairs in order to reach him, but a couple of pirates are in her path before she gets to that level. Not that this becomes much of a hassle, since none of them possess the skill nor the will to trump her.
Ascending to the right level, she rushes face to face with one of the largest roegadyn’s she’s ever witnessed, a dark grey-skinned fellow with heavily receded white hair and some manner of star gem imprinted on his forehead, dressed in a red and white uniform. Having already prepared, Hyllfyr is resting a mountainous greataxe on his own shoulder, nearly enough to match his height.

“Hmph. So, one of ya did manage to trudge up here after all. Wondered if anyone would have the capacity or even the guts, to challenge me. ‘bout time that I got to wet my axe once more, I reckon.”

Fordola snorts, swirling the handle of her own axe in her fingers, prior to steeling herself.
“That your trash talk? No one’s intimidated by you, old man. And you’re about to cede that throne of yours.”

To his slight bewilderment, Fordola does genuinely not sit back or close to halt while she goes in for her offensive, and rather careens right in with a leftward horizontal slash – and to his dismay, the blow is incredibly hardy for even him to parry. Seeing as she’s immune to his menacing, he has no other choice than to accept this duel, and in seconds he is already dreading this notion, for she is his match in strength by far and he can do little to hold back the wide aggresses and pummeling that she delivers at a velocity which denotes her younger years. Hyllfyr on the other hand, despite having a terrible reputation back home, hasn’t quite been in the thick of it in years.

His present lower rung on the fighting ladder is felt more than a couple of times as Fordola’s axe hounds and hammers into his during the parries, and further than that once its edge bites into the skin of his arms or legs. One of his most fatal mistakes is trying to take a chance when he’s being pushed into the very back of the deck, and between one of her attacks, he counterassaults and then angles to deliver a kick against her – one she bumps away with her own arm, hurls herself forward and rams her shoulder into his gut. Being nearer to his position at that point, she redirects her greataxe up with one hand and carves up along his side. Although it doesn’t go deep, the damage it causes is enough to claim blood.

Hyllfyr staggers backwards and leans against one of the railings behind him to keep himself steady, glaring at her in the moment.
“Goddamn you and your youth…”, he growls. “Only reason you got the upper hand. 20 years ago, you’d be dead meat.”

Fordola in her confidence remains a couple of meters off, stretching and cracking her shoulders.
“Yeah, no sh*t – I’d be a toddler back then. That’s no fair fight.”

“You lil’ sh*t…who do you even think you are? Don’t you realize the insanity of what you’re doing? Killing an Admiral of Limsa is an act of war.”

Suddenly, Fordola hardens her eyes anew, snatching the grip of her axe in both hands.
“We’re counting on it.”

“What are you-“

“The Sahagin says hello, old man.”

“…Sahagin? You’re-…bullsh*t. Who the hell are-”

Fordola doesn’t hold for his inquiry to be fulfilled nor the answer to be delivered, and jumps him, bringing down the axe on him two final times. As his own weapon at last is dropped several seconds later, and his body fallen with a deep gash across his chest, Fordola bolts up to the front of the stern section and signals her allies.
With two out of three crews utterly obliterated and a third left only partially alive, prior to retreating, the imperials have dropped off a couple of stolen Sahagin mementos as proof of their deeds and a hope of future intensified conflicts.

Chapter 32: The Scions path - Part 17

Chapter Text

Whilst Lyse and Kjat wandered off into their own section of Ul’dah, Y’shtola and Joltin stayed in the vicinity of Louisoix, as he sought to speak to the thaumaturges of the city. That said, his apprentice and the Captain figured it wouldn’t be gracious for them to get in his way, since they didn’t hold any on-the-spot requests on their own, and chose rather to check out the remainder of the adjacent terrain. Given that Y’shtola has no supreme knowledge of what the city might entail in terms of gangs, wandering Garleans and other misdoers, Joltin construed that it would be favorable for her to stick close and help the miqo’te keeping her distance from any bad areas.

Within that equation, and as they’re strolling into an alley to stay clear of some patrolling Brass Blades, Y’shtola treads a tad nearer, lowering her voice albeit doesn’t peer directly at the au ra.
“Captain, this isn’t designed as criticism in essence, but…I will confess I’m somewhat taken with that you’ve settled on staying with us for this many weeks.”

“Huh. Anything wrong with that?”

“Not in any way. Like I said, it wasn’t aimed as criticism somehow, just…expressed positive wonder at your choices. Are you really just the simple smuggler you claim, is perhaps what I’m getting at? I realize you have your morals and your standards to cling to, but at this rate, you’ve practically joined us.”

“Heh”, goes Joltin and scratches the back of her neck upon deliberating on a proper response. “Well…I may have a personal stake in this, yeah. Dunno if I’ve referred to it earlier, but the imps…took everything from me. Family, homeland, almost my life and more. If you’re like me, it’s hard to look past that and be on track with my life. You two coming here and asking for a ride with me, it sounded kinda like…a ticket to something bigger.”

Y’shtola cannot prevent herself from smiling.
“Fair enough.”

“And also, they hunt those with ‘the Echo’, right? I wouldn’t like to stomp into one of their traps and maybe working with you guys can fend that off.”

“That is feasible to postulate, I believe.
I remember that you broached your coming to Eorzea transitively and that you were fairly young, but what is your relation to miss Kjat? Could it be…mutual understanding? Being that she is not native either.”

“Oh uh, yeah, more or less. We both fled imperial occupations before landing in Eorzea, even if it wasn’t on the same level. I was of course already lodging in this continent when Kjat swooped in and asked around for help. She said that she was looking to avoid imperial detection and I was the sole person who took the job, despite the danger. After that, we kinda became each other’s contact – I’m pro at infiltration and fighting, while she’s a medical expert and a scholar. Plus uh…well, had a short fling as well, heh. We have slept together, she and I.”

A mere chuckle exits the miqo’s mouth.
“I had presupposed that was the case.”

“We’re not together, though, or anything. It was only for a couple of weeks when she first got here.”

“I…will agree that I grasp her point of view. You are an exceedingly pleasant person to spend time with, Captain.”

Blinking her eyes at such sudden words of approval, Joltin can’t help but laugh in a mildly overwhelmed fashion.
“Hah, well…thanks. Glad to hear you say that.”

Y’shtola diverts to face Joltin fully then, but it requires five seconds or so for her to speak her mind in this instance.
“I was wondering, Captain…”

“Yeah?”

“Might I…’look’ at you?”

“Look at me?”

“Yes, erm…with my hands”, she says and gestures with her fingers. “With my eyes, as you know, I cannot distinguish more than what your aether emits. You are nothing but abstract points of illumination to them. For me to view you closer to what you might call ‘seeing’, I would have to do it with my hands. It came off as…improper to begin with in our dealings, but being that we’ve gone through weeks together, I feel more comfortable asking.”

Joltin snickers at this. And the thought of a lady seeking to touch her, is that ever a bad thing?
“Never had a request like that, tell you what. If it’s what you’re itching for, though, yeah, I don’t mind.” She motions with one of her hands. “C’mon, I’ll find us a suitable spot.”

Y’shtola pursues the au ra to an angle somewhere along a wall without any abundance of people, albeit the miqo can’t discern what’s special with it.
“Was there…anything specific you liked with this corner?”

“Oh yeah, you can’t see it. There’s a bench here. Just trust me.” Without forewarning, she then grabs Y’shtola’s hand and pulls her nearer. Upon half-stumbling forth, the Sharlayan gasps and her ears perk in shock as she falters straight onto a cushier seat – namely, Joltin’s lap. “There we go. That oughta be soft and smooth for you to reach without issue, right?”

Clearing her throat, Y’shtola gains trouble in ensconcing how her tail twitches and her lips slide into a bashful smile.
“You…might’ve warned me first.”

Joltin grins.
“And miss out on that cute yelp of yers? No way.”

Snorting, Y’shtola does not attempt to remark on Joltin’s forwardness, but neither does she disapprove. Heightening her hands, her fingers begin roaming various sections of Joltin’s upper regions, mainly the neck and facial zones, but also carefully strokes her hair and horns.
“You do have…some scars up here too, I believe.”

“Oh, yeah, hah. Ya know, they’re…old battle leftovers.”

“You must’ve had more than a few.”

“Since I was a kid, pretty much. Life in Othard wasn’t the best in all scenarios, what with the Empire being in every godsdamned corner.”

“Mm, I can imagine. Your horns are sturdier than I anticipated as well. I hadn’t thought that they would be what you possess instead of ears. You hear through them?”

“Yep. Dunno how it works. A friend informed me once what the exclusive part of those is from most other races’ ears, but I didn’t get much. Seems kinda lousy to have soft, hairless and exposed ears like hyur or roegadyn, but that might just be me.”

“Everything is abnormal to someone who does not feature the parts that they themselves showcase. In any event, these rougher portions above your chin and neck, they are…scales, correct?”

“Mhm.”

“I had perceived your kind was endowed with those, but I’ve never had the chance to view them directly. Your own feels to me as shaped like a beard.”

Joltin abruptly breaks into a hearty laughter.
“You’re not the first to say that, funny enough."

“This was not criticism, mind. I suspect they are quite beautiful.”

“Girls do kinda like ‘em, won’t lie.”

“Mm. In general, I…enjoy what I see. You are an intriguing woman, Captain.”

Holding her hands around Y’shtola waist as she has from the start, Joltin squeezes it teasingly.
“Hey, that makes two of us. My view is pretty darn sweet as well.”

The scholar chuckles and shakes her head.
“Charmer.”

“That’s coming from you? Look who’s got her hands all over me.”

“A request you acceded to, I will remind you.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t ask first, hot stuff.”

With the two of them giggling and entertaining themselves with one another, and as a heartwarming moment approaches, with Y’shtola’s blank-colored gaze situated right into Joltin’s, sensing the Captain’s hands hugging her hips, her own ears flicking delightfully and the warmth of Joltin’s lap…they are soon interrupted by a cough behind them. Throwing her head around, Y’shtola quickly discerns the nature of the aether before her.
“…master.”

“Oh uh…hey there, mister Leveilleur”, goes Joltin hesitantly. “Your apprentice was uh…”

“Eh…we were just…”

“…of course”, goes Louisoix, hoping to ignore what they were doing, as Y’shtola gets on her feet and makes to dust off her coat. “I have received a modicum of data which was…thought-provoking to know the progress they have made in these lands, but to a Sharlayan researcher it was common knowledge. However, out in the east of Thanalan, there apparently lives a clan of ‘black mages', people who studied the art of black magic further – not unlike what you and your teacher are capable of, Shtola – which reputedly did involve education within the field of the Void.”

“Hmm. How so? That was not the sorceress path which I walked.”

“Indeed, but these black mages fancied that it was of utility for their own strength to burgeon into heights unknown, or so the story goes. Either way, they were banished from Ul’dah in old days gone by, and anyone who seeks to shadow their trail is generally solicited to leave the thaumaturge guild out of caution. I believe it would be wise for us to discuss with them of what they maintain of the practice of Void-summoning in Eorzea.”

Chapter 33: The Vermin path - Part 16

Chapter Text

An uneasy air has swept in around the region around Limsa Lominsa as of late. Even if the specifics of it has not spread about to every corner, there are already substantial reports which speak of that Admiral Hyllfyr of the Bloody Executioners may have perished in an attack out at sea and the culprits are currently discussed to possibly have been the sahagin, one of Limsa’s ‘beast tribe’ neighbors that they’ve had fairly amicable relations with, though the marine populace would say it has turned tense every now and then. That they would go so far as to target one of Limsa’s leaders does seem rather farfetched and asinine, unless their goal is to start a war. And if that should be their designs, what would that mean for the west coast? Will this be what plunges them into chaos unheard-of?

A woman who can’t judge whether that is the case is Ihrahe Rojia, Admiral of the Knights of the Barracuda, one of the major organizations within Limsa’s power structure and the wing which people might say includes the majority of the infantry of the city. Ihrahe herself is second oldest of the three Admirals in charge, being a miqo’te in her mid-40s, from the ethnicity others call the ‘Keepers of the Moon’. Outwardly, those who view her see a fairly well-trained woman, her short hair red and her skin a light brown, with heterochromatic eyes where the right is yellow and the left blue. Should one study her facial features, they might come upon minor signs of age already, wrinkles that line elements of her cheeks.

Admiral Ihrahe has arrived in an area of slight wilderness on the mainland today, a region right next to Vylbrand, where she and two platoons are to meet a contact who has pronounced they wish to hire the Knights of the Barracuda for a special and major mission. This is not extraordinary in and of itself, for the Knights often get brought in by external factors and have worked with individuals and guilds from everything between Ishgard and Gridania, as well as some beyond. They could be deemed by others as mercenaries, notwithstanding that Ihrahe would protest that merely a couple of blocs from the Knights engage in such activities, while they also include a standing protective force inside Limsa as well – the Yellowjackets. She and the Knights are loyal first and foremost to their home, after all.

Once the Admiral and her squadrons step off the ship they took to the coast, they head further into an area surrounded by large boulders in the vicinity of some cliffs, a space that is fairly open within, but blocks much of the view from the outside. It is here that Ihrahe comes upon a sight that she hadn’t fully envisioned when they received the request – a contingency of kobolds, another one of the beast tribe neighbors that Limsa enjoys, the mole or rat-like creatures possessing whiskers, clawed hands, tails and lengthy ears, their flat faces and red eyes traditionally cloaked by helmets.

A portion of Ihrahe’s troops peer at those who supposedly came to employ them for a heavy bit of coin and then glances at their leader.
“Kobolds? They wanted to get ahold of the Knights?”

“Wow, that’s pretty weird. They got this much gil right now?”, asks a second.

“Why wouldn’t they just have come directly to Limsa, then? What’s with this secrecy?”, goes a third.

All valid questions in Ihrahe’s mind, but nevertheless, she elects to approach, her brow furrowed and she innately places a hand over the hilt of the sword at her belt, detecting the weight of the shield against her back.
“Greetings. I’m Admiral Ihrahe of the Knights of the Barracuda. We received an urgent request which featured quite a bit of gil in promise. Would that be…from you?”

The kobolds who stand there, three of them in total right now, glance among themselves and look to be halting for a spell.
“E…eh…y-yes! We…we wished to hire your services, yes – pay, enlist, hire! I’m Zi-Gu and…am most pleased to meet the great A-Admiral of the Barracuda! Would you be…able to discuss this matter with us?”

The Knights extend their journey up to where the kobolds are standing, and Ihrahe delegates the debating of the components of an agreement to one of her seconds. However, this is not an affair that gets prolonged for a very lengthy period, for the Admiral senses quite soon that something is amiss – the kobolds look and sound too…afraid. It can’t be that they’re this overly nervous of being in the Knights’ presence, are they? Furthermore, the little creatures come off as if they’re constantly peering sideways or behind them, as if anticipating an express reaction somewhere…or are given orders.

Out of nowhere, then, as the negotiations have gotten underway, Ihrahe pulls out her sword from its scabbard – a brilliant steel blade with silver ornaments and sapphires at the hilt – as well as her shield and glares forward at the area behind the kobolds.
“A…admiral?”, asks one of her seconds.

“Did you assume I would be so easily deceived?”, she asks out in the open.

The kobolds twitch and shiver at her sudden question.
“A…Admiral Ihrahe, did we…offend you – insult, humiliate, anger? We didn’t mean-“

“Quiet! I wasn’t speaking to you people. I’m directly addressing the ones who command your chains – whoever you are, you should be made aware that I was tutored by paladins of Ul’dah in my youth. Your schemes will not go unnoticed for one who has viewed and experienced the vileness which rests in the hearts of men!”

Heightening her blade and imbuing it with a set tinge of aether, the surface of it unexpectedly lights up and bright rays are launched everywhere, blinding some of them for a second as they peer at it, but to Ihrahe, they are merely like the guiding warmth of the moon. Through them, Ihrahe gains knowledge of what occurs, by distinguishing shadowy shapes camouflaged behind bushes, boulders and cliff walls. She knew it, that they weren’t alone.

“And there you are. Show yourselves, or we’ll have to run you down personally!”

Upon being spotted and outed, at least two dozen people leap out from areas both in front of and by the flanks of the Knights, people clad in a mishmash of black and grey gear, unmarked and nameless. Beholden to that the Knights initially balk at this, flabbergasted that almost as many as their own numbers in this area would’ve sat waiting for them, the foreign team takes the initiative and belts into their intended foes. Among them is a highlander – which just so happens to be Fordola – who leaps straight at the Admiral, her mighty and overwhelming greataxe roaring for the miqo’te’s blood, slamming sternly into the exterior of the shield.

However, in this situation, Fordola’s devastating might is not sufficient to immediately overrun her foe like she did with the last leader. Ihrahe is neither as old as Hyllfyr, nor does she lack complex battle shrewdness of her own.
“Bold of you to attack me head-on, youngster”, the Admiral tells the other woman with gritted teeth, “but it’s asking for too much trouble.”

“Heh, that’s what they all say, y’know”, Fordola responds, “and yet they all fall in the end.”

“Is that so?”

Without a moment’s notice, the front of Ihrahe’s shield gets imprinted with another ounce of flashing aether, aimed right at Fordola’s eyes which disorients the highlander. Following this up, the Admiral stomps the ground and unleashes a flurry of blue beams that crash down from above them and the touch of them burns into Fordola’s skin, who has to no choice but to retreat out of sheer instinct. Taking that opportunity of the highlander being weakened, Ihrahe shoots forth like an arrow and slashes first across one arm to make her foe drop her weapon, then along one leg, before collecting more energy over the surface of her blade to prepare one final goring attack which will leave her shattered on the ground.

Before she can think to hurt Fordola in this most unbearable of ways, there comes another unit into the fray who halts the Admiral. Without being able to glean why, she senses a tingling atop her skin, her tail erecting and its hairs standing on end, and in her mind a roar seems to erupt. Looking to her left side, for only an instant, Ihrahe believes she’s confronted with an enraged specter, a ghostly fiend who intends to consume her whole and shatter her being for the simple offense of having attacked this highlander in front of her. What slams into her is a massive claymore that flares with dark energy of which she’s never beheld, and careens her away from Fordola.

“Jhera, you didn’t…”, groans Fordola and sinks to one knee to help herself in recuperating.

“Take a step back”, Jhera orders her, but maintains her single infuriated scarlet eye upon the Admiral. “I will see to her.”

Ihrahe flares her nostrils and rotates the blade in her hand to get herself into the same mindset as previously.
“Another young, chest-thumping fool who believes they can off me so easily? Hmph. I feel you people really underestimate what the rulers of Limsa have in us.”

With her expression barely changing, this stiff albeit deadly glare at the Admiral, Jhera raises her monstrous sword to point it at the other woman, speaking with a lightly accented voice.
I was once a knight like you.” Without ceremony, the blade’s black flames erupt once again, but in lieu of the heat one should feel from such entities, Ihrahe gets only the hint of a heart-clasping cold. “Let’s see whose faith trumps the other.”

Not delaying for a recoil from the Admiral, Jhera draws her sword overhead, shoots forward and barrels her weapon headlong into Ihrahe, twisting her into retreating due to the sheer pressure of not being able to hold wholly against it. Ihrahe continues to backtrack until the two of them enter a separate section of this region altogether, where their own crews are out of view.
What Jhera doesn’t initially realize is that this was part of Ihrahe’s strategy, so that she can avoid letting her attacker or the Admiral herself wound any of her own people. The Admiral shows to be no pushover and after Jhera’s blade hunts her, Ihrahe dodges out of its way, spins about the other miqo and tries to release a counterattack in one of Jhera’s blind spots, making her evade and retreat on her own. For the next minute, this is how it continues and Jhera becomes increasingly aware that Ihrahe is not a normal opponent, that her defenses are hardy enough to hold up against her foe, whilst simultaneously commanding the expertise from many years of how to shrewdly release that power back at her.

Finding that she is the one to get knocked back from time to time, even getting her cheek or arms receiving flesh wounds, Jhera assesses that this competition has gone awry and she has to dig deeper in order to steer it back in her favor.
Rushing off and out of Ihrahe’s way, Jhera slams the tip of her claymore into the ground, clutching the hilt with both hands and explores the inner depths of her psyche, calling for the beast within, where she knows that the requisite darkness obscures itself in the abyss. The Admiral conceives of this as her gap to exploit and jumps right for her…only to watch as a surge of black-scarlet energy proliferates over Jhera’s outer, from her skin to her blade and even forming a faint aura about her, and within two seconds, Ihrahe is hit by an absolutely fetid shockwave, which physically shoves her back. Opening her eye, the black-haired miqo’s sclera is presently burning in blood red and the wind that circles them both appears to howl in an eerily inhuman way.

Hurling her blade over her shoulder with one arm, Jhera charges straight into Ihrahe anew and follows this with a feast of deadly attacks, each one being worse than the next. Her strength appears to have doubled or maybe tripled, every stray blow which doesn’t hit immediately on cutting the scenery around them apart – including felling a minor tree that was to Ihrahe’s side – while simultaneously the cold flames that lick the surface of the sword occasionally caress the Admiral and cause her skin to sting. The longer this progresses, the further Ihrahe is beginning to wonder whether her shield will break from the pressure. What she does not wholly behold is how this storming of onslaughts does not merely bludgeon her, but harmfully impacts Jhera as well.

Ultimately, Ihrahe is the one to indulge in a mistake first, and unwittingly it’ll be the final one she can perform. Having observed Jhera’s pounces carefully, she believes there is a pattern to them and that if she acts with haste, she can capitalize on them. This is the sentiment she runs with when she finally elects not solely to block one of Jhera’s blows, but angle her shield so that it slides off her, giving Ihrahe latitude to bolt forth and end up next to Jhera’s susceptible left flank. What she hadn’t figured was that Jhera had stayed ahead of this and with the Admiral in her range, Jhera emits a succinct cascade which does little else than hit her senses, like a foul odor which invades Ihrahe’s nostrils and staggers her movements for a single second. It is in that heartbeat where Jhera lets go of the hilt with her left hand and gathering aether in her fingers, she loosens a black-red bolt plumb into the Admiral’s chest, now physically bowling her backwards. Her arms involuntarily to her sides and body bent negligibly away, Ihrahe can do little beyond glimpsing with half-lidded eyes as Jhera resecures her fingers above her sword, spins once and delivers a devastating slash down the Admiral’s torso.

Falling to one knee, shield having tumbled three meters away from her, Ihrahe gasps for dear life as blood flows down from under her light armor, staining the soil underneath her scarlet, her ears tilted rearward and her two-colored vision not able to fully stay up to see Jhera gradually and confidently approaching her.
“I…I refuse to believe you’re a pirate”, she tells the younger woman in a partially panting voice, “nor even a Twelve-damned Eorzean. Who…in all the hells are you?”

Jhera doesn’t relay it to the Admiral, but from within l, since the darkness yet swirls across her, she experiences some ordeals of her own to stay standing, but so long as she keeps her heart beating hell-for-leather and the adrenaline high, she knows she can fight until death takes her.
“Someone with convictions that differ from yours.”

“We…we are both Keepers of the Moon, though! Should your culture not jibe with mine? The same moon shine on you? Yet the darkness I see swirling around you…”

Jhera closes her eye for a second and emits a despondent flash of air from her nose.
“…you know little about where I am from. Dox Fengar…no longer looks at me favorably.” Dox Fengar, wonders Ihrahe. Could that be the name of Menphina, a goddess of the moon, in whatever place this woman hails out of?
Reopening her vision, Jhera navigates it at the struggling leader below her and aims the tip of her sword towards Ihrahe’s face.
“I will admit, you are good at what you do, Admiral. My orders are to take you down and remove you from the equation, but I feel there may be a change of heart when they realize what an asset you may be. Eorzea is doomed, destined to fall in due course. Fret not, for I will spare you and your men should you surrender. Join us, and I’ll personally ensure that your home stays intact and prospers when this is over.”

Doomed? The entirety of Eorzea? And what would it fall to, exactly? What could she-…
Ah, of course. Now Ihrahe sees what this is regarding, the banner which Jhera fights under and why she pronounces such doom and gloom.
“Heh, I get it now.” She spits out a splotch of blood and looks up at Jhera. “You work for the Garleans, don’t you? Should’ve figured that they wouldn’t sit idle forever. They tried once and came up short against us, but those bogeymen of the north will never give up until they can have everything.” Climbing to her feet slowly and shakily, grasping one hand over her bleeding gut, Ihrahe manages to gather sufficient vitality to hold up her sword trained back at Jhera. “You’ve already given up, whoever you are. You think there’s no other way, right? That being swept into the Empire is how you survive, how you continue forward and have a chance to see the future, no matter how bleak. Is that how you’d like it, though? Is it really life if you have to perceive their boots constantly being pressed down onto your throat, giving you a mere sliver of air? I was tutored by a paladin of Thanalan, one of the most stalwart men who’s ever lived on this world, and he taught me a valuable lesson in this existence – you either die fighting for what you believe, or you die bowing to those who crush what you once stood for.”

For what she believes…
Jhera halts, her eye widening and her mouth being left partway open, as what the Admiral is telling her she somehow recognizes. Could it be that the two of them were somehow…affiliated? That can’t be. What she was once told…it should have nothing to do with Ihrahe whatsoever. And still, expressions once spoken by another person of faith, who Jhera venerated above any other, rings inside her skull.
“Sooner or later, we all have to make a choice, Era’si – struggle for something that’s worth dying for…or let your heart waste away into nothing.”

Being taken by this obsolete memory, Jhera shoves one of her hands above her eye patch and clutches her skull while gritting her teeth. The magic she’s summoned, it makes these pained recollections only more severe, more tormenting than she could possibly imagine. She practically staggers, which confuses the Admiral and she wonders whether it’s worth acting on. In only seconds, Jhera gathers herself once again and grits her fingers with a rising ire.
“No…I won’t hear it. You may say whatever you wish…but I’ll not be deceived.You are not her.”

“…what? I’m not-“

Not answering the blatant inquiries which grows on the Admiral’s face, Jhera spins her claymore once again into a perfect angle, and in a couple of seconds, spears Ihrahe on the tip of its deadly edge.

Chapter 34: The Scions path - Part 18

Chapter Text

The time for the team to disassociate themselves for a spell had come, since for a short while, they hold nonidentical goals. While the pair of teams stuck to Thanalan, Y’shtola, Joltin and Louisoix sought to make inquiries into the matter of the Void which they had run into in Gyr Abania, but Lyse especially did not have that topic foremost on her mind. Instead, she prized the possibility of reviving the once so fervent Ala Mhigan resistance, which she does represent here and now, but that hasn't carried much weight in Eorzea for years. In order to give them a proper restart, she has to find support and bodies that pine to stand behind the cause, and hence, she figured it might be worth visiting a minor outpost in southern Thanalan, albeit east of Ul’dah, distinguished as ‘Little Ala Mhigo’. Naturally, Kjat figured that the fistfighter might not be able enough to administrate this tough nut on her own and invited herself to assist Lyse in the suasion endeavor.

Little Ala Mhigo is a curious destination. Located in the hollowed out dents of rock formations, encompassed by gigantic stone pillars, it is not quite a cave even if the interior might make one esteem that this is the case. Inside, tents, wooden structures, benches, and simplistic iron gates have been set up, acting as an amalgamation of a settlement and a military outpost. Although it would be tough to home in on the latter specification per se, since they aren’t exactly equipped as an army would be, nor are most trained to that level. Those within are mainly hyur, Ala Mhigans of contrasting origins, hopes and opinions, despite that they currently possess scarce means, whether in wealth or in actual supplies. There are few ways here to grow their own food, craft their own wares nor distribute myriad things to other encampments, but somehow, they are making do.

Upon the duo being let inside after Lyse identified herself to the guards, Kjat peers about succinctly ahead of spotlighting her companion.
“Have you went to these grounds prior?”

Lyse’s eyes are set on the snaking roads ahead, arms hanging by her sides, intermittently nodding her head upon denizens who pass them by.
“I have, yeah. Most of these folks either got into conflict with the insular protectors of the Black Shroud or couldn’t adjust to the demands of Ul’dah, and therefore had to make their home elsewhere. This region is inhabited by a non-human people, the Amalj’aa, who don’t much mind a minor outpost like this one and since the Ul’dahns don’t lay claim to it, it was free to settle at least temporarily.”

“I see. Intriguing indeed. And why are we here to begin with? I recognize these are your people as well, but surely you have to hold some manner of goal.”

Wrinkling her brow with a boosted exterior of resolution, Lyse nods.
“I do. I wanna find people who’re ready to stand up for Ala Mhigo again, those with an awakened spirit who’re keen to join the Resistance. We have to bring it back in full force, and while our liberation can’t be achieved alone, we have to prove to our plausible future allies that we have numbers to show and distribute. Through that, it follows that we need verifiedmembersof the Resistance.”

This really is not a simple piece of flaring emotions. Kjat can feel the gravity of Lyse’s words and that she’s dead serious. She will rebuild her father’s legacy and intends to reclaim her homeland from the invaders, come hell or high water. From Kjat’s perspective as an outlander, it brings her images of some people back home who never capitulated, who held that flame of dissent alive. Perhaps there could live an equivalent hope for Murotsk. Kjat’s face lights up as she peers at Lyse.
“A noble goal, miss Hext. I will do my utmost to lighten your burden in this endeavor.”

Lyse equals this happier outlook with one of her own, gently touching Kjat’s arm.
“Thanks, I appreciate it. ‘specially since we got our work cut out for us…”

“Where should we start?”

“Well, like I said, lotta these people just didn’t fit in elsewhere, not just cuz they didn’t feel safe or comfortable, but also since they don’t fully agree with, say, Ul’dah’s pact with the Garleans. They aren’t a unified or centered group like the Resistance, but my hope is that theymight beat some point. And yeah, I’ve passed by earlier, but I wanna scout out the current scene a bit and see if we might awaken them to my ideal.”

“Certainly. Might I suggest we voyage together? I do not surmise that they will be hostile to me, but neither that they shall be wholly…forthright with an outsider like myself.”

“Oh, sure! Yeah, don’t worry, ya can stick by my arm, cutie.”

And so, for the upcoming hour or so, the two of them ask around, making a preliminary inspection of the size of things and encounter some fairly intriguing prospects. The inquiries given pertain to the denizens’ sensibilities of Ala Mhigo, their freedom, the Garleans, and the promise of fighting back. Although it’s clear that every one of the people dwelling inside these walls love their homeland and would relish the chance to reclaim it, it grows similarly blatant that not a heap of them are keyed up on making a stand, and what few individuals conversely might debate it, generally espouse that they’ll only make a move should their leader wish it, a man by the name of Gundobald.

Wandering off from the tenants for another stretch, Kjat folds her arms below her chest and glimpses at Lyse.
“Are you familiar with this ‘Gundobald’?”

“Mm, I am. Big fella, old too. Got a pretty mighty moustache last I saw the guy. He used to be a member of the batch who struggled against the Garleans when they originally invaded, even fought against Theodoric, but that was long ago. Carrying forward, he fled with others once it was plain that they were losing. Consequently, they headed to the Black Shroud, then to Ul’dah and lastly founded this site with those who couldn’t get accepted in either station.”

“Do you trust he will listen if you speak to him?”

“Tell you the truth, I…don’t got an idea of what we’d be getting into with him. He’s a collected and sincere man, and he hates the Garleans, but not to the stage where he’d sacrifice lives to bring ‘em down. Right now…I’m lost on whether he’s altered his perspective.”

Guiding her to the western section of the site, they meet the man that Lyse alluded to and just as she described, he is rather large in terms of stature, a very heightened medium brown-skinned hyur with outstretched white hair and a bulky but finely tuned moustache above his mouth. Below his aged dark gaze sits a pair of tattoos like hooks and he wears a rather sturdy coat about himself. He’s standing and conversing with a few younger men and women, and Lyse lets them hold for the company to exit before she speaks up.

“Still in the center of things, I see”, she relays with a faint dimpling of her cheeks.

This makes the elderly man wheel to survey her, and his own visage lights up as he spots who has come to visit.
“Hah! And look who comes waltzing right in, huh? Don’t imagine anyone had the guts to rein in a Hext when she wants a word with ya”, he quips.

Lyse grins at him.
“Well, what can I say? Someone has to keep that fire of opposition alive, right?”

He chuckles and the two of them move close to shake hands and share a hug.
“And what’ve you been up to then, kid? It’s been several years since we spoke most recently. Sounded like you were off on some gig in the east at that point.”

“Oh, this and that. Some of ‘em prosperous, while others…well, they were enlightening anyway. And I’ve had great use for the co*cktail of experiences that my voyages have presented to me.”

“I see, I see. Well, that’s good to hear. So, what has brought you to this Lil’ Mhigo of ours, then? Don’t reckon you’re gonna tell me that you wish to stay in here, right?” She glances at the woman by Lyse’s side, who to his curiosity stands even taller than him. “Unless your towering friend had something for us.”

With a sobering look to herself, a shrug of her shoulders and a fleeting exhale, Lyse delves into the matter at hand.
“She’s not with me to speak specifically of that, no…but rather to back me up as I had a topic I’d figured you wanna hear about. Or I hope so, anyway.
Gundobald, I…have made a choice, one that’s been long in the making, but it had to be thought through quite extensively, I feel you’ll agree. I wish to lead the resurgent Ala Mhigan Resistance, and I’ve already got a few members who work with me, plus a team who’s willing to ally with us in battling the Garleans – Kjat is one representative of them. Let me tell you what they’ve said to me already.”

Summarizing some of their short journey up until now, which took them into Gyr Abania, Gundobald stays silent amid the whole phase, merely rubbing a hand through his moustache from time to time. After it’s all said and done, he peers down at the ground for half a minute, purportedly endeavoring to fabricate some manner of reaction that would be suitable for their needs.
“Well…”, he mutters at last. “I’m impressed that you’ve gone to this effort, and happy that a new generation of Hext stands up for Ala Mhigo. Your father would be proud, Lyse. But what does that have to do with an old man like me?”

“I think you realize what it is I’m asking of you, Gundobald – I haven’t made requests of you concerning this idea in the past, but right now, I am asking whether you’d be up for joining the Resistance. We need you and we need Little Ala Mhigo’s proud men and women, if we are to make a dent in the future of our home.”

Asymmetrically from her, the old man doesn’t portray any heavy ounces of resolve at this moment. Instead, he looks perturbed and a bit fatigued.
“Lyse…I get where you’re coming from and why you’d dig this up right now, trust me I do, but…where we are with this, I seriously wonder if making a move will be worth it. More likely, it’ll only get our people to sacrifice themselves for nothing. You may figure that this is the right call, but I fear it’s more for the fiery youth. You haven’t seen everything we’ve got to lose, since you weren’t there. You weren’t present for the catastrophes of yesteryear. I’m not a rebel anymore, and I’d question what this’d feed us with besides carnage.”

Lyse doesn’t respond to his incredulity with hostility, but still a morsel of dissatisfaction.
“Don’t you hanker after regaining Mhigo, though?”

“I do. Seriously, given that you’ve not been there since your girlhood, I can tell ya I miss the streets, the markets, to walk the salt fields outside of it, to watch the annual sport events held among the laborers…” He expires drearily. “…it’s nearly all I think of, some days. Sadly, we’re not in a position to accomplish that.”

“I know we’re not. Notyet, but we gotta start somewhere. And my ambition isn’t to skirmish with those bastards all-out, but gradually build our forces, supplies and outposts, until we stand a chance. The Resistance needs everything of this, on top of central figures to supervise the operations. And I wholeheartedly buy that you’d be a great one for that, Gundobald.”

“You may see it that way, but we’re not one in this, Lyse. I’ve half a mind to suggest we have different outlooks on what’s feasible, and I can’t envision a scenario where we can match what you’re hoping.”

“But if we don’t stagesomething, the occupiers of our land will never lose faith and only strengthen their positions. Ala Mhigo will be a pipe dream should we just sit on our asses.”

“Perhaps, but if not even the whole of Eorzea may pull together to withstand the Empire, as they weren’t ready to do fifteen years ago, how shall our people manage it?”

While it is the two of them that have been trading words on this theme without interruption thus far, Kjat abruptly takes a step ahead and interjects her own takeaways.
“Then Eorzea must be made to see.” Her utterance shakes the foundations of the pair, with Gundobald blinking his eyes and Lyse staring with her mouth mildly ajar. The viera personally keeps her arms crossed and eyes nailed at the older gentleman. “I’m not a native of Eorzea, mister Gundobald, but hail from occupied lands on Ilsabard. I grew up amidst the Empire, as one of the subdued denizens and lived at the behest of the Garleans. I saw how it was and the repercussions of failing to repel an insurmountable enemy state. That Eorzea stood against the inaugural onslaught at all was a miracle, but it cannot abide eternally. You can’t rely on remaining freestanding citizens if you do not stem their tide by standing firm. And what Eorzea will be screaming for is not solely youngsters willing and able to oppose imperial will with their lives, but the wise and the aged with knowledge and perception of their heyday. The Resistance will be calling for your skill, mister Gundobald, as a great tactical leader. Should you wish to stand outside and watch your wondrous lands once more, do not foreswear this opportunity.”

Lyse stares at Kjat pending this entire diatribe and the Ala mhigan finds herself wholly absorbed by it. Kjat enunciates with such passion, such vigor that the Lyse hadn’t foreseen. She speaks with the convictions of someone who has both tasted what it is that the Garleans commits and one who detests it. Lyse hadn’t suspended her disbelief enough to predict that a woman might spawn who could rest on a coequal level of her own, one that might not simply register what it is that she’s lived through, but also synchronize with that it’s not acceptable. Is there a door open here for that she’s excavated a twin soul?

Gundobald is polite enough not to interrupt nor to gainsay her in half a heartbeat, but his assurance is still not at the forefront.
“I…acknowledge that your rationale has merits, miss Kjat, but you may be young enough to hold them. For those of us of generations unalike yours, it’s not that handy to claim.”

Kjat smiles at him then and co*cks her head mirthfully sideways.
“Mister Gundobald, I’m of the viera people. Our lifespans outmatch yours by a rate of three to one. I’m over sixty years old.”

Not purely Gundobald, but Lyse is taken aback by this as well, twitching astoundingly.
“Whoa! Seriously?”, asks the other blonde.

Kjat winks a light blue eye at her comrade.
“Finding yourself intimidated by an experienced woman, miss Hext?”

“Uh, ‘intimidated’ isn’t the word I’d use”, goes Lyse with a reticent but spirited smile.

“Hah. Well, my mother would likely announce that I am nothing but a brat with a pompous mindset…” She resumes her conversation with the older man. “In any case, you may trust me, mister Gundobald, that no good will come from occupation, besides loss of identity, loss of prosperity for natives and a slow acceptance of your ‘inferior’ nature. Nothing short of a fighting spirit can even remotely hold back this dreadful inevitability and that Eorzea resolves to fight back may give you a pass to act with. Do not squander it.”

Chapter 35: The Vermin path - Part 17

Chapter Text

The day had come upon them, for the ultimate and most crucial of strikes against the leadership of Limsa Lominsa. Having swapped positions twice already, the members of Battalion Subzero had no issues trudging along the coast of Vylbrand once more to relocate themselves to a third, to find a compatible slot for the countdown to the siege that shall finish it all. It’s here that they will deal the first devastating blow to Eorzea’s political construction and send it onto a path of ruination, of eventual and foredoomed downfall. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind right now that they will take this home and simply travel onwards to handle the next part of their tour of this continent’s future conquest. Or perhaps…there could be one.

Standing in front of her motley officers and squad leaders, Tribinus Livia is delivering the guidance to the strategy that they intend to employ towards their foe.
“Distinctive from our initial two assaults, we shall split this one into three angles, and each of them shall be executed in the vicinity of a cove, some kilometers northeast of Limsa. Once Admiral Merlwyb’s ship makes it closer to us, we will have vessels further out at sea that pursue her and launch cannon strikes from behind. Simultaneously, we will mimic our earlier assault on Admiral Hyllfyr, by going in from underwater to board the ship. Added to these two, a few squads will be assigned rifles and lay in ambush on land around the cove, preferably higher up on the hills and cliffs Both the rifle squads and the cannon fire will act as nothing but deviations for the conclusive underwater foray, which once more must be the blow that takes down the Admiral once and for all. I shall personally lead the sea attack, whereas I assign Primus Ordinarius Jhera to spearhead the underwater mission and Centurion Fordola being designated to take care of our rifle squads. I expect you to guarantee victory.”

Upon having furnished them with her statement, she looks at them for reactions, and Jhera is the first to speak up.
“I believe we are ready to enact your orders, Tribunus. I shall follow your command and neutralize the Admiral.”

The separate Decurions merely salute to begin with, prior to Urianger addressing them.
“Though I may not be of utmost facilitation within the field of bombardment, I shall lend my regeneration abilities to the appropriate subsection, Tribunus.”

Hien smirks and levels hands on his hips, peering at Jhera.
“You better watch out, Ordinarius – our dear Milisandia might get trigger happy and gun our target down with some sniping.”

The au ra in the group snorts and folds her arms.
“Put a sock in it, sword boy. Besides, knowing our fresh Battalion adjutant, she’ll probably order us to charge right in before I get the shot lined up”, she jokes in somewhat snappier tones.

But there is no brisk reply from the sixth member of the group, and Jhera drives her eye towards the left side, only to note that Fordola looks a tad absent, peering down at the ground and isn’t heeding everything that’s brought up.
“Centurion?”, she asks, making everyone pay attention to her too.

Fordola blinks her eyes and levels them with Jhera’s gaze, foregoing that it strikes her what is expected.
“…oh, uh…” She aims an imperial salute at Livia, with her arm diagonally aimed before her.
“I’m ready to serve, Tribunus. I will not fail you.”

Not long pursuing this occasion, Livia finalizes her orders and leaves along with the majority of the Decurions, to warm up their respective measures and minds for the assault. Two who do not are Jhera and Fordola, with the Ordinarius mainly sticking around due to that Fordola wears a rather hazy look to her face still, making the miqo’te sense that she can’t simply withdraw from her presence without seeing what it concerns. Advancing on the hyur, she speaks in better hushed and sincerer tones.
“Centurion, is anything amiss? I noticed that you seemed…off, during the debriefing.”

Fordola gives herself a second to study Jhera and her equally concerned visage, making the Ala Mhigan falter, lifting a hand to scratch the back of her neck.
“Uh…I mean, maybe. Didn’t wanna say anything.”

Crossing her arms, Jhera holds for a bit in order to both delegate Fordola room to continue – which she does not – and to assess what she debates has to be real cause of this delay.
“Are you doubting your own abilities for this mission?”

That she hesitates even further is possibly not the utmost helpful for the Ala Mhigan, but Jhera is approaching the perimeter of what Fordola feels, despite not homing in on it. She may deserve the truth, as the case may be.
“Not…like that, no. We’re probably not debating the same subject.”

“If you wish to speak of it, I will listen.”

Fordola appears to Jhera akin to someone who’s brooding over this approach to her problem, nears a faltering of such a conclusion, but then shakes her head and reins herself back in.
“It’s just…this whole scenario, it reminds me of…my home.”

“Ala Mhigo?”

“Not…specifically the city, but like, my family.”

“Hmm, I see. I do not believe you’ve spoken of them prior.”

Fordola shuts her eyes.
“Yeah, I try not to consider ‘em. Both of my parents, they’re…well, not alive. They passed away during the imperial invasion of Ala Mhigo.”

“Killed by Garleans?”

“Yeah.”

“You have my condolences.”

The Centurion shrugs and reopens her eyes, but doesn’t retort to this exact expression.
“I never cared much ‘bout my dad. He wasn’t someone to look up to, exactly. But my mom, she…I can still recall hazy images of her, of her smiling face aimed at me, even though those things are becoming just contours.”

“The invasion of Eorzea was fifteen years ago, no? How old were you when she departed? Five?”

“Almost. Seven, actually.”

“It must be strenuous to attempt reminiscing about someone you have not seen since a young age of that distance.”

“Yeah, that’s what bothers me. I loved her, and I still do, but I’m starting to wonder whether the person I cherished was really who I thought. It’s hard to rightfully know.”

Jhera can distinguish the dilemma which Fordola is wrestling with and wouldn’t wish to switch places in order to bear this burden for her, not wholly anyway.
“Do you regret being part of this plan, then?”

“No, I don’t”, Fordola tells her with self-assured words and drives her gaze into Jhera’s once again. “It just…gives me mixed feelings, I guess. Like, if I was in the Admiral’s spot and I received news of that my mom was still alive, potentially having been reported seen somewhere, what’d I do? Would I fall for it, or would I ignore the possibility as ridiculous? Would I betray who I am, and the Empire, for it?
She…might be making that call too, in what we’re doing to her.” Fordola shrugs haplessly. “It’s just the mirror in who we are that’s giving me weird musings, I guess.”

When Fordola at last appears to have no further considerations to bestow, Jhera approaches her, setting a hand to the taller woman’s shoulder.
“Whether there are comparisons between you two, I cannot say, but one thing I do know is that I believe in and trust you, Fordola. You’ve proven yourself to our troops in battle time and time again…as well as to me. I wouldn’t ever assume that you might turn out like this Admiral.”

This is likely the first occasion where Jhera employs Fordola’s name directly, rather than a rank or a role, and the Ala Mhigan is slightly taken aback. However, she recovers quickly with a smile setting itself on her lips.
“I…appreciate that, ma’am. Thanks.”

“If this is too heavy of a burden to carry for you, I will not levy leadership of any squads on you. I know that you might recognize how excruciating it would be for you, and thus you’d have to look into yourself whether there’s a chance you can manage it.”

“Mm. I get what you mean, and yeah, I do admit I wonder how I’ll react when we take the fight to her…but no, I wouldn’t suppose this’ll be a problem. Don’t sweat it, ma’am, I’ll continue my duty the way it was decided. I’ll make you proud, that much I can swear.”

Chapter 36: The Scions path - Part 19

Chapter Text

Whilst one half of the investigative team headed towards southeastern Thanalan, the second half bore instead for the northeast, sauntering further upward through the landscape past a diversity of pathways, villages and even some rivers, in order to make for the more cliffy portion in this particular domain. It was here that the clan of black mages should’ve ensconced themselves at some point in time, and though it was hard to foresee them simply sitting out in the open somewhere, Y’shtola, Joltin and Loiusoix soon encountered another complication – the lack of any trace whatsoever. Not that the clan’s presence had been entirely unheard of, for rumors abounded in every settlement that they bypassed and queried the populace about, but this ended up being the ambiguity of their duty, that rumors were all they had to go on, for apparently the clan has not been active in the public eye for decades.

The last spotting of anyone who was potentially affiliated with them was spied in the territory that the trio has currently progressed into, the foot of a craggy landscape of plateaus and caverns, raised above the river that flows deeper underneath and delivers moisture to disparate parts of this otherwise arid province. It would seem from a distance that the ridges continue onwards to the east into composite minor mountains or tall hills, but there is no grand throat of them that protracts closer to the skies. Along with that, this specific zone of Thanalan is noticeably not as desert-y as the south, with the non-cliff quarters reminding them closer of a prairie, allowing for more herding and in some cases farming.

It is in this equation that the trio explores the outskirts and in some cases insides of grottos and rifts in the cliffsides, hoping to locate any manner of intimation of magical or human activity. Less enjoyably, it takes them days to survey much of it, with no result for the utmost of these hours spent, but then at last, it’s Y’shtola who calls the other two to her, whilst she’s halted past one of the sides of the rocky walls, standing with her arms folded.
“Might you two tell me what it is you see there?”, she asks and nudges her head in the direction of the stone.

Louisoix rubs the strands of his beard quietly, whereas Joltin places hands on her hips, one eyebrow raised in confusion.
“Uh…nothing?”

“Nothing at all?”

“I mean…unless you’re talking about the rockface or whatever. Cuz that’s all I’m seein’.”

“Indeed, I would concur with that sentiment”, says the elder elezen.

“Hmm, curious”, goes Y’shtola. “And exceedingly clever, for my eyes do in fact track a magical output directly into that cliff.”

Louisoix blinks and Joltin stares perplexed at her.
“Wait, seriously? There’s magic there? I don’t see godsdamn anything.”

“I suspect that what we’re directed towards is then an illusion crafted out of black magic. Or specifically, a trap for uninformed wayfarers and trespassers.”

“Then this may very well be the wellspring which we’ve been pursuing”, says Loiusoix. Afterwards, he faces and gestures at his comrade. “Black magic is more your forte than mine, Shtola. I will let you judge how to best handle this.”

With her tail calmly swishing back and forth, Y’shtola keeps her closed fist to her lips pensively, her colorless eyes trained on the cliff face for numerous seconds, until her ears twitch and she comes to a verdict. For Joltin, this is a vigorously adorable conduct to behold, but she doesn’t comment.
“Mm, I’m not entirely confident in what would be the most convenient for us. I would hazard that, should we activate the snare somehow, the mages within – or wherever they’re located – will be able to trace the trigger and might potentially react. But perhaps this is what we’d wish for…”

“Could just tell ‘em to stop and listen if that’s the case, right?”, asks Joltin.

“Indeed, I would assess it similarly as you, but remember that we do not know these people.”

“How do we actually like, remove it then? Can you cast a spell or whatever on it?”

“In this unique condition, I fear that would be inadequate to accurately dispel the magic, but there are other ways to work away an enchantment.”

“Like what?”

Wearing an interestingly artful smile, Y’shtola looks at Joltin, but marks with her hand towards the rock wall.
“Go ahead and trigger it, Captain.”

Joltin mildly twitches from this suggestion.
“Uh…what?”

“Use your sword to hit the wall. That ought to be sufficient.”

“You…you want me to hit this rock with my blade? That’s not very nice for the metal, y’know.”

A pleasant chuckle spurts from Y’shtola lips.
“It wouldn’t take any damage, I assure you, for if you hit the illusion itself, that is no true stone.”

Joltin stares for multiple seconds at the smiling Y’shtola who never wavers, before she scratches the back of her head.
“Okay, but…that’s…” She’s yet uncertain and her head spins with the purpose of the miqo’te asking this of her, until something comes to mind. “Wait wait wait…didn’t you say this was atrap?”

“I did, yes.”

“Wha-…hold on, I thought we had a thing goin’ here. Now ya wanna blow me up?”

The giggle which slides from Y’shtola in this occasion is in fact imbued with a slight sense of bashfulness, potentially in light of that this is stated right before her master, but she hopes to mask it somehow.
“Captain, do you truly believe I would allow any harm to come to you?”

“Uh…that’s…well, I’d hope not.”

“Do you?”

The visage which Y’shtola aims at her now is far more sincere and nearly questioning, as if she’s genuinely wondering about Joltin’s mindset and where the two of them are standing.
“Well, no, I don’t. You’ve seemed like a good person so far.”

“Do you trust me, Captain?”

“I…I do, yeah.”

“Then trust that I shall permit no detriment to impact you when you shatter the illusion. So, will you kindly remove this conjuration for us?”

With Louisoix studying their interaction silently and intently, Joltin’s shoulders sag and she snatches the hilt of her gunblade from her back.
“…the stuff I do for a pretty face…”, she grumbles. Soon thereafter, she approaches the stone wall before her, looking around at any shimmer or mistake in the surface of it, but really uncovering nothing specific that she might nail her blade into, she glances back at her comrade. “Right here?”

Y’shtola bobs her head.
“You are directly ahead of it, Captain. Give it your all.”

“Alrighty. Here goes…” Lifting her blade high, she adds a suitable portion of her strength into it and lunges…only for the wall to shimmer and disperse, revealing a corridor behind it. However, as Joltin stares into it with surprise, another being suddenly materializes right behind her, appearing as a gigantic snake-like creature of some sort, which slithers around Joltin in an instant and traps her in its hold. “Holy crap! Where did-“ She says, but notes how the beast opens its maw and expels a light from within that it aims at the au ra.

Naught that it was putting its back into achieving comes to pass, for with a snap of her fingers, an orb of minor power emanates from Y’shtola’s fingers and crashes into the beast, dispelling it with such a simple spell.
“And there we are.”

Joltin steps back and has to settle a hand against one wall of the rockside, breathing out in relief.
“Phew. That was…a close call for a sec there.”

“It wasn’t sincerely attempting to devour you, Captain. The spell it was casting was intended to teleport you far away. It wasn’t an especially robust spell either, simply one constructed to scare the uninitiated.”

“Well…I’mcertainly not initiated, so it did pull off the scare tactic, yeah!”

As she passes by the au ra towards the path inside, Y’shtola snickers softly and caresses Joltin’s cheek.
“You did very well in spite of your indetermination, Captain.”

With a cough to steady herself, Joltin smiles back at her.
“Uh…yeah, thanks.”

Superseding this moment, the trio then marches on inside, finding themselves amid a pretty tight corridor that gradually widens, until they arrive inside of some form of actual humanly altered cave. Their eyes reveal a flat and polished stone floor, several meters in width and skirted by numerous pillars that lead up to multiple rows of monuments, or even statues, of unknown figures. A few of them appear as monsters or beasts, while a smatter might have been people, although half of them are sliced or broken off, while the rest are partially eroded. Near the pillar, they furthermore discern several braziers, which to their mild astonishment are all lit. This is how they may view the setting to begin with.
“Hmm. This would seem to me as if being a manner of altar or even a temple”, Louisoix remarks. “How fascinating.”

“You may consider it as that, for it was partially the intent behind it according to my research”, they hear someone with a halfway raspy voice saying. Diverting their faces to the left side of the room, hunched by one of the pillar is a short and seated person, what they’d hold to be a lalafell donning a mishmash of black and violet robes, with an outré pointed hat on top. On approach, Joltin and Louisoix notes how his face is wrinkled and a grey moustache embellishes his face. “My name is Payeg, and I’d hoped not to be disturbed, but I suppose the silver lining is that judging from your calm demeanors and lack of brandished weapons, you are not buffoonish raiders.”

The two foreigners in the group glance at one another for a moment, before they stare back at the other older fellow and Louisoix takes to words.
“Raiding is not anything we’ve indulged in the past, no, nor what we had designed here today. My name is Louisoix Leveilleur, a representative of the Sharlayan Forum, with my colleague Y’shtola Rhul and our escort, sea Captain Joltin Dazkar. We’ve intruded upon your current living quarters for the purpose of research into potential Void associations of your order.”

Payeg angles his head partially to the side for a moment, before he presses his hands into the floor and gets himself to his feet. He grabs a staff that tilts into the side of a pillar to use while he wanders, although it’s clear that his legs are not so suboptimal as to wholly stipulate it per se.
“Sharlayan? How fascinating. I haven’t communicated with anyone from your scholarly island for…well, many decades. Before my current status, for sure.” Raising his free hand to the hem of his hat, he elevates it slightly in order to observe Y’shtola stature. “Moreover, I sense a very keen strength in black magic from you, young miqo’te. A potency I haven’t smelled for years…”

Y’shtola smiles in return towards the short fellow that’s now merely a handful of meters off.
“Well, I suppose it’s fair to say that we conform to schools of a correspondent nature.”

“Indeed? Your trio is becoming more and more tantalizing, then. I would’ve asked that you could’ve simply knocked on my door rather than bust it open…but I acknowledge there isn’t really much of a door to these quarters.
At any rate, you said something about the Void? Why would you ever be absorbed with such horrendous topics?”

Joltin stands modestly to one flank of the other two, a hand on her hip and scrutinizes the zone that they’re in, but not exactly the architecture.
“We heard about that there was supposed to be an order of black mages here? I only see you, though. Where’re the others?”

Taking in a deeper breath, Payeg scowls and glances down to the floor.
“At present, I don’t have much of an idea where they might be. We…used to be an organization, yes, several decades ago. We studied the deepest elements and reaches of what black magic might hold, in order to perfect our usage of it and to comprehend what dangers that might lie in the dark. Unfortunately, Eorzea is wont to be a…relatively superstitious land, and it does not enjoy when its denizens tamper with such dark powers, whether carefully or not. That is why we self-exiled, instead of dawdling in society until they began raising arms against us. This is the backstory for why we took to this place, where we spent some years.
Sadly, not everyone in our group was on the same page. Some were better inclined to relinquish their hold on this magic and live among people again, and did as such. Another minor number didn’t quite agree with our careful perspective of magical application, and consequently left too. Out of those of us who remained as one for maybe ten years, we were eventually visited from time to time by villagers or hired muscle, to signal that we were still not accepted by society, even from distant parts of Eorzea, so my peers elected to preferably split up. Where they relocated themselves to, I have no knowledge of, for I kept to these quarters that we made for ourselves at the start, receiving visitors every now and then, but I placed the defensive magics outside as a precaution. That said, I once took a student who was tremendously quizzical and hard-working, but he opted in due course to fly the nest as well. Besides my monthly journeys to acquire resources, I haven’t met any humans in perhaps a decade.”

“Have you received news at all then, of what’s transpiring in the world?”, asks Y’shtola. “Or this continent in particular. Have you run into the endeavors of the Garlean Empire?”

Payeg rubs at the hem of his hat once more, presumably in thought, and looks down on the ground.
“Ah yes. Some…decade ago, I believe I heard of it. It might actually have been my apprentice who referred to that nation, but I don’t recall the precise words he went into. Since I’ve stayed in these old forgotten ruins of the past for the previous three decades, hoping to know more of their secrets – of which there are several left, I might add – I reap very skimpy details of the outside. I do know of that there is an Empire, however, for they were spoken of as rampaging across the continent of Ilsabard when I was younger. I believe my apprentice apprised me of that this Empire attacked us about…maybe a decade and a half ago? Or was it more?”

“No, that is accurate”, Louisoix expresses, “and it is their actions which have instigated our arrival at your doorstep, master Payeg. You see, we recently charted a route to Gyr Abania, where we chanced upon an imperial experiment gone awry that had obliterated a village and cursed its soil. Through our investigation, we’ve hypothecated that the Empire employed some form of ritual to summon elements of the Void. Having looked for answers touching this phenomenon, we were brought to the Thaumaturge guild in Ul’dah, who in turn directed us towards your circle, since they declared that you once meddled with it.”

Payeg snorts at this clarification and swivels his head in mild disbelief.
“Those blind, ignorant amateurs…”, he mutters. “Of course they would view whatever attempt we made in order to understand the Void better as ‘meddling’, for they practically dreaded the sheer name of the origin as well.” He lifts his head to take in the sight of all three. “The Black Mages of Eorzea do in factnotsummon beings of the Void, regardless of what those dullards relayed to you, nor are we inherently connected to it. The people fear us for the fact that we dared to even study the Void itself, which we did in order to better realize and apprehend the threat that it presents. I’m sure you scholars of Sharlayan can appreciate that one has to grasp the extent of any danger, as opposed to simply shutting the door on it.”

“Hmm. We do”, says Louisoix, “though I suspect my colleagues would not be as keen to agree on that one has to engage with every hazardous element, which is the point of them avoiding the Empire.”

“I see. At any rate, while it’s false that our guild strove to wield the Void’s powers, it is true that some from Eorzea have tried their hand at this in the bygone past, such as those who built these ruins we’re in today. Back then, there existed individuals with a thirst for greater paths to power and the skills for immense levels of destructions, by leveraging the Void – in particular, there was one Mage-Lord who ruled over an entire city-state for a few decades, causing terror and mayhem wherever he ordered his followers to strike. From what I’ve gleaned of my studies, he and his grovelers may in fact have been the first people at least in the known continent to have opened a humongous portal to the Void, which made minor armies of monsters pour into our realm, some which even linger in other darker and forgotten grottos and dungeons of Eorzea today.”

“Well, whilst I do not seek to somehow grant you the misgivings that we aspire to open portals to the Void, we are curious to better probe the Empire’s methods in employing the Void. What we gathered in that village, they seemed to have been inserting human sacrifice into their own rituals to call upon the Void’s contemptible nature, although we have not been capable of concluding their intent. This ancient mage-lord you speak of, did he exercise sacrifices in order to achieve his goals too?”

“Hmm. According to the tomes, he did, but that was not his foremost fuel. Whereas sacrifices assisted him in the creation of the portal, it was the application of dragon blood that amended and perfected the operation.”

Y’shtola furrows her brow.
“…dragon blood? I’ve not been educated in the administration of such a source in magic before.”

“Oh, you haven’t heard then? Perhaps it isn’t common knowledge. Dragon blood is supposedly an incredibly potent tool for rituals, to the point where it might downright rupture and detonate should it be applied incorrectly. Dragon blood has esoteric and unorthodox ties to magic, and it may truly be a regional oddity for our own continent. Due to such creatures roosting solely in Eorzea within the mapped world, the black mage-lord had access to them when he sent out hunters, but this stripe of incantation has not been spotted in other parts of the world.
Sadly, I have never once spoken with a dragon myself, and thus cannot confirm, but should you be raring to explore the depths of these rites, then I would seek out an audience with their people.”

Chapter 37: The Vermin path - Part 18

Chapter Text

It had come off as too easy for Jhera. Once more, she’s sitting in one of the troop-surfacing vessels, which the Empire employs when it wishes to launch squads from underwater positions, with a number of subordinates of hers, waiting until they get the all-clear signal that they’re good to embark for the mission terrain. Although everything does appear to be heading in a promising direction for the team, this is what she isn’t too keen on. She doesn’t fully welcome how their operations against Admiral Merlwyb of Limsa Lominsa, the final entity of the leaders they have to cut down in Vylbrand, has gone just right and even the Admiral herself was sighted on a vessel which they’ve lured towards a cove. If this actually had been fault-free, then Jhera would’ve anticipated some snags along the way which might denote that the Admiral is brighter than this straightforward configuration, but no. They have her where they want her, at face value. Jhera doesn’t trust that, but Livia won’t hear any more complaints, insisting they must act while the iron is hot. The best Jhera can do in this premise is to shield her crew and take precautions that no one’s stupidity gets them all killed.

Across their comm system, Jhera and her companions are enlightened that the ship is taking the bait and sails directly into the cove amid the dead of night, showing no signs of distrusting this region, nor what may lurk in the shadows. With a collection of hand signals, she announces to the few in this particular container that they must sit ready, since the launch is about take effect, and she keeps her free hand on the button that’ll fire a simplistic and short engine burst which shall blast them to the surface. She takes it that the other two similar carriers are doing the same.

Despite that they can’t listen in on the actual ruckus from it, gunfire soon begins raining down on the Admiral’s ship, and it’s coincides out deeper over the ocean with cannons loosing explosives from the ships under Livia’s command, being the beckon for the full-scale onslaught to commence. In the intervening time, underwater, they heed a couple of red flashing lights. Jhera nods to herself.
“Brace yourselves, Battalion Subzero – we ascend.”

This is her one order, until she presses the button that ignites an outburst of engine power, shooting them to the surface, and bobbing along the water at the edge of the docked ship. Jhera is first, slamming open the lid of the cylindrical vessel and grabbing a chain with a hook which she tosses up along the railing of the boat for the squad to climb.
Storming up on the deck with Hien and Urianger at her back, Jhera quickly scouts what’s available for her to take into account, and the first thing she notes is that this crew is rather minimal, basically little more than a dozen and able to be counted as a skeleton crew. Further interesting, she notes how they’ve moved themselves to the stern of the ship and positioned a variety of shields to protect their hides against gunfire, as if they were watching for it, and not a single crew member has been harmed. That knot in Jhera’s stomach is not getting any smaller.

Nonetheless, she doesn’t turn from her orders and equips her blade to aim it at the defending dozen.
“Admiral Merlwyb, give yourself up. You’re surrounded and the routes to escape have all been sealed. Either you toe the line, or we end you with your entire crew.”

The person who she would preconceive to be the Admiral, on account of the coat she wears and the fact that she’s got white hair, suddenly rises. In the light of the moon, Jhera surprisingly detects that this lady’s skin is darker than she was led to believe about Merlwyb. She’s not particularly encouraged either when the roegadyn grins at Jhera and lays a hand atop the white strands…and tears them off, throwing the wig into the sea. Underneath, this woman’s locks are more red-brown than previously.
“Sorry, pal, we don’t negotiate with asshole outlanders.” This woman then spins her arm in the air. “Alright, let’s get outta here!”

To Jhera’s even greater astonishment, the whole crew that was aboard the ship grabs the barricades of the vessel and hurdle off, directly into the sea without hesitation, plonking down underwater. Giving herself a second to assess the circ*mstances, Jhera’s thoughts come to a halt when they catch gunfire from behind them instead, a couple of bullets barely misfiring and hitting the floor beneath her.
Turning on her heel towards the divergent end of the cove, she peers up along the cliffs and hills of the land area, and to her dismay, she sees how several dozen armed men and women have situated themselves behind rocks and outcroppings, holding rifles and pistols in their arms of a slightly less advanced stature than some Garlean weaponry and fire down not purely at the ship, but furthermore bombarding the positions of Fordola’s team. Amid them, Jhera virtually thinks she can glean the sight of a pale woman in white hair, wearing an extended coat and wielding dual pistols. Is that...the real Admiral?

Previous to Jhera being swift enough to issue orders, half a dozen of her own troops have gotten hit, staining the deck of the ship in red, and someone even falls off the side when they stumble, plunging back into the ocean. Gnashing her teeth, Jhera blasts ahead of her comrades and slides one of her gloves over the flat end of her blade to summon a black-red flame, then slams it down into the wood, which erects a barrier that holds off the projectiles that lavish the entire premises, protecting them from auxiliary damage.
“Decurion Urianger, start healing the wounded!”

Tightening his brow, Urianger hikes up his own device which he channels his healing energies through and dips his head.
“At once, Ordinarius.”

“The rest of you, get behind cover right now! We’re fully exposed down here!”

Her troops do not waver upon hearing her shouting and dash forward to hole up behind whatever safeguard they can attain, mainly nearby the stairs and the frontal banister, wishing that those who pepper them from far off don’t have the most optimal of aim.
Meanwhile, Jhera is exerting herself to devise a form of space for a counterattack, notwithstanding that she doesn’t have a great number of recommendations popping up right away. In fact, a corner of her psyche is even telling her that offense shouldn’t be her first priority and her mental exertion is better suited to find an avenue out of this mess.

The problems end up jumping the queue of precedence too, for suddenly Jhera’s ears twitch as they pick up the sound of heightened cannon fire. Peering out past the stern and into the darkness of the sea’s midsection, she spots how two vessels from one side each are flanking the ships that Livia is presiding over, where they don’t stall for very long to pour down barrages over their naval foes. Tsk…so the pirates made arrangements for this whole scheme from the ground up. And yet, Jhera can’t feel this is on her hands, for she predicted out the gate that this solution wouldn’t fly. Plus, she’s not about to sacrifice her ranks to a lost cause.

“Squadron, retreat! We can’t stay out in the open like this! Back to the sea! Let’s get out of here.”

As she shields their withdrawal, and with Hien staying close at hand to Urianger to guarantee that he’s okay, the imperial infantry hurl themselves into the waters and attempt to board their transports once more in order to at least drive themselves to a safe distance away from this enemy discharge. Narrowly former to her own retirement, Jhera glances up against the hills to the south and is glad to distinguish how Fordola had the same idea as her, making her squad take off along the rises and disappear into the night.
As Jhera flies off the ship itself and into the water, it catches aflame, lighting up the darkness with a real burst of blazing radiance. Whenever she’s secure again, Jhera really has to have a chat with Livia to learn what the hell her genuine expected outcome of this was, hoping for the benefit of both of them that the Tribunus hadn’t accepted any grievous losses. If so, Jhera won’t be accommodating with that woman.

Chapter 38: The Scions path - Part 20

Chapter Text

The stay up in Little Ala Mhigo turned out to be a touch greater extended than either Lyse or Kjat had prefigured. Having remained now for multiple days, to survey the landscape of the settlement, they haven’t exactly attained much of an alternative response in terms of what Lyse sought, although she professed a bit later that she hadn’t assessed they’d freely throw themselves at her. Instead, she crossed her fingers that she might’ve opened some hearts, and that in the not-too-distant future, the Ala Mhigans shall stand firm together once more. In spite of that they hadn’t extrapolated a straight answer from Gundobald either, one small mercy is that he’ll think on it and it’s the best Lyse could ask for presently.

Having been lent a small room for the two of them, essentially just one of the crevices that has been carved out on one side, they intend to rest for tonight and then head off to rejoin their allies once more in the morning. These lodgings aren’t exactly luxurious, but nor did they expect it to be, which is the point of neither minding the plain sleeping bags that they’ll be resting in on the floor. The only plus points in this is that they have some privacy to speak with the other in. For now, Lyse is seated on the floor whilst she’s inspecting her gear and Kjat is looking out through a minor hole in the wall, to see what she might spot beyond, but nothing dangerous appear to lurk out there.

“It has been interesting visiting this area”, Kjat remarks. “Somehow I…feel that I comprehend you better, miss Hext.”

Lyse chuckles and shakes her head, eyes yet on pieces of her knee pads that she tries to dust off.
“Hope it was all good?”

Kjat smiles a tad slyly to herself.
“Afraid you might earn my disapproval?”

“Well…I mean, it’d suck if you disliked being ‘round my people, yeah.”

“Sweat not, miss Hext. I would say it’s been both tremendously enlightening and savory. Your people is a passionate and welcoming one, which I emphatically appreciate.”

“That’s good to hear! I get that it’s not like, super great we didn’t make a splash to recruit anyone, but I personally never pretended that’s how it’d be when we hit it. All of it was to make them learn that there’s hope out there, that we’re still fighting for Mhigo.”

“Indeed, and I would surmise there is a future for Ala Mhigo, should the seeds of your hope take root.”

Lyse is on the verge of giving a proper retort, but she turns her head towards Kjat in the process of this and in that very instant, her words get stuck in her throat, eyes widening and mouth hanging open somewhat. By the window, the viera has removed her shirt, her upper body wearing nothing besides the bra which Lyse notices now supports a heavy chest that the hyur gets a rich amount of exposure to. On top of that, how smooth and soft her arms her, the slickness of her belly, how the moonlight plays across her dark skin…Lyse can’t even find her words anymore. Everything has been utterly replaced by a singular thought: how profoundlyhotthis woman is. How in all the hells did she end up alone with a now half-naked bombshell like this?

Seemingly unaware of how she’s affecting her partner, Kjat continues speaking.
“I wonder if we ought to consider some fashion with which to contact Captain Joltin and the others first? Perhaps your compatriots in this outpost have a solution for this. Then again, I daresay those three are yet on the road, so it could be arduous for anyone to locate them in order to dispatch said missive…” With a couple of seconds passing by free of a response from Lyse, Kjat reverses and looks at the hyur, but Lyse is then made to react and shyly cuts her head to the side. Being wholly confused by this behavior, Kjat blinks her eyes. “Erm…did I say anything amiss?”

“Uh…not…n-not say, really…”, Lyse stammers out. “I just erm…wasn’t ready for that you’d undress!”

“…oh? Um, but we are going to bed, yes?”

“Well…y-yeah, but…um…guess I’m simply not used to staying around half-strangers who do that, heh…”

With Lyse bashfully scratching the back of her head, Kjat giggles softly and approaches her own bed, in spite of that she’s not put her shirt back on.
“I suppose from your point of view, that may have been a bit shameless, then.”

Lyse widens her eyes and shifts to stare at Kjat once again…and finds her head heating up a second time when she beholds how upper parts of the viera’s torso bounces while she wanders.
“N-no no! It’s…it’s fine, really. But erm…look, it’s just a different story when the subject is related to beautiful women.”

Her lengthy ear twitching with intrigue, Kjat halts halfway to her sleeping arrangements.
“Is that so?” Clasping the hem of her leggings, the viera smoothly and serenely slides them down over her hips and across her slender legs, instigating another modest recoil from Lyse, who hides her face beneath her quilt. “Do you find us intimidating, miss Hext?”

“I…I didn’t say that!” She hears a supplemental giggle from Kjat, which is further embarrassing for her, but equally encouraging, for it would mean Kjat finds her amusing and not aggravating. Always a plus. Could it be that Kjat is flirting in response in some fashion? Pulling the cloth down, Lyse can’t help that she is burdening her gaze to aim downwards at the floor instead of through Kjat. “You…should be proud of yourself and how you look, though, I won’t argue with that. You’re…very beautiful and…incredibly well-endowed in certain ways. Very um…big.”

Seemingly caught in a siege of entertainment temporarily, Kjat snickers and soon slides into her own bed, pulling its extra comforter up halfway.
“Your attention is…highly gratifying, miss Hext, although I wouldn’t say being ‘well-endowed’ is fantastic in every situation. I do have to keep a very strict posture not to receive posterior complications. However, I only have myself to blame, I daresay.”

Being lost by this phrasing, Lyse finally draws her eyes upwards to behold Kjat again, hoping not to be inundated with feelings this time.
“Yourself? What do you mean?”

“It wouldn’t be accurate to state that this came ‘naturally’.”

“…huh?”

Smiling absently for a second, Kjat’s light blues ascend against Lyse’s brown.
“In my language, we call it zenatovm prednoshta, which roughly translates to ‘favored with womanhood’. Although that’s more of an official term and most people plainly use zena pozhtet – ‘a woman blessed’. Basically, I was not physically born a woman, but received an alchemical changeover later in life.”

Initially flitting her eyes in a stupor over this illumination that she’s given, Lyse’s face brightens soon after.
“Ooh! Yeah, I know that concept! I dunno if there’s a word for that in Eorzean, though…
Does that mean you kinda uh…felt the body you were born with wasn’t right?”

“By and large, yes. Although I should add that was not an immediate effect for me, but something I sensed within my first twenty years, that how I looked did not match my internal image of myself, and how I dressed or behaved. Garleans especially had issues determining how they were meant to categorize my gender, which eventually bestowed me with emotions of discomfort and interior perplexity. It didn’t feel like it was right how I was, despite certain complications.”

“Like what?”

“Among viera, men are on average shorter than women, and though I may seem tall to you, my sisters and mother outheight me. So I am yet a somewhat short woman among viera.
Nevertheless, it was then that my mother sat down with me to talk about it and fathoming how I felt about the matter, she contacted a group of alchemists active in our region, who assisted me.”

“Ahh, I see. Well, it’s good to hear that your mother was supportive of your perspective, then.”

Kjat nods at first with certainty, but then her eyes commence strolling downwards in a preoccupied sense.
“She was a validating person in this regard from the start, yes…but not in every part of me.”

“No? Did she…oppose how you wanted to look?”

“No, as I mentioned, not in my anatomical impressions, for she agreed that I should be permitted to be perceived as I experienced my own being. Besides, my looks have always…garnered me a specific amount of attention, which is intermittently advantageous. What we were not in line with every time was more political.” She sighs and shakes her head. “But this is irrelevant right now, I suppose.”

Lyse considers what she’s been told and how the two of them interact, which makes her look into herself for a second. Does hearing about that Kjat may have appeared otherwise and that not everything is inherent with Kjat’s being affect her opinion of this lady in the slightest? Would she make a separate decision in terms of how she esteems Kjat in the future or alter her…growing desires? None of the above sound correct to her at all.
“Well, I’m thankful you’re properly comfortable around me to be upfront and reveal this inner affair ‘bout yourself, Doc. I won’t make you regret trusting me. I imagine it does warrant some level of faith in another person to…ya know, lay out your life story. If there is any point that you’d just wanna…I dunno, sit on me and speak more of that time, lemme know and I’ll be there.”

Not words that altogether would instigate a reaction from anyone, if one is to ask Lyse herself, for she believes she sounded both compassionate and articulate. However…supposing she reflects on a couple of explicit words, there might be another vision set in action inside her head. This is what Kjat acts towards.
“Sit…on you?”

After a short-term overlook of what Kjat freshly stated and what Lyse both meant to verbalize as well as what she actually mouthed out, Lyse freezes for a handful of seconds, lets that sentence roll around in her noggin, prior to groaning with some emphasis.
“…what? I-…that’s not-…I wasn’t-…sit WITH me! That’s…that’s what I planned to say, I-I swear!”

A sympathetic smile adorning her lips, Kjat’s ears tilts a few degrees.
Talkwith me, I assume you were implying?”

Abashment flooding her head beyond measure, Lyse buries her face right into her palms and all but whimpers.
“…sorry, my brain just stopped functioning.” She doesn’t want to be that forthright, but with pretty ladies, this wouldn’t be the first time in Lyse’s life that it transpires.

Thankfully, the sole response she receives out of Kjat is a laugh, and one with distinct pleasure and perhaps an ounce of relief after everything. For good measure, she protrudes her hand and wraps fingers about Lyse’s, holding it gently.
“You are very clumsy, miss Hext…but I have never before met someone who is this cute about it.”

To be deemed cute by a woman of a caliber that could make Lyse kneel no questions asked, is more than she could’ve hoped for. She does, in such a condition, at least manage to lift her face to smile sheepishly in return.
“…just call me Lyse.”

Chapter 39: The Vermin path - Part 19

Chapter Text

It wouldn’t be accurate to proclaim that Jhera was satisfied with the conclusion of the previous episode of Battalion Subzero’s mission, in spite of that they didn’t take too heavy losses. There wasn’t a great chunk debated about what went down along Vylbrand’s coast, besides that Livia felt the demand to downplay both her own inadequate role plus the ramifications. Honestly, Jhera would nearly be in the mood to report this incident and how gravely they misgauged Admiral Merlwyb’s proficiency in defending her people and land directly to one of Livia’s superiors, if not for the fact that she can see how it’d be pointless. In the absence of losses incurred by Garlemald in its entirety, the brass doesn’t really care much whether a share of soldiers fell in a flunked assault. The importance for them was that they tried and really reached the results they were after. Should this behavior persist, on the other hand, and the Empire be exposed prior to their estimated time thanks to Livia’s poor rulings, then matters may turn a corner.

To distract her troops from her failure in these events, Livia has promptly navigated them away from the western shores and landed in the eastern ones, to penetrate the deep forest of the Black Shroud. Jhera had read about this region, how the ancient terrain was said to be brimming with horrors unimaginable and unlooked-for deterrents at every inflection, but she surmises this may be a clutch of rumors built by the locals expressly to discourage people from entering. With the squads actively under the boughs of this domain, they haven’t regarded anything outside of the ordinary for the moment and whatever wildlife that bumped into them has been disposed of.

Having gathered her squad leaders by a campsite that they’ve set up along the southern edges of this sphere, Livia and the others are standing beneath the feet of a trio of monstrously-sized trees, obscured from view both above and to their flanks, hearing the buzz from insects and birds, the rustling of the vegetation and the outlying streaming of water.
“Alright, let’s get meeting underway”, the Tribunus launches with. “I assume you have some understanding of that our upcoming commission is to destabilize the secluded government of this forested land of eastern Eorzea called the Black Shroud or the Twelveswood, the latter named after their senseless belief of twelve gods. Similar to Vylbrand, this region contains only an unaccompanied city-state, a secluded place labelled Gridania. And this interpretation I grant it is earned, for Gridanians are an isolated and superstitious people, their separation being not purely from the wider view of how Eorzea should function, but practically from every neighbor they possess. There is trade between them and the other three major population points – if we exclude Ala Mhigo – albeit it’s become much more narrow and accords do not extend to politics, martial agreements or barely diplomacy either. Gridania is ruled by a singular leader, the Elder Seedseer, a form of religious position, making them practically a theocracy. And such gullible points of views can be undermined with the right tools.” She peeks towards her left, where someone is stood holding for the moment, steeling herself for what she’s about to present and Livia here gestures towards this person. “To help us demystify them a touch, I’ve asked Centurion Fordola to enunciate her thoughts on them for a spell. You know these savages to a point, yes?”

Clearing her throat, Fordola takes a couple of steps ahead and posts her feet nearby Livia, but not precisely upon her level. She salutes her superior first, and then diverts to the group as a whole.
“I do, yeah. And I’ll agree I can probably paint a picture better than the rest of you, since my city was technically neighbors with the Gridanians. Even if…I wouldn’t say we cooperated whatsoever. I’ve found out the brunt of this by speaking to Mhigan elders and others in later years.”

“What do you know of their spiritual convictions, Centurion?”

“Well, they believe in something they call the ‘Elementals’ – spirits that are said to inhabit the totality of Eorzea, but have the most sway in the Black Shroud. The Elder Seedseer is not like, the leader of these Elementals nor do they speak for them, but communicate and compromise between the Elementals and humans. Some claim these spirits were stronger in the past, but an unknown event or other made them retreat from a more visible appearance. If this is true or not, I got no idea, and perhaps that’s not important.”

“Quite. The fundamentals of these spirits are not a concern to us, except that they affect Gridanian actions, but the religious ‘guide’ you spoke of may be. Tell us more of her.”

Fordola scratches her cheek with a mite of hesitation.
“Right. Uh, I don’t really…know that plenty about her as a person, but the current one in charge is apparently a lady named Kan-E-Senna. What I do know is that she’s a ‘padjal’. They’re humans but of a rare kind, looking pretty much like hyur except with horns, and only hyur can birth a padjal, it’s said. Weirdly, their aging in appearance seems to like…stop at some point, making them look kinda like children or teenagers. The important detail of a padjal is that they’re naturally gifted in conjuration, a particular type of magic that can summon spirits and monsters. The padjal are among the A-list of conjurers in Eorzea and the Elder Seedseer wields this talent to speak with the Elementals.
On top of this, it’s vital to know ‘bout the two internal conflicts they have with other Black Shroud denizens – the Coeurlclaws and the Duskwight. The latter of these is actually another group of elezen, similar to the Wildwood of Gridania, who’ve spent most of their time either living in caves or underground in order to avoid the Elementals’ wrath. From what I’ve heard, Gridanians assume Duskwights are uncivilized and jealous of their neighbors and therefore resort to banditry and theft, but the Duskwights I’ve spoken with say it’s more about disagreements, both regarding the Elementals and territory. Gridanians tend to think they know best and all that. I wouldn’t say it’d bode well for the Empire to strike a bargain with ‘em, though, since during the last invasion one or two villages got hit by Garlean attacks and the Duskwights overall appear to still hold a grudge.”

“Good to keep in mind. And these ‘Coeurlclaws’? Are they elezen too?”

“No, they’re miqo’te. Based on my findings, they’re Keepers of the Moon, worshipping the night and…well, the moon, I assume.”

The remainder of the group plays off this statement by peering over at Jhera, seeing as people are aware she arose from a similar background.
“…I do not know these ‘Coeurlclaws’. I’m not Eorzean”, she says to bounce it off.

“Uh, yeah, figured you wouldn’t. Dunno if moon-aligned miqo’te have matching names for their clans elsewhere, but anyway, in Eorzea you usually find Keepers in the Black Shroud, while Seekers of the Sun are known for hanging around Vylbrand or Gyr Abania. Several of the Keepers actually live in Gridania and have sorta been…assimilated, I think. However, there are those who resist the domination of Gridanians by inhabiting the woods freely, eking out their own living and homes. The Coeurlclaws is one of those groups, but they often get into conflict with Gridanians. They don’t care about the Elementals and don’t worship ‘em like the city people do, which hasn’t generated a lotta sympathy for one another. Normally, the Coeurclaws will attack the Gridanians on sight, and vice versa.
Both of these two are viewed by Gridanians as nothing besides bandits, essentially. It happens that Coeurlclaws or Duskwights launch attacks on Gridanians, that’s true, but through the intel I gathered, it sounds like this is a lot based on survival from their side and prejudice by Gridanians; they don’t wanna cooperate with those two and therefore refuse to trade, and since they claim all the best areas, those two groups or clans have no other option than to steal or commandeer what they can’t gather or grow. Accusations jibing with these were hurled at Ala Mhigans in the past by Gridanians, even if we didn’t exactly roam around in the Black Shroud.”

Where Livia is standing, the Tribunus bobs her head and oozes a rather pleased disposition.
“Thank you for this debriefing, Centurion Fordola. I trust that these aspects will be highly actionable for us. And this is what the rest of you are to be informed of – in order to destabilize Gridania, we will play them out against the Coeurclaws and hopefully the Duskwights as well. Our scouts have already located a collective of these miqo’te and we shall sway them to our way of thinking. Through them, the Elementals will take the largest blow in history, and prepare this realm for genuine civilization.”

Chapter 40: The Scions path - Part 21

Chapter Text

It was high time to get back on a united front between the eclectic group of anti-imperial travelers who seek the solve the issues facing them of a potential fresh assault by the Garleans. It was Lyse and Kjat who initially sought out their allies where they were sitting around for the moment and gathered them in light of that Lyse had a proposition to make. She’s not the lone Ala Mhigan who yet believes in rebellion, for there are yet those who hide away, warming up for the inevitable clash in the future, for when they make one last stand in the name of the liberation of their home. Even if it yet feels like it’s miles away from where they wish to be, they don’t seem to mistrust that they’ll one day get there. In order to rendezvous with this Ala Mhigan Resistance, however, the team wouldn’t have to make towards Gyr Abania, but simply once more enter the woods of the Black Shroud, this time from the west.

Having breached the premises of these dark woods once again, they let Lyse guide the way through a number of explicit roads which she does appear to be extraordinarily familiar with. It’s not that she solely looks at the path ahead, but instead takes note of various signs across the flora, from broken branches and minor painted signs on trees to carvings in the ground and rocks that are aligned into a formation. A couple of days subsequent to setting foot in this region, Lyse abruptly halts and holds up a hand in the middle of nowhere, while giving a smidgen of signals with it. Holding for anything to happen, it does take about half a minute until a large group of people have them entirely surrounded – individuals clad in a mishmash of gear, mainly leather armor draped with green pants, jackets and scarfs, to blend into their surroundings, on top of hoods that cover their faces. They keep bows and curved swords in their hands, but none of them are cast against the team itself. In lieu of uttering words, Lyse nods towards two of them and gets nods in return, which appears to be what she awaited, motioning for her allies to come with her.

It's here that they’re routed deeper inside, towards a camp hidden beneath a number of ginormous trees and their roots which stretch for hundreds of meters, shielding a crevice partially laying underground. Within, they can spot tents erected, tables plonked down and a bunch of fires burning to prepare meals with. After they’re welcomed inside due to being in Lyse’s company, the remaining four notice how the area isn’t exactly bursting with people, but it does contain at the very least a couple of dozen denizens from assorted walks of life. Some are clearly soldiers or guardsmen of a sort, but there’s equally cooks, farmers, laborers, merchants and more, all individuals who’ve elected to give their everything for the Resistance, for that faint and distant hope of regaining their homeland.

Along the road, a bunch of those within greet Lyse quite friendly or even cheerfully, shaking her hand or patting her shoulders as they’re happy to see her back among them, but the one who stands out faintly is a woman in the center of the settlement, a dark brown-skinned miqo’te with short blonde hair and sharp orange feline eyes, dressed much the same as her comrades albeit without the hood, while a bow is slung across her shoulder. Amid the hair that’s practically as spiky as Joltin’s, they do note two feline ears as well and she grins once Lyse gets near them.
“Well well, if it ain’t the Garlean’s enemy of the state number one. What’s a scoundrel like you doing here, huh?”

Albeit it might sound unfriendly to those around her, Lyse simply laughs and keeps pushing up to this miqo.
“Shut yer trap and gimme a hug, dammit!”
In seconds, this is precisely what occurs, as the two women embrace one another in quite an intimate and companionable capacity. Not only their arms circumfuse one another, but their foreheads are nudged affectionately towards the other, with Lyse smiling and the miqo grinning slantwise. Once it ceases, Lyse swerves the two of them against the approaching allies.
“Everyone, I’d like you to meet M’naago, one of my oldest and closest friends.”

“Heh, guess that’s about right. Sometimes I feel like I’ve known you for too long, honestly.”

“What, scared I might give away all your secrets?”

“No, cuz you already have, you dumbo! Remember how you told the crew some really embarrassing stuff a few months back? I’d prefer you don’t do that again.” M’naago then offers a halfway nod facing Lyse’s associates. “So, Lyse sent a dispatch ahead with a bit of mention about an unusual collection of characters who’re opposing the Garleans. That’s you guys, I’m guessing?”

“That’s it, yeah”, goes Joltin. “Not sure what you’ve been wised up ‘bout us, but we’ve been roaming around Eorzea with your pal here for a number of weeks.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say it was super detailed, actually, besides your names and that you guys are helping the Resistance in some way. Joltin, Y’shtola, Louisoix and Kjat, correct?”

“You have the right of it, indeed”, says the elder Sharlayan. “Albeit it is true that the specifics are deficient, which we shall fill you in of. My name is Louisoix Leveilleur, a…erm, former member of the Sharlayan Forum, our nation’s leading council. This is my colleague and partial student, Y’shtola Rhul. With us are Joltin Dazkar, freelancing ship captain, and Kjat Sja-naris, a medical expert from the Ilsabardian city-state Murotsk. Our first and foremost priority is to study, evaluate and, much like your own, prevent the Garlean conquest of Eorzea.”

His words in this occasion does stir some rather joyful gestures, with some shining up, slamming fists into their palms or simply smiling like M’naago does.
“Ooh, I see. Well, there aren’t many of you, but we welcome any allies of Gyr Abania and Eorzea. If taking down the Empire is your goal, you’ve come to the right place.”

“Is this where most of the Resistance is based, then?”, wonders Y’shtola.

“For the most part, yeah. We have some hideouts in Gyr Abania and Thanalan too, but not all of them are manned. Mainly because…well, we lack the personnel, suffice it to say. Our numbers are severely low and besides the parties you catch in this room, there’s only about two or three more dozen.”

Kjat’s leporine ears twitch and she folds her arms beneath her chest.
“You are what sustains the entire Resistance against the Garleans? Their legions number in the hundreds of thousands.”

Her words appear to ache a touch for the people present that overhear them, some heads lowering, or scratching a hand behind them, while M’naago sighs and Lyse hesitantly touches her chin.
“Painful as it is to admit it when you phrase it that way...yes. I know what you’re thinking, that it’s gotta be futile to struggle against whole divisions with only about a hundred people, and I won’t mince words concerning that it’s often tough for us, but that’s our reality.Someonehas to guarantee that the Garleans don’t get cozy inourhomes, and we’ve all Gyr Abania has got.”

“Oh, I…I didn’t mean to…”

Joltin is one to chuckle at that, which interrupts a stuttering Kjat.
“I like your guts, lady. And hey, you don’t think we’re against that mindset, do ya? I mean, look at those before ya - there’s only four of us and we ain’t stopping either. We’re ready to bring down hell onto those imperial bastards, come rain or shine. Your short supply won’t deter us.”

M'naago grins when listening to Joltin’s optimism and glances at Lyse, who winks back.
“Glad to hear there are others who aren’t afraid to dig their own graves out here for justice! We’ll have to wait and see whether any of us are enough to make a difference, I suppose.
What is it that’s brought you to the Black Shroud, then? Not just our fine company, I take it.”

“Indeed”, Louisoix concedes, “as gratified as we are for it. Our foremost purpose for the arrival is an entity which miss Hext cited prior to our entry into this forest, that imperial movements have been sighted in the region.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’d heard from some peeps back in Lil’ Mhigo”, goes Lyse. “Only rumors, but…”

“Ah, I see”, says M’naago, her tail flittering pensively. “Well, then permit me to validate your suspicions – our scouts have reported about this exact matter, that the Garleans are at present sneaking around in the woods. From what they messaged to me, the imperials are up to something related to the Elementals, the creatures that dwell in these woods which the Gridanians bargain with.”

Y’shtola’s brow furrows.
“They seek to harm them somehow?”

“We don’t know. Wouldn’t surprise us, admittedly, cuz they do have the ultimate goal of destabilizing Eorzea and it would harm Gridania’s defenses like there’s no tomorrow if the Elementals were antagonized or straight-up injured.”

For a handful of instants consequent to this, Joltin makes to become a smidgen absorbed in her own reflections, letting the others talk, until she ultimately ups and jams herself into her conversation.
“Yeah, I can hear it.”

“Hear what?”, asks M’naago.

“The cautious whispers in the air. The Elementals, they’re worried. Like they can…feel there’s an ill wind on the horizon.”

Attending to this statement, the rebels do on several counts look plenty uncomprehending or nonplussed, which includes M’naago as well.
“Uh…hold on, what does that mean? Are you telling us you…canhearthe Elementals?”

Noticing the eyes that nail into her at this interval, Joltin coughs and strokes the back of her neck.
“Uuuh…heh, that’s…complicated.”

“Captain Dazkar possesses an undetermined set of natural abilities which limited amounts of the world’s populace sports”, Y’shtola attempts to deflect it with. “Among other things, these inherent skills empower her to detect the flow of nature. It may sound aberrant to you, but we can assure you that it’s been reliable in our experience.”

A little flabbergasted regarding the unforeseen save she attains from her companion, Joltin firstly blinks towards Y’shtola in before she lets herself get strung along.
“That’s…basically the gist of it, yeah.
Anyway, don’t get carried away worrying 'bout that. Just know we’re ready to prop you guys up. I’ve fought imps multiple times while out at sea, and we wouldn’t mind taking a look at what they’re doing.”

“The proximity to Gyr Abania in this occasion may contribute to disclose more of their acts in that land as well”, says Y’shtola, “ones which we are invested in.”

Kjat is the one of her team who appears hesitant, her ears tilting to the side for a bit whilst she caresses her cheek.
“I…was produced in a land once conquered by the Garleans and there is a certain risk in me getting entangled in this complication, but I would be willing to lend my medical abilities to your cause. Hopefully it will suffice.”

“Alright then”, M’naago tells them, “if you’re up for it, let me show you guys around where we have some immediate stations that wants for an ounce of backup, and we’ll start from there.”

Chapter 41: The Vermin path - Part 20

Chapter Text

Locating anything of note is not the easiest task possible inside the Black Shroud. This is a matter which Battalion Subzero has come to learn amid their trek through the place in order to cause problems for the city-state of Gridania. While they initially tried simply looking around the region by applying their tracking skills, it soon became apparent that this constellation of miqo’te do not leave an abundance of traces after themselves, and to track them down, the imperials had to perhaps insert a splash of interrogation into the mix.
In due time, they did in fact manage to run into one crew of the shadowy miqos while trudging around; or more specifically, the Coeurlclaws foundthem. Having been half-ambushed, it had looked a smidgen dark for a moment when these guerilla-style denizens had trapped one squad of imperials among them and demanded their resources. It was only by Jhera having mentioned that they wished to cooperate with them and cause devastation for the Gridanians that they lowered their weapons. Even further intriguing, the miqos didn’t warrant any lengthy periods to identify who they were, realizing right off the bat that it was Garleans they were dealing with.

Having arranged a meeting with them, members of Subzero rendezvous with these locals somewhere in the outskirts of a southern outpost of Gridania’s territory, out in the woods. They’ve agreed to meet in small groups and thus it’s simply Livia leading them flanked by Jhera and Fordola, plus her Decurions in the back. The miqos on the far end of this clearing number about a dozen, and most of those are equipped with daggers or bows. Walking out in front of her posse is an especially vehement looking woman, her skin a dark shade of grey, the round eyes a lighter grey, with white hair on top. Her face appears to be painted with a large white cross above it too. She pauses some five meters ahead of her fellow poachers and grins at their potential partners, showcasing sharp fangs in among her teeth.

“So, the imps show up after all. Fancy that. The name’s Pawah Mujuuk. The Elemental sycophants in the north refer to me as ‘The Ghost’.”

Livia is standing in her full battle outfit today, arms crossed and staring silently while the other woman presents herself.
“Well met, lady Mujuuk. I am Livia tol Junius, Tribunus laticlavius of the Fourteenth Imperial Legion.”

“Well well…not even hidin’ it, are ya? Heh, I like that.” Well, why would they? If they tire of these highwaymen and women, Fordola is certain they’d just slaughter the whole bunch. “I’m kinda impressed you got guts enough to assemble with us like this. Lotta people just flee by hearing of us, as a matter of fact.”

“Then you have not encountered a sufficient number of Garleans”, Livia counters. “The Empire never lacks for courage nor skill. And should we stand together serviceably, we might hit the Gridanians hard enough that your Coeurlclaws may be capable of gaining new ground in the Black Shroud. Perhaps so far as chasing them out of these woods altogether.”

“Hah! Now that’s what I like to hear. Not sure yet that you guys got the skills to manage it, though.”

“You are severely downplaying the capabilities of the Empire’s troops. Who, I will remind you, have already conquered most of Ilsabard and the eastern continent of Othard. Your Eorzea is the only one that yet stands, and it will not be long until it too will be civilized under the Eternal Emperor’s wisdom.”

Pawah doesn’t appear supremely impressed or impacted by that, merely rolling her eyes and crossing her arms.
“Is that what you brought to the table here? Half-threats? You gotta do more if ya wanna sway us to your side, lil’ Tribunalass.”

Livia looks to be unfazed by the miqo mispronouncing her title, although it’s hard to tell with the mask on.
“Certainly not, for we have a more direct plan in mind regarding what has to be done with the Black Shroud. Our purpose is to undermine Gridania and its regime of this forest. To achieve that, we have come to terms with that we must target their foremost strength – that being the Elementals.”

Rather abruptly, they note and hear some grumbling, even hissing out of the group of miqos that stand behind their leader. Pawah herself flashes her fangs for a moment.
“Bah…don’t use that word. Those spirits are nothing but trouble and constantly get in our way.”

“Is that so? Excuse my employment of this designation then, but we have few other terms to depict our enemy with.”

“Alright, I guess we don’t actually give much of a damn ‘bout what words you use, but it’s hard to call ‘em just spirits. They’re just as troublesome and dangerous as demons from the Void would be. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if theywereactual demons too.”

“Your people has fought them, then?”

“We have, yeah. They can control the woods and sometimes even the creatures around it, towards anything that burdens the forest – or worse, anything that annoys the Gridanians. Their leaders who can speak to the Elementals often just beg these spirits to attack anyone they don’t like. Right now it’s us, but their neighbors have had to feel the same wrath against them whenever these bastards wanted to be left alone.”

“If they really are this level of nuisance for your people, then you should be more eager to welcome the Empire’s assistance in the matter of their extermination.”

“Tsk. Listen, we don’t like outsiders more than the Gridanians do, but if you’re their enemy, then we would be willing to hear you guys out. What is it that you’re actually gonna do to ‘em that we haven’t already tried, though?”

Livia snorts and sets one of her hands against her hip.
“We will sabotage the Elementals’ very quintessence, as we hold plenty of tools equal to the task of disrupting these foul creatures. The Empire has fought and defeated religious fanatics the continent over, levelled entire woodlands, catalyzed earthquakes and even fought dragons in the sky. Our technology far outshines yours and we simply have to grasp the constitution of our enemy before we shall know how to shatter their carefully wrought foundations. Give us a target, miss Mujuuk and the Gridianians’ hold over these woods will not last for many further months.”

The skepticism on Pawah doesn’t exactly diminish with Livia’s words, not seeming all that easy to persuade with plain promises. She turns to look back at her comrades for a second to descry their reactions, and some of them appear to be intrigued or hesitant, while others still look hostile. In the end, she shrugs and flips to Livia again.
“Alright then, if that’s what ya wanna do, we won’t get in yer way. Head to the east, down along one of the rivers that float between two mountainous walls. Hidden in a small valley down there is grand piece of oak or whatever, something that the Gridanian bastards refer to as the ‘Guardian Tree’. They call it the oldest tree in the woods, and supposedly it sports some kinda spirit inside of it. We’ve tried to hit it before, but never been able to do more than see it from afar, cuz they manipulate the forest to attack anyone who gets near 24/7.”

“Hmm, an intriguing piece of intel that we haven’t encountered up until now.”

“Yeah, ‘course not, cuz we’re the only ones brave ‘nuff to even try something like that. We want these assholes outta here and for that to happen, we need the Elementals to give up the ghost.” Shortly thereafter, she glances sideways over at Jhera, which lingers for a couple of seconds and perplexes the Ordinarius. She then stares back at Livia. “We’d be up for completing a joint assault on that place.”

Livia tilts her head sideways.
“Oh? Are you now?”

“Listen, we wanna see that tree burn, hear those demon f*cks screaming into the heavens so loudly that the Gridanians sh*t their pants and flee for their lives. For that to go down, we gotta see that you do this job correctly, so we’re in. You gotta take the biggest risks, though.”

Livia bobs her head slightly.
“Agreed, and we would be more than keen to do so. Simply grant us the window of striking at them and we shall take it.”

For a couple more minutes, the two of them discuss certain specifics about where they would go and how they should bypass the defenses, more of which shall be provided at a later date to the tacticians within the battalion.
“Then we’ve got a deal”, goes Pawah afterwards. “We’ll contact ya when we’re ready to hit ‘em. Just sit ready wherever you’ll be and Gridania won’t be more than a memory. You can do whatever you wish with the rest of Eorzea for all we care.” Once they seem poised to split up, Pawah does divert her eyes to Jhera once more, this time with a more avid sheen. “Gotta say, it’s intriguing to see one of ours among your kind. If you weren’t here, we might not have been up for listening to these schmucks at all, sister.”

Livia glances sideways at her attendant and Jhera arches her brow at the other miqo.
“…excuse me?”, asks the Ordinarius.

“Figured you musta lost your way of the moon, right? Well, whatever the case may be, if you seek a new path once you’re done with the northerners, you can come join us instead. The Coeurlclaws are more in tune with the moon than you’ve probably been in years.”

It's not just the visions of Pawah and Livia which then divert to Jhera, but practically everyone who is in attendance. Fordola hadn’t personally thought about it from this perspective, other than that she knows precisely what her superior had told her on their congress as to what her stance was on this group of miqo. However, there is something to what they say which seemingly ignites a sensation in Jhera, which initially only ends with her halting and staying clammed up for about ten seconds. This stillness alters, creating ripples in the very air as her fingers clench and her jaw sets. Out of nowhere, she raises her face again, a frown upon her forehead, and there’s a shimmer along her red eye which seeps outwards, out onto a genuine aura around her. A darkness oozes from her, like tendrils of pure ebony intermingled with a bloody red that equals some of the magic which she has employed on several combat occasions. By the far end of the glade, many of the miqo jerk at that or even hiss in concern, while Pawah doesn’t do much other than feel an unsettled shiver over her arms.

Anshe vinitos, kotoshi-nen”, Jhera hisses out, sounding like cursing in what’s probably her native tongue. “I was a Templar, the fiercest of the goddess’ chosen, a protector of the grandest adoration to the moon which this continent has ever witnessed. You are nothing butbandits, half-witted mudlickers who crawl around in your own muck.” She lifts her hand to her massive claymore's hilt and takes a single step forward, making some of the other miqo backtrack behind the trees, while Pawah stays. “Refer to or view me as a sister ever again, lowlife, and I will happily lop off every head in yourpatheticlittle flock.”

While the Decurions blink their eyes, and Fordola arches her eyebrow at Jhera’s sudden outburst, what they cannot glean is how Livia below her helmet smirks, finding this ferocity endlessly amusing.

Chapter 42: The Scions path - Part 22

Chapter Text

The Ala Mhigan Resistance outpost in the Black Shroud is not the most comforting of places which any of its existing visitors have ever stayed in, but it will do. Y’shtola is one of those who would say that the bed can be rather hard, the food is not of the highest quality albeit nourishing, and there are a few too many bugs for her liking, but it’s nothing that she can’t handle. She’s been out along the road many a time amid her apprenticeship to master Louisoix, after all, and she doesn’t require any real luxuries in order to get by. To her, it isn’t how comfy she feels that her surroundings are which carries the most weight, but rather what she accomplishes along the journey and what it is that can occupy her time. Sometimes it’s discussions with master Louisoix or planning the next steps of the expeditions, other times she summons a familiar which can write down things for her or she compiles these notes by use of the same magical companion.

Today, on the other hand, Y’shtola is sitting and studying an object, namely a grimoire which she received in the previous phase of their voyage across Eorzea. That’s when her Aether-adapted sight notices how someone is making their way towards her and based on the contours, it would have to be Joltin.
“Hello there, Captain Dazkar.”

“Yo!”, the au ra replies merrily and waves a hand. “Was wondering if you’re free, actually.”

Y’shtola smiles mellowly and nods.
“Of course, I can just lay this down in the meantime.”

“Oh? What’s that you’re looking at? A…book?”

“Indeed. I received it from Payeg at the end of our visit. He acknowledged that my abilities likened his own and due to that he has no knowledge of whether his student yet lives, he wished for someone out there to continue parts of his own studies in the future and thus granted me this grimoire to look through.”

“But…I thought you couldn’t read? Like, with your eyes.”

“I cannot, but usually I have familiars who may fulfill this act for me, except that is not necessary in this case. Because this is a special grimoire that he himself had assembled, it has a magical nature which I can bind my mind to through metaphysical means.” She turns the book around and shows the pages for Joltin, but the au ra notices no words on them. “As you can see here, the pages are blank – or that is what he told me – because the data inscribed is not in words, but pure and unconfined enchantments.”

“Wow, that’s…incredible. Didn’t know that was possible.”

“We have some types of literature of this variety in Sharlayan too, but it is rare, yes, being that the creator has to invest the artifact with a piece of their own soul.”

Joltin lifts a hand and scratches behind her own head.
“…crap, okay. Uh, reckon that’s a lil’ above my paygrade, though.”

This at least makes Y’shtola chuckle, a sound that the au ra relishes.
“Fret not, Captain. I will not impose on you to learn how to employ it either. Now, what can I do for you?”

As Y’shtola puts the grimoire down in her bag, Joltin lifts one hand and slaps it against the other arm, this being her prosthetic.
“Well, I was just curious if you wanna help greasing my arm.”

“Greasing it?”

“Yeah, I gotta do that occasionally to keep it like, not getting stuck or rusty in the joints or simply working incorrectly.”

“Oh, I see. I certainly wouldn’t mind assisting you, Captain. Do you normally demand someone’s attendance with this, then?”

“Not exactly, but another person helping out just makes it less prickly, ya know?”

“Ahh, naturally. Then, whatever it is that this insists, I shall see whether I may facilitate it.”
Being shown where she has to place her hands, Y’shtola complies with the instructions and aids Joltin with detaching the arm by using a couple of buttons hidden beneath the armpit region, as well as gently yanking it off. In the midst of this, Joltin furthermore provides a box with tools that she’s carrying, which she sets down next to them and asks Y’shtola to use it after Joltin illustrates where they have to be put.
“All of this does seem tremendously elaborate and advanced.”

“Yeah, hah. You remember the friend I mentioned? He’s the one who also taught me how to keep it in good condition and how to do all of the oiling and mini repairs that I might need. I’m far from even mediocre, but I know how to handle the basics.”

“I don’t doubt it. This friend of yours does appear to be rather nifty.”

“Oh, yeah yeah! You know he built my ship for me as well, right? He’s a true expert at this stuff.”

Y’shtola looks at her somewhat intrigued.
“He constructed a Garlean-esque engine from scratch?”

“’course he did. I mean, he is Garlean originally, although not so much anymore. Left his country behind at some point. Dunno if I mentioned that.”

“A former Garlean citizen…you don’t often meet a lot of those.”

“Nope, ya sure don’t. He’s always been good to me, though. Should be somewhere around Eorzea too, so maybe you and old Louisoix can have a chat with him. Not a scholar exactly, but he's a true genius when it comes to engines and tech. And he opposes his homeland’s invasion of Eorzea with all his might.”

During the period that Y’shtola helps applying the oil by adopting a piece of cloth, she continues to mull over this framework and even if she can’t view it firsthand, she relies on her imagination to picture the appearance of it.
“How long have you had this arm of yours?”

“For as long as I can remember, I guess. Can’t actually recall a day where I had both arms made outta flesh.”

“So it is not that dissimilar from my own setup, then.”

“Yeah, you could say that. None of us have had our whole bodies for most of our lives, right? That’s just how it is in this dangerous world, probably. Won’t deny it’s been rough for me sometimes with this, especially when the arm jams or I run into some snag where it malfunctions, but like, it’s better than the alternative. Better than not having a second arm at all.”

Y’shtola nods slowly and ponderingly.
“I can see that, Captain, and relate to it with my own ‘crutches’, so to speak. Although I will never have the faculty to watch the world as a ‘normal’ person would, I much prefer having some vision than none at all.”

“Yeah, exactly. And hey, is it really a ‘crutch’? I’d call it a balance. We have natural disadvantages in comparison with people who haven’t lost any body parts or abilities, so it just seems fair to me that we get a replacement to lower the downsides.”

With a faint giggle, Y’shtola’s tail twitches with a tinge of delight.
“I will not gainsay you in that regard, Captain.” As they get towards the end of this maneuver, Joltin appears as if she’s wavering and staring back and forth, her facial expression hesitant and troubled, which Y’shtola can’t help but react to. “Is something on your mind, Captain? I noted that you were looking at me without speaking.”

Blinking her eyes and scouring Y’shtola face once more, she loses her thought when she regards how the miqo’te’s ears are tilted sideways in an inquisitive manner. That breaks the ice somewhat and Joltin can’t help it when she laughs.
“Dunno if I’d told you this, but you got some pretty cute quirks. Especially when you flip your ears around.”

Being this direct with her and pointing out physical motions that Y’shtola hadn’t wholly deliberated on, the scholar sighs both bashfully and annoyed, not factoring in that her ears furthermore responds to this sensation as they tilt backwards.
“That…is simply what they do. I’m sure you’ve met many of my kind with similar wriggling.”

“Hah! Maybe. Just never gave it much thought, I reckon.” Peering sideways and ensuring that they’re alone, Joltin reduces the volume on her voice. “Uh, I was wondering…if we get space for it later during our course, would you wanna…erm, maybe go for a spin somewhere? Like, just the two of us.”

Just the two of them? Looking rather quizzical herself in this moment, Y’shtola initially touches her own cheek prior to a smile cropping up.
“Are you asking me out on a date, Captain?”

“…you’d think I was smoother with this since I flirt all the godsdamned time, but uh…wager I’m not similarly awesome with the actual deed, heh. But you got it right, yeah.”

After she’s accommodated Joltin in reattaching her arm, Y’shtola prevents the au ra from slipping away by smiling and entwining her fingers with those of Joltin’s prosthetic.
“If you promise we will not go watch the night sky or anything similar – since that would be arduous for me – my answer is absolutely, Captain.”

With such a positive response to her own question that wasn’t stuffed with confidence, Joltin lets the tensions go and chuckles, clutching Y’shtola’s fingers a bit.
“Don’t worry, I’m not good with just sittin’ around watching theater or whatever either. We’ll cobble up something together that suits us.”

Chapter 43: The Vermin path - Part 21

Chapter Text

The darkness of night has swept across the forested land when the time has come for the teams to make their move. Although nighttime is never an altogether muted experience in the Black Shroud, what the united effort of the Coeurlclaws and the imperials bring out tonight will surely awaken the most closely hibernating of beasts, for they do not try to cloak what it is they’re getting up to. Having angled themselves against four perspectives to tackle, the Coeurclaws offered to take two of these sides to shoot into, while Battalion Subzero snatched the remaining two. On orders from her Tribunus, Centurion Fordola is leading these two backed up by the Decurions. And as soon as they pierce the area in relative proximity of the tree that they’re intending to harass, the forest is filled with unnatural and magical creatures when the spiritual attacks begin. On top of this, even some random beasts join in to hold back the aggressors.

At an explicit site inside these woods, somewhat in between the various cardinal directions that the teams are hitting, there are more people listening to these diversions happening. Livia and Jhera are standing with a smaller squadron of imperial soldiers, merely five units besides themselves. Livia herself is dressed in her full white armor, and Jhera is sporting her heavy navy-blue and black one, but while Jhera doesn’t possess any helmet, Livia has hers put on. Neither of them are speaking nor facing the other, but they are kneeling side by side in amid the vegetation, Jhera’s ears intermittently perking when she regards another explosion or a slightly off bit of firing. She’s not positive that her soldiers are being as disciplined as she’d like, but it’ll have to do.

“What is the plan, Tribunus?”, Jhera asks her superior.

The taller woman is firstly rather quiet and keeps staring out into the darkness of the woods, until she finally speaks up in soft tones.
“Did you keep your mask from our mission in Werlyt?”

Hmm. Werlyt? Jhera furrows her brow, remembering her years with Livia outside of their time here in Eorzea. That city is one of the closest positioned towards Eorzea from the continent of Ilsabard and it’s where the XIVth Legion resolved to employ biological weapons to assault the defenses. She does not conjure up images of this operation fondly.
“I did, yes. Just in case.”

“Smart girl”, Livia praises in an obviously backhanded measure. “I believe now is the time to wear it again, Ordinarius.”

Closing her eye, Jhera shakes her head.
“…yes, Tribunus.”

Equipping a facial mask that provides a vizor for her eyes and a breathing apparatus for her mouth, the imperial soldiers behind her follow suit by putting on reinforced helmets. Afterwards, Jhera gestures with a hand to her side and she takes point, whereas the others roll in behind her.
Immediately that they get into the area, they notice how one of the trees before them contorts to a degree, like a green mist spews out of it and in the center of this fog of oozing poison, a hole cracks open and widens swiftly. In seconds, a dirt-constructed monster is spitted out, looking a lot like a giant frog of some sort. Whereas Jhera gets into a fighting pose to take it on, this summoned beast from the Elementals most likely, Livia calls out.
“Stand back, Ordinarius.”

Putting a hand to her belt, she lifts an orb into her hand – some form of grenade – which she then casually hurls at the beast. It only manages to get a meter closer before this device detonates; or more specifically, spews out a green-black gas which quickly fills an area of around five meters. In seconds, the beast that was summoned begins twitching and falls to the ground, seemingly suffocating due to the gas. Concurrently, what distresses Jhera more than the beast’s death is how this gas settling down only reveals that it has in such a short spell prevailed in discoloring the vegetation around it, as well as the ground beneath, in a somewhat ghastly black-green-purple hue.

“Onwards, Ordinarius”, Livia merely orders, unaffected by the environmental extermination they’ll be causing. “We have a timetable to keep.”

With Livia charging ahead, the remaining members of the team have no alternative but to pursue her, although Jhera is wondering internally whether she’s engaging in something foolhardy once more. In spite of that not everyone has experienced this facet well and truly, Jhera certainly has after having spent numerous years in Livia’s proximity. She does things occasionally that don’t seem logical in the least, and it grates on the Ordinarius. Why did she have to get assigned to this type of daredevil?

Nevertheless, as they proceed, it doesn’t take too long until they uncover a massive oak standing in a sort of crossing between hills and minor mountains, a manner of valley that’s almost produced solely to shield this entity.
“That must be it”, Livia comments. “The Guardian Tree. Very well then, I suppose it’s time for us to carve some timber.” She gestures at her troops beyond Jhera. “You have charges in your bags, yes? Place them in locations about the tree, but not directly on it. The gas they exude has to seep into the ground and hit its roots more than anything. You notice that there are streams surrounding it? Try to position them near the bounds of this water. Move!”

Watching as the legionaries head off to comply with their instructions, Jhera soon turns to Livia.
“What about us, Tribunus? We’re not just going to sit idle, are we?”

Livia snorts.
“Hardly. You don’t believe beings that are capable of summoning magic to bring forth monsters will surrender that handily, do you? Our troops will need to be protected until it’s time to head off. Steel your sword, Ordinarius; this is far from over.”

Breathing out, Jhera snatches the hilt of her massive claymore and pulls it out to let it hang from her right hand, looking around the area and trying to detect its aura, how there’s something thick and restrictive in the air which makes her wary.
“How long will it take for them to rig the explosives?”

“No more than a minute or two, depending on depth. But it‘s not just that, of course – I doubt any of the troops we’ve brought will be fit to clash with the monstrosities that will be beckoned for this transgression.”

“…I figured as much.”

Just like previously, a couple more oozing pools of mass form practically out of thin air, almost like portals to an unknown source. From these three nodes a trio of fresh spirit monsters spawns; one appearing like a gigantic wolf, another like a genre of tree monster and the third what Jhera would designated as an ugly giant flying rat with bat wings. Spreading her arms, blades fold out of her wrists and Livia gets into a battle stance.
“Ordinarius, with me!”

Cruising a hand down her blade, Jhera has anteriorly mustered energy into her body, which produces a stream of black-scarlet fire across her blade, that disturbing aetheric flow which has panicked too many an opponent during her time as a warrior.
“By your leave, Tribunus”, she goes and charges after her leader.

For the next two minutes, the two of them then engages these beasts in an attempt to hold them off for as lengthy as possible, and attributed to that this isn’t Jhera’s initial skirmish next to her leader, she’s cognizant of what it’ll point to for her own role. Dashing up to the fore, Jhera preps and layers herself with every defensive technique which she knows, staving off more than a couple of strikes, some which hammer her quite heavily. These are beast-like creatures, but Jhera can feel how imbued their abilities are with aether, which spells it out that these are not simply animals, but actual conjured monsters. Fortunately for Jhera, she is not alone, and though they take this slowly by hitting one at a time, Livia takes the opportunity to eliminate their foes when Jhera has their attention. She starts off with the tree monster, severing its legs with a flanking hustle when she flies under and lashes outwards with her arm-blades. Next, she ambushes the flying rat-thing, leaping right into its back where she buries the same blades. For the last one, while the wolf endeavors to clench Jhera’s blade with its fangs, Livia targets its legs. Although the wolf does take note of this and tries to dodge, it opens itself to Jhera, who it had underestimated as a mere shield wall. With a devastating uppercut blow, Jhera severs its head.

Following this clinching blow, no great quantity of the combat remains and the clearing they’re in soothes into stillness. However, this endures for no more than half a minute, where Jhera ascertains how the wind from the neighboring zones are picking up and there’s a terribly bitter feel to them. In seconds, several more magical portals are being set up, and at least half a dozen additional monsters are being arranged to combat them.
Fortunately, that’s when they hear how their troops are gathering behind them.
“Tribunus! The charges are set!”

Livia nods at them with joy and a glimmer of pride.
“Well done. Then there is nothing else for us here – let’s get out while we can.”

Sprinting out of the clearing and making it several hundred meters forth, that’s when Livia detonates the charges. Discounting that there is no great bang which succeeds the discharge, Jhera doesn’t have to hear them to know that they’ve prevailed. Looking behind her, she can regard firsthand how the majority of these parts of the woods are wilting, rotting into a sickly black and pale-green mesh, as if a great reaping has occurred.

Chapter 44: The Scions path - Part 23

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Sometimes, one does have to speculate about who it is that governs the progress of fate and the precariousness of luck and misfortune, for some components of those that float within the temporal stream of reality are simply too punctual to have been a fluke. Or perhaps one might say that they’re monstrously cruel in their consolidation of inimical hearts.
Subsequent to their couple of days in the camp of the Ala Mhigan Resistance, the team of five had assented to the request of M’naago and her comrades to depart with their operatives and survey the woods for a recent happening. Reports have been flooding inside their camp from scouts and locals alike that a detonation was triggered somewhere in the woods and the rebels are persuaded that it has to have been the Garleans who engineered it somehow.

This scouting run goes smoothly for a day or two, where they’ve branched themselves out into minor parties to cover more ground, but not at such a scale that they couldn’t keep in contact with one another. However, it’s while Louisoix takes the occasion amid a break to check out a clutch of mushrooms which looked peculiar to him, that they’d by some means gone through an aberrant mutation in his point of view from his earlier visit, that the contours of their hunt take a turn. More specifically, he runs into trouble, which the others are enlightened by only after he calls for help about an attack.

With Joltin spearheading their crew, they find themselves hopping right out into a glade, roughly contemporaneous with a squad of black-clad troops which Joltin could not categorize as anything besides Garlean armor. Behind this initial line walks another number of people with more diversity to their attires, although nonetheless holding the identical imperial symbols atop their gear. As she hurtles into the terrain, Joltin brings forth her gunblade and loads it with a piece of her aether, firing off a charge that make the regular soldiers back off and stand in a defensive measure. It’s as the five are gathered once more that another group on the antipodal end goes first, consisting of five people too, among them a heavily armored miqo’te with black hair and an eyepatch across her left eye, as well as a tall and dark-skinned highlander hyur with red-blonde hair, plus a black-haired midlander hyur, a dark blonde elezen and a white-horned au ra behind them.

“And who are these people?”, asks the miqo, her tone explicitly accented. “Gridanians?”

There is silence to begin with, before one of those who look a smidgen tenser than the others, the elezen speaks up.
“…I do not believe it is thus, no, Primus Ordinarius.”

Along the path of heeding this voice, Y’shtola’s eyes suddenly widen and she dithers in awestricken consideration, anterior to facing a frowning Louisoix.
“Master, isn’t that…?”, she whispers. Louisoix, on the other hand, does not utter any words.

Another among the team who carries a distraught visage is Lyse throughout exploring the vision of the highlander who’s fixed near the black-haired miqo.
“…Fordola?”, she asks in a reticent and trembling manner.

This Fordola reciprocates the look with her own frowning one.
“…what in thehellsare you doing here?”, she snarls.

While the tension among multiple individuals on each side is burgeoning and the instability that could induce an explosion is tangible, none of them have time to act, for another voice speaks up.
“Hah! So, it is here you’ve been stowing yourself away. To think, of all the places in Eorzea, it is this meager land of savage tree-huggers where I find you. How very unlike you.”

The one to flinch in this instance, to some of their wonderment, is Kjat. Her eyes dilated and her mouth left mildly agape, she veers to peer straight-on against a white-armored woman who materializes behind a drove of wood. The four added members of the team are nonplussed by this abrupt supplement to the equation and vocalize not an iota to question it. Not until Joltin side-glances at her friend.
“Uh…Doc?”

Lyse snaps out of her musings too with Fordola and takes a concerned step towards the medical expert.
“Kjat, what’s the matter?”

Granting all this, Kjat takes no notice of either of them, having her visuals oriented from first to last at this woman and she withdraws an intense and dilatory quantity of air.
“…Livia.”

Her comrades’ minds race once again, and this includes the imperial legionaries, who hadn’t foreseen that a nondescript wanderer would somehow be mindful of their commander, save Livia herself.
“Wait, you know that Garlean?”, wonders Lyse.

The viera exhales in a malcontent approach and enlaces her arms, but in this enactment, there’s an unsettled quality to it, like her arms show very subdued and mild shivers.
“…I regret to tell you that I do, yes. She’s…an immense outlet of trouble.”

From his own crook of the field, Louisoix goes about scanning the person highlighted by their comrade and rolls his fingertips down his beard, feeling the prong of the bristles nudge into his skin and in an instant, something dawns on him.
“Did you say ‘Livia’, miss Sja-naris? As in, Tribunus laticlavius of the XIVth Legion, Livia tol Junius?”

With her crinkles magnifying, Kjat’s tension follows suit and she shuts her eyes.
“…you are well-informed, master Louisoix, but also true to form. Yes, this is her.”

Joltin gives the whole cadre ahead of them a once-over, but can’t help zeroing in on this Livia woman, and her immediate take is that this is an influential character. Every high-level Garlean wears armors akin to hers, with a practically human-like face and armor pieces furnished to the teeth with nasty trinkets, hidden weaponry, and other hellish crap.
“You got her number, Doc?” But Kjat does not retort, continuing her endless glare at this officer, coming off as like she’s inundated by the sheer vicinity of her.

It is then Livia’s duty to implement the answers for her, which pans out with a slim laugh. She folds her arms and drums her fingers alongside them for a spell.
“You haven’t enlightened them? My my, dear. To keep such secrets from your…what, friends, perchance? More imbeciles of yours, I don’t doubt.” She heightens one of her arms, straightens her back and points directly at the team. “Know this, whatever worthless scum you are, that you are standing next to my future wife.”

Another ripple is hurled across the gathered fellowship, a perceptual reflex which they had no way of calling or considering. They’re totally overwhelmed by the prospect and have no other recourse than to level their eyelines at Kjat.
“What…in the hells…?”, mumbles Joltin.

“Miss Sja-naris, is she correct?”, asks Y’shtola. “Can you confirm that this senior imperial officer is…your betrothed?”

Kjat’s stern and adamantine glare holds for another handful of seconds, nearly unwilling to budge in its stoic form for fear that she might crumble if she doesn’t hold on. Ultimately, she’s impelled to give in and reluctantly bites her lower lip, her lengthy ears wilting backwards self-consciously, staring towards the grass below.
“…she speaks the truth.”

Lyse is the one most floored by this, her hands jiggling and her lips faintly quivering.
“What? But that can’t…possibly be…”

It doesn’t warrant a bundle of seconds for Kjat to substitute her previous expression through steeling her eyes with a grim scowl at Livia.
“But not by choice.”

Livia snorts and waves her hand nonchalantly.
“It was arranged, yes, but choice or not, it was arbitrated and authenticated! You belong to me, Kjat. It was a deal long in the making.”

“I couldn’t care less for any of those damn settlements!”, Kjat shouts in return. “I will never marry you. I will neverforgiveyou”, she stresses in an unequivocal and undebatable phrasing, her words dripping with poison.

“Your forgiveness is no object, Kjat. You signed it, just as your mother did. The agreement made isabsolute.”

Her formulation afflicts Kjat beyond acutely and the viera’s screws up her hands, her jaw hardening, her ears rising and her eyes glooming with a dire shade of consummate hatred.
“A compact you ruined when youMURDERED MY BROTHER!”

And so, virtually the aggregate of Kjat’s circ*mstances, the repercussions which drove her to abscond to Eorzea and her phobia of staying close at hand to imperial troops is striking her allies, what type of impasse they’re actually grappling with relating to the medical expert. The other four reverses their engagements upon Livia, but the Tribunus simply shrugs off the bile which presses against her.
“A traitor to the Eternal Emperor! Rebel scum must be put down swiftly and decisively.”

“Ibeggedyou not to, Livia! I would’ve doneanythingfor a show of mercy, you know this! And you turned my plea down!”

“You were a law-abiding and reasoned citizen, Kjat, but he had no supplemental passion in life than to raze the stability and welfare which was built up around you and yours. He was a liability to your civilization, as were those insurgents. The Empire eliminates every burden to its march forward. You aren’t blind to this, Kjat.”

Gnashing her teeth and squeezing her fists, Kjat directs her undivided attention and fury along Livia, the origin of her growing and lasting suffering, the person who just won’t cease pestering and stalking her throughout the years. Out of the blue, Kjat loads energy into her hands, aether being collected over her palms and arms, which fluctuates with a severe illustration of torment and indignance. The gem on her forehead generates a glow and along her cheeks, neck and arms, glyphs of complex arcane writings shining in the radiance of the sun take their places. Screaming her unadulterated wrath at Livia, pillars of light emerge in a circle around Kjat, which fabricates a golden vacillating orb above her, like the vision of a sun. It gleams with such brightness that the soldiers and her allies alike partially have to look off, until she unleashes it, firing the ball squarely at Livia…but though it causes great environmental damage, routing several of the regular soldiers away, the impact itself is warded off by someone who has been positioned before Livia: the one-eyed miqo. She has her hand lifted, projecting a form of black-red magical barrier that held off the spell. It’s not unlike what Joltin may produce if obligated, but the aether is darker, more foreboding and stinks of an acrid substance.

The miqo is steered with a stoic stare for Kjat.
“I don’t think so.”
In an instant, some of the medical expert’s pride and energy wanes, her ears slumping back and she begins panting; seemingly this incantation – coupled with her dismay of failing - took a great toll on her energy.

Past this moment, Livia is tarrying where she was prior, unfazed, and perhaps with a flicker of irritation to her, sighing in displeasure.
“Fine, so that is how it’ll pan out again, then. Ordinarius Jhera, seize her. Kill the others.”

Jhera isn’t facing Livia, nor does she wince after she scatters her shield and steels her arms, fixating her optic instead upon the four souls surrounding Kjat.
“By your leave, Tribunus.”

Rearing her hand up to a hilt which bulges out over her head, the Ordinarius snatches it from above her and pulls it forth, unearthing a thoroughly massive claymore which she keeps ranged over the ground, sending down chills across the spines of practically everyone involved on the enemy side, besides one. Depositing the second hand along the flat side, she sweeps her fingers down the length and imbues its hide with a dark energy, summoning a brand of eerie black-scarlet flames which simulate the earlier charge of the shield she held up. Outstretching one foot, she then braces herself and breezes forth, free of a single word as she presses against her competition.

Nonetheless, as Jhera comes within five meters of them, furnished without a doubt to lay many of them low in seconds as to not grant them an opening to take their own protective stances, a solitary person leaves the side of her associates to stack up against this miqo. Jhera barely has momentum to retaliate towards this flash which lunges at her, and instead of completing an onslaught, she has to grind her teeth and fangs while reversing her blade into defense, for a gunblade slams into the greatsword with intense strength, Jhera’s feet compressing into the dirt as she slides back and lodges a trail into it.

Her one eye surfaces over the clashing weapons and levels it angrily into the insultingly short but stocky au ra who leapfrogged into her, and the utmost galling of it all is that the expression and shaded eyes of Joltin grins at her.
“Hah! You wanna dance, kitty? I’m always up for a real tango! Let’s not be hasty and have some fun, huh?”

Notes:

yes, i will admit this is one of the most prearranged arc/double chapters i've ever done. it's one of those encounters i had in mind before i even started writing the fic
next part is along the "Vermin path", but like, both parties are here so...it's kinda not split per se

Chapter 45: The Vermin path - Part 22

Chapter Text

What’s with the haste and brawn of this damn au ra? Jhera has encountered rugged opponents in the past, ones who exude force and confidence in equal measure, who at first glance showed to be unsurmountable, but ended up not corresponding to that claim. She’s defeated hardened defenders and overzealous adversaries, but traditionally she’s been able to distinguish them beforehand. There’s just something about them that marks their certainty, their co*ckiness in facing her which Jhera doesn’t fear and can overcome. But this one…she looked meager at the outset, just a shortie who wore a flashy garb. Seeing and feeling her strength, coupled with this lower stature, it makes her risky in Jhera’s view. She has to take great care in dealing with this one.

While the pair of them are locked pressing the blades against the other for about ten seconds, eventually the au ra startles her once more, lifting her foot and kicking Jhera in the belly to shove her back, while she herself employs the pressure to backflip them apart, giving them both a nugget of space. Afterwards, the au ra lifts and rests her gunblade against her shoulder and smirks at Jhera.
“I’m Joltin. You?”

Narrowing her eye, Jhera suspends her claymore to her side, still feeling moderately insulted that a blade at such smaller size could inhibit her.
“Jhera.”

“Dunno what yer doing here, Jhera, or why you’d fight for the imps, but let’s not worry ‘bout that at this moment, huh?” Holding up her free hand, she grins and gestures with her fingers for Jhera to approach, all but tauntingly. “Come get some, grumpy.”

The Ordinarius can’t glean nor decide if that’s bravado or genuine self-esteem in her abilities. Possibly a bit of both. Either way, Jhera has to test it, strain at this woman’s capabilities, and see personally what she can hold against. Thus, digging her feet into the dirt, she launches herself forward once more.
“Battalion Subzero – onwards! Take down these enemies of the Empire!”
In the meantime, Joltin bends her arm downwards, hovering her hand for a few seconds above her gunblade’s trigger and seems to initiate three lights over it.

Out of her own team, Urianger is the first to move, hiking up his bizarre globe weaponry with swirling cards and spins it over his palm in order to launch a spell against the other team’s miqo’te. This miqo dodges the attack quite handily, and then wrinkles her brow prior to retreating towards a nearby glade, and Urianger pursues her.
Gritting her teeth, Fordola is number two and immediately assaults the blonde hyur among their foes. She is much less lenient than Urianger and hops forward with her massive axe, deliberately hustling to hurt her competition with a devastatingly wide slash, but as this brawler dodges, Fordola fells a tree in the act.
The third to plunge into the foray is Milisandia, who attempts to give the viera, Kjat, what-for by getting her gun up and drilling several shots towards the panting woman. Regrettably, her shots do not reach their target, as the elderly elezen in that crew lifts his staff to shelter Kjat, by magically crafting a faint barrier.

“Hien, take their flank!”, the au ra calls.

Sighing to himself, the eastern hyur shrugs haplessly.
“Guess that’s my spot in this standing, then. Don’t particularly fancy taking on old folks, but…”

In the epicenter of this clash, the predominant encounter remains Joltin versus Jhera, where the furthest sparks erupt and the hardest devastation is provoked. For the time being, neither of them are losing much stance or territory, though, and spend a while estimating each other’s skills. Jhera relies mainly upon her strength and width of attacks in order to get a single hit in on her nemesis, but the crux in the matter is that Joltin is the complete opposite – fast, precise, and deflective. Even if Jhera senses no great blaze of aether from the au ra, there is an underlying river of high frequency that looms, charging itself to be unleashed. Once or twice, Jhera does induce the brisk bastard to pitch an aether shield in order to bounce off a rip of the claymore, which protrudes a form of hexagonal light-blue and yellow barrier, but it doesn’t appear to push her very hard. Jhera figures she has to get better serious, then, and at least twice she loosens swung ranks of black-red fire that surges at Joltin, but each is dodged with expert maneuvers.

Over at the square where the Ala Mhigans are set in combat, the two sisters simulate the intermediary fight, except Fordola is the instigator. She does not hold back, nor does she act accommodating in approving of Lyse to escape. With her teeth gritted, she swings the massive instrument forth, cutting open bushes and at several occasions, she verges on slashing apart the forest once more. Akin to Joltin, Lyse is too zippy for her, jumping and diverting out of the blows, sometimes bounding into Fordola’s territory to knock her backwards, by her legs or belly, which merely cultivates further rankling of the younger sister.

“Fordola! You gotta stop this! Us squabbling ain’t gonna help anyone!”

“Squabbling?!”, she growls. “You think I’d just let it slide that you’d betray our home?!”

“Are you insane?! I’m fightingforAla Mhigo’s freedom!”

“f*ck you! You’re doing exactly what dad did when he got mom killed!”
Lyse is about to respond, but once more Fordola encumbers the opportunity by heaving her axe and smashing it down, cleaving the soil, but Lyse escaped ahead of it.

Onto the reverse flank of the clearing, Milisandia prolongs her own onslaught onto Louisoix and Kjat, with the duo seeking cover behind trees and smaller rocks as to not be spotted or grazed by the bullets hurled at them. From time to time the au ra produces a device attached to her backpack that spurts a smog of fire, but this is put out by Louisoix who conjures a cloud of magical water.
What the duo doesn’t discover until it’s beyond time is that this rather ostentatious recourse was solely an opening for her ally, as Hien cruises in from a flank and carves his samurai blade into Louisioix side. The old man groans as he tumbles to the ground, staining the green grass red. Kjat looks wired to assault Livia, but knowing she can’t consign Louisoix to his doom, Kjat makes her fingers dance now that she’s regained her breath and dispatches an intense wind that blows the Doman away and then emerges from this with an orb of soft brilliance that restores health into the old man.

“Oh goodness me…”, Louisoix puffs out. “Thank you kindly, miss Sja-naris.”

Kjat smiles at him as she kneels to help him up.
“Let’s not have you fall ahead of the curve, master Leveilleur, shall we?”

While Kjat’s attention is pulled away for a moment, Milisandia and Hien’s gazes lock, giving the hyur an inkling of what’s about to occur when the au ra flashes a portion of hand signals. Shortly thereafter, Hien disperses into the dusk of the woods, out of view from anyone else. It’s then that Milisandia picks up a second pistol and launches a barrage of shots towards her opposition, blasting almost at random to cause the most large-scale wreckage capable.
“Get up from there and face me, you insolent cravens! C’mon!”

While Kjat sits behind some trees, crouching next to Louisoix who’s yet in pain from what he endured, the viera furrows her brow.
“Dammit…that lady really is relentless.”

“She holds some rough edges I would say, that much is clear”, Louisoix jokes with a coarse voice. “Perhaps we could remold the circ*mstances, however.”

“Do you have an idea?”

“We shall see, but if my calculations were not flawed, I would say that we could destabilize her priorities if we-“

In advance of him making his point known, a rustle to the right of them gets their notice drawn when Hien suddenly appears five meters away, having shifted out into the open, but also rounded them completely, letting them be exposed to him inside and out. Being caught flat-footed, their eyes heighten and they scramble to snatch their weapons and ready a spell.
“Iaijutsu…”, Hien expresses before them, his hand above the hilt of his sheathed katana, and they detect pronto that aether is building at mighty levels inside his body, which will surely cause lethal ruin to where they are.

And this is the moment where he himself fouls up his chances. Having left the safety of the shadows, Hien is near the open field again and stands with nothing in between himself and the other skirmishes that are unfolding to the left of him, lending a perspective of his position to Joltin, among others. Juking another swing from Jhera, the au ra dashes to the side, elevates her gunblade and levels a finger onto the trigger of her weapon.
“Not so fast, pal!Burst!”, she exclaims, in the runup to pressing the trigger.

To both Jhera and Hien’s astonishment, one of the trio of glows that had lingered upon the gunblade unexpectedly dissolves and out of the barrel below its blade, a detonation of aether drills out and smacks at lightning speed into Hien’s side, like a real but bigger bullet. The Doman swordsman can barely groan as he gets struck, being flung down to the ground and slamming into one of the trees, out for the count on the spot. Jhera finds herself a little dumbfounded by the whole thing. She’s seen Garleans use this feather of weaponry in the past, especially against her own back home, but this was…purer somehow. Quicker and with more power, like it was a natural portion of her tutoring and not simply applied as a tool. And there’s never any aether loaded in Garlean gunblades. What…in the goddess’ name is she?

One who harbors some hardships of her own is Lyse, when her sister just won’t stop. Fordola finds Lyse's swiftness and evasion to be incredibly chafing, how she can be so fleeting in her activity and predict nearly every offense that Fordola comes up with. The worst part is, Fordola isn’t quite sure what she’s hoping to achieve in the first place. Does she wish to kill Lyse or just vent her frustrations? How would she respond if she genuinely nailed a strike into Lyse? And would she get her feet wet in finishing the job?

Either way, it appears she’s not alone in getting tired of their back-and-forth for now, with Lyse fending and Fordola hammering onwards, which is why she pauses somewhere along the road.
“Fordola, if you aren’t gonna listen to me, I’ll stop being soft. This isn’t a game or anything, it’s very serious and I mean it when I say Ididn’tplan to hurt you.”

Flaring her nostrils, Fordola tastes how the indignance is reborn in her.
“You and your f*cking uppity style…sometimes I can easily refresh my mind about why Ihatespeaking with you.”

Lyse is caught at that moment between a weird co*cktail of anguish and bafflement.
“What’s with you? What did the imps do to make you this way, Fordola? Have they been feeding you more lies? I kept telling you that they’renotgood for us, not for Ala Mhigo nor our family. When will you learn that they’re deliberately pushing to divide us? We can only win our home back if we don’t give in to their tales.”

Hoisting her axe once more, Fordola steels her eyes and levels it towards a horizontal angle.
“You’re taking pretty good steps in making that happen on your own, bitch”, she goes, before she summons an allotment of aether into her hands. With Lyse’s guard partially lowered, Fordola brings forth a chain of aether that she’s called on earlier and tosses it forward, burning in a red glow while it fastens onto Lyse’s arm, which sneaks right up on the elder sister. “Got you.”

Hurtling herself at Lyse, Fordola sees her chance and finally bursts into her older sister, lifting the handle of the axe with one hand and then in the air fastens the second in order to accentuate the bash she’s about to deliver, making it dive down with insane speed…only for it to be corralled halfway down in between Lyse’s brass knuckles, inches away from her face, one fist at each side. Teeth gritted in concentration, breathing a grain heavier, Lyse stares into her sister’s eyes.
“If that’s the way it’ll be, Fordola…I gotta go all-out.”

Taking a nippy hop in retreat, Lyse lets the axe smash into the earth below which induces cracks into it, prior to sidestepping and jumping right on top of the back of its head. With Fordola intolerably stunned by this hurried turn of events, Lyse pounces and spins, somersaulting forward and kicking Fordola under her chin. Gasping and staggering backwards, the younger sister doesn’t have the momentum to retaliate or shield herself. With the aether chains having dispersed from Lyse, the brawler lands on her feet and rivets the totality of her own inner charge into her fists, pitches her arm and swings with it outwards, slamming the side of her closed hand into Fordola’s gut and launches her, flinging back the warrior like a pebble. She tumbles through the air right into a couple of bushes, borderline passing out in light of the sheer force of it all.

And Battalion Subzero confronts even greater setbacks in mere seconds. When Hien fell, Milisandia encountered obstacles in her own progress and chances to strike against Kjat and Louisoix, letting the old man be short of recuperating completely. Her one potential that she sees in halting their march is to upheave the field where they are and light their comprehension of it on fire – literally, if need be. This is what she’s brooding over as she peeks down at her belt, scoping out the orbs which dangle there. Huffing, she fetches one of them, skips out to the side and lobs a grenade straight at Kjat’s position, who instinctively inhales and prepares to backtrack.

No such action is necessary, fortunately, for Joltin intrudes into this scrape that she’s not in once more, wriggling out of Jhera’s dominance in hopes of getting close. While darting down and sliding on her back, she arches her gunblade, targets the device and pulls the trigger – her second aether burst strikes the thing in midair, still some meters off from the other au ra, but not enough to remain benign as it goes off prematurely. Groaning, Milisandia is shoved away from where she is and plunks straight into one of the trees. Five seconds later while she’s struggling to rise, Kjat has seized the ticket to victory ahead of her challenger, by gathering aether into her hands. Snapping her fingers, a flower in scarlet blooms, exploding in Milisandia’s face and knocks her down.

As for Jhera, being that she’s one of the last from her team that’s visibly still thriving, she’s opening herself to the fact that she somehow has to conclude this brawl with the au ra, or they may suffer not just an improbable loss, but a humiliating one. Hounding Joltin, she stops going for full-on vitality in these strikes and seeks to push her speed to catch up. She simply lacks a sole slice, one teeny impact, and she swears that this fleet-footed bastard won’t endure. But moon be damned…how come she’s this expeditious, this proactive in matching and eclipsing Jhera’s tactics? This isn’t how it used to be.

Parrying one cut and slapping away two more, Joltin withdraws a couple of meters and grins.
“Hah! You’re a persistent lil’ bastard, I’ll give ya that much.”

“If so, what’s the problem with giving up?”, wonders Jhera. “I can end this in a blur if you give me the option.”

“Funny too, huh? I like it! That said…” Hurdling out of the follow-up stab, Joltin escapes from Jhera’s hold, off to the left and then somehow diverts mid-passage, ramming her gunblade into the claymore, precisely like she played in the kickoff of this battle. This time around, on the other hand, Joltin’s yellow eyes below the shades change, an illumination springing from them. “Sorry pal, gonna have to seal this deal on my own. You made the mistake of overplaying your hand and drawing this one out. Guess ya had no alternative, but I’m putting a stop to it.”

“What are you on-“

She halts herself amid the sentence’s process, for something doesn’t add up with how Joltin’s face contorts, her lips’ edges curving up and she grins almost predatorily.
“You just entered the blasting zone.”

“…wha-“ In seconds, the glow from the au ra’s eyes extends up to the apex of her blade, sliding down across the length of the edge, forming and mounting the aether across it, up to a menacing degree that entirely floors Jhera’s perception. Damn her to hell…she did really step into this trap, didn’t she? And previous to Jhera contriving a counterattack, it goes off, an explosion hitting the Ordinarius outwards with vigor and ferocity, like she got rammed by a rushing bull headlong into her chest. She darts away, crashing into the dirt and slams her head against one of the trees, coming adjacent to losing consciousness.

Joltin is about to backtrack in order to assess the shape of things, but anterior to having the room for it, her senses react to a glint in the corner of her eyes. In a reflex move, the au ra spins and erects an aether shield, in a punctual act to block a blade that bangs into her, tying with or even excelling her own speed, impressing her to coast rearwards by at least a meter. Looking up, she takes in the view of the white-armored Garlean from before who is pressing an arm-attached blade into the shield.
“Whoa…you don’t mess around, huh?”

“And you are quite the anomaly, little primitive. Your stature is unimpressive, your height deficient, your clothing sense deplorable, and yet…” She reverses her direction and skips a smatter of meters behind where she was, eyeing the lower figure. “Your system of dueling, it looks like…” She clenches her fists and gets into a combative stance. “Your kind should’ve been eliminated. Who are you, miscreant?”

There’s a fresh flash in Joltin’s eyes, but not one of zest or amusem*nt from before, but one of umbrage and she squeezes the hilt of her armament.
“How in the hells do you know about that?”

“So, you don’t deny it? Then…”

But their conversation comes to a standstill, for out of thin air, arrows start flying against Livia, barely overshooting her when she dodges aside from them, flipping and taking cover behind a supplemental fragment of trees.
“Joltin, the rest of you, get over here!” Looking at their rear, Livia notes how a dark-skinned and blonde miqo is standing there with a bow, as well as a dozen more archers and lancers beside her. “We’re retreating, let’s go!”

“Hmm”, Livia says to herself. “Could that be the Resistance?” She does not dig away at opposing their plan regardless, assenting to their wish to pull out, leaving her practically by herself when imperial reinforcements fetch the area in the succeeding minute. Discerning their shadows melting into the distance and with her lessers slumped on the ground around her, bested by a mere band of riffraff, Livia crosses her arms and reflects on what this will mean. “I suspect this won’t be the last time our paths crisscross. You’ve yielded high-class allies, dear Kjat…but it shan’t keep me from you.”

Chapter 46: The Scions path - Part 24

Chapter Text

Well, there is a single positive aspect of the unforeseen clash with imperials, and that’s how they didn’t lose anyone. This is what Joltin has considered at least, when they’ve gathered up somewhere a few kilometers away in the vicinity of the roundup of Resistance members. Plus, they didn’t suffer any major injuries, besides Louisoix who recuperated for the most part thanks to Kjat’s healing abilities. Both Lyse and Joltin took minor wounds in their individual skirmishes, but these could by and large be walked off, which was Joltin’s baseline. They are still partially on edge, that much can’t be denied, but they’ll survive.

As they’re stationed in another type of glade between a portion of the humongous trees in the Black Shroud, Kjat is presently engaged in some additional patching up of Louisoix as they’ve paused and Joltin is trying to gather everyone in the same spot, seeing as there are topics on her mind that need some answers.
“Alright, guys, reckon we need to have a chat”, she goes when they’re around her. Y’shtola is sitting on a larger stone, whereas Lyse is leaning against the trunk of a tree with her arms folded. Joltin is placed in the center of the glade, a hand against her right hip. “That fight we had back there was…well, rough to say the least, but seems like we as a group are gonna need some answers, right? From pretty much everybody. Well, besides me, since I didn’t know a single one of those imperial dumbos. Although, one of ‘em was wielding a katana, a Doman style o’ sword, which is where I grew up. Never seen that guy, though.”

The following moment grows more than a smidgen tense, since only Y’shtola looks towards Joltin. Lyse peers at Kjat, but once she’s done with treating Louisoix, the viera does not speak, nor does the Ala Mhigan. The Sharlayans, on the other hand, hold instead quite hesitant appearances on their faces, dubious of how to address this. The matter does not move on until the eldest of them all exhales and shakes his head.
“I believe I will insist on employing my words first, mainly due to that…someone is owed this from me.” He turns his eyes with a regretful air at Y’shtola. “I…must apologize to you, Shtola. I…should’ve been more forthright with you about him.”

Being distant at the start, Y’shtola opts to cross her arms and stare down at the floor, as if unable to determine how she truly feels.
“Uri…he was there, on the battlefield. I spoke to him briefly.”

“Yes, I…I noticed you two encountered one another.”

Uplifting her gaze, she drives it into her teacher’s, as if to drill for clues.
“You knew he’d be there, didn’t you? With the Garleans.”

His shoulders slumping and his fingers entwining over his belly, the old man sighs and shakes his head sadly.
“…I did, yes. Well, not upon this precise front where we collided, butwith them, surely.”

“Whoa whoa, hold yer chocobos”, Joltin intercedes. “Who is it you’re nattering ‘bout now? Who’s Uri?”

“Urianger Augurelt”, Louisoix responds, “the fairly young Sharlayan man you observed engaging Shtola on the battlefield. Even if I distrust that the two of them genuinely ‘fought’…”

Y’shtola’s head twitches in agreement shortly.
“That was mainly for show.”

“He is my student and Shtola’s dearest childhood friend.”

Joltin is half-thunderstruck by this, her head jerking in shock.
“Wait…what in the hells? Your student joined the imps?!”

“I shall…get to this, but allow me to enlighten you of his character beforehand.
Although I do not surmise that we have broached her to you, I have a person from my homeland, someone you might call…well, both my best friend and my rival, who I’ve ever been close to. Perhaps even closer than the woman who birthed my son later on. Her name is Matoya, and she is one of the greatest sorcerers and researchers born in Sharlayan amid this generation. When we were both in our early middle-aged years, she adopted Shtola, who had lost her clan and parents. This is how Shtola and I later became acquainted as well, for around a similar time, I had become the caretaker of Uri who I never officially adopted, but has from the very start been as a second son to me. He is my most talented protégé and we trust one another implicitly and wholeheartedly.
Being my student, Uri shares many of my ideals, but while he is a phenomenally talented magic user in his own right, his strategies for tackling the burden that is the Garlean Empire differ from mine. About a year and a half past, Uri passed on to me what his latest scheme was: as far more theatrical and conniving than I am, he proposed that he would infiltrate the imperial military and feed me data about their structure, plans, and movements. This is precisely what he’s been up to since then.”

“Holy…balls. You’ve had a spy in their ranks since then?”

“This was…not an act that I endorsed, as a matter of fact. First and foremost, I was opposed to the idea, for it seemed much too high-stakes for one man to indulge in, and I endeavored to reason with him to divert from this route. But he never relented…and eventually, I did instead.
The ill news of this procedure is that I have not been contacted by him in a few months, but I knew he signed up with an underground project which the Empire has dubbed ‘Battalion Subzero’, consisting of various nonnative soldiers whose primary goal is to act as a forward scout section that sows chaos and destruction.”

Y’shtola’s ears twitch and she looks down on the ground.
“So that is how you knew of this ‘Livia’ and the XIVth Legion…”

“It was, yes. Uri has been doing his utmost to provide every piece of intel he’s capable of.”

“Huh. Hadn’t expected that”, Joltin admits. “This guy is still with you, then? In heart and spirit, I mean.”

“Naturally. Should you spy him once more, you ought to view him as an ally and friend. He’s one of the best men I’ve ever known and fights for the cause of a free Eorzea as well, from the shadows.”

Prior to Joltin speaking her sentiments on this matter, Y’shtola elevates her eyes and directs them towards the au ra.
“I would sync up with that reflection as well, Captain. Uri, he…he is practically as a brother to me. Like master Louisoix espoused, we grew up together, playing and studying side by side. He would rather lay down his life than hurt me or those I believe in.”

Joltin’s face alters when hearing those words into a smile and nods at her.
“Alright, then. That decides it: anyone you trust, I will too. If we collide with the guy again, I’ll keep it in mind.” Looking to the others after this, Joltin especially homes in on Kjat. “Right, so we know about this Uri guy now. What about you, Kat? You got anything to offer?”

As opposed to Louisoix, Kjat does not cling to the spirit of sharing and once she’s stood up again, she doesn’t give Joltin nor the others a second glance. She solely sighs, surfaces a reluctant glimmer in her eyes and moves off alone, leaving the glade. The others are not stunned, but they all look uncertain how to answer this absent allocation of truth, and do not pursue her. Lyse is the one to part from her spot and nudges her own chest as she tails the viera.
“Lemme talk to her. I’ll make sure she’s okay.”

Chapter 47: The Vermin path - Part 23

Chapter Text

Defeat. It’s been too long since Jhera had to taste it, since she had to wake up licking blood in her mouth and that she’d passed out due to someone utterly trumping her. It’s infuriating and entirely beneath her, but that’s the reality of her situation. After the struggle against the Resistance and their peculiar and undetermined allies, Jhera hasn’t seemed to have the capacity of stopping her head from overcooking. The main aspect of this is of course her loss against that damn nonsensically proficient au ra. Who was she? Where in the hells did she come from and where’d she get those abilities from? Every time she closes her eye within the past 24 hours, she sees that stupid, maddening grin aimed at her. It’s insulting, pure agony that she has to feel the way she does. She hasn’t fallen to anyone in a one-on-one skirmish, not in years, since before she was made to sign up with the ranks of the Garleans. She hasn’t let herself sink to such levels of disgrace again and she’d promised both herself and those back home that she wouldn’t. No one would best her again, and her strength would lead to the emancipation of those who depend on her. And yet that Joltin…

Clenching her fist and doing her utmost to blanket that vexing face from her mind for just a moment, she knows there’s another woe that’s more immediate and further critical to actually address right now. There were things that were ongoing just ahead of the dustup which has spawned myriad questions in her head, too many for her to ignore them. And Livia is the one who’ll answer those, whether she’d like to or not.
Jhera finds the Tribunus standing somewhere in the center of the camp that they’ve made, positioned next to one of the Decurions, Milisandia. The most Garlean-bootlicking of their officers in Jhera’s head, even if she is respectable at what she does for the Battalion. She doesn’t seem to have gotten out of this unscathed either, with part of her shoulder and torso being bandaged.

When she nears, it would appear that they’re discussing potential routes for the next stage of their plans, but that can't be the main spotlight right now.
“Tribunus”, Jhera intrudes with. “I have to speak with you.”

Livia glances at her briefly from the map which she and the shorter woman are surveying, but then focuses back down.
“So, you’ve finally gotten back up. That shall have to wait, Ordinarius. I have rather pressing matters to attend to prior the day is over.”

Jhera’s brow furrows and her right hand clenches.
“And what matters are those?”

“I wished for Decurion Milisandia’s input on my ideas for the following stage of my scheme, seeing as we’re done here, and I have two viable options. You and I can review those later as well, Ordinarius.”

Jhera sighs and shuts her eye for a moment.
“…you can deal with that at a later hour. What I have to chat with you about is more important.”

“More vital than our onslaught of this land of savages? Nonsense. You’re still not altogether recuperated, Ordinarius, and I suggest you sit down somewhere in the meanti-“

Suddenly Jhera strides right up to them and yanks the map away from their hands. This instigates a sudden and deep frown from Livia and she clearly intends to protest, question Jhera loudly what she believes she’s up to…but the glare she receives from Jhera’s one eye is nigh-on a storm, the epicenter of a great upheaval.
“I have to speak with you, Tribunus,right now.”

Off on their flank, even Milisandia has to swallow, and several of the troops who travel in the vicinity take a step back. Discerning the urgency and ferocity in Jhera’s gaze, Livia lastly comes to grips with how serious this must be. She sighs and gestures to the side.
“…alright, then. Let’s talk.” Tossing the map directly into Milisandia’s face, Jhera walks with Livia as they spur themselves off from the others, melting in between some of the tree crowns twenty meters away. Having traced the spot she trusts is adequate, Livia swivels on her heel and lays her arms behind her, whereas Jhera folds hers. “Very well then, Ordinarius. Say your piece.”

“You should already have predicted what I’m going to ask. Those we confronted out there, what we experienced…what was that about?” Livia isn’t wearing her helmet at this period, and she furrows her brow, but doesn’t instantly respond. Perhaps she’s hoping her expression will suffice, but Jhera isn't going to set that aside. She’s not stopping. “All this which was said pertaining to this ‘Kjat’ – it was true?”

In time, Livia expires a bit of wind.
“…that’s not really any of your business, Ordinarius. I-“

Yes”, Jhera accentuates and takes a firm step closer. “Yes, it is, Tribunus. I risked my life for you. Each of us did, in response to an object that has nothing relevant to do with our assignment entrusted by the Legatus. I want to know how honest you are surrounding this.”

Livia shakes her head, although there isn’t really a high-and-mighty presence to her face. She looks more dubious and uncomfortable to answer. Perhaps it’s due to the personal nature, which Jhera mostly can conceive. That said, this isn’t a state where Jhera’s personal grievances are endangering others.
“…if it’s that important to you, then yes. It is accurate.”

“You intended to marry her?”

“Inaccurate tense – Istillintend to marry her. She is my betrothed, come what may.”

Well, she’s determined, Jhera will say that for her.
“And you killed her brother?”

“I didn’t murder him coldblooded, per se. There was a trial and I simply carried out the execution of him.”

Hmph. That may as well be homicide. Jhera is keenly cognizant of how unfair Garlean ‘tribunals’ are. The sentence has been settled prior to the victim entering the hall. It’s not even a case of ‘guilty until proven innocent’, but rather ‘guilty if you’re not Garlean’.
“And this is the reason you’re in Eorzea?”

“Not solely, no, but halfway, I suppose. This is more of a personal project, outside of our primary one.”

Jhera exhales and shakes her head with displeasure.
“Is this a subject which will distract you from our goal in the future as well?”

“Distract? I hardly believe-“

“Will it or will it not?”

Livia’s eyes narrow and she doesn’t look happy with the tone she’s getting, but the two of them have from the start been like this, never letting the other be entirely above.
“Not necessarily, no. But if the opportunity is presented, Ishallpursue her. That is not something you can prevent me from.”

Can’t cease her completely, perhaps, but impede? That is a commodity which Jhera is figuring out as they speak. If it gets too far, she’ll certainly try getting in between.
“The Legatus, is he aware?”

“Of course not. My personal business is not any of his concern, regardless. Plus, I doubt he cares.”

“You do not figure that he deserves to know about that you capitalize onimperial troopsfor your selfish endeavors?”

Once more, she manages to provoke a furrowing of Livia’s brow and a displeased look.
“…you’re really getting on my nerves, Rakkan.”

It's at that juncture where Jhera unexpectedly draws close, virtually pushing herself up against Livia and glares with her one eye at the taller woman.
“And you are getting onmine, Junius”, she’s on the brink of growling. Livia clenches her fists, but doesn’t retreat. “If you get excessively self-indulgent in this campaign of yours, Iwillreport it to the Legatus.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“Damn right I am. If this continues to be a hassle, I’ll do everything in my power to undermine you. I willnothave you risking my troops’ lives for your absurd trivialities. Remember that, ‘my lady’.”

Chapter 48: The Scions path - Part 25

Notes:

let's dig into Kjat's past

Chapter Text

She clearly didn’t know what to do with the subject at hand, did she? Lyse had remarked this in Kjat right off the bat, and there was no point in asking her. It wouldn’t be quite right to summarize it as if the viera stormed off, for she didn’t look indignant, merely lost in thought of where to move next and how to deal with the dilemma of the day. Once she got out of view, Kjat has presently positioned herself above the stub of a tree, her legs folded and one of her hands rubbing her chin, peering distantly out into the woods, ears tilted rearward as if to consider her circ*mstances.

Stood about five meters off from her, Lyse has tailed Kjat to this spot, which isn’t really a glade but not lying completely closed in by vegetation either. She bites her own lip while she’s ensconced behind some trees further afar, wavering of what it is she should enact and whether it’s fitting to approach. What should she say? Will Kjat get mad if she closes in and just gets frank about the questions that flood her mind? Will it sound stupid and ignorant of the viera’s internal quandaries? The last thing Lyse would ever wish to revel in is making Kjat feel pain and agony, yet she doesn’t know how to thwart that if she should approach. Then again, were she to keep her mouth shut, Kjat will just be sat here alone and live in the past.

Betraying her own unsettlement, Lyse elects to part from hiding spot at last and steps across the grass and the twigs below. She’s practically guaranteeing that she’s heard by someone as keen-eared as Kjat, which doesn’t make it difficult. With their eyes meeting, Lyse lifts a hand and projects a faintly guilty smile.
“Hey.”

Looking profoundly disinclined to start with, Kjat’s ears have flown up, but then tilt halfway into their previous position once more, fidgeting with her fingers.
“…hey.”

“I uh…I’m sorry if I’m intruding. I just…kinda fancied it’d be unwise leaving you completely alone out here in the wilds.”

“Mm…”

“And well…maybe you…wouldn’t mind company too? You’ve never signaled that you’re the solo type o’ girl.”

Opening her mouth primarily to possibly dismiss this proposition, Kjat appears to alter her perception at the finish line, a noncommittal face being exposed to view, and then lets her shoulders sag.
“…yes, perhaps that is…sage, in a way.”

Lyse does near Kjat, but doesn’t seat herself anywhere and rather leans against a tree that’s about two meters away. Even so, the viera isn’t espousing anything and for about a minute, there’s nothing besides a fairly uncertain air which fills the space they’re in.
“So, like…”, utters Lyse. “If you don’t wanna talk, then you don’t wanna talk, and I absolutely won’t strong-arm ya into it, but…wouldn’t you be playing your cards better by acting directly? Especially after your display earlier. They will ask you how it’s going and…whether you’re still staying with us.”

Kjat runs her fingers along her hair, ears jiggling lightly, but soon shakes her head.
“I don’t know that it will be. Supposing they find out who I really am, I second-guess it’d really improve our relationship whatsoever.”

“Why not? It’s not like your past is gonna spill that you’re a really bad person, right?”

“Not ‘bad’, no…but a great risk.”

“And who says anyone here is averse to gambling with their safety, though?”

“Lyse…”

“How ‘bout you try me, Kjat? Remember, I’m Lyse Hext, daughter of a rebellion instigator, the one who spearheaded the Resistance against the Garleans and died for it. And yeah, that lady with the ginormous axe? She was my lil’ sister, Fordola. Hadn’t expected she’d pick this path and turn into a true-blue imperial jarhead, but…it’s in pretty plain sight that I’m not exactly a safer bet, am I?”

Kjat heeds every syllable that’s expelled from Lyse, grasping that it’s no easier for someone like her, who’s existed in a realm of terror and loss, which is a different side of the same coin. Expiring a breath, Kjat shuts her eyes while she gives in.
“…okay. I will expose my soul to you, but…remember that I warned you of how illogical it is to get involved with me.”

Lyse manages to brandish a smile.
“I’ll take my chances. Gambles are what my life has been for the whole of it.”

Opening her light blues anew, Kjat is still fixated on the grass below.
“Let’s start easy – I am the second child in a group of seven.”

Lyse’s eyes flutter in mild surprise.
“Hold up…you gotsixsiblings?!”

Kjat’s ears tilt backwards and her shoulders slump again, her face the picture of sorrow.
“I…hadsix. Now I have five.”

“O-oh, I…I’m sorry, Kjat, I didn’t-“

The medical expert hefts a hand faintly to calm her.
“No, it’s alright. You weren’t aware, or couldn’t have predicted that what I yelled out there…was accurate.”

“Then…”

“I’ll press on. I was born 62 years ago in Murotsk, a city-state in southeastern Ilsabard, one that has been occupied by the Garlean Empire preceding my birth. This is what I cleared up for you and the others previously, but what I failed to mention was that…I am the daughter of Vhonja Sja-naris, one of the city councilors of Murotsk. The…Prime Councilor, as of late.”

Lyse has to process this for a handful of seconds, running one hand along the other arm.
“City councilor? So, she’s…one of its leaders?”

“Precisely. Our city-state was for generations ruled by a joint council of some of the most influential people inside of it, who were elected. Although some happily lauded us for maintaining an order of democracy, I should add that votes weren’t normally equal across the board – the wealthy were instilled with several each and their stances traditionally had a more considerable weight than those of commoners. Nevertheless, it was a fairer place than in many separate nations.
My mother originated from one of the wealthiest families in Murotsk, and therefore boarding politics’ vehicle was not arduous for her, nor was winning elections. Since she was already a councilor by the point the Empire took over, she…simply remained in this role, despite that voting ceased and self-rule was expunged.”

Lyse furrows her brow.
“The Garleans put a stop to them?”

“They did. And in order to keep our city intact, the Council relented to the fact that the Empire’s demands had to be met. The Council ruled in the Eternal Emperor’s name after that, handpicking their own replacements when needed, but no public vote has been arranged since. I…haven’t even seen one personally, merely learnt of the stories.
I imagine the utmost number of our people would imply that this configuration operated well for several decades, since we excelled in retaining our way of life and standard of living. Only, it has gotten harder and harder lately, particularly when the whole line of dissent was squashed. When I was younger, we had public demonstrations and forums for people to argue about the revisions in the city, a memento of our earlier lifestyle, but no longer. Furthermore, the majority of the sites of power are slowly being lost to the Garleans, who assimilate Murotsk unendingly. I graduated in an imperial institution, for example, but it had formerly been governed by our citizens. With this as the foundation, substantial calls of questioning began of where we are and where we ached to be. In spite of that we avoided a war by not revolting against the Garleans, it hadn’t granted us any improved positions; looking back, it’s clear that our state had solely gotten worse. The Garleans badger the city council for increased resources every year and deprived of a method to voice their concerns, Murotsk felt the heft of oppression more than ever.”

“I…recognize some of this from the history of Ala Mhigo, but noticeably not along the same line. Also, y’know…we fought back. Prolly paid for it too…”

“To get back to what I was coming to, I’m the second oldest child of Vhonja and her husband, the chef Kobren. I had six other siblings like I said, and below me is my sister Vraz, the nifty but grumbling mechanic; my sister Dlishi, the talented and elegant musician; my sister Qlenna, the overenthusiastic guard, and her twin-brother the nervy alchemist, Meshai; and lastly, my littlest brother Aronsha, the wide-eyed political science student.”

For once during this dialogue, Lyse shines up, especially as Kjat is at least hinting at becoming a nudge more content while speaking of her family.
“They sound like a great bunch.”

Kjat clenches one of her hands, staring down onto her lap.
“They are, yes. My family is…precious to me. However, above us all, the shining star for me as well, was our elder brother Benrak, the kind-hearted doctor.”

“Wait, you both were?”

“Didn’t I mention before that I prefer the term ‘medical expert’? He was more of the…healing type, I suppose, while I was a scientist, having studied both Soln Valaska and alchemy. When I was locked up in labs, he was out among the population and along the woods. He was furthermore the sole person of our whole formation who was genuinely born before Murotsk was taken. He was young back then and didn’t hang onto a heap of recollections, but he took to our city’s golden age the furthest.
A few years ago, my life took a vaguely separate turn when I stumbled into a personage that you saw on the battlefield.”

Lyse’s eyes are steeled once more.
“That…Livia lady?”

“Quite right. Tribunus laticlavius Livia sas Junius. During that era, she was still a position below that - the Tribunus angusticlavius – but she was nonetheless included in the gathering I was at. It covered important officers from the XIVth Imperial Legion who were stationed near to Murotsk, joined by the elite of our city. I…would have a hard time to retread the circ*mstances of those days, but I can definitely mind how I didn’t think of her particularly highly amid that party. Supposedly, though, she was smitten with me in an instant.” Kjat snorts and lowers her gaze. “She did her best to court me for a while, and even if I have to own up to that I believed her to be quite good-looking, I considered her personality overly…self-aggrandizing.”

“Tsk. Like all Garleans, ya mean.”

“Well…I daresay you’re about right. Anyhow, several days afterward, she contacted my mother and gradually prospered in both winning her over, plus convening with me for what might be considered…higher class dates, sort of. Following a year of these acts, plus negotiations with my mother, Livia had sweet-talked her into deducing the benefits of me and her getting married.”

“And…you were fine with that?”

The viera squirms a smidgen, feeling possibly ashamed.
“I…had to consent to the proposal, yes. I wasn’t in love with her, but I hadn’t evertrulyunderwent such an emotion before anyhow. I allowed for that this would do well by Murotsk and its people. That was enough. So, I signed the contract.”

“A contract? Wow, that just…sounds ridiculously cold to me.”

Kjat shrugs, her ears briefly stirring sideways.
“That is the way of nobility, unfortunately. Notwithstanding that I’m not true blue blood, of course…
I won’t deny that I liked Livia a little. It occurred to me that, if I had to wed anyone, she was at least loyal and handsome. Won’t disallow that I in parallel viewed her as an outsider, one who was mainly exploiting our territory when she wasn’t off on missions, but I could stand her.
On the other side of the coin, amid this period, Benrak had acted on his own. He had taken advantage of Livia’s standing in the Legion and his own closeness to me, to periodically leak vital fragments to a growing oppositional faction in Murotsk. Not weeks ahead of my proposed wedding, they had settled on a date to stage a coup on the Council, in order to direct what defenses the city had against the imperial army. They had cooperated with states in neighboring occupied territories to set up attendant strikes, hoping this could be the first step towards liberation…but they failed.”

Lyse exhales and swirls her head in mild dismay.
“’course. Triumphing against the Garleans is barely doable for most people.”

“Out of those who withstood the clash, several were instantly executed, but due to who Benrak was, he was selected for a trial.”

“Just like Livia claimed to us?”

Kjat’s brow wrinkles.
“Certainly…but the penalty had been adjudged preliminarily. This was not news to anyone, that there sincerely isnojustice in Garlemald. It does not accept defeat, nor dissent. To somehow assuage any charges against me as his sister, Livia took the duty of terminating him in person. Ibeggedher not to, that we could somehow find a solution to spare him. I swore to her that I would be faithful to her every step of the way in the future, her obedient wife…but she wouldn’t listen.” Kjat clenches her hands anew, glaring harder onto the soil underneath them. “I coerced myself to watch his execution. I saw it all, looked into the eyes of my beloved brother and the compass of what was kindness and dignity in this world being taken from us…and I could no longer contain my outrage. In the dead of night, I escaped Murotsk and vowed to cling to my brother’s ideal. I would excavate a tactic to emancipate our home, no matter the cost. It is therefore I headed to Eorzea, the last free continent.”

With the tale seemingly over with, Lyse lets herself digest the overall narrative and envision where it is that Kjat is presently standing.
“That’s…quite a story, honestly. I nearly feel overwhelmed to pore it over, but I’m not shocked per se. I too have known loss and pain, even if I’ve never lingered in the kinda lasting oppression you have. It must’ve been…unimaginable, especially what…what you claimed ‘bout your brother.” It doesn’t warrant a demoralizing amount of time for Lyse to set on a verdict, and shortly, she reaches out her hand, fixating on Kjat. “Come back with me to the others. You and I haven’t stomached the same crap, nor do we hail from equivalent areas, but I can pledge to you here and now that I’m gonna bust my gut for you, to get the justice you deserve, and guard you if need be. Won’t let that Livia get her hands on you, don’t have to doubt that.”

Kjat doesn’t throw herself into a response, her face sitting as a mixed bag for a short time, whilst she does her best to screen the words for how sincere they are. These thoughts and sensibilities are no longer required once she stares up into Lyse’s eyes and puts her crosshairs along the brawler’s fingers, for there is no lack of firmness in them. It strikes her abruptly of who Lyse is, that she’s someone who coats her heart with resolve for something she rationalizes as the good thing, relentlessly toiling to make it come true, whether it’s the liberty of her homeland or the security of her loved ones.

Hoisting her hand, letting their fingers entwine, Kjat allows herself to slip into Lyse’s arms and be embraced, clutching at that warmth which weeps out of the Ala Mhigan in waves. It reminds her of home. It reminds her of Benrak. For the first time in ages, she feels safe.

Chapter 49: The Vermin path - Part 24

Chapter Text

Jhera honestly can’t tell whether it was worth it. She had to speak her mind to Livia and be blunt about that she wouldn’t accept needless sacrifices of her comrades, not for something so banal as wishing to recapture an old lover or whatever that viera genuinely was. It was a statement that had to be laid before her, to know where the two of them stand in order to avoid future confrontations. Should the Tribunus stick to her part, then Jhera will have no inspiration to revolt against her and involve the Legatus in this ordeal. What she can not yet predict, however, is if this conflict might catalyze sensations of revenge in Livia. That is always the worry when dealing with Garleans, really, that should you hurt their pride, it is practically worse than cutting off an arm or wrecking their homes. Either way, Jhera supposes that she won’t back down, since someone has to be the one to speak for the soldiers who’re only present to fulfill their tasks. They wouldn’t care to die for this meaningless cause either.

Not finding herself in a mood to speak with anyone else for the rest of that day, she’d sat by her lonesome in a corner of the camp which they’d set up, mostly meditating and reflecting on her fight against the rebels that retreated. In the morning, however, she gets back up and seeks out her team to see how they’re doing. She discovers that none of the legionaries were seriously hurt, nor was Urianger, but the one who seems to have taken the worst damage was Hien. She visits him in one of the tents, now seated with a bandaged torso and arm with his lupin second, Hakuro, by his side. Hien smiles slantedly at her and gives her an imperial salute, but Jhera merely nods.
“How are you, Decurion?”

“Heh, been better, Ordinarius, but I’ll survive. My own fault, really. Got too absorbed in that fight and wasn’t looking at all the angles. Plus, I…probably underestimated that lady with the sunglasses.”

For a moment, Jhera lowers her gaze and then exhales.
“I believe we all made that mistake…”

“Won’t happen again, though. I’ll be more alert next time, Ordinarius. And Hakuro here is gonna ensure I get to train my situational awareness a bit for exactly that reason. We will be ready if another squad of rebels like this appears.”

Jhera peers sideways at the lupin, who bobs his head confidently, but Jhera doesn’t comment on this. She doesn’t see what else she could tell them, and there’s certainly no excuse for her to berate them when she wasn’t at her best in that battlefield either.
“Have you seen Fordola?”

Hien blinks his eyes.
“Uuh, not that I recall…”

“I believe I have”, Hakuro tells her in his deeper and somewhat growly voice.

“Where?”, asks Jhera.

“Last I spotted her, she was sulking somewhere in a corner on the left side of the camp.”

“Sulking?”

“Yeah, looked like it. She was frowning and appeared ready to hit something. It was not my place to question her emotional state.”

Not having anything further to speak with this pair about, Jhera goes to see how Fordola is doing. She locates the Centurion off in one corner of the terrain, not really inside the glade where the rest are situated but rather between some trees and rocks, sitting with her axe in her hands, with the head of it leaning against the ground. She does indeed fit the bill of ‘sulking’ which Hakuro mentioned, with her face scrunched up and staring intently onto the ground, albeit she does appear to be quite absent in her mental qualities.

“Dwelling on that skirmish with the brawler, I assume?”, Jhera finally speaks about half a minute later, drawing Fordola out of her reverie.

The Centurion doesn’t jump or launch into anything, but she does raise her eyes in mild shock to start with, before encountering Jhera’s one eye, sighing and peering down on the ground.
“…I’m not in a talking mood.”

Jhera was wondering whether she’d use the ‘not on duty’ excuse, which doesn’t really serve in the Garlean military, for one can never beoffduty here. Clearly, she knows better than to do that, although Jhera does still rather appreciate the casual tone that Fordola is putting up against her.
“You don’t have to. Just wished to see how you’re feeling.” Fordola’s shoulders slump and while she doesn’t wholly cease frowning, her glare on the dirt below does ease up a little. “That fight ended quite unfortunately. Not just for you, but everyone.”

“…I guess.”

“Let’s not overlook that you were careless in a sense, though. You hurled a lot at your opponent in what others might regard as overextravagant violence.”

The grimacing faintly returns in full force again.
“…I did what I had to.”

“You did plenty more than that and it almost cost you.”

“…wasn’t asking for advice.”

“This is not advice, it’s criticism”, Jhera tells her calmly.

“You got your ass beat too.”

“Merely because my opponent blindsided me with her unorthodox abilities. With you, it was rage that overtook your sensibilities. Plus, you obviously knew that woman.” Fordola groans and shakes her head; not to deny, but in frustration. “Don’t try to hide it.”

“…okay, yeah, I did. I mean, she spoke my name, so I can’t even pretend. Knew her cuz…” Sighing, Fordola straightens her back and shakes her head. “…cuz she’s my older sister.”

Jhera doesn’t react in an exceptionally flabbergasted capacity, for she had somehow predicted that the two of them would be family when they interacted. There were few other answers amid that display they put on.
“I see. How much of a threat is your sister, then?”

“Well, it should be obvious already, what with how she floored me…”, Fordola mutters sullenly.

The miqo’te crosses her arms and tilts her head, tail swishing in a mildly amused fashion.
“That she got the better out of you this time doesn’t answer my query from start to finish.”

“…maybe. But yeah, she’s a good fighter, I’ll admit”, she says begrudgingly.

“Is she with those Resistance members we saw?”

“Dunno. Got no clue what she’s doing right now, as we haven’t met in years. Seems pretty undeniable that the two of us chose different paths, though, and I wouldn’t be shocked to hear that she’d sign up with those chumps.”

“How come?”

Fordola halts where she is and looks up at Jhera, staring into her face, but likely catching onto no wavering. Nothing which would indicate that she’s not being sincere.
“You…really got no clue who I am, do you? Or about my name…”

“You’ve mentioned that before. I recall that some troops reacted to your surname the first day we met.”

The Centurion looks down onto the ground.
“Yeah…cuz it’s one that any Ala Mhigan would flinch at.”

“That initial moment, you told me your surname was ‘important to some’, I believe. What did you mean by that?”

Fordola holds her silence for another five seconds and then shakes her head.
“No use sneaking around with it now, I guess. Might as well be upfront – I’m Fordola Hext, the younger daughter of Conrad Hext, leader of the rebellion against the King of Ruin who decimated heaps of Ala Mhigo, and the leader of the former Ala Mhigan resistance against the Empire.”

Once more, Jhera is not utterly astounded, for she’d somehow detected that there was something along these lines about her comrade. Then again, the extent of it is certainly impressive.
“He led two rebellions? Sounds like a brave man.”

Fordola scoffs.
“Brave? Yeah, sure, but a moronic one. He established a good thing against the King, since that bastard was a terrible ruler and a crazy f*cker, but…my dad’s slash-and-burn mindset caused loads of agony for those who actually lived in Ala Mhigo, including his own family.”

“His family? What did that entail?”

Sighing, Fordola clutches the handle of her axe harder, steeling her gaze onto the ground.
“It’s dad’s fault that our mom was killed. Lyse and I were kids at that point, but that godsdamned dumbass…he got captured by the imperials during a critical mission. Should’ve just let ‘im rot, but mom chased after him, to rescue him…and they both went to their graves instead.”

Jhera is silent for a moment, trying to grasp exactly what Fordola must be feeling at this moment. In some ways, Jhera can empathize, even if their pasts are not clean synonymous.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“…don’t be. Not for him, anyway. Ipisson that f*cker’s memory. He got mom killed and I’llneverforgive ‘im for it. I hope he’s burning in the worst of hells, wherever he went.”

“What of your sister, then?”

Fordola’s exterior loosens a bit, but she still appears sullen.
“Well, after our parents died, we were taken in by the remaining rebels for a period. Think I was…five or six. Can’t recall how long it was, but I escaped on my own. I hated those bastards, since them and dad were the reason we lost our mom, and I was not gonna listen to them forever. Eventually, I got nabbed by the imperials and put into an orphanage with other Ala Mhigans. Once I reached teenage years, I signed up with the army to attempt getting a better life. Suppose I never lost contact with Lyse completely, since we met a couple of times after that, whenever she was sneaking around Gyr Abania, but only briefly. I refused to listen to her ideals and what she hoped to do. She was simply emulating dad’s ‘rebellious spirit’, and that’s bullsh*t.” At last, the Centurion rises with the help of her axe and she holds it out before her, peering down along its edge, her eyes hardening somewhat. “Ala Mhigo was a sh*thole before, just like all of Eorzea. Imperial rule has brought order and safety for the citizens and only imperial rule can make this place above what it is. If Lyse wants to die like another idiot, though, fine by me.”

Chapter 50: The Scions path - Part 26

Chapter Text

There wasn’t a way out of it for Kjat. It hadn’t eluded her that to keep the trust between the group as a whole, she had to be forthright with her comrades and tell them about her past. It’s not simply something as banal as that it’s the ethical thing to go with, but that they deserved to hear it. Having bordered on sacrificing their lives to safeguard her against Livia’s assault, should she have kept quiet, Kjat would’ve been swamped with imageries of guilt and shame. There had to be a balancing of things, to place stock in others in order for them to reciprocate this act. And it was thus that she called for a get-together with all five of them, roughly a day later, sitting down together and letting Kjat elaborate on the whole can of worms, whereas her comrades sat listening quietly and intently.

When she’s laid out to them what she presented to Lyse, she ultimately crosses her arms and exhales, eyes nailed at the ground.
“This…is how it is. That is my story. It’s the trigger for my arrival in Eorzea and my impetus for remaining. At minimum until I’m able to make my comeback in Murotsk someday, provided the Empire doesn’t conquer this continent too…”

Initially, she doesn’t really get granted any major replies, with the Sharlayans looking to be deep in thought as to how to best meet a desire for support or kinship. It should come as no surprise then that Joltin is the earliest person to articulate.
“Yeah”, she utters with a mildly deflated tone. “It was as rough as Kat told us.”

The team appears a tad nonplussed, particularly Kjat whose mouth is left ajar for a second, not quite grasping where and how Joltin could be this knowing of her ordeals and earlier nightmares. This subsides in seconds, and an understanding or cogitative mien comes over her.
“Did you…see it all?”, she wonders.

“Uh, yeah.” The Captain clears her throat and scratches the nape of her neck. “I did pretty early on, actually. Dunno why, really, but my um...‘talents’ get energized by awfully passionate memories, and yours certainly were. Got visions of it amid your argument on the battlefield, and that’s why I stayed quiet. It was erm…yeah. I’m sorry you had to endure that, Kat. You…and your brother, your entire family even, deserved better.”

Kjat’s shoulders slump and she bobs her head very mildly.
“…I hope so.”

“You did, plain and simple. And I’m still on your side. We’ve teamed up more than once since you got to Eorzea and that’s not gonna change from me. I’m with ya all the way, Kat.”

If nothing else, the au ra does attain a vague smile from the viera, plus a twitch of her ears.
“…I appreciate it, Daz.”

Holding for the last two to make their call, it ends with Y’shtola smiling at Kjat.
“We do not intend to judge you, miss Kjat. Your history up until this day sounds as if it has been a problematic set of circ*mstances, and we comprehend the purpose behind enshrouding it from us. Should you favor to persevere with us, we welcome your company.”

“Could not have said it better myself”, Louisoix echoes. “You will never not be a delightsome addition to our party, miss Sja-naris. Never doubt that.”

With her previous expression enhancing somewhat, Kjat nods at them.
“I…would like that, yes. Being with everyone here is…soothing somehow.” She henceforth redistributes her hand to hold one of Lyse’s, leaning closer to her. “I feel safer with you all.”

Following this interaction between them, for an interval, they bring forth a slice of their supplies and eat together calmly, not touching on any sensitive or burdensome topics. They speak of nothing in particular or joke regarding various minor moments upon their previous days of travel. Once they’ve received those bits of energy, Joltin is yet again the one to speak her mind.
“So, where is it that we’re planning to make for next? Reckon it speaks for itself that the imps are gonna pull outta here. And however you cut it, chasing them is not our best option, I feel.”

“Personally, I’d have liked to stick around and pitch in with the Resistance’s efforts some more”, goes Lyse, “but…I realize there’s little we can achieve while here. What we lack is resources and contacts, neither which I can scoop up inside these woods. Gotta go elsewhere.”

“Might not be a bad idea to ease back into Ul’dah”, suggests Joltin. “That way, we could spy on the imps for a bit, get some intel on what they’re really up to and what that Livia sh*thead is engaged in.”

Y’shtola is the one who looks at Louisoix while he appears a smidgen troubled.
“Master, wasn’t there something on your mind?”

Rubbing fingers above his beard, his brow furrowed while he stares at the ground, he nods slowly.
“Truly, there was. In fact, there’s an order of business I should be pleased to investigate outside of these options – the allegation of master Payeg regarding dragon blood’s association to the production of a Void portal.”

Kjat and Lyse’s eyes flutter in confusion at this, with the former stroking a hand over her cheek.
“Dragon blood and the Void? I don’t…at all recall any citations of this.”

“Ah yes, you two weren’t present, but this was the gist of what we discovered when we met with the solitary black mage who yet roosted in that sector of Thanalan. There is no definitive bridge between dragons and the Void per se, but more appropriately, there are ties between dragon blood andmagic. Master Payeg estimated that this link is esoteric and not entirely known, but an ancient black mage-lord somewhere in Eorzea once tore open a portal to the Void for subjects not wholly gleaned, but which nonetheless has impacted the realm. Dragon blood was allegedly one of the components necessary in order to complete the edifice, which denotes its weight in the field of magical application. Provided that there is one, perhaps we might better unravel what we spied in the defunct village of Gyr Abania where the citizens were exploited, and get closer to what the Garleans truly desire to achieve in Eorzea, besides the invasion.”

“Huh…that does sound pretty damn interesting”, Lyse admits. “And I’d like to solve that too, since it relates to my people. You got a destination in mind, master Louisoix?”

“I do, for the most suitable venue would surely be the land of dragons – Dravania, in northwestern Eorzea.”

“Ooh! Now that would be exciting!”

Kjat is the original member of them who showcases clear inklings of suspicion at this claim.
“The…land of dragons? I heard tell of that those beings roosted somewhere in Eorzea, but I wasn’t aware they had their own portion of this continent…”

“Yeah, not a lotta people go there. I mean, dragons aren’t the friendliest towards people. Think some groups here used to war with ‘em in the distant past.”

“Wouldn’t it be…exceedingly dangerous, then?”

“Bah, we can handle it! If we can take on pirates and Garlean scum, dragons won’t be any major snag.”

“…I fear your calculations are somewhat off, Lyse.”

“Well”, Louisoix continues, “the prime concern which we shall have to address is that the areas which dragons roost within are generally inaccessible by foot. They inhabit floating isles and landmasses known as the ‘Churning Mists’, which can merely be reached by flight. In order to comply with this difficulty, we shall have to locate a means with which to soar up at those heights, or alternatively, convince the dragons who dwell elsewhere to escort us.”

“Are…dragons genuinely intelligent beings, then?”, wonders Kjat. “I have solely been informed of them through tales…”

“They are, make no mistake, and have a long history in Eorzea. A lengthy and…indisputably contentious one.”

It's at that moment where Joltin raises her fleshy hand.
“Ya know what? I got a solution for that. I’m good friends with a guy who owns one of ‘em airships. Well, several, I’d wager.”

“Several?”, questions Y’shtola, her ears perking intriguingly. “How are you familiar with him?”

“Oh, hah, I’ve known the guy for years. Referred to him twice when speaking to you too. If I say he built my arm and ship, that summon up any images of our chats from before?”

“Ah, yes, you did sketch it in that fashion…but little beyond that.”

“Yep, but he’s the same man – his name is Cid Garlond. He’s a former Garlean, but he’s been fightin’ with forces outside of his homeland for over a decade.”

“Cid Garlond…”, Louisoix mumbles. “Somehow, I daresay I’ve encountered this alias previously. Does he not possess a company which is endeavoring to construct and peddle Garlean technology to Eorzeans?”

“Yeah, at heart, that’s what they are. He calls it ‘Garlond Ironworks’, but he doesn’t send stuff just to Eorzeans. He’s been marketing his knickknacks to people in any city-state that opposes the Empire, you could say. Cid’s a close friend o’ mine. Known him since I was a kid, back in the east. The Ironworks HQ is in Mor Dhona, the core of the continent, but last I heard he was hitting the streets of Ishgard, another city-state in the west, for some kinda exchange. If we’d like to borrow his airship, he’ll be there.”

“Then I trust that Ishgard ought to be our subsequent destination as well, if nothing else to peruse what our outlook is to attain this vessel.”

Chapter 51: The Vermin path - Part 25

Chapter Text

Affairs had moved slowly for Battalion Subzero after the operations in the Black Shroud to begin with, it felt like. Those of the leadership bracket had to heal or support others in this regard, and when the recovery and recuperation was at an end, there was another trip to be made. This one firstly took them out at sea, to meet up with one of the imperial watercrafts awaiting them, ahead of sailing southwestward. And once they’d reached their destination, there had to be another few days of both debriefing of imperial troops, plus settling in what few units that they had specified to go with them towards the latest assignment.

Where they’ve come to then is the city of Ul’dah, the so-called jewel of Thanalan, located in the savanna and desert-y region toward the south. And quite unusually, unlike most other endeavors of Subzero, they have were quickly let into its grounds, being that the Empire has since a number of years ago negotiated a certain agreement with the leaders of the city. Nonetheless, in spite of this accord, the officers of Subzero had to traverse the waters and the streets in secret to puncture the walls onto their set purpose. In order to achieve their tasks, they employed an imperial base which lies out on islands beyond the mainland, before getting escorted within by troops from another Legion. Amid that trip, they did have to hear mutterings about ‘the Vermin needing help’, but these quiet complaints were not met by anyone. For now.

The one to administrate the commission in a more direct capacity is Livia, who has moved towards their meetup with representatives of the city’s leadership together with Fordola and Jhera. After they were welcomed inside a clutch buildings on the fringes of the city, they waltzed past finely cleaned and neatly decorated hallways of some administrative quarters, until presently being accommodated in a special chamber seemingly specifically intended for affairs of negotiation. With Livia seated on one end, Fordola and Jhera flanking her by chairs across a darkwood table, a lalafell is placed on the inverted end, a fellow with light brown skin and white hair, plus a neat white moustache and goatee below his ocean-blue gaze. A navy-blue hat is worn on his head while he’s dressed in a moss-green vest above a red shirt, the latter layered with golden garnishments. Supposedly, his name is Teledji Adeledji, a member of the Syndicate, the leading branch of the city. Although Ul’dah is fundamentally a monarchy ruled by the Sultana, the city’s prime pretension has ever been gil and the accumulation thereof. It is thus that a committee of advisors have been seated at the side of the royal family, who in truth hold the real power, as they are comprised of the wealthiest merchants in the region. Teledji is one of them. Fordola won’t pretend to be fond of the man either, as he’s real unpleasant. He speaks in polite terms and levels praise and cordiality towards the Tribunus, but Fordola senses that his phrases are nothing but unmixed poison.

With Livia settled ahead of Teledji more directly, clad in a better stylish Garlean suit, the Tribunus appears to tire of the exchange of pleasantries.
“Alright then, let us proceed to the heart of the matter, mister Teledji. My superior, Legatus legionis Gaius van Baelsar, has sent me in a most official capacity to negotiate for imperial entry into your lands. While we’re pleased your board members have seen fit to ensure that travel between our isle and your city is effective and we have an embassy inside Ul’dah, we’re asking for greater collaboration. It is thereupon that we wish to extend it towards being authorized to construct an imperial military base in the vicinity of Ul’dah.”

Teledji is not galled, but preferably strokes his moustache and tilts back into his chair; a chair that’s somewhat raised unlike the others, for a lalafell to have a further corresponding height to the taller races.
“Beside the city itself, you mean? That’s not an unattainable notion, Tribunus, but…presents us with certain difficulties.”

“Which are?”

“Well, whereas the Syndicate overall is pleased that the Empire has been most collegial to ameliorate relations with our fair city, and we of the Monetarists within the Syndicate are especially invigorated to have this synergy intact, there are those within the confines of Ul’dah who are not as open-minded. Those that may stand as hurdles against such a notion.”

Livia leans forward onto the table, resting her elbows against it.
“Ahh, and here we’re advancing on the centerpiece of our encounter, mister Teledji. I suspected there was be an entity which you would wish to deliberate on and you are in luck – we possess a select organization within the XIVth Legion, specializing in handling tasks of which you’re inferring. The two women at my flanks are a pair which represents this Battalion.”

Teledji gives both Fordola and Jhera a glance, neither of them doing much else than sending him a faint dip of their heads.
“How curious!”, goes the Syndicate member. “If so, we would most keen on requesting your specialties.”

“Go ahead and elaborate on the foremost hindrance, then, mister Teledji.”

“Our chief quandary, as it were, to a full and smooth imperial takeover, is Ul’dah’s dependence on the final say of the royal family, headed up by the Sultana Nanamo Ul Namo. In spite of that the Syndicate oversees the majority of matters regarding safety, trade negotiations and proceedings, not to mention transportation of goods and citizens, the royal family keeps the ultimate positioning of leadership for Ul’dah. And though we find it regrettable in these circ*mstances, the royal family is well-loved by the people, whereas the Syndicate struggles in some of these areas. The Sultana looks unfavorably upon the Empire, but accepts that the city should endure your presence temporarily, as to avoid conflict. Should we work against the Sultana openly, an uprising would ineludibly be a consequence, and one which could truly compromise our integrity, and to a lesser degree, our assets. Neither of these would be fruitful in the eyes of the Syndicate.
However, should our young Sultana Nanamo somehow be…disposed of or perhaps experience an unfortunate accident from outside influences, then the Syndicate will be capable of holding the city in friendly terms towards the Empire and its forces, until such time that Eorzea’s hostile elements are conquered well and truly, accompanied by permitting you to operate in a newly constructed military foothold.”

Livia intertwines her hands and rolls her thumbs in rumination.
“The Sultana, then…well, that can absolutely be arranged. Our operatives are highly skillful and habituated to environments both adversarial and problematic. Simply accord them with a sufficient ounce of space to deal with her, and she will but a memory. Naturally, it shall be executed with the utmost of confidentiality.”

A sly and severely self-contented grin then prevails over the representative, rubbing a pair of fingers along his goatee once more.
“Marvelous! Marvelous indeed, Tribunus. And trust me, if it’s a passage you crave, then we can assuredly deliver you a direct line to her personal chambers.”

Chapter 52: The Scions path - Part 27

Chapter Text

Several separate biomes can be traced across the lands of Eorzea. Whereas many who have wandered here consider mainly the sunny shores of Vylbrand to the west, the deep forest of the Black Shroud to the east or the arid steppes of Thanalan to the south to be the foremost landmarks of the continent, there is also a place of cold and inhospitable fauna. The mountains of Coerthas to the north are generally not the main hub for travelers or wayward merchants, although it is not without its visitors from time to time either. Due to its height above sea level, the settlements are generally below mounds of snow most sections of the year, and since its inhabited both by jeopardizing beasts and a zealous population, many consider more than once whether it’s worth the voyage. It is said that just a few hundred years ago, Coerthas was not as cold as it is today and that some calamity upended the environment entirely, but those who live there these days have known no other reality.

The solitary city one may locate inside of these tall spikes of land is Ishgard. It’s one of the prominent city-states of Eorzea who most denizens deem as the foremost outwardly pious and military-minded of the states on this continent, only previously matched in its latter trait by Ala Mhigo. Known as the ‘Holy See’, Ishgard is profoundly devoted to one of The Twelve, the goddess of war and ice, Halone, which is why its military power has from start to finish been its lodestar in every consideration. Sadly, they’re equally famed for their isolationist nature, and not just due to demeanor. Being built high upon hills and mountains, a city consisting of lofty spires and endless towers, the Ishgardians keep themselves away from their neighbors and rarely let anyone inside.

Regardless of whether the locals would be open towards permitting their entry, Joltin and her comrades had to make it to this region in order to attend a person who had for various reasons circumvented the outer gates and begun negotiations with the citizens in hopes of improving Ishgard’s odds at fending off future imperial offensives. In order to dock into the mountainscape of Ishgard, however, one cannot simply waltz past any outer borders. Even if other cities may have walls and barricades to stave off unwanted outsiders, there is consistently other options: sewers, underground tunnels, smugglers, and disguises, for instance. With Ishgard, the plurality of these selections can never be chased, for what takes priority here is the fact that it is built up on the ridges of Coerthas. Hence, the lone chance people have to get inside is through bypassing a comprehensive bridge from one hill at the larger landmass onto the city’s entrance. Hoping to be able to get a word with Cid, the group suspected this was worth a shot, being potentially their only opportunity.

Beyond the gates to the bridge is a large building, a type of outpost that’s practically a smaller fort, where a chunk of troops are positioned. They do hear the gang out, holding for them to explain their purpose while the cold winds blow and the snow on the outside whirl about as if in a fervent dance. Everyone from the party have had to dress up with warmer getups, whether scarfs, gloves, thick coats or hats. Kjat in particular is one of those, who is profoundly unhappy in the chilly weather.
Once they’ve consulted one another, an officer approaches the team and greets them.
“We’ve assessed our logbooks as to your request, and it would appear this ‘Cid Garlond’ is indeed present, but he won’t be available to contact.”

Joltin blinks her eyes and scratches her cheek.
“Uh…why not? He got business meetings or what?”

The officer shakes his head.
“Not to my awareness. He’s detained in the inner barracks, being interrogated for collaboration with heretics”, he states nonchalantly.

This news was far from what any of them had predicted to hear of today, and the shock runs across them without discretion. Especially Joltin rocks back and looks a tad aghast.
“Wha-…detained?! That’s insane! Cid wouldn’t get in bed with any heretics or whatever!”

Louisoix stares at the officer with stern eyes.
“How and where was this judgment made, sir? The reputation of mister Garlond would not suggest he is a man who engages in such immoral acts.”

The officer raises his arms and shakes his head.
“Listen, I’m just a soldier. I don’t have any clue about how this took place or what instigated it, I swear upon the Fury.”

“Then let us speak with him!”, insists Joltin. “Or to whoever it is that’s keeping him locked up! I’ll prove that he’s not the kinda guy you’re thinking.”

“That will not be possible. The commander has ordered that he’s not to be released until such time that the truth has been unveiled.”

“I’m gonna give ya the godsdamned truth if ya let me!”

“You’re not-“

“How can we trust that this is the right path to proceed along without any answers?”, wonders Louisoix, intercepting the man’s sentence. “Mister Garlond is an associate of Captain Joltin here, a respected citizen of Limsa Lominsa. Surely the Commander would be willing to heed her statements regarding someone as important as the head of Garlond Ironworks.”

The officer scratches the back of his head and groans, muttering to himself.
“…I’m not being paid enough to deal with this…” He then shrugs and speaks up. “Again, this isn’t something I can do anything about, but…I can send for someone who might be capable of responding to a few of your queries, I guess. You’ll have to hold here for a while, though.”

“We shall and will eagerly await what unfolds.”

On the other side of a handful of hours, a small contingent of people step out from beyond the gates, led by two more prominent individuals. The front one of these is an average-height elezen man – which to some of those gathered is fairly tall – of an astoundingly attractive exterior. Mildly unruly black hair, fair skin, gentle blue eyes, soft facial features, plus two elongated sharp ears. He’s clad in a dashing attire with some steel pieces, but mainly a blue cloth coat that’s practically a robe, accompanied by black cloth, and some of it ornamented with pieces of gold. In his belt sits an idiosyncratic azure blade with a steel pommel and guard. At his side walks a woman of paler skin with a short hairstyle of platinum blonde, which does outstretch bangs along one side of her face. Her eyes shimmer in a deep dark green, and her body is covered entirely by a steel and chainmail armor, even if it is decorated with some scarlet cloth bits, plus a black half-skirt behind her. Across her forehead sits a manner of headband and though she’s practically the very height the man is, she showcases no elezen ears.

“Greetings, travelers”, says the man in a harmonious voice. “I am Aymeric de Borel, Lord Commander of the Fury’s Spear, one of Ishgard’s defense regiments.”

Joltin scratches behind her head.
“Oh uh…a Lord Commander? That’s…not quite what I was presuming we’d get…”

The military leader flourishes a gentle and dashing smile at her.
“I was strolling in the vicinity with my second when the Lieutenant came to our barracks to search for an officer. As it pertains to a recent detainee who has caused a grain of hubbub, I believed it was justified for me to address you directly.”

Whereas the chief of them home in on Aymeric, Kjat instead takes in the view of the woman at his side, her eyes expanding and she draws in a sharp ounce of air. For an instant, there’s a premise that surges through Kjat’s head, that she’s looking at Livia once more, but this notion disperses shortly thereafter. Even if she’s somewhat kindred to the Tribunus in appearance, they’re clearly not the same person.
“You-…who…who is this?”

Aymeric’s eyes flutter at Kjat’s stupor and he glances at this lady.
“Ah, this is Field-Commander Lucia Junius, my second-in-command.”

Lucia’s observation cruises over towards Kjat, to study the bemusem*nt inside the vision of the viera, but there’s no recognition evident.
“Hail to you.”

“Hmm”, goes Aymeric, “I suppose you’re startled by the fact that she’s Garlean. It is true, but let me reassure you that Commander Junius defected from her homeland several years before. She serves me specifically and assists in supervising the Fury’s Spear delectably.”

“I…I see”, Kjat mumbles.

“At any rate, I was informed you sought to access Ishgard in order to meet with one of our captives?”

“Yeah, Cid Garlond, a buddy o’ mine”, goes Joltin. “He’s the owner of Garlond Ironworks, and I don’t care what your people say, he’s not some ‘heretic’ or whatever. He doesn’t even really care ‘bout religion! He just wants to spread his tech across Eorzea in order to prepare it for what’s to come.”

Aymeric takes on a thoughtful look, rubbing his chin and glancing sideways for a moment.
“Hmm. I can put the pieces together as to your plight in this, but you must come around to the serious allegations levied against mister Garlond.”

“And what are those more specifically, Lord Commander?”, wonders Y’shtola.

“I also don’t...really know what you mean by ‘heretic’…”, goes Kjat carefully.

“Well, that would indeed magnify your circ*mstances for the worse. Then permit me to briefly elaborate on the matter for you: for the past several hundred years, Ishgard has fought on and off with the Dravanian Horde, the dragons situated to the west of Coerthas. We have ever been at each other’s throats, never relenting and dismissing any notions of surrender. It has been dragon versus man for as far back as we can recall, and though our differences are abundant, it has proceeded with truces or armistices every now and then. This conflict is referred to by our people as the ‘Dragonsong War’, even if it’s not a constant engagement. The ‘heretics’ as indicted by our Archbishops - the patriarchs of the Holy See of Ishgard - have reconsidered the premises of the war, and determined that the dragon’s plight is just. Thus, they are traitors to Ishgard and to the Fury. The existent Archbishop Thordan VII, akin to his predecessors, has decreed that heretics must be executed without delay, and no dealings with them are to be authorized. This in turn is to be viewed as heresy as well.
Supposedly, mister Garlond was seen speaking with an array of them and was thereby arrested when the heretics themselves were waylaid by our troops. No tribunal has been instigated, however, so I do not know the circ*mstances regarding his detention.”

“Doesn’t matter what you guys believe”, Joltin inserts. “Cid is a good man and I know him well. Whatever he’s getting charged for, I’ll defend against it.”

This outwardly interests Aymeric, and he surveys the rather low-slung woman ahead of him.
“By any means?”

“You bet your ass, I will. Don’t care about reputation or injuries. Who needs a whole body anyway? I’m asking you to release him and you’ll see he’s no criminal.”

Aymeric nods slowly.
“Notwithstanding that this is no real case for his innocence…I suppose I did barely get to speak with the man. Mainly, I was exposed to the complaints of his character. Who are you people, then?”

The elder of the team bows his head.
“Louisoix Leveilleur from Sharlayan, with my assistant Y’shtola. The others are Captain Joltin Dazkar from Limsa Lominsa, the Ala Mhigan refugee Lyse and Kjat from the far-off city of Murotsk. Our purpose may align with Ishgard in an imminent future, for we are merely committed towards mentoring Eorzea into rating the Garlean Empire as the enemy which it is. And the Empire’s second invasion will be pending, my young Lord Commander.”

Doing its part to rivet him some more, Aymeric looks to come towards a decision and gestures with his arm at the doorway to the bridge.
“Very well. You sound unfaltering in your conviction of this affair and should you truly be messengers of an overhanging imperial foray, then I must let you speak. I’ll assist you in receiving an appointment with mister Garlond. There, you will have to sell his blamelessness to us.”

Chapter 53: The Vermin path - Part 26

Chapter Text

A billet that factors in an ordered murder is not really such a fluid scene as some would have you believe. Jhera has been associated with a handful of those amid her tenure below Livia’s chain of command, and in general terms, the body of the time you spend on such a charge is not devoted to dueling against your target, nor the tedious outline of waiting for the act itself. No, in Jhera’s experience, the main factor in this is scouting. Intel collection is a great boon and a major puzzle piece in practically each black ops style of expedition, but in regards to regicide, it sets sights far beyond mere convenience and hits upon the border of fundamentals for your survival.

Jhera and Fordola do not regularly have the space nor the time to straightforwardly stroll about along the streets of whatever place they encounter amid this journey of infiltration of theirs. Partially it’s due to that neither of them are the tourist category of person, but furthermore off the back of that this current campaign is one where sticking to the vision of society can emerge as both deadly and counterintuitive, particularly if their identities are uncovered. If they are to finalize the request of the Monetarists, however, they have no choice but to wander the boulevards of Ul’dah and blend in among its unwary occupants. More to it, both of the women are to a degree even less accustomed to the civilian clothing they’ve had to wear for this occasion as well. Their present concern relates to keeping an eye on the Immortal Flames, a military group led by Raubahn, the Sultana’s closest ally. It wouldn’t be of much help to walk around with their sharp instruments on or bear reinforced gear, which brings Jhera to have slapped on a short-sleeved sky blue tunic, loose dark green pants, and some easing moccasins. Some of her rather well-toned body is then on display, but she has to say that in these warm winds, this attire is much less confining. By her side, Fordola has opted for grey shorts, black boots, and a low-cut navy blue shirt. Her sturdier arms are identically manifested to the world then, although Jhera wasn’t sure what the point was for the Centurion to have half her fairly ample chest perceivable as well. It’s partially distracting.

What they’re stood by at present is what they’d judge as a form of inner barracks, situated within sight of a training and administrative hub in the city. Being so prominent inside of a population center like Ul’dah sets Jhera with the impression that these Immortal Flames are if nothing else well-respected, plus fairly bold for not masking their activities of this variety. While Fordola is standing with a hand along her hip, Jhera is tilting into one wall, her right eye to the people sparring in order to furnish herself with a half-decent view.
“They look impressive enough, I have to say”, goes Jhera. “They have their practice and techniques down pat. And on the surface, none of these figures stumble with their moves.”

“Suppose I’m on the same tune”, Fordola admits. “On the other hand, from what I’ve been listening in to, these jacko*ffs pretend to be more ethical than they really are. Not impressed by that.”

“You found a clear fault with them, then?”

“Well, think about that Ul’dah got Mhigan refugees for days. Do the Flames back those poor bastards up any better than the rest of Ul’dah’s bastards? Do they f*ck”, she mutters bitterly.

Jhera snorts mildly.
“You never know. I believe I stumbled on reports that they recruit refugees in larger numbers than alternate martial orders in this city. And isn’t Raubahn from your area too?”

“Don’t be tricked by that crap. It’s just a façade. They offer the bare minimum of relief to those they assume they can benefit from and then call it a day. Neither these jerkweeds nor the Sultana would ever strain to specifically bring a large chunk of my people outta the mud that they’re rotting in, cuz that would burden their own lavish lives. People are only as generous as what’s easy for ‘em.”

Jhera does not reflect on this matter anymore, and instead zeroes in on their task, observing the positioning of the Flames and their training for the time being. The duo remains undisturbed, much due to their disguises, and are permitted to go about their monitoring while barely raising any suspicions. However, they do elect to relocate on a handful of moments, and in amid one of these stages, Jhera catches a hiss and a groan from her companion.
“Fordola?”

Inhaling keenly and clutching her side, Fordola is shaking her head.
“…it’s fine. I’m…I’m fine”, she goes while half-straining.

“You don’t sound fine.”

“Just…get some brief twinges still.”

Jhera’s one eye rakes across Fordola’s body, especially where the fingers linger.
“After your bout with your sister?”

“Y…yeah. That bastard really sent me some hellish knocks. I mean, she’d looked tough, but I…” She shuts her eyes momentarily and grinds her teeth. “…hadn’t figured she’d be worse than my old Garlean instructor was.”

Exhibiting an outer as if she’s pondering the quandary, Jhera finally takes a step nearer to her junior, eye trained on the region for the obvious torment, unconcerned about that it’s not visible.
“Shouldn’t you get some spare rest, then?”

“Nah…I’m good, like I said. I can take it.”

Exhaling with an ounce of frustration, Jhera shakes her head and mutters.
“So damn stubborn sometimes…”

Nonetheless, the following moment, Fordola finds her arm being snatched by the miqo’te and she forcibly gets led away.
“…eh? What’s going on?”

Jhera keeps dragging her, posterior aimed at her companion and it takes her about five seconds to respond.
“We’re sitting down.”

“…huh? Why?”

“You have to get a bit of rest while we’re here.”

“But…but I don’t need-“

“No”, Jhera breaks her sentence’s pace with. “This is not a request. It’s an order.”

Fordola finds herself snapping shut purely out of flabbergastment, for she hadn’t predicted the emphasis and the emotion in that declaration. Subsequently, she sighs in surrender. She recalls now how defensive Jhera was of them during the fight against the dragons too. It is her style to safeguard her people at all costs, it would appear. Shortly thereupon, Jhera pulls her the whole way towards a bench where she makes Fordola take a seat.
“Do you really have to-“

“Stay here”, Jhera blocks her with once more, before she heads ten meters off and gets something from a merchant’s stand nearby.

She buys them a drink each and then reappears, handing over a bottle of something alleviating to Fordola, seemingly expending it with her own gil.
“…thanks”, Fordola mumbles begrudgingly. “What’s with you sometimes, though? You turn into such a worrywart.”

Jhera just snorts at that, ahead of sipping at her own drink.
“You should’ve figured that out by now. I don’t like it when I lose people under my command.”

“I know, you told me that once, but you get like, really zealous about it.”

Jhera swivels her head, peering forward in lieu of at her.
“It was near for a couple of you back there, and I won’t allow that. Not while I’m in charge. Especially not for the petty reasons of some brain-dead Garlean like Livia. I would preferably endanger myself than let my people suffer for the sake of a fiend like her.”

Heeding these bursting emotions of her team leader, Fordola is made to smile, whether she likes to or not.
“You’re a bona fide weirdo, ya realize that? But…I like that about you somehow. You can shoot back against people of that ranking for real and you look after us nobodies. I’ve…never had a superior like that in the imperial army.”

Jhera hefts her shoulders.
“That’s one of the Garlean demerits, but it shouldn’t be for us. It’s not how we are intended to be with one another.” She finally lets her eye drift to her companion, the scarlet piercing the green. “My people aren’t expendable to me…nor are you, Fordola. Don’t ever forget that. So, get some rest when you need it. Don’t push yourself baselessly, and particularly not until death. Losing you wouldn’t impress me, just…demoralize us all.”

Peering at her companion with a meditative look, Fordola finds herself shortly unperceptive, that the lines fed to her affect her soul better than she might’ve pictured. It’s practically unreal that a senior like Jhera would exist at any point in this brutal landscape that is the Garlean army. She must really be lucky to have been accommodated among the ‘Vermin’. Smiling more sincerely, Fordola squeezes Jhera’s shoulder.
“Thanks.”

Chapter 54: The Scions path - Part 28

Notes:

you already know which song belongs in this chapter ;) - Dreams Aloft

Chapter Text

The bridge between the main sections of Coerthas and Ishgard was further outstretched than the team had envisioned. Not that it took days to cross it, but at least an hour or so at a normal pace. Granted, this was impeded by the harsh and cold winds that blew at a startling pace, that did take their ‘regular’ speed down to about half, so maybe it wouldn’t be fair to say it was standard practice. That said, the extent of this construction did marvel and astound several of the members among them, how such a massive structure can even exist. And what type of ordeals did its builders have to stomach in order to have it made?

After the hour has passed, the team is escorted inside the gates of the city, and have been positioned just inside the mountainous abode. From the outside, they got to peer at and perhaps even be disquieted about the tall spires and the grand walls which defend it, not to mention the abyssal depths which compass the entirety of the settlement. What stands out more than ever is that getting inside, besides operating the bridge, is practically impossible. There just is no hidden passage for smugglers or a faster shortcut in between some hills, due to that such concepts cannot subsist here. That is, outside of being one of the dragons which the Ishgardians are facing off against, naturally.
What the team has also come to grasp is that Ishgard is a tiered city, which showcases not only the complexity of its framework, but what may be a blatant evidence of the city’s prejudiced system of classes. By and large, Ishgard is divided into the ‘Foundation’ and the ‘Pillars’, with the commoners making up the brunt of the former and the nobles ruling in the latter. While they haven’t explored this to any greater degrees, from what they’ve been told by Lord Commander Aymeric and Field-Commander Lucia, this apparently is a result of an expansive and complex history, and while it may not come off as fair, it’s also not as smooth to simplify into mere thoughts of exploitation. Supposedly, anyway.

Where they’re moved towards by the troops is one of the guard barracks which the Fury’s Spear administrate and are stationed by. It apparently serves as a temporary arrest as well, for those who have yet to be judged. While Aymeric leaves for a couple of minutes with a few of his subordinates, they return not extremely long after, keeping someone else as an escort between them. In that time, most of the others are sat by benches or chairs against one of the walls, hoping to both calm and heat themselves up – even if it’s harder for the two women who derive from warmer climes, and not the Sharlayans. Upon the door opening, they immediately take in someone speaking, a tone that’s particularly familiar to Joltin.

“Well well, shoulda known who’d be this quick to get me outta the cooler.”

The person who steps out of the door is one that the generality of those being audience have not viewed formerly, besides the au ra. He’s not tremendously tall per se, roughly the height which Lyse reaches. His outfit looks rather flashy, wearing a coat with a tall collar shaded half in white and half in black, albeit not symmetrically. One hand is gloved, while the other is not, and a pair of goggles rests on his forehead, below his wavy silver hair. His chin is fully wrapped by a thick silver beard, and though his physique isn’t large, he’s definitely still the sturdy type of builder.

As he comes closer with a smile on his lips, Joltin jumps up and beams.
“Cid!”

The Captain rushes over and as the two reach one another, they unite in a handclasp, which Cid grins at. This is just ahead of Joltin pulling him in and hugging him tightly, inducing laughter from the mechanic. Their behavior does smell of either good friendship or possibly even siblinghood.
“Hah, whoa there, Daz. Don’t be too rough, or you’ll knock me over.”

Even if Joltin does laugh in return, she can’t help leaning back and examining him with a portion of unease.
“How’re you doing? Did they hurt you? No bruises or anything?”

Smiling, Cid looks at and pats her shoulder gently.
“Steady on. I’m fine, gotta say. They’ve taken care of me here…eh, mostly. The first couple o’ guards I ran into were a bit rough, but it’s been down the slow lane since then.”

“They’ve fed you and stuff?”

“Tsk. Do I look starved to you? ‘course they have, Daz. Cool your head, now.”

Appearing from the side of the man, Aymeric gestures with his head at Cid.
“My apologies for the earlier unfortunate treatment, mister Garlond. This happens to be the norm among most people when they’re facing up to believed heretics.”

“Meh. I’ve ran into gruffer devils, believe you me. If you’ve ever been caught by Garlean troops, you wouldn’t feel this was even the slightest bit grim.”

Joltin crosses her arms and leans back, and by now several of her comrades have started forming a group behind her.
“You alone in there?”

“Nope, got Biggs and Wedge with me. They’re in another cell.”

“Huh. So they took all three of ya…that’s not looking good, then. We’ll have to salvage everyone and everything they took before we go.”

“Well, before we get into that…” He turns his eyes to browse the people who’ve accumulated by Joltin, finding no familiar faces. “Mind telling me who this crowd behind ya are?”

Blinking her eyes, Joltin suddenly notes that her friends have come to join her, and some of them abruptly look a tad awkward or straighten themselves. The Captain smiles lightly.
“Hah, sorry ‘bout that. ‘course I can! These are some of those I’ve been hanging out with in the past couple o’ months. This fella here is Louisoix Leveilleur, a member of the Sharlayan Forum, with his pupil Y’shtola Rhul. They’re both scholars and are studying the risks of another Garlean invasion of Eorzea.”

The elezen bows his head deeply.
“Eminently privileged to make your acquaintance, mister Garlond”, goes Louisoix. Y’shtola merely smiles and nods.

“The other two are from separate backgrounds. One is Kjat Sja-naris, medical expert and refugee from Murotsk, a city-state on Ilsabard, and the other is Lyse Hext, daughter of an Ala Mhigan rebel. Both of ‘em come from imperial occupied territories.”

Kjat nods her head.
“Indeed we do. Interesting to face another imperial citizens that have fled.”

“Yeah, hoping we could discuss that at some point”, Lyse agrees.

Taking in their outline from where he is, Cid smiles with a pretty intrigued shimmer in his sight.
“Well well, this sounds like a pretty impressive bunch! You strike me like ya got a lot in common, in spite of that I don’t quite know what it is that brings you together yet. You all stand with her, then?”

“We do”, Y’shtola admits, “as we have several common goals and perspectives.”

“Well, if Joltin trusts ya, that’s good enough for me! She hasn’t really had a reliable team in forever. Glad to hear that’s turning over a new leaf.”

“Yep, it is”, goes Joltin. “But never mind that for now. It’s my turn to quiz you, Cid. What happened out there? What’d you do to get thrown in a dungeon?”

With a knackered exhale, Cid sets a hand at his hip and shrugs.
“Basically, I was tricked.”

“What?”

“Well, apparently a party of heretics had set themselves up to attack the gates of Ishgard and overtake the outer terrain in order to gear it up for a later enhanced assault with their dragon companions. Obviously, they didn’t relay the nitty-gritty of this to me or the boys. Compared to that, they’d posed as Ishgardian soldiers and portrayed to us they were after the purchasing of some suitable tech, which made me believe we were cutting a deal with Ishgardians. And you know me, I’m all for arming Eorzeans, provided it’s for a good cause, to defend this land.”

“Huh. We heard you guys met in like, a covert locale, though?”

“Yeah, outside the city. The way they told it, it was cuz no outsiders were permitted inside in the present state o’ things. Sounded pretty reasonable to us.”

Aymeric folds his arms and touches his chin musingly.
“Hmm. This is not…erroneous information. They must’ve become conscious of recent directives distributed from the church regarding restrictions for foreign entry.”

“Something like that”, Cid agrees. “After a couple o’ days, the camp we sat in were ambushed byrealIshgardian troopers, who went in and either chased nearly everyone off or killed ‘em. Since we obviously didn’tseemlike heretics, the soldiers just brought us with ‘em.
But it’s stupid! Completely asinine. The Ironworks wouldnevercooperate with people of that ilk. Our company motto is not compatible with it! It’s simply not our style.”

Louisoix looks at him with an ounce of pensiveness.
“Hmm. The Garlond Ironworks…I have to say, from the reputation that your company commands, your work is rather impressive. And I imagine most would concede that you are not liable to be associated with the variety of individuals that the heretics represent.”

“Actually”, Joltin inserts, “I’d come here to get ya outta prison regardless, which you know, Cid. Nonetheless, right now, we’re actually after a bit o’ assistance from you and your ship.”

“My ship?”, wonders Cid. “I mean, sinceyou’reasking ‘bout it, naturally I’d lend you a ride on the Enterprise…so long as I’m actually around to steer it.”

“Yeah, about that…”

The team then diverts to Aymeric instead, as if to anticipate a solution from the Lord Commander for this problem. Even if he doesn’t fling one at them posthaste, he does audit his guests in an absent wonderment.
“Your assembly is an engaging and likewise dubious one, if I’m honest. Every one of you hold some delicate affinity for the Garleans. You have researchers, a medical expert, a rebel and a ship Captain, plus you’ve reached Ishgard for motives that some would not find quite equitable…
And still, I have to ask, what it is you are up to in this city?”

“Well, we kinda told ya already”, goes Joltin. “We’re gonna bust Cid out so he can give us a ride.”

“To where, then?”

“As a matter of fact”, offers Louisoix, “we intend to confront the dragons which Ishgard is contesting. The bottom line to this is that we are investigating conceivable involvement of the Void with them, or worse, that the Garlean Empire has exploited their essence in order to operate foul rituals in Eorzean nations.
Whether they themselves or people surrounding them have employed this, we must know, and consequently, a trip to Dravania appeared to be in order.”

“The Void? Terrible tidings, indeed. Hmm. So, you wish to voyage towards the Churning Mists…”, they hear Aymeric saying contemplatively. “I hope you’re ready for that trekking anywhere in that land will be excruciating and deadly. Both the terrain and its inhabitants are likely to be incredibly dangerous.”

“Heh”, he hears from Joltin. “If you figured that’d discourage us, ya got another thing comin’.”

“I see. If so, then…I might actually be familiar with a personage who could escort you peacefully into dragon lands.”

Tilting her head and with her hears twitching, Y’shtola takes him in with an ounce of doubt.
“You would bolster our efforts, Lord Commander?”

“In a manner of speaking, but it cannot be achieved at a moment’s notice. Due to that you will require mister Garlond’s support as well, you are under an obligation to have him released. It is not within my power to ensure this outcome, but…I may arrange a faster strategy with which to seal the success of it.”

Lucia has remained in the room with them, and mutedly at that, but now speaks up.
“Lord Commander, if you interfere with the process…it may get you in trouble with the Temple Knights.”

Aymeric smiles at her.
“Perhaps so, but our visitors are exerting themselves for an honorable cause. I believe it would be ignoble not to lend our aid where justifiable.”

“What solution is it that you have in mind then, Lord Commander?”, asks Y’shtola.

The young elezen shifts at them, draws in a short breath, and bobs his head.
“A duel.”

The team stares at him momentarily, blinking their eyes and trying to make sense of his intention.
“A…what?”, asks Lyse. “With whom?”

“I presume you are not overly informed regarding the layout of Ishgard and its society. The Temple Knights are the upper hierarchy of Ishgard’s armies, consisting mainly of noble sons and daughters, and answer to the Holy See, the church itself. Although we of the Fury’s Spear are the front army and guards of the city, they are first and foremost regular citizens. Commoners. None may act in order to carry out the orders of the Archbishop better than the Temple Knights, and their jurisdiction extends far.”

“Some claimtoofar…”, mutters Lucia.

“Judgment of criminals are in fact their domain, one that we are not to meddle with. Having said this, the Temple Knights have an increased sense of supposed ‘honor’ and the rites therein, which they are obliged to conform to. Even if they may dislike the notion of a foreigner of low birth seeking to stride in here and exact a fight out of them, they’re beholden to yield to the knightly code. It doesn’t even have to be to the death either.”

“Huh? A duel…”, Lyse thinks out loud. “That’s…one way, I suppose, but it sounds kinda nuts. None of us know what that’d even comprise, or if we’re up to the task of-“

“I’ll do it”, Joltin intercepts, her eyes steeled and her back straightened.

The others peer at her in astonishment.
“You…what?”

“If they think they can lock up my bro without decent evidence, deserting him into some flipping dark and damp cell, I’m gonna dash those hopes into the freaking ground. I’ll take the duel, Lord Commander.”

Chapter 55: The Vermin path - Part 27

Chapter Text

Looking back at the previous several years, Jhera can’t recall that she’s gotten particularly close to anyone. There’s no one in the imperial military who has either piqued her interest nor rightly endeavored to get to know her. She’s felt isolated within an organization which involves hundreds of thousands of people, putting on a grim face, sticking to herself and hoping that no one troubles themselves to look too closely. It isn’t until very lately that this mask has begun cracking, that the waves beneath the surface have instigated a ripple and she may allow them to touch her in some capacity. All because of one woman.

So, when Fordola came to her amid their tour of spying on the people of Ul’dah with a personal request to investigate, Jhera didn’t strive to repel it all that lengthily. In fact, she acquiesced to it rather speedily, since it wasn’t a paltry notion. Fordola asked that the two of them move to review the areas where the Ala Mhigan refugees in the city are gathered and estimate what state they’re in. These are her people and Jhera can’t deny that her companion has the right to find out how they’re treated. Whether the Eorzeans are doing their utmost to safeguard them or leave them by the wayside.

Once they touch down in those tight lanes where the refugees are situated, Fordola’s face is instantly disheartened. Whereas there certainly are several of them among the backstreets, their present lifestyle is pretty grim.
“Look at this sh*t”, Fordola mutters to her. “Hundreds of ‘em packed together, sitting in rags, eating nothing but the driest garbage you can imagine with only small holders of water and practically sleeping on the f*cking ground.”

Jhera shifts her gaze to study her comrade, and while Fordola can often be spotted frowning, it’s the tautened fist which garner the miqo’te’s attention at the moment.
“Fordola…”

The Centurion shakes her head.
“…I know. Not about to do anything, just…it pisses me off, okay?”

“Understandable and you’re permitted to. But don’t forget where we are.”

“Told you that I know.”

In amongst their stroll of the nearby streets and byways, they find themselves not alone out of those who stay in the city that pay a visit to these forgotten souls. Several individuals with curved blades, specific emblems and red-colored headbands across their helmets are wandering the lines, albeit with profoundly less sympathetic and kind outlooks. At first they simply drift about and speak amid themselves, casually hanging out and joking as to something that neither of the pair can pinpoint. It’s not until these folks shift their attention to the refugees that they get not just louder, but physical. They go near to the refugees, mocking them and sometimes pushing them, making them flee and calling them names. ‘Dirty rats’ and ‘ugly efts’ are two of the pejoratives hurled at these impoverished groups.

Fordola initially ignored the calls, but now her rage is bending to them, the compressing of her fist getting fiercer.
“Who in the hells are those loudmouths?”, she mutters.

Where she’s stood with her arms crossed, Jhera repositions her one eye to peruse them.
“The Brass Blades, right? Local guards hired by the Monetarists.”

“…is harassing refugees part of ‘guarding’ this city, then?”

To start with, this disturbance is fairly mild, by comparison, but then they adopt measures to find problems that may not be there, accusing various people of doing or saying something, or outright misappropriating items. This appears to be serviceable incentives for instigating violence. It’s at this moment where Fordola has had enough and she settles into an approach vector at them, likely to take them on. She doesn’t push further than about a meter, though, until Jhera grasps one arm and partially curbs her pace.
“Fordola…”

“…lemme go.”

“I won’t.”

“Jhera…Let. Me. Go.”

There’s an emphasis and a ripening indignation in Fordola’s voice, but Jhera is not one who gets intimidated out of hand. She furrows her brow, but doesn’t seethe, seeing as she’s not the target of this blowup.
“We can’t interfere with them, you’re mindful of this.”

“…I…”

“It’ll spawn disturbance which we can’t afford. Keep in mind why it is we’ve come to Ul’dah for.”

Jhera doesn’t utter these terms with any force or sternness, but a pretty gentle and allaying tone, which appears to work. To her mild startlement, as Fordola restrains herself, one of her hands end up above Jhera’s, as if somehow hunting for a source of stability. Although the Ordinarius isn’t one who normally knows how to respond to this, she takes steps to merely allow it.
Fordola’s glower continues where it is and she takes a shot at bearing this event bereft of comment. However, the deeper it goes on, one Ala Mhigan man endeavors to stand up to their bullies, and in that instant, he gets punched square in the face to the ground and kicked while he's lying down, curling up to shield himself.

Gritting her teeth, Fordola is no longer able to hold it in.
“We can’t just sit by here.”

“And what are you saying we should be doing then?”, wonders Jhera.

“It’s…it’s just not right. We can’t abandon these people.” She wrenches her eyes over towards Jhera, staring right into the scarlet gaze.
“What would you be saying if this was your people, huh? You’d let them be degraded and spat on?”

Well, that one stung. Jhera seeks to respond and subdue Fordola’s protests once more, to maintain the façade and the integrity of the mission. Sadly, the way Fordola impacts her this time really hits home somehow. Isn’t that Jhera’s whole compass in this nightmare of biding in the imperial military?
Ultimately, Jhera sighs and shakes her head, yielding to Fordola’s entreating demeanor.
“…okay. We’ll stop them.”

Fordola then appears to exude an ounce of air in relief, registering that she doesn’t have to rein it in.
“Lemme grab a tool and we can get going.” Shortly thereafter, she makes for broom she can spot inclined against one wall.

Ahead of grasping it, though, she senses Jhera’s hand on her shoulder once more.
“No. We won’t use violence.”

Fordola blinks her eyes and scowls faintly at her superior once more.
“…what? Then what the f*ck do you-“

“It’ll draw overdue attention towards us.” Steeling her gaze, the Ordinarius configures her front at the Brass Blades. “Leave this to me.” Decoupling from Fordola where she stands, Jhera approaches these guards where they’re currently pummeling the poor man as he’s reposed on the ground, hoping to diminish the impairment he’s weathering, but finding that it gets both further painful as well as humiliating. “Hey, you there. Is that how the ‘mighty warriors’ of Ul’dah behave? No wonder it is viewed as the trashiest and most cowardly city in Eorzea.”

Attending to this brazen phrasing, the men instantly break what they’re up to and veer for her, but find themselves wholly addled as they take in this woman, this nobody standing there in regular clothes, and unarmed at that. Jhera may be fairly well-trained, but she’s not a sight that innately terrifies anyone. The sentinels share a couple of glances with one another, prior to most of them chuckling and making for Jhera.
“Huh? What was that ya said, kitty? Ya want a piece o’ this as well, do ya?”

“Maybe we’ll take more than just a piece”, says a smirking hyur to the side.

“And all you have on ya while we’re at it”, adds a third.

Clutching her fists, Jhera feels no anxiety at their proximity, nor that they carry weapon or outnumber her. Instead, she zeroes in on her own being, that intuition that lies deep inside her core, and which she pulls from at every single occasion that she enters combat, in order to fortify her soul and body, to ferry her comrades athwart death’s fiendish hunger. In a second, her scarlet eye has gone from a closed state to an open one, and there’s a glow to it, an ominous aura which spreads from her expression, down along her arms and legs, until it has enveloped her in its savage urge.
“Only if you’re prepared to meet death head-on”, she tells them calmly.

Her words may not be filled with hostility, nor is her posture one that would impact anyone harshly. Even so, the men react viscerally when she speaks, hearing her words echoing inside their heads until the sentence is twisted into a howl. It pokes not at any intellectual or astute threads in their minds, but at that instilled instinct which one can hardly control if faced with a more gruesome creature – fear. On reflex, several of them take a step back when she closes in on them, then another, until half of them rotate and no questions asked begin fleeing from her vicinity. It’s not long until only two of them remain, and despite that she still hasn’t materially provided any additional examples of how she’s a real risk to them, they know for a fact that they’re outnumbered. Therefore, they pick the smarter option and take off.

A short moment beyond, Fordola ends up at her flank and looks at her with both thankful and amused eyes.
“At some point, you gotta teach me that trick.”

Letting the magical fuel subside and slip back into its fold, Jhera snorts.
“Unfortunately, it takes an inordinate amount of years…and awful sacrifices.”

Once the Brass Blades are gone, Fordola pitches in for the refugees that were attacked, fetching bandages and rags to clean the wounds. The people around the alley, especially the man who was abused, thank them profusely. They mention that at least some decent souls exist in this hellish place.
Upon parting from this flock of people and heading on their own road once more, Fordola finds that she occasionally peeks across her shoulder, to take in the sight of those sorry fellows they’ve had to leave behind.
“I wonder if they’ll get it better under imperial rule…” she mumbles aloud.

Jhera is already peering forth once more, her arms folded and letting this suffering be withdrawn into the posterior of her psyche. It’ll be no use for her to bring up amid the jeopardy that they’re plunging into.
“I wouldn’t buy that whatsoever. In case you wager that solely Eorzeans handle refugees this lousily, you haven’t really understood Garlean mindsets yet.”

Chapter 56: The Scions path - Part 29

Chapter Text

The buzz around Ishgard’s lower districts have already begun disseminating. It doesn’t happen every day that an outsider enters the city and calls for a duel with one of the higher ranks of their society, regardless what the intent behind it was. Whether this is for good or bad, people have not determined, but the sad truth of the matter is that most people will not even be capable of watching the event anyhow, and therefore many have dismissed it as a mere canard. The fact that the rumor exists in the first place, however, is adequate to get a heap of people’s attention, despite not knowing the underlying identity of the caller.

This duel that Joltin is to engage in has yet to commence, and though Aymeric had tried to keep it on the down low, supposedly such things can’t be hushed through and through. Before it can even be finalized, certain matters have to be debated between Aymeric and some of the Temple Knights, which the group of five is not permitted to participate in. Regardless, the team overall has been requested to not leave the Foundation, and thus some of them have undertaken a stroll about the streets.

One of those is Kjat, who’s off on her own for a spell, drifting along the edge of this bottom level’s range. Wearing an extended garnet red coat about her, she has to pull it tighter over her body as the cold winds kiss her, making her shiver and her ears twitch unhappily. She does truly dislike this cold weather, which she’s barely spent any time in previously. Having grown up in rather warm climes, Kjat is not built for a chilly environment, even less when it stretches to snowy lands.
Even so, her concentration isn’t wholly on her own woes, for she equally keeps her gaze upon the people she walks past. She’s mildly fascinated by how the citizens down here are coping, although she’s not incredibly brightened by the seemingly tough scene they’re suffering in. Out along the outskirts and further down the societal ladder, she gets to spy homeless sods that rest in corners, street kids that run between the buildings desperately searching for scraps and even minor shelters set up from nothing but boxes. Letting her vision rise to the topmost peaks hundreds of meters above, it’s clear that this is a highly hierarchical society. Kjat doesn’t genuinely know how to judge that. Albeit her home isn’t exactly harmonious in distribution of resources and wealth from stem to stern, Murotsk is better than this, and she attributes that aspect to being somewhat more democratic. What is she to make of this Ishgard that isn’t pretending one iota to be?

In any case, Kjat imminently finds her circ*mstances to be contrary to what it was earlier, when her senses warns her of that she’s being watched. With her ears now fidgeting to the side once more, Kjat comes to realize that it’s not a secretive onlooker who keeps their furtive stare upon her, but alternately someone who stands openly and tracks her pace. She instantly marks this being as none other than Lucia, the second-in-command which they crossed when conversing with Aymeric. The pair stands and studies one another from afar for approximately half a minute, with the chilly breezes compassing them and making Kjat’s shudders amplify. Kjat would go further, but she’s ambivalent of how she is to react to it. After all, there is something to this woman that unnerves her, and it’s unclear to the viera whether this lady is cognizant of it.

In the end, it’s Lucia who nips on over, striding confidently but collectedly, not with any real rationality of suspicion or antagonism.
“Miss Sja-naris, wasn’t it?”, she asks in her stately tone, speaking further like a military woman than a noble.

“I…that’s correct, yes. And you are…Field-Commander Lucia?”

“Right you are. Am I disturbing you, miss?”

“Not per se, but…did you follow me?”

“Oh, I didn’t. This is along my patrol route when I procure the daily reports from our barracks.”

“…I see.”

Lucia continues supplying Kjat with a once-over, all the while looking noticeably reflective, but the viera can’t judge the aim behind it.
“Miss Kjat, pardon my forwardness, but…would I be right in alluding that you feel uncomfortable, perhaps even afraid, in the presence of a native Garlean?”

Blinking her eyes, Kjat’s mouth goes agape, finding herself hesitating from the very instant that she heeds this question. Afraid? Would she be? In either event, the probing makes her pause for a moment.
“I…”

“I heard what your friend put forward earlier, that you grew up in the Empire. In light of your fidgety approach towards me, I daresay you must be from one of the occupied nations or cities in the Empire. I don’t normally apologize for how I was born, but this may be an anomaly. Should the presence of a Garlean alarm you, I can understand from your particular case, and I lament any discomfort that’s caused for you.”

Lending her ears to such sympathetic words and the nonambiguous dividing line between this woman and the one that lingers in Kjat’s mind, she exhales and shakes her head.
“No, that’s…not quite right, Commander. You’ve misjudged me. I’m not discouraged by Garleans in and of themselves. This relates more to um…” Her awareness momentarily floats off, as if to review whether she in complete honesty feels inclined to be this forthright concerning her emotions and hardships, but in the end conceives it’s for the best. “…someone I know.”

Piqued by this disclosure, Lucia’s own visage turns absent and she crosses her arms.
“Hmm. Someone you know…” She rubs her hands thoughtfully across her forearms, dissecting the sentence and Kjat’s whole comportment surrounding Lucia. “Could it be that…you know my sister?”

That was not quite the utterance Kjat had previsioned, and she detects how she becomes mentally sucker-punched, her eyes growing. She tries to read the Garlean, but there are no hints of deception from Kjat’s point of view.
“Now, just…just a moment. Are you saying that you are…Livia’s sister?”

And so, for a second time their eyes interlink and Lucia nods patiently, not anywhere close to wounded by the sheer dismay in Kjat’s voice.
“I am indeed. Lucia Junius, formerly goe Junius, at your service, miss.”

Kjat can’t whatsoever help that her hand traces itself up to her own chest in surprise, and she has to take an extra hard look to search Lucia’s face this time. Once she does, she can suddenly interpret where her emotions came from and why it must’ve prompted her distress.
“Oh my…goodness gracious…I didn’t-…I wasn’t aware in the slightest! Or maybe…this is the factor behind that I saw Livia in you. It has to be.”

With a faint and a tad glum smile, Lucia shrugs at the claim.
“I suppose this is true, but come to think of it, it’s no great shocker that you would be uniformed. My sister and I have never been collegial with one another.”

Kjat runs a hand along her own hair.
“Then it’s a safe bet that…your attendance in this city is on account of your poor relations with your homeland too?”

“Oh, no question. But yes, we are sisters, where I am the elder. Only by a year, but it is a fact.”

“How could this be, though? I’ve known Livia for several years and she’s terribly patriotic. I would never have concluded that her sister could somehow defect.”

“Well, heh…it was bound to be, probably, but not at all times. You see, Livia and I were orphans. Our parents served as imperial soldiers, but both of them fell to one of the Eternal Emperor’s multitudinous wars while the two of us were young. Carrying forward, Livia manifested as singularly devoted to shouldering our parents’ approach, while I expressed that it would be foolhardy, and how we might end up as nothing more than additional victims in our homeland’s perpetual war machine. My sister, she…well, she snapped at me for being disloyal to the Emperor’s cause, that any criticism or fence-sitting amounted to treason. To not be ‘infected’ with my unwillingness for the slaughter, she secured a posting out of the way from where we lived. And from me. Even if I had the capability of fighting, I did not seek to add up to just another soldier, another life for the Emperor to cast away on the frontlines. Instead, I signed on with the imperial corps of spies and other furtive operatives. A year later, I was relocated to Eorzea, to spy on Ishgard.”

“I…I see. Weren’t the Ishgardians wary of you, though?”

“Oh, like you wouldn’t believe. However, they didn’t doubt me overmuch, for I espoused to be a mere deserter, one who could no longer take living with the Empire’s cruel and relentless march towards conquest.” Peering down at the ground, Lucia snorts. “You know, it’s comedic somehow, for while this was an excuse, I later got a handle on that it was my authentic feeling on the matter. It hadn’t dawned on me until I met and began serving Lord Commander Aymeric. He was a man unlike any military commander I’d taken orders from, better than any Garlean of that caliber, and someone worth following. It was then that I embraced this new creed in my heart, and to atone for my mistakes, I sought to serve him. As I laid out my heart for him, the Lord Commander saw it my way and made me his second.”

“Hmm. He sounds like a wise commanding officer.”

“Indeed. Even so, I’m astonished anyone out here would be familiar with Livia. I haven’t ascertained a single thing about my sister, but it’s quite coincidental that someone who has such knowledge of her would journey to this continent. After all, my sister has never entered Eorzea.”

Kjat looks thoughtful and clears her throat.
“Well…it must be confessed that it’s not remarkable you wouldn’t have a clue of our dealings, but let me advise you of a few things regarding my past…”

Spelling out to Lucia the affairs which took place years ago and the dangers Kjat endured in her past life, Lucia stands silently listening to it, her face growing deeper and deeper concerned for each minute. After the dust of the monologue has settled, Lucia shakes her head, her eyes in a trance.
“My word…to think that Livia would go to such lengths…” She clenches one fist’s fingers above the hilt of her blade, vision shut in muteness for about ten seconds. Thereafter, Lucia unlids them once more and bows her head slightly in Kjat’s direction.
“Lady Sja-naris, you have my deepest apologies, on behalf of my sister and her behavior. What she perpetrated against you and your family is unacceptable.”

Attending these sentences and the genuine sincerity in Lucia’s tone, a tension appears to burst and dissipate in Kjat’s chest. It would look as if these siblings are not alike in any sense of the term, and she may have actually have a chance of getting to know a Garlean who sympathizes with her. It can do nothing but foment a smile on the viera’s lips.
“You don’t have to claim that, Commander. The fact that you differ from her is sufficient to relieve my disfavor against you. Moreover, I didn’t relay this simply to breed a manner of guilt in your heart. The truth of the matter is that I’ve met Livia again, here in Eorzea.”

Lucia’s eyes twitches in a startle.
“What? How is that-…when and where was this?”

“Down in the Black Shroud. The imperials have infiltrated this continent once more, and your sister is somehow encompassed in this operation, although I’m not apprised of the essentials of it.”

Frowning and aiming her eyes down on the ground, Lucia looks to be troubled to a growing degree.
“…does that mean the two of us shall finally have to come to blows? Dammit…I always suspected that day would show up.”

Chapter 57: The Vermin path - Part 28

Chapter Text

The spying maneuvers had to be through now. Jhera and Fordola had exhausted more than a week in hoping to gain the lay of the land in Ul’dah, comprehending who it was that they were to target plus the circ*mstances around them. They knew enough about what to count on in the imminent battle. Now it was just about getting physically prepped.
This is how one would locate them today, standing outside the city and hoping to hone themselves for the final stage of the mission. They’ve relayed the intel which they’ve retrieved to Livia and are instead intent on improving the state of their physique for the difficulties they must prevail. Fordola has noted that Jhera seems to be in shape, whereas she personally feels a tad distracted.

When they get seated for a break, Fordola gets her waterskin to sip from, and Jhera takes a couple of her own, but mainly pours streams of it over her face and shoulders, trying to shake off the heat, her feline ears shivering in delight as the chilling effect sweeps over her.
“You know”, goes Fordola, “ever since we first sparred that one time, I’ve felt your aether powers seem super dissimilar from anyone I’ve ran into. They’re so extremely powerful. Barely anyone can match 'em. Well, besides that au ra in the woods.”

With a faint lowering of her shoulders and a curling of her tail, Jhera sighs.
“…I was hoping not to be reminded of that woman.”

“Oh, right. Sorry ‘bout that.”

“No, it’s alright. I just can’t get past how frustratingly fearsome she was.” For a scatter of moments succeeding this comment, Jhera is silent, stirring the waterskin in her hand and Fordola would judge her to be deliberating on her actions. “Would you…like to hear about my home?”, she asks with just a whiff of trepidation.

Fordola’s eyes widen and she’s close to falling off the rock she’s lounging on. Holy crap, the miqo’te is about to open up to her after all?
“Uuh…I mean if you’re offering, I’d never say no.”

Jhera snorts and shuts her one eye.
“You sound as if I just forked over ten thousand gil.”

“I’d take hearing your tale over that money, honestly. You ever spoken to anyone else ‘bout it?”

“…no, I haven’t.”

“Not to anybody?”

“Not to the Tribunus, not the Legatus, not to a person in Subzero. No one. Even if one of them has some knowledge already.”

“How come?”

Jhera exhales gradually and she squeezes this bag of water she’s holding, but then puts it back down.
“It’s just…personal.”

“Mm. Guess that does track. Does it relate in any way to the harshness you showed against those bandits in the woods we allied with?”

With her scarlet stare unlidding once more, her brow wrinkles and she shrugs.
“Maybe. Can’t say I respect them and their life of poaching. Our societies are just extremely incompatible.”

“Got that. You’re not from Eorzea, right?”

“We’ve discussed this, and I’m not. I was born in Nio Volos.”

“Huh. Never heard of that place.”

“Unsurprising. It’s a city-state along the western Ilsabard coastline, and what people would call ‘occupied territory’, as things stand.”

“Oh, right. So you grew up ‘round ships and stuff?”

“Not personally, but there is a harbor by the city, yes.
In Nio Volos, we worship Dox Fengar, the goddess of the moon. Among the children born in this territory, certain ones portray marks on their bodies which are said to be blessings of Dox Fengar. Practically every one of those are given over to the templars of the goddess at birth or a young age, to be reared and refined as knights in Dox Fengar’s glory – the glory of the moon herself.”

Fordola blinks her eyes and stares a touch dumbfounded at Jhera.
“At…birth? People just…up and give away their kids?”

Jhera rolls her eye.
“It’s not this rugged as whatever you’re imagining. To have one’s offspring favored with the goddess’ sign is a great honor, for the family and for yourself, in spite of that you leave them behind. I was, and my name was granted by the Temple. Jhera means ‘crescent’s caress’ in an older tongue.
In the temple, children are fostered communally, being distributed an education academically, theologically and martially. In the process, we become brothers and sisters, parents and children. I…” She staggers mentally for a second, but then crosses the threshold into where she has to relay the matter at hand. “…became especially close to my teacher, the templar Riveyn. She was an elezen, a second generation immigrant from Ishgard here in Eorzea. She grew into both my mentor and a form of adopted mother, sitting at roughly fifteen years more than me in age. We trained together, prayed together, ate and celebrated the yearly cycles together. She was the only one I was happy to be bestowed a nickname by – Era’si, ‘my moonlet’.”

Fordola smiles faintly.
“Damn. Hard to picture you with anyone like that these days.”

“…I know, probably thanks to what occurred over there. About five years previous to the present, or something along those lines, the Garlean Empire invaded Nio Volos. This wasn’t their original attempt, but up until that year, our home had held strong. This would only last until the Xth and XIVth Legions were sent synchronically to assault us, with better advanced and gruesome weapons than at any earlier point.”

Fordola isn’t one of those who look as unfavorably upon the Empire as some others, but the issue in this state is that she likes Jhera. To listen to her suffering ascribed to the Empire’s actions…it does hurt. Her face contorts into an unsure appearance.
“They…defeated your city-state, then?”

“…they did.”

“Were you among them?”

“Yes, of course. I loved my home, but cherished nothing more than the Temple and my knightly comrades. I would do anything for them. Give anything to protect them.
Only a few weeks in, the battlefield appeared particularly grim and our cause was downright doomed. People were tired, soldiers had died inordinately and the Garleans had pursued our resources and farms, to starve us out. This…was when I decided to commit blasphemy.”

“…blasphemy? What’d you mean? How?”

Lifting her hand, Jhera studies it in a preoccupied manner, conjuring internal visions of her older life.
“Have you looked closely at the black-scarlet flames that orbit me in combat?”

“Erm…well, sometimes. Gotta admit that they unnerve me, though…”

“I figured they would. They do for most people.”

“The Temple taught you how to wield that?”

“No. The Temple told-…ordered me to never ever give in to it. It is called ‘the Shadow of the Moon’s Fang’, in translation. It’s sacrilege in Dox Fengar’s teachings, an irreverence which no one should ever reach out to. Those dark knights who let the Shadow into their bodies curse themselves and are never left in peace. Among the templars and the people, they’re feared for attracting and disturbing the dead. One is immediately banished from Nio Volos’ grounds for accepting the power.
The flames are one section of this dark gift, but they don’t burn you physically – rather, they affect you psychically and haunt you with old regrets, fears and sorrows. It’s a mental strain, every day and night. Only pumping adrenaline can keep them from unmaking your mind altogether.”

Fordola swallows instinctively, finding that thought to be quite ghastly. However, would she be lying to herself should she utter that she hasn’t sensed a disturbing malevolence when witnessing the flames in a fight?
“Why…why would you do that, then? Didn’t you love your city?”

“Yes, I did. I do, but this was precisely the reason I had to engage it. Losing my body, soul, even my mind…it wasn’t a concern. There was nothing above the notion of preserving my beloved home at all costs, to defend my Temple family. I would shed everything for them.” Jhera peers down at the ground and suddenly strains her fist, closing her eye meanwhile. “…but it failed. I couldn’t prevent the invasion’s culmination. Near the end, Riveyn went off to duel the mastermind of it, none other than Legatus legionis Gaius van Baelsar…who slew her in single combat. I was there, albeit out of distance. Infuriated, I rocketed there and launched myself against him to take revenge, and yet it was to no avail. I couldn’t defeat him either. He cut out my left eye among other things, and left me half-broken on the ground.
Looking around, I noticed that the Xth Legion was plotting to assault the Temple…and therefore opted for a drastic measure: I offered my life to van Baelsar, begging him to spare the Temple. He consented to my request, calling off the demolition of the structure and its inhabitants, but he did not have me killed. He grounded me in that my life now belonged to the Eternal Emperor instead. Granting that I live and die for him, the believers of Dox Fengar will survive, no matter how splintered.”

It's at that moment everything instantly turns crystal-clear for Fordola.
“That’s…why you serve him and Livia”, she says with a faintly absent voice, an epiphany having struck her. “It’s why you fight for the Empire…and why you hate ‘em all. You nearly lost your world to ‘em.”

“And I still despise them both, as well as all other Garlean ‘masters’. I pray every night that they die a painful death. In spite of this, I shall never raise my fist against them, and I’ll obey until my dying breath, if it will save my family.”

Fordola sits back and rubs a hand along the grip of her axe. What a life this woman has endured in order to get here. There’s nothing she may associate with it, no real experiences tied to how she personally undergoes her tenure. While Fordola lost her cherished mother to the Empire, she blames her father and the rebel’s foolish cause, but Jhera was among those who stood against the Empire, her family almost entirely wiped out and she watched her mentor falling before her very eyes. Fordola sees her final hope in the Empire, to boost herself onto some form of dignity left in life, but for Jhera, it has to be the foulest taste in the world, to eat up their commands and wishes every day, after they slaughtered her people.

Once she’s considered it, Fordola rests a hand onto Jhera’s shoulder.
“So long as I’m with ya, I won’t let that sacrifice be in vain.”

Chapter 58: The Scions path - Part 30

Chapter Text

The day of the trial has loomed and finally accelerated towards them. Although it wasn’t exactly a lengthy affair, some in the team have cut a mildly antsy figure about what will take place – mainly a certain miqo’te – whereas Cid had figured it’d be best to merely get it over with. Aymeric had assisted with arranging how the event will play out. He was the one who brought the news that Cid had called for a trial by combat, which demonstrably flabbergasted the Temple Knights. For a foreigner like Cid to know the proper courtesies in order to issue it – which, of course, he didn’t – as well as that a non-warrior like him would resolve to fight rather than employ his words, shook the knights to their core. Nevertheless, being knights, they weren’t about to refuse his insistence.

With the court not yet having commenced their operations, Joltin, Y’shtola and Cid stand and speak within the booth of the accused, which is a side room to the hall itself. For the moment, both the engineer as well as Joltin appear much further relaxed than anyone else has been regarding this affair. With Cid studying his shortest companion, he smiles and shakes his head.
“Y’know, ya really oughta take those shades off when we get in there. It’ll probably make you look kinda silly”, he jokes.

Joltin blinks, nudges the side of them and smirks up at him.
“What, making you worry ‘bout a certain someone, Ciddy?”

The glimmer which enters Joltin’s eyes then appears to affect the engineer and he sighs exhaustedly, flicking his finger at her.
“Shaddap. Don’t bring ‘im up like this, on the day of my godsdamn doom…” Joltin tilts her head back and guffaws.

With her sightless vision crossing from one to the other, Y’shtola entwines her arms and holds a better somber impression.
“Joltin, are you absolutely positive that this is the route you wish to take? This will be a jeopardizing endeavor, for both of you.”

Having collected herself, Joltin smiles at the white-haired lady and shrugs with her usual carefree attitude.
“’course I do. This is Cid we’re talking ‘bout. Not gonna let ‘em just run over him, not while I’m around.”

The Garlean hikes a hand and scratches behind his head.
“Well…your friend has a point, though, Daz. Haven’t even heard what my sentence is gonna turn out as, after all. And if you go overboard – which you have a history of doing, don’t forget – it might result in a uh…’diplomatic incident’ so to speak.”

Glancing between the two, it would appear the au ra is neither dissuaded nor bemused that the two of them would team up to prevent her from imperilling herself. She grins and places a hand on her hip.
“Tsk, c’mon now. When have I ever sat out of a good fight?”

But Y’shtola is not immediately convinced, her brow twisting into unhidden worry.
“You may get severely injured, nonetheless. The prowess of these knights are known even to me, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with you underestimating them.”

Joltin smirks and tilts her head amusedly.
“What, care that much ‘bout me, Rhul? Guess I oughta be flattered.”

The concern over Y’shtola’s visage heightens and it’s even interspersed with a touch of annoyance, while she approaches and gently clutches Joltin’s hand.
“Are you surprised that I am? You shouldn’t be. After this entire journey in concert, would it not be heartless of me to not care for your wellbeing, Captain?”

Suddenly, the emotional challenge which she put on the miqo’te in order to make Y’shtola flinch rebounds at Joltin and she gets a little taken instead, her eyes widened and her expression a little awkward.
“I…well erm…”

“I don’t want you to come back to us half-maimed, Joltin. I would be terribly distraught by that.”

Joltin swallows and though her face does darken a little, Cid notices with quite a bit of entertainment how the au ra’s tail twitches and curls in embarrassment. Trying to cool her head off, Joltin coughs and smiles softly.
“…don’t you worry, smart girl. If there’s anything I know, it’s how to brawl with knights. It was part o’ my training as a kid. Not this exact type, but I get the gist. Plus, I gotta answer this call, whether I want to or not – Cid is like a brother to me. I ain’t ever gonna let anyone throw him in a dungeon. Not while I’m alive.”

Her own tail rolling around and her ears flickering with interest, Y’shtola somehow wonders to herself what manner of past the two of them has.
“Is that so? In that case…I cannot in good conscience hinder you.”

Cid is presently eyeing the two of them with a heap of fascination, as this wasn’t at all the relations he had predicted. He hasn’t seen anyone get close to Joltin in a while, and this seems like it’s more than a little earnest.
“Hey…actually feel like I might wanna ask about you two. What’s with-“

But his query comes to a halt when the door gets unclosed and an elezen guardsman is standing by it.
“Cid Garlond? The tribunal has commenced, and your presence is demanded. You are to be escorted into the booth of the accused”, he announces formally.

In that second, Cid and Joltin share a look, one where every previous sensation of mirth and joke is replaced by a gravity and an ardor. They nod at one another, before Cid sets a hand onto her shoulder.
“Good luck, Daz. Don’t take too many knocks in there, alright?”, he tells her, prior to leaving.

Joltin looks after him while he heads off, having to be locked out of her range, but not for long. She then gives Y’shtola a nod as well.
“I’ll try to keep this short.”

Y’shtola’s ears flicker again.
“Not by losing, I hope.”

This is adequate to draw a chuckle out of her.
“Just watch the fight, beautiful, and you’ll see.”

It's ten minutes later when everyone are seated by their respective slots where they’re expected to be, including the team sans Joltin as spectators, and the judges have presented both the members involved with the trial and the basic rundown on what Cid may have to face if he is sentenced, that the head magistrate draws his head towards the hyur in his bench.
“Cid Garlond, director of the Garlond Ironworks and supposed engineer, you stand accused of breaking the laws of the Holy See of Ishgard by conspiring and collaborating with the Dravanian heretics, one of the most severe of violations in the law of this land. Should judgment fall on you, the penalty will be exceedingly strict, your reputation and your corporation both impaired abundantly for tarnishing these statutes. What say you in your defense?”

Well, it seems quite clear-cut that the court itself is fairly stacked against him, and that they’re probably intent on condemning him unless there’s an undeniable cause not to. Hopefully, Cid’s defense will indeed but solid enough in what’s to come.
“Not guilty, your honor”, he responds loud and clear. “Haven’t done a damn wrong thing in this affair, which I’ve been tryna tell your people from the very first, but no one was listening. I’m betting you’re gonna be keeping your ears and eyes open for what I’m laying before ya now, though – I demand to prove my innocence with a trial by combat.”

Some of the Ishgardian audience to this inquiry plainly weren’t prepared for that, as several gasp or murmur among themselves, wondering how this will end. Not the least, their startle stems from that Cid does not appear like a fighter in the slightest. The judge and prosecutor on the other hand seem to be wholly prepared for it and the elezen man with the fancy hat on bobs his head.
“As you wish, mister Garlond. We will elect a suitable knight for the duel. Will you fight on your own or by champion?”

Cid chuckles slightly and shrugs.
“Well, champion, o’course. Ain’t exactly a wardog myself, which I’m sure you can spot. And I got a decent option in mind.” He states and looks over his shoulder, towards the double doors into the room.

Hearing the signal for her entrance, these same doors then slam open and the au ra makes her stride in, coat flapping around her, sunglasses pulled down into place and her ponytail tightened. The whole thing is a little overly theatrical, but perhaps the effect will be enough. She doesn’t pause until she’s directly by the lane that goes into the arena.
“I’ll be fighting for the man. To victory or death, if necessary.”

Frowning at her, the judge and the prosecutor together nod at one another, before signaling for the cage to be set up. Mechanical chains and cogs activate as they conjointly bring out a metal floor from below, raising grids on either side to prevent escape and opening two gates for the combatants to file in.
“Very well. Then for the defense, a Temple Knight will be the chosen spear of justice – Ser Paulecrain de Fanouilley the Cold-hearted, member of the Heavens’ Ward, is asked to take the field!”

Exiting an area somewhere behind the bench of the judges, a tall elezen stately walks forth into position, his skin a light brown, his hair a silvery white, an eyepatch across the left one where a mishmash of scars are discerned, wearing a weighty white plate armor rimmed by navy blue cloth and chainmail. He saunters grimly but proudly out to where he is to be positioned, spinning a massive lance on his side.
“Hmph. Some outsider no-name, is that to be my opponent?”, he asks in a deep voice. “It’ll take no more than a few seconds of my time. A pity for such an occasion.”

Walking into the arena with a smirk on her lips, the gates closing at her posterior, Joltin places her feet by her end.
“The name’s Joltin Dazkar, independent Captain from Limsa Lominsa.” Erecting her arm, she wraps fingers enclosing the hilt of her gunblade and equips it, laying it over her shoulder. “Former Royal Guard squire of the Ruby Princess.”

Another smidgen of whispers then spreads throughout the room, where both Ishgardians and her own comrades are confused.
“Royal Guard?”, asks Louisoix. “Ruby Princess? We haven’t heard of this before…”

From his bench, there’s a reminiscing smile on Cid’s lips, and in his mind’s eye, he’s seeing another woman who used to flash that same pose and conviction. Joltin has grown up to be just like her. He chuckles.
“It’s a long story.”

Paulecrain simply spins his spear in his hands and sets his body into a battle posture.
“I care little for your meaningless foreign titles, girl. You battle against a true and proper knight. Get ready to find yourself out on the dirt this night.”

Joltin for her part laughs at his claim and then grins.
“I’ve fought tougher cookies than you in my sleep, pal.” Lowering her gunblade, she collects a portion of aether and loads a few ‘bullets’ into the armament, a trio of blips lighting up, which her allies who’ve seen her in the field know what that entails. “You’ll have to be pretty godsdamned swift to catch up to me. Let’s see if you got the mettle. I’ll give ya a minute.”

And Joltin stays true to what she’s espoused. Precisely as the gates are latched and the judges call for the clash to engage, her defenses are up. Paulecrain favors an offensive perspective, though, and like a true dragoon he launches into her, hopping into the sky and crashing down with the tip first right at her…but he meets with little success, for Joltin’s blade is already up like a barrier. She doesn’t simply parry him with ease, but slaps him aside. Paulecrain dodges out of having expected a retaliation, but it never comes, so he fires off another lash except finds no purchase here either, when an aether shield is thrusted towards it. For a whole minute, the au ra wards against him and deflect every shot he’s got, never taking a single bit of the lance’s tip on her.

Retreating a couple of meters then, breathing more grievously, Paulecrain frowns at her.
“By the Fury…this one just won’t go down. I’m amazed that she’s managed to defen-…“

“You done? My turn.”

Joltin’s feats haven’t seen their end, it would seem, for once he’s taken a step back to recuperate, Joltin swaps to full-on offense. She crashes into him like a raging bull, shoulder-first to his belly, slamming him into one of the walls. As his rear bounces against it, all but losing his footing, the gunblade is directed at him, aimed and then loosened. An aether shell bolts out and impacts him, being within an inch of finishing him off in just a handful of moves. As he tries to rise, Joltin gives him no quarters, already having slid in and trips him over. Upon smashing to his front, the au ra vaults and tramples her foot into his back, knocking him out. After the minute she promised him, she required practically no more than ten seconds to thrash him, leaving the knight out cold on the floor.

Standing there victorious, Joltin leaves her gunblade leaning on her shoulder again, with the comprehensive crowd staring at the results speechless. Besides her allies, that is. Joltin grins up at the judges.
“That’s why knights lose, by the by – they fight like knights.”

Chapter 59: The Vermin path - Part 29

Chapter Text

The moment of execution within Ul’dah has arrived. It’s not simply something that most of the team has been able to feel in light of the period that has gone since they got to this coast, but also the fact that Livia has called everyone into the city itself. And at this stage, it’s not solely Fordola and Jhera who get to indulge in its delights and the nearness to the scene of their mission’s goal, for the Decurions are to be included as well. They’ve been beckoned into the imperial embassy, meaning the pair who scouted the terrain has been capable of putting their gear back on, looking somewhat better respectable than previously.

When the team has assembled, their commander isn’t yet present and therefore the three comrades to the pair are further set and eager to speak with them than simply sitting around.
“So, how’ve you two been?”, wonders Hien. “Uh, hoping that’s not…stupidly inept to ask, of course. Since we’re not on duty, I mean.”

Urianger nods his head lightly.
“It would be of quite a boon to heed your activities whilst you traipsed upon and perused the streets of this settlement, being that we have barely claimed the fortune for such scouting on our own.”

“Uh…yeah, sure. Guess the scouting part is decent to hear about as well. Was mainly curious regarding the personal aspect myself, but…”

Thanks to that they’re seated around the table with the Ordinarius and Centurion on their own side, Jhera has her arms folded and her lips closed. It then falls on Fordola to speak for them.
“Nothing really critical went down, actually. We’ve just been sticking to the mission.”

“Really? Haven’t checked out the other areas, then? Or maybe spoken to the locals?”

Fordola sighs.
“We haven’t exactly been on a vacation, Rijin. This was a fact-finding mission.”

“Heh, well, with the sights, warmth and the pleasures which this place entails, I’m not sure it wouldn’t be unavoidable that it’d become a holiday anyway…”

“I assure you, we’ve been doing nothing ‘cept spying around.”

Milisandia had sat quietly with her hands in her lap amid their chat so far, but even she suddenly perks up, a faint smirk playing on her lips.
“Yeah sure, spying. That’s probably been your foremost focus. Especially while you were so close every day and night. Disputably sharing a bed by the latter to boot.”

Jhera’s face remains firm as stone, but Fordola is the one who shivers slightly and can’t help herself when she aims a glare at the au ra.
“…and what in all the hells is that supposed to mean, Decurion? The f*ck are you insinuating happens between two officers?”

In spite of Fordola’s harsh tone and incessant burn, with Hien clearing his throat, the gunslinger remains moderately self-pleased.
“Oh, nothing unusual. And I’ve got every faith you know precisely what it is I’m saying with this. Could spell it out if you really wish…”

Don’t. Cuz you’re wrong.”

“Are you-“

“Dead wrong. Don’t even try me with that sh*t.”

Their budding quarrel comes to an abrupt albeit potentially welcome interruption, when Livia herself barges inside.
“Enough small talk. We have urgent matters to address right now”, she tells them whilst her face becomes visible. Even if they might be cordial or approximately argue in a friendly capacity with one another, this detail doesn’t truly abide once connected to the Tribunus. Upon her access to the room, the entire huddle rises and stand at attention in a form of silent greeting, something she cuts off with a wave of her hand. “At ease. And sit down again, there’s no sense in standing amid this meeting today.” She takes about a minute on her own to grab a seat and arrange the papers she’s brought with her in a neat pile, numerous of which will likely never see any use. Taking a look at a handful of them, she then hoists her eyes and fixes them on the team. “Right. Which you’ve no doubt riddled out right now, we are to discuss the upcoming phase of our mission and how we shall attain our strike upon the heart of Ul’dah. This is after all what I and my two elected officers have been conducting throughout our stay within. Our business has been finalized, in that we are to target the sultana, Nanamo Ul Namo, and assassinate her. We’ve located a time frame which works for our benefit, but it incorporates certain delicate work and specific roles to be played, before we ultimately launch our rout. She is bound to be guarded outwardly by her minute royal force, but the foremost threat is the Immortal Flames and possibly their leader, General Raubahn, known to many as the ‘Bull of Ala Mhigo’.”

Fordola snorts.
“’least that name is accurate. He’s dumb enough to run straight at ya if he sees you’re a threat.”

“That is a suitable assessment, Centurion, but we mustn’t underestimate him or his forces. While they are not an insurmountable obstacle to overcome, they might entangle our efforts and thereby prevent us from the goal. Never lose sight of the mission, that the Sultana’s demise stands above all.”

“Right. I’ll remember, Tribunus.”

“Now, the first issue, which I trust that each of you has predicted, is the suspicion against the Empire itself. We are unlikely to be free to simply stroll within any territory that’s adjacent whatsoever to the Sultana. In order to divert these misgivings, we are going to orchestrate a manner of diversion, based on laying the blame upon Ala Mhigan refugees, and make it appear as if they have a grudge against the Sultana for letting them wallow in the dirt of Ul’dah, thus seeking to assassinate her. We shall go in stealthed and clothed in unmarked attires, besides Centurion Fordola, who as the most obvious Ala Mhigan will have her face visible.”

Fordola startles at this, something which Jhera takes note of, not having forgotten their confrontation on the streets. Since she doesn’t dare to speak up, the miqo’te does.
“Is that a wise idea, Tribunus? To make refugees be responsible.”

“Why, of course. It’s highly probable that they detest the respective sections of the highest tier in the city, for we cannot brush aside that they are being mistreated. Whereas another decent target would be to indict the Monetarists, we have a vested interest in cooperating with their members, making it complex to get them into a direct conflict of this value. Naturally we wouldn’t wish for the guilt to be aimed at the Empire and pretending to be any other city-state or anonymous assassins are liable to still be thought of as Monetarist or imperial agents. The Ala Mhigans are outsiders, people from another coast of Eorzea entirely who’re situated in Ul’dah at this very moment, and there is a general propagating distaste of them lying on the streets, being labelled as ‘vermin’ or ‘no-good slobs’. They are the easiest and least chaos-spawning option out of those we might consider foremost.”

“Wouldn’t it run the risk of…producing quite a civic tragedy, should the citizens blame the Ala Mhigans and yearn to grab revenge?”

Livia simply snorts this off.
“It’s feasible, but worth the danger. It will further our plans and the commandeering of this city in the name of the Eternal Emperor, which you must remember is our ultimate task. And do you really care overmuch for these homeless nonentities? I find it comprehendible if our Centurion does, and were that to be the case, you may both take comfort in that Ala Mhigans as a whole will prosper when Eorzea belongs to the Empire.”

Fordola would not oppose an order, could not even if she might get the notion in her brain, but she won’t say that she likes this one bit. It makes her not just uneasy, but shocked and appalled, that she’ll be obligated to fabricate additional disgust and animosity against her own people, who’re suffering extremely already. She hopes, with all her heart, that they’ll be capable of forgiving her when the Ala Mhigans regain their strength under the Empire.
Jhera stares at the Tribunus as if she’s not any more keen for what she’s hearing.
“Alright, if that is your will. What has me wondering, though, is what do we intend to go with should Raubahn himself stick his nose in?”

“I will leave that brute for you, Ordinarius. I’m sure you’ll treasure a tricky fight, yes? As our main protective force and often decently destructive, you may distract him and hold him off bereft of suffering any major injuries. The remainder of you, take on whoever stands in your way, but the Sultana is the dominant target in there. Keep in mind that her death is crucial above all else, and should you score a sufficient shot, take it.”

A Realm Sundered - Claire_Talon (2024)
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