She hated this weather. It was bad enough they had to traverse Coerthas, but the fact a storm loomed ever nearer, threatening to dump all its ungodly cold flakes upon her, made it all the worse. The Miqo'te had half a mind to turn around and return to the comforting forested paths of the North Shroud where she was at home, but her companion ahead of her was what kept her trudging forward. Ever forward. She could feel the cold seeping through her layers like water through the cracks of a feeble dam, and it was just as welcomed as that. The companion was a healthy seven paces ahead of her. She knew moving through this valley as quickly as possible was important, but the cold weighted down her body like rocks and caused her to drag her feet heavier. The tracks she left behind made it difficult to discern if two people were walking or if a dead body was being carried through the snow.
"Hey," she shouted, her voice pitched and cut off, leaving it a raspy gasp as her open mouth welcomed in an unpleasant flow of cold, dead air into her lungs. A hearty cough shook the icicles that formed in her throat from the brief moment of contact with the cold air, and she tried again. "HEY! You know, you're gonna have to thaw out the clumps of snow from my tail! And THEN warm it up! I feel like someone's tied a golem to it. It's really heavy. I don't think I can go on..." Rae glanced down her layered coat and withdrew her arms from the sleeves of it to pull her tail up which, as she expected, had gathered a bunch of snow, each pound clumped together in a misshapen sphere that added more weight than she cared. Smaller ones were starting to form as well, which she picked off and grimaced. It tugged at her tender tail's fur which sent jolts of unpleasant sensations up her spine with every dislodging of the snow clots. "Which way are we even headed? I can't tell anymore." She raised her gaze back up again while pushing her arms through the sleeves of her thick coat and squinted at the bright terrain. The setting sun only making it more difficult to see well because of how bright it was reflecting off both the white, undisturbed snow and the mountainous aspected aether.
Marishi knew her companion was fatigued and, truth be told, she was as well. The setting of the Sun mandated they stop and make camp for the evening, but knew they wouldn't last through the coming storm in the field. Marishi had visited the Boulder Downs many times in her past, but only once after the Calamity devastated and twisted the landscape. She had no desire to endure the endless snows and frigid cold in what was once verdant forests and razor mountains, but the excursion had been agreed upon and funded by a pair of Ishgardian nobles who had ambitions to rise to the Clergy with what lay buried there in the snow. The money was just too good to turn down.
"Just a little further!" she shouted back "We can pass over this ridgeline and it'll bring us into the bowl of the crater! I ... I know of a camp we can use for the night." Marishi waited for her companion to catch up "I'm sorry. I know you don't like being this far north. Quite a bit different from The Shroud though, is it not? they walked side by side close to one another up the slight embankment to the cusp of the ridgeline. The view was haunting in the dying light. They stood on a ridge of a large impact crater created when Dalamud had fallen from the skies. The crater was marred with overaspected wine red crystal formations the cooled and hardened the moment they released their energy making the landscape as frozen as the environment. All lands that I have seen have suffered from the Calamity. Some worse than others. "This place used to be a lush meadow surrounded by a forest of Cypress trees. As a child I would come here with my father and spend the summer in the Hamlets not far from here. This was ... Long ago. The forest, the meadows and the Hamlet are gone now." Marishi said with a twinge of sadness in her voice "We can make camp right over there. It will offer shelter from the storm and the Gods forsaken winds that are bound to pick up." She said as she pointed to a crystalline structure a little north and west of them. The ground sloped down into a small clearing which was canopied by a crystal dome as smooth as obsidian and in the last rays of the Sun, nearly as black. The back of the crystal amphitheater was sealed by the same type of crystal. A good place to camp - out of the elements, away from prying and hungry eyes. "First light tomorrow we can reach the monolith, map it out, and get the hells out of here."
"It snows but one time in the Shroud and too often in the North," Rae pouted, finally catching up to her guide, as that was mainly what Marishi was at this point. "We stayed in the North growing up to avoid being too close to Thanalan. I should be used to the cold, but I liked staying near the Central Shroud in Bentbranch with the Chocobos... for the most part. This snow is unkind." As she went to sigh, her lungs practically frosted over from the deep intake of pure, frozen air and caused her to cough yet again. "Ugh! Marishi, you'll be the death of me. I'll freeze from the outside in and then back out again. I'll be like those statues." She groaned again.
As she pointed out the enclosure not far ahead, Rae was quick to hop down from the crested drift that they stood upon and slide down it, only to have her knees buckle beneath her added weight of the thick coat. Rae tumbled down the snow hill, gathering up snow in her hood and down her shirt along the way. A shrill cry tore from her lips as she rolled down until finally she came to a halt at the bottom, to which she immediately jumped up and tried to expel the snow from the inside of her coat with frantic fervour. Thankfully, none of her equipment fell out, but any warmth that she had was gone now, and with that, soon would follow her cheery demeanour... or what was left of it. No words were said after that. Rae mustered up all her will and strength and practically ran to their destination. Once within the protective walls within the crimson aether, the Miqo'te threw off her hood, shook down her whole body and made as much movement possible to try and warm herself up. "Rishi!" She called out to her. "Hurry and let's get a fire going or something! I'm going to die!" Ever dramatic, Rae practically whimpered as she withdrew her hands back inside the coat to rub down her body and try to generate as much heat as possible.
Silently, Marishi walked to the back of the crystalline Amphitheater knelt to one knee and began sifting through the snow. It had been years since she had been here last, but she had been here and had made camp during her last incursion to the area. "Not many know of this place. Not many venture here. It's a day's ride to Dragonhead and two to Mor Dhona. The last time I was in this area, it was ... unpleasant." Finding what she was looking for, Marishi pulled an armful of split logs from the snow. Amazingly, the logs weren't soaked but as if placed there that morning. Arranging the logs in a circular fashion with one end point up and pulling out a bit of tinder and flint, she was able to get the fire started. Dusk had turned into night and the snow began to fall. The snowflakes large and numerous. Curiously, there was no wind and the crackle of the fire reverberated through the Amphitheater and any whisper sounded as a yell. "The fire is lit your highness" Marishi said in a low and teasing tone. "I know it may strain your delicate sensibilities, but as our fellowships Culinarian, it is the request of the band that you prepare our wondrous feast. I'll tend to the tent and the bed rolls." Marishi paused a moment and said in a somber and even lower voice "Do not wander far. There are things here I would rather we don't alert or provoke. We are close to the Monolith and it has an ... odd ... pull to the wildlife and ... others here. Why that is, I don't know, but I suspect that's what we were hired to help find out."
Rae watched as she produced the logs from the snow. Seeing the flint and tinder pulled from her companion's pocket already sent an illusion of warmth through her body, as if the fire and heat was already wafting around her. Once the flame burned brightly, Rae got to work. She knew her job and part well, so she wouldn't delay it with her hesitance. It took some working, but she managed to wriggle herself free of the bulk of her clothes, tossing the hefty coat off her and shaking her hair out of her face. The coat fell to the snowy ground with a heavy /thud/ and her satchel protested the mishandling by allowing echoes of metal clashing against metal to resonate within their haven in the snow. "Sorry," she murmured while adjusting her woven sweater. At the next comment towards her nickname, she sneered back at her. "Laugh it up. One day the locals will give you a nickname that you don't like and you'll get stuck with it forever."
She rummaged through her sack to find an intricate knife and a compact sheet of metal just as Marishi made her request. "Of course, my starving little friend," she quipped back with a grin while beginning to unfold the metal square into a finely-crafted pot complete with a filter near the top. Reaching into her bag again, Rae produced a small frying pan which fit nicely as a lid. An invention she thought of herself and requested Marishi to make. Now she could boil water, steam vegetables, and cook meat. A stew with just one fire required. She got to work immediately by finding untread snow and packing it into her pot then placing it over the fire. "It's a good thing you're good at your jobs, Rishi. We should sell this idea to the world, then we wouldn't need to do these senseless trips to the cold, dead wastelands of Coerthas." The pot warmed instantly and she gradually added more snow as it melted until enough water filled her pot. She then fetched the vegetables, already prepared to steam. Placing that on the perforated bowl, then the pan on top as well as two slices of antelope meat. "This is gonna be so good~" She sang.
"So, you were here before, yes? This monolith, was it here before? Do you remember?" She asked, looking to drum up conversation as well as learn more about the area and mission.
"Yes, it's a fragment of Dalamud that crashed here 8 years ago, a small piece." Marishi said. "Yes, I've been here before. The experience was ... unpleasant. The fragment is of Allagan make so it tends to attract a bit of a hostile crowd. The Giants you see near Saint Coinach's Find and The Seven Sentinels migrate to the monolith. They believe themselves the direct descendants of Allagan blood and look to seize any artifact they may find. The Giants in this area though are different. They're much more aggressive and protective of the monolith." Marishi said. Truth be told, even she wasn't appraised fully on the scope of their assignment. The two were to travel to the remnants of Boulder Downs, locate the monolith, survey it and the surrounding area. Marishi did not take off her winter overcoat but stood away from the fire with her back turned. She removed her hood to listen for any kind of noises. Oddly, besides the noises of the camp, she couldn't detect a single thing. No nocturnal animals hunting for prey, no bird wings gliding in the night sky, no bats chittering in the back of the amphitheater, no Giants lumbering across the snowy tundra, and above all, no wind. Nothing. Unsettled by the lack of noise of any kind Marishi said "It looks the same when I was here last, but it's different. The air feels different. You go ahead and eat, I'm going to keep watch a bit." Marishi flipped her hood up and began walking to the mouth of depression. There, she leaned up against the crystalline wall and let her mind wander ...
Marishi's thoughts aimlessly drifted from one to the next until they settled on the memories right before making her way to the Boulder Downs on her first trek.
After the battle of Cartenau, Marishi was one of the healers who elected to stay at the blasted and ravaged war zone to try to save as many lives as possible. The post was voluntary and despite her commanding officer's reluctance, she had leave to stay behind as the main host limped back to the woods of Gridania. Day melted into night and night bled into day. It was impossible to keep track of the time. There was too much to do. So many wounded. So many dead. Adder, Maelstrom, Flames, Garlean. It didn't matter. All of their hopes and dreams, their accomplishments and wealth meant nothing to the great equalizer Death. They were all the same now sprawled out in rows so the living could identify the dead. All with the same expression and gaze. A small contingent of Garlean Secutores were found and brought to the camp to await a prisoner of war detail. Many were injured. Marishi, being an Officer in the Order of The Twin Adder ordered the detail to stand down so their wounds may be treated. The rearguard sneered and a murmur of shock and anger rippled through the camp. "Why should they treat the enemy?" "So, they may rise up and continue their march of dominance?" "Why should they spare their already taxed resources on these men?" "They should be left to suffer and perish from disease in the wilds." Marishi heard the complaints, but ignored them. She brought the men into a tent and treated them. Afterwards, the wounded stopped limping in and it was clear that no more would be coming. Marishi then made her way back to The Black Shroud. Back to Gridania. She would be able to find peace and comfort in her home. Upon arriving at the city gates, she dismounted her Chocobo, stabled her nearby, and walked in the gates. There, a contingent of Adders were there to greet her. At first, she thought the cadre of Elezen and Hyur were an Honor Guard to escort her to her residence, but the looks on their faces as they stared at her painted a different picture. She was to be placed under arrest for aiding the enemy during times of war and was to be charged with treason. Marishi was placed under house arrest while a Tribunal was formed by the Marshals of the organization. She was found guilty, though due to her contributions as an officer of The Order of The Twin Adder, her execution was commuted. Her rank, title, and pay was stripped along with any land that was Order sanctioned. She was discharged from the ranks, though not in disgrace. Many in Gridania would whisper, stare, and sneer as she walked past. The Order was all she had known and now she was no longer accepted as one of them. Cast out, with nothing left to her name and reputation. Shortly after, she left the city and The Shroud calling it home no longer.
Marishi was interrupted from her musings by a noise. No, not a noise, but a feeling. A sensation. She could feel a slight humming as if there was a loud explosion nearby and the sound deafened her. The sound progressively becoming louder until as quickly as it came, it was gone. Annoyed, Marishi returned to her thoughts ...
Ul'Dah. The city of coin. After being expelled from the Order of The Twin Adder Marishi had wandered for a time. She had seen lands she had once known blasted by the great moon to landscapes unrecognizable. She had seen the damage it had done to the countryside. But she did not aid in the rebuilding. Those days were over and dead. Just as dead as all the twisted and charred bodies on the flats. She had, by chance, found her way to Ul'Dah. She had been there before for council meetings collaborating with The Immortal Flames. Here she could start over. Here she could make her own way. Here she could find peace. A city that is ruled by the power of currency is apt to disregard those without it. With meager funds, Marishi rented a room at The Quicksand and began to become accustomed to the art of textile and fabrication. She would spend hours at the Weaver's Guild watching, learning, discussing. Only a novice in the eyes of the veteran weavers, she would practice the skill at night and often times fall asleep in the guild itself. She wasn't happy, but with the prospect of work to occupy her time and mind, she could forget for a while the horrors of the battlefields. Over time, Marishi became quite skilled as a craftswoman and could compete in not only quality, but in quantity of her guildmasters. Such was her weaving that she was admitted into the guild and immediately after, given the rank of Master Crafter. Her dedication and skill promoted her standing in the city and afforded her a small house just west of Ul'Dah in The Goblet. With steady pay from the Guild, Marishi decided to strike out on her own and opened a small shop on the heavily traveled Gold Road. A hot spot for shopping and wares, the bazaar is where 90% of products were bought and sold. She became something of an oddity on the road. The products she sold, she sold at a discount, even if the quality was far superior to any of her competitors. These discounts were substantial and began drawing in more crowds from all walks. Not all merchants welcomed the prospect of new customers however and felt as if their rightful place of the elite was being threatened. With backing from a Syndicate member, two merchants struck a deal to drive Marishi out of business. At first it was subtle. A bit more aggressive sales pitches, attempts to price match or undercut. But it didn't seem to drive customers away. In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect. The merchants began using more direct measures. Hiring sellswords and mercenaries to bully people away or to decry her wares. Still, she had a client base. The merchants even offered to buy her off the road, though she declined the bribe. It was then, in the middle of a moonless night that the two merchants made sure that Marishi would be removed from the Gold Road. They set fire to her small shop. With the Flames emergency responders paid off, the arson reduced the shop to cinders. With no stall, Marishi couldn’t sell her wares, though none were left after the incident. She knew it was arson, but she also knew that starting an inquiry would provide zero results as coin is all that matters in the City of Gold. Marishi quietly packed her satchels and left the desert behind.
The humming was gone from her ears, but now she could feel it. The ground was vibrating ever so slightly and began to become stronger and stronger seeping into her feet, then up to her thighs, chest, and head. It was distracting and made her dizzy and nauseous, but couldn’t be taken from the thoughts of the past, especially the feeling of anger and of rage for being wronged. Her anger began pouring over. Where was that damn buzzing and vibrating coming from? Walking from the mouth of the enclosure a short distance, looked up, she had her answer. Though the monolith remained black against the snow, she knew it was the source and it was much more beautiful than she had remembered it. Then, as quickly as it began, the buzzing and vibrating stopped. Marishi lurched forward and caught her breath, as if letting something out of her body. Mind cleared, she walked back into the amphitheater the feelings of rage, anger, and fear subsiding as if it were a passing dream.
Rae watched her companion leave, her tail twitching slightly as her large, green eyes kept locked on her friend as she left her sight. Once gone, she returned to her task at hand. If Marishi wasn't going to enjoy her cooked meal with her, she'd make sure it tasted so good that she would regret it. A few pinches of spices and a smooth, homemade sauce to cover the meat while it cooked created a delicious aroma in the humble enclosure they made their camp in. It wasn't long before Rae examined her masterpiece. The meat looked cooked enough. Lifting the pan, she checked on the vegetables, which also looked steamed enough. Setting up the cutting board, Rae placed the hot pan off to the side of it while she scooped out the vegetables. The water below was then filled with a medley of ingredients. Olive oil, butter, garlic cloves, pre-peeled tomatoes and heavy cream she had stored away. She stirred the mixture until it all blended into a delicious-smelling soup. Moving the pot off the fire and letting the heat of the metal continue to keep the soup warm, Rae moved her attention to the slices of antelope meat. It was typically a gamy meat, but Rae was able to cure it well enough so the flavour of the Shroud was lost under the sugary-sweet taste of her curing.
"Leaves me alone to cook," Rae murmured while popping a Coerthas Carrot into her mouth to gnaw on while she cooked. It kept her from taste testing everything and getting fat off all her cooking. "What if I got attacked? Hm? It's gonna take a bit to regenerate my mana enough to make any sort of dent on these brutes around here. Tsk. Typical Rishi." She mused while breaking off a piece of the carrot and chewing on it. At the same time, she laid out the pieces of meat across the cutting board. Digging into her satchel, she produced two reinforced plates and set them to the other side of the board across from the pan. Replacing the carrot in her mouth, Rae sliced into the meat, creating bite-sized chunks that she placed onto the plates, followed by the steamed vegetables, which she seasoned with a bit of salt, then placed a small bowl on the open spot on the plate, then poured some of the soup she made into each bowl with the ladle she had.
Food prepared, Rae remained still while looking at it. Her ears perked up, straining to hear sounds beyond the crackling of the fire. Eerily, there was nothing. Not even the distant stomps of the giants, nor their hungered roars as they trudged through the snowy wastelands in search of sustenance while they stood guard over... whatever it was they were guarding. She stood up from her knelt position and walked to the mouth of the amphitheatre to examine the outskirts of their encampment. Placing a hand upon the wall, she sensed a vibration coming before she felt it. The humming hit her ears before resonating throughout her body. With an annoyed grimace, Rae plugged her ears to try and keep them from vibrating, but it did little to quell the sensation. "Okay, Rishi, whatever you did, I'm going to murder you for it." She growled while darting to her large coat and throwing it over her head. Pulling her grimoire from her jacket, she readied to attack at any given second. Once she left the camp, she spotted a lone figure making its way towards her. Squinting, Rae instantly recognized the bulky being ask Marishi.
Rather than shouting at her, Rae remained quiet until Marishi got close enough. "Took you long enough," she muttered. "Are you okay? Did you run in to anything?" She asked. Although she knew her friend could take care of herself, Rae still felt the compulsion to ask if she was alright. "I heard that humming. It felt like it was trying to turn my brain into mush. What was that?" She queried. "Also, food is ready."
"I-I'm not hungry." Marishi stammered as she walked past. "So, you felt it to. At least I'm not imagining it." Marishi was visibly shaken and her hands quivering as she pulled her hood down. A veteran of the Autumn War and the Battle of Cartenau, it took quite a bit to unnerve her. "I ... don't know what it was. Not exactly. It came from the Monolith ... I don't know how or why." Marishi said slowly as if having difficulty forming the words to explain her experience. "I have seen the fragments and the coils scattered around. I've ventured into the containment bays. I wasn't the first to explore, no, but I've seen Allagan technology at work. This is different. It ... called to me. It showed me visions of my past, memories I would have preferred to leave buried. It told me that it could help me right the wrongs not only for myself, but for others. It said that it would do so freely, I just had to open up to it. To submit." Marishi quietly explained.
She was near the fire staring blankly into the glowing coals. She had removed her hood and cloak to reveal a lithe and slender frame. She was dressed in clothing of Eastern Othard make. Her Ningi was a shade of dark red that covered her body and arms. She wore simple fingerless leather gloves of a red hue so dark, it could have been black, the small brass buckles glittering in the fires light. Her legs covered by black, fine spun velveteen tights wrapping closely to her calf’s and thighs extenuating her shape while keeping the cold out. Her boots rose to her calf’s and were of black polished leather with brass spurs attached at the heel. At her waist sat two ancient wakazashi's sheathed in their sayo's. She called them "Kikoku" and "Kannagi". At the small of her back sat a small tanto used for last ditch defense.
She was damp, but not wet. Marishi had pushed back the middle part of her hair and re clasped her muted red and blonde hair. As her eyes sat fixed on the coals, her eyes dilated making it almost impossible to see her coral pink irises. “Part of me wanted to let go. To punish those that have wronged me. Those that prey upon the weak and kind. Those that would seek to abuse their station and profit off the suffering and misery of others.” Marshi said slowly and clearly. “But the monolith demands a heavy price. It wants your freedom. Your thoughts. Your mind.” Marishi stated quietly. “It showed me those that have done wrong, but, there was something else. I-I can’t see it clearly in my mind, but … a circle lit by bright blue light, ever rotating.” Marishi broke gaze with the fire and her pupils contracted to their normal size. “I might be going crazy. I don’t know if it’s the quiet or this place … I don’t know.” Marishi said suddenly feeling exhausted. “You go on and eat.” She said with a weak smile. “I’m going to rest for the night. At first light in the morning, we will survey and get out of this forsaken land.”
Walking back to her bed roll she whispered to herself “We should never have come here.”
Rae gave her companion a deep frown. “Not eating isn’t good,” she grumbled under her breath, but she knew Marishi wouldn’t listen, or at least pay no heed to her words. There was something off about her and Rae knew it couldn’t be good. While Marishi typically had a sombre atmosphere about her during missions, this one was quite troubling. Normally a joke or a quip would escape through Rae’s mouth, but not this time. It was when Marishi began to explain how she felt when the vibrations started that Rae put down the carrot she had been chewing on and stared intently at her partner, her frown changed to concern as wrinkles creased her face where her eyebrows met, knit together with worry. “Marishi, that’s not good. Stuff like that shouldn’t happen when you feel a vibration. I mean, yeah, it made my ears absurdly itchy and I want nothing more than to stab my claw in there and scratch the sensation out of them, but... making people suffer? That seems a bit extreme.”
Plopping down beside the fire, Rae was nearly entirely swallowed up inside the bulk of her coat. She had to wiggle on her behind and tug down on the inside of her coat to get it to stop covering her mouth and practically drown her in fabric. Once she was able to, she pulled in her hands from the sleeves, raised them above her head and through the collar so she wore it almost like a strapless dress. “Ahh. Perfect.” She hummed while grabbing her plate and digging in. The food had gone slightly cold by that point, but it was still delicious nonetheless. “Blue circle... Could it be a vision? Have you seen it before? Seems strange that the monolith would force you to remember your past, but then give you a vision of something you haven’t seen. Maybe you’ve crossed it before?” Rae mused between mouthfuls of food. The soup she drank like milk from a bowl before stuffing a blend of meat and vegetables in her mouth again. She never grew up around civilization like Marishi had, so her manners were somewhat lacking.
In silence, Rae racked her brain for possible answers to the situation set before them. Marishi seemed weak, sickly almost. Perhaps she caught a cold already? No, this was something different. As her companion excused herself to sleep, Rae nodded thoughtfully, still pondering on what information was given her. “Well, you get some sleep, Rishi. You look like that walk took a lot out of you. I can stay guard the first little while, I’ll wake you if I start to fall asleep.” She stated before tucking her arms back into the coat and standing up. Rae quietly walked to the entrance and leaned against the mouth while surveying the area with attentive eyes, her ears pricked up to capture the sounds of any enemies that lurked nearby, all the while her thoughts drifting back to her poor friend. While she heard and felt the same things Marishi did, she definitely didn’t seem as affected. It disturbed her. What if Marishi had caved to those commands to exact revenge upon those who had wronged her? What sort of revenge exactly? In her opinion, nothing could atone for their sins beyond equal suffering, but for Marishi to bring about that judgement and execution...
An involuntary shudder ripped down Rae’s spine and she chattered her lips. Not cold, but chilled to her soul, she hugged her arms around herself and pouted, standing guard throughout the night with her nocturnal instincts kicking in. This wasn’t the first night she went sleepless, and it wouldn’t be her last.
The sky was on fire. Millions of embers falling like snow and burning everything it touched. A dull roar was all that was heard as if the air was being swallowed whole. The ground was no longer made of earth and grass, but of alloy and metal. All of them cut in hexagonal patterns of different heights and sizes, ever twisting and writhing from the embers. In the middle stood a black monument. It's dark mass comforting against the blighted landscape. It offered comfort and protection. All one had to do was give in. It would end all sorrow and strife. None need fight against themselves no longer if trust was placed into it. The landing on which Marishi stood came alive and began to to detach itself from the others. It rose to parallel height of the black mass. She knew what it was. She knew what it wanted. She knew what a terrible price it asked. It was too much she thought to herself. The price was too high. The embers began raining fire. They began to fall near Marishi and scorch her skin. Looking above she witnessed a red moon falling for the second time. "This isn't real. This cannot be real." she chanted paralyzed with fear. She had seen it before and she knew it's portend: Death. In a blink of an eye, the pillar in which she stood was in front of the black mass. It was calling gently to her and shielding her from the embers like a mother's embrace. It sang softly to her. Songs she could only recall from half buried memories of her childhood. Her mother would hum this song when she was sick, or scared, or alone. The mass reached forth and healed her wounds. It never moved nor changed shape, but she knew it was responsible. "What you offer sounds like wisdom and compassion. You remove the chains of individuality and give the means to right wrongs." The monolith stood, silent, but she could feel that if it had a mouth, it would be smiling. "But you ask too much. You ask not for a servant, but a slave. Free will is the only thing that cannot be taken from us by force and should be defended at any cost. I am sorry, but it is a bargain I cannot strike." The world went silent. Nothing moved, everything frozen in place. The monolith was displeased with her decision. Could not comprehend it. It was freeing her as it's makers had intended. If this sub human would not submit willingly, it would take her by force. The world unfroze and fire shot up from below to the sky. All around Marishi was fire. She could no longer see the monolith, but knew it was the culprit. She had nowhere to run. Looking above, the blue twisting circle appeared and began descending. It became smaller as it fell. It passed over her head and came to rest at her neck. It no longer spun but was humming as if charging for the inertia. Marishi knew what it was as she stared blankly down at it. She had seen it dozens of times on her expeditions into the binding coil. Binding Coil. What a clever name. She thought to herself. Enslavement of creatures bound them to the coil and this enslavement was made possible by what are known as Neurolinks. Collars to enslave its wearer to the will of their creators. The collar stopped humming and began its slow, infinite spin around her neck. She knew this was the last thought she would ever have. She looked up to the sky and began to cry.
Marishi slowly opened her eyes. Grey light was filtering in from the mouth of the cave. She was ashen and shaken. She knew she had dreamt something terrible, but couldn’t grasp it’s meaning as it slipped from her mind. She lay there a moment trying to clutch the thought only to have it dissolve and fade away. Her head was throbbing. “Great. Just what we need.” She said to herself rising and dressing. She didn’t remember stripping down last night, but she woke to find she must have taken off her garments and replaced them with her deep red night gown. Of finely woven silk and adorned with fine lace of her making, the gown tied at the back of her neck and covered her chest to stop right above her upper thigh. She had made it for one of the wives of an influential Captain in the Limsa Lominsa Flotilla, but cancelled the order at the last minute. Instead of ruining the beautiful dress, she took it as her own. It wasn’t cold outside she mused as she untied the knot securing the gown in place. Normally she would be hopping and scrambling to get her clothes on, but she took her time. She looked around for Rae, but could not find her. Not out of embarrassment or modesty, but perhaps to show off her thin physique and slightly entice. She let the gown slide to the floor and began to wash and dress for the day. Finally, she looked at her armament. It was a Raen custom she had adopted to carry a Tanto at the small of her back at all times, but for surveys and other mundane tasks, she normally didn’t go armed. If ambushed, Rae would typically blight the foe into submission or death from afar using her own Aether as a weapon to inflict illness and plague. She would take her weapons today though. As she belted them on she thought of their origins and smiled. The Wakazashi’s were unlike any ever made. The Kikoku was a Kunai shaped dagger wrapped with fine animal hide at it’s grip. Expertly forged by unknown smelting the deep blue weapon surpassed quality and design of any other blacksmith, save perhaps Gerolt. Marishi had found the Kunai during her travels to Doma deep in a necropolis that she barely escaped from alive. Her Kannagi was a full sized Wakazashi with pommel and guard. Her maker’s name lost to history but clearly a relic, Marishi was given this short sword by a leader of the Doman Shinobi for her dedication, service, and keeping in the ways of the hidden arts. Marishi had named the weapon “Kannagi”, in memory of a story written long ago about a common blooded woman who hunted down and took revenge on the king who had unjustly sentenced her husband to death.
She finished dressing and walked to the mouth of the cave to greet her companion. Besides the aching in her head, she was in high spirits. The events of the night previous, exiled to the dark corners of her mind. She found her Rae just outside the cave. Marishi silently moved to stand beside her. Making no noise even in the frost covered snow. “Barely dawn. Good. The faster we complete the survey, the faster we can find ourselves in a warm bed in Ishgard or Mor Dhona. I believe it’s your turn to pick this time, yes?” She teased.
She was leaned up against the wall, arms crossed and her tail hanging limply behind her. Her breathing was deep and slow, made clear by the rise and fall of her arms that covered her chest, but also the exhale brought a faint mist of steam from her nose and rose above her head. Would she have glasses on, they'd have fogged over and frosted under the condensation of her hot breath. Her green eyes stared listlessly into the snowy tundra before her. It was as if she was not looking at something, but somewhere. Clearly, her body was present, but her mind was not. It was eerie how the rising sun's light glared down on her, but she did not flinch nor cringe. Her large, green irises looked almost lifeless, like a corpse before a respectful person came to close their eyes from seeing the world before them. It wasn't until she was disturbed that she was pulled from her reverie. Her ears were brought upward and twitched to the sound of Marishi's voice. She blinked several times, squeezing her eyes shut the final time and rubbing them. "Ah, I'm sorry," she said groggily. With a cough, Rae cleared her throat and pushed away from the wall, stretching her hands to the sky and arching her back inward while her tail curled up in her salute to the sun. "Ishgard sounds better," she replied while crouching, bouncing a bit in her crouch before standing up and stretching her legs out. "As much as I love Mor Dhona, the purple fog always sets me at unease. It looks beautiful, but I'm not exactly a fan of it. Give me religious shut-ins any day over that creepy Mor Dhona weather."
Once done with her stretches, a fantastic yawn followed and a sigh of content. She seemed well-rested for one who kept guard all night, but this wouldn't have been the first time she slept with her eyes open. Living in The Black Shroud with no home but the canopy of the trees to shelter them from the rain and the scarce few huts that were afforded her parents taught her that hunters never stalked on a watchful prey. Whether that prey was actually conscious or not was a different story. She watched, but could not see. Most would find reason to not bother should they see their eyes open. A trick a huntress taught her while she was young. "Will you flatter me by eating some breakfast this morning, or continue to make me sad that I waste all my love on food you won't even touch?" Rae teased with a grin. Not like breakfast would be a full-course meal. She knew Marishi wanted to get on the road fast, so she retreated back to the camp to fetch her satchel and dig through it in search of dried jerky and bread. At least it was something. The blood flow was returning appropriate sensation to her limbs, which she knew was always a problem with falling asleep outside in the cold. She took it easy for now, but encouraged warmth throughout her body by rubbing her arms and thighs.
"Well, Rishi," she said while pulling the strap of her bag over her shoulder and producing a small roll and some salted jerky. "Let's get going! The sooner we get out of this cold the sooner I can warm us up." With a teasing smile and an alluring look, Rae practically skipped ahead in the snow. She seemed much more chipper than her dismal, dreary self just hours earlier. Perhaps a warm meal and a good sleep was all she needed to brush free that horrible cold that sunk down to her soul.
“Yes, thank you. I’m sorry for last night, I don’t know what came over me.” Marishi said as the took the meat and bread. She preferred to eat standing so as not to confuse her body with resting. “Come. This shouldn’t take long. It’s not like it’s malms wide or anything.” They walked a short distance and came to a sloping hill. Above the hill lay the monolith. Black, like a gaping hole in the world. “Walk single file in the snow. To confuse any would be curious parties.” Reaching the base of the monolith Marishi began to inspect it. It was unlike anything she had encountered. The stone was easily 30 malms tall jutting out of the snow. Looking at its impact trajectory, it appeared to be a piece of Dalamud that slammed into The Nail in the distance. Perhaps broke off Marishi thought to herself. The stone was black. No other color. No other lights. Just black. It gave no reflection and offered none to the outside light. Almost as if it absorbed anything that strayed too close. It wasn’t wide. Perhaps 10 malms at the lowest portion. Most perplexing of all, there was no flaw on the stone. No chip, scratch, crack, or fracture. By the speed in which it landed with the height it fell, the monolith should have suffered some kind of damage. But it stood. Perfect. It’s black matte surface quietly standing. Marishi took off one of her gloves and touched her palm to the stone. She recoiled quickly. It didn’t hurt, but it was warm. Unnatural. Warm, though no snow had melted at its base. She timidly reached her hand out again and touched it. It was warm. Inviting. Almost loving. The stone suddenly began to vibrate. Ever so slightly. Marishi could feel it though it wasn’t the same menacing vibration as the night before. Then, just as suddenly as it began it stopped. Relieved, Marishi chuckled quietly to herself for being so jumpy. It’s just a rock, she thought. It’s not like it can sprout arms and legs and terrorize the tundra. A beautiful rock none the less she thought as she stared up at it.
That was when she had heard it. Marishi had acute hearing and was always listening for the slightest sounds that would betray anyone who was attempting to gain an upper hand over her. Kneeling down she put her glove back on and faced east. She could see them now faintly. Large black masses moving in the snow towards them. As they began to come within eyesight, she recognized who her future assailants were. “Giants.” Marishi Groaned. There is no possible way they knew we would be here. She thought. How did they find us? Who betrayed us? They’re here for the monolith. They can’t have it. I’ve come too far and endured too much to allow some overgrown simpletons to take it from me. Marishi looked at Rae and held one finger to her pursed lips. Turning her attention back to the approaching band, she could see it was a small outfit. Four strong. They’d faced worst odds and made it out alive. Marishi, concentrating began tracing symbols in the air and quietly whispering an incantation that could not be heard. Mudra complete, she channeled her Aether and executed the glyph. She began to fade from sight. Blending with the surroundings and becoming as the shadows. She had no plans to subdue or scare the Giants off. She anxiously waited for them to approach so she could spill their blood in offering to the monolith.
A satisfied smile formed on her face when Marishi took her food. They walked in mostly silence, but now and then, Rae would point out something on the distant landscape. It was evident she had no desire to be in that area. Festered with giants, a Goliath-sized monolith looming over them like impending doom, the life-taking cold- "AchOO!" Rae sneezed, then groaned in dismay. If she was getting sick, she would ensure their employer would hear about it! Before she had a chance to start complaining about her running nose and frozen tail again, the black edifice stood directly before them. Lifting her gaze, the Miqo'te from the Shroud leaned her head back to stare at the endless height of the monstrous construct, causing her hood to fall off her head and expose her ears to the cold. Her mouth was slightly agape, as she couldn't help but allow it to fall open from her straining to find the beginning of the foreboding monolith. As Marishi touched and recoiled, Rae dropped her head back down to watch her companion. Once she reached to touch it again, Rae began to protest. "Marishi, maybe we shouldn't be touching this thing?" She cautioned. It felt wrong. Even being this close to it, her heart and soul was so repelled by it. The thought of touching it was appalling, like placing one's hand upon a leper. The humming silenced her. Once again her inner ear itched and she reached up to scratch it, but stopped herself.
Both ears piqued up at the sound of a rumbling troupe making their way towards them. Rae turned just as Marishi had and she spotted the group barrelling towards them with apparent fervour. Rae dropped down and quickly pulled her book from the binding on her satchel. The inner writings began glowing with aether as she began murmuring a spell, preparing to strike one with all three of her ailments, but a silencing motion from Marishi stopped Rae from chanting. This seemed strange--wrong, even. She should be putting her ailments on them right away so there wouldn't be much for Marishi to have to deal with when they arrived. The aether stopped flowing through her and she moved beside Marishi, her brows furrowing. The giants drew nearer and nearer, the look of unhindered fury on their ugly faces spurred Rae in to action. Regardless of what Marishi's plan was, she wasn't going to sit here and let them attack the two of them full-force.
She jumped to her feet and darted away from Marishi, drawing their attention away from her. She was more apt for her sneak attacks, anyways. The large beasts followed her movement. The closest one happened to be in the middle of the group, luckily for her. Focusing on it, she channelled her aether and sent a three-hued string of charged aether at the belly of the beast. It struck its mark and instantly infected it with three types of sicknesses and weakness. Before it had a chance to react, she raised her book to the sky to draw upon the aether around her, giving her a heightened sense of the Aetherflow. Condensing the next attack, she focused once again on the middle giant and spread the bios and miasma throughout the group, causing a few to drop to their knees and vomit. "Escape?" She shouted. This was a large number of giants and she didn't quite like their odds with fighting them. She had a bit of energy left before she found her limit of attuning to the aether, but it wouldn't be enough to stop all these giants, mostly because some in the farther back were missed by her spell and they were healthy... and angrier than before. Before she could do much else, a giant picked up a large pile of snow and packed it tight to form a snow boulder, then hurled it at her. Rae jumped out of the trajectory’s way, then immediately aimed a Painflare at the back group. The condensed burst of aether sent several giants sprawling backwards while others stood their ground through it and roared angrily at her. Despite the rising aggravation towards her, Rae kept calm, but she anxiously awaited Marishi's command.
Marishi watched for a moment as the Giants and Rae began to skirmish. The Giants couldn’t see Marishi. They couldn’t smell her. Her Mudra enveloped her in a camouflage rendering her invisible to all around. She moved in closer to the flanking end. Not only to ensure none could escape, but they would be easier to cow and slaughter. Marishi gave one last look at the battle before entering the fray. Rae had felled one and seriously crippled the other. It wouldn’t last long against the blights it had been struck with. That leaves two in the back, she thought. She drew both weapons slowly from their scabbards and went from a crawl, to a walk, to a run, finally to a sprint. She was still some distance away, but that was the intention. Focusing her lifestream she incanted the Mudra of Shukuchi. This allowed her to close the distance between her enemy instantly. She executed the Mudra causing her camouflage to drop, but in an instant, she was gone in a pillar of smoke, only to drop down on the shoulders of one of the Giants. It never knew what hit it. One moment it was preparing to throw a boulder at the tiny mage and the next searing pain in its neck and left eye. Marishi had taken the Kannagi and buried the weapon to the hilt in the Giants jugular and windpipe. To make sure it would not be able to continue the fight and promise it’s death, she took the Kikou and lanced the monsters left eye socket. She could hear it scream in pain, confustion and rage. The Giant fell to its knees as Marishi pulled Kikou out of what was left of the Giant’s eye. Blood flowed freely from the ruptured socket. The Giant fell to its side as Marishi swung to avoid being pinned beneath the lifeless mass. The other Giant took a few steps back. The Kannagi was stuck fast in the carcas’s neck. Never taking her unblinking gaze from the second Giant, she placed he boot roughly on the deseaced neck and pulled hard to free the Wakazashi. Warm Blood sprayed out of the wound as the Giant lay in death throes, it’s heart beating wildly, body shutting down. The warm spray showered Marishi staining her Nigi with bright red blood and streaking her face and matting her hair.
Never did she take her eyes off the second foe. She began walking, slowly, towards the Giant. Steaming from the warm blood that coated her. The Giant, frozen with fear, looked around for its companions. One lay on the ground pestilence covering its twitching body. The second on its knees unable to continue from its plague. The third lay in a pool of it’s now freezing blood 30 paces away with its killer advancing on it. “You should run. Insect. You know not whom you quarrel. I have borne witness to thousands of millennia. I have watched every Calamity rain down upon you wretches. I am the instrument of balance and the equalizer of fate. I am the reaper of flesh and souls. Know you not my name? My name is Death and none escape me. Run. Now!” Marishi called out in a voice not her own and words not of her choosing. The tone sounded amused and shrill, Malicious and rasped. The Giant, broken from its stupor spun on its heel and began stumbling away in terror. Marishi with a sneer reversed her grip on the Kikoku from defensive to offensive, lifted her arm and threw the weapon at the Giant. The blade bit deep. Into flesh and sinew muscle and bone. A mortal blow right below its mid back slightly to the left. The Giant slowed down to a walk, then stopped. It stood there a moment, back to Marishi before toppling over on its side. Marishi, never breaking stride, retrieved her weapon from the animal.
Turning she noticed the last giant that had been riddled with disease and plague was still alive. She made for the beast. Sheathing the Kannagi, she took her Kikoku into her right hand and made her way to finish what Rae had started. Rae was already there at the things side kneeling down. Talking to it. Marishi quickened her step. Why has she not killed the animal yet? Always squeamish of death. Typical. I will finish what you start Rae. As always. She thought as she descended upon them with the pall of death shadowing her footsteps.
Rae stood in place as if frozen by a spell. Her eyes watched with wide terror as the scene unfolded. While she was used to Marishi's brutal, yet beautiful method of fighting, this was different. From her companion, Rae sensed an almost dark, ominous aura that threatened to suffocate all light from her life. Rae's ears folded back as she watched, helpless to do anything to the onslaught of vicious attacks fell upon the remaining giants. She took three steps to the left and found a giant struggling to gasp for breath. It was ilms from death, but it struggled to gasp for air and form words. "Cat," it wheezed. Rae stared down at him with horror and disgust. Why didn't it just die already?! "Cat... save us..." Rae stood petrified. On the one hand, her dear partner was overcome with some manic drive to murder everything that moved, on the other, a giant lay beside her, trying to communicate with her. Perhaps the cold was finally getting to her.
"The tower," the giant began again, Rae instantly fell to her knees beside it and pressed her palms against its abdomen.
"Go on. What about the tower?"
"The Black Tower..."
"Spit it out! What do you know about it?"
The giant wheezed a few more times while grimacing in obvious pain. "It enslaved us. Our will - gone. Cats must go. Leave. It will take you, too." It rumbled quietly. Rae shook her head, then looked back at the monolith.
"How can it take your free will? Were you too close? Did you touch it?" She asked. The giant didn't answer her, instead it shook its head.
"Close. Too... close. No collar, no chain. We... we woke it. It spoke. It sang." Came its strained answer.
The hair on the back of her neck stood on end and she swallowed hard. Vicinity was all that this evil thing needed to enslave minds. It was like a Primal itself. "Why tell me? What changed? Is it getting weaker?"
The giant smiled. "Freeeeee..." it exhaled while closing its eyes. A shadow approached her and Rae spun around. Upon seeing Marishi, her heart fluttered a moment, but instantly it stilled and her blood ran cold at the look in her eyes. Her ears folded back and she cowered back, moving away from her partner.
"M-Marishi, what... what are you doing? Why are you acting like this?" She stammered frightfully. "Th-this isn't you! You shouldn't revel in bloodshed! What's wrong? Is it this thing? Rishi, snap out of it!" Her book would be useless to stop Marishi. If the monolith wanted her dead, she would be. Before anything could be done, Marishi fell to her knees, panting and gasping for air. Ears raised, Rae got to her feet and moved closer to Marishi with great caution. "Rishi?" She whispered. Before an answer came, a blood-curdling roar came from the top of a nearby spire of aether crystal. A dozen giants, bearing their teeth and weapons, came running down the slope towards Marishi and her. Rae didn't need to spare a second to think before she ran to Marishi and grabbed her wrist and tried to drag her along.
Throwing a look behind her, she saw the giants closing in too fast. She wouldn't get them to Ishgard before they fell upon them. She reached into her pouch and produced a Chocobo-shaped whistle and blew on it. A shrill note echoed throughout the silent winter air. Rae took a brief moment to heave Marishi onto her back so she could run a little easier. It wasn't fast enough to outrun the giants, but enough to buy time. Rae managed to climb over an outer slope of the Boulder Downs, Rae tumbled down the other side of it, Marishi rolling along with her. Once they both came to a stop, Rae scrambled back to Marishi and pulled her back up. The whistle she had was gone, lost in the snow somewhere. There was no time to lament over the loss before the roar of a nearing giant reminded her she needed to get away.
Back on her feet with one of Marishi's arms slung over her shoulders, Rae pushed forward, practically dragging Marishi along. Suddenly, heavy, quick footsteps came up behind her. Rae spun around in time to see a club swing at her and Marishi. Throwing her companion, Rae took the hit and sprawled to the side before landing back on her feet and holding out her hand to cast an Energy Drain spell. Feeling slightly refreshed, she grabbed Marishi one last time and ran towards the Hall of the Seven Echoes. Mor Dhona would be their safest place now. All those adventurers there. They'd help with this mass of giants. Across the path, over the bridge... just then, another group of other giants entered from the forest, rushing up to them. Rae stopped her run and growled with frustration. The desire to simply kill them came over her, but another part knew they were in no control of their actions. Her thoughts went to her power. She was attuned thrice with the aether. This would be enough for her to channel the power of Bahamut and take down a slew of these beast. "Marishi! Run to Mor Dhona! Find adventurers to help! I can't take all of these down at once!" She shouted, allowing her power to release, extend far beyond her own capabilities. She rose above the ground slightly as the illusion of Bahamut's great head formed above her own and roared. "I can hold them off long enough for you to get help! So hurry!" With that, she pointed at one giant, murmured an incantation, and sent a powerful burst of aether blasting from her fingertip, completely knocking down and killing one giant. A curse slipped from her lips. She didn't want to kill them, just make them unable to move. Their dead companion fell before them, but this did not stop their approach. Nor did it stop Rae's casting. Any that got close, she struck down. In the process, she could feel her trance slowly slipping from her. She couldn't hold on to it long enough to down more of them. She'd have to summon her Titan-Egi to keep her from taking too much damage. Before she realized it, her attunement to Bahamut's aether was gone. Quickly, she grabbed her book and began casting a spell to summon the Egi to keep herself safe long enough for reinforcements to arrive.
Marishi felt cold. Not the cold of snow or of temperature, but of soul. She had let that thing in. She had let show her the evils she had borne. Part of her wanted to give up. To submit. It was so easy to be a play thing of another. Marishi was partially aware of being hoisted on the mount and the mad dash but was unable to act or speak. The Black had wormed it’s way into her thoughts and was subverting control. “Why do you struggle? We are trying to help you. We are trying to truly free you. We gave you strength against the enemy. We only ask for obedience” A nameless entity whispered. “We? How many of you are there? You ask a steep price that is bought with suffering and blood. You ask that I turn on all that I’ve done for what?” Marishi weakly responded. The entity shifted. It wasn’t a man, but rather a specter. Ephemeral. She could feel it studying her. Looking for a weakness to exploit. After a moment it replied in an almost amused tone “We are we. We have always been. We have always served. We are Allagan. We are the rulers of the world. We who have come before and will come after. We want you to join us. There is nothing out there for you. Only pain and betrayl. Your friends turn on you, deceive you, harm you. With us, you will dream our dream. Forever.” The thoughts flooded her mind. Jumping from scene to scene. Never ending. The horrors in which she saw. She had taken part of. The entity moved to suffocate and extinguish her. “We will be together” it whispered.
Together. Together? But, over the years and travels, I’ve met and shared wondrous adventures together with friends, lovers, enemies. She thought. The images slowed and stopped playing. “Do not fight. We will love you.” But I don’t want your love. I don’t need your love. I have the love of all those who have walked with me. She returned. The stills of her failures faded and in their place started another wheel. Of light. Showing Marishi’s triumph and victories. Moments with her friends. Moments that made the world good. “You will not submit? We will break you then. If we cannot have you, we shall destroy everything you are.” The entity hissed. The stills began circling faster and faster more entering the area as Marishi remembered the good and cast off the burden of the bad. The stills made a barrier that the entity could not enter, try as it might. The entity moaned and hissed in anger and panic. “No. You won’t. I don’t need your covenant of lies and your so-called retribution. I don’t want them. Those who do wrong will see their deeds reflected upon them. I need not be an arbiter of justice. Be gone. You will not enslave me.” Marishi said aloud. The stills stopped and changed shape. They now resembled lances of pure light and shot into the abyss in a flash only to find their mark true skewering the entity. The monster screamed and writhed in anger attempting one last time to take hold. Marishi watched, turned her back, and began to leave. Walking away she said “I cast you out. You who are many, but are nothing.” The entity let out a high-pitched humming and dissolved.
Marishi opened her eyes. Where was she? Rae’s mount. How did I get here. Slumped in the saddle she tried to gain her bearings and establish full control of her mind and body. She looked up. The pass to Mor Dhona. Why? Looking back, she saw her answer. A lithe figure standing alone against a sea of thralls threatening to consume all in it’s path. “Nymeia, I know I’ve left your favor. I know I’m not your champion. But please, please, help Rae. I will pay the price. I will suffer. Don’t take her from me. Not yet. Please…” Tears began to fall as Marishi prayed. She was never a religious person and rarely practiced, but was told when she was young under the clear Coerthas sky and beneath it’s green grass that Nymeia, The Spinner of Fate was her guardian. Truth be told, this was due to her birth in the Winter, but as the Ishgard Clergy believe they are chosen by Halone, some pious believe the twelve watch over all. Marishi prayed to a deity she didn’t believe in to deliver her companion from certain death.
At first, Marishi thought it was the tears in her eyes, but the glint of silver shining off rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds made her heart jump to her throat. 40 heavily armed and armored men on Chocobo back slammed into the Giants causing them to turn from Rae and onto the new threat. The contingent of soldiers stationed at Monument Tower had caught sight of Rae and Marishi’s desperate dash across the snowy wastes with a host of evil trailing behind them. The Captain of The Guard summoned his men and made to relieve the adventurers. They would not suffer Giants so near The Fury’s Gaze and they would pay for it. They made quick work of the host and what appeared to be the Captain was seen helping Rae to her feet and speaking with her. Marishi could not hear them. Slumping in the saddle with a sigh of relief, she prepared to pay what she had offered to Nymeia. She closed her eyes, sighed, smiled, and knew no more.
It was incredibly dangerous, but Rae saw no other chance left. Once she summoned her Titan-Egi, she stepped back and allowed it to start attacking the swarm of giants. The small summon was quite sturdy despite its size in comparison to the giants, and their swings did little to sway it either way. He was as resolute as the actual Titan. As she was certain the giants were busy trying to down her durable little friend, she held out her hand and began an incantation. A circle of glyphs formed from the aether she focused. Before she finished the cast on that one, she moved her hand and began the same chanting. Her hand shook as the second circle took formation and remained there in space, spinning slowly, energy forming in the center of it, begging to be released. Her hand moved once more, both circles spinning like gears in an airship. Her fingers began tracing out the letters of her spell as she repeated them. Her hands shook more violently, sweat formed on her brow, but her tongue moved without delay and without stutter. Before the third circle could be formed, the guards came pouring in from the rear and assaulted their would-be killers. Surprised by their appearance, the third circle vanished while the other two unleashed their spell, barrelling into two giants and knocking them into another three or four. Rae fell to her knees just then, panting and shivering. Attempting to conjure up three spells of Ruin at max potency was a trick she had been working on for quite some time. Experimenting with the spell and exploring her limits of magic were things she was interested in. She got the idea from hearing tales of a summoner who could cast Ruin as quickly as one could cast Bio, and in such quick succession that it looked as if he or she had the orbs ready before the last had left their hand.
Rae snapped back to the current moment when a metal-plated hand was placed on her back. "M'lady, are you alright?" He asked, the metal of his mask muffling his voice. She lifted her head to look at the Elezen and nodded, weakly standing up with his assistance. Her gaze quickly went to Marishi where she found her on Snip. Relief washed over Rae as she nearly collapsed. They were safe. Somehow, in some miracle, they were saved. "Thank Halone you are safe! We spotted you two fleeing from that horde and feared the worst when we saw you two collapse! 'Twas not our intention to fight giants this day, but fortune smiles upon thee that we were here and able to intercept." The soldier exclaimed. Rae was barely paying attention to him. She wanted to get to Marishi and ensure she was fine, or at least that she would be.
"Please, help us to Mor Dhona. We have to treat Marishi, she's sick. Really sick." Rae pleaded. The soldier lifted his gaze to the lavender Chocobo making his way through the pass. With a nod, he helped Rae to her feet and a few of the soldiers helped escort them safely to Mor Dhona.
Once there, they arrived to their destination, Marishi and Rae were taken in to the infirmary, where an assistant fainted at the sight of Marishi covered in blood from head to toe. Cleaned up and in her own bed, Marishi was treated for her symptoms. The sudden onset of her sickness and general weakness made them believe that Rae may have infected her with one of her clouds of plague, but an angry string of shouts and a few curses stopped that line of thinking. Once treated, and feeling much better, the infirmary discharged Rae, but waited until Marishi was feeling better... or at the very least, was conscious. Rae was the luckier of the two, despite having exerted herself the most. Rae was used to making up stories, so once she was asked what happened to them, she told an elaborate tale of how they were on their way to Monument Tower with a delivery for a friend, but the giants ambushed them. She feigned ignorance as to why they would try to attack them, which seemed to satisfy her inquisitors. As Rae left the building, a voice called out to her.
"Oi! You! Miqo'te! The one with the book!" Rae took a look around and spotted a woman within the house of splendors. Upon approaching her, Rae instantly recognized her to be Rowena, the curator of the place. "So, I heard yeh had a run in with ‘em giants, eh?" Rae seemed repelled by the fact she knew this information, but it shouldn't surprise her considering Rowena had a nasty habit of knowing everyone's business. "Don't look so offended, kitten. Listen, I know about how yeh an’ that other catgirl were hired ta investigate the purpose of that hunk o’ junk out ‘ere in the frigid cold. I also happen ta know that those jerks who hired yeh knew EXACTLY what it did, they just were using yeh two. Ya mercenaries are pretty expendable."
Rae's blood ran hot. Her cheeks flushed red and her hands gripped the side of the counter so tightly that the knuckles turned white. They used them. Those aristocratic bastards used them and almost took Marishi away! HER Marishi. She turned around and began to leave the building to show those rat bastards a thing or two about using her and those she cared about, but Rowena's voice drew her back. "If yeh go now, yeh'll die," she called out. Rae stopped in her footsteps and sighed, rubbing her face. Turning back around, Rae faced Rowena. "I have a plan, but yeh'll have to hear me out. See, them jerks have something I want: information. Yeh’ve some of that information, don'tcha?"
Shaking her head, Rae sighed. "No, I don't. Marishi does, though. She spoke with them directly. She's unconscious right now; however, when she awakes, I can bring her here. But only after she's awake and feeling better. I'm not going to strain her after what she's been through."
Rowena waved her hand dismissively. "Fine, fine. I wouldn' want the poor creature to hurt herself tryna talk. Let's make a deal right now, then. Before yeh get away. Y’see, I want the same thing yeh want from those guys. I want ‘em dead. I'll pay the two of yeh handsomely for it, too. I'll even let ya stay here until yer fully recovered! We'll discuss expenses later, however. What I want to know is this: are ya in?"
Rae needed only a moment to consider. No one messes with her and her family and gets away with it. "I'm in." She stated, resolute in her decision. She might regret it later, depending on how Marishi reacted, but for now, she wanted revenge. The next hour was spent with Rowena paying for Marishi and Rae's stay in Mor Dhona for the next week or so. Once the room was arranged for her arrival, Rae moved in, setting all of her things down and changing her clothes from the sweat-dampened, heavy fabric to her lighter clothes: a simple tunic and tights and boots. She felt most at home wearing the typical Shroud attire that the archers wore. The room they were afforded was humble. A large bed--and only one, upon Rae's request--a fireplace, a kitchen, dining table, sofas, bookshelves lined with books, carpets covering the floor here and there, and an enclosed area for the bath. It had everything they needed for a week's stay. Rather than pacing about waiting for Marishi's return with anxiety, Rae set to cooking. The ingredients that were left in her satchel were used to create a wonderful stew. As always, a Coerthas carrot hung from her mouth while she worked on the food. Fresh rolls were in the oven beneath the stove top and spread a warm and comforting aroma throughout the room. After all she had been through, Rae practically cried at the chance to cook a meal without having to check over her shoulder for enemies.
The first thing Marishi was aware of was the light. It was so bright. Her eyes were closed, but the light was finding its way in. The second thing she noticed were the bird calls and songs. It seemed like years since she had heard them. She stirred slightly, but didn’t want to wake. The third thing she noticed was the warmth. The air was warm. She had spent a considerable amount of time in the frigid north region of the Sea of Spires where it was always winter. It was always cold. She slowly opened her eyes. At first all she could see was oily shades of black moving against bright light. “I am dead then and reside in the Spinner’s halls in whose mighty company I shall not feel ashamed.” Marishi said. “Not quite. Close, but you had some strength in you yet.” Came a gravelly voice from the black blob nearest her. Fully coming to her senses, she became alert and instinctively reached for her Tanto, but on the small of her back she found nothing. “Don’t worry, lass. Yer equipment is safe and sound in the armory. We even had ‘em cleaned and honed. Free of charge, of course. Yer chainmail was a bit worse for the wear.” Her vision sharpened as she fully woke from her sleep and looked at the man who had been speaking. He was large, even for a Hellsguard Roegadyn. Jet black hair closely cut and clean. Pale blue eyes that weren’t harsh, but curious, and an expression of amusement and relief. He wore a bright white robe adorned with red reliefs on the outer hems. “A healer. You saved me?” Marishi questioned. “No, not me. I’m just here ta make the place look official. Truth be told, we didn’t know what was wrong with ya. We thought ya might be sick, but yer completely fine. It’s like ya just went to sleep.” The memories started to come back to her. The monolith, the massacre, the scramble, the struggle. “Thank you for your kindness. Our journey was … harrowing.” Marishi said slowly. “I am sure there are many other patients that are in need of succor than me. If I may just have my personal effects, I can find my way out.” She rose from the bed and stood on smooth granite stone flooring. It was warm to the touch. Comforting. She was clothed in a simple gown of rough spun cotton and linen. A patient’s gown. “Aye, ‘suppose you have places to be and people to see. It’s a shame yer friend – “The cleric said. “Rae. Where is she? Is she alright? Did she suffer any wounds?” Marishi said as she interrogated the man. “Slow down, miss! Aye’ she’s here in the Toll. She looked as fine as any of yer feline relatives look. She was unscathed last I saw of her. It seems you have friends here. Powerful friends. Rowena was kind enough to book you and yer friend a room above the café there yonder.” Rowena. Marishi stopped. She had heard the name. Few hadn’t. She knew her reputation. Rowena had been a small shop keeper in Ul’Dah during the time of the Calamity. For 5 years, she disappeared and suddenly showed up in Mor Dhona of all places selling rare, unique, and priceless relics in exchange for what was dubbed tomestones. She couldn’t get enough. When pressed, she would answer that she had benefactors in Ishgard who backed her business and supplied her arms and armor. Her benefactors made her wealthy. And powerful. She propped up the Mor Dhona and Idyllshire economies and put both towns on the map. Without Rowena, they would fall apart. And she knew it. “She’s lookin’ for ya.” Said the healer. “who?” “Rowena. She’d be havin’ a word with ya.” “Thank you, but no. Tell her that there is nothing more I would like than to speak with her again, that urgent business called me elsewhere.” Marishi said picking up her garments and quickly changing behind a curtain. “Well, what are the odds of meetin’ ya what with yer busy schedule and all, Marishi Ten.” A familiar voice sang.
Marishi inwardly groaned. Rowena. She’d sell us all if she thought she could make some coin from the transaction. Fully clothed, Marishi stepped slowly out from the curtain and faced the Owner of Mor Dhona. “Rowena. Always a pleasure. I thank you for your hospitality and kindness with taking me into your hospital and my companion to your Inn. However, we are short on time and have a missive to deliver.” Marishi attempted to sidestep the grinning Hyur with coral painted lips. “Not anymore ya don’t. Yer ‘employers’, set ya up. Wanted ta see what that thing did to people. Wanted to see if they could be controlled.” Rowena matched Marishi’s path and barred her way. “Word in Ishgard is they were none too pleased to see either of ya walk out of that crater. Now, before ya go on and judge the situation too quickly …” Rowena had covered her bases this time. “And what do you want? Nothing is free. Especially from you. You want something from me. Something for your ‘employer’ perhaps? You want to know what that thing was and what it did? It was a neurolink. But not like the ones that bind Twintania in the coil, or the chains that hold Tiamat in Azys Lla. This neurolink could reach out in the air and bind you. It can bind anyone. Anything. You can’t use it. No one can. Not even with all the information you hoard in those tomestones. The Allagan’s made that Gods damned control mechanism and they’re the only ones that can bend it to their will.” Marishi said in an irritated tone. She knew Rowena wasn’t done, just by the grin on her face. “Aye. I’ll relay that back to me benefactors. I thank ya for giving me that information Marishi. I have a proposition for ya.” Marishi’s eyes rolled as she began to side step Rowena again. “If you leave now, you won’t find them two that set ya up!” Rowena called as Marishi put her hand on the door knob. She stopped, didn’t turn to face Rowena, but stood still. She was listening. “I give ya the means to rub these two out. They’ve been a thorn in me side for some time now and it’s worth it ta me if you clean the house with them a bit. Of course, you’d be paid on top of you havin the full run at my wares.” Marishi called out to Rowena without turning to face her “Where are they?” “In Ishgard, of course. These fellas though, they’re not just nobles, they’re part of the Clergy. Word has it that when they got word you weren’t dead, they holed themselves up in The Vault of all places.” “And you expect me to just what? Walk into The Vault? Are they just going to let me in if I ask nicely?” “That’s the idea. I’ll line some pockets and grease some wheels. You’ll get in, but once yer in, no one can help ya. Yer on your own.” Rowena said. “Deal. A full run of your wares. Don’t go hiding your better pieces in hopes I won’t find them. You forget that long ago, you weren’t an arms dealer and I wasn’t a killer. We were both simple merchants on the Gold Road. I’ll find you when I’m ready. Goodbye, Rowena.” Marishi open the door and left. Rowena stood there a moment, the smile falling from her face where it was replaced with sadness upon remembering the two of them laughing and struggling and living in the streets of Ul’Dah. “Goodbye, my friend.” She quietly said. A moment later, the smile was back on her lips as she walked briskly out the door.
Marishi walked quickly up the stairs near the House of Splendors. One flight. Two flights. She walked through the open-air café where patrons dined on overpriced food blissfully unaware Rowena was extorting them for everything they had. Marishi passed the tables and patrons and walked left over the sky bridge to a small door on the far end battlement. She knew Mor Dhona and its layout. She had seen it’s construction and expansion from a simple hamlet consisting of three tents to the city it is today. She stopped at the door to listen. She could hear a fire burning and faint chewing. Marishi smiled to herself. Always with that damn carrot. She thought. She waited a moment longer, opened the door, and was in Rae’s arms.
The week passed quickly and during that time, they almost felt like they were home. They walked down the tree line boulevards hand in hand at dusk as the gloom that settled on Mor Dhona caused the sky to erupt in rainbows. They sat on benches underneath massive oak trees that stood for hundreds of years. They lay on the grass and watch as adventurer’s cam to and fro from the House of Splendors. She was with her wife, and nothing could ruin the moment. Finally, it came time to depart. True to her word, Rowena allowed them the stock of House. They took the finest of Chocobo’s and the freshest of provisions. Picking up millennia old books and garments that had been imbued with Aether reinforcement so strong, it might as well have been plate. Marishi had her Nigi reworked and modified. It allowed her to move faster and quiet even when running. She took no weapon though. Funny, Marishi thought, No sign of Rowena. I thought she’d be here to make sure we didn’t lift anything from her. With equipment tooled and rations refilled, Marishi and Rae stood at the gates of Revenant’s Toll. Helping Rae into her saddle, Marishi looked back at the Toll and sadly smiled. I was happy here. She thought. As Marishi walked to her mount, she saw Rowena walking up to greet her. “Look, I didn’t steal anything if that’s what you’ve come here to accuse me of.” Marishi testily said. “No, not this time Marishi. I-I have something fer ya. Found it a while back cleanin’ out the store room. Was a rusted, beat up old thing, but had my blacksmiths do some work on it to restore a bit of luster. The man I got it from was from the East. Past Doma he said. He called this thing the Heishi Shorinkin. Supposed to be some mythical blade or what not. Looks like a regular old dagger ta me though. Here, take it. As … Thanks.” Rowena tossed the wakazashi to Marishi, spun on her heel and left. Marishi was stunned. She knew of the weapon, but never would have guessed it was in Eorzea, let alone with Rowena. She held the weapon close, sheathed in its Sayo, carefully placed it in a satchel mounted her Chocobo, and departed.
They rode. Through Sun, Wind, Rain, and finally, Snow. To the Pillars of Ishgard. The hallowed halls of Halone. They rode to cleanse The Holy See of the sickness that had set itself in.