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Outsane

Ever Turning Wheels

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Shafts of light gleamed through the pulled curtains. The small crack left open gave entry to a single thread of light to shine down on her face. The gentle caress of warmth against her cheek it brought roused Rae in her sleep. Before long, she stirred and rolled to her other side, stretching out her arm to drape over the soft waist of her partner, but only found the bed beside her empty. Sitting up, Rae opened her eyes to survey the room, searching for her partner. Her hair was a tangled mess. The bright auburn hair was a curled rat's nest and partially covered her face. One hand had to push it back out of her face for her to get a good look at the room they had stayed in. The sun's light caught off her eyes, making them glow a bright emerald light as she turned her head, then eventually crawled out of bed. "Marishi?" She called out, sleep still gripping her throat. She cleared her voice and called out again. "Marishi? Are you still here?" Rae's feet touched the paved stone floor. It was cold, but not uncomfortably so. She must have gone ahead to speak with Rowena. Rae heaved a sigh, combing her fingers through her hair and shaking her head gently before shrugging off her night-time shift and throwing on her gear.

Being a red mage, she needn't wear heavy armour like the tanks, and even less so than the people whose skills preferred to be up close and personal with the enemy. She wore a simple dress of comfortable cloth that amplified her magic prowess through the enchantments weaved with every seam of the fabric. The colours she wore were a regal purple hue, soft to the touch, light-weight, and looked foreign in style. The patterns stitched into the fabric were runes of protection, giving her added safety from those rare times when she attracted attention to herself. Her rapier and crystal medium were inspired by the great Dreadwyrm, Bahamut. The metal of the blade was a deep, ominous purple and the medium glowed a gentle, lavender hue. After pulling on her sleeve gloves and sandals, Rae pulled her turban from her satchel and contemplated putting it on, but decided against it. Veils around these parts made people uneasy. She wasn't famous around these parts, she was no criminal, she had nothing to hide. Rae put the headpiece back into her satchel and threw the strap over her shoulder and left the room.

Outside, Mor Dhona was busy. Construction was still a commonplace thing throughout the settlement. Doman children darted between the market stalls, chasing one another and laughing and screaming with joy. Mother sat nearby watching their children and talking amongst one another while the men either worked hauling heavy blocks of stone from one place to another or took their breaks, ogling the women, or joking to one another. Rae's ears twitched to all the sounds of the busy settlement. Despite it having been ravaged not too long ago, it was coming along quite well. "I guess I breakfast alone this morning," Rae murmured to herself while walking to the stalls. The night prior, she had sold some old gear for some coin, so she was able to purchase a fresh roll and some tender jerky for her morning meal. She walked through the street, casually examining things and keeping her ears alert to the conversations of the women around her. They were a fountain of gossip, as she was taught. The women spoke in hushed voices when speaking of other people in the settlement, but in louder, more confident voices when speaking of public matters.

".. and they are gathering together to storm Ala Mhigo. Talk of taking it back from the Garleans."
"Foolhardy. Their magitek is too powerful. There's no way they'd succeed. Garlemald is settled far too deep inside Ala Mhigo."
"The Scions are long gone. If any Primal were summoned again, we'd be doomed. And it's all the fault of their own. They've doomed us all, and I'll spit twice in the face of any Scion that dares come crawling back here to their old headquarters!"
"Aye, that earthquake was terrifying. I wonder what caused it so suddenly?"
"... she caught the kids running near the Crystal Tower again. Beat them within to an inch of their life each and has them doing chores around the house now. Ha! You should have seen their faces when she hauled them into town."
"... eikon was summoned at Balsar's Wall in The Shroud."

Rae faltered, her ears turning to face the direction that voice came from and paid closer attention to the conversation of her home. "I don't know the details behind it, but I was told a large dragon that rivalled that of Bahamut was summoned. Just as powerful, too. That strange moon that appeared a few nights ago suddenly burst and that dragon-lookin' eikon came flying out. I heard some robot came and stopped it, though. Was fighting it fiercely. I'm surprised you didn't hear nothing of it! They flew right over here a brief moment before knocking into each other and zooming off to Ala Mhigo!" The conversation died down when a man came by and began speaking to the women. Rae's ears dropped back down and she breathed a sigh of relief. Ever since the Scions were killed off, news of Primals being summoned terrified her. A dragon that resembled Bahamut, though? Which beast tribe worshipped that sort of beast?

Rae tore a strip off the salted jerky and sat on a bench, thoughtfully eating her breakfast while staring at the wall adjacent to her. The Shroud was safe, at least, but what other news was there about the summoned Primal? Was it dead? What was the robot that came to their rescue? The Garlean empire probably sending its best to protect its precious wall. "Marishi," Rae whispered, snapping from her daze and sitting up straight, looking around again. Where the hells was she?

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Marishi had been busy this morning. Always one to rise early she had her boots on and Ososde laced before 6. Light and lithe, more so from their past encounter she had yet to fully recover from, she moved to the door. He eyes held on her partner for a moment and a rare smile parted her lips. She allowed herself that quiet moment of contentment almost believing that they were normal and the world around them wasn't falling apart. That those who would have them be test subjects are free, acting with impunity. Her smile replaced with a frown reached for her Odachi and Wakazashi. secured them in silken sash Rae had made her a lifetime ago, and left. 

Dew still clung to the Toll's foliage and it was still brisk outside, the first of the market stalls beginning to open. There was no stirring or commotion yet, which suited her fine. Marishi didn't like crowds. She didn't like throngs of lemmings ready and willing to reach out to Gods that didn't exist. Marishi was also trained in the ways of the Samurai of the Far East. Having spent some years in the employ of the Seikusegumi. She had taken what she had learned from their Dojo's and combined it with the harsh realities she bore witness to on the fields of Cartenau. She would never draw her sword as to do so demanded blood and could not be sheathed until the requirement was met. Still, she was something of an oddity in that part of the world and though many knew her and her dealings with Rowena had earned respect, it did not earn trust.

She began to walk up to the battlements that were the headquarters of Rowena and co. It was an elegant complete with shops, lodging, infirmary, and even an open air restaurant on the third floor overlooking the toll. The crystals shone dim lighting the way as the braziers were being put out in the coming of the Sun. The doors were open. The doors were always open. Marishi paused a moment and listened for any kind of movement or low voices that would indicate anyone was behind those doors. All she could hear was the occasional scratching of quill striking paper. Marishi silently pushed the well-oiled doors open and entered what is known as "Rowena's House of Splendors".

“If I knew ya would be fixed up so quick, I woulda summoned you, Marishi." Rowena said not looking up from her ledger. "It was you who had offered up our lodgings and bed care I take it? A boon of generosity unfamiliar to you Rowena." Rowena stopped her scribbling and looked up at Marishi for the first time in 4 years. She was still small, even for the M'Quote Seeker of The Sun race. She wore her strawberry blond hair as a loose ponytail secured by a clasp at her scalp line. Her eye the color of the red moon Dalamud with feline pupils dilated in the dark room. She wore white war paint on each cheek as was the custom of the tribe she never knew. Her garments were obviously Far Eastern and expertly made. Quite old, Rowena imagined. They could fetch a small fortune here in Eorzea. Marishi's Osode was deep green and the lords undercoat stitched with silken white cherry blossoms. Underneath her coat rested a suit of chainmail Dipped and dyed black to give no reflection from the Sun. Her tekko were of simple design and bore images of birds cut into the brown leather. She wore tights - uncommon for Samurai who's Hakama are their usual garb. Her tights were of reinforced linen and dyed a near black red. He boots were also out of the norm as they were black point tipped thigh high riding boots. They weren't shined to a high gloss, though clear that obvious care and attention had been given to them. Finally, her weapons made her truly stand apart. She wore two Far East Katana's. One much longer than the other as is their practice. Her Odachi was a hand and a half weapon and could be wielded as two or one handed. The blade was folded steel and clay baked - infused with the primal Alexander's essence She had garnered in one of her forays with her companion. The scabbard was made of the finest wood with black lacquer and inlaid with more of the essence of a god which rules over time and judges those deemed unworthy. She named it the Äme-no-Habakiri" and served he through countless battles. The Wakazashi she carried was tucked at the small of he back. In small and tight areas, a longsword would do little to protect a person let alone go on the offensive. For this reason, she kept this simple but well-made short sword with her at all times. Even if custom was to relinquish all weapons.

"Ya look older's the last time I see ya, Marishi. Either time got away from you or yer not quite as well as you make yourself out to be. Rumor has it that sword has some power over time and can slow down aging. How long has it been since I've known ya? How old are ya again?" Rowena said. "We've known each other too long and I'm too old to be pawed at with questions that don't concern anyone but myself." Marishi snapped. She didn't care much for Rowena personally. She found her gaudy and greedy. Willing to sell her mother if the Gil was right. If she even had a mother didn't manifest herself as some agent of the void. "Fine, keep yer secrets, but if ever you're willing to let it go, know I offer the highest coin." Rowena responded. “I’ll keep that in mind, Rowena. Thank you. And thank you again for your timely intervention. Had you not had sent word to the Ishgardian soldiers, I wouldn't have made it alive. However, this isn't exactly something of a social call. I'm looking for information - and answers.” Said Marishi in low tones. Rowena knew what this was about and knew what Marishi wanted. She wanted the names and whereabouts of the men that double-crossed her and used her a guinea pig. But if Rowena had learned anything in life, it's that nothing is free. Especially not information. "Haven't heard have ya? While you are "traveling companion" were laid low quite a bit has happened and the Toll has been in a tizzy.” Said Rowena. "I don't have time for useless gossi-" Rowena cut Marishi off before she could finish her sentence. "War. Baelsar's Wall has fallen and the castrum has been secured by the alliance." Marishi, momentarily stunned said "So they aim to liberate Ala Mhigo then. The same Ala Mhigo that would have enslaved us all if they had their way in the Autumn War. Well, I wish them luck in going against an entire empire with more resources and technology they can ever dare hope to have. I served my duty and I've seen what "war" really is." "There’s more to the tale Marishi. How's about you take a seat and I'll have one of my girls fetch us some breakfast. I'll lock up. Those craven adventurers can wait and I've enough tomestones to choke on for a week!". This is highly unusual thought Marishi. Not only Rowena offering food and drink, for free, but actually closing her doors as to not be interrupted. Marishi sat down and set her Odachi to the back wall and waited for Rowena to return and for food to present itself.

"Turns out as the alliance was breaking through the wall, old Islberd got it in his head to sacrifice himself and his men to make some kind of moon. Not unlike Dalamud." whispered Rowena. "Dalamus wasn't a moon as you well know. It was cell containing one of the most destructive forces this world has ever seen. This "thing" was an Elder Primal. But not like Odin who still stalks the Shroud, this "Bahamut" was death incarnate. Though I know not how he was severed, I have forayed into the Ragnarok class ships that held him in containment. If that "moon" as you say is still in the sky, you have a very real threat to contend with." Marishi said flatly.” Oh, it gets better though! The moon did burst forth and out came something we ain't seen before. The Domans called it "Shinryu".

This caused Marishi to stop sipping her tea and to set it down eyes fixed on Rowena. "Shinryu? The dragon from folklore in Doma? Are you certain? He is the end of all things, or so the story goes." Easy Marishi!"Rowena chuckled "That's just what they called him. Anyroad, you'd be happy to know that as it broke from its "fetters" as you a won't to call it, some ... thing ... engaged it. Some Allagan contraption. They tussled a bit and burnt a hole in the sky headed-" "in the direction of Ala Mhigo." Marishi finished the sentence for her. "Has it been found? Are EITHER of them free wreaking havoc?" Marishi asked.

"None as what can be told. We have our ears to the ground. I got a proposition for ya though concernin' those things and Ala Mhigo." Rowena smiled slightly. "I should have known you above all wouldn't just give something for nothing." Marishi said in a tone of slight disgust. "Yer paths are tied to the same place. Those men yer looking fer - they were reported to have gave chase to those things in their airship. I'll front you what is needed fer your expedition. I want either the dragon, the robot, or both. Or something from them that we can gather information off of." Rowena was always at her best when she was bargaining. "And you're asking me - to do this? Ha! It'd be a more serious request to rope you in the stars in the sky. I am no match for ancient Allag weapons that can content with primals born of hate and despair." "Yer right, yer not. But you are your wife may have enough to glean some information. Any kind of information. In return, I'll tell you all about those who would see you a slave. Don't worry Marishi! Yer killin two birds with one stone since you'll be after the same thing! Just make sure you get there first, yeah? Oh, have free run of all my wares, spare no expense. Stock up. I get the feeling you won't be back at the Toll for a while. Always a pleasure Marishi!" Rowena said as she was getting up from the table, breakfast served and eaten. Marishi sat in silence dumbfounded as to how she was roped into this. Marishi stood up to track down Rowena when the thought came "Damnit. It's well past 10 now and Rae must think me collapsed in a gutter in one of the back alleys. I wonder what she will think of our new "expedition"?

Marishi recovered her Odachi and slid it back in her sash. She thanked and bowed to the servant who was clearing the plates and began to leave this "house of splendors". She pulled the doors open where the glaring light of a midday Sun was beating down causing her to squint and eyes to adjust.

 

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Rae had stood up at that point, finding the bench to be a less than desirable place to sit. Besides, she couldn't see very well over the market stalls' wares and the shopkeepers running them. Taking this opportunity to stretch out, raising her arms above her head and arching her back while her tail curled upward. Shirking the sleep from her muscle and bones, Rae breathed a deep sigh of content and combed her hair from her face. The people of Revenant's Toll were good people. They worked hard, they were honest, and, despite their history, they were happy. It was people like this that made her glad for the work she did. While she was no Scion that battled Eikons nor fabled warrior that fought at the battle of Carteneau, the work she did was good. Sometimes it was a small job, sometimes it involved more skill and tactical work to accomplish, but no matter the splash, the ripples spread wide and leave a lasting effect. Never was the lake the same after the rock was tossed in, and so too the world when a single action was done.

Pulling her hair over her right shoulder, Rae played with it a bit while walking back up the aisle of market stalls. Loosely braiding it, she allowed her eyes to wander over the wares once more, examining anything that she might want to purchase. She was getting bored and Marishi had better show up soon before she thought to buy something useless. Tearing her eyes off the goods, Rae glanced around briefly once more before spotting Marishi exit from Rowena's House of Splendor's and into the marketplace. Rae's face lit up with happiness upon seeing her wife. She skipped into a brisk jog towards her while waving a hand to catch her attention. Rae stopped just short of Marishi and smiled at her more. "Good morning, beautiful," she cooed before leaning in for a soft, lingering kiss. Before too long, Rae pulled back and clasped her hands behind her back. "Didn't even wake me up this morning before you left. I was really looking forward to cuddling with you this morning, too. Ah! Did you get your meeting over with? Are we free to go home?" Rae was quick to change the subject, knowing Marishi would probably scoff at her teasing.

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The Sun momentarily blinded Marishi as she exited the building. Marishi was pale. More so than usual given their encounter a few weeks earlier that left her near death or worse; a thrall. The hurts were slow to heal mentally and she had not yet regained her strength.

She met Rae's embrace and in turn stroked her cheek for a moment a quiet smile on her face. Then, the smile vanished replaced by a slight frown. "No, I'm afraid we aren't yet free of the harpy’s fetters. We have been given a task by Mistress Rowena. One that we would do well to discuss away from the markets."

Marishi took Rae's hand and led her through the busy market. It was getting hot and the smell of sweat and leather hung in the air. Once they broke free of the market, near the ever turning Aetheryte crystal was a stone bench and a tree that shaded it. Marishi sat Rae down. She did not take her place at her side.

"Ironic that we should sit here, next to the Eikon Slayer's base of operations." Marishi quietly said, almost to herself. "Do you know what the Scions do? They kill Gods. That is their charge. Many would slander their name and call them traitors or terrorists, but they have always held true to their path. They were there in the Hinterlands scouring the monstrosity known as Alexander, though, they could not fully cut him down." Marishi's hand went absentmindedly to the pommel of her Odachi. "No, there are some things that are everlasting that defy all rules of nature." Marishi sighed. She had been stalling, trying to think of the best way to break the news to her companion that they had been arranged a dinner with Death as the guest of honor.

"I've spoken with Rowena. Though she thanks us for our contribution to the Toll, there is yet a boon she would call upon us. Surely, you've heard the news. Baelsar's Wall has fallen to the alliance. The path to Ala Mhigo is within reach. The Alliance brings war to the Empire and they are to assist the Resistance repel the Garleans. You may have also heard of the moon in the sky and the gaping hole it rent when it came down." Marishi lowered her tone and cast a quick glance around for any unwanted eavesdroppers. "That was not a rumor or a figment of the imagination. It was an Eikon. One in which the world has never seen. The Doman's named it ... Shinryu. The legend is long and I won't go into detail, but this Kami is the ender of all things. The sword and shield of the Gods when they tire of Man."

Marishi paused with a slight look of confusion on her face. She was having a hard time putting the next part into words. "As the beast began to circle to incinerate everyone in the Castrum, something ... perplexing happened. I'm not sure how to explain it, but a thing of supposed Allagan origin ripped through the sky and engaged the Eikon stopping its assault. It's said that their clash caused both the machine and the Wyrm to cut through a mountain where neither have been seen again."

The look of sadness had replaced her confusion as she spoke next. "It is our charge to enter the lands of Ala Mhigo and retrieve what information we can on either being. Either through inspection or experience. Rowena has also informed me that those which we seek are after the same objective and I mean to bar their way and inflict the pain they have caused me one thousand-fold." She gripped her katana tightly now and her canines could be seen through clenched teeth. "They will not escape me. They will atone for their sins."

Marishi stopped. It was as if she were in a haze. Not unlike in the Highlands. She was sweating and her knuckles were white from gripping the hilt of her weapon. She calmed her breathing and after a moment said "I'm sorry Rae. I cannot go home yet. But I cannot ask you to come with me. We've played the odds and have won so far, but this is betting 10000 to 1. I think this may prove to be a one way trip my love." she tilted her head and lazily stared at the Crystal Tower trying to steel herself from Rae's upcoming protests. "I must prepare for the journey. The road to the Shroud is relatively safe, but after the castrum I do not know. Huh, I've never been to Ala Mhigo before. They say it's beauty is unrivaled as it glistens upon it's Salt Lake."

 

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Rae's ears dropped at the news that they'd have to postpone their return home yet again. She missed her home. More importantly, she missed the normal life they had in between odd jobs. It seemed they were taking on more and more work as their names became renowned for their accomplishments. Rowena being the greediest of their time, insisting they take month-long adventures through trepidatious situations that otherwise normal and sane people would avoid. Not Rae and Marishi. No, they were a pair cut from a different cloth. The challenge was welcome to them. Not a job they had undertaken had beaten them yet. Their cohesion as a team was unmatched and envied by all who knew them. Rae took her seat and frowned up at Marishi, her bright, emerald eyes staring at her love as she went on to preface the situation with a story. She knew where this was leading. The moment she heard of Balsar's Wall and the Primal being summoned... Rowena would be all over that, especially with the mechanized weapon being deployed and seeming to have done a great deal of damage to the monstrous being.

Her first instinct was to cry out. This was unfair! Rowena had plenty of other adventurers at her disposal! Marishi looked weakened still from her last struggle where she lost her life. Rowena had no understanding of loss of life! Perhaps that's what came with having so many people at one's disposal. The importance of one life loses its value when they become a dime a dozen. Still! Her Marishi was not a dime a dozen! Marishi was one in a million. She was one in a billion! No other adventurer would match her beloved in skill and knowledge. Rowena was pulling all her resources for this one. All her best resources. Rae's hands clasped in her lap as she continued to listen to Marishi while she looked down at the ground. Her brows knit together in a furrowed frown as she thought about the consequences of this adventure. She wanted them to seek out an Eikon and a strange Allagan invention that no one had any knowledge about. One thing Rae knew about Primals were their ability to turn anyone without the Echo into a Thrall. The thought of serving life as a mindless, obedient servant to the Aether-hungry beast summoned by the desperation of man... An involuntary shudder ripped down her spine and Rae sat up straight, her ears perking up and her eyes rising to meet with Marishi's.

She had been silent now. The offer to stay home and be at peace was made to her. The urge again to denounce Rowena and grab Marishi's hand and drag her back home surged through her again. And yet, she remained. This was important. Marishi was going to do it. Her beloved's mind was made up. The world needed to know peace, and by the Twelve, Marishi would have a hand in bringing it about. Rae stared into Marishi's currant-red eyes a moment before her expression softened. Rae stood up slowly and brushed at the non-existent dirt on her skirt. "Well, home isn't home without you, my dearest," she said at length before crossing her arms and leaning to one foot, gazing back to Marishi's eyes. "If the odds are ten-thousand to one, then I suppose two will make it only five-thousand. Those odds seem a bit more favourable, no?" Rae smiled broadly to Marishi, her tail flicking with anticipation.

Before Marishi could protest, Rae quickly added. "When I married you, I knew of all the trials and hardships we'd face. It wasn't going to be an easy life, but never has it been for anyone like us. I'd much rather be at your side knowing what sort of Hells you are going through so I can help you through every bit of it. If this mission will be our final one, I'm prepared to die with you. Besides, I know you'd get far too lonely in the Aether without me." Rae smirked again and winked. Part of her was scared, but with Marishi, she knew it would all turn out the way she'd want it to in the end. Whether they lived or not, they'd be together still.

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"Ever the optimist." Marishi sighed. It was no use. There was no changing course.

"Make no mistake Rae, I'm not here to save the world or free an entire people from slavery. I am here for the bastards that would have sent you and me to our graves. Their sins are undeniable and they will be made to stand in judgment for them, and I am their reaper. They will be made to atone. Their heavenly "Fury" wills it." Marishi was vengeful and one-sided. No amount of convincing would deter her from their deaths. Years ago, she would have thought of mercy and forgiveness. To be thankful she still had her life and moved on. But the horrors of war and the twisted faces of the fallen had stripped away what mercy she had leaving her a twisted mass of smoldering anger, resentment, remorse, and shame.

Marishi turned towards the market stalls and called over her shoulder "we have free reign of the wares. All of them. We'd best stock up. I'll leave the shopping to you. I would stay a moment longer here."

She watched Rae disappear into the throngs of other customers and shifted her gaze to her hands. They were young hands. Strong and vigorous, though she was not as young as she appeared. To a stranger, she would have appeared to be in her mid 20's, the prime of her life, her figure lithe and hair vibrant. But this would be the 40th winter she had seen. "I suppose I owe that to you," she said softly to herself as her gaze shifted to her Katana. Imbued with a fragment of the essence of Alexander, time affected Marishi differently than those around her. Though it slowed the aging of her body, her mind was not so fortunate. She carried the years of life with her and at times would curse the weapon that would prolong her life long after she had buried everyone she knew and loved. "If I live that long." she again said softly to herself.

This brought up another problem; Rae had never been in contact with a Primal or even near one. Marishi had probed the machination in Hinterlands known as Alexander and though the Primal never appeared before her, she did leave with a handful of pearlescent like crystal that she then had fitted onto her Odachi's pommel and scabbard. Though she couldn't explain it, she knew this was the reason for her time dilation. She could almost hear the Primal whispering to her edging her to administer judgment unto others. Rae had no such experience and would be fully susceptible to its influence and if the beast lived up to its name, there was no hope of direct confrontation.

There had been reports of other Primals being felled however such as Ifrit, Titan, Leviathan, Ravana, Bismark, among others. Felled by the hands of mortals with no special gifts or blessings granted by Gods that, if existed, died or have long left this plane. Marishi wasn't sure about the deaths of demi gods. She left the reports and updates to Rae who's mind was much sharper and clear than her own. Though learned, Marishi had little patience in information gathering and banter.

Turning toward their task at hand, their road would be relatively easy the first stretch. They would take by Chocobo Carriage from the Hamlet of Mor Dhona and travel through the snowy lowlands of Coerthas where they would arrive in the Dalamud scarred North Shroud under the protectorate of Gridania and the Order of The Twin Adder, an Order she had once belonged to and held official military rank in. They would be unmolested. From the North Shroud, they would then turn east to Castrum Oriens. The Garlean outpost meant to be the staging area of assault against Eorzea as well as being the only way through Balsear's Wall to the land of Ala Mhigo. Recently liberated from the clutches of the Garlean Empire by the Eorzean Alliance, the Castrum had been converted into a staging point and command post for the Alliance and barracks for their soldiers. As such, the passage had already been paid and scheduled with the sentry's at the Castrum already notified to let them pass. From there, they would be outfitted with their own personal Chocobos, reprovisioned, and left to their assignment. As for the land beyond, Marishi did not know. She had never been that far east in Eorzea and held little love for the Highlanders who sought conquest against their allies 20 years previous. Not many had and the ones that did were either dead, elderly, or missing.

She took a final look at the serene and unchanging Crystal Tower shining softly in early evening Sun. It would be night soon and Rae should be done procuring provisions, weapons, and armor for both herself and Marishi. She suddenly had a sharp pang of sadness when a thought entered her mind. It was so forceful that she actually spoke it aloud: "This will be the last time I will ever look upon this place." Shaking her head to rid herself of the bad omen, she slowly moved towards the marketplace as it had died down in search of her partner. The foodstuffs and armaments would be loaded tonight and they would have to leave no later than the 5th bell toll to reach the Castrum by the third day.

Marishi had found Rae near a stall cooing over some baubles and moving silently behind her commented "Those are beautiful. Almost as much so as yourself and I hate to tear you away from your shopping, but I've grown weary and must retire. We are scheduled to leave tomorrow morning before the rising of the Sun. Will you lend me your youthful arm and escort me to my quarters?" Marishi teased with a rare smile on her face.

Edited by Marishi Ten

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Rae smiled up and her and rolled her eyes. "Of course, of course, my love," she quipped. Marishi wouldn't stand to be called a hero. She was far too humble, and her feats 'aren't as fantastic as others', or so she would claim. Before Rae could retort, Marishi had tasked her with fetching their provisions. Leaving her in charge of shopping? As well as free reign over whatever she wanted? Rowena was truly generous with this offer. Perhaps this was a mission not to be taken so lightly. Although she knew it to be that fact, Rowena opening her wares to take at their own discretion added a bit more weight to it. Rae smiled broadly to Marishi and nodded her head. "I'll gladly do the shopping. Don't you fret your pretty little head, Rishi." She assured, patting Marishi's hand and leaning in for a quick peck on her cheek before she practically skipped off to the market.

The throng of shoppers was causing things to be quite difficult to shop for. When Rae approached one stall, four or five others joined her and nudged her around as she tried to grab for things she thought they'd need. It wasn't their fault. Things were cramped with this many people in the market. Perhaps there were sales going on that she wasn't privy to? Rae spotted a finely-wrapped stack of beef. Her culinary instincts told her that batch was the best of them. As she reached for it, another hand darted out and snatched it up. Rae scowled at the owner of the hand and watched as she, in turn, made a rude gesture towards her. Ears piqued as well as her displeasure, Rae stood up straight and cleared her throat. "Ahem. Excuse me, shopkeeper. I am Rae Ten. I am under the employment of Rowena. I do believe she told you I'd be by? I came to collect some ingredients from your shop," the shop owner nodded vigorously, smiling happily and promised to give Rae whatever she wanted. "That's wonderful. I actually would like that stack of beef you are currently selling, if that's not too much trouble." Rae pointed at the string-wrapped meat the woman was attempting to hand over to the shopkeeper. The two of them stared at Rae, then to each other, then back at her.

"A-at once, Miss Ten," the shopkeeper said, wrapping the purchase in a thick paper and handing it to Rae, all the while, the other woman shot daggers through her eyes at Rae.

Rae smiled at the shop owner and took the package. "Mrs. Ten, actually, and thank you! I appreciate your assistance." With a happy, beaming smile, Rae waved to them both and walked away. Once a good enough distance away, Rae exhaled and slumped her shoulders. She hated acting like that. Normally she would have let the woman have it, but if they were going on a mission that was going to ultimately kill them, Rae felt like she could warrant a few pleasures. The next stop was a produce stand. No one surrounded it this time, which was a relief. Rae picked at the fruit and vegetables, examining them one by one before placing them in individual bags for purchase.

"I gots the best fruits around," the shop owner stated, proud of his stock. Rae smiled pleasantly to him and nodded, agreeing with him. He was, after all, the only produce shop in the Toll. Rae took a good portion of all the items there and the owner raised a brow. "You got coin to pay fer all that?"

With another pleasant smile, Rae replied. "Rowena should have mentioned to you, Rae and Marishi would come by to pick their needs. I believe you should be expecting me?" The man straightened up and smiled back at her, apologizing for the assumption. Rae only laughed and waved her hand dismissively while plopping the sacks on the counter before him so he could tally what she took. "Say, you wouldn't know much about Ala Mhigo, would you?" She asked him, wanting to start casual conversation. Rae had never been to Ala Mhigo. It was under siege while she was yet a child. She knew it was likened unto Thanalan and that it was a desert, but other things she didn't know.

"Aye. Ala Mhigo is a miserable place. I haven't heard much since their liberation, but what tales I've gathered, it's a wreck. Plenty of visible Garlean presence there by means of their buildings and ruined ships from battles to stop the Alliance. The people are miserable, too. After two decades of being under the rule of the Garlean empire, the people lost hope of ever being free. They lost their worship of their god, they lost their way of life, they lost their will. Shame, really. Could'a been us, too." The shop owner recounted what little information he knew of the distant land. Rae did her best to remain stoic in her features, but she couldn't help but feel bad for the Highlanders. What an awful fate to have everything stripped of them. "Ah, but if you want to see real beauty, The Lochs is where it's at. The salt beds there create a beautiful mirror for the sky. I used to export the salt from there back when trade was open and I lived in Thanalan. Best quality there ever was!"

Rae smiled and thanked the man, gathering up her bags, placing them in her satchel, then going about shopping more. She purchased a few other odds and ends. Whetstones, metal for repairing her tools, and a bit more food. All the while she gathered information as well. She asked about the roads between here and Gridania. She asked about the Garleans. She asked about the liberation. Tales spread far and wide and news of the liberation of Ala Mhigo reached Mor Dhona rather fast. Rae was pleased with the information she had gathered. It was purely for her own purposes for the most part. She was certain Marishi had known most of what she asked besides current events. The sun was beginning to set and Rae had decided now to take a moment to indulge in some wistful shopping. Her tail twitched behind her as she excitedly looked at the fine craftsmanship of the baubles. Though she wouldn't buy anything, she did enjoy looking at the fine jewellery. While it was impractical for her to own any given her lifestyle, she still entertained the thought of owning grand jewellery now and then. The finest piece she ever owned was the ring she had on her left ring finger, the one Marishi made herself after the two of them journeyed across the land of Eorzea to pray for the blessings of the Twelve. All else were dull in comparison.

As Marishi called to Rae, she jumped in shock and turned to her, eyes wide and blinking. Her cheeks turned red slightly at the compliment and her eyes darted to the side, a small smile forming on her lips. "Of course you'd find me when I was self-indulging," she murmured. At Marishi's next comment, she smiled and giggled at her, then wrapped her arm through Marishi's and walked with her to their rented room. As they walked, the red-haired Miqo'te turned to gaze at her partner. Rae saw Marishi differently. Being together would prove a challenge, that much she knew, but loving her was easy. Their personalities contrasted each other quite well. Where one lacked, the other flourished. They were not only the perfect team, but the perfect pair, it seemed. Of course, they had their arguments, but they still loved each other afterwards. That was something that would never change for her. Not for any reason. Rae smiled softly, then returned her attention forward. "What are you thinking, my love?" She asked while they reached the door to their room. Rae fiddled with the keys and lock and opened it up for them. She dropped the heavy satchel to the floor and rubbed her shoulder where the strap once sat. It was a heavy bag now, thanks to her shopping. At least they would have a Chocobo or something carry it after today.

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"It's nothing. Just a bad spell." Marishi said quietly. She wasn't one to laugh and rarely smiled. Prone to melancholy she would often appear isolated and brooding. In direct contrast to Rae, whose personality could light up a room, Marishi's would cast a pall. She was no great hero and there would be no songs sung in her name. An outcast of The Twin Adder for aiding the enemy, a wanderer with no home convinced to walk into lands completely unknown that had been until recently under the boot heel of an Empire still very much alive and well.

They would have the Garleans to contend with. Though the nation of Ala Mhigo was free, the Garleans were not gone and resorted to guerrilla tactics and small pockets of resistance. Marishi had dealt with them before through her time in the military, though in a different capacity. She was a healer, a wielder of white magics of restoration. It was only after the Calamity that she put down the staff and picked up the sword. She had changed from saving lives to taking them. She wasn't a murderer or killed en masse, but she wouldn't shy away from spilling blood. 

She knew roughly as much as Rae did about the lands. The Shroud's evergreen thins and gives way to a rocky plateau where the land is cut in the middle by a massive gorge with a river at it's bottom. There were two ways across the gorge. One, a small fjord at the head of the river and two, across a spanning bridge that just happened to be Garlean made to dock their airships and war birds. From there, it would be a trip to what they called The Reach. The home of the Ala Mhigo Resistance and seat of their camp. The war being over their soldiers turned to rebuilding their shattered homes and burying their brothers. Marishi was informed that once there, there would be a contact waiting for them to apprise them of the current situation and give them what information they needed to attempt to complete their task.

"The ride through The Shroud will be light. When we arrive at the Castrum, we'd do best to hitch in with a merchant caravan. Safety in numbers. We will dress as modest merchants as to not call attention to ourselves by unwanted eyes. The Garleans would see an armed caravan and kill everyone to the last man." Marishi let out an unhappy sigh. "This is a fool's errand and the closer we move to Ala Mhigo, the closer we move to a shallow grave on the side of the road."

Marishi turned and looked directly at Rae with eyes clouded with sorrow. "Don't let them burn me when I'm gone. Bury me in Coerthas. In the Lowlands. I've always found peace there oddly. But enough talk of things unsavory. I know it wears upon you." She drew a weak smile. "I am weary tonight and I think I'll retire for the evening. Our carriage arrives 3 bells before sunrise. We are expected to arrive at the Castrum late tomorrow evening. I'll eat in the morning." Marishi slung her weapon on a nearby rack and undressed out of her normal attire into a clean white linen nightshirt and pantelletes. She was thin. more so than others of her race, though it didn't detract from her curvature or simple beauty. Bare feet on the stone floor she moved silently to the four post goose down bed adorned with bear pelts for blankets and slid in. She placed her Wakazashi under her pillow as she was wont to do. Marishi had trust for none. Save one. And she would defend that one unto her death.

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A dream.

There was nothing but blackness all around, but the feeling of floating was present. It felt as if Marishi was a kite being slowly led on a string to a destination unknown. Then the light and she found herself in an area familiar to her. The Coerthas Western Lowlands. But not as they appear now, but before the eternal snow had encased the once craggy meadows and thick pine trees. She could smell the cool, crisp, clean air and for a moment, was a child again running through the meadows playing with her father. She was content.Complete. Then the sky darkened and took a hue of violet and red. No more animals chirped, no more breeze stirred. She was no longer in a lush green meadow but on a rough barren badlands. She knew where she was and she didn't want to look up at the falling moon that would encompass the night sky. Panic filled her being and she attempted to scream, but nothing could be heard over the sound of ringing steel, hoarse battle cry's, and shrieks of maimed and dying. She looked down at her hands. They were soaked in blood. Blood that would not come off no matter how many times one washed. Marishi was calm, however, and looked finally to the sky as the moon came apart. The sound the came from the thing that emerged filled the world. There was no one on the flats save that monstrosity floating above and Marishi frail and pitiful. She began to weep for she knew her life was over. A life she would never live as the flames rushed from the Elder Primals mouth to incinerate her.

Marishi opened her eyes. No longer on the fields of Cartenau, she was surprised to find herself in Hingashi. She began walking. Her body knew where it was going even if her mind did not. The Siekusegumi Barracks. Marishi watched herself spar with kempo swords of wood with another Samurai. One much more adept than she. She watched as the youth overpowered and outmaneuvered her to land a hard blow on the side of her head. She staggered from the hit and attempted to regain a defensive stance but it was clear she was no match for her sparring partner. He knocked her weapon to the side while spinning and hitting her in the back of the legs bringing her to her knees where the next blow was glancing off her shoulder throwing the wooden sword out of her hands. Battered, half blinded from the head wound that caused the whites of an eye to darken to red, she looked up at her opponent. Weapon pointed down at her the hollow ring of the man's voice chimed "you are left wanting Ijin. This is no place for a foreigner let alone a woman. We should take you to the pleasure district and sell you for what little you're worth. You will never be a Samurai." She looked up at him in defiance and hatred "Are you going to finish this match?" The man had a look of shock and slight respect "it is as you wish Ijin." The next blow to the head left her unconscious.

Marishi opened her eyes. She was in a place she did not recognize. She was dressed in full battle armor standing in ankle deep water That smelled heavily of salt. It was day and she could see in front of her a massive city adorned with falcons in various poses of flight and attack. She was awestruck by its size and beauty. She looked around to find herself on a salt flat with the most beautiful staircases that rose to great figures cut into stone. She guessed her location to be Ala Mhigo. As she took a step forward towards the great staircase that led to the gates of the city, an ugly, shrill, screech filled the air and deafened the world. Marishi dropped to her knees and clutched at her ears to shield herself from the awful noise. The shrill scream stopped only to be replaced by the beating of wings. Massive wings. Never had she seen a living thing like that. It flew lazy circles around the city and even at her distance, she could feel the push and the pull of the massive wings beating the air. The water pulled away as a tide and was replaced by blood lapping her feat foaming at the churning from the wings. Marishi felt despair. Pure despair. She saw out of the corner of her eye a crumpled body at the shore. Her eyes began to well with tears. She knew whose lifeless and mangled body it was. She had failed in her charge to protect the one person she loved and the only person that loved her. She knew that Dragon had ended Rae's life. The beating of wings stopped and all was still but her breathing and pounding heart. She looked up to see the Dragon gazing at her not moving. "get on with it then!" She screamed, but the monstrosity gurgled something that may have been a laugh and looked at her torso. Suddenly, she grasped her lower stomach in great pain.

Now there was nothing. No Dragon, no Rae, no city. She looked down at her hands black and wet with her own blood spilling out of a wound from her lower abdomen. Her breath became short and shallow with the darkness moving in. She was scared. She knew she was dying and that she would die alone. Tears slid down her cheeks as she crumples to the ground starring at the blackness above. Her final thoughts were of Rae, smiling and dancing full of life and fun. Her Sun. Marishi's breath came in short ragged gasps and then suddenly stopped. Her ruby eyes and dilated pupils staring at nothing and she knew she was no more.

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Marishi awoke with a gasp. Sweating and heart pounding she knew she had a powerful dream but like sand upon the shore was swept away and only the feelings were left over. It was 4 AM. Rae was next to her peacefully slumbering. It was time for them to wake and begin their journey.

Edited by Marishi Ten

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Rae was a little disappointed that Marishi wishes to sleep instead of spend more time together, but she understood why. She was still quite weak from her near-death experience and needed all the energy she could muster for the upcoming task. Rae climbed into the bed as Marishi did. She started at the foot of it so she could kick off her sandals and remove her skirt and wrap and gloves. She was in her small clothes, but she typically slept in those. With everything placed neatly over the pole at the foot of the bed, Rae turned back to Marishi and listened to her speak. Her heart panged as she mentioned where she wished to be buried. They had an agreement. Marishi would fight to the bitter end and give enough chance for Rae to escape when a situation got too out of control. Rae protested it at the start, but over time, she knew there would be no convincing Marishi of otherwise. Because she loved her, she would never let her death be in vain. Even if it meant feeling like she was abandoning her, Rae had to convince herself if Marishi told her to run, she would run. It was because of this promise, however, that Rae knew she'd live the rest of her life in sadness, and that she knew she'd be in charge of overseeing Marishi's burial. With all her power, she'd ensure the one she loved most would find peace. "Of course, Marishi," Rae promised, nodding solemnly and gazing into her eyes. Her sadness matched Marishi's and it didn't go away until after Marishi changed the subject and curled up in bed. Rae crawled up beside her and laid down, sliding her arms around Marishi's waist and pulling her close while burying her face into the pale Miqo'te's shoulder and nuzzling her there. Both eyes closed and deep breaths drawing in and out, Rae slowly drifted off to sleep. Subconsciously, Rae pulled her beloved closer to her until they could get no closer. Only then did Rae sleep.

She felt light. Lighter than usual. Her eyes were closed, but she sensed no light. She could no longer feel the bed, nor Marishi's presence. She knew it was a dream at that point. Opening her eyes, Rae gazed at the infinite blue before her. It wasn't blue as the sky, no. It was a dark, murky blue. Exhaling produced bubbles. Water? The ocean? Rae cupped her mouth and  panicked. How did she get underwater?! Try as she might, she couldn't move anywhere. Her lungs burned with the need to inhale, but there was no air to suck in. Rae couldn't hold what little breath she had left and exhaled, then breathed in a lung-filling breath of... air. She blinked twice before remembering her previous observation. 'It's a dream, Rae. You can do whatever you want.' She reminded herself mentally. Relief swept over her as she took another deep breath.

It was interesting to be underwater. She had never been so far out in the ocean where she would know what it would look like. Maybe it was a lot brighter out in the ocean? Rae looked around as she swam forward. Luckily her mother taught her how to swim when she was a child, otherwise this might scare her a bit more than it should. The ocean was quiet. There was naught another sign of life to be seen nor heard. It made her feel lonely. After swimming for some time, she spotted a glint of light in the distance. Squinting, Rae tried to discern what the source of that glimmer was. She swam closer and closer until she finally could see the outline of a limp form. Marishi. Rae swam more frantically towards her unconscious wife; however, she swam farther away, not closer. "Marishi!" She cried out, pushing forward as strong as she could. She paused to catch her breath and watched as her beloved moved farther away still. It wasn't her being pulled back, Marishi was ever slipping away further and further away from her. The feeling caused her heart to leap in panic and she screamed out in frustration and despair.

The softest groan escaped her lips and woke her up. Her dream's outcry manifested through her own voice. She hoped it didn't wake Marishi. It was still dark out, the moon had only just crested over the sky and bathed the room in a soft, silver light. Rae was on her back and Marishi lay beside her still, facing her now. Sweat beaded on her brow, Rae noted. She got up and walked to the window sill where some wash cloths were for them to clean themselves with. She took her own and walked to Marishi and gently patted it against her brow and along her neck. "My love, what do you dream of? Why do you suffer to let your mind go places where peace will forsake you?" She whispered softly, sadly. After pausing a moment, Rae placed the cloth on the stand beside their bed and she settled back into it. She took Marishi's hand in one of hers while laying on her side to face her. She brought Marishi's hand to her lips and pressed the knuckle of her thumb against them. She stayed like this but mere moments before she slipped back into slumber.

She awoke a few hours later to the feeling of eyes on her. There was no dream that she remembered between waking up earlier and then, which came as a relief to her. Her eyes opened and lifted to Marishi, who was yet again drenched in her own sweat and gazing down at her. "Good morning, my sweet," she murmured while sitting up, propping herself up with her one hand. She reached over and touched her love's cheek softly and frowned. She rolled over and grabbed the small cloth and lightly dabbed it on Marishi's forehead again. "Marishi..." she whispered. She had no words. She wanted to know, but at the same time, she wanted to make Marishi forget what she dreamt. Her mind wasn't coming up with anything to say, however. She was at a loss. Her own dream left her wanting to talk about it, but now wasn't the time. She'd seek out an Astrologian later, perhaps.

"We should get you cleaned up, hun. Before we start out. We have enough time. I'll have them draw up a bath for us and I'll get some breakfast started," Rae said after a bit. She put the cloth to the side again and got up to her knees. She wanted nothing more than to lay there more, to take Marishi into her arms and lay back down and stroke her hair while letting her rest on her chest. She was used to Marishi's bad dreams. Although being used to them didn't make it any easier to watch her wife suffer with them. Usually they were about Carteneau. They were almost always about Carteneau. Rae hadn't joined that war. She was studying at that time. Her superiors turned a blind eye to the situation, despite it showing potential to destroy their own world. Rae shirked the thoughts from her head before she delved too deep within them again. "Are you okay, Marishi?" Rae asked her softly. She wanted to make sure before she left her side.

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"No ... Yes, yes, I'm fine. You'd do better if you didn't fret over me as you do. Just ... dreams. Dreams not worth mentioning in the hours of the dark, lest we create monsters to scare the children with." Marishi let out a slight smile at the jest. "We still have some time, aye, but not as much as you may think. Prepare breakfast and I shall bathe. We will have to eat on the way."

Due to the recent advancement of technology by way of commandeering it from the various Garlen Castrums in Mor Dhona, Coerthas, and Northern Thanalan, The Toll was able to enjoy extreme growth and prosperity and expanded from a few small tents and bitter watchmen, to a full-blown city in a matter of months, complete with ceruleum powered lighting and full plumbing for every room, including hot water upon demand. Marishi closed the door to a crack but didn't let the door latch. There was no danger to someone finding her in a compromised position besides the one that has seen all of her.

She drew the steaming water into the porcelain tub and let it fill, sitting on the edge of the tub with her hand lazily creating waves in the water. Her mind wandered a bit while still shaking off sleep, trying to recall the previous night's dream. It was important, she knew it was, but each time she attempted to recall the specific details, it was like grains of sand in the hand, the more one grasps, the more it slips through. But the profound feeling of sadness lingered as she thought about it. She turned the valve to stop the flow of water and completely undressed. For as old as she was in years, her body was still youthful and barely showed any marring on her skin. Her bruises and cuts never leaving lasting damage or unsightly scarring. She climbed into the tub and submerged letting the water cleanse her of sweat, dirt, and sickness. Next to the tub were cloths and tallow soap that she used to scrape and wash her body along with ample lotion and a small sharp trimming blade for grooming. 

Once she was done with her cleaning and grooming, she let the water drain from the tub and stepped out. She took the clean white linen towel from its hangar next to the tub and began to dry off. Her hair was wet and there wouldn't be time to let dry so she could comb it and clasp it as was her normal practice. Marishi moved to a nearby mirror, wiped the steam off and instead, she took her hair and bunched it up into a ponytail tight at her scalp. He bangs fell over her left eye and the arch in the back had a choppy, layered look to it. She smiled in admiration of herself. It didn't look half bad.

Turning to a hutch next to the mirror she found her garments. New small clothes to fit under her cleaned and polished battle attire. Next to the armor lay a simple off-white tunic, brown breeches, and a sand brown hooded cloak. She slid into her undergarments and instead of taking to her armor as she normally would have, she pulled the tunic over her head put the breeches on and laced the cloak with the hood down. They fit well and the tunic and breeches accented her curves while the cloak was able to mask them. She then took her armor and on the floor placed it into a rucksack designed for the use of small merchants when traveling long distances on foot.

It wouldn't do to have two heavily armed females in the midst of a group of traders and merchants. They would be prime targets for being robbed by bandits or worse, easy prey for Garlean squads that may still be roaming the area outside of The Fringes.

Cleaned, dressed, and everything in order, Marishi stepped out of the bathroom and into the bed/living area to find Rae packing the food she had prepared. It also looked like she had a similar garment ensemble as well, though colored differently. "We are ready then.

Marishi turned and as she was closing the door to the dark apartment said: "This is the last time I'll see this place as a living Woman." She was startled by the not only the thought, but it being powerful enough for her to actually utter aloud. Shaking her head to clear the thought, she spoke to Rae, "The carriage that will take us to the Castrum is already here and the driver is under specific instructions to not ask questions of our intent. We'd do well not to reveal who we are to anyone from this moment on."

She took Rae's hand in her own as they walked to the front gates of the settlement where, as promised, a carriage pulled by two Ishgardian Chocobo's waited. Marishi opened the door and assisted Rae into the carriage, placed her foot on the stirrup of the carriage, looked at the driver and said "our thanks to you. The hour is still early and I hope that we did not keep you overlong. You know where we are going?" The man was a Highlander, tanned skin and rough calloused hands from years holding the reigns. He looked at Marishi with an inquisitive eye and cautiously said "...Aye. I've been instructed by yer overlord to ferry the two's of you past Coerthas and into the Shroud. From there, yer wantin' to be taken past the Wall and into the Castrum. That the short of it?" "Yes, it is. With all due haste at our disposal. I am hoping to cross what's left of Baelsar's Wall by tonight. Is this an issue?" Marishi asked. "No, no issue at all. I'll take you and yours to the Castrum, I will, and no further. Untamed land The Fringes 'ave become. The Garleans haven't treated her well and there are pockets of them still hidin' in their felled airships. I'd not take ye further even if I was paid double!" The man replied. Marishi unslung her weapons and pack and placed them into the carriage at the far end. Stepping inside as she closed the door her soft and chimeful voiced called out to the man "This is preferred and we are most humbled by your escort. Let us not delay then as we are both pressed for time."

The door closed with a click of the latch as Marishi sat down opposite of Rae. "I think I'll have what you've prepared now, I'm starving!" Marishi said with a rare smile on her face as the sound of the Highlander man could be heard calling to the birds and the snap of leather reins.

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Rae gave her Marishi a small, helpless smile. "You know I can't do that, my sweet," she murmured. There was nothing more that she wanted than to help Marishi. There were some things she just couldn't help her with, however. Rae took her partner's reluctance to discuss it further as a sign and nodded. "Of course! Though we won't be eating in the comfort of the room, I wouldn't mind eating in a carriage with you." A smile creased her features as she watched Marishi march over to the wash room and disappear behind the door. Rae got to her feet, ready to call for some one to get a bath for her, but heard the sound of water rushing through pipes to their tub. Rae's right ear flicked rapidly a few times before she thumped the ball of her palm to her forehead. "Plumbing. I forgot that existed." She laughed. Which meant she could have water in that sink by the window. Rae pulled out an apron from her satchel, not wanting to put on a full outfit just to undress later, and quickly washed up her hands and set about preparing breakfast.

After deciding on what to make, Rae began prepping and allowing her mind to wander. She remembered her dream vividly. Each detail she dedicated to memory. Since going to Sharlaya to learn with her master the arts of both white and black magic (classed under its own unique sector called 'red magic' by her master's predecessors), Rae became aware of the skills Astrologians had. Not only were their healing abilities drawn from the stars and constellations, but they had divination abilities. She befriended an Astrologian during her studies in the far distant province. She taught her about the divination that could be seen through the stars that watched over her. Rae had an innate ability to sense the stars. Her friend commented on this and strongly suggested she try her hand at being an Astrologian. Her heart wasn't in the work of healing, though. She couldn't protect her loved ones with healing only. It was that sole reason that, when she heard of a Red Mage in Eorzea, she dropped her summoner's book and sought him out. Her master was a male Miqo'te. Greyed hair, but still young. The last of his kind, too. Rae felt a pang of sympathy when he expressed this to her. What he saw in her, she wasn't sure, but he could sense her power. He could feel the flow of both white and black magic thrive through her body like the blood in her veins.

Rae took to the duality of being a Red Mage quite aptly. Her master was impressed and pleased with her rapid progress. With her abilities, she felt whole. As a summoner, she felt devoid of something fundamental to her person. There was a part of her that craved more power. As a Red Mage, she found her thirst for that power quenched. She could deal damage and rejuvenate her allies in battle at the same time. It was an eye-opener. During that time, tales of war breaking out on Eorzea found their way to Rae and her master. The desire to reach out to her home and help fight was overwhelming, but her master refused her. Red Mages were not to be known of. Something hunted them, which was why they fled back to Sharlaya rather than staying on Eorzea. They were safe there with the scholars' barriers.

She was awake that fateful night. The sky was red as blood, like the sky was rend asunder and the heavens bled over it. The Dalamud moon as close to the earth as she had ever seen it, the very aether around them prickled. Rae and her master did not sleep as they watched Dalamud break apart and the large Dreadwyrm escape from his tomb. Her blood ran cold and her heart stopped. At that moment, she knew she should be on that battle field that was undoubtedly waging beneath that frightening monstrosity. There was a spirit that called to her that she felt her own soul reach out for. Whose it was, she didn't know, but the unmistakable urge to protect it with all her power and skill resonated within her so fiercely that she stood to her feet and ran out the hut they called home and towards the shore. There was no getting off the island, however, so she stared helplessly as the monster Bahamut's wicked onslaught of flares shot through the sky and sent ripples of energy through the land. She was helpless to stop the Primal's attack. Even if she were there, she would surely be caught in the blast of one of those deadly flares. Before long, the explosions stopped and the Primal was caught, or so it seemed. The brief moment of hope made Rae's heart skip a beat, she beamed to her master in absolute elation. The Twelve! The Twelve were saving the land! Her master's grim expression said otherwise. As quickly as the sigils of the Twelve spawned around the Elder Primal, they were shattered. 'We are next.' She thought to herself, but before anything more could be done, Bahamut was gone in a flash of a brilliant, white light. Rae and her master were speechless, unable to make reason with what had happened. They didn't sleep for the night, nor the night after, fully expecting death to rain down upon them. How could such a powerful, angry being simply vanish? After it was evident there would be nothing to be had by the wrath of the Elder Primal, Rae and her master continued on their life. Curious, but grateful.

Shortly after her mastery of red magic did she set out on her own and find her Astrologian friend. She spent some time with her and learned a little from her, but it wasn't long before Rae's itch to return home became all-encompassing. Her focus was nowhere near her practice. She wanted to see Eorzea and how much it had changed since that night. Under the behest of her friend, Rae set sail back home.

The food was finished. Rae's thoughts returned to the breakfast she had prepared. Shredded potatoes, fresh bread that needed yet to cool, butter, and fresh fruit. They'd have enough rolls for the trip so they didn't have to rely on salty dried beef alone. Pleased with her work, Rae quickly got dressed into her travel clothes. A faded red tunic, black-dyed pants, brown knee-high boots, and a brown hooded cloak. She threw it on easily and packed away the meal and the rest of their belongings, then shouldered the satchel. It felt lighter than yesterday, but not by much, and that was only because she carried in her hands a portion of the supplies she had bought. She placed the food she had prepared on her hip and held it with one hand as she exited the room. Marishi's words caused her brows to knit together with concern. The certainty in her tone gave Rae chills. She noted mentally that she would keep a closer eye on her beloved. The revelation seemed to have startled Marishi as well, which furthered Rae's unease.

Taking her hand, Rae gave Marishi's a reassuring squeeze and smiled at her fondly. So long as she was around, nothing would happen to Marishi. She would have to be dead in order for Marishi to suffer the same fate. Come Bahamut or the Twelve. As they approached the carriage and Rae climbed in, she seated herself carefully on a cushioned bench within. She gently placed the food at her side and her foil to her left so it would not roll about the carriage.

"Of course, dear," Rae hummed happily while unwrapping their meal. She had patiently remained quiet while Marishi and the driver exchanged words. The sight of Marishi's smile spurred Rae into action. She was grateful she took extra steps to make this meal particularly special. She did her best when making every meal for her and her wife, but this one, she felt especially proud of. She handed over a container of the meal to Marishi, the bread roll placed on top still steamed. "It's still quite hot, so let it cool a bit before you bite into the bread." She cautioned before unwrapping her own meal and ate the shredded potatoes first. She seasoned it just enough that the cooked potatoes had a gentle salty taste to them. The fruit were fresh and filled with delicious, sweet flavour, so she didn't touch them beyond washing and cutting them.

Rae's gaze went to the outside as they travelled. It was strange to go through Coerthas by carriage after running through it by Chocobo so often, then by foot. "Marishi," She said, breaking the silence between them. "Do you know much of Ala Mhigo?" Rae knew of Marishi's history with Ala Mhigans. It wasn't the best, but it was also did well to know what was beyond the wall.

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"I've walked a great many places. Thanalan, Idyllshire, Coerthas, even the Far East. But Ala Mhigo I have never been. No. It is a land I've never walked. The wall has been up since I was in my teens and before that the Autumn War with the Eorzean Alliance, so I have never seen it in person. They say the city itself is beautiful beyond words. Perched on a cliff overlooking the mountains. Massive in stature and in wealth. Until the Mad King took power and plunged his country into chaos and unrest. He was particularly interested in the execution of all who opposed him. Real and imaginary. When he was finally deposed, the city was sacked by the Garleans in the middle of the night. A bloodless coup however. No lives were lost in the surrender of Ala Mhigo. This was due to the man called the Black Wolf. Gaius Baelsar. The Legatus of the XIVth legion. He was the one who built the wall and Castrum Oriens in the Shroud. Our enemy, though sometimes I wonder. Perhaps he was trying to save us from ourselves. Hm." Marishi quietly said.

"I've heard stories from others though. We are headed to a place called The Fringes. Where the Black Shroud falls away and is replaced by a great canyon and badland. All until recently occupied under the control of the Empire. Our path is east through The Fringes, across a fjord and over a small bridge that spans the canyon. From there, I'm told it's a short distance to the north and east to Rhalgr's Reach. The seat of The Ala Mhigo Resistance and the war effort." Her face became dark and a frown passed her lips as she explained "It's little more than an armed camp for an Army with no more enemy to fight. Soldiers and Sell Swords with no other occupation but war and drunk off their own power and success. Trust no one. Go nowhere without an escort. This isn't the lowlands of Coerthas when I was born and raised. I don't know what to expect and it will prove difficult to tell friend from foe."

She ate quietly lost in her own thoughts. Finishing, she took a drink of water and leaned back and stretched her legs. The Sun was beginning to crest over the horizon and the pine trees of Coerthas began to thin away to be replaced by Aspen's and Birches of brilliant red's and yellow's marking the passage of Autumn. They had already ridden past the Observatory and were entering the great forest known as The Black Shroud and seat of Marishi's old command post, Gridania and The Twin Adders. She drew her hood over her head. It was oversized as to shadow the face and its features. There would be some who would know her and would cause unneeded complications. Marishi softly said to Rae "Try to sleep. There is nothing to fear in this forest. She will protect us from any harm. I'll keep watch. The smells and sights are familiar and of comfort to me." She smiled as she watched Rae lay down for a nap. Marishi opened the windows slightly to let in the forest air and sounds. The smell of growth and late-blooming wildflowers was thick in the air. It wasn't hot. It was never hot in The Black Shroud. The massive trees overhead made for a canopy to shield them from the burning Sun. The air was cool and crisp, the sound of water flowing from the small tributaries and rivers bubbling around. The birds singing and flitting between the trees. 

Marishi mind began to wander and she found herself recalling her moments in the great hinterlands and her excursion into the steel giant that was home to the Primal known as Alexander. Recently back from the Far East, trained and hardened in the way of the Samurai, she and a small group of treasure hunters delved into the mobile castle in search of rare finds and bizarre trinkets to sell to foreign buyers. Finding little of value on the outer edges of the corridors, they pushed inwards towards the heart. She had never seen anything so intricate and stunning. Countless cogs and wheels spun in unison while steam carried kinetic energy to various parts of the citadel. Created by the Sharlayn, it was to serve as a mobile bastion of higher learning and education. Only to be abandoned and sunk into the great river when they abandoned their plans for fear of the Garleans. They withdrew to their isolated Isle of Val, removed from the affairs of Erozea. As she walked with her companions she became mesmerized by perpetual motion of the great machine and would often stop and stare in wonder and awe. Though they traveled as a party, none had love for each other and soon Marishi found herself separated from her party as they pushed on down the maze of doors and halls. There was a metallic hum all through the shell and even though couldn't be heard directly, it could be felt, as if a small amount of electrical current ran through her and connected her to ... something. She didn't know where she was going but felt as though she was being pulled somewhere. A magnet finding it's opposite polarity. She came to a small room in which appeared to be some sort of control room filled with levers and screens. Chairs lined the brass and copper hammered walls. and in the middle of the room sat a pedestal with a rectangular case made of polished copper and brass rivets sitting atop of it. As she walked quietly through the door inside the room, the lights flickered to life and the hum became audible. Something was powering on and she had triggered it. She thought about running, but even if she tried, she knew she couldn't escape. There was a power here. Far greater than anything she had felt and she was reminded of the horror and awe the Dreadwyrm called upon her mind. There was a presence in the hum. Words that couldn't be heard or understood, spoke to the heart. As she neared the center of the room, it became clear that the object on the pedestal was an enclosure. She touched the perfectly polished latches on either side of the case and the metallic snick from the locks disengaging could be heard. As she opened it, time seemed to slow to a crawl, then to a halt. Her mind was aware that the passage of time had frozen. A disembodied voice called out in an eerie and metallic tone "You who hath entered thy domain. What is it thou seeketh? Thy burdens weigh heavily on the mind do they not?" The voice filled her head and she could feel the blood pumping in her heart. She suddenly felt very small and insignificant to this voice. Unworthy of being received. "Thou is indeed worthy of an audience. All will be brought and judged. Tell me mortal, why dost thou fight? Where dost thou go?" The voice called directly to her and tears welled in her eyes "I-I don't know" she brokenly said, "To atone for sins committed, perhaps. For things that I have done and have not done. I have failed in my charges because I lack conviction and strength." She wasn't fully aware of what she was saying, but she knew it was a truth she had buried deep and slowly it was being stripped into the light by this being. Time still halted, the voice called inside her head "Thou hath been judged. Your purpose strikes true. In turn, thou shall be given the conviction needed to carry out judgment of others. For weal or woe? It has yet to be seen. I send with thee a fragment of thy judgment and of thy balance." The voice began to dissipate "Go, and carry with thee what is needed to perform thy duty. Many hardships will thou face but we shall meet again when thou is ready to receive thy final judgment." Time lurched forward and Marishi staggered forward as if released from an iron grip. And she lurched, the top of the container she was holding also moved forward showing was encased inside. It was a weapon of intricate design and of beauty. A katana. Never before had she seen it's parallel. No artisan of the East made this weapon. It didn't appear to be hammer forged or tempered. It's as if it were part of the giant itself. The sheath lay next to it. Black lacquer and pearl inlay that had a quiet white glow to it that seemed to hum with the same current. She lifted the blade and its scabbard from the box. They were light and perfectly balanced. Almost as if they were made for her. She couldn't fully recall the conversation she thought she had but she could recall the awe and reverence she felt next to something divine and godly.

The carriage jostled slightly. Marishi must have dozed. The Sun was in the west now closing out the day and ushering in the night. "Best wake you and yours," the gruff and tired voice of the driver called out, "We'd be enterin' Castrum Oriens within the hour and that's as far as I'd take ye." Marishi looked out the windows and could see in the distance the imposing Baelsar's Wall and the Castrum spires that served as it's entrance. She drew a deep breath and let out a sigh. Rae was fast asleep still. Tail twitching at the dreams she was having. She knew she was exhausted not only from the previous night but from the recent events. She fretted over Marishi and that takes its toll on a person. Drains them as they pour their love and energy into someone who deserved neither. She reached out her slender hand from her cloak and gently shook Rae. "I'm sorry, I hate to wake you. We are close now. The driver will have us on the other side of the wall within the hour. Remember; we're merchants trying to ply our trade and wares on our way to Ala Mhigo. Make no threatening gestures or moves. We want to blend in. The Castrum has been converted to a camp it seems and there ought to be food and lodging for the remainder of the night. Come first light, we set out to our first destination. I fear you will have to protect me yet again, love." Marishi smiled. She couldn't manipulate Aether like Rae could and she never studied the arcane arts. Without her brandishing steel, she was helpless. But Rae, she needed no steel to conjure destruction or mending. She could decimate an army with a few waves of her hands. "Are you ready?" Marishi said with her hand out waiting for Rae to grasp it.

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She listened with undivided attention. The sound of the carriage was muffled by the closed windows and door. The creak and groan of the axle straining to keep the carriage up was barely heard as Rae's full attention was given to Marishi. She read about Ala Mhigo. She heard stories of Ala Mhigo. There were paintings in Sharlaya of the mountainous province. It oddly reminded her a lot of Thanalan, the land she spent a small portion of her life in as a child. Her memories of the land were as fleeting as her stay there, but the unmistakable smell of hot sand, resilient desert plants, and sweat. She wondered if Ala Mhigo would smell the same.

Marishi's admiration of Gaius was no secret to Rae. What she knew of this man came only from Marishi, and while he did perform some rather heinous works, he only had the best intent for the general people. To her, he was a villain, but to himself, he was a hero. Sometimes Rae wondered if her own actions would be seen as wicked by others. While she was loathe to spill blood, she, too, did not back down when the time called for such action.

While Marishi went on, Rae proceeded to eat her fill of food, savouring the taste of it while thinking upon the road ahead. Once she had finished her meal and packed away the leftovers, she sighed with contentment. Part of her wished this was the carriage that took them back home, but the other part of her was glad she was still with Marishi. Looking up, Rae smiled pleasantly to the woman across the carriage from her. Sleep. She wouldn't sleep, but perhaps meditate. Her night may have held restless dreams and her fretting over Marishi, but she felt rested enough. She first attempted to meditate by sitting upright, as she typically did, but this proved problematic to keep herself balance with the rocking of the carriage, so Rae took to laying on the bench, resting her eyes, placing her hands on her stomach and locking her fingers between one another.

Her meditation was always to clear out her thoughts and sort them. Which were more important? Which could go, and which could stay? Somewhere amid sorting through her thoughts, the gentle rocking of the coach and the quiet around them, as well as the sense of Marishi's presence beside her, she felt her consciousness slip. She didn't realize she was tired, but perhaps carriage rides always made her sleepy. It wasn't long before she turned to her side, pulling her hands up to rest under her head and her knees sliding up to tuck against her stomach. She rested peacefully, waking up once or twice to shift around a bit and get comfortable again. While Rae didn't typically like to rest the day away, there was little to do in a carriage, she would get bored far too quickly.

She didn't sense the carriage roll to a stop, nor did she hear the driver yell back at them. It wasn't until Marishi's hand gently roused her from her sleep that Rae sat up. Her eyes flickered open and she pushed herself upright, gazing around at the darkened windows. Had she slept the whole way? Perhaps she really was that tired. Looking back up to Marishi, she smiled a small, sleepy smile and took her hand, using it to pull herself up. She didn't let go of her hand after standing beside her partner. Instead, she took a step towards the carriage door and chuckled. "I would do so gladly, my love," she quipped. Rae hopped down the carriage steps and kept a hold of Marishi's hand while she glanced around the Castrum. The dying sunlight allowed her to see the weary faces of Alliance members and Ala Mhigan resistance fighters alike. Near the door that lead to the Fringes was set up a makeshift tent where she spotted a face she recognized: Raubahn. She should have known he would be here, though to see him without the Sultana on his shoulder or nearby was strange, but expected.

"My Star," she purred to Marishi with a sly smile on her face. "I won't make any threatening movements if these men keep their eyes and hands to themselves." She already felt eyes on them both, so she pulled her hood over her head and walked along the street, glancing about for an obvious place where they might find refuge for the rest of the night. A curious smell caught her nose and jerked her head to the left. An open door revealed what appeared to be a group of men and women talking, laughing, drinking, and eating. Rae tilted her head to the side and approached. It seemed the building was a barracks of sorts that the Garleans used to house their soldiers and was now used to house the remaining Alliance and Resistance fighters. There was a kitchen inside, as well. Rae's tail twitched and she glanced back to Marishi, offering her a question with just a look. Should they stay there?

"Make way!" bellowed a deep voice from behind them. Rae jumped to the side as a large, burly Roegadyn sauntered past them, making his way into the barracks-looking building. Among the boisterous soldiers sat a lone soldier with a paper and piece of wood trying to account for everyone. He would know if there was room available.

Rae approached the man, leaving Marishi behind her. He was garbed in the Twin Adder uniform, and she knew Marishi would prefer to keep her distance than risk recognition. "Excuse me, sir," she called out over the cacophony that filled the open area of the barracks. The soldier turned to her, looking slightly overwhelmed. Sympathy filled her and she smiled kindly to the man. "I'm sorry to be a bother, but my partner and I are travelling through here. We have goods we wish to trade with the in the newly liberated Ala Mhigo, but we must rest for the night. Do you know of any place we might stay?"

The soldier rubbed his face and looked at his paper, then back up at Rae. She had a kind smile on her face and the man seemed to lose a bit of his tenseness. "I-I don't know. I'll have to check, but this might take a bit and you're going to have to wait a while so I can-"

Rae giggled and shook her head. "Oh, that's fine. Take your time, good soldier. You seem to have your hands full and I'm in no rush, really," she replied, her voice soothing, but slightly bubbly. The man smiled with relief at her words, clearly worried she might not like his answer. "Is there anything I can help you with? You look horribly busy and I'd hate for you to over-exert yourself any more than you clearly have."

"Naaw," the soldier replied, smiling a little more now. He certainly liked that his hard work went recognized. "You'd have to have the numbers and recognize the faces of the soldiers and make sure they're all accounted for. This is a job only I can do; I'm afraid you can't help."

Another pleasant smile graced her lips and she nodded. "Ah! I understand. I'm sorry I can't help. Perhaps if I left you alone, you could focus better? I'll wait outside until-"

"Oh that won't be necessary," he quickly replied, glancing back at his paper. "If these numbers are right, there's at least 27 available rooms that anyone can occupy. I'm sure we can spare one for you and your business partner." The soldier looked up to Rae and smiled broadly.

Her right ear flicked rapidly a few times again and she blinked at the man. "Yes... my business partner," she murmured, glancing back to Marishi. "Come, my dear. We may occupy a room here!" The soldier's face immediately turned red while Rae held her hand out to Marishi, smiling to her, her tail flicking.

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Marishi said nothing as she was led past the soldier in the green and yellow garb. Though she wore her hood, she kept her face from the man. They entered the building where the other men were drinking and telling tales of their bravery, laughing and jabbing the air with their fingers. She readjusted her pack to give her back more comfort as they moved toward their quarters. Marishi smiled sardonically "27 rooms. Hardly. This is a barracks. There may be 27 beds available, but there is only this room." Lining the walls could be seen single beds stacked two high with stiff looking mattresses. "I'm afraid we'll be afforded very little privacy from here on out. Watch what you say. Trust no one. There are already some whom we have attracted attention to." Marishi said as she nodded slightly in the direction in one of the dark portions of the room. There were 3 men, two Highlanders, and one Hyur sitting together at a table with their eyes piercing Marishi and Rae both.

"We'd best find beds while we can. The darker the corner the better." Marishi let go of Rae's hand and her voice grew cold and sharp. All emotion removed "We cannot be seen as a couple. It is to invite weakness and exploitation. We are business associates merely sharing the road for there is safety in numbers." Marishi spun on her heel and promptly began moving quickly to one of the more shadowed beds that didn't have someone sleeping in it or belongings on it. She found two side by side. "I shall sleep on the right. You, the left. I take my leave of you." All emotion suppressed and shut down, she placed her pack on the bed and took her Wakazashi from it, sliding it down the small of her back, concealed by her cloak. she hated to treat Rae so, but it was for their protection. The both of them. If anyone of ill intent discovered that they were not only companions but lovers, they would use the other against them. Marishi had perfected the act of severing emotions.

She left the Barracks and stood on the paved road. She glanced to the right where she could see the Command Tent and the Flame General behind his war table. There were several other high ranking soldiers near him and pointing towards the map that lay on it. They were debating. Marishi couldn't hear the conversation, but she guessed the intent. There were still pockets of Garlean resistance scattered causing them no end of grief most likely. She turned her attention to two Ishgardian soldiers that stood off to themselves opposite the command tent speaking in low voices. They appeared to be of lower rank and likely easier to approach. Marishi pulled down the hood of her cloak, slightly loosened the string and unlaced the top portion of her tunic. Just enough skin showed to entice what lay underneath. She then quietly approached them, palms down, hips swaying slightly letting the campfires light her eyes and accent her features. "My Lords! It is good to see Men of the Fury here acting as spear and hoplon! I have heard of Ishgardian bravery, but to fight for a land and a people not our own..." She trailed off. It was clear that she had captivated their attention with her figure and honeyed words. "Aye, we've driven the bastards back and reclaimed the highlanders their home, we did. Where The Destroyer failed, the Fury succeeded! How have you found your way to these parts? This isn't a place for one so beautiful as yourself." The younger soldier said as he looked Marishi up and down with his eyes. "I'm a trader looking to ply my wares in Ala Mhigo ... and before you get any ideas, by wears I mean textiles and cloth," The man frowned in disappointment "as well as meet up with a  couple old friends who also hail from The Holy See. Has there been news from Ala Mhigo or The Reach? How are the roads? I see that there is cause to come and go armed..." Marishi trailed off. She had to be careful. Musn't be too eager for information on either the state of war or her "old friends". "Aye, they say Ala Mhigo is reclaimed and we've taken their Castrum and Castellum. There are still stragglers here and there that try to harass, but they've mostly turned to banditry and aren't a threat. The Reach is secured and is being used as the central operation camp for the campaign. Did you happen to need an escort on your way? Perhaps we can strike a bargain..." The soldier said. "No, your offer is most generous my lord, but I am traveling with a caravan and we should already be well protected." Information on the state of the war was the easy part. Now the part Marishi had to tread very carefully "As I said, I'm also looking for two dear friends of mine who also hail from Ishgard. Perhaps they passed through this way? They would be of nobility and of wealth. Important to the Church. Brothers. Would you happen to have seen them?" The taller soldier turned directly towards her. This caught his attention. "They may not have passed this way, I was just hoping ..." Marishi said in a soft voice. "Friend or no friend, we've orders to not give out any information on anyone of import that passed through this Castrum." The taller man hissed. "Oh, what's the harm? It's not like they made their presence hidden or anything. Aye, 2 Ishgaridan noblemen passed through here, though not on Chocobo, on airship. They docked a day or so at the large Garlean tower you make out just yonder. They were on their way to Ala Mhigo. Looked in a hurry too." The smaller man said. The other soldier said nothing but scowled darkly at his comrade. "Thank you, my lords. It was an honor to speak with you. May the Fury keep you safe." Marishi said drawing up her cloak and walking back towards the barracks.

It was later than she had anticipated and when she entered the fires had grown dim and the men had found their bunks for the night. She moved silently to the bed she had picked out next to Rae. She sat down on the bed and watched Rae's chest rise and fall in rhythm. She felt a pang of sadness and regret at treating her poorly hours earlier. Perhaps she shouldn't have been so harsh. Marishi steeled herself and clenched her jaw, attempting to rid herself of the remorse and guilt of being cruel to her wife. She pushed herself back against the bunk but she didn't lay all the way down. Being propped by her pack she closed her eyes, rested, and listened for any sudden sounds waiting for the grey light of dawn to begin to seep through the windows signaling the start of their journey.

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The moment Marishi's hand left hers, Rae pulled hers back to her side and clenched her fist, the folds of her cloak hiding her hand now. "Yes, I must have misunderstood him," she replied quietly, rubbing her face and heaving a sigh. She was hopeful the two of them wouldn't be stuck in a room full of men. She felt she could trust the Alliance members, but she knew better than that. Even now, she could feel hungry eyes on them. Were it that she had her grimoire and still practised the art of summoning, she would frighten these prying eyes... possibly in to attacking the two of them. Scared men killed that which they didn't understand. The fascination she experienced from those inquisitive men on Sharlaya was not found on this land. Though she grew up among the people under the same shade of trees in The Black Shroud and feeling the same warmth of the same sand beneath her feet in the deserts of Thanalan, she never was one of the people here. Her heart belonged to the wonder of the unknown and she would always embrace learning. These men would rather cower and snuff out the flame of inquire and learning than embrace advancing themselves. They truly are bar-

Her head shook, burying those thoughts deep. Deep down, she resented these men, but they knew no better. She had been impressed upon as a young girl in Sharlaya. Those scholars had no love for the dull minds they thought these people had, but she knew better than that. Rae cast a longing glance back to Marishi as she excused herself. The cover of her hood hid the look on her face from those eyes, but she wish Marishi could see it. With a soft sigh again, Rae set her satchel on the bed, pulled her rapier and magicked crystal off her belt and carefully laid it at her side, hiding it in her cloak so the others wouldn't see. Her rapier would be no good at extremely close range, but she still had her crystal with which she could conjure a spell of flame and engulf whatever decided to lay their hand on her while she slumbered.

She slept lightly, awoke when Marishi came near. She didn't need to open her eyes to hear the soft steps of her boots on the stone floor. Rae shifted slightly in her half sleep and wrapped her cloak tighter around her, sighing once more before drifting back to slumber. No dreams. No visions. Rae slept soundly through to day break.

As the sun peaked above the horizon, Rae's eyes fluttered open. It didn't take her long to remember where they were. The sensation of her side being jabbed with her crystal forced her to sit up and stretch, then fetch the crystal. She was quiet with her movements as she got out of bed and fixed her cloak and replaced her weapon at her side. Marishi, of course, was up the moment Rae roused. They were ready to go shortly after waking and outside waiting for their own Chocobos. With the carriage no longer an option, they were forced to ride the Chocobos to their next destination. It didn't affect her much. She had frequently rode Chocobos as they were the fastest mode of transportation. She missed her old Chocobo upon seeing the plainly yellow-coloured feathers of the Chocobo she'd be riding. The creature didn't seem to sense her disdain as she secured her satchel and its contents on the Chocobo's side. Once safely secure, Rae climbed onto its back and swung her leg over the other side of the saddle and got herself comfortable. 

Rae looked forward to Marishi, who was finally situated on her Chocobo. They both moved forward when Marishi beckoned her mount to do so. Men stepped aside as they moved forward slowly, testing their mounts' comfort with them on their back. Once outside the Castrum, the birds broke out into a light jog, then began picking up speed gradually until they were speeding along the winding path through the sparse forest that blanketed the Castrum. Their hoods wouldn't stay on their heads as they dashed along. Rae closed her eyes and smiled, breathing in deeply the smell of the forest. She missed it dearly. With it came memories of her life as a young child with her mother and father. The nostalgic aromas gave way to a new set. Rae opened her eyes to see the trees all but gone and in its place the familiar sight of sand and rocks. In the distance, the sight of wreckage of felled Garlean war ships and their mechanical soldiers still smouldering from fires that will not be quenched until the ceruleum burns up. Rae stared with half wonder at the machines. She only ever learned of the Garleans' advance with technology. They closely coincided with the technological entities of the Allagans since the Garleans learned so closely what the ancient race had done. She swallowed hard and gazed around more, taking in the scenery. It looked like Thanalan, but at the same time, it did not. The sand was more grainy. The trees that grew randomly looked as if they belonged in the Shroud which this province neighboured. 

To their left, there was a waterfall that could be seen between peaks of strangely-shaped rock formations that can't quite be called stalagmites, nor mountains. To herself, Rae wondered if those things were man-made or natural. Rae looked ahead and spotted a dark, ominous spire in the distance. She was far ahead of Marishi by this point, as her Chocobo seemed more spry and eager to reach the destination. Before they got too close to see any more of it, the Chocobos suddenly halted and squawked, trotting in spot like excitable fillies. Rae pet her Chocobo's head, encouraging it to silence and continue on, but she knew the raptor-like bird could sense something she did not. With her mount not willing to listen to her, Rae jumped off her mount to examine the area, but before she could get too far, an arrow shot past her face. She instinctively pulled back and her Chocobo let out a surprised squawk, but Rae kept a firm grip on its reigns so it couldn't dart off. Her eyes darted to where the arrow came. There was little cover, but if she had been paying attention, she could have seen the three soldiers ducking behind a bush. "Just three, huh?" Rae murmured, turning to face them. Before she could say more, the sound of more soldiers approaching from behind and to her right were heard. She blinked rapidly upon seeing three more ahead of her and three more behind her. "Nine, huh?" She cursed under her breath and went to get on her mount, but another arrow flying past her stopped her.

"Don't even think about it, cat," one soldier spat. They were Garleans. They appeared to be in dire straits. One looking almost sickly from starvation while the other, bandaged with what appeared to be week-old, well-used bandages, looking near death. "Give us all your belongings." The same soldier ordered forcefully. He looked the healthier of the bunch and ready to take to fighting if needed. The others were in no shape which became increasingly more evident as they drew nearer.

One soldier glanced from where Rae had come and grunted. "Here comes another one." He muttered. For a brief moment, everyone's attention was on Marishi. That was just enough time for Rae to reach at her sides, pulling out her rapier and crystal and attaching them both. In two quick movements, she channelled her power through the crystal and summoned the power of earth and sent a heavy, sturdy rock flying at the healthier soldier, then spun on her heal and shot a blast of fire at the three blocking their way forward. The three from behind yelled in surprise and hesitated before charging forward. Rae urged her Chocobo to stay with her by hooping her arm through the reigns and using it to guide the Chocobo to block the three from reaching her.

The three she threw the stone at had stumbled back, one getting hit by the debris of her summon and falling to the ground, not moving. "You bitch!" Shouted the soldier and charged at her. She kept her calm while focusing her power in a burst between the groups to keep them at bay until Marishi could arrive to help her. With another cast, she sent an explosion of red between the two that charged in front of her and glanced to the others at her right, but they were dealing with being on fire to be a problem to her. Rae sent a second blast with her Dualcast abilities at the group behind her, causing them to scatter. "Damned Red Mages!" Bellowed another soldier, loading an arrow up to his bow and aiming it directly at Rae.

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