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Ever Turning Wheels

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Rae had to cleanse herself. Her clothes dripped with the blood of the Highlander she murdered, staining the grainy sand beneath her feet. She walked with an exaggerated pace, not wanting to be stopped. As she moved, her thoughts whirled. Like the pool beneath the waterfall, her thoughts spun around and turned in upon itself. There were no ends to her train of thought, only beginning of new ones. She was being carried by her legs, but she did not control them. They moved on their own accord, taking her at last to the room they were to stay in. Rae stood there, feeling lost. What would she do? Wait for Marishi? No. She couldn't see her. She felt shame. She felt embarrassment. She felt guilt. Guilt for looking at her wife with such indifference. Embarrassment for dragging her along, not bothering to ask what she wanted. Shame for how she felt then and now. She loved Marishi. She loved her more than words could articulate, but then, her actions certainly didn't show it.

"I must bathe," Rae murmured under her breath. She fetched a towel and left. The blood had since dried on her clothes, so she fetched a different set of clothing to change in to after her bath. She wanted to burn those other clothes. She wanted to forget this night. She wanted to forget the contempt she held for her wife when she failed to exact her revenge. Rae gasped as a flood of shame and embarrassment washed over her, gripping at her throat and heart, threatening to choke her. How could she face Marishi again? What a horrible wife she must be! Rae wanted to run, to put this behind her. How dare she claim to love Marishi when she did that? She dragged her to face her assailant when it was clear Marishi wanted nothing to do with him! And for what? To satisfy Marishi's thirst for revenge? No, this wasn't about Marishi. This was about her. She was selfish. She was blind. She was obsessed. 

Rae had reached the bath house and was given a room to bathe in. Immediately, she tore off her clothes  and used a cup to pour water on her arms and legs to wash the dried blood off first, then climbed into the tub and sunk into the water, submerging her head. Her red hair floated above her head like tendrils of copper blood. How she wished she could drown herself. Anything to stop this shame she felt. That she could undo what she had done, that she could go back and stop herself from forcing her wife through that. She should be supporting her and building her back up, not this. She was being selfish.

'Selfish.' Rae thought. Even now she was acting selfish. This wasn't about her. This isn't about what she feels. This is about Marishi. Rae resurfaced and gasped for air, gulping down lungfuls as she brushed her hair out of her face. She needed to get back to Marishi and be with her. She needs her now more than ever. With haste, Rae scrubbed down her body and cleaned her hair, then got out of the tub and dried off, pulling on her clothes. She wore simple clothes this time. A simple crimson tunic with a gray wrapping and black, thin rope around her waist, a pair of narrow hempen pants, black in colour. Flat boots to make travel easier, and her rapier fashioned after Bahamut.

She quickly moved back to their room. It was incredibly late. Marishi was most likely asleep by now, so she'd have to be cautious when returning. Her hair still dripped from the bath water, as she didn't wring it out well enough. She paid it no mind, however. Once she reached the room, Rae quietly opened the door. She was met by Marishi, as she froze. Shame threatened to swallow her up in its eternal abyss once more, but Marishi spoke and spared her the misery. As she went on, Rae felt her heart swell. This was her wife. She was never too difficult for her. She was never too needy. Rae remained still until Marishi was done, once freed from her motionless state, she swept across the room and cupped Marishi's cheeks in both hands and pressed her lips firmly against her's. Rae didn't move, she didn't break. Her breaths came deeply through her nose as she kissed Marishi with passion and love. The connection freeing Rae of any doubts or turmoil. With Marishi, she felt joy. With Marishi, she felt pace. 

With the most painful reluctance, Rae pulled her lips away from Marishi's, but kept their faces close. "Marishi, I love you more than words could say. What I did was unthinkable and I should have thought more before I put you in a situation like that. I promise we will be side by side throughout this. I love you." Rae sealed her last confession of love with a kiss and brushed the hair from Marishi's face and affectionately stroked her cheek.

"My moonlight," Rae murmured, kissing Marishi's forehead quickly. " What are you thinking? It is getting late and we have had... a lot to feel these past few hours. Shall we sleep? I long to lay bedside you again and feel your warmth and presence near." Rae held onto Marishi like she would never let go. She spoke to her with a tone so soft and sweet. She gazed upon her with adoration and immeasurable happiness. Rae couldn't be any happier with anyone not anything else. Marishi was more than everything to her. 

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“Sleep …” Marishi said. Rae was right it was getting late into the night and though she was emotionally drained, she hadn’t thought of sleep. “Yes, I should retire.” She said moving away from Rae and un cinching her sash. “This will be the last night I sleep in the night. I can no longer go out in broad daylight due to my … disability.” She gently touched her fingers to her eyebrow right above her eye. “Ironic, is it not? A Seeker of The Sun confined to darkness to be more akin to a Keeper of The Moon.” She smiled sarcastically. She moved behind a screen to fully undress and change, not wanting Rae to see her. She knew she had to say something to Rae. She felt her hurt expression through the screen. “I’m sorry, Rae. I just – don’t want you to see me. It’s not that I don’t love you, but – I cannot explain it.”

She put in a simple tunic white and spun of cotton. It was long sleeved even though it was warm in the room. She had put on cotton spun long pants dyed black. She folded her armor and placed everything neatly on the dresser next to the screen. Ready for tomorrow. She stepped out from the screen, feeling nervous and running her nails through her hair while staring at the ground. An old habit she developed whenever she was nervous, or shy. “I’m ready. But – and please, don’t misunderstand – but I would rather not be touched right now. Maybe in time … but not now. I’m sorry. It is all still too soon and real.” Marishi whispered. She knew it would hurt Rae and even she herself didn’t fully understand, but she felt ashamed, unworthy, unclean. Her ordeal had damaged her psyche. The road to recovery being long and slow going.

Marishi walked to the bed, barefoot and climbed in, pulling the soft pelts over her. She looked so small compared to the oversized blankets and bed. Rae joined her. Staying close, but honoring Marishi’s wishes. The first rays of dawn were starting to crest the eastern horizon and Marishi lay awake for a while, letting her mind wander. It never strayed far from what she was part of only hours ago. Finally, she closed her eyes and she slept.

Marishi stood upon a shore, but unlike any she had seen before. The water rolled forward and back, but the smell of salt was overbearing. She was standing on the shores of a large Salt Lake. “The Salt Lake of Ala Mhigo” she said to herself even though she had never laid eyes upon it. Then, she floated into the sky high up to gaze at her surroundings. She looked down. She wasn’t scared she was going to plummet back to the earth. An invisible hand had lifted her up and gently held her in its palm. The Salt Lake was large and in the midday Sun it held a mirror reflection of what It surrounded. The great city of Ala Mhigo. She stared at the city and its beautiful mirror image until the hand began to gently turn her to the north and the west. A massive staircase made of stone rose in the air hundreds of feet to end at what appeared to be a landing. It was fenced off all around the top. Marishi was puzzled and felt a sense of dread. The gentle hand seemed to have a gentle voice for even though it did not speak, it explained what she viewed. This was a great staircase meant to offer prayer to The Destroyer. Though the stairs remained the statue that was once towering above it did not. Broken near the base below, she could make out the statues feet. This was also the location of public executions carried out by one of the last kings of Ala Mhigo. Theodoric the Mad. He would personally execute anyone and everyone he thought guilty of sedition on that landing lobbing off their heads and letting them crash upon the stairs to the ground. They were to serve as an example.

Marishi had heard about the mad king when she was a child. The men whispering about the death and carnage he wrought. That he would not stop with Ala Mhigo. That he would bring war to the alliance on their soil. Marishi understood why the great status was no longer standing. The Garleans. They tore down and outlawed and all worshipping of deities of any kind and defaced any idol said to resemble one. To believe is to have faith, to have faith is to pray, to pray is to manifest. They feared an uprising of the people as they would fly under a flag of faith, but they also feared the summoning of an Eikon. Faith, prayer, and aether is all that’s needed to call forth the gods from the heavens. At a price. The summoning bleeds the land dry of the very sustenance it needs to thrive. Syphoned from the manifested and twisted version of the projected wants and desires of the faithful.

The hand turned her further to the north and west and let her take in the view of what appeared to be a large cemetery. The sky darkened as heavy clouds appeared oppressing everything to the ground. The clouds were yellow and orange in color, bathing The Lochs in an unnatural red light, making the sandstone ranges appear as pillars of blood. There was a cave near the cemetery, where the nobility and royal families were interred. Tombs and coffins lined the walls barred with rusting and disintegrating iron bars. The best, and worst, of Ala Mhigo slept in those catacombs. Not all slept. Their vengeful spirits roaming the empty halls to prey upon which they envied. The living.

The hand turned her in the opposite direction now, pausing briefly on the White Aisle. The pathway to the main gates of the city. It spanned over the Salt Lake in beautiful and intricate laid brick and mason work. This was different from the other areas of The Lochs. The mason work was immaculately maintained and kept in full working order. Not a brick out of place. Marishi began to feel a sense of urgency from the invisible guide. It wanted to show her this place and it was running out of time. Something was coming. Something it could not hold back.

The hand pointed her toward south and east where she beheld a beautiful and lush garden full of blooming flowers and massive Oak, Ash, and Cottonwood trees. Also, heavily maintained and pruned. She knew it was the Queen’s Garden. A king of Ala Mhigo whose name is lost to antiquity had built this garden for his beautiful wife to display his love for her upon her passing. It was serene there. A stark contrast from the bone white salt flats.

The hand began to lower Marishi to the ground. It was gentle and slow, then lurched suddenly plummeting Marishi to the ground. It regained its grip though it was much weaker. And weakening. It set Marishi safely on the ground. The oppressive clouds and strange orange hue remaining. A wind picked up, strong and harsh. Marishi could feel the hand trying to protect her from the wind, though it itself was being ripped to shreds by it. She felt the hands fade away to nothing. The wind still howling she looked at the shore. The water frothy from the squall. “I’ve seen this before…” she said to herself. Then, the wind stopped. Everything stopped. All sound, all movement. The salt water ebbing and flowing silently. Marishi became scared, not knowing why. There felt like something was intaking all the air to blow her out of existence. The water ebbed its blue green color but flowed blood. The entire lake was filled with blood and bodies floating on the surface. A bright flash followed by crackling of lightning broke the silence and brought Marishi to her knees holding her ears and screaming incoherently. There were so many mangled bodies in the lake and washing to shore. All peoples of all races, beaten, stabbed, quartered, shot. They all had the same lifeless expression in their eyes and they were all staring at one thing. Marishi refused to look in that direction. Another sizzle of lightning causing her to flinch in terror. Then, a sound that made her blood cold and despair envelop her. The beating of wings. Massive wings. She knew this sound from The Calamity, but even those wings were dwarfed by this new abomination.

The beat from the wings created a wind that physically pushed her back and forced her to stand. Crouching down Marishi held her hands in front of her body to help lessen the cyclone all around her. It spun her to face the length of the shore and the beating winds stopped, only to be replaced something so large falling it was pushing her to the ground just from its gravitational force. An earthquake erupted cracking the land in two, bodies and blood falling into the abyss to fill the bottomless fissures. Marishi knew something was in front of her. She knew it had noticed her, but she would not look up. Frightened that viewing the entity would drive her sanity from her mind. The thing wanted her to look upon it. Forced her to raise her head. The gentle hand long since perished.

It was something akin to a dragon. Marishi had seen dragons before being from the Coerthas highlands. She had seen them flying tip to tip en route to Ishgard to exact their revenge and raze the city. She had even seen the Elder Wyrm Nidhogg as it circled upon high tormenting the city. But this thing made everything else look like flies by comparison. It was grotesquely large with malms wide wing span. It’s body draining silver and brass in color sucking the light from the sky. “Shinryu” Marishi whispered. The dragon answered with deafening screech and beat of its wings.

Her Katana was in her hand. She looked down at it. It’s pulsing light weak and pitiful. She looked up at the monstrosity before her. It’s emerald eyes gazing at her with idle amusement and curiosity. She tried to take a step forward, but her feet would not move. She dropped her katana, it’s light flickering and fading. Sucked away by this creature. Shinryu didn’t have to kill her. The beast alone draining aether from all living things to sustain itself, including Marishi. She felt weak and fell to her knees. A withered husk she could almost hear the dragon laugh mockingly at her as it took flight and left. She fell face down on the now whole shore of the Salt Lake and began to close her eyes.

She thought she heard the eruption of a firearm going off in the distance. The last thing she felt before passing on were eyes staring at her. Boring holes into her with its gaze of hatred and anger.

Then she was no more.

Marishi slowly opened her eyes. She found herself unharmed and safely in the room she and Rae had been staying. The curtains pulled over the window to shield the Sun from entering into the room. Rays of light making their way through the small crack in the middle. Even that little of light made Marishi squint in pain. She looked over to find Rae still fast asleep. She arose slowly and gathered her arms and armor from the top of the dresser and quietly left to the bath house. She greeted the clerk and asked the time. “’bout 5 in the evenin’ therebouts.” The clerk replied. “Thank you” Marishi said softly as she walked to the bath house. She nervously entered hoping for there to be no other patron also bathing. She was relieved to hear no sounds nor see anyone. She set her effects on a stool next to the tub in the back and drew hot water. When the tub was full, she undressed and soaked herself. It seemed an age since she had bathed, though she was bathed at The Barber. She used a bar of tallow to scrub herself clean and a small sharp paring knife to shave.

She emerged from the tub clean and feeling better than she had in days. The horrors that were endured washing away with the soapy water. She folded her sleepwear neatly and dressed in her new garb. Finally, she placed her Katana, blade up in her sash on the left of her body and right below it, her wakizashi. She reached to the small of her back but stopped short. She no longer had her tanto having lost it during the assault. She walked out of the bathhouse fully garbed and armed. The clerk’s eyes widening in surprise at seeing a fair skinned female Miquot’e dressed and armed with items from the Far East.

Marishi walked to the door and quietly entered the room expecting Rae to be asleep still. To her surprise, Rae was awake and had not only dressed but had packed both of their satchels and re-provisioned them. “Seems I’m not as mysterious as I thought I was” Marishi said entering the room. “You knew I wished to depart tonight. All the better, as the Resistance has likely found one of it’s own dead and will begin investigating.” There was no malice or anger in her voice as she spoke, but love and care. “Come, we are expected and the road is long. We are to make our way from here to a place called ‘The Peaks’. Home to several hamlets and … Quiquirn. Oddly enough.” She let out a small laugh as the two gathered the rest of their belongings and closed the door behind them, leaving the last embers in the fireplace to flicker and fade to darkness.

It was past 7 as they left the Hostel. The Sun having already set in the early winter skies. They walked hand in hand together, not speaking, but feeling comforted and content just being in one another’s presence. They arrived at the stables to an awaiting Galiena shortly after. “Yer lookin’ well Marishi. I’m truly glad that ya turned out in one piece.” Galiena playfully said. “I am in your debt Galiena. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here. I can never repay your act of kindness … Thank you, Galiena. For saving my life.” Marishi humbly said to the surprise of both Galiena and Rae. “You did all the hard work, not me. But enough of all that. I reckon that yer itchin’ to be off. Word has it that an officer of the Resistance was found this mornin’ takin’ a dirt nap. Few tears’ll be shed over that piece o’ garbage, but all the same, ya best scuttle.” Gailena said. She beckoned both Marishi and Rae inside the stables to where their Chocobos were boarded. “I pulled some strings and I ya both the finest and fastest Chocobos the Reach has. Hate to see ‘em go, but I know they’re in good hands. I also have this for ya.” She gave Marishi a small wooden cylinder. “Yer gonna need that to make it through The Peaks and to Ala Ghiri. From there, yer to travel to Castrum Abania. Don’t worry, though ya have ta pass through the Castrum, it’s free and safe now. On the other side yer going to find yerself in The Lochs. Home to the city of Ala Mhigo. Take the White Aisle and don’t go near the water. It’s all pretty to look at and all, too bad It’s acidic. Follow the Aisle up to the Gates of Ala Mhigo. One of my boys’ will be expectin’ ya. Now, off with ya before I call the guards!” Gailena laughed and winked.

They mounted their Chocobos, secured their belongings and trotted to the exit of The Reach. Marishi stopped at the exit and turned around. It was beautiful, in a way she thought. She pulled the wooden cylinder from her satchel and opened it. There was a detailed map inside marking their route and all points of possible interest. A gift indeed. Marishi turned towards Rae and said “And so ends our journey, though where there’s and ended, one will always find a new beginning. Can you hear it? The road is calling to us.” Marishi said melodically. The road was her home and she was eager to return. She held her hand out to Rae and said “Ready, my love?”

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Despite every fibre of her being wanting to fight it, Rae remained obedient of her wife's wishes. Just as she stayed at the side of the bed as Marishi slipped behind the screen to undress, Rae waited until Marishi had settled in to bed before climbing in, remaining as close as she possibly could without reaching out to touch her wife's soft, pale skin. She did not wrap her arms around her and nestle her face into her wife's delicate neck and breathe in her soothing scent. No, Rae kept to herself and laid facing Marishi. She did not close her eyes. Rae laid there watching over her wife as the sun rose. Their schedules were changed in an instance. Their lives of basking in the glory of the sun were over and now they revelled in the moon. She quietly wondered how the nocturnal animals lived without knowing what the sun was like at noon. Surely they had, however. Even the creatures that were awake during the daytime saw that midnight looked like. Perhaps it was because she was awake during the daytime, but it always felt like there was more sunlight than there was moonlight.

She blinked slowly, her eyelids feeling heavier now. At least now, she thought, she would be closer to the stars. She had studied them for a brief time while on Sharlaya under the guidance of a dear friend of hers. Rae always had a fascination with the stars and constellations. She longed to be an Astrologian, but when the call of the Red Mage came, she could not ignore it. She blinked again, slower, eyes not opening fully. "She's imbalanced. If you train her in one field and she'll lose control of the other and kill herself." Her master's voice echoed in her head. He was emboldened by the recent events that had left her and her friend seriously injured. "She must come with me, or you all will face the consequences of your selfish desires."

She blinked once more, but her eyes did not open.

Nothing. There was no dream. There was no vision. She floated in a blackness that filled her consciousness. Despite no dream, she felt watched. No one was near her in the infinite void she existed in, but eyes were upon her. She felt... hunted.

Her eyes opened slowly. A single, waning shaft of light gleamed through the window. She remained motionless throughout her sleep, or so she believed, as she was still facing where Marishi once laid. Her wife was up and about even before she was, yet again. With a deep breath, Rae sat up from the bed and stretched, arching her back and her tail raising with her muscles that tensed as she worked out the sleep from her body. They had quite a voyage ahead of them that day. She wanted to get as far away from this place as possible with the amount of darkness they'd be given. It was summer now, so there would be more sunlight. That meant they didn't have a whole lot of time to work with considering Marishi's condition. Rae threw on a simple change of clothes. A deep red tunic that covered her shoulders, a knee-length shorts that clung to her figure, a pair of boots that went above her knee and mid-thigh, then threw on a cloak over top it all. The clothes were plain in appearance, but the mobility it offered allowed her the freedom of using her spells and her skill with the rapier in close range. She didn't require much to enhance her power with the weapon, but the cloak she wore was blessed with magic-enhancing properties. She rarely wore it, however, as she noticed little difference, and the cloak itself was... unsightly to her.

Rae set about preparing their baggage, throwing out the old leftovers. She did not wish to voyage far from the room in case Marishi returned, but she needed to refill their supplies. She made her shopping trip quick. She stopped at a few stalls and fetched the produce and dried meat she'd need as well as the grains. Four rolls and some grain. She'd make bread later on so they wouldn't have to keep buying them. There was enough for a week's worth of food between the two of them. If they needed to restock in between, it'd be through hunting and gathering.

Rae had finished fetching her list and returned to the room, shrugging off the cloak at the door and letting it fall onto the chair beside her while she put the luggage together. The food and ingredients went into her bags while Marishi's change of clothes went into her own bag. She had them ready to go just as Marishi walked in through the door. Rae's tail twitched and she smiled to her. She looked to be more alive today. Perhaps that bath was what she needed. The sun was set and they had their gear ready to go. Rae carried her bags, intending on purchasing a Chocobo, but before they got too far from their room, a familiar voice called out to them. Rae spun around on her heel and watched the approach of their informant, Gailena. Rae remained respectfully quiet while the two exchanged words, but offered a bow and her thanks at the mention of Chocobos being prepared for them already. As they were brought out, Rae took Marishi's bags and tied them up to the Chocobo's saddle, then tied her bags up as well. The Chocobos were a fine breed. Their feathers a vibrant yellow and their muscles looked strong. They were alert and well-rested, which meant they'd carry them a long way before they'd need to rest again.

Rae turned to Marishi as she approached and smiled to her. Once both of them saddled and  they were on their way out, Rae turned to look back at the place with Marishi. She held conflicted emotions for this place. While it was beautiful and she did have a few moments of happiness, it brought a bitter taste to her mouth. She wanted to put her feelings--and this place--behind her. Her eyes met Marishi's when her wife turned to face her again and speak. A warm smile creased her features and Rae held out her hand, taking Marishi's and nodding. "I'm ready to answer that call, my dearest." Rae answered. With that, they were finally off.

The Peaks were quite interesting indeed. It wasn't quite lush with vegetation, but it wasn't a desert, either. From Rhalgr's Reach, they came to the western part of The Peaks called The Last Forest. The trees and plants were unlike anything Rae had ever seen before. She had read up on the many plants that populated the world, but seeing them in person was an entirely different experience. She wondered if her knowledge of the poisonous plants was fluent enough that she wouldn't accidentally kill herself and her wife when they gathered for supplemental ingredients. The wildlife was also sparse. She partially wondered if this was because of the Garlean presence that once plagued that area. As they carried along, Rae and Marishi spoke lightly. Rae did her best to keep Marishi's mood up. The whole valley they were in was surrounded by large, mountainous peaks that reached up to the sky like fingers from the earth. Some of the mountain ranges sprouted up from the middle of the valley. Anyone from above could see the lush greenery below, but not if approaching at a certain angle. It would be easy to miss this place if flying too carelessly. The castrum was easy to spot from their position, even after they were blocked from its direct view by smaller versions of the peaks that jutted from the ground. Their path took them close to the strange temple the Qiqirn had built. It appeared to be an upside-down pyramid, which confused and intrigued Rae at the same time. How could such a structure be created without its integrity being destroyed from the imbalance of gravity?

To their left lay a river, shallow and filled with monsters that craved the taste of flesh. Avoiding the river, they carried on up a ramp of a broken bridge, and took it as far as it would take them. Large monsters and more Qiqirn blocked their way, but with the cover of night, they managed to slip past them. Most of the creatures were slumbering, at least. Perhaps taking the night for their own wasn't such a bad thing after all. Unfortunately, Rae wasn't staying conscious very well. They were well within the Whitherwander by that point and the moon had vanished behind the peaks and the stars were fading, heralding the arrival of the sun. "Marishi," Rae called out, pointing to the sky. "We should find a place to rest soon. It's going to be light out." 

It didn't take long before they spotted a sufficient resting spot. The outcrop of stones created a crevasse-like shelter that allowed them to hide within its opening. This would obscure their view of the outside world, but also make it nearly impossible for the creatures to see them unless they approached it directly and walked within its confines. Once the two were settled in and their Chocobos fed and resting, Rae set out a mat for Marishi and placed her bag of clothes at the head of it, then offered her cloak as a blanket. That done, Rae turned and sat against the wall beside the mat she placed, then slid down. Her fatigue vanished as the light of dawn cascaded into their cave. It was still dark within the deeper part of the cave, thankfully. "I'm not tired. I'll stay awake and keep watch until I get tired. I spotted a few Suuds poking around when I was getting some water. I imagine they won't fit in here, but still." Rae explained. Though she didn't feel tired, her voice sounded of it. Rae kept her rapier in her hand and the crystal attached to it. She was ready to cast a spell at any given moment, or pierce the flesh of whatever being came through that entrance uninvited. "Get some rest, my Moonlight. I'll be here." Rae said, turning to Marishi and smiling softly and comfortingly to her.

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Marishi had only read about The Peaks once in a dusty tome in a year-long forgotten. There were large bridges that spanned the gaps of the mountain ranges and connected places of prayer together like a chain. It was not so now. The bridges long broken and their holy ground long since defaced. Their pace was quick.

Marishi was in high spirits. As high as they could be. Her mind was active and drawn to other matters. She had purpose and something to do. As they passed the pyramid, Marishi noticed Rae taken with it. “They call that the ‘Ziggurat’. It’s said that it was built shortly after the 6th Umbral Era. The War of The Magi. After the flood, the aether in the area was unbalanced and volatile causing extreme weather patterns. It’s said that the ‘Ziggurat’ was built to be an anchor point for that aether that was able to stabilize the region. Or that’s how the story goes. Something to that effect.” Marishi explained. “Funny, I don’t recall where I read that. Anyway, it looks like a beast tribe has taken up residence there now. Best we steer clear.”

Marishi could see Rae starting to slumber and slip in the saddle. She wasn’t used to night travel. Rae may never become used to it. She was also a Seeker of The Sun. Her ancestry worshipped the Sun and loved basking in it. Forcing her to adopt the Moon saddened Marishi. Though she herself was also a Seeker. There were other tribes of Miquot’e who preferred the starlight, distant cousins, the Keepers of The Moon.

Marishi heard the weariness in Rae’s voice. “Yes, it’s getting quite late and Dawn will soon be upon us. I am sorry, Rae. Forcing you to twilight while your heart yearns for the firmament. Perhaps with time, I’ll adjust and it won’t be so bad.” Marishi said.

As Rae assumed the position of guard duty, Marishi laid down on her side with her elbow propping her up, looking at Rae. “I doubt there is any need for guard duty. Not here at least. But if you insist, I’ll not challenge you.” Marishi said light-heartedly. “Do you know what I was thinking on the ride? I was thinking of a story my master in the Far East told me once when I was young, long ago. He said the story was from antiquity. You’ve likely heard it though. The scholars in Sharlaya at the best in the world. Nevertheless, would you like to hear it?” Marishi asked. Rae’s eyes lit up in happiness. It wasn’t often that Marishi spoke of herself, let alone of her past, and she certainly never told stories.

“Long, long ago lived two Gods. Izanagi and Izanami. They gave birth to many other Kami, but Izanami died giving birth to the fire god. Izanagi was saddened by this and missed his wife so, he traveled to the underworld. The world of the dead. Yomi. To find her. And he did find her, though she forbade him from looking at her. Izanami explained that as she had eaten food cooked in Yomi, she could no longer return to the realm of the living. Izanagi decided to stay with her. After a time, Izanagi became curious and lit a torch and broke his promise. He looked upon Izanami. No longer his beautiful wife, but a horrible rotting monster. This scared Izanagi and he ran away from Izanami and Yomi. When he emerged, he felt unclean and went to wash his face from the horrors he witnessed.” Marishi could see Rae beginning to drift off to sleep. Lullabied by Marishi’s soft and musical voice. Rae was still listening, but her eyes were closed. Marishi smiled and continued. “As he washed, he birthed Kami known today. As he washed he left eye, he birthed the Goddess of the Sun, Amaterasu. From his right eye he washed, he gave birth to the Goddess of The Moon, Tsukuyomi. They climbed the celestial ladder together and married. There was a great dispute between the two and, Amaterasu angered by Tsukuyomi’s actions refused to look upon her again moving to another part in the sky. This is why the Sun and Moon are never together. At least, that’s how the story goes.”

Marishi smiled as Rae’s chin rested upon her chest. She had fallen asleep. Marishi slowly rose and placed her cloak over her. Marishi didn’t return to the makeshift bed, but instead sat next to Rae, bringing her close, both sharing the same blanket, Marishi’s head resting on Rae’s shoulder. “Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi love each other still and when the world ends, they will make amends and be together again. Forever. I will be your Moonlight if you would be my Sunshine.” Marishi whispered as she too fell asleep.

Both slept soundly and well into the evening, waking as the Sun began it’s decent to be replaced by its counterpart. Marishi began packing away their equipment while Rae made supper. Marishi wondered if Rae remembered the story she told her. It didn’t matter. She wanted Rae to sleep peacefully and it seemed that she accomplished her objective. After supper, they washed and refilled their flasks at a nearby stream and mounted their Chocobo’s to leave. “According to the map, we should make for a place called Ala Ghiri. It’s marked as not a hamlet, but an actual village. It’s several malms still and I don’t think we’ll make it by Sun up. Hmm.” Marishi pondered. “There’s a marking here, but it’s hard to make out. It looks like ‘Goodblade’. Perhaps a hamlet or trading post? We should be able to make it there before the morrow. There’s even a shallow lake there it looks like. Are you prepared Sunshine?” Marishi asked with a smile on her face at the playful name she had given Rae that morning.

They set at a brisk pace. Their Chocobo’s living up to their prestige. The limestone pillars rising into teeth blotting out the stars. It was nearly a full waxing moon and the light created a blueish tint against the white canvas of the mountain range. Marishi and Rae conversed lightly, laughing. Truly two that were in love with one another. It was briefly interrupted when Marishi pulled her mount to a stop and turned around. She could swear she heard rocks falling from the foothills to her left. She sat a moment straining to hear, but there was no follow-up sound save for the nocturnal animals to and fro and the symphony of the crickets as they played their songs. Marishi shrugged it off and returned to her place by Rae’s side.

Just before dawn as the moon was failing, they came upon Goodblade. Stone buildings stood at its center with direct access to water through a sluice. It was quiet. Far too quiet for a settlement. “The hamlet looks abandoned. Look, over there. Rubble from a building or two. The Garleans sacked the place it seems. Perhaps took all here and conscripted them. I don’t see or hear anyone at all here. Let’s have a look around.” Marishi rode up to the center of the hamlet and dismounted. She placed her Katana in her sash at her hip, grip horizontal to the ground. Ready to unsheathe at a moment’s notice. There were no lights in the buildings, no fires, no trading stalls, no smells of cooking, no sound of children crying or Men preparing for the day’s work. Marishi walked up to a building that looked like a private home and pressed her ear to the door. No sound. The Sun was beginning to rise and Marishi had already developed a headache from it. The headache would intensify to a migraine and ultimately, to temporary blindness if they didn’t make haste. She placed her hand on the door and pushed it open. It wasn’t locked. Marishi quickly glanced inside and walked quickly to her Chocobo. She led it on foot to a stable post behind the building. “It’s abandoned. It hasn’t been used in quite some time from the looks of things. It seems people left in a hurry. Or were taken. Tie your Chocobo up and grab your satchel. We’ll stay here for the night – err – day.” Marishi said.

They took their belongings and entered the abandoned home, Rae first then Marishi. As she was walking in the door, she could have sworn she saw movements of something near the water line. Unable to investigate, she blamed her senses on her fatigue and adjustment to her disability. She saw Rae’s look. “I don’t like it either. There is an eeriness to the place. But we’ve not much choice. I’m sorry Rae.” Marishi said ashamed. She closed the door, locked it, and wedged a chair under the doorknob as an additional barrier. “What are you thinking?” She asked.

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Rae had settled in to Marishi's story-telling. Relaxing, but still on guard. She had briefly read about the lore of the world, the beliefs that were shared, passed down as bedtime stories. The Sharlayans had pride in their collection, but what she learned from her teacher was never something from fairy tales. Her friend taught her a bit about the lore of the world, about the Twelve,  the gods--called Kami--from the East. While she was interested, she was never afforded the opportunity. The tale lulled her to sleep. The last thought she had before succumbing to sleep was how nice it was for Marishi to do this for her. It was rare, but the gentle, affectionate side she saw from Marishi was what pulled her to her more. Her heart tugged closer to Marishi's, warming her soul and sending her away to her dreams.

Stifling. The presence was stifling. She could feel a hand reaching out to her, reaching to grasp her neck, to snuff out the remaining flame she held. Rae fled. She ran and ran down corridors she never walked before. She never took a moment to glance around to see where she was, she only ran forward, knowing if she stopped, it would catch her. Ever she ran, but still the presence of the invisible hand stretching to snatch her up was behind her. She knew it would kill her if it caught her. How she knew it, she couldn't recall. A wall stopped her progress, and no matter where she turned, more walls appeared. The hand pushed her against the wall and pinned her there. Hot breath of a dragon breathed onto her ear, singing her hair. "I've found you, finally." It said to her. Rae's pulse quickened and she breathed jaggedly, fear coursing through her. Death was coming. The jaws opened as the dragon prepared to swallow her, and all she could think of was the hand pressed against her. It felt human... so why was a dragon going to kill her? A dream. This was a dream. Suddenly she was falling, cascading into the darkness below that opened up, saving her from the death she would surely have had.

Rae awoke, eyes slowly opening as she felt the cool earth on her cheek. She had slipped over in her sleep and was on her side. Her heart was pounding. It maintained a steady pace, but it thundered in her chest like the pounding of a giant's fist onto its imprisonment. Rae sat herself up slowly, shaking her red hair and combing out the dirt from it, then rubbed her face with the back of her hand. Marishi had beaten her once again, having awoken and packed their things. "Good evening," Rae murmured. It felt strange to greet her beloved by calling it evening. It would take some getting used to. She felt unsettled. Her dream felt far too real to her, like her body had been running through those corridors to flee from the dragon. A thought crossed her mind to tell Marishi of her dream, but she pushed it aside. Dreams were dreams. But the nagging voice in the back of her mind kept her on her guard, especially after they left their alcove. She felt watched. The sickening feeling of being helpless to know what was the cause of that sensation made her somewhat irritable, but the conversation she and Marishi had made her feel a bit more at ease. The pit in her stomach churned, causing her to feel antsy. She wanted to get to the next settlement to escape this vulnerable feeling. Perhaps it was just her anxiety. She hadn't seen the sun in a few days and basked in its light. That must be why she felt so sickly.

Once they came upon Goodblade, Rae felt even worse. It was visible by this point. Her face was written with stress, but she said nothing. Instead, she listened intently, her pointed, feline-like ears picking up sounds no normal man could hear. "Let's quickly set up camp, Marishi. I don't have a good feeling." She warned. Rae should have said so earlier. The foreboding sense of doom was threatening to choke her. Picking a building that wasn't damaged by the war, Rae tied up the Chocobos and set their bags down. A sound from outside triggered her fight-or-flight impulse. At Marishi's question, Rae stood up straight and pulled out her rapier and crystal. "I think we've been followed." The sun was rising now. Marishi would have a difficult time fighting like this, so Rae would make sure to end this swiftly.

A loud bang from outside shot a hole through the door, knocking the knob off. Rae darted over to it and readied a spell, channelling her energy through the crystal. She'd blast them back and give them enough room to get out. From the corner, the Chocobos were startled, on their feet and shifting nervously, ready to use their sharp talons to claw at anything that drew near to them. The door was kicked open by one guard. Garleans. And they didn't look sickly like the other ones they had fought in The Fringes. These ones were healthy and ready for a battle. 'Well, a battle they will get, then!' Rae thought to herself while unleashing a powerful gust of wind, aiming it right through the door and causing the five soldiers to stumble backward, crying out in surprise. She was prepared to protect Marishi. She couldn't fight to her full potency while the sun was out, so she would take down most of the soldiers before they got to Marishi.

Moving swiftly, Rae darted out from the house and caught the first, closest soldier unguarded. Her rapier pierced his shoulder between his armour, severing the tendons and rendering it useless. He yelled in agony as Rae stomped her foot on his chest and pushed him off her blade, then swiped across his chest, cutting into the metal, but not deep enough to cut his chest, except for the part that was left unprotected with just leather. Her sharp blade cut through the leather and into the man's flesh, drawing blood and another cry of pain. Rae moved so swiftly with her rapier that the Garlean scarcely had a moment to react. As he attempted to block her blade from swinging at him again, Rae lunged forward, jutting her blade forward and piercing his side. The other four soldiers were on their feet at that point and gathering their wits. They didn't expect a Red Mage in that house, much less one so ready and eager to fight and kill. One prepared his gun once more, taking aim at Rae's head. As he pulled the trigger, Rae pulled the blade from the dying soldier's gut, blood splattering onto the brick floor. The force was enough for her to move her head just in time to narrowly dodge the bullet, only causing a graze across her right cheek, but it was enough for her to stagger back. Rae gasped in surprise, quickly regaining her footing. Her eyes settled on the man aiming at her again. He needed to die. He needed to die first, but second would do well enough. Channelling an immense swath of energy, Rae held the rapier and crystal above her head, calling upon the power of the Heavens to strike with her. From the sky a pillar of white light spiralled down, landing squarely upon the gunman. As the pillar danced around him, holy power tore at his body. It felt hot, but hotter than fire.

Rae gasped and spun around. The light would hurt Marishi if she was facing it. She turned to see where she was fighting off two of the remaining guards, but before she could run to assist her, a fist punched her across the head, sending her sprawling on her side. An involuntary cry out escaped her mouth as she fell. The Garlean stepped closer to her, knowing she was too dazed to put up a fight. "You filthy bitch," he barked at her, clenching his fists. He was clearly a pugilist. If the stars in her eyes was no indication, then the fact his hands were plated with metal gauntlets that could turn a man's bones to mush certainly was. Rae managed to get onto her back and prop herself up on her elbows as the man stood over top of her. "You need to die." He growled at her while bending down to grab at her neck. Before he could reach her, however, a large shadow swept over him and snatched him up. Rae gasped, staring at the sky as the man's squirming silhouette slowly climbed higher and higher. A falcon carried the Garlean man, kicking and screaming, higher into the sky until it let him go, dropping him down to the ground several feet away with a sickening thud. The screaming stopped. The falcon flew at a distance and lazily turned around.

Slowly, carefully, Rae stood up and wobbled. The knock to her head gave her a bit of a balance issue. Before she could move further, the falcon came back around and snatched her up, talons hooked around her shoulders and digging into her flesh, but not enough to cut in. The breath left Rae's lungs in that instance as she was drawn up into the air. The ground quickly moved beneath her feet and slowly dropped away from her. She couldn't be getting kidnapped. No. Where was this bird taking her? Without thinking, Rae turned her head and bit into the fleshy claw that held onto her, causing the bird to shriek in agony and let go of her left arm. With her other hand, she grabbed her rapier and cut at the other talon, freeing her from its grip and dropping her onto the ground below. "MARISHI!" Rae screamed, falling to the ground a few feet below her. While it was the sand, it still knocked the wind out of her lungs. Rae wheezed and groaned, rolling onto her side in pain while clutching her stomach, feeling as if the earth had punched her. With an angry cry, the falcon spun around and landed beside her. The edges of her vision were turning black as she felt herself almost slipping into unconsciousness, but the unmistakable sound of booted feet dropping from the falcon caught her attention. Rae lifted her gaze to see a hooded figure kneel down beside her. She couldn't make out their features, but the male voice sounded distinctly... Sharlayan.

"Don't make this harder than it has to be, Rae." He said. As Rae shakily reached for her crystal, the man sighed and drew out an astrolobe from beneath his cloak. "I wish you hadn't made me do this." and with that, he raised the sphere up conjuring a burst of stars to fill her vision. A shockwave went through her body, stunning her in place. Her limbs were locked, her brain stunned. She was helpless as the man bent down and picked her up, carefully placing her on the back of the falcon, then ushered it forward, ordering it to take to the sky and fly away. With two bodies, the bird struggled to get off the ground, but it managed to with great strain on its wings.

Rae couldn't call out. She couldn't move. All she could do was think. 'No no no! Don't take me back! I don't want to go back to Sharlaya!' The ground grew smaller. Marishi's form battling off two Garlean soldiers became a speck. Tears fell from her eyes as she watched helplessly as she was carried off on the back of a falcon with a stranger... a stranger who knew her name.

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