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Marishi Ten

Under Boughs Of Blood [FINAL FANTASY XIV]

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Tucked away in a corner of the Lavender Beds residential areas sat a quiet and non-descript mansion, it’s lawn immaculately maintained and its hedge maze in perfect order. Inside, the floors were buffed to a high mirror shine of marble. The kitchen, dining, sitting rooms, and small library sat quiet, awaiting use. On the second floor lay the bedrooms. The master and it’s bathroom and the spare and it’s bathroom. The master’s bed sheets ruffled from recent use. It was a bright and sunny day in the Shroud. Residents taking strolls outside, home watching or people watching. Enjoying the weather as long as it held.

Marishi Ten walked slowly to her home, recently returned from the Markets for various errands and purchases. She didn’t cook, so the least she could do is pick up the groceries. She entered into the mansion and placed the fresh produce and cut meats on the Kitchen island and sat in the sitting area, waiting for her companion to come back from errands of her own. The brightly blazing Sun was too bright for her this day. She preferred overcast weather where rain was threatened, but never followed through. That’s not to say she didn’t love the Sun. She just didn’t care for the one in the heavens this day. The one walking the land was far more important a thing to her.

The manor was empty save for Marishi entering. She didn’t expect anyone to be there. Marishi lived in the manor with only one other tenant whom she shared a bed with. A life with. A bond unbroken by countless hardships with.

Some bonds are given freely and are deserving of the love that blossoms from it, while some are bonds of blood that are not so easily severed.

Rae Ten would never state specifically what she would do this time every single month. She would tell Marishi it had to do with ‘family’. Thinking about what could possibly be so secretive about ‘family’ she let out an audible “Hmph.” She never pressed Rae the why. Not in 10 years and the monthly outing became standard routine for their lives.

When they would be called away for extended periods of time due to various employment ventures, Rae would take considerable pains to ensure this issue with ‘family’ was always handled every single month. Marishi could guess as to the what, but she could not fathom the why. But, Marishi had no family. She could not understand the bonds that blood creates. She couldn’t picture the loyalty that ‘family’ is often given of its own accord. All she could do is remain quiet and not press the issue.

Marishi lounged on the plush couch waiting for Rae to return home. She did all the cooking. Marishi never learned the trade of Culinarian. She didn’t have the patience. Ironic, coming from someone who had nearly unlimited time. She was 90 this year, though she didn’t look a day over 30. Fate entwining her with the Arbiter of Time, the Primal Alexander. She wore all black this day, dressed in simple tights with calf high brown red leather boots with a small heel and black silken Kimono of far eastern origin and design. Her hair was bobbed at the sides and in the middle, pulled back and held in place by a simple silver brooch. She was pretty, even though her mind would wonder to ugly and dark places. She gazed lazily at the fire in the hearth. Her sanguine left eye-catching fire while her right eye absorbed everything into its Onyx abyss. Her voice was low and raspy with a slight hint of gravel to it as if she didn’t use it very much. Her nails were manicured and filed into points on each long and slender finger. Care was also taken to her complexion as she wore eye shadow smudged black and blending into her cheeks, considered the old and archaic way to adorn make up.

On the rack adorning the mantle of the fireplace sat a Katana of near impossible complex and design. White Sayo and grip, its sheath was black high polished lacquer. When drawn, the blade would glow a divine, faint white, edge never becoming dull no matter how many were cut down by it.

Marishi was a Samurai of the far east. Her wife, Rae Ten, a Red Mage of the Old World. Abandoned by ‘family’ to her Sharlayn caretakers and raised by what was essentially an orphanage until her master found her and took her into his home where he taught her the ways of blending white and black magic together to devastating and miraculous results. They had been ‘Adventurers’ for most of the 10 years they had been married. Sell swords or mercenaries. Delivery and assassination. No job was too messy or unpleasant. For the right price of course. Nothing in this world was free. A cost was associated with every transaction. Physical, emotional, mental. Her mind wandered around these thoughts as she drifted into a light midday nap.

By early evening Marishi heard the doors lock slide the bolt into the home position, opening the door from the outside by use of a house key. Rae entered into the home looking more tired from her errand than normal. “Busy day? Everyone and their pet seemed to be in Gridania today. Taking advantage of the weather. The tanning and wood working guilds were packed.” Marishi said with an annoyed tone in her voice. “How was your errand? You look more taxed than usual from it. Did the Parcel Moogles give you a hard time again?” She inquired.

Marishi knew that every month Rae would send a parcel out to an unknown party. Sometimes it was an envelope, sometimes a small container that gave off a muffled metallic jingle when shaken. She knew it was money. She just didn’t know to who. Someone of distant kin in the Old World? Rae had no direct family she interacted with on a regular basis. Choosing instead to bond to Marishi creating their own two person ‘family’. Rae clutched several sheets of white parchment in her hand with thin and delicate words written in black ink scrawled on it. “Oh! Is that for me? My fan mail usually doesn’t arrive until later in the month normally. What a pleasant surprise!” She teased Rae. “We can talk about it later, let me help you prepare the evening meal. I promise this time to listen as not to nearly burn the house down.” She said as she rose from the couch and languidly stretched, standing on her tip toes, arms above her head and tail pointing up. She was small and slender, her petite frame accenting her feminine curves and enhancing her overall allure only adding to the beauty she held as a Sunseeker Miquot’e.

She walked up to Rae and kissed her welcoming her home, then took her hand and led her to the kitchen where they would talk about their day as Rae would prepare dinner and Marishi would pretend to help.

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How long had it been? Ten? Fifteen years? She clutched the papers in her hands as she walked from Bentbranch Meadows to the boat that would return her home. The sun-dappled pathway was lonely. The inhabitants of the forest were in the major city that day, not out in the dangerous field where monsters roamed freely. They paid her no mind, however, knowing she was a foe that would strike them down easily. It was strange the monster's innate ability to sense the strength of those that crossed their path. If others could sense that, perhaps there would be less violence. Or perhaps more. Man was a vile and selfish creature.

Her thoughts returned to her mother. She had intercepted her--or perhaps it was the other way around. She was making an unprecedented trip to the delivery Moogle to have her letter taken to her mother's home in the southern part of The Black Shroud, a heavily-forested area of Eorzea where those that lived there worshipped the elements and revered them. They were more in tune with the land than any other nationalities, more-so the the Padjal, whom their esteemed leader, Kan-E-Senna, was. Between the gentle shafts of light she walked, her bright, copper hair gleaming in the waning daylight. The Moon would rise before long. Perhaps she'd make it home just before the last breath of Sunlight graced the land for the day and herald in her silver lover. She wore simple folk clothes that day. A simple, long-sleeved top dyed forest green with leaf-gold details stitched into it--a gift crafted by the hands of her beloved wife herself--and a white, silk fabric tied around under her bust. She wore black shorts that clung to her shape, and tall, brown leather boots that reached above her knees. At either side of her hips rested a Rapier and a short sword. The short sword was a brilliant silver, intricately carved blade with details on the blade and hilt while the hand guard was fashioned to twist and spin around the grip of the weapon. The other, a deep, ominous purple metal of unknown material. The hand guard carved after the fashion of a dragon's wing with gold details. The first weapon she called Sanguinaire, the second was Dreadwyrm.

The ferryman awaited her patiently, smiling to Rae as she approached. She offered him a distracted smile and paid his fare--40 Gil coins--then sat at the bow and read over the letters. She had committed them to memory, but seeing the carefully scrawled letters, the perfectly curved arches, straight lines, delicate curls... her mother wrote all this for her. Apologies. Apologies and excuses. Rae loved her mother dearly, despite the rather distant feelings she held for her own daughter. Every month she would ensure her mother had money for food and clothes and to maintain her home. At first it wasn't much, but as Marishi and Rae did more jobs, became more well-known, she was able to afford sending her mother more money. It eventually got to the point where her mother could afford to buy a real home, rather than the house in the trees her father had built for them all those years ago.

Home...

Rae stood before the mansion doors, both hands holding the papers still. How would she tell Marishi? She knew her wife held some ill-will towards her mother. Or at least had no love for her. She blamed her mother for her kidnapping, but it wasn't anyone's fault. She was showing off her skill to the other kids. It was natural they'd tell their parents and the School would catch wind, sweeping her up in their halls to learn their trade. Her mother was helpless that night. They made sure of that.

She opened the door and was greeted with the annoyed tone of her wife. She barely heard Marishi speak, lost in thought, head swimming with possible ways to bring up what she needed to speak to her about. She was snapped from her reverie when Marishi strode up to her, leaning in to kiss her lips. Rae reciprocated the gesture, smiling to Marishi. "Oh, no. The Moogle was fine." Rae said. She didn't need to use the delivery Moogle's services, in fact. Her mother was there in Bentbranch Meadow attempting to deliver the letters. They spoke and her mother said most of what was in the letters, but having it in writing made her realize it more, that her mother wanted to be in her life finally, that she forgave her, that she loved her. Her mother loved her. The thought almost caused her to collapse and weep with joy. Such affection was denied her for so long. To have it now...

Rae was in the kitchen, still holding the papers. Always holding them, fearing letting them go would send them into The Void. As Marishi began to gather ingredients, Rae decided then was the best moment to talk about the events that day. She placed the papers down, helping Marishi pick out the ingredients. "You did really well this time, my Moonlight," Rae murmured, a smile on her lips. "I don't think I could have picked out better, riper fruits myself. Ah! An Orthard Plum! A rare find, indeed. I hope this didn't cost you too much, darling." She commented, holding up the mauve fruit and admiring it in better light.

After some time, Rae finally cleared her throat, replacing the plum in the basket and turning to Marishi. "I... uhm.... I received a letter today. It seemed I intercepted the sender before it could be delivered. I went to Bentbranch Meadows to send off a parcel and... I ran into my mother," Rae paused, watching Marishi's reaction gauging, weighing her options She decided to take the plunge. "She's invited us to her home. She wants to talk to us, catch up. She's realized how much time she's lost, how... selfish she's been. She wants to have us over for a week." Rae spoke fast, blurting out her words before Marishi could interject. There was a brief pause before Rae continued.

"I think we should! I think... I think it would be good if we were to visit her. She seems genuinely interested in getting to know about what we do! She... she wants to get to know her daughters better." Saying it like that made it seem as bad as it was. It hit Rae rather hard that her mother knew nothing about her beyond the fact she was married to a woman and she worked as a sell-sword, basically. Her profession, her skills, her hobbies, her talents, her passions... her mother knew nothing of them. It didn't matter, though. She wanted to know now. Her mother wanted to get to know them. It was almost like a dream come true for her.

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“No.” Was all Marishi said. There was not malice or anger in her voice. It was flat and even. After a moment, she said “The same woman that gave you up and sent you to the other side of the world? The same woman who couldn’t be bothered to be apart of your life, ever? The real question you should be asking is what does she want? There’s an angle, don’t think that there’s not. What’s the letter say? What did she say?” Marishi questioned. “I can tell you that woman isn’t making a social call. She wants something, otherwise she would have reached out years ago.”

“I’m sorry Rae, I really am, I just don’t want you to get your hopes up only to see them smashed. I don’t trust her. But if it is what you really want, we can go.” Marishi sighed. “The South Shroud. No we get to deal with the crazies and Hearers.” Marishi had given up attempting to make anything. “I’m off to shower. I don’t have much of an appetite.” She left the kitchen and went up the stairs to the master bath. There, she showered, letting the hot water run over her skin, thinking about what Rae’s mother could want with Rae after all these years. There was an angle somewhere and Marishi even suspected her mother to be involved in her father’s death to the Red Belly gang.

Shower over and clean, she dried and changed into her small clothes for bed. She walked over to her nightstand where sat a wooden brown non-descript box. She opened it up to reveal a long pipe and tobacco. She loaded the pipe and burned the leaf, inhaling it lazily. It helped her clear her mind and allow her to sleep. The news about Rae’s mother did not sit well with her. She fell asleep alone in bed. Before Rae could even make it up there.

Marishi awoke at dawn and got ready for the day. She assumed this would be the day Rae would make her trek to see her mother. She fed and the watered the larger than normal Chocobo in their stables. It was a gift given to them on their wedding day. The chocobo was pure ishgardian raised and could seat and carry two. She tied the harness off and put the custom-made saddle on. Marishi didn’t ride animals as per standard custom, being educated in Ishgard and being a female, she was taught and engrained to ride side saddle. Even on falcons, the rare times she had flown with them, she rode side saddle, which being so high in the sky is incredibly dangerous and foolish.

Of course, Marishi was going. Who was going to protect her from her venomous mother poisoning her? Who was going to be the one clear headed enough to see through the lies and question the motives? It had to be Marishi. She wasn’t about to leave her wife in the lurch. Like her mother did to her father. Marishi smirked at the thought. What irony.

It’d be at least a 3-hour ride if they made good time. No checkpoints or roadblocks. They were becoming ever increasing in the shroud lately as Gridania feared Garlean reprisals for their assault upon Ala Mhigo. The Empire had been dealt a crushing blow losing Doma, The Ruby Sea, and Ala Mhigo, but they were far from finished. They still held some of the most resource rich lands on the continent. And to ensure that none would hear the stories of liberation, they raided them and made an example of any was even suspected of Sedition and killed in the streets in front of their friends, family, rivals.

Marishi was a Gridanian citizen and was free to roam the woods of the Shrouds. The Elementals permitted it. She was not allowed in the area’s capital under penalty of death. She had been exiled years ago for reasons that no longer mattered. Their destination was the South Shroud. Before the forest fell away to marshlands. Before the Lodeline road. Before the destroyed airship dock, now occupied by a group of Miquo’te brigands. The woman had made home in the area near Urth’s Gift. The pure Pearlescent aspected crystals jutting out of the land and water banks to surround one of the largest of all. A crystal rumored to contain the Elder Primal Odin. Urth was a great Summoner from the Allagan Empire. She was nearly unmatched in her ability to call forth Eikons from the land and bend them to her will. Odin was a shrouded figure known only to come from the Far East in search of battle and warriors equal in might. Much of the story is lost to the annals of time, but two things are certain. Odin was searching for Urth. He was searching for her to kill her. He believed her to be an active threat. To what? It’s unclear. The second fact is that with Urths dying breath, she had sealed the Elder Primal in that pearlescent crystal to remain forever locked. For her was an Elder Primal and needed no worship or prayers or crystals to sustain himself in the corporeal world. There have been only two Elder Primals in all of history. The great dreadwyrm Bahamut and the dark rider Odin.

Rae herself could attest to the existence of Bahamut. Her using a weapon out of a scale torn out of his very hide. Marishi could attest to the Dark Rider roaming the shroud. Saying nothing, riding upon his horse with blood red eyes, searching for a woman dead for thousands of years. He would pass right by a stranger without so much as looking at them, but if the ring of steel was heard, he would answer that call with his own. Zansetsuken. Unknown how he was freed from his crystalline fetters, he roams the Shroud on his lonely search for something only he knows. A force of nature, more powerful than the Elementals themselves.

Just one more thing, Marishi thought. If they ran into him, there would be no way in which to defend themselves from his ire if it trained their way. He would butcher them without so much a wave of a hand. His was an entity that moved freely and unchecked in the forest. None able to contain him, though many had tried and all had failed.

There was also the local poachers and gangs they had to be wary of. The poachers defended their territory fiercely and as long as one stayed out of their way, they left everyone alone. It was the gangs that were dangerous. The most prominent being the Red Belly organization in the northern part of the South Shroud. This gang was rumored to have taken the life of Rae’s father while she was still young. Marishi had not qualms in catching one or two and ‘helping’ them along their path back to the lifestream. Not too quickly though. They would need to be educated in the finer points of suffering and torture so when their friends stumbled upon their bloated and twisted bodies, they would think twice about those they trifled with.

Finally, there was rumor that something had been discovered in the old Gelmorran ruins in the South Shroud. Something almost unexplainable. A vast maze underneath the ground the locals dubbed the “Palace of The Dead”. The further one delved into the caves, the more inexplicable it became. Massive changes undergoing it’s building and size. The further in the more preserved it became. The more dangerous it became. It was easy to mix what was real and what was illusion in that hellish place. Some ventured in and never came out. Some who ventured in spoke of spirits forever doomed to walk its halls. Never to be free to return to the planet. Some who ventured in feverishly spoke of another plane of existence. A place of ash and white. As if they were no longer in the realm of the living, but in between. Those that had spoken of this limbo were declared insane by the Padjal and were moved to secure sanitoriums near the Sylphlands never to leave the grounds again.

Why in the holy hells would anyone want to take up residence with all those dangers around them? Marishi couldn’t understand. It was if they had a death wish. She had passed through the South Shroud many times. Past Buscaroon Druthers and Quarrymill. Past Camp Tranquil on her way to Thanalan, but she never stayed long. Some called it home. Marishi called it cursed.

Marishi had long since prepared the animal for travel and was sitting wrapped in her own thoughts. It was the sight of Rae walking out the front door that snapped her back to the present. As Rae approached, Marishi said “I couldn’t well let you go to the South Shroud alone. More than one viper makes its home there amongst the trees, caves, and ruins. I’ve saddled our wedding gift if you would allow me to accompany you. I am sorry, my Solar. I was … terse yesterday and it was uncalled for. The least we can do is hear her out and see if her words are true. I hope you’re armed. From what I’ve been told, the South Shroud has been unstable lately. Odin, poachers, Red Bellies, Outlaws, Brigands, Gelmorra. All seem to be active in one way or another. I don’t know the way. I’ll ride as passenger. Here, let me help you into the saddle. I hope you remember how to ride side saddle.” Marishi teased with a laugh to help lighten the mood she had darkened. She helped Rae into the saddle and made sure she was secure in place. She gave her the reins and took her place behind Rae in her own side saddle on the same bird.

Their journey had begun. None could say what lay before them on the open road, but the open road was their true home. Traveling their lifeblood. The road ever calls the bold and the great. Big or small. Their adventure had begun.

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Rae was helpless to interject. She knew Marishi's vehement feelings towards her mother. She blamed her for what happened to herself that night, she blamed her for her father's death. Rae made no effort to correct her. Shame infused with pain and trauma kept her silent as Marishi ranted, venting about how negligent her mother was. Rae couldn't blame her mother, however. After what she had done, after acting in foolishness, she cost her and her mother the one man they loved in their life. She knew the story of her father and mother. Her father told her many times over how they were in love under the K tribe in Eastern Thanalan. How their leader was ruthless and unkind. How her mother was the eye of his affection and she would constantly deflect his attentions night after night until finally, one night, he would not be refused anymore...

Marishi was gone. Swept passed Rae in her fit as she walked up the stairs, her appetite gone and the will to help her cook demolished. With a defeated sigh, Rae went about preparing a meal anyways. They'd grow hungry eventually and it did good to have food readily available. She finished cooking, a hearty meal of Dodo breasts, garnished with in-season vegetables and brown rice. She placed the meal in their preserve box, cleaned the kitchen, and walked upstairs. Marishi was in bed. Guilt and sadness racked Rae's heart. She shouldn't have mentioned it to her. She should have dismissed her mother's request to join her. Maybe she should have secretly gone herself? These thoughts flooded her mind as she showered herself, dried off, braided, then tied her hair up and laid in their bed. Marishi faced away, as she typically did, but that night, it felt painfully lonely to Rae. She slept, curled into a ball, her tail wrapped around her ankles and her arms tucked tight against her body.

She awoke the next morning, Marishi had gone already. With another sigh, Rae climbed out of the bed. She'd apologize to her, revoke the invitation and write to her mother, explaining there was no way she could return to the South Shroud. Rae walked passed the kitchen, spotting the papers her mother had written. A swell of bittersweet joy filled her heart. The letters were so earnestly written. Her mother did, in fact, truly wish for her to be back in her life. She forgave her for what she had done. She wanted to meet and get to know Marishi more. This was all Rae had ever wanted. She wanted Marishi to have the family she was denied as a child. She wanted her mother to love her and forgive her. This was their chance, but it seemed that all things could not go as she wished.

Taking a quill and parchment out, Rae quickly scribbled her letter, declining her mother's invitation to have them visit. After writing it, she folded it up, slipped it into an envelope, then got ready for the day, quickly changing into her travelling outfit, undoing her hair and tying it back up in a ponytail, then making her way downstairs. She'd finish this errand before Marishi knew she was away, whatever her wife may be doing at that time. Rae was out the door and ready to walk to Central Shroud again by the time she saw Marishi, their Ceremony Chocobo saddled and ready to ride. She stopped in her tracks and stared at Marishi, slightly dumbfounded. She never anticipated her being so willing to go now. As she offered to help her up, Rae leaned in, cupping Marishi's cheek and pulling her to her for an affectionate kiss, then climbed onto the saddle and helped Marishi join her as well. Once settled, she flicked the reigns, coaxing the Chocobo to be off.

"The letters were... touching," Rae explained as they rode down the streets of the Lavender Beds. "She explained how she realized how selfish she's been, how it must have rung its toll on me all these years to have lost my father and mother in such a short time. She... regrets everything. She regrets not stopping the Scholars that stole me away, she regrets not contacting me sooner, she regrets not coming to our wedding, she regrets not showing me the love a mother should to her growing child, she regrets not getting to know you more. She was so wrapped up in her own life and problems, her own sorrows, that she didn't realize some one else was suffering as well, and she wants to make things right." Rae left out the part of her mother forgiving her. It wasn't entirely necessary to say. Rae halted the Chocobo at the docks, dismounted with Marishi, then paid the fare for them to ride across the river. Once on the other side, Rae climbed back onto the Chocobo and helped Marishi up as well, then they were off once more in the direction towards the South Shroud.

Thankfully, the trek wouldn't be as far. It was a shorter distance to get to the South Shroud than it was to get to Bentbranch Meadows. Once within the region of the South Shroud, Rae was flooded with memories. She avoided the South Shroud as much as possible, not being able to tolerate the memories she had there. With Marishi, though, she felt stronger, braver. She could walk through there without hesitation. They arrived at Buscarron's Druthers, a small encampment with a bar, outside seating, and a few buildings that people called home. Surrounding slightly flourishing settlement were high walls made of stone, blocking out monsters or the Redbellies that stalked the land. Guards were posted at every exit and entrance, checking everyone who entered and left carefully. Their diligence was due to a small number of raids at the hands of the Redbellies. They wouldn't be caught unawares. Rae dismounted from their Chocobo upon arriving at the Chocobo keep. The worker there, clad in the typical Chocobo-like uniform, gratefully took their ride and brought it to a larger stable, feeding it and watering it. "I didn't give her a response," Rae explained to Marishi, glancing around the settlement. "I don't think she's really expecting us, and I'm not too sure of which house is hers. I just know she lives here." The weather was overcast. Dark clouds that threatened to rain loomed overhead, making the Shroud appear darker than it actually was. Rae glanced about, examining the few homes that were built there, trying to determine which one could possibly be her mother's.

"Rae?"

The voice came from beside them. Rae turned and spotted a familiar face--her mother. She was dressed in a typical Glade dress. Brown skirt, leather vest, a white, long-sleeved shirt that hung off the shoulders slightly. She was almost exactly like Rae. She bore the stripes on her face, the slightly pointed nose, and the same mouth with a thinner upper lip and a plump, pouty bottom lip with the corners curved upward into a slight smile, but her eyes were different. They were brown, and her hair brown as well with streaks of grey running through it. Not at all matching the bright, copper colour of her daughter's. She bore faint wrinkles, but not enough to put her at an old age. Older, though. The resemblance was there. The same angular features with chubby cheeks, the thick, bushy tail, and the sweet smile that curved her eyes in to two crescent moons. She carried a basket with her of produce, which she dropped on the ground as she rushed to meet Rae, sweeping her up in her arms. Rae embraced her mother as well, wrapping her arms tightly around her in a hug that she refused to let go, fearing it would mean her mother would walk away. The two embraced a moment before her mother pulled away, holding her daughter at arm's length. They had just seen each other yesterday, but she looked upon her daughter as if she had never seen her in thirty years.

Then, her mother looked to Marishi and she smiled a warm, yet worried smile. "Marishi. It's so good to see you, as well. My daughter has said so much about you in the letters. I... I always wanted to meet you." She looked as though she wanted to say more, but she did not. There was an awkward moment. She did not know how to greet her daughter's wife. Based off what Rae had said, it was difficult to determine what was appropriate. She held a hand out, turning to face Marishi. What she did after was up to Marishi.

Edited by Outsane

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Marishi allowed herself to be assisted by Rae to be mounted side saddle on the Chocobo. She felt the flick of the reins and they were off.

Marishi wore her standard adventuring attire. Black Osode with chainmail underneath, Black leather tekko with motifs of blossoms and birds. Black tights aetherically augmented to enhance physical dexterity and mobility, and brown red calf high leather boots with a slight heel. On her Osode also flowed a black and tattered scarf that caught in the wind as they were riding.

Marishi wasn’t keen on being in the Black Shroud. Though her exile was well over 10 years ago, some would still be able to recognize her if they saw her. Her punishment for breaking the exile would be death. She smiled to herself over the thought. Even if they did recognize her, they would be old men. She hadn’t aged a day past 30. They would likely think her to be her daughter. She didn’t feel threatened, but she knew she wasn’t completely safe. The last thing she wanted was a couple woodwailers hearers dead in a stream because they got too curious.

“Touching, huh?” Marishi said dryly. “She has much to atone for. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life Rae,” Marishi said. She didn’t use a pet name but addressed her directly. Not a good sign. “But if I were you, I wouldn’t listen so much to the words she says as the intent behind them. She wants something from you. From us. Why would she reach out to you now? We’ve been doing well for ourselves lately. We were even to buy our own home we’ve been waiting 10 years for! And now, all of a sudden, she has to see you. I’m not going to judge before I speak with her, it’s just something isn’t right. I can smell it on the wind. Tread carefully.” She said with no more follow up. She had made her point and was content to let it sink in. What Rae chose to do, Marishi would stand by. Right or wrong. But she would make her opinion clearly known.

Marishi had been to the South Shroud many times. Quarrymill, Camp Tranquil, The Lost City of Amdapor, even the Amdapor Keep. She had seen the pearl crystals at Urths Fount that was said to contain an Elder Primal. She had even seen the entrances to the dreaded ‘Palace of The Dead’, though she never entered. More than one man had gone down there and not come back up. She knew when to bluff and when to fold.

She knew of the Rebelly gang, though she never gave them much mind. They never quarreled with her. She knew they were outlaws and that their ranks had been growing and their territory expanding. Gridania would eventually have to intervene before they turned their eyes to Quarrymill. They arrived in Buscaroon Druthers slightly after midday. It was a small hamlet with it’s largest building being it’s tavern with a few wooden homes around that had clearly seen better days.

As they came within eyeshot of the small hamlet, Marishi took up the black scarf and wrapped it around her face, just below her eyes. She would rather not have to deal with anyone who knew her and the scarf provided some anonymity.

She turned as Rae’s name was called, her hand lazily grasping the hilt of the Gordian Katana. Not out of aggression, but habit. She watched with a smile on her face as Rae’s eyes lit up and hugged her mother. She was truly happy for Rae, if not a little sad that she would never be able to experience that kind of feeling with anyone. Her Mother and her Father long since dead.

“It’s a pleasure Serreth. I’ve heard much about you. It’s a shame we couldn’t meet at Rae and I’s bonding.” A silent rebuke. She didn’t mean it to come out harsh. She would have to watch her tone and words more carefully. For Rae. “The resemblance is uncanny. You’re as beautiful as Rae. Stirs my heart. If only I were a few years older.” She smiled from beneath her scarf. She was flattering her. Marishi was nearly twice as old as Rae’s mother. Though the resemblance was striking, there were very real differences between the two. Rae was unfaltering and kind. Ever cheerful even in the worst of times. No frown lines marred her face, even though she had seen her share of sorrow and violence. Her mother seemed more withdrawn. Her eyes shifting in a way that made Marishi uneasy. She was nervous, needlessly so.

Instead of taking her hand, Marishi bowed per Far Eastern tradition. “Forgive my rudeness, my lady. It is custom that those of my profession bow before elders to show their respect and honor. Please forgive that I’ve not taken your hand.” She said. Marishi began polite conversation. “How fares your health, Mother? I know these lands tend to get humid with the marshes so nearby. Causes hardship on the lungs. How has the weather been, and the local news? I don’t get out to the Shroud as often as I would like, myself being from Coerthas and educated by the Holy See. Not quite unlike Rae and Sharlaya.” With a small chuckle. That was meant to sting. She wanted a reaction from her to tell if her remorse was real.

She was making small talk. Which she hated. But she did it for Rae. If she had to earn her way into her Mothers graces to find out what she wanted, Marishi would. She would pry out of her the angle she was pitching. Though Marishi could understand in the faintest what she would want after all this time.

“Perhaps we could find better accommodations than the middle of the street to gossip! Perhaps the tavern, or lodgings if nearby? I’d hate to impose on you and recommend that we return to your home. Perhaps I can buy dinner for us? Sunlight, what do you think?” Marishi asked, turning towards Rae hoping she hadn’t caught her ire from the small quips she let slide out.

Edited by Marishi Ten
Because not putting in entire words is my speciality

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The subtle jabs were not lost on Serreth. Small cringes on her face and shifting uncomfortably were her responses to Marishi's words. Her lights lit up, however, as Marishi addressed her as 'Mother'. Rae shot a look to Marishi, knowing what she was doing. Still, though. She couldn't be upset. She knew WHY she was doing it, too. "Oh, of course," Serreth said, nodding to Marishi. "My home is over here. Please, come. I've already made some breakfast, but I'll make more for you two." Serreth explained, walking quickly to her basket and picking it up, then guiding them to her home. It was one of the dingy places, though it looked recently renovated.

Patchwork here and there on the roof, the window panes were warped, but the glass windows fit still, the siding was new, however. A fresh-looking yew wood were tiled on the outside to give it a more newer look. The steps were redone, made of a lighter stone than that of the wall built around the small settlement. They looked out of place. Serreth quickly grabbed her keys and unlocked the door, opening it and allowing them to enter her home. The fire had recently been snuffed out in the fireplace nearby. The floors were clean, polished walnut wood, but were not stained. Inside, the house was a bright, cheerful appearance. The walls were redone as well with an off-yellow wallpaper placed on it with wood panelling on the bottom quarter. Paintings were hung along the walls, not ones typical of the mass-printed kind. There was a humble kitchen equipped with a stove, cold box, two pantries, and plenty of counter space. To their right was a sitting area with a rug, a couch, a love seat, and an arm chair. All fashioned after the Glade theme. There was a bookshelf between the kitchen and sitting area filled with books of all kinds. Cook books, history, fiction, guides. To their left was a closet and a door leading to the guest bedroom. The door was closed, however. Beside that room was a smaller room with another door, presumably the bath room. Beside that was the master bedroom, which door was also closed. Hanging from the ceiling was a chandelier that illuminated the room quite nicely, complimenting the natural light that shone in through the windows. All in all, Serreth's house looked quite nice.

"Please, make yourselves at home. I'll get some tea ready. What would you like for breakfast? I started to make eggs and ham with bread, but I forgot to get something from the market so I had to go fetch more ingredients. I didn't expect you'd be here so early!" Serreth exclaimed, rushing to the kitchen and starting a fire in the stove to heat up the top. She pulled out a large pan and more eggs and ham to cut.

Rae chuckled and walked into the kitchen with her mother. "Perhaps I could help you cook?" She asked her, grabbing a knife to cut the ham.

This earned a shocked look from her mother. "You? Cook? You were so resistant to domestic duties before. I didn't think you'd want to cook..." She teased, smiling to Rae, who smiled back at her.

"Things change when you have some one to cook for, I suppose." Rae mused. There was a sad smile that followed her words. Serreth looked as though she wanted to say something, but didn't. Rae looked away from her mother, looking out the kitchen window. She paused, staring at the trees, her smile turned bittersweet. "It's still up, I see." She murmured softly.

Out in the trees, high above the ground was a home. It encircled the largest tree, a balcony built around it, stretching out far, a cone roof made of wood and clay shingles. Sturdy, wooden walls with windows cut into it, though no glass was there, only caps over the window to block out the elements when the rain came or the wind gusted. Serreth didn't need to follow Rae's gaze to know. She coated the pan with a thin layer of butter, oiling it up so the food would not stick. "Aye. I lived there until three years ago," she explained, cracking an egg into the pan. "I couldn't move far. To leave seemed a betrayal. It hurts, but being away hurts more." Rae turned her face down, looking at the meat, then taking a knife and cutting in to it. It was a clean, easy cut. Like soft butter. The two worked in silence a moment, sharing in the pain, before Serreth spoke up again. "Marishi. I am told you are well-travelled. How have things been in Doma? I had a friend who visited me once from there, many years ago before it fell to the Empire. I never heard from her since... but she told me about her home. It seems beautiful from what she has told me!" She turned to Marishi, smiling to her as she cracked another egg, placing the third egg into the pan to let it sizzle. She then fetched a few spices and added them to the eggs she fried.

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As Marishi entered the house, she couldn’t help but be impressed by the updates and upgrades to it. The paintings were custom done. Not something you see everyday and not something that comes cheap. The home was larger than it appeared, though it was well decorated and bright.

She set her Katana against the fireplace, but kept her Wakizashi and her Tanto. Serreth didn’t let it slip past. “My apologies. Custom dictates that indoors, I am to relinquish my Odachi, but my keep my Wakizashi and Tanto.” She bowed the eastern greeting.

Like Marishi cared about the code of the Samurai. She didn’t care when she entered their dojo, she didn’t care when they beat her over and over, she didn’t care when she because the best student to walk out their doors. Their code meant nothing to her. She was from Eorzea after all. She didn’t have to follow some old and outdated Eastern doctrine that no longer belonged in the world. She kept her weapons because she felt uneasy.

The other shoe hadn’t dropped yet and Marishi was beginning to grow impatient.

“What? I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.” Marishi said after there was a moment of silence. Serreth repeated the question. “Oh. You wish to know about the Far East.” Marishi said. She had gotten that question so many times. Like she was a scholar versed in their ways. She rarely kept track of events and only had to enter Yanxia twice. The Shinobi would know more than she would. It was amusing though to regale Westerners of the wild and outlandish things the people of the East partake in. She amused Rae’s mother with an answer.

“Hingashi is still the major trade center of the continent. Kugane flies its own flag. For now. Though they only do so, due to commerce being so heavy there and the Empire levying such heavy import and export tariffs. The Ruby Sea is as it always has been. Unclaimable. The tax still applies to cross it, though the pirates themselves aren’t a bad lot. The tax buys you protection from Garlean encounter and Kojin interference.” Marishi wondered if she was listening at all to her dry recounting. “The Azim Steppe hasn’t changed. It will likely never change. The Au’Ra moving from camp to camp. Pasture to Pasture. Nomads. The Empire didn’t bother with them much. It’d cost far too much manpower to subjugate an area that large with over 30 different tribes.” Marishi had been to Reunion, once. An altercation arose where she was barred from the area. “My apologies, you asked about Doma though.” Marishi said coming to the question. “I’m happy to report Doma is now a free people. As free as they will ever be. They expelled the Empire from their lands and killed the Viceroy in tow.” Marishi had met Yostuyu once. She was taken with her. She knew her hate and anger. In another life she may have sworn herself to her. “This was at great expense as Castle Doma was flooded and destroyed. The city proper is also obliterated. Leveled to the ground. It’s said that there are reconstruction efforts underway, but I’m not aware of any actual rebuilding of Doma or her Castle. Her people fare rather well, I’m told. It seems they are Receiving funds from the Eorzean Alliance of Gridania, Ul’Dah, Limsa Lominsa, Ishgard, and the newly liberated Ala Mhigo. Adding Doma to the Alliances ranks makes them a force to be reckoned with indeed.” Marishi hadn’t thought about that before. 6 city states united to stand against one foe. Thavnavair wouldn’t be far behind making them the 7th. The Old World was the wild card. Marishi had her doubts Sharlaya would aid or hinder. As usual.

“Apologies for the history lesson. My mind tends to wander. Getting older.” Marishi slightly chuckled. “The areas around Doma have not been so lucky. If you have friends in Rabanastre or surrounding areas, I would attempt to reach out to them to ensure they are safe. The Empire has not been kind to them with the loss of not one front, but two.” Marishi finished.

They sat and at the meal in relative quiet, Marishi content to watch the interactions with her mother. It was almost alien to her. She could half understand. Marishi had no mother. No confidant, no friend, no teacher, no emotional support. But, come to think of it, neither did Rae.

After the meal was complete and the dishes were washed and cleaned by mother and daughter, Marishi stepped outside on the deck and pulled out her pipe. She packed the bowl with tobacco and lit the leaf. Inhaling the smoke and exhaling it from her lungs. Rae hated her smoking, but it was a vice she would not be parted with.

The front door quietly opened and silent feet went to stand beside Marishi. After a moment Marishi said “You’re quiet for being the proverbial housewife. Your step is light. I could barely hear it.” She drew again from her pipe. She knew what she was going to ask. “Please, forgive my … curtness, but why are we here Serreth? This isn’t a social call since you’ve never extended one. What is it you want from Rae?” She held her hand up signaling she wasn’t finished. “Understand that I hold concern for my wife and her feelings. I would not enjoy her being led around by a puppets string happily dancing to a tune not her own. So, what is it you need?” Marishi cut the subtle tactics and went straight to it. She spoke in a low tone so Rae couldn’t hear their discussion. She wasn’t threatening and there was no malice in her voice. It was as if Marishi were simply asking a question. Marishi was the outside party, the most unbiased. What clouded Rae’s mind, did not cloud her own. Marishi also didn’t call her “Mother” but by her name. Dropping the pretense that she had any good will towards her. “Well?” Marishi pressed.

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As Marishi left to go outside, Rae rolled her eyes and sighed. "She always smokes after a meal," Rae explained to her mother while she finished up the dishes, drying the last one and letting her mother put it away. "I've tried to get her to stop. I hid her pipe one day. That didn't turn out well." Rae giggled, her tail flicking with mischievous joy as she recalled the events.

Serreth watched as Marishi walked out the door, frowning slightly. She wanted to connect with her, but she felt like she was missing her opportunity. "I've got some terrible news for you, my Daughter," she said, walking to one of the pantries and pulling out a pipe of her own. Rae frowned, watching her mother fill the pipe with tobacco. "It's something I picked up over the years. Helped me cope a little. We won't be long, dear. Explore the house. If you plan to stay a while, get comfortable in the guest bedroom here." She pointed at the door before quietly slipping outside. Rae shrugged. Some people had their things to help. She just wished it wasn't something so unhealthy... or stinky.

Serreth stood, watching Marishi, thinking of words to say, of how to approach her. It was then that Marishi spoke up, causing her ears to raise in alarm. "I suppose when you live in a house in the trees you learn to tread lightly," she explained softly, a nervous smile on her face. Marishi made her nervous. She put her on edge, but she couldn't place why. She took a seat beside her, but a fair distance away so as to not invade her personal space. She patted her pockets and sighed. She left her match inside. Too nervous to ask Marishi for her's, she resigned to not smoke. It was then that Marishi bombarded her with questions, pointed ones at that. She stared at her with wide eyes, mouth slightly open. She couldn't answer her at first, stunned into silence. When Marishi pressed for an answer, Serreth stammered. "I-I didn't-I'm not..." she cleared her throat, furrowing her brows and closing her eyes. "You are as aggressive as Rae said you were. It's good, though. I'm glad she has some one in her life to watch over her. At last..." There was a tinge of pain and sadness in her voice. It wasn't easy for her to talk about this.

"It's not something that I want from her, necessarily. It's something I want with her--and you, for that matter. I'm sure Rae has told you how her life was as a child. Taken from her home to be raised in a place where no one would give her the attention and care that a mother should have... Years went on. I lived in seclusion in our old home, hiding from my mistakes and the world. I agonized over the loss of my husband and, shortly after, my daughter. Seeing children grow up in the world around me caused me more pain, more depression. I would gaze out the window and see parents holding their young ones as the storm started, their frightened little souls seeking comfort in the arms of the ones they trusted. I saw them playing together with other children, laughing, joyful, carefree. I ached for that. I wanted to be a family... but I was so burdened with grief and shame. When Rae started to finally write to me after she made it back to Eorzea, I wanted to have her back in my life. I wanted to see her. I wanted to hold her in my arms and stroke her hair as I did when she was sick, when she cried from being hurt, as I did when she fell asleep in my lap. But I couldn't bring her back to the home we had. It was shameful. I did nothing with my life! I wanted her proud of her mother. I wanted her to be happy with me... I couldn't let her see what I had become. Then, she told me she was to be married," her eyes lit up, tears filling them as she stared at the ground outside her home. Her voice was choked, strained from holding back the sobs. "It was beautiful, the way she described you. The way she told me how she felt. It reminded me of my late husband and I. I wanted so desperately to be there, but I had nothing. I was an old hag in a tree house. It was then that she began sending me parcels. Allagan pieces were within them, which allowed me save up. I was able to buy this house--a mere shack before. Then I renovated. It's not completely done, as you've seen... ah, but that's beside the point. I finally felt comfortable enough to have you both over. To... try and become part of your lives. She told me all about your adventures, all about you, all about your married life and how happy you were. I was overjoyed to know that she had some one like you in her life. I wanted to get to know you. I wanted to... I wanted to know my other daughter. The daughter of mine that my own flesh and blood chose to be part of our family.

"I've neglected being a mother long enough. If you would allow me, I would like to be a family with you," she explained, looking Marishi in her eyes. Her voice shook at this point, wavering slightly as she struggled to hold back her tears. "There's nothing I want from either of you, just something I want with you both." She laid her emotions bare, putting her heart out for Marishi to either accept it, or refuse it.

---------------------------------

Rae glanced out the window, not seeing either her mother nor Marishi, so she figured they were right out on the steps. They could probably stay a few days, unless Marishi was so deeply offended by what was said out there. Walking to the guest bedroom, she explored around a bit. A lovely queen-sized bed awaited them there. Fresh, clean linens with a downy duvet on top. Another custom painting adorned the headboard of the bed. On either side sat two bedside tables and a lamp for each one. A soft, plush rug rested under the bed and reached out a bit passed the edge of it.  There was a closet in the corner and one window  off to the left. It wasn't a large bedroom, but it was just enough for a cozy sleep. It was close to the fireplace in the sitting area, so it didn't require a fireplace there to keep them warm.

She walked back out of the guest bedroom and checked the bathroom. A tub with a shower head, toilet, sink, floor-length mirror, and a simple chandelier hung from the ceiling. Rae moved to her mother's room and attempted to open it, but it was locked. Tilting her head to the side, Rae twisted the knob again, but it held fast. Why would her mother lock her bedroom? It occurred to her that not all parents allowed others into their bedroom, so she moved away from the door, figuring it was something of a custom. Their tree home didn't have rooms, just one large room for the three of them to live in.

Moving to the nearest painting, Rae examined it, searching for a signature. None was to be found, however. Lifting it off the wall, she searched for it on the back and gasped.

K'Serreth 1571

Rae flipped it back around, staring at the painting. It was of a fantasy world. Opal crystals jutted from the sandy landscape, in the sky hung the moon waning crescent. Flowers grew in the desert. Beautiful, vibrant colours were used all over the picture and the stars dotted the sky. The details were fine, almost as if she were there gazing upon this scenery. Her mother painted this. She glanced back to the door, hesitating a moment, wanting to go out and address this to her mother, but she worried she'd interfere in a moment between the two. Although knowing Marishi, it was probably an uncomfortable confrontation. Deciding it was best to listen in before she opened the door, Rae snuck towards it, pressing her ear against it to try and listen in on their conversation.

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“Hm.” Was all Marishi said. She was telling the truth, there was no doubt about that, but the display she put on was a bit overly dramatic. The creeping feeling of something being off whispering in the back of her mind. After a long silence, Marishi slowly said “I know that Rae has missed her mother and I want nothing but her happiness. As for me, Serreth, I have no family. Outside of Rae. I have buried all those close to me over the years.” She chose her next words carefully as she knew she was treading thin ice. “It’s enough for me that Rae has found in you her mother again. My hope is that it stands the test of time.” She said staring at her with narrowed eyes. She’d read between the lines. Marishi knew she would.

Marishi noticed Rae creeping up to the door to eavesdrop. It was Marishi’s turn to take the stage. “From what my Father had mentioned about my Mother, she seemed like you, for what it’s worth, though even if she hadn’t passed, she’d be long since gone. I wonder sometimes what she would think of me. A sell sword. Available to the highest bidder specializing in wetwork. Not the life she’d want for me I suppose.” She looked down with a sarcastic smile on her lips. “Come, I fear we may have your daughter in a tizzy from being out so long.” Marishi said offering her arm to the old woman to assist in standing. She felt as a frail bird, a light touch but steady and unusually strong for one so delicate.

They walked in the home as Rae bombarded her mother with questions about the paintings on the wall. Rae had shown Marishi one, drawn in pastel and oil. It was truly beautiful. “You have an actual gift Serreth. It’s rare to see talent like this. If I may use your restroom?” Marishi was shown the bathroom in the guest room, but not before a side glance to the closed door of the master bedroom. She stared at herself in the mirror. Unhappy. She should be sharing this joy with Rae. Why was something wrong?

Marishi was prone to feelings. They weren’t thoughts or anything that could be put into words. Just an overwhelming feeling of something being off or wrong. Suspicion building quickly. She had learned over the years to not ignore the feeling. The times she had, she had nearly paid with her life. She had this feeling about this whole situation. There should be nothing wrong, the day was perfect and her wife finally was able make amends with her past. She suddenly left the bathroom and walking into the front room said, “My apologies, my thoughts seemed to be scattered. I think I’ll take a walk. The day is perfect for it. You two stay, please, catch up! It’s a true blessing that you’ve been reunited.” Marishi walked out the front door, feeling Serreth’s eyes boring into the back of her as she left.

She could never truly get used to the Black Shroud. Marishi grew up in forests, but not the low land seasonal woods. It felt stifling compared to the evergreens she remembered, trees jutting from the mountainous outcroppings. She suddenly missed Coerthas. Not the shade of it that lay in its perpetual winter. She missed the fields and the bowls in the mountains that had lakes so clear she could see to the bottom of them at their deepest points. She missed the lonely howl of wolves that lamented at night. She missed the smell of a river running off fresh snowmelt. She missed the feeling of the first snow of the season with snowflakes the size of her palm. She missed the Coerthas that was and would never be again.

Her heart heavy and lost in her own thoughts, she almost walked right past an altercation that erupted between two men and a woman. They hadn’t noticed her. She stopped and listened. “Aww come on, don’t you wanna be taken care of? Not have to worry about not havin any food or bein hurt?” Said the first man. A Hyur with a hunting hat on his head, white feather sticking out. The second man chimed in. “It’d be a shame if something happened to ya in the night and we weren’t around to protect ya. Or yer ma and paw.” Marishi was paying full attention now. She was near a tree and blended in with the shadows of the forest. “I don’t think …” The girl said. A Miquo’te. She couldn’t be more than 17 years old. The men well into their mid-30’s. They weren’t poachers. They wore the insignia of the Red Bellies. “Look, girlie. We asked nice. Now we ain’t askin. Yer comin’ with us.” The first said.

“I don’t think that’s any kind of way to a girl’s heart. You’re doing it all wrong.” Marishi said breaking the treeline, her ruby and onyx eyes staring at the two. “That a fact? You come to show us proper manners?” The second sneered. The pushed the girl away and slightly split apart. They were looking for blood. Marishi sighed. “No, not really, but you don’t really have any business with a child either. A child you’re trying to convince you to go back to your camp. For protection, of course.” Her sarcasm was thick. “Mouthy one ain’t ya? Don’t worry, we got way’s of re educatin’” The second said. “Look boy’s, I don’t think this is what you want. I don’t think you’re thinking this through all the way.” Marishi’s hand went to her side where her Gordian Katana should be. She stopped short. She left it at Serreth’s house against her inside wall. The men began to laugh. “Missin’ somethin’? Shoulda checked before stickin’ your mangy hide where it don’t belong.”

The men split apart. One in front of her, the other in back. Marishi still had her Wakizashi and her Tanto. The men were armed with a spear and the other with a hand and a half double bladed sword. Marishi could dispatch the one with the sword with ease, it was the one carrying the lance that she was worried about. The weapons they carried were sharpened and made of high-quality spring steel. Their leather armor looked durable and tough.

Marishi placed her hand on her Wakizashi, but didn’t draw it. “Last chance. I don’t want to kill you and I’m sure you don’t want to die. Don’t be fools.” The men said nothing. The one holding a spear was trying to move into her blind spot while the one carrying the sword was smiling waiting to face off against her. He lunged at her causing her to sidestep his thrust and put him in front of the second. “That one was free.  Don’t force my hand, not today.” He slashed at her again but was stopped short dropping his sword and yelling in frustration rubbing his eyes. Marishi had kicked sand up to his face and blinded him. The second took his chance to impale her on his spear. She drew her Wakizashi and parried the blow while moving back out of its range. Her sword was a short sword. Not nearly as long as her Gordian Katana which was an Odachi, noted for its length. The spear jabbed and thrusted swept and cleaved. Marishi couldn’t get close enough to neutralize the weapon. By this time the first had recovered and picked up his sword looking to drive it into her chest and end it. Marishi off handedly pulled her tanto, locked the dagger with his sword and swiped in a circle motion dislodging the sword from his hand. Disarmed, she dug the dagger into the front of his chest, half paying attention to him. The spear looked to overpower her while she was distracted. He lunged forward while Marishi grabbed the man she had stabbed and pushed him forward onto the pike, using him as a human shield. With the spear momentarily immobilized, she brought her boot down on the shaft, breaking the blade away from the pole. The first man slumped to the ground, twitching in death throes with an almost comical look on his face. Marishi started advancing on the second.

“I warned you. I begged you to not make me kill you. I told you. And look where we are. In the position neither of us wanted. Is it worth it? Do you think you can best me?” She seethed at him. He had pulled his own short sword and took up a defensive position. Marishi’s blows were like watching a ballet. Strike after strike, arc after arc. She was wielding a piece of art and not an instrument of death. The poacher could barely keep pace and it was clear Marishi was holding back. He hacked and slashed with not strategy or thought, a wild animal attempting to strike anything to get out of the corner. Marishi slashed down and left to parry his blade away from his body and thrusted her Wakizashi forward burying it in the man’s upper abdomen. His face was a mask of shock and surprise. He sucked in breath and widened his eyes as Marishi tore the blade deeper into his body. Once her pommel reached his chest she stopped. As she was dislodging her weapon, the Red Belly, produced a small dirk and slashed at her. He caught a glancing blow on her right side above her hip. The knife bit deep. Surprised and angered she pulled her weapon from his body and cleaved downwards opening his chest and killing him.

Marishi was breathing heavy, slightly bent over. She reached her hand to her side and looked at it. Her palm was wet dark blood. Her black osode would mask crimson color. She left the bodies where they lay, pulled her Tanto from the first cleaned both her weapons, sheathed them and made her way back to Serreth and Rae.

It was evening with the Sun beginning to set as she stopped at the porch to compose herself. She forcefully arched herself into a fully standing position and wiped her hand on her black tights. She hoped that she wouldn’t splatter blood on the floors of the house. She walked up the wooden stairs her boots clicking and opened the door. She saw Rae and her mother in the kitchen preparing the evening meal. Marishi looked pale. More so than usual and there was no blood in her lips. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she smiled one of her rare smiles. “I lost my way and had to backtrack more than once.” Rae frowned. She knew Marishi was lying, but Marishi just stared back at her. “I’m going to go wash up for dinner if permitted. I got a little scuffed.” She made her way to the bathroom quickly and shut and locked the door. She doubled over in agony. The knife had cut into her deep. She opened a small closet in the bathroom and gave the contents a quizzical stare. There was a full closet of medical supplies. Gauze, scissors, forceps, small razor-sharp knives, sterilizing solutions. Why would an old woman have a triage in her guest bathroom closet?

She stripped her osode and her chainmail, some links having bent and dug into her skin. She pulled them out where her side began to bleed freely. She snatched cotton and packed the wound, while wrapping gauze around her waist to keep pressure on the laceration. She unlocked the door and called for Rae to join her. Marishi pulled her into the bathroom and locked the door. “I didn’t want to spoil your time with your mother, but I might need your help.” The bathroom was already spattered with blood. “There’s an entire hospital in that closet. The cut is deep, but it’s not life threatening. Can you Sucher it? I should be alright.” Marishi met Rae’s alarmed looked and smiled. “You should see the other guy.”

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Serreth noted the response, her expression dropping. She laid it on too thick. Her ears folded down, much like Rae's did when she was defeated, the light in her eyes--the hope--gone. She turned her gaze back to the ground and faced forward again. Her one chance she lost to make Marishi trust her, to make her realize that all she wanted was to be a family. She was never good with interactions like this. Putting her heart out on the line was a mistake. Her body language closed up and she sighed as well, the hurt that was on her face now replaced with a stoic expression. "Of course, Marishi. She is my daughter. I've been a failed parent long enough. I don't intend to bring her more hurt." Her tone was distant as she watched the other children play again. She'll never get those years back with Rae. She'll never enjoy her childish laughter as Fieraman would chase her around the room and into the streets. There were no other children her age during those times. No one dared raise a child in unprotected areas when gangs ran around rampantly. In retrospect, perhaps staying in the Shroud was the worst idea they came to. They set themselves up for failure. She came back from her own thoughts as Marishi stood up and she followed suit, stuffing her pipe in the pocket of her apron and turning to face the door as Marishi opened it.

Rae jumped back as she heard Marishi speak. It was too late for her to dash away to pretend she wasn't eavesdropping, so she stood at the door, clutching the picture frame and stared at them with wide eyes. Her mother glanced down to the painting, then back to Rae, a quizzical look on her face. Rae then sputtered out her questions. "When did you paint this? Wait, no, I know when, but... when did you learn how to paint? Have you more paintings than these? Why didn't you tell me you painted?! Have you sold any of your paintings? Why don't you?! You're amazing!" The words flowed out of her mouth, unable to stop, as she grilled her mother about her secret talent. She only smiled, the joy returning to her eyes as her daughter showed such interest in her talents.

"I painted that many years ago," Serreth explained, taking the painting from her hands and walking back to where Rae had taken it from, then hanging it up. "I had a dream that night of the world changing. I suppose it was a sign. It wasn't long after that that Dalamud fell and Bahamut laid waste to Eorzea. I had nothing else to do during that time. No family to care for, no friends, no will... I dreamt of that land and painted it, wishing I was there in the dream world." She stared back at the painting as it hung on the wall, a pained expression on her face. "I keep it to remind me of where I was. To remind me to not go back." She murmured. Rae, noting the suffering in her tone and expression, moved closer to her mother, wrapping an arm around her. The gesture caught her off-guard and Serreth flinched, turning to Rae, who pulled back, hands raised and ears pointed upward. Serreth was tense. Just what did they talk about out there?

It was then that Marishi exited from the bathroom and excused herself. Rae and Serreth watched her leave, both quite baffled at her strange behaviour, though Rae knew a bit more than her mother. As the door closed, Rae turned to Serreth and explained calmly. "She just needs to think. She hasn't had parents in her life for so long... It's probably... overwhelming to think about."

Her mom shook her head sadly and sighed. "If only that were the case. I fear I may have scared her off. I pushed her a little too hard to... Ah. It does not matter." She murmured. "Perhaps it was too soon to invite you over. I should have been more warm and welcoming in my letters; set the foundation for inviting you over." Serreth chuckled and wiped at her eyes, then turned back to Rae.

Her daughter, ever attentive of other's feelings, was quick to change the subject, to keep her mother from dwelling upon it for too long. "Tell me more about your paintings, Mother," she urged, walking over to another one that hung in the room. "What about this one? Tell me about it!"

Serreth smiled and chuckled. "This one was painted back when your father and I first came to the Shroud. We entered in the South and journeyed to the East, seeking to get as far away from Thanalan as possible. While in the East Shroud, we encountered the Beast Tribe there, the Sylphs. They were all quite... unfriendly towards us. They didn't want man tromping around in their realm. We were resilient, though, and curious as kittens. Have a seat, dear. I'll make us some tea. Now, we heard of an area that only the Beast Men were allowed: the Goldleaf Dais. Your father was always the more adventurous one, so he convinced me to go with him. Together, we snuck into the Beast Tribe's boundaries and prowled through the darkness. As a hunter, your father was deadly and silent. I learned a bit from him. Enough to be quiet to an acceptable level, but my stealth left much to be desired. There was more than one instance when the two of us were sprinting through the boughs, trying to hide from the monsters that were enraged at our presence there. Had your father not brought his bow, I'm sure we both would have been dead."

"Father was always very good with the bow. He knew just how to maim a creature to allow me to kill it." Rae reminisced, watching her mother work in the kitchen. She quickly finished with the tea and adding leaves to the cups, then brought it all over to the sitting room, balancing the two cups and saucers in one hand while holding the kettle in the other. She placed the cups down and poured the tea, then sat beside Rae, who thanked her. "He took care of us. We never wanted with him around..." Rae said, staring into the orange-hued water, steam gently drifting off it, creating a delicious aroma of La Noscean oranges and Pearl Ginger.

"Fieraman certainly was a good man. He should have been Nuhn, but they were cowards and wouldn't let him challenge the Nuhn at the time. He sent him off to get killed, but survived despite the odds." Her mother said, staring into the dead fireplace while taking a breath of the hot steam, clearing her mind. "He wanted to become Nuhn so he could rightfully marry me. The other females didn't interest him at all, but of course, becoming Nuhn would mean he would have to satisfy all those other women as well, not just me. If he failed at that, he would be dethroned instantly and thrown out or killed. Our only option to be together was to run away. And that, of course, did not sit well with K'Turan Nuhn. I was the prized possession. I was his Nightingale. He wanted me more than his other harem whores, but I was determined to not become his. Every night was a new excuse. A headache. I was bleeding. I had gas. I would hide from him, pretending to be out hunting. He had enough of my excuses, however. He vowed one night to take me, whether I was willing or not. It was that night that your father and I ran away." Serreth smiled, her thumb grazing across the lip of the cup. "He took such good care of me. He was nearly ten years older, but he loved me. He was patient, caring, thoughtful, brave... He was everything I needed and wanted. I was happy with him. With your father at my side, I knew everything would be alright."

Rae's hands trembled, the tea spilling out over the sides and onto her legs, but she didn't yelp in pain. Tears rolled down her face as she put the cup down and squeezed her eyes shut, her mother looking to her. She knew what her daughter was thinking. And secretly, she hoped she would make her feel this way. Rae let a sob slip passed her lips, covering her mouth as the tears streaked down her face without restraint. Serreth sat and watched as her daughter's shoulders began to tremble and her head jerk from the silent sobs she kept in. After a moment, she then let her arm slide around Rae's shoulder and she pulled her to her bosom in a hug. Rae, in turn, wrapped her arms around her mother's back and clung onto her, gathering fistfuls of her shirt as she sobbed, uncontrollably, into her mother's shoulder. "I'm so sorry!" Rae sobbed, her voice muffled and strained with her sorrow. "I'm so sorry! I was so foolish! I was such an idiot child! I didn't mean to get Father killed! I'm so sorry!" Serreth held Rae close, one arm wrapped around her shoulders while her hand reached up and stroked her hair. A single tear rolled down her face as she stared at the window where her home once was, her mind and heart elsewhere. She could not forgive Rae for what happened. Not yet. There was something to be atoned for. Something she must do first.

As the sobs ended and Rae calmed down, Serreth pulled her away and wiped at her cheeks, a sad, sympathetic smile on her face as she gazed at her daughter's reddened eyes. "Come. Go splash water on your face. Let's get something ready to eat. Your wife may be back soon and we shouldn't make her wait for food." She ordered Rae, who nodded and went to the bathroom, her shoulders slouched as the door closed behind her. Serreth watched her with a sharp eye, then turned and walked to her bedroom,, unlocking the door and quickly stepping in, closing it behind her. The room was dark, too dark, but she knew the layout well enough she didn't need to turn on the lamp. Taking a deep breath, she regained control of her emotions and walked to the window. There, too, she could see the tree house. More clearly, however, as a tree did not obscure her vision. It was then she spotted something she dreaded. Redbellies climbed the tree and began examining the abandoned house. She moved away from the window and watched from the mirror of her vanity that was adjacent to her. They scoured the only room for any signs, then looked out, directly towards her home. One pointed and spoke to the other, then the two paused, gazing inside her home a bit longer. There was a noise from the bathroom, and the two turned, quickly descended the tree, and were out of sight. Dread filled Serreth as she looked towards the wall where the bathroom was. What was that noise? Prying herself off the wall, she left her bedroom, closing the door behind her and moving to the bathroom. She knocked on the door, then jumped back when Rae swung it open, her body tense as she stared at her mother. Her face was less red as it was before. A quick examination of the room behind her revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Curious. "I heard something, are you alright, dear?" Serreth asked, looking back to Rae.

"I'm fine." She answered quickly, her body tense. "Sorry. I just slipped and knocked something over. I'm fine, though. I promise." Rae added, smiling to Serreth and walking around her. "Let's go get some food started. Did you have anything in mind for supper?" Rae was not as talented as Marishi or her mother at keeping a straight face. She had looked outside the window and spotted the Redbellies stalking about their house, then point directly at where they were and stare into the windows. She had hidden herself on top of the tub to get a better view of them through the mirror, but she lost her balance and slipped off the edge of the tub, her foot kicking the other side and knocking the shower head down, but she caught it in time before it clattered to the ground. Why were the Redbellies at their old house? What were they searching for?

The two began to prepare supper. The fire in the living room was started to warm the house while the oven heated up, a frying pan sat on top, warming up so they could fry some venison. It was then that Marishi came into the house, looking paler than usual. Serreth noted it first, then Rae as Marishi drew closer to excuse herself into the bathroom. The pieces were falling together. Feigning concern, Serreth glanced to Rae, then to the bathroom. "Perhaps I should-" she started, but Rae interrupted her. 

"No, mother. It's fine," she said, a smile on her face. "Marishi doesn't like others in the bathroom with her after her walks. That's her alone time." She lied. It was feeble, but Serreth appeared to buy it as she turned away, focusing on the vegetables she cut. It was then that Marishi beckoned Rae to join her, which put Serreth on full alert. She watched Rae go into the bathroom with alarm. What were they doing in there? What were they saying? Thoughts ran through her head to go into the room with them, to burst the door open and confront them with her suspicion, but she couldn't. Not without further proof. Maybe she was being paranoid? If she moved closer to the door, Marishi would hear. She purposefully made the floors creak for the reason so no one could sneak around her house.

"I seem to have forgotten something at the stalls," Serreth called out to them, masking her fear with a mild cheerfulness. "I'll be back in a little bit. Please watch the stove if you can!" With that, she was out of the door and walking, creeping, silently around the side of the house. Serreth perched under the window, listening intently, but hearing nothing. The two spoke in softer tones than she could hear. Cursing under her breath, she went to the next best place to get information--the market. The stalls weren't far from her house. They were still open and selling their wares with a few mothers buying their produce for their evening meal.

"Didn't you hear? She got attacked," whispered one woman to another. Serreth's ears turned her direction, but she remained overly attentive to an avocado, paying more attention to it than one should. "Redbellies, that's for sure. Bold little bastards."

"How did she escape?"

"Another one of their kind showed up, she said," the woman answered. "Got a little pissed they were roughing a girl up. She was dressed in black and had a weird eye. Poor thing was in hysterics when she got back here. Don't think she'll step a foot into Silent Arbor again."

"What happened to them? Did she say?"

"One of 'em was killed straight away. You know how they handle insubordination."

"I heard it was just a stranger."

"Don't be foolish. No one messes with the Redbellies. It was probably a higher-up. They're the only ones who'll do anything about their unruly brats."

Her head was swimming. Terror threatened to choke her as she dropped the avocado. The owner looked at Serreth with concern, seeing her paled face and trembling hands. "O-oh. I'm sorry." Serreth stammered, handing over a coin to pay for the avocado she dropped. She then left, not bothering to grab anything. She stumbled away, about to leave, when she spotted a few Redbellies prowling about the exit she walked towards. Serreth spun around on her heel and marched directly towards Buscarron's Druther's, the bar, and hid herself in there while trying not to hyperventilate. A few patrons glanced her way, then quickly returned to their drink and meal. Her head spun, panic set in. Her daughter and Marishi worked for the Redbellies. How could that be? And they were higher ups? So soon? It couldn't be longer than 3 years that they joined, but she would have seen them, heard of them before now. No, perhaps they were hired? Yes. They were hired. No, that made no sense. Unless it was all by some inexplicable coincidence that they got the job just as she invited them. That's impossible. They must work in the gang. Their skill has earned them a spot higher up. They were their recon. Almost like what she was. How much did they know? Everything, perhaps. And they were putting on a show. A better show than she ever could. They had fooled her. Rae, especially. Oh, how she tricked her! Actually made her believe she loved her! Rage built up within Serreth. How dare she play upon her emotions! Well, two could play at that game.

Taking a steady breath, Serreth corrected her emotions. She'd need time to formulate a plan. She walked to the counter and ordered a drink. Tonight was not the time to attack. Tonight, she would plan, observe, construct.

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Rae gasped as Marishi revealed her wound. She fell to her knees and examined it carefully, a deep frown creasing her brows. "How in the seven Hells did you get this? Why is it that whenever I let you out of my sight you get hurt?!" She chided, then rolled her eyes as Marishi joked. "I'm so glad you find this funny. I've half a mind to put a leash on you." Rae snapped back. Her suture kit was left home. Glancing at the kit her mother had, Rae hesitated a moment. That was quite the medical supply for a woman who stayed at home. "Hey, Marishi..." Rae stared while examining the contents of the kit. There was a numbing agent in the kit, so she pulled it out, poured some of it onto a cotton swab, then dabbed it onto the cut. Then, grabbing a needle and threading and tying the end and, she pinched the skin together and warned Marishi she was going to begin. "I... I saw something disturbing today while you were out. A couple of Redbellies were haunting around my old home. They... they pointed in here and stared. I think they were looking for my mother." Rae explained while she began to sew Marishi's wound closed. She moved with swift and perfect accuracy, knowing the numbing sensation wouldn't last forever.

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“Hurry, hurry, hurry. We need to move fast and I’ll need to be fully armed. They may not be looking for your Mother.” Marishi said as Rae gave her a quizzical look. “… They may be looking for me. They started it! I gave them every chance out I could and then some. I’m not going to stand by why they abduct children and sell them into bondage and slavery.” She protested convinced that it was the right thing to do. “Though I don’t know why they would be in your old house or even how they would have found me so quickly. Those bodies are in the river and shouldn’t be discovered by at least morning.” Marishi said

She had been stitched up to the point the bleeding stopped. Rae wrapped gauze over her wound to secure it and Marishi redressed in her attire. “We don’t tell your mother. That’d be the last thing she needs. The wife of her daughter running around her town killing the local organized crime that killed her husband.” Marishi paused a moment. “Though that’s pretty bold to do that right in the open. I wonder how many they have on their payroll here? How many are spies and collaborators? Odd for an old frail woman to have a veritable hospital in her closet, is it not? This isn’t just for the occasional cut or scrape. Surgery, battlefield wounds can be mended with all of this equipment.” She finished as she put her hand on the door. “We’ve cleaned the bathroom as best we can. burn the bloodied bandages in the fire and grab my Katana. Something isn’t right. I can feel it and I’m going to find out what that is.” She said opening the door and coming out.

Serreth was still gone and Marishi quickly had Rae disposed of the soiled medical supplies. Marishi snatched her Gordian Katana from its resting spot against the wall. She looked around the house slowly. Nothing seemed out of place or the ordinary. It was perfectly maintained. Perfectly. Maintained. To the point of it feeling like a staging house. A fake. “Where’s the master bedroom?” Marishi asked Rae. She pointed down the hallway but let Marishi know the door was locked. Marishi never broke her stride. She’d break it down if she had to. She sharply turned the door handle and the door gave way. She hadn’t locked it when she left from seeing the men in the trees.

It was dark in the room. Extremely dark. The floors creaked loudly and placing a booted foot forward made the whole room echo. There was one window facing the old home with an unobstructed view, one door that led to the hallway which had three different deadbolts installed reinforcing the door ten fold, a door that led to a bathroom, and a door that led to a walk in closet.

“I can’t see anything. Can you give us some light?” Marishi asked Rae. As Rae attempted to cast the spell that would illuminate the room, something took the spell from her lips and threw it upon the wind. Rae tried again, and again a third time. Marishi was concerned at this point. “Come with me. We’ll grab a lantern from the main room.” They walked back to the living room and procured a lantern from the center of the coffee table. “Light it.” Marishi commanded. Rae reached out her finger towards the wick and tried to light the Lantern. Nothing. She could cast spells. “This way.” Marishi said grabbing Rae’s stunned hand and dragging her out front onto the manicured lush grass that was Serreth’s lawn. “Now, light it.” Marishi said. Rae conjured the spell and the wick caught fire brightly and easily. No effort involved.

“Wards to iinterrupt any kind of magic casting. Inside the home. Why? Why would some old codger need to suppress magic casting in any way and how did she come across the sigils to do so? Let’s find out what’s in that room.” Marishi and Rae made straight for Serreth’s room with the lit lantern. They looked around. It appeared to be a normal bedroom. Queen bed clean and folded sheets, two night stands made of stained oak. a trunk with blankets to the foot of the bed. Not a single thing out of place. Rae was lifing her hand to inspect something on a bookshelf when Marishi hissed at her. “Don’t touch anything. Don’t disturb anything. I’m willing to bet my life that if something was touched, she’d know about it upon walked into this room.

Upon examination of the room, nothing turned out. Marishi walked to the closet and slowly opening the door. It was also dark in this area, with dresses and gowns and clothing of all kinds  hung on their hangers. Some clothing fine, extremely fine, and some old run down and patchy. “This wardrobe she has much cost a fortune by itself. Some of these are completely handmade for her solely.” Marishi said impressed. A great deal of money had to change hands for an artisan weaver to even consider to making pieces like some of these. That’s when she noticed it. The slight bulge on the far end of the floor. in the closed. She walked over to it, touched the bulge lightly, then pulled up on the carpeting. It gave way to reveal a floor safe dug into the ground of the closet. The safe wasn’t small. “Well, well. My, my.” Marishi said. “What kind of secrets are in here that you don’t want anyone to know of Serreth?I’ve gotta hand it to her, she almost had me with her bleeding heart act.” Marishi said. “She knew what to say to get me to lower my guard and she knew how to act to get me to buckle. She’s good. Marishi said impressed. “Really good. But the real question is; who is she working for and why? Someone is bank rolling her finances beyond you. At least they were.” Shuffling could be heard as Marishi and Rae saw Serreth walking to her home through the window. “Quick! Put the carpet over the safe and douse the light before she sees!” They moved quickly if not somewhat awkwardly and beat a hasty retreat out of the bedroom.

They sat on the couch slightly sweating and catching their breath when Serreth entered. “Did they not have what you were searching for at the market Serreth?” Marishi asked almost uninterested while Rae was attending to the meal. Serreth shook her head and walked back to her bedroom. Everything was just as she left it. Everything but the slightly ajar closet door.

Serreth looked at the door of her room, piercing the wood of the walls to glare with suspicion at Marishi and Rae. She could feel them staring back. The game of cat and mouse had begun. It was only a matter of time before one barred their teeth and went for the others throat.

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Serreth stared into the bedroom, noticing the closet immediately. Nothing else was moved, nothing else touched. The temperature was different as well, but no matches. Did the wards weaken? No. There was no way. They probably found out and lit the lamp outside. She didn't need to touch it. She knew already the extent of their prying. They knew too much. Did they find what was in her lock box? Perhaps not. Maybe that wasn't why they were here at all. She needed to find out more. She walked into the bedroom, placing her purse down and leaving the room, ensuring to lock it behind her. She scolded herself, allowing her guard to drop around them. They played her quite well. Still, they had no idea she was on to them. She could play at their game a little better. "As such, I'll just change what the menu is. A stew, perhaps? I have the spices for that." She hummed, a cheerful tone in her voice. As she walked to the kitchen, the corner of her eye caught sight of Marishi's Katana at her hip. Her heart skipped a beat, but she never wavered in her step. Once she gt close enough to the kitchen, Rae interjected.

"Have a seat, mother," she said suddenly in a sing-song voice, smiling pleasantly to her mother, who eyed her a moment. "I'll cook tonight. I have a good stew recipe that you'll like, I think! You should take a break!"

With a smile, Serreth nodded. 'Take me away from my kitchen full of knives, hm?' She thought to herself, a smile on her face still as she sat on the couch, crossing her legs and leaning to one side and resting her elbow on the arm of the couch. She watched as Rae quickly prepped the meal while her mother watched. She wanted to slip something into their stew, but to put up a fight with not wanting to give up cooking would have raised red flags for them. The way her daughter moved and handled the knife was a sight to behold. She truly became adept with the culinary trade. "So," Serreth started, turning to Marishi. Her attempts before at being her mother failed, she shoved those feelings aside. This was a job, now. Just like the others. She would get information as much as she needed, then knock them out and escape with what money should could. She'd have to prepare tea or something with the meal. It was easy enough to taint the cups and make her escape. A shame. She never wanted to leave the South Shroud, but now she would have to. "What convinced you two to come? Rae, when we spoke, you made it seem that Marishi would be hesitant to come along, yet you both showed up less than a day of the invitation!"

"This was Marishi's idea," Rae answered quickly, scooping the vegetables she had cut into her cupped hands and pouring them into the cauldron she was preparing the stew in. It hung over the opened oven, the shelves removed to allow it to fit. Rae had since taken the frying pan off the stove and placed it on the counter. By the fireplace was a log poker. She could use that as a weapon if needs be. Rae was easy to overpower, but Marishi would be a contender. She was used to close-range combat, she was used to out-manoeuvring her opponents. "She was hesitant at first, but then thought it was a good idea to get to know you."

Serreth watched the fire crackle. Her daughter sure seemed interested in doing all the talking. Was she in charge of this charade? Of this mission they were sent on? Get to know her... was that code for something? Are they just here to gather information and report back? "I feel like I haven't been a very good hostess, especially if I let you do all the cooking by yourself," she answered, chuckling lightly. "What else do you two do for a living? Surely adventuring isn't that lucrative? You own a mansion, don't you? There must be something else that gets you all that gil."

"No," Rae answered, crushing some herbs and letting them fall into the pot. "Adventuring is mostly where we get our livelihood. We've made enough that we're able to live comfortably for several years before we might need to pick up another job. You should know with all the gil I've given you, mother! You were able to buy a home and decorate it so well."

With a modest laugh, Serereth answered. "Oh, it was enough to buy a half-destroyed shack in a small hamlet. Not enough to get me a cottage in Ul'Dah."

"But enough to buy you plenty of fancy dresses," Rae quipped, pressing the matter more, looking to her mother for a reaction.

So she admitted it. They were snooping through her closet. "I hardly call this dress 'fancy', Rae." Her mother answered with a light laugh. Rae bit her tongue. Her mother was coy. She showed a bit of their hand, but she still did not keel. She would have to let Marishi do the rest. Serreth stood up as Rae left the kitchen, though paused when her mother walked towards the counter. She glanced through the bookshelf as if looking for something, one hand on her hip and the other tapping her chin while she squinted at the spines of the books. "So you two have no jobs right now? How do you received your business? How do your employers contact you?" She asked while grabbing a book off the shelf. She knew arming herself with the metal rod would be taken as an act of hostility by Marishi, so she looked elsewhere for her weapon. She'd throw a book if she had to.

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Marishi sat and listened to Serreth grill her daughter over her financial prospects and earnings. She listened to her question her moral compass in accepting tasks that earned pay. Marishi had about as much as she was going to take of Serreths snide tone and questioning of things that clearly didn’t concern her.

“Adventuring encompasses much more than strolling about a riverbank or two, Serreth. Every job that we accept we put our lives on the line and sometimes more than that. Both of us have scars to show that we didn’t always make it out as the top hand.” Marishi absently touched right below her right Onyx colored eye. “With all due respect, Serreth, I don’t see how you knowing about our finances is any business of yours. You receive a generous stipend from Rae every single month. It’s her money, she can spend it as she chooses. Though if it were me, I’d rethink the monthly fund she sends.” The irritation was clear in Marishi’s voice. She didn’t like anyone, especially Serreth butting her nose in business it clearly didn’t belong. She was trying to make them uncomfortable. Two could play that game.

“Odd though that you came back with nothing from the markets. They had nothing of value at all? Not even some rumor going around? When I was out earlier, I heard tale of certain individuals who were attempting to coerce a small girl into joining them for what I can only imagine would be a life of sexual slavery. Rumor has it that a bystander didn’t take kindly to that and proceeded to dispatch both of them. Apparently, she was unarmed.” Marishi recounted her own fight with the two men. There was also mention of two men who were adept at keeping to the shadows snooping around at what’s left of Rae’s childhood home. Searching for something. Or someone.” Serreth was staring directly at Marishi with no hint of emotion on her face. Marishi mirroring the emotion right back. “Rumors only though. The stories some people can come up with, no?”

Tension hung in the air heavily. Marishi staring at Serreth, Serreth staring at Marishi. Rae caught square in the middle. There was a pang of shame in Marishi as she realized as she was provoking Serreth, she was also hurting Rae. This was her mother. Not some worthless lowlife with information they needed.

“My apologies if I came off ass aggressive. It’s been an unnaturally long day and the light causes me discomfort if exposed to long to it. A byproduct of being reminded that some men will take whatever they want with or without consent. It looks like dinner is about ready. May I sit next to you, Serreth?” Marishi said softly, pulling her Katana from her sash and laying it next to the wall. Marishi didn’t trust her. She was too shrewd. She saw too much. She gave away too little. She could talk and talk all day long, but she wouldn’t actually be saying anything of value. She knew how to manipulate and she knew how to lie. To what ends, Marishi couldn’t tell. Because of that, she wouldn’t confront her until she had more information and so she played the subordinate. For now.

“Our employment takes us far and wide. Sometimes being gone for months at a time. We’ve been called to the Far East on more than one occasion, as well as the southern tip of Islabard. We had an offer to sail to the New World at one point, though that fell through.” Marishi explained over dinner as they ate. “We’ve been parcel runners, bodyguards, scavengers, dungeon delvers, advanced scouting parties. It’s dirty work there’s no doubt, but the pay matches the effort and our main benefactor treats her people well, though she doesn’t ply in wares or trinkets. She deals in much more lucrative transactions. She deals in information. So, to an extent, you could say that Rae and I have also had our hand in espionage. Though we observer and report and that’s all we ever hear of it.” Marishi spoke more of their profession and how they employed their methodology to adventuring to a clearly disinterested Serreth.

She didn’t care about their trips to the Hinterlands or Yanxia. She was measuring their worth. For something. This is what perplexed Marishi the most. It was clear she was much more than the front she put up and she was much smarter than she let on. But why push and prod Marishi and her daughter? Why start the manipulation tactics only to drop them in exchange for near hostile provocation? Serreth said little over the course of the meal, feigning to listen to the grandiose exploits of the adventures of Marishi and Rae.

Dinner eaten and the table cleared and plates cleaned, Marishi did not want to linger for an after-dinner smoke, dessert, coffee, or any of the sort. “My apologies Serreth, I know it’s still somewhat early in the evening, but the day has taxed my spirits and I’m afraid that I’ll have to excuse myself and retire somewhat early tonight.” Marishi stood up from the couch in the parlor and bowed to Serreth. “Coming Rae? You know how poorly I sleep when you are not by my side. Goodnight Serreth. May the night find you well.” Marishi said walking slowly to the spare bedroom. Rae closely behind.

They arrived in the room, closed the door and began to undress. Marishi was in a hurry to retire but not because she was weary, but the pain in her side where she had been stabbed was beginning to hurt. Marishi had Rae clean the wound and make sure the stitching was tight and the heal was on the mend.

With that they both laid down for the evening. The day was spent and the moon was cresting over the ruins of Amdapor. Marishi was lightly dozing when her ears pricked up at the sound of creaking wooden floors. She heard the creaking stop at the front of their door where Marishi opened her eyes and began preparing herself. For what, she wasn’t sure. Then the creaking moved in the direction of Serreth’s bedroom where the slight jingle of keys and the unlocking of the deadbolt could be heard. She heard the door close and the bolt slide into the home position. Serreth locking herself in her room.

“Something isn’t right about your mother Sunshine.” Marishi said. “I’m not speaking ill of her, nor am I angry. She plays the bleeding heart, but it’s false. Her eyes are too sharp and her wit too keen. She’s attempted on more than one occasion today to extract information from us. I’m not trying to cause problems or drive a wedge between the two of you. But something isn’t right. Ever since we found that floor safe, she’s been aggressive. I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring and it might sound insane, but I don’t trust her. And I’m pretty sure she trusts us even less.” She whispered to Rae.

They’d find out more and get to the bottom of the charade that was being put on tomorrow. She’d find out why men were searching Rae’s childhood home, she’d find out what Serreth wanted with Rae, she’d find out how it was that with all the gang purging’s that Serreth was still alive and well. Even thriving.

Marishi dozed into a light sleep listening to every sound of the house and the world just outside of it. She’d have her answers tomorrow. If she liked them or not.

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Before she could ask another question, Marishi stated it was time to sleep and promptly left, taking Rae along with her. Serreth watched, eyes narrowed and suspicions rising. They would be planning something. What, she didn't know. Perhaps they knew she was aware of their situation all along. No matter. She'd be rid of them soon. Morning would come. Perhaps she would just confront them about it? No. Two against one is not ideal. She would need to gain the upper hand somehow. Drugging them was her only option. Killing them... maybe if she were in a different mindset. That part of her that still loved Rae dwelt within her. She couldn't kill her own child. Marishi? Well, that was another story. She would wake up early enough so they wouldn't be and she could make them breakfast. 

Or maybe she should just leave now? She tidied up a bit before walking towards the door, hand outstretched and ready to open. One ear perked, turned towards Rae and Marishi's door as she strained to hear their voices, but nothing came. Perhaps they were asleep. Now would be as good of time as ever to leave. Except they were probably awake. If she tried to leave, they'd only follow her. Tonight was not the time to make action, tonight was the night to plan. She turned, returning to her room and unlocking the door, then promptly closing it and locking it behind her. Serreth then silently walked to her bed, removing her clothes. Her apron hit the ground hard, causing her to glance at it while letting the rest of her clothes lay flat on her dresser. Picking it up, she found her pipe, still full, with some of crushed leaves remaining in her pocket. Thumbing the pipe, she replaced it back in her apron, but emptied out the rest of the packing into her pocket first, then carefully hung her apron around the bottom right post of her bed frame. Pulling on a plain shift to sleep in, Serreth finally climbed into her bed. It was a single bed. She would never have another in her life that she loved like Fieraman. He was one of a kind. The love of a lifetime. Laying there, she did not pull the blankets over her, but laid on top of them and stared at the ceiling. Thoughts filled her head as she contemplated her options, weighing each one, and fit together a plan. Before long, she fell asleep.

"I know," Rae murmured, laying down beside Marishi and pulling herself close to her, her head resting on the pillow. "I know... I don't want to think of it. Never in any of the letters I got from her did she even hint that she was in trouble, much less doing anything questionable. Do you... no, that can't be. Nevermind. Let's just sleep." Rae whispered, wrapping her arms around Marishi and closing her eyes. Before long, she, too, was asleep.

Morning came quickly. Rae awoke to the sound of some one up and in the kitchen. At first, she thought it was the Redbellies having broken into their house, or maybe even let in. Rae sat up, careful not to disturb Marishi, then walked to the bedroom door and opened it. Her mother was in the kitchen, already preparing breakfast. Rae watched as she looked up to her from cutting the pork. The two stared a moment and Rae, for a split second, forgot her mother was a questionable person. She wanted nothing more than to walk over and hug her, but she knew the reaction she would received, and it would hurt her to experience it. "Good morning, mother." Rae groggily murmured, offering a sleepy smile.

Serreth silently cursed and smiled back to her daughter. She hadn't been able to make the tea and slip the mixture in. Maybe she'd send Rae out for a moment. "Could you fetch a log? It gets quite cold in the morning and I wouldn't want you nor Marishi to freeze." Serreth requested, returning her attention to the pork, slicing a thin slice of it, then placing the slice on a plate while the frying pan heated up.

"It's not that cold, mother," Rae replied, walking towards the kitchen. She would do something that Marishi wouldn't agree with. She'd reveal too much of what they know, or what they're thinking. Gulping, Rae leaned against the counter and lowered her voice. "You know, mother... if you were... in trouble. You could always come to me." She spoke quiet enough that Marishi wouldn't be able to hear, even if she was awake.

A curious glance was thrown to Rae at her offer. Serreth wasn't sure what to make of it, but she felt slightly threatened. Did her daughter know something she didn't? Perhaps she was trying to warn her? Maybe Marishi was the one who was pulling the strings and Rae, the ever dutiful wife, was along to support her. "I'm not in trouble, Rae," she replied cautiously. "Could you please go get the wood?" She asked, a little more pointedly. Rae frowned even more, her brows furrowing. Not wanting to disobey her mother, she turned to get the wood, but knocked on Marishi's door. Serreth's grip on the handle of her knife tightened. She would never get the opportunity, would she?!

"Marishi, darling. Time to wake up! Go get showered before I have to." Rae called out, not wanting to leave her mother alone in the house. She then walked out around the corner, pausing a moment to stare at the group of men and women sulking around the entrance to the small settlement. Redbellies. Picking up a few logs, Rae quickly walked back into the house, closing the door tightly behind her. Were they planning an attack? Rae remained calm, however, and walked to the fireplace, placing the pile of logs she gathered down beside it and began cleaning out the pit, clearing the ashes of the last log that was in there before she started the fire.

The air was tense, Serreth seemed to exude rage as her plans constantly interrupted.

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Marishi was already awake  when she felt Rae stir and leave the bed. She wanted to lay awhile longer to collect her thoughts. Something wasn’t right. There was something fundamentally wrong. With Serreth, with Buscaroon’s, with the Red Bellies, with herself. 
It was like the more and more she dug, the further entangled she became in the web and the harder it was to understand and rationalize motives. She heard the difference in Serreth’s tone. She couldn’t hear what was said, but there was an edge to the words. Irritation, impatience. Like Rae was interrupting her.
Marishi didn’t like the tone Serreth held with Rae. She could only imagine how much it stung to be lashed with them by her own mother. As Rae and her mother exchanged words, Marishi quickly dressed, then fully armed. Even if it was to intimidate some old woman, she would.
The moment Rae knocked on the door and left the home, Marishi opened the door and walked out. She moved slowly, her eyes falling over everything. Taking all information in, betraying none of it outwardly. She stopped in the middle of the room and addressed Serreth cordially. “Good morning, Mother in law. Slept well, I presume?” Marishi was feigning being polite. Serreth said nothing as she stared back at her. “I was actually hoping I could have a moment to speak with you alone.” Marishi said take a few strides towards her, her left hand resting on the grip on her Gordian Katana. She didn’t want to come off as intimidating or forceful, but there were worse things to be in this situation and she would make sure that she was fully understood.
“As I’m sure Rae has told you, I was raised and formally educated by the Holy See of Ishgard and it’s Church. The Heavensward often being the headmasters of the varying fields of focus. I’m not ignorant to corruption, lies, or politics. Neither is Rae having been forced to Sharlaya.” Marishi made it a point to hang on that last sentence.
“While Rae is out, you and I are going to talk. Just us. No one else need hear and no one else need know. There’s more going on here than you let on. It’s not chance that two Red Bellies show up in the Hamlet yesterday and are subsequently found dead.” Marishi smiled. “My doing by the way. I killed them both. It’s not not a coincidence that around that same time, you began to act strange as well. You think I buy your martyr’d heart and sob stories? Please.” Finally Marishi was getting to it. She was going to push the balance and create chaos. “Plus the monsters you keep under your rug. Literally! Five men have entered into the hamlet this morning. All part of a larger organization. Two sure took a liking to your shack out yonder. You’d think they’d give me a reward for turning you in?”
Before Marishi could finish musing over her last thought, Serreth dropped all pretense and attacked Marishi. This caught her off guard and she was only able to deflect one or two blows before a flurry of slaps and holds threw her to the ground, stunned.
“What in the hell was that?!” Marishi said almost comically.  “I won’t let you take me back.” Was all she said. “Look, old lady, I don’t have time for your dementia or other such nonsense. We’re getting out of here.” Marishi went to grab her by her collar when Serreth grabbed her wrist spun her behind her back and kicked her down causing Marishi to slide across the floor.
Marishi wasn’t amused anymore. This old woman had strength to her and worse, she had skill. Marishi scrambled to her feet and shoved her shoulder into Serreth causing her to skid away from the door. “Fine, be that way. But you’re coming with us. One way or the other. I knew we shouldn’t have trusted any word out of your mouth.” Marishi said through clenched teeth. She put her hand on the hilt of her sword and began to draw her Gordian Katana. Serreth was on her like a storm before she could even clear a third of the blade from the sheathe.
She grabbed Marishi’s hand and with another, her face. She snapped the Katana back into it’s resting spot and shoved Marishi’s face back causing her to stagger. Serreth pulled the sword from her sash and threw it across the room, disarming Marishi.
Rae had arrived back from grabbing the fire wood as instructed to be greeted by her mother clearly embattled by her wounded wife.
Spells were useless, weapons were divested. hand to hand is what it came down to in that tiny house. Two women against one. Fledglings against a master. All was quite a moment, Rae moving into Serreth’s blind spot. She herself not moving an inch.
Marishi striked. She used her left hand to open handed hit her in the side of the head while her right went for her rib cage. Serreth countered like it was nothing, slapping her hands away, jabbing Marishi in the throat and elbowing her across the cheek causing her to stagger and fall. Rae attempted to attack from behind at the same time. Serreth kicked her right leg backward ramming into Rae’s shin causing her to howl in pain. Serreth spun and Rae raised her hands in a defense position, deflecting her blows poorly until Serreth, hit her hands away from her face stunned her by hitting her head, and kicking her across the room shattering a small chair she slammed into. Marishi came down on her as she was engaged with Rae only to be met with immediate resistance and several quick and sharp blows to the face and sternum. Serreth grabbed her arm right below her elbow and spun her over her shoulder throwing Marishi down to the floor slamming her head into the wood. 
Rae was getting up from the splintered wood and used one of the larger pieces as a club swinging it at Serreth. She jumped back swayed and dodged the blows until she caught Rae’s arm and slammed the club out of her hand, backhanding her across her face and putting her into a body hold. She hit her once more before letting her fall to the ground.
“God … Damn … Lady.” Marishi said amused at her own misjudgment of Serreth. She thought her just a manipulative codger, not a martial arts expert who could tear through two seasoned soldiers. There was no outmaneuvering her. She was too lithe and too fast. She would just feint to the side and catch you undefended. There was no chance at actual combat due to how small the home was and how the furniture seemed strategically placed to hamper anyone that might attempt to wield a weapon. 
Rae was groaning trying to get up while Marishi was obviously fatigued from the exertion. Serreth remained impassive staring at them both with sharp and narrowed eyes. She didn’t hate them, but she saw them as a threat and she would neutralize them by subduing them or killing them. Marishi pulled herself up to full height and said “I wonder if they taught you how to fight like that. Or if you picked it up. Don’t bother lying. The front you put up is impressive, but I knew the moment we got here that something was wrong. That you were lying. About something. How long have they had you in their pockets? How much do they actually pay you? Or do you know too much and that’s why they sent those assassins to come kill you?” Serreth’s hand clenched into a fist. “You should know since you take orders from them. How long has Rae been in their pocket? Feeding me money until I worked up the stupidity to invite her and you to my home where you could stab me in the back? How much did they pay you? Was it dead or alive? Are you just a hired sword or did they initiate you into their ranks? It doesn’t matter, you’re going to get out of my way or I’m going to kill you. I don’t want to kill you or Rae, but I’ll do what it takes to survive. As I’ve ALWAYS done. I wonder if Rae ‘running off alone’ for her father to chase her and be taken from me was always the plan.”
Marishi heard enough and closed the gap on Serreth. No amount of parrying or speed was going to be enough to be able to break through her defense, but perhaps brute force could. She made no attempt to block Serreths blows as she hit, slapped, kicked, palmed, and punched her all over her body. Marishi got close enough to elbow Serreth across the side of her face stunning her. Marishi took the opening to hit her on the other side of her head to knock her down. Serreth went down and kicked Marishi in her shin causing Marishi to stagger back. Rae hit Serreth in the back of the head with a vase, but only seemed to irritate her as she slapped Rae’s hands away, jabbed her in the throat, kneed her in the stomach, jump to grab the wooden rafters in the ceiling, and swing using both feet to send Rae flying to the other side of the room slamming into the wall. Not getting up.
Marishi was recovered enough to continue to resist. Serreth was finally beginning to tire and her hits were becoming weaker, as was Marishi. They began to trade blow for blow both breathing heavily, sweat mixing with blood and bruises begging to swell. Marishi was in front of the door blocking her Serreth’s path. She deflected Marishi’s hands, jumped, and drop kicked Marishi with both her feet, throwing her through the front door to the patio outside rolling into the railing.
The home was completely destroyed. Broken furniture and stoneware all over the floor. Paintings ripped off the walls or canvas torn. Scuffs and scratches all over the floor and dents in the plaster in the walls. Serreth had beaten back both Rae and Marishi as both were down and barely able to move. Serreth began moving to the front door to leave when just outside she was hit with a large and heavy object over the head the sent her falling crashing to the ground, eyes closed. Marishi looked up with blurred vision to see a man dressed in leather armor stare down at her and use his boot to render her unconscious.

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