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Marishi Ten

Under Boughs Of Blood [FINAL FANTASY XIV]

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"Wake up, my little Honeysuckle," called a voice. Rae hadn't heard it in so long. She had almost forgotten it, but the nickname was unmistakable. She was in the tree lofts again, sleeping on the floor. A single mat was all her bed was. No blankets, no pillows, no sheets. The mat was thin, but comfortable enough for a young girl to sleep on. Her family didn't have much, but they gave her everything they could. Her childhood would seem sad to most, but to her, she was the happiest little 6 year old. "Rise and shine, Rae-Bear. It's time to go hunting. The meat we had expired too early." Her father faced away from her On his back a quiver full of arrows and a bow, strung and ready to use. Rae looked at her hands, noting their size.

Small. Her claws were short. She still had a bit of her baby fat on her thighs and tummy, patting her face, she felt her full, round cheeks. She was certainly not an adult anymore. Her hair was short, cut in a bob, tapered under her chin. She was a child again. In her hoe when her father was alive. She was dreaming, that much was certain to her. She could not wake, however. Not that she wanted to.

"Where is Mama?" Rae asked, standing up, using her hands and planting them in front of her, then lifting her rear up into the air and standing her legs up, then stood up straight. Her short, fluffy tail swishing back and forth excitedly as she quickly ran to her dresser, fetching her hunting gear, throwing on a pair of gloves, a leather jacket, and pulling on her leather pants and boots. She strapped the quiver over her right shoulder and snatched her bow, clutching it in her hands. She was ready in an instant.

"She had to run to Quarrymill. She'll be back in time for lunch, she said. We'll just have to have jerky and bread while she's gone. Come, little Honeysuckle. We shall find the fattest antelope your mother has ever seen! And we'll bring her back the most beautiful flowers in the marsh. She will be so pleased!" Her father said, turning around to face her.

He was handsome. Strong features, a square jaw with a bit of hair, but not a full beard, but stubble. He bore markings on the inside corners of his eyes and stripes along his cheeks. He was well-built, with muscles, strong hands, and strong legs. His tail wasn't as furry as Rae's, nor was it as long. It was short and capped with a white tip. His hair was black and tied out of his face. It was quite long for a male with a long braid that curled from one side, wrapped around the ponytail and almost touched his shoulder, but not quite. His eyes were a bright green, just like Rae's. Looking to her, he smiled proudly. "Ahh, my fearsome hunter! Come, you shall scout for us while we prowl the darkness of the forest." He held his hand out to Rae, revealing a large scar that ran along his forearm. It matched the width and shape as one that was on his shoulder as well. As Rae climbed his arm, perching herself upon his cut shoulder, he curled his arm around her legs, keeping her secure. The scars aligned, telling a story of a failed attempt to protect himself from the bite of a blade.

Walking to the hole in the floor, Fieraman dropped down, grabbing the rope and allowed him to slide to the ground without hurting his knees. Rae, gasping, wrapped her arms around his forehead, clutching him tightly as they landed, then laughed merrily as she realized they were safe. She knew her father would never let harm come to her, but some things always exhilarated her and caught her off-guard. The two shared a laugh while he walked into the forest, Rae's arm still wrapped around his forehead as they vanished into the Shroud.

As they walked, the light vanished from above them, like the Sun had gone away. No moon filled the sky, only darkness. Eventually, the trees thinned out until they vanished entirely as well and the two were left walking into darkness. They weren't hunting, only stalling. Rae's smile vanished. She thought of her mother. They fought. She fought... fiercely. How did her mother learn to fight like that? She never hunted with her and her mother Those weren't skills for hunters, anyways Those were skills to use against other people. "Papa," Rae said after a time. "What happened to Mama? Why does she hate me?"

"Your mother doesn't hate you, my Honeysuckle," Fieraman answered, his voice was reassuring, Rae almost believed him. "She still loves you. Why else would she call you to her home?"

"To kill Marishi and I." She answered flatly.

Fieraman chuckled. "And why would your mother wish to kill you two?"

"Because she works with the Redbellies." Rae explained. This was met with silence from her father. He continued to walk, his arm still wrapped around both of Rae's legs.

"And why would the Redbellies want you and Marishi dead?"

"Marishi killed two of them."

"So she predicted you two would show up and kill two of her associates?"

It was Rae's turn to be silent. She stared straight ahead, thinking. "I suppose... she couldn't have predicted that. Then why would she invite us over?"

"Here, walk beside me, daughter," Fieraman said, grunting as he bent down to let her stand. She was taller suddenly. The clothes she wore barely fit her and the fat in her legs and tummy were gone. She was slimmer. Perhaps a teenager now, or a pre-teen. "I think you know the answer, Rae. Tell me, what do you think?"

After some time mulling over the possible answers, Rae hesitantly said, "Was she... telling the truth?" She turned to her father, looking up at him as she asked.

"Perhaps. Why would she lie to you?"

"To lure us out here."

"For what?"

"... to kill us."

"Why else would she want to kill you?"

"... for having you killed."

Rae choked out the last sentence. Her voice was strained and large, hot tears fell down her face. Fieraman stopped and turned to Rae, kneeling down and placing his hands on her shoulders. She was a child again. He gazed into her eyes with such intensity, she could feel them pierce through to her soul. "Rae, you mustn't continue to blame yourself for my death," he urged her, but still, tears fell. She did not make a sound, but she cried while dropping her head, avoiding his gaze. "Honeysuckle, listen to me. Listen to your father. What happened needed to happen. In order for the world to move on, things must happen. Had I not died, you would not have left the Shroud. Had you not left the Shroud, you would not have met Marishi. Had you not met Marishi, you would continue to live as a sheltered woman, not knowing the world outside of the boughs we built our home within. Could you imagine a life with Marishi?"

Wiping her eyes, Rae shook her head, but spoke. "You should still be alive, though. I should have listened. I should have obeyed you. I wasn't old enough to go adventuring out. I wasn't smart enough. We could have made a new bow for me, but... I thought I could do it. I thought I could-" by that point, she was blubbering. Her face was red as were her eyes as she spoke almost incoherently. Her father covered her mouth with his hand, causing her to stop and calm down. She would sniffle, hiccuping as her shoulders rose and fell with each sharp inhale.

"What happened had to happen, my Honeysuckle," he repeated, soothingly. He took his hand from her mouth, wiping the tears off her face, then drying his hand on his pant leg. "I couldn't live forever. Yes, life was difficult without me. The guilt you've felt has overwhelmed you at times when it sunk in just what had happened. It wasn't your fault. Not at all. I would rather have taken those arrows and that spear for you. You were always going to sneak into the Redbelly's fort. That was unavoidable. At least you chose a time when I could be there to protect you."

Rae kept her gaze downcast as her father paused, watching her for a reaction. Finally, she threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. Fieraman, in turn, wrapped his arms around her. Together, they embraced. Rae sobbed, letting go of all the pain she felt, all the guilt in the form of tears. Once emptied of her suffering, Fieraman spoke once more, softly. "Do you know why your mother wishes to see you?"

"Because she loves me." Rae murmured, her voice muffled by her father's shoulder. 

"That's right," he answered, stroking her hair. It was quite long, reaching passed her shoulders and down her back. "She hurts, just as you do. Your mother does not know how to cope with this pain. While she may blame you for my death, there is a way to fix it. To help her find closure, to find peace."

Pulling away, Rae looked to her father, lips slightly parted. She looked to him for an answer, but instead, he smiled to her, reaching over and holding her braid, counting the plaits quietly. "33. You're not much older than I was." He murmured, smiling to her. Rae stared back at him. She was herself now. No longer a child scared of the Redbelly gang, no longer a sheltered teenager stuck in the world of Scholars. Holding Rae at arms-length, he looked her over, smiling still. "I'm proud of who you've become, my Honeysuckle. You should be, too. There's nothing to be ashamed of what happened. Go forward with pride, my daughter. Save your mother. Always remember that I love you."

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Rae's eyes fluttered open and she stared at the ground before her. Suddenly, a flood of pain washed over her. That's right, her mother kicked her ass. "Ugh," Rae groaned, getting to her feet slowly. She had no idea her mother was such a skilled fighter. Perhaps it was something she learned from the Redbellies. Limping, Rae made her way outside where she saw Marishi laying flat on the ground with a few people standing around, staring with wide eyes. Rae hobbled to Marishi's side, dropping to her knees and carefully cradling her head in her hands. She could see she was still breathing, but it appeared she got as good of a beating as she did. Bruises covered both their bodies, lumps and bumps swelled and cuts stung, but did not bleed as much. "Marishi," Rae croaked, coughing and clearing her throat. Her chest hurt from her mother's boots being planted firmly on it and kicking her into the wall. "Marishi, can you hear me? Wake up." She urged, trying to get her wife to come to consciousness.

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T Sun was so bright. Marishi squinted her eyes against it refusing to open them at all. She hurt all over. There wasn’t one inch of her that didn’t feel sore or broken. She moved her hand encased in her Kote on the dry gravel making noise that alarmed the few bypasses that stood around at the spectacle. A seasoned Miquo’te of the Far East laying on her back, prostrated, near beat senseless. Behind her a small cottage that belonged to one of their residents, its door hanging wildly off of one jam. Inside could be see where the small home was obliterated. Furniture smashed, entire walls pushed in.

Serreth had drop kicked Marishi out of the house and onto the trail leading to it, he feet snatching the breath from her body. Before she could fully sit up the last thig she could remember is a green leather booth crashing it’s heel down onto her head. She touched her head lightly right below where it would be. It caused her to wince in pain. And the skin was bright read and hot.

Rae limped up to her and cradled her head in her arms. What they needed was rest, which wasn’t a possibility. Time was against them. Time was always against them. They needed to reach the Red Bellies before they made it to their home turf to take Serreth back from them. If they made it inside their “hive” getting Serreth out with Marishi, Rae, or Serreth alive would become a remote if not impossible task.

“I’m fine, you don’t have to dote on me so, Sun Ray.” Marishi Croaked, her eyes shadowed in pain and blood crusted around her lips and head. The boot heel to the head caused the most damage and left a wheeling gouge still slowly oozing blood causing her brain to feel like it was splitting into two. She could hardly sit up, let alone mount a rescue and a suitable defense. Not the way Marishi was, not the way Rae was now.

With Rae’s help Marishi sat up and almost vomited from the pain. She would be going nowhere. The thought dawned upon her as she began to panic. They had here and there was nothing they could do about it. It’s not like they had a miracle in their pocket. Then, through the pain, the thought dawned on her and went a lance of sunshine through her clouded thoughts.

She turned toward one of the onlookers. A young Elezen. “You.” Marishi said staring straight at him with her onyx eye beginning to swell shut and her sanguine clouded with pain. “How near is the excavation site for the Gelmorran Ruins? How far away is it outside of town?” She asked him in a croaked and forced voice. “Uhh – Are you alright miss? The old lady seems to have worked one or two over on the both of you.” He started to laugh that two hale and hearts Miquo’te could be bested by some mummy in an old shack. Marishi darted him a look that could kill. “How. Far. Away.” She repeated slowly. “A-a-about a half bells ride.” He stammered.

Marishi reached into her breast pocket and pulled out a pouch that jingled of coin. “All of it if you head out there and fetch a hearer and Seedseer. Right now, boy time is wasting. They can find us in the Druthers.” Marishi threw half the Gil at him for promise to pay and with Rae’s help, rose shakily to her feet. Together the two leaned on each other heavily as they walked to the bar to await Marishi’s plan.

The boy stared with wide eyes at the ground. All that Gil to just fetch some fools who are too simple to understand old ruins. The deal was perfect for him. He’d be at the Druthers within 20 minutes with their hearer in tow.

Marishi and Rae arrived at the bar to the considerable shock of the patrons. One look at them they could tell they had been in a fight for their lives. A fight which they did not fare well in. They limped, gasped in pain, and bled freely through their clothing and dripped on the floor. “Water. As much as you can spare it. And cloths. If you have any liquor, we’ll take that too. Food as well. Something light and not greasy. Hurry up.” Marishi and Rae moved to a table in the back away from the light of the fireplace and setting Sun. Pitchers soon arrived fill of cool and clean water with the cloth they asked for. First Marishi and Rae drank as much of the water as they could. They had been dehydrated since the altercation and laying in the hot Sun did not help matters. Once their thirst had been slaked, they began to wash themselves of the blood and grime. While they were in the middle of cleaning a young hearer not much older that 20 summers showed up, her eyes wide with fright upon seeing the two seasoned warriors in such broken shape.

“Take a seat.” Said Marishi to the hearer. She did as she was told, sat down, and waited for Marishi to begin to explain what she wanted. “You are a hearer, no? So, you have been trained in the basic ways of a Conjurer. This is why I have asked for you. I need you to heal my companion and I. Just enough to be put back into fighting condition.” Marishi asked. “I’m afraid I haven’t used any of those skills in years. Yes, we are trained in the basics of healing, but we don’t use them as hearers. I’m afraid I can’t help you. I don’t remember how. Besides, Conjury can mend scrapes and cuts. Mending broken bones and internal bleeding requires the assistance of a White Mage, which there are few in the world. Perhaps I can send word to Quarrymill – “The young hearer was cut short. “Don’t worry about your ability. I’ll walk and talk you through it. All you have to do is listen to my words and do as I tell you. Can you do that?” Marishi asked impatiently. “Who are you?” The young hearer asked. “No one of consequence. My name doesn’t matter. Just know that the arts of the White Mage I once wielded. I can no longer wield them, though I can tell others how to. Please. You’d not only be saving our lives, but the lives of this hamlet and someone they took.” Marishi honestly pleaded with her.

The hearer thought a moment. “Okay. I’ll try. No promises.” She said. “What do I do?” Marishi sat back in her chair and fought back the queasiness in her stomach. “Close your eyes and star into the infinite black. Close out all other thought, sound, feeling except my voice. Focus.” The hearer focused on Marishi’s voice until it became an echo and all the other sounds of the bar disappeared. “Feel for the Aether. Feel its wisps. They’re all around you. Twisting and turning up from the land. From every living thing. Feel it as it gently caresses your cheek and holds your hand.” The hearer drew in a sharp breath from the ability to actually feel what she was describing. “Don’t lose focus. The Aether is there to protect you. Not hard you. Its presence isn’t alien. It’s with you all the time. Feel it bend around you. Now, begin to draw the Aether toward you. Like a mother calling her child. Bend it to your will. Slowly.” The hearer was having trouble with this part, Marishi could feel. She couldn’t bend the aether as well as should have been. “Imagine the Aether. Its soft green tendrils lifting like smoke and heat off the land. Off each other. You can see it, all around you. A smoky haze. Formless and lazy.” The hearer could see it in her minds eye. The wisps of green Aether dancing to and fro. “Bend the Aether to your will gently. Use yourself as a conduit for it’s storage and manipulation.” The hearer began to call the Aether to herself and let it intermingle with her own lifeforce. Building it up as a battery. She began building and building until she was on the verge of bursting. “Channel the Aether. Release it in small waves of succor directed at myself and the woman sitting next to me. Do not release it all at once, but in small pulses bent to heal wounds and provide peace to the broken.” The hearer stretched out her hand toward Marishi and Rae. She was enveloped by a soft green light that focused on her hand and leapt out to Marishi and Rae. Covering them. Caressing them. Loving them. Speaking of rest and comfort. Love and understanding. As the light enveloped them, their wounds began to seal closed. Even Marishi’s gouge on her head. The pain of the attacks subsided and vigor filled their bodies and tranquility their minds once again. “You can stop now. Open your eyes hearer, the world of the living calls you once again.” Marishi said. The woman had the face of peace and happiness. While she was one with the Aether. When she awoke from her dream, her face changed to one of sadness and yearning. Wanting nothing to but to drift upon the Aetherial Waves once more. “I’m sorry to call you back. But it is the price that’s paid to serve and heal others. One day, you will join with the river, and you will not have to be called back. Keep that in your heart, hearer. You’ve done a great thing today. My partner and I thank you.” Marishi said graciously.

She and Rae were healed from their wounds with their cuts, bruises, damage all gone and replaced with healed vigor. They quickly at down the light dinner and drank the rest of the water. Marishi and Rae thanked the bartender, the boy, and last but not least, the Hearer. She was tired from the tax that channeling succor did to her body. She would lay down in the taverns bed and not awake for two days.

Marishi and Rae left the building walking quickly with sure footing and fast stride. “We need speed. And a guide.” Marishi stopped suddenly. “No, we don’t need a guide, do we? You know where they’re going. I’m sorry, Solar, I need you to recall unpleasant memories. I need you to lead us to their ‘hive’. We need to stop them from taking your Mother. We can explain to her that we are not her enemy and that we will defend her from them.” Marishi said to Rae. She knew how hard it was to pull up old dredged memories steeped in fear and sorrow. She knew the pain Rae would feel every step forward. But they had to save her Mother. This was the only way.

They walked to the stable keeper and fetched their White two-person Chocobo and mounted. Rae guiding the bird, and Marishi the passenger. “Ride with all haste. With any luck, we can cut them off before they get there. Go! Go now!” Rae spurred the bird into a full sprint down the small hunter’s trail that led to the ‘hive’. As they rode, the hairs on their arms picked up and the light emitted began to change from a silvery glow to a sickly green. Marishi and Rae didn’t even notice as they were sprinting toward their destination. They didn’t notice as Aether began to seep up from the ground in white particles. Like falling snow, but headed towards the sky and not the earth.

They were far too focused on retrieving family than worry about what the weather may be warning them of.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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How many years had it been? 1,000? 3,000? 5,000? How many years did he spend locked in that crystalline cell, soul seething, feeding off the very thing that gave him power? How long had it been since he escaped his eternal confinement, for his body, his soul, his vengeance to manifest again?

Ah, yes. He was searching for someone. Someone important. Who? Were they alive? Dead? Did it even matter? What was their name? Why were they hunting them down with such fervent desire? What was his own name again? It had been so long, so long locked away forced to sleep for eons. So long he had forgotten his own name.

If he had forgotten his own name, than everything else was gone as well. He had no identity in which to call upon. No name in which to refer to himself. He suddenly felt very small and very alone in a world he couldn’t remember which he had spent thousands of years under its very sky.

He felt a gentle nudge of a wet nose on his arm as he was succumbing to his own darkness. The nose nudged him twice and snorted slightly. A horse. Black as the very night with a mane that shone slick in the light. His mane was always slick it seemed. Its teeth curled and barring over the bit with eyes as red as blood it stared at him. It was a huge beast with a hulking barreling chest adorned with black and burnt wrought iron armor and fittings. Jagged and uneven as if they had been pulled from a funeral pyre or a scene of battle with everything charred.

He stroked the mane of the horse with his armored hand, reassuring the beast that its master was well and not giving in to despair. He himself wore form fitting battle armor from head to toe. Nothing could be seen of his under armor, or his skin, if he had any. Her could be just a immaterial wisp incorporating itself in the shell of the armor granting it twisted and unholy life. He wore a helmet that bore no nose or breathing piece of any kind. Just pale golden light for its eyes that lit up the area around him. The helmet had two long horns on either side that stretched to the heavens. His armor black and gold trimmed, but looked of the same material, design, and condition as his steeds.

On his back he wore a long and slender spear that appeared to be able to split the heavens wide itself. Wrought black with a thin and waving double blade the spear could be thrown as easily as wielded. At his hip he knew where the source of his dormant strength and unholy life lay. A black sword, one handed and curved in the way of traditional Samurai of the far east. It was a one handed sword, though the blade was three times longer than it should be for a mortal to wield it with any effectiveness. The blade was pitch black and pulsed with small shockwaves that caused gravity and the rules of relativity to break down. Dust, particles, small rocks all rose into the air the passing of this Dark Rider.

He hesitantly gripped the blade. Fear rocking him for he knew once he gripped it, he would be lost forever. But since he was no one without a name anyway, why not succumb to the swords murmurings. He was hit with a tidal wave of memories and emotions as he touched the weapon. His memories and emotions. No, that’s not quite right. It was the weapons memories and emotions. He was beginning to remember.

A warrior of unequaled skill and might. Traveling to the world to find an equal to himself in the prowess of battle. Land to land, continent to continent did he travel besting opponent after opponent. He would never raise his blade to a man that didn’t first swing his own. He wasn’t a murderer. He detested those that would take innocent life. But if a man were to wield a blade against him. That was a challenge that would be accepted without exception.

How many men did he kill on his travels? Where was he from? The memories flooding him too quickly to understand them all. He spent time in the Far East. Challenging warriors from over the land. None could best him or even come near him. He was bored. Bored of his ability and skill that cut down swaths of enemies before him. He wouldn’t even ask for their names. He didn’t care. To be killed by him was met the with reward of dying in anogminity. Nothing. Worse than nothing. That was, until one warrior showed up with a particular weapon.

The weapon was beautiful beyond words. Forged black and in the oriental style. He remembered the man who brought it against him. He could remember his face. It was an Au’Ra. A cut above the rest in skill and dedication. He and the Au’Ra fought for what seemed like days. Unable to score a blow against the other. Back and forth, back and forth. Neither giving an inch. Neither having to. The Au’Ra was unparralled with his wielding of his sword. His movements graceful and flowing. He had never seen anything like it before. The Au’Ra was even able to score a hit that sliced into armor and gouged the steel.

He would go on to claim the life of the Au’Ra, but not before bowing in respect to the skill of the man before taking his weapon to claim as his own. It was the greatest honor he could bestow upon anyone. He remembered the man he killed and honored him by wielding his weapon. A sword he named Zansetsuken.

He remembered returning to the shores of Eorzea. Rife with civil war and annexation of lands. The all mighty Allagan Empire. Their kingdom spanning tip to tip, globe to globe. It feared nothing in the world. It feared everything. What it didn’t understand, it would be made to heel before its might and subjugated and incorporated into the machine that became an Empire. War breaking out in the south. The last continent to retain autonomy. Meracydia. The home of Dragons. But even they fell to the Allagan Empire. At terrible cost. The Empire was weak and unstable after decades of fighting. Fearing a civil uprising, the Empire dispatched its very best soldiers to the four corners of its kingdom. These soldiers were named “Summoners”. Able to wield the dormant Aether from within and without themselves, condensing it and giving physical form, the “Egi” was developed. A miniature version of a Primal. The very beings that could stop the great empire from expanding. Science fused with prayer. Theirs was a force to be reckoned with.

It was during this time did he make his return to Eorzea. More thoughts, memories, and emotions slammed into his head. He was being hunted by the Empire. He knew not why. There was a bounty placed upon him and one of the most heavily decorated and renowned Summoners was dispatched to snatch away his life. He needent’ hide. He would confront them on the field of battle. This Weiyu. She would fail in her task to destroy him as all the others.

He was confused. There were no more memories or thoughts after this. Just blackness. Like nothing existed. It was the last thing he could actually remember. A cold thought gripped him. How many times has he recalled the memories like this before? How many times did he awake with no sense of thought or purpose. The sword reassured him. It didn’t matter. They had meaning. They had someone to find and someone to kill. Purpose filled him to the brim. He was no longer scared or alone. He was searching and defiant.

He was searching for someone long dead as he rode upon his steed Slepinir, the Dark Rider, Odin began his quest anew.

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Rae relaxed, allowing her body's aether to give in to the healing effects the young Hearer wielded. She remembered being visited by one when she was younger. With an intense fever that would not break, her body needed to be healed, her temperature lowered, or she would incinerate her organs and die a horrible, slow death. It was a poison she was afflicted with, the Morbols had sprayed some flowers that she had smelled, causing her lungs to take in the poison and slowly infect her bloodstream. She should be dead, had it not been for that Padjali hearer.

As she felt the weariness in her bones leave her body, Rae opened her eyes and smiled to the young healer. "You did exceptionally well, young lady," Rae said, smiling to her and bowing her head in gratitude. Scarfing down the remainder of her food, she and Marishi left to fetch a Chocobo. She knew her wife detested the beasts, but if they were to reach the hideout in an acceptable amount of time, she would need to ride the creature and not stop until the end of tomorrow. "It... it is no pain," Rae half lied. While each day it grew a little easier to think about, it still tore open the wounds she struggled to heal. Recalling that day, that awful and fateful day, Rae mounted her bird and guided Marishi along. As they rode, Rae felt guilt wrack her body. Not just from her memories of having her father killed, but of not telling Marishi the whole truth. Her mother must have let slip a bit to her, so Rae decided to fill in the holes.

"I should tell you why my past is so steeped with the Redbellies. 'Tis true they killed my father, but he is dead because of me," Rae explained, pain crossing her expression. "I've not been fully truthful to you about this. I've only told you half truths. I must tell you all, so that you might understand why this hurts me so. My father, Fieraman, was a loving man. He would have done anything for his family, including die for them. I was a foolish child. I had left my bow and quiver out while we had hunted and, when I ran back to fetch them, I saw a group of Redbellies with them, talking away, back to their hideout. Father and I were hunting and, without my bow, I would not be able to participate. Sobbing, I returned to father. I told him of what I saw, but instead of coming to my rescue and fetching the bow and arrows from them, he said to me 'Let us return home, then. Without a bow for you, hunting will be boring." I was so determined not to return home. As he turned his back to me, I ran after the Redbellies. I stalked them, following them back to their headquarters. Knowing I could not enter in through their main doors, I found an entrance that was not guarded. It gave me shelter, as well, to hide under a set of stairs and in the shadows. I took to that entrance and watched as the Redbellies placed my hunting bow and arrows down on the ground beside a door. As they left them unattended, I snuck over and snatched them up. I turned to run, but ran directly into one of the Redbellies.

"They sounded an alarm as I darted off under the man. I ran and ran, dodging hands and swords and pikes, miraculously, no arrows struck me. It wasn't until I was out of the gate that I saw my father. Three Redbellies lay dead at his feet and he covered in their blood. I ran to him, knowing I was safe with him. He hugged me and swung around just in time for three arrows to pierce his back. I'll never forget the pained roar that escaped his clenched teeth. I was stunned, unable to move. I was only 5 at the time. He held onto me tightly as two people approached. One a bowman, the other, a lance-wielding woman. She spoke, but I did not hear. She stabbed my father with her lance and pushed him into the ground. He moved willingly, which I think is what saved me from being pierced through as well. He laid on top of me, shielding my face from being seen. The woman thought she killed us both and pulled the lance from his back, letting him bleed out on top of me. I watched as his dying moments were of him smiling to me, trying to stroke my cheek and console me, promising me everything would be fine. I returned home two days later. Starved, covered in blood, dehydrated, faint. My mother gave me water, and it was then I began to cry anew and told her everything that happened. It was that night she grew to detest me so."

Rae gripped the reigns of her Chocobo, tears streaming down her face as she spoke. To recount the tale was painful to her. All wounds she bore through that event were rent open, bleeding fresh blood that stained her soul. "No, perhaps not detest me, but... she held no love for me. Only a sense of duty to be my matron. I believe that was why she did nothing when I was kidnapped by those men of Sharlaya. Look, here. The footprints, they vanish. They have gone off the path here. There, those bushes look freshly disturbed. Hmm... Ah! There. Hurry, this way." Rae's sharp eyes had spotted the trail of two footprints, one small, the other one larger, and that one sunk into the mud much deeper than the other and appeared to be more closely spaced than the other set. It was clear the other was carrying a person--her mother.

As they came to nightfall, Rae glanced about, fully alert to the changes in the land. It was darker, but it shouldn't be that dark. From the ground rose specks of white, formed from the ground itself it seemed. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end and her ears rose. Something felt foreboding about the atmosphere. "Here, to the water." Rae instructed, pointing to the small stream nearby. Allowing them all to drink and fill their water skeins, Rae then spotted a cave nearby where they let their Chocobos hide within. Hopefully nothing claimed the cave as home, and hopefully no Redbellies would go in and steal them. She and Marishi tied up their Chocobos, giving them enough space to move around reach down, and drink if they so chose. "We will sleep nearby, but not on the ground. The Redbellies will patrol and find us here. I'd much rather not fight just yet. We will rest. I feel we may have made some good time, especially if the pair were on foot." Rae glanced around, uneasy. This atmosphere was new to her. In all her years growing up in the Shroud, she never aw the earth act this way.

"Moonlight," she murmured to Marishi, turning to her. "I have a bad feeling about this... Something is not right." She said, glancing around. She could feel a disturbance in the Shroud, she could hear slow, purposeful hoof steps of a horse in the distance. She could almost feel the elementals shiver and quake in fear.

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Marishi listened silently. She knew the gist of the story. Even the parts Rae wouldn’t let on. 90 years had Marishi been alive. She knew a half truth when she heard it. She knew pain and guilt when she heard it as well. She knew all too well the feeling of being wounded so deeply it cut into your soul. Changed the very person you were to become. Snuffed the light of who you were to be only to become the twisted image of what you are. Marishi knew her pain. Even if she didn’t truly know her pain. Marishi’s thoughts turned to her own now defunct family. A mother she had never met. A father who should have hated her, but chose to love her.

Like, but unlike Serreth. Marishi’s father loved her despite Marishi snatching the life of his wife to fuel her own selfish existence. Rae didn’t kill her father. Other men did. A woman did. That woman wasn’t Rae. She couldn’t be faulted for her father’s demise. He was his own man. He made his own choices. At any time, he could have walked away. He chose to love his daughter and to protect her. There’s no shame in dying for something or someone you believe in. Marishi would have gladly shed her blood for Rae without question and without thought.

The duality of Marishi also understood Serreth. She understood her sadness and anger. She understood her disdain she held for Rae, though the thought also filled her with guilt. She could understand. Serreth loved Rae. But she couldn’t allow herself to love her. To love her would be to accept the death of her husband and accept that he wasn’t going to walk back into the door and take her in her arms. Perhaps Serreth was jealous of Rae. For having the love and the life she should have had but was taken away by Rae before she could ever really enjoy safety and happiness.

All of this Marishi thought as Rae told her story. She said nothing as she spoke and didn’t once look at her, but looked at the speeding ground. Once she was done, Marishi quietly said “I’m sorry. I know better than you may realize the pain you feel. The pain she feels. She will realize, before the end, that she loves you. Let’s make sure that that her end isn’t soon.”

They came upon the stream and watered the Chocobo. They entered into the cave and looked around. The cave didn’t appear to be disturbed, though Rae’s advice was sound. It was too brazen to sleep in a warm and predictable cave. Though they Chocobo had to stay in the cave to remain hidden. Rae and Marishi made their bed under the boughs of the Black Shroud and her branches. Amid the eerie lights and Aether reaching to the sky. “This weather is unlike anything I have ever seen or heard before. The fog is heavy and it’s cold. Far too cold.” Marishi said as Rae nestled close to Marishi’s chest as her own back leaned against the trunk of the tree they had climbed. “Sleep. As well as you can. I’ll stay awake a bit longer.” Marishi wrapped her arms around Rae as she leaned back and rested her head against Marishi’s chest. Soon, her breathing leveled out and slow and even. She had fallen asleep.

Marishi laid there uneasy. There was a heartbeat in the fog. It was living and malicious. Probing the Black Shroud. Searching. Searching for something. She must have drifted off at some point.

Hooved pounded the ground. They were so loud they sounded like thunder. Each step booming. But light streaking the sky. The sky couldn’t even be seen with the oppressive fog. The fog distorted everything. Voices sounded malms away, shadows jumped at the corner of the eye. The reverse aether snow and the sickly green muted light. Paranoia would begin to instill in the residents of the Black Shroud and soon after, panic. Marishi hoped the Wood Wailers and God’s Quiver could hold it together and their assigned areas log enough for the worst to pass.

There was malice the movements. Anger and hatred. But the negative emotions seemed to be directed at nothing. Or something long since gone from the world. The thunder pounded harder and harder. It wasn’t hooves. It was the very bones of the earth bending under the might of something that strode upon it. Something that promised in it’s unnatural weather bloodshed and release from the bonds of mortality. Something that wanted conflict. It the fog could be bested, those that brought it down may yet live. Though a fool’s errand that was. This foe was obviously far greater than any of them could ever hope to bring down. Any of them except...

Marishi opened her eyes with a start. Rae was already awake, wide eyed and shaken. She could hear the thunder too. She could feel the shake of the land. Whatever it was that was the lord of this unholy change was moving. And it was moving their way. Slowly. Marishi shivered. “My dreams were plagued by nightmares. Fog promising a quick and easy death. A seething anger for looking for something for mellenia and never finding it. Everything stuck on repeat for years upon years. I’m scared Rae. I’m scared that thing down there will destroy us. I haven’t been this scared since … since … it doesn’t matter. It’s been a very long time. The smells bring back memories I’ve tried to forget. There is a foe in the mist orchestrating its existence. It’s something material. And it’s headed this way. That sound isn’t thunder. There is no lighting. That sound is hooves of a horse beating down and causing the planet agony with each step.” Marishi said quietly. Genuine terror written on her face. It was more unnerving to see how scared she was than the fog itself. “We cannot leave. We cannot go back. Even if we wanted to. Your Mother is still down there and her risk has exponentially risen. We are no match for this foe. None are. Save … Save for maybe the Scions of The Seventh Dawn. I could write a missive to Rowena explaining the situation where she could petition their aid, but we have no way to get it to Quarrymill to be flown to Mor Dhona and it would still take them time to organize, strategize, arm, and outfit and ride to the South Shroud. They would have to pass through Coerthas to the North Shroud, to the East, to the South. We’d be long dead before they even got to the Observatory in Coerthas.” Marishi was babbling and she couldn’t understand why. She was speaking every thought that came to her mind without compunction.

“We have to find your Mother and defend her at all costs.” Marishi thought of Serreth. She didn’t much care for her. She didn’t like her mannerisms, or her darting sharp eyes. She didn’t like her probing questions or ability to say things without saying them. She didn’t like how adept she was at lying and deceit. She didn’t like how she treated Rae. She didn’t like how in some ways, looking at Serreth was like looking into a mirror for Marishi. This bothered her the most.

But if she could save Serreth, maybe, just maybe, the Sins of her killing her own mother would ease. “In the eyes of a child, Mother is God.” Marishi said suddenly. Shocked by her own thought and her saying it aloud. “No one has passed and it’s been about 4 hours I think. It’s hard to tell time here. We need to go.” Rae and Marishi slid off the tree, stiff from staying still for so long, drinking from the stream, they grabbed the Chocobo from the cave. Marishi helped Rae into the saddle and she herself mounted side saddle behind Rae in the event she had to be on the ground quickly to stave off an assault or launch one.

All the while, the thunder rolled and the sounds of a volcano erupting in a distance could be heard. Something was nipping at their heels.

They darted out of the cave with Rae acting as tracker. Marishi began to notice her own thoughts and consciousness begin to fade away. She wasn’t dying, but she was being changed. She could hear chanting in her ears. The blending of a male and a female voice in unison. They were chanting. She couldn’t hear or understand it all, but the more she listened, the more her world melted away and the darkness overtook her mind, to remember nothing but the chanting:

 

… Memory writing, reading

Error! Repeat Deleting

Radicals Flowing Free And

Energy Slowly Seeping

Suspending All Disbelief In

Synergy With Our Being

Synapses Fire In Three, Then…

Your World’s A Fantasy You’ve Failed The Test

Ever Forging All New Fallacies Creating More Mess

Directly Through This Bleak Machine With All Of the Rest

DC! Dying, Dying, Electricity!

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The Thaliak River was one of the great rivers of Eorzea. It fed an infinite number of tributaries from its fresh snowmelt from the Sea of Spires, ever encased in snow. As the river traveled down from the mountains it cut what is known today as the Dravanian Hinterlands in twain. 20 years ago, it would have been known in its entirety as the Sharlayn City State. The strongest and most powerful of all the city states combined including Gridania, Ul’ Dah, Ishgard, Limsa Lominsa, and Ala Mhigo.

Upon the Empire expanding into Eorzea and their subsequent defeat at what was known as Silvertear Falls, there was a mass exodus of the city state. Almost overnight it went from a bustling capitol to a ghost town, for the elements to reclaim. They Sharlayn’s had left so many projects half-finished or conceived in the Hinterlands. Most with the ability to annihilate the world if placed into the hands of one who knew how to use them. They left the Great Gubal Library to their automatic defense systems that would deteriorate overtime and be unable to discern friend from foe. The greatest Library the world had ever seen. No one to walk its halls save for now wild familiars and automatons ready to rend anything with flesh apart.

The knowledge contained within the Great Gubal Library alone could not be measured in units of currency. Hundreds of thousands of tomes line it’s ever winding staircases and floors. From the mundane, to the philosophical, to botany, to necromancy and the forbidden arts of teleportation. In the dark. Alone. Forgotten. To crumble into dust and fade away. A piece of the world with it.

The Antitower was another project left to stagnate with the absence of its creators. Said to be a direct pathway to the soul of the very star itself. The Aetherical balance unlike any in the world. The concentration so strong, it would warp and bend time, space, reason, and sanity. None could ever make it very far in due to the concentration of Aether destroying all reason and sense of self. The body would crumble as the soul moved onto the river. Only their long-lost caretakers knew the secrets to unlock their doors and they were missing, dead, or inaccessible.

In the middle of the Thaliak River sat a large basin at the bottom of a water fall. None knew its depth. None could accurately measure it. The greatest achievements of Sharlaya lay at the bottom of that basin, purposefully sunk hoping no one would dredge its bottoms for the project they created. The project they themselves feared.

They had gone too far with their vision. They dreamt of a mobile city of learning and understanding. Traveling the land, taking upon those who wished to join their ranks and know more of the world. No longer would they have to risk sending their people out to those remote areas with little chance of surviving and coming back with any relevant data or information. No, they would go to the remote areas, catalogue everything, and become a bastion of hope and understanding to the world.

But those who possess all the knowledge are the ones who ultimately are the strongest and most powerful. And the powerful do not share their power willingly. This project would devolve from ushering in a golden age of reason and peace, to a dark age of tyranny and deceit. The Garleans could not have this prize they built. And so they sunk the citadel far below the waves of the great basin of the Thaliak River. Never to be seen, utilized, or even existed.

But knowledge is ever a self-serving mistress and it must be made known lest credit goes unnoticed. Tomes in the Great Library mention the citadel and where it lay sleeping for its eternity. A library unguarded save for a few machines and frogs. Eventually the tomes were unearthed and through a series of events, the citadel was reactivated, not as a mobile fortress, but as a living, thinking, breathing, Primal. The largest any had ever seen. It emerged from the basin and began to bleed the land dry of Aether to sustain its massive hulk and free itself from the fetters of its prison. They called the Primal “Alexander”.

Ultimately, the threat of the Primal devastating the land and those responsible for waking and misusing its power were made to heel and the machine entered back into a slumbering phase. The Scions thought they had purged the city of the Primal. But Alexander, being ever resourceful, could never actually be vanquished. He waited and bided his time for one that was weak and wounded of heart and mind to stumble upon him.

He didn’t have to wait long. But time to the entity that lords over it is immaterial. Marishi entered into his steel and copper halls in the beginning of her twilight years, steam and pistons light up to life at her passing. Alexander had found the one he was looking for and instilled her with a weapon. The weapon would not only serve her better than any other in existence, it would reverse the damaging effects time had upon her body, though it could do nothing to soothe her old and weary mind. But everything comes at a price. He named her his ‘Harbinger’. When the time came for her to fulfill her contract with Alexander, she would fulfill it. She wouldn’t have a choice. She would be able to maintain free will up till then. But in the end, she was a thrall to the Primal.

Alexander was bonded to Marishi on every level of her existence. The pain she felt, he felt. The anguish in her mind, was his anguish. Her self-doubt, loathing, hatred, fear, despair, violence were all his as they were her’s. But Marishi was more than just war personified. Marishi loved and was loved in return. Alexander felt this love and it held up his own spirit even if he was just experiencing it third hand. That was how great Marishi and Rae’s love was for one another. It was unrequited and selfless. Marishi laughed and felt peace in the glow of Rae’s love. She could be at ease and lay her burdens down. She could lean on another when the weight of the world became more than she could bear. All of this and more. Alexander felt through Marishi. In a way, Alexander loved Rae. As much as Marishi loved Rae. But the time for the Harbinger to awaken was drawing close at hand. The louder and closer the thundering became, the closer Marishi came to becoming a weapon of holy judgement bent upon one task: To bring the Dark Rider to heel and judge his deeds and render judgement.

The Dark Rider’s strength was palpable. Even to Alexander from his distance. The great machines copper and brass floors and walls that had sat dark for so long began to hum. The Gordias cores inside that powered Alexander sparked and started to glow a muted pastel blue. Lights flickered and came on as the startup sequence was processing. Alexander was powering on to see his will be done by his Harbinger. He would be there. Within Marishi. Granting her weak and frail body strength beyond anything she could imagine. Her mind … Alexander hesitated as a kaleidoscope of memories flashed. All of Rae. This wasn’t part of the plan for Marishi to fall in love and fuse those feelings into Alexander.

He would try to save her mind. If he could. But more like than not, when all was over, she would be a lifeless husk. A body with nothing to inhabit it. He would try for love of Rae.

The pistons began to fire and cogs began turning, life returning to the machine. Gathering enough power to transfer to his ‘Harbinger’ to put down this dark nemesis.

 

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Marishi's near indifference to her tale was a relief. It reassured her, and perhaps made her question her thoughts on it. Maybe she was making it overly dramatic than it was? No, her father died. There was nothing over-dramatic about that. Perhaps, though, where she laid the blame was where it was. She would investigate her feelings further into this, but for now, she would think of the present moment. As they scaled a tree, finding a branch sturdy and broad enough to allow them to sit without discomfort, Rae settled in. She and her father would do this often while hunting for multiple days. Rather than return home and lose the trail, they would take to the trees where their prey had no forethought to check, let alone the capability. A hooved creature could never climb trees. Which is where Rae found solace in sleeping in the boughs while she felt the thunder radiate through her limbs, affecting her heartbeat.

A heartbeat.

Rae rested her head against Marishi's shoulder. She could feel Marishi's heart beat against her back. She could feel her pulse in her delicate neck. The rhythmic beat slowly lulled her to a slumber.

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"Summoner," he whispered. Rae's eyes opened slowly, meeting the stare of a young man. Hyur. Black hair, dark eyes, pale skin, boyish features. Brows furrowed, she sat up in her bed and asked what the matter was, but with a voice not her own. "That which thou hath summoned seeketh thee."

"I hath not summoned anything," she tried to say, but her mouth moved and no voice came out. Rae sat, perplexed. This was a dream, that much she knew. She never met this boy before, however. Part of her thought this to be a vision. In her short years she spent practising to be an Astrologian, she learned a bit of divination and reading dreams and visions. Perhaps she would remain silent and watch the dream unfold.

"Even as thou hath sealed it, the fearsome creature seeketh thee. Freed from its imprisonment, the Dark Rider wisheth to destroy thee."

"What is its name?" She asked, her own voice ringing true.

"Odin." Came his solemn answer. The name rang in her dream, echoing through her mind, shaking it to its core as though the world of dreams trembled at his name. In that instance, Rae awoke.

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Rae shot up, sitting upright on the branch. Her heart thundered in her chest and her breathing was quick, but other than that, she was fine. Rae glanced around, then turned to Marishi, who updated her of the night's events. "You didn't wake me so you could sleep," Rae frowned. It wasn't good if just one of them slept while the other stayed awake. "You must sleep on the ride, then. You were hurt as much as me, if not more than." Rae quickly dropped from the trees, catching onto a branch to slow her decent before she hit the ground. This felt natural to her, despite not having to use these methods to camp for so long. It was second nature to her. She never let herself forget the lessons her father taught her. She thought doing so would cause his memory in this world to die.

Once on the ground, Rae fetched the Chocobo and mounted, then fled from the area. Rae knew where to go now. Despite there being no trail now, she guided the Chocobo with ease. She walked this path in her dreams countless times. Many times she fantasized of returning. The strongest warrior in the world, and exacting revenge upon the whole Redbellies gang. Many times more she dreamt of returning and dying at their hands. Today, with Marishi at her side, she felt at ease. She felt confident and sure. They would not die this day. Her mother would be saved.

As they made their way to the hideout, Rae could feel the aether shudder. Rae halted the Chocobo and glanced around, ears raised and alert. Something evil was here. She glanced to Marishi, opening her mouth to speak, but her eyes appeared glazed over. Was she asleep? When did Marishi sleep with her eyes open? It was a tactic used by those in the army, so perhaps it wasn't too far fetched a thought, especially them being in enemy territory. Rae dismounted, carefully holding on to Marishi, who was rather stiff at this point, and helped her down. She seemed to move with her direction, and even stood. This further confused Rae. There was no way Marishi was asleep. Not if she was doing this. "Marishi, what is wrong?" She whispered to her. It was then she heard the horse's screaming neigh. Rae jumped, startled by the sudden sound, and looked past Marishi. There, several feet in front of them, stood the Dark Ride. Seething hatred pierced her soul as she felt his gaze upon her. Rae clutched onto Marishi, her nails digging into Marishi's flesh. "Moonlight, you must snap out of it," she urged, looking to Marishi as the Dark Rider began to approach them. Shaking her, Rae shrieked. "MARISHI! WAKE UP!"

The sound of a bow twang and an arrow cutting through the sky caught the Rider's attention. He deflected the trajectory with his shield and turned to face the barricaded fortress. There was a shout that was met with many more shouts, followed by the sound of more bow twangs and thundering, running footsteps. Something heavy was launched from behind the walls and flew directly towards Odin, obliterating trees and snapping branches along the way. Drawing his sword, he rose it above his head and cut downward just as the boulder reached him. The large rock was split in two and flew on either side of him, harmlessly for him, at least. However, one boulder flew directly at Marishi and Rae, forcing Rae to hurl Marishi to the side, out of the boulder's path. Their Chocobo sprinted away, warking in fear and panic. Landing on top of Marishi, Rae remained still a moment, eyes squeezed shut as she feared Odin would charge them; however, his attention was drawn to the Redbellies who engaged him in battle first. Rae lifted her head and watched as they fought, stabbing, slicing, shooting at him. Their attacks seemed to do very little. As Odin swiped at them with his long sword, most would dodge, some would fall. Those that fell were replaced by dozens others. Like a Hydra, the Redbellies fought off the threat of the Elder Primal.

Turning to her wife, Rae stared down at the seeming lifeless body of Marishi. She shook her one more time, pleading for her to snap out of whatever trance she was in. "Marishi, we need to get out of here! We're not safe! WAKE UP!"

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"Bloody fog," cursed one Redbelly. He was a tall, gruff sort. Clearly a Highlander, but not an Ala Mhigan, the Hyur man surveyed the area. One hand held a scimitar, the other was wrapped around the legs of a woman, who was tied and gagged. Along side him was a lithe Miqo'te. She bore scars across her face and arms as well as tattoos all over any exposed part of her skin. She sneered back at the man, but said nothing. "Yer makin' this real difficult on us, y'know, Silv? All yeh had t'do was just ask boss if'n ya could leave. She would'a letcha go."

Serreth snorted behind the cloth wrapped around her mouth, then answered something incoherent. The smaller Miqo'te held a hand up to her blonde ear, smirking at Serreth, who only rolled her eyes, then muttered something else.

The Hyur snarled at Serreth, shaking her so her head wobbled back and forth like a rag doll's. "Tha's righ'. If yeh got somethin' t'say, speak clearly, wench." As she was jostled, the rag gagging her fell from around her mouth, giving her a chance to do just that.

"At least I can speak," She quipped, staring directly at the Miqo'te, whose ears folded back and a wicked scowl crossed her face. She then lunged toward Serreth, claws seeking to bite into her flesh, but the hulking Hyur intercepted, throwing Serreth to the ground roughly, knocking the wind out of her, then catching the Miqo'te's wrists with his large hands, rendering her useless.

"Yeh can't go slicin' things that upset yeh, girly," he chided her as she planted her feet on his chest and tried to pull her hands free from his. His grip was strong and vice-like, not allowing her to budge. "Don' yeh worry. Boss'll make sure she suffers for every bit o' trouble she caused. Silv ain't dyin' so fast and easily, but we can' let her get cut up when we deliver her, see? Boss won' like that." With that, he let the Miqo'te girl go, who fell to the ground and huffed, then scrambled up to her feet and crossed her arms, pouting. "An' fer you. Time to muzzle that gob o' yer's, ye filthy whore." The Hyur turned around to pick up Serreth, but her legs were curled up to her chest and, as he faced her, she pushed upward, launching her feet into the air and striking him against his face, knocking him back as he clutched his nose, screaming in pain. The Miqo'te girl moved to catch Serreth, who was now on her feet, her tail whipping around wildly to keep her balance. She then crouched and launched herself into the Miqo'te girl, knocking her over while Serreth fell down. Rolling onto her back, she hopped back up to her feet. Being bound made it incredibly difficult, but she managed to hop a foot away before she was snatched up again. The Hyur's wrathful face met hers as he headbutted her, knocking her unconscious, making her limp in his hands. "Bitch." He hissed, tossing Serreth over his shoulder, then walking to the smaller Miqo'te and picking her up. With that, they were off.

The fortress was not too far away at that point. They could see the lookout, as well as hear the sound of shouting, screams, and the swinging of swords and the thunder of hooves. "Blood hell, are we being invaded?" The Hyur muttered, cautiously approaching their barricaded home. Time seemed to hold still in that moment as their eyes fell upon Odin, his massive Zansetsuken swinging and slicing trees like warm butter. Fear filled their bodies, forcing them to remain still as they watched comrades and friends fall to the fearsome blade and its wielder.

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Marishi’s eyes point heavensward. Staring at nothing. Hardly breathing. Internally struggling for control of her own body with Alexander. She pleaded with him. If he was to strike now, he would lay low his enemy as the cost of the ones Marishi and Alexander as a byproduct were to protect. She reasoned that even if they stopped Odin in his tracks, he would be back. He would always be back. For he is an Elder Primal. The strongest of the avatars. He needs neither prayer nor worshipers to sustain himself in the world. When killed, his Aether disperses, but eventually recombines for his hunt to begin again, and again, and again, and again. Marishi and Alexander couldn’t be there to thwart his steps every time and to put it simply, Odin was an Elder Primal. Far stronger than Alexander would ever admit, but posed a very real threat to him.

Marishi’s pleas fell upon silence even as she was vaguely aware of what was transpiring around her. “Thy nemesis seeks to claimeth your beloved. Thy Rider sees Weiyu within her soul. He will seek to taketh her. Who shall defend her mortal? You? Verily, not. Thou is pitiful against thine foe.” Alexanders reply tore through her mind.

He was right. If Odin wanted Rae, Marishi would just be added to the body count. “Then I’d die with her, or I’d be shortly behind. You know I would.” Marishi retorted to Alexander.

He knew she would take her own life. Without a second thought. She would open the veins in her arms and spill out her blood on the earth waiting for sleep to call her and the carrions to pick away her corpse. Marishi wasn’t using it as a threat. She would follow through.

“Thy council rings true mortal. I may not have the strength needed to defeat thine enemy. But, there may be another way. Dangerous. For both. We share thine life force together and forge into us a blade to strike down which seeketh to rob us of what we hold dear.” Alexander said.

Marishi was quiet. Waiting for the next part she knew was coming. She had already accepted. But had to agree. Silly formality of Gods and Espers.

“The chance of losing thyself in mine Aether is high. Thou may be unable to return to thy body and it would rot as a lifeless husk to fade on the winds of time. Thou would be unable to join all thy hold dear across thy river as you will remaneth with me. Until the end days. Dost, thou accept thy risk? For it is the only way to challenge strength that even we may not overcome and protect what we have come to love and cherish.”

Marishi was quiet. Never to return to the lifestream. Marishi would never see Rae across the River. She would never see the family she desperately yearned for. It was almost a sure thing that she would be absorbed. For a moment, she regretted ever delving into the iron contraption in the Hinterlands. Taking up his weapon. Agreeing to his vague and cryptic terms. She hated her youth. She should have been dead by now. It would have been so much easier to just grow old and die. Why? Was she so scared of dying and so selfish that she had to have what was lost at any cost?

“Thy mind goes to dark places when it need not. Foolish girl. Ever were you to take up the blade. Ever were you to regain your youth. Your life did not start until you met her. Understand this, thou does not. She is the important one. She has ever been the important one. “

A tear slid from Marishi’s Onyx eye. “Thou leaveth the hope of the world with the girl.” The metal voice called. “And I leave none for myself.” Marishi replied.

The RedBellies had ceased direct confrontation with The Dark Rider. Though some were able to score blows, they did such little effect that it wouldn’t matter. They pulled back awaiting instructions from their leader. A slender and lithe figure emerged from the command tent shadowed in the firelight to her back. In her hand she held a double-bladed forked lance of design never before seen. One of the men stepped forward and kneeled “M-My lady Avila. The boys – they reportin” She stepped into view. She was pretty, in her middle years and in the prime of her youth and career. She wore a smirk on her face. “So, the old relic finally decides to show back up and at out humble abode no less. Has he breached any of the gates Captain?” She asked almost bored. “N-None that I know. He seems to be focused on somethin out front and not our boys, though he flays em alive when they try to sneak attack.” Avila was curious as to what this other threat could be that would trump the might of her RedBellies. “Hmph. How quaint. And what of our wayward daughter? The old sod whose man and girl I killed? To run away … Like we wouldn’t find ya.” She was almost speaking to herself. “They’re pinned down at the gates where Odin is. They can’t get in” The captain stammered. “Well now, aint’ this shapin up to be somethin interestin. Ya got the Redbellies in the middle, my prize on the left, a wild card on the right, with a bloody Elder Primal set to wipe them all off the map. Call every man to arms and man the sentries. He goes near the cat, unleash hell on him. I’d like to watch this wild card a moment myself.” She issued her orders and slowly walked to the battlements overlooking the front gates. Hips swaying side to side, smile never leaving her lips. Her blonde ponytail swishing in the light.

“Hath I found thee at last Weiyu? I sense thee Summoner. Eons hath I been bound to the bones of thy world. Searching. No release. I hath found you, my beautiful Weiyu. Thou shaketh and tremble. Need not so. I hath come to take thee into mine arms. For then we can be as one. As thou have always said.” Odin’s metallic voice ringing from the helmet. He had slid off his steed and began walking slowly, one boot at a time, toward Rae and the catatonic Marishi. She has shown no signs of recovery or change in her appearance. Her body was warm, but to look into her eyes was to see nothing.

Though the fog was thick, behind Odin could be seen a small group of soldiers outside of the gate with a prisoner in tow. A Miquo’te. Bound and gagged. Hung over the arm of a burly man yelling about being let in with a high priority package for someone named Avila.

Avila stood on the battlements focused on the exchange between the Elder Primal, the little Red Mage Miquo’te, and the not moving Samurai Miquo’te. “YA BETTER RUN GIRLIE! IT SOUNDS LIKE OLD ODIN HAS TAKIN A LIKIN TO YA! YA’D BEST DITCH THAT CORPSE FER THE BIRDS! DON’T WORRY, WE WILL STRING HER UP ON A POLE FIRST TO MAKE THE CARRION EASIER TA GET TO!” Avila yelled at Rae.

Then began a shift. A slight wind caught. Odin stopped immediately. “What trickery is this?!” There was a humming. A deep baratone humming that grew louder and louder and louder until it drowned out all noise. The source seemed to Marishi. A singularity was beginning to form of pure golden light that lit the area around them shredding Odins shadows to tatters. Marishi had closed her eyes and her hands had clenched into fists. And everything stopped. No humming. No noise. Everyone and everything was quiet. The singularity then burst into a flashing gold light with a shockwave so large it knocked down every man save for Odin. He crouched down with his Zansetsuken dug into the earth to keep footing.

When the dust cleared, all was as it was before the phenomenon. Men from the RedBellies started laughing about the girls master plan. The only one who seemed to notice the full scope and portent was Rae, kneeling over a no longer comatose Marishi, no longer Marishi at all, the Gordian blade pulsing with light so bright it was leaking through the sheath.

Rae knew that Alexander had come to the body of her Wife. His ‘Harbinger’. The eyes shifter to Rae’s and stared at her with the spark of the divine behind them. She spoke softly. Trouble not thyself with this Dark Rider, my Malina. My Sun. We shall deal with the dark one. Save thy Mother, for to a child, Mother is God. Go. Now. And do no not look back. This is mine will and thy will of thy Wife. We agree. Now go!”

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As Odin began to approach, Rae drew her Rapiers. Standing before Marishi's comatose body, she steeled her nerves. She could feel his rage. Despite his words, she knew he hated her. It was because of his words she knew. Bond with him? A Primal? She'd become his thrall, or perhaps worse. She knew very little about Odin from her readings. He was an Elder Primal summoned here by a mortal woman, and he thrived eternally through cursing people with his weapon. Whoever bore the weapon was his next target, possessing their body, making them become Odin. She'd die easily. She was no match for the Elder Primal, but she wasn't going to die without a fight at least. It was then that his attention was drawn to Marishi. Rae, too, turned and looked at her wife's body as she could feel the shift, the change within her. Ears raised in alarm, Rae turned to Marishi, mouth opened to utter words, but nothing came forward. The rumbling of the earth below caused Rae to drop to her knees, but she held herself up with her Rapiers piercing the earth.

The dust settled, and Marishi spoke. No, not Marishi. Alexander. Rae feared this day would come. Sadly it was a day she was still alive to see. As Marishi spoke, calling her by her pet name, she felt her heart pound in her chest. Marishi was still in there. Barely. Pulling her Rapiers from the ground, she sheathed them, placed a hand on the back of Marishi's neck and pulled her close, roughly pressing her lips to Marishi's for a moment before pulling away, gazing into Marishi's eyes. "I love you, Marishi Ten. Don't forget that, my Lune." She whispered to her. "Alexander, take care of my wife. Protect her." With that, she darted off towards her mother. Eyes were on her now, however. A few arrows shot towards her, but she darted between the trees, giving her cover from any arrows. Odin thought to turn to give her chase, but the impending threat of Alexander kept his attention on Marishi, just as she had hoped.

As Rae drew nearer, she was intercepted by a small Miqo'te. She tangled her limbs with Rae's, causing her to fall over and both of them to roll until the smaller girl was on top, straddling Rae and pinning her hands. Rae stared up at the small girl, who returned the stare, but with a wild intensity. She looked almost feral. "Tha's a good lass! Keep 'er busy!" Shouted the man holding Serreth as he vanished into the encampment. Rae growled and tossed the girl off her with ease. She was a whole two feet smaller than Rae, and she was small for her age to begin with. Once on her feet, Rae noticed the girl used only her claws to fight. They were long and sharpened, almost like daggers. Rae sighed. She didn't much like to fight a child.

"Look, child," Rae said, both hands resting on the grips of her Rapiers. "I do not wish to kill you, but if you persist, I will have to." Rae reasoned. She knew it wouldn't work. The girl lunging at her only confirmed it. Catching her before her hands could connect with her skin, Rae used the flat side of her blades to slap the girl's hands away from her. With ease, she'd give the girl cuts here and there along her skin, causing the bites to smart, but not deter the girl. Before she could do more, the girl threw herself at Rae again, tangling her legs and arms with Rae's and causing her to stumble backwards. It was then that Rae recognized the method. Before the girl could pin her down, Rae flung her off, knocking her against the tree nearby. A few men from the barracks hooted and hollered, but they ignored them.

Looking at her, she couldn't be more than 12 years old. Maybe 13. What's a 13 year old doing in a gang? The girl lunged again, clawed nails bared as she latched on to Rae. She brought up her Rapiers to catch the girl, but she predicted that, and feinted, stopping dead in her tracks and dropping low, kicking Rae's feet from underneath her, knocking her onto her back. The girl went to slam her foot on Rae's ribs, but the Red Mage rolled away, jumping to her feet. This girl was nothing to scoff at. Rae took a better pose, treating this girl like her equal. She could slit her throat if she got the chance, but Rae wouldn't give it to her. How, though, does she stop this girl without killing her? The girl charged her again, but Rae slapped her aside, spinning in the process. It was then she noticed a rope leading to the trees. Following it with her eyes, she spotted a log. It was a trap. Probably to help with the defence of their fortress. Turning her gaze back to the girl, she noticed her smile. It was dark, sinister, almost evil.

"Finally, a challenge," the girl said. Her voice sounded hoarse, like she were dehydrated and her throat was filled with sand. She laughed loudly, throwing her head back as she did. The men watching the fight from the barracks stopped, staring at the girl in shock. They had never known her to laugh nor make a sound. Her laughter filled the air with a bone-chilling sound. The hair on the back of Rae's neck stood on end as the girl dropped her head down, breathing heavily, loud enough for Rae to hear. "Killing you will be wonderful. I'll decorate these trees with your entrails! Your screams will echo here for an eternity! Make peace with your gods, nemesis, for you shall meet them soon!" Rae blinked rapidly as the girl screamed and began to run towards her. Without a second though, she sliced the rope and stood there, baiting the girl closer until finally she ducked. The girl, confused, skidded to a halt, but was then met with the crash of a log ramming into her back, sending her flying through the trees and colliding with another one. The impact knocked the wind out of her lungs and caused her to pass out. There was a stunned silence from the men as the log swung back their way and Rae, aiming two spells at the rope that held it, seared and burnt away the ropes, allowing the log to crash back into the wall, sending the men scattering out of the way. Jumping to her feet, Rae then cast two more spells, sending a bolt of lightning across the tops of the wall, catching fire to some of the wooden logs. She then sent a blast of fire into the wall, causing the fortified wood to blast apart, splintering and sending burning debris all around. Hazardous, but Rae wanted a distraction, and the men and women scrambled to douse the flames before they could spread while Rae, under the guise of the darkness from the aetherical alteration that Odin brought with him, prowled into the darkness and crept into the fortress, searching for her mother.

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"Now sit tight, yeh damned whore," the Hyur ordered, tossing Serreth into a chair. She was bound and blood trickled down her face, but otherwise she was alert and unharmed. "Caused me a great deal o' grief y'did. Yer lucky Avila wants yeh alive an' unharmed. Otherwise yeh'd be bleeding in places y'never bled from before." He laughed and turned away from her, thinking to leave, but a shout came from up the stairway.

"Stay down with her, you giant oaf! She could escape and your head will be skewered with hers if Avila catches ye!" It was another woman, a Roegadyn. Muttering a curse, the man turned back around and walked back to Serreth, standing before her. She lifted her gaze, glaring up at him, stare unwavering.

"Got a lotta guts in ya. Only girly who'd stare a man in th'eye without so much as a blink when she was tied up and gagged, ready fer death." He sneered. Serreth watched as he walked over to a table, grabbing a jug of mead that sat there, and walked back over to her, planting his hand on his hip while taking a long swig of the drink, then wiping his lips and exhaling with content. It was then that an explosion sounded outside, the walls of their underground room shook and debris from the ceiling fell. Both turned their gaze skyward and listened to the shouting from outside.

People ran by, some shouting orders to douse the flames, others shouting to find the wench that did it. "Find that damned cat and kill her on sight!"

Serreth's eyes widened. Cat. Her daughter? Was her daughter here? "OI! What's happening up there?" The man shouted. One Redbelly stopped and shouted back.

"Some red-haired cat and her whore wife are here! The one with the Katana is fighting goddamn Odin himself while the other with the two Rapiers is blowin' the damn place up!"

"Rae." Serreth breathed, her word muffled behind the gag.

The Hyur turned to Serreth, who looked back at him, then she began speaking, frantically, eyes wide. The Hyur shook his head. "I don't understand a damn thing yer sayin', Silv," he told her, but she continued without stopping. Annoyed, he walked over to her, grabbing the rag over her mouth. "I said I can't understand ye!" He then tore it off her mouth, giving her a chance to gasp for breath a few times, then look back into his eyes.

"I said I'm going to break your stupid neck." She said, then lifted her legs and kicked his knee cap, snapping it the other way and knocking him down to his knees. As he began to howl in agony, Serreth lifted her legs up, spreading them as best she could before fitting his head between them, muffling his screams. Twisting her hips, she tried to snap his neck, but the angle they were at made it impossible. Instinctively, the man pulled back, bringing Serreth with him, which gave her the angle she needed. Using her body weight, she spun her torso around, locking her thighs around his head and bringing his face to follow her movement, dragging his head around his shoulder and to face his back as her body dangled behind him. She could feel the tendons in his neck snap as she jerked his head completely around. She could feel the discs break out of position. For a brief moment, he remained still, body upright and hands gripping Serreth's thighs. The next moment he fell backward, landing on top of her, causing the Miqo'te to gasp and grimace.

Above ground, more screaming could be heard as a second explosion rocked the earth, followed by the authoritative command of Avila. Serreth squirmed, wresting herself out from beneath the heavy Hyur's dead body. "I'm coming, Rae. Don't get captured yet." She said to herself, as if her daughter could hear her. Once freed, she took a moment to gather her breath, then rolled to the opposite side of the room where a dagger lay on the ground. Using it to free her bound hands, she cut the bonds around her ankles as well and stuffed the dagger into her waist sash. She looked to the stairway where shadows of Redbellies running back and forth could be seen. She wasn't sure how she was going to do it, but she would get out there and help her daughter escape. A feeling of love burst within her chest and tears threatened to build up in her eyes. Perhaps her daughter wasn't with the Redbellies after all. If she would come here and cause such chaos, surely it was to save her. Surely it was to keep her family. The emotions swelled up within Serreth, but she pushed them down. She needed to be level-headed to escape, and weeping like a proud mother would do her no good. Cautiously, Serreth took to the stairs, watching as the Redbellies ran by, not paying attention to her at all. When she had her chance, Serreth snuck out, slipping into the darkness in search for her daughter.

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“You dareth challenge me, mewling God with the attire of mortal skin?” Odin said to Marishi. Alexander answered “Doth thou not belong in thine time? I have seen thee Dark Rider. I hath seen the wake of death thou leave in thy wake. Thou cannot be suffered unchecked. Thou shall be judged.”

Odin let out a guttural laugh, ugly and metallic. “Very well! Mewling God, the bout begins with thee.” Odin had bared Zansetsuken and Marishi had released the Gordian Blade. They circled slowly, watching eachother for any intention or sudden movement.

Internally, Marishi was struggling with Alexander. “This is a fool’s errand my lord. You can feel his energy and it dwarfs yours and mine combined. He will drain you dry to feed his own aether and he will crush my body underneath his steeds’ hooves. This is folly.” Marishi said to Alexander. “It is what the pact was made for Harbinger. Thou knowest better than all. This is our fate.” Was all Alexander’s reply was.

Marishi was beginning to panic. Alexander was going to fail. As Odin was, he was near unstoppable. But he wasn’t without his weak points and the fighting with the RedBellies though small, had weakened him. If they could only weaken him more so they could stand on equal footing. “My lord, we must away. As he stands, Odin will devour us. But with outside interference, he could be weakened enough for us to sneak attack a fatal blow. But as he stands now, no attack we score will bring him down. We also have Rae and Serreth in the field. Fighting, dying. Think of them, my lord.” Marishi begged. She knew Alexander felt the love for Rae that Marishi felt. She knew he in his own way cared for Serreth.

“Will thou not attack? Come child, show me thine quality!” Odin could be heard goading Marishi into attacking. “We have to save them. Life means more than Death. You know this my lord. If we value Death more than Life, we are no better than that shade that stands before us.” There was a long silence as if Alexander were searching his soul looking for an answer to a long-lost riddle. “I tire of waiting. Thy life is forfeit.” Odin lunged at Marishi. She brought up her katana to cross guard Zansetsuken. The blades didn’t actually touch, though the energy between the two was pulsing like a wave outward with enough force to feel it like a heartbeat.

Marishi was beginning to weaken unable to force the Dark Rider back even with the assistance with Alexander. “Thou has a point, Harbinger. Perhaps it is better to preserve than to take in this instance. Know this, we are not done, and with the Dark Rider sufficiently weakened, we will render his judgement. We are simply postponing it for other pressing factors. Now Stop.” Alexander said. The last two words we audible and froze the area in a time lock for a precious few seconds for Marishi to get away. She jumped back and staggered towards the direction Rae went, when time unlocked. An Aetherial imprint of Alexander could be seen where Marishi was standing and was sliced into two by Odin’s cleave. Marishi prayed that without Alexander’s influence exuding from her, he wouldn’t recognize her.

The gang was baffled. One moment Odin was locked in combat with a frail cat and the next, slicing apart a ghost to wisps. “BACK TO ARMS MEN – SHOWS OVER!” Yelled on of the Captains that launched the RedBellies back on the offensive against Odin. Slowly whittling him down.

Marishi passed by the log trap and saw the feral child on the ground. Breathing, but wounded. Marishi passed right by her. She knew not her story, nor did she care to. The area had been singed and scorched with magic. Rae had been here and most likely put the little girl down without killing her. As Marishi passed by, she said to her, “You’re lucky you engaged my wife and not I child. I would have killed you where you stood without compunction. You’d do well to remember that. There is real evil in the world who won’t hesitate to take the lives of men, women, or children.” She left her with that as she came upon the semi smoldering battlements Rae had brought down.

Logs and fortifications half destroyed allowed Marishi to deftly jump from one downed log to another before she got to the top of the first circle. In total, there were 3 circles, 3 gates, 3 fortifications. Rae was headed toward her mother, who would be in the third fortification. All Marishi had to do was follow the wake of chaos and devastation that her wife was leaving.

As she jumped into the first inside courtyard, two RedBellies hopped from the shadows. “Shinobi.” Marishi stated flatly. They drew their Wakizashi’s and stared at her. One in front, the other in back. Marishi bent slightly and grasped her Katana ready to strike. These wouldn’t be deterred or intimidated by her. This would be fight.

The front combatant took two Shurani and threw them at Marishi, causing her to brandish her blade and parry off the throwing knives. The second teleported from his place to just behind Marishi to stab her in the back and bring her down. Being trained in the Far East, Marishi knew of the battle tactics of not only the Samurai, but of the Shinobi as well and she knew their capabilities. She swung her head back and landed a head butt that burst open the Shinobi’s face with blood and bone. He himself shrieking. The front man, temporarily stunned by his comrade being devastated stood there. Marishi grabbed the screaming Shinobi and began punch him with the pommel and guard of her blade. She hit him multiple times in the face in the same place she heads butted him, over and over and over. His face wrapping wet with blood and white with bits of bone sticking out of the cloth. She grabbed him by his collar and ripped off his scarf to reveal the extent of the damage she had wrought upon him. She had nearly ripped off his nose where the nasal cavity could easily be seen. His entire mouth had been bashed him to the point he was choking on his own blood and teeth. His chin and jaw we pushed unnaturally back into his face and his brows were crushed to level with the depth of his eyes. There was blood and bone everywhere.

Marishi spun him around to show his comrade what she had done to his friend. She said nothing, but stared at him promising he was next. She shoved the Shinobi forward and gouged into his back to expose ribs, spine and internal organs. He felt none of it. His body already in shock and shutting down.

Marishi turned to the other combatant who was clearly intimidated. His breathing was heavy and erratic. No words we spoken as Marishi came down upon him like a storm.

Marishi had found the second gate to be blasted open, wood burning and chains melting. Men on the left and right punctured with sword thrusts, on fire or withered husks from the sheer heat. Marishi was getting close.

Then she saw Rae. She had just finished two gang members as they crumpled to the ground, but she did not see the woman with the lance in the blind portion of her vision. “RAE MOVE!” Marishi screamed, but it would be too late. She couldn’t react in time before that spear. That same spear that killed her father would take her life too. Marishi felt like she was running in slow motion to stop it. Knowing she would never make it and Rae would be dead. Fear and panic overwhelmed her. She would kill bitch then kill herself then. The dishonor of failing to protect her master too much for her to bear.

Out of the corner of the hut came a blur that Marishi knew as Serreth. She moved far faster than Marishi ever could and before Avila could puncture Rae, Serreth haymakered her in the side of the head causing her to stagger and her blow to fail. Avila was equally as quick and kicked Serreth in the chest knocking her away as Marishi joined the fray. Serreth and Marishi putting themselves in front of Rae to shield her from Avila. Marishi flicked wet red blood off her blade as it spattered at Avila’s feet. “So, that’s how it’s gonna be, huh? We took you in Serreth, gave ya a home, fed ya, gave ya a job, paid ya wealth untold. This is how you repay ya brothers an sisters? I could have sworn I killed the redhead in the back there. Same time I gutted that spineless mange who thought he could save her. May have taken a bit longer, but he he’s about to fail at that too. A failure as a man and a father.” Avila smirked as she knew her words drew blood from Serreth and Rae. “Yer a new face I’ve not seen though. Pretty, but I know you for what you really are. Murderer. Killer. I sees it behind yer eyes. You share the same looks as me. It’s too bad it had to be like this. We could have been friends.”

Marishi, Serreth, and Rae said nothing as they faced Avila and readied their attack formations.

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