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Marishi Ten

The World of Savages [FINAL FANTASY XIV]

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“I want you to tell this man what you just told me. Exactly what you told me. Don’t leave out a single thing, do you understand? Tell him as if your life and the lives of everyone you care about depend on it.” A male shrouded in shadow said motioning to another male on the opposite side of the small room.

The room had no windows, the walls painted a drab grey and only one reinforced door that led to the outside. That could only be unlocked from the outside.

The faint musical chime of chains could be heard rustling as the person on the opposite end shifted positions. Manacles. An interrogation room. Nothing was said from the prisoner.

“We’ve been through this. We have ways to make you talk. You don’t want that again. We don’t want that again. We just want to know what happened. The truth. That’s all we’ve ever searched for.” Said the first man. A snort in derision was heard from the detainee but nothing else was forthcoming.

“Very well. We have the other one in custody as well. Perhaps they will turn out to be more pliable seeing as how you refuse to cooperate. They know our methods rather well-being kin and all. It shouldn’t take long, then we’ll be back to lead you both to the chopping block. A shame you could have spared – “The man’s gravelly voice was cut off from the lighter tone of the prisoner. “I tell you what you want to hear, I’m the only one that pays right?” The man’s body tone resembled an irritated state. “We seek only the truth, not what we want to here, nonbeliever.” The prisoner never moving from their spot in the corner replied “Honestly is not synonymous with the truth. Being a scholar, you should understand this concept. If I tell you what you want to hear, the other gets to go free. That’s my condition. Otherwise, enjoy your red tap nightmare securing all the paperwork to authorize executions.” They said wryly.

The man shifted slightly. “You have my word. It will be so. Now, tell this man, what you told me. All of it. Leave nothing out.”

“I would grab a chair if I were you. I’ll also take a meal and refreshments. A smoke too. We’re going to be here awhile.” The prisoner said. “How long have you been here?” The second man asked. It was his first time speaking. “In this cell? Oh, a week? Two? Hard to keep track when there is nothing to tell time by.” The prisoner stated. “No, how long have you been here. How long have you been on The New World?” The prisoner was quite long moments almost unwilling to answer. “9 years. Give or take a month or two.” The man sounded bewildered. “9 years? You and your companion have been here 9 years? That’s impossible. We have extensive records of you and your mate from across the sea.” The jangle of chains could be heard like a wind chime. “It’s a long story. But one you are specifically hear told. I am famished and could use what I asked. I don’t think I could properly convey such an incredible tale on an empty stomach. Oh. And I want the one I traveled with brought here. To this room.”

The prisoner was clear they were not going to begin before their demands had been met. The first man snapped. ‘Very well. Food and tobacco are easy to procure. The individual will take longer. I suggest once eating your meal that you begin your tale and I’ll begin work on their transfer.”

“I agree to your terms.” The prisoner said as they sat back against the wall and waiting for food and provisions to arrive.

Once the meal was eaten and the tobacco smoke filled the small cell, the scribe that was to be recording all that was said was having a hard time breathing from all the smoke. “Take a breather outside, boy. Where am I going to go?” The jangle of chains could be heard again. “Off the record,” The scribe began. “Did you do what they say you did?” Fear in his voice staring at the prisoner wide-eyed. The prisoned flashed a dangerous smile and said: “To the last man.” The scribe hastened out of the room to clear his head. He had never met someone more dangerous and it was almost as if they were just getting started. The scribe was sweating when one of the guards came up to him and clapped his hand behind his back.

“She scare ya, did she boy? She’s a habit of doing that, though I think she does it to see us squirm than anything else. This place though. This ‘new world’ has a habit of changing people. Making them more savage or violent. We’ve had to lock men up over violent rages they would fly into for no reason. And they state they have been here 9 years. You’ve read the files on them both. They’re the both of them extraordinary. Unlike anyone or anything. Bringing them here was like a lit match on dry tinder.” The guard mused. “Is it true then? Their crimes?” The guard sat a moment. “I don’t know, boy. To kill an ENTIRE village and wipe it off the map in the span of a single night? A village with men who could defend themselves? I can tell you this though. That one in there is a liar. A manipulator. A thief, and a murderer. Can see it plain as day in the eyes.”

A man wearing official Sharlayn clothing as a scribe and scholar arrived and address both outside. “I am here to document the occurrences of the prisoner being detained within. Are we ready?” He said stiffly. He was no nonsense. He wanted to record the events and get out. He hated the New World. Savages. “The other hasn’t been released per the demands that were agreed to, but all other request has been fulfilled, sir.” The guard said bowing to the Scholar. “That will be good enough then.” He said as he entered.

It was smoky and hard to see. The Scholar lit several candles to provide illumination and sat down flipping through his tomes without saying a word. He continued for long minutes, even when the chains rattled slightly.

“For the record, state your Sur and Forename, place of birth, age, and occupation.” The Scholar said dryly. “You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.” The prisoner said with a slight laugh. “It would do well if you wouldn’t waste my time. I hate to waste your own. I could just have an interrogator come and extract that information, but we are doing our utmost to remain civilized.” He snapped.

There was a pause of silence. “Have it your way.” The Scholar rose from the chair and closed his tome. “My name is Marishi Ten. Marishi being my surname and Ten being my forename. I was born in the Coerthas Western Lowlands near what is called “Camp Glory”, my current age by Eorzean calendar puts me just shy of 100 summers. I hold multiple occupations. Seamstress, mercenary, wet work, assassin, guard, investigator, and good appraiser to name but a few.” Marishi said.

“Please describe and family or blood ties you may have and any anomalies, diseases, or defects you suffer from.” The Scholar sat back down. “All family and blood-related relatives are dead. I am the last of my line. My blood dies with me. I bear permanent damage to my right eye regarding events that don’t concern you. Inquisitor or no. The Primal Alexander that resides in the Dravanian Hinterlands shares an Aetherial bond with me.” She sounded so matter of fact, one would almost believe she was 100 years old and good friends with a metal God that sat quietly in the Thaliak River.

“I’ll speak no more until my companion is brought to me. So, the whole story may be told in full telling.” Marishi said with a slight grin. “You don’t scare me with your threats of torture, bookworm. There are things right outside these walls that make your inquisitors look like gentle lovers giving soft caresses.” The scholar stared at her with his hard-grey eyes. “You don’t seem to like authority much, I see. Why did you come here? What were you hoping to find? Who hired you to find it? Don’t insult my intelligence by saying something about adventure. You and your comrade sailed months across the ocean to arrive in these savage lands. We know you spoke with several Mamool Ja concerning the area and its details. You even dined with the head chief of the unified tribes. A rare honor. We know you were present in that hamlet the night it went missing. You and the other are the only two ‘, survivors. I want to know what you know. I want to know what happened. I want you to tell me.” He finished with a hiss.

“Are you sure you’re not an interrogator? Ugh, that was unbearable to hear you drone on. Please have mercy on me dark one!” Marishi mocked the scholar. “That wit of yours, while clever, and obviously entertaining to you, will one day be your undoing. Obviously, you’re not going to tell me anything of value and you’ll just lie to spin a web so thick it would take months to decipher and discard. I think we’re done here. I’m canceling the prisoner transfer. Enjoy your new isolated quarters, savage. You don’t even deserve a name, Excommunicated White Mage, failed Shinobi, Mediocre Samurai. You’re more primal than mortal anyway.” The scholar said as he stood.

His words stung Marishi, though she tried hard to not show it. Him calling her things of her past brought them to the front of her memory and her painful remembrance of it all. Not that he was lying. It seemed the Sharlayn’s knew more about Marishi and the shadows she kept in her closet than she had thought.

“Stop.” Was all she said in a low voice, her head lowered to the ground staring at the dirt.

“Can we begin?” The Scholar asked clearly irritated.

Marishi sighed. They wouldn’t believe her anyway. But perhaps with her companion’s influence and reaffirmation of her telling they could avoid the gallows. At least, until they were deported to Eorzea and stood formal charges.

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The ocean spray licked Marishi’s skin as she stood on deck to take in the bright Sun and cool air. It was stuffy in the hold and after days of being stuck down there due to a sudden squall, it felt like the walls were collapsing around her. Beside her, hand in hand ever was her traveling companion, partner, and wife. Rae Ten. Not in 10 years had they been apart for longer than a week. Their love was a bond that had saved Marishi’s life on more than one occasion when the world seemed too dark to continue to exist in it. Rae had become Marishi’s life-giving and body nourishing Sun. Just as Marishi had become Rae’s blissful, serene, and peaceful nocturne. Polar opposites, in personality and life, but forever locked in their dance around the earth to give life and meaning.

Though they had their share of hard times and trouble, they never once questioned their dedication to one another. The day of their eternal bonding Marishi had sworn an oath. Much like the oaths sworn in the days of antiquity in the Far East where a Samurai would declare undying fealty to their master and would strike to protect the Lord's honor and die to restore it.

Men went about their duties, rigging the sails, scraping the deck, swapping stories in the mess halls, plotting and navigating. The journey from Eorzea to what has been dubbed as “The New World” was perilous at best. Many ships had set sail and never return to either shore. The ones that did return came back, ships loaded with exotic weaves, spices, lumber, ore, and stone. But more exotic were the stories the sailors told about the New World. A land untouched by industrialized men, small bands of tribes built around a hunter-gatherer society. Tribes of Mamool Ja controlling large swaths of the forested areas. Great storms, unlike Eorzea, has even dreamt of.

Other tales of more sinister repute. Shadows that stalked men that could only be seen out of the corner of their eye and were gone. Enough to drive a man crazy. Stories of cannibalism to attain great strength and power. To become immortal. The ability to shapeshift into a wolf or deer. Tales of beasts unlike anything ever dreamt of. Giant Elk that runs on two legs faster than any man could ever run. Gaunt with bones protruding from its skin and caked blood on its jowls. It feasted upon men and their souls and would grow when consuming a person, thus its hunger never slaked. Its eyes pitch black and able to hold its victims in thrall until could rend them apart. Their animalistic screams causing men to fall to their knees screaming in insanity. Some even said that though pacts with the dark spirits of the New World, one could become like these beasts. This, Wendigo.

When the shipping lanes opened and the routes were correctly mapped, Ul’Dah and its shipping partners immediately opened up trade lines and secured exclusive contracts for not only provisioning Eorzea but for the immediate colonization efforts to take place to carve out hamlets and cities to support the mercantile efforts. Rowena and her house of splendors would not be outdone of course. But instead of sending miners, botanists, loggers, or craftsmen, she opted to send two veteran and battle-hardened adventurers to scout and survey the land. To greet the locals and work to establish good relations with them. Of course, that is what the official manifest stated. The real goal was to find proof of these ‘Wendigo’ and bring evidence back for research. Preferably living evidence.

Marishi and Rae were content to spend their voyage in the embrace of each other. They were social, but they never lingered far. Not out of fear, but due to the rarity of the occasion. It wasn’t often they would have prolonged unbroken time to spend together with nothing to do but simply be with one another.

This didn’t stop the crew from making the occasional pass at either of them or the hands accidentally groping due to the rocking of the ship. But the few that were bold enough were the few that spent their voyage in the infirmary nursing broken noses or arms. Rae would protect Marishi and Marishi would protect Rae.

It would take an estimated 4-6 months to reach The New World by boat, and those days slid by quickly for them. They never spoke of home like the sailors, though they did own land and a house. Their home was each other. Their home was the road.

Marishi and Rae had not been well briefed on the situation of The New World, simply because there weren’t enough reports to make an accurate briefing. They were headed into uncharted territory with a small fleet determined to become the masters of this new land.

Eventually, the ocean began to fall away and begin to be replaced by reefs and the sound of loud and squawking seagulls. Ocean life seemed abundant and literally leaped from the water. Tropical islands could be seen in the far distant horizon, though, they were told they wouldn’t be so lucky for that to be their destination. Their moorings would be further north up the coastline. And for 3 days they kept the shore just upon the horizon and sailed at excellent speed to their landing. The climate began to change. The warm Sun was replaced with a bright, but cold air. The Tradewinds were arctic and it was easy to tell they were headed somewhere much colder.

The sandy beaches were replaced with imposing and massive rock formations making sailing dangerous and capsizing a vessel a real possibility. The further north they sailed, the colder it became. Finally, the ledges began to even out and the captains of the frigates began to look for suitable inlets for extended mooring. They began to move closer to the shore. Marishi and Rae could see a bit inland from their vantage on the ship. From the rocky beachheads was followed immediately by dense forest. A massive forest with no known end. The trees weren’t unlike the ones found in Coerthas. Pine, Spruce, Conifers. Evergreen trees that did not bloom or drop at the seasons changing. Like Coerthas, it was also cold. Cold enough to see one’s breath. Cold enough to spot snow on the trees and on the massive mountain ranges that begun to show jutting high into the air, unable to see the tips as the clouds cloaked them from view.

People were eager to disembark. 6 months on a cramped frigate causing the settlers and tradesmen to become somewhat stir crazy. When the orders were finally given to drop anchor, the captains of the vessels did not allow a full disembark, but rather sent a few skiffs with hearty sailors to slide to shore and ensure that that the area was safe from violence, had adequate fresh water, game, and lumber for shelter. Larger skiffs were loaded with supplies that they brought with them from Eorzea and were sent to shore. Finally, after the land was deemed habitable, the supplies on land, the passengers were able to load the skiffs and make to The New World. To start a new life and carve their own fate with their own hands. Ignoring that fate has always been a fickle and capricious mistress ready to turn the moment the guard is lowered.

Marishi and Rae were the last to arrive on shore, their soft leather boots barely making a mark in the white sands of the beach. They would not be joining the settlers in their work to create civilization. Their destination was unknown. Somewhere in the massive dense forests and mountains of lands uncharted and unknowable.

“Well,” Began Marishi. “This isn’t the stupidest thing we’ve ever signed up for, but it has to be in the top 5. I’d say we’re walking into a viper’s nest, but it’s worse than that. We’re walking into the unknown. I’m scared. And excited.” She smiled at Rae and took her hand. “We’ll camp with the rabble for the night and at first light, we’ll start off.” The smile faded from her lips. “This is a long and barren shore. I don’t think we’ll have to venture all that far to find the natives of the land. I have a feeling they’ve already found us.” She said looking at the dark tree line in the fading daylight. “If they haven’t by now, they will when the fires go up. See? They’re already hacking down dry wood to build them.” She motioned to a few settlers with axes. Marishi looked at Rae again, with love in her eyes and said, “Well, Sol? Care to join me on yet another adventure fraught with excitement, intrigue, mystery, excitement, suspense, and death-defying acts of courage?”

Night fell and soon the bonfires went up. Men were celebrating their freedom from the oppression of the ships at sea, dancing, singing, and drinking. Marishi and Rae lay in their bedrolls close to the fire. They were on a small grassland plain, but still close enough to hear the ocean’s perpetual motion along the beach. Marishi looked at the group with disdain. “Fools. Yelling and dancing, drunk with multiple fires that can be seen, smelt and heard for miles. Conquerors newly arrived at an alien and savage land ready to swallow them up to never be seen again or heard from again. I can’t see them, but we’re all of us being watched. Safety is in numbers. Do not stray away from the firelight and do not stray away from the group. Not until there’s enough light we can make by.” She said. Marishi’s fingers absently touched her right temple next to her disfigurement. “I’m sorry that it can’t be sooner. There was a time where we could move as easily by day as we could be the night. I suppose you still can. I no longer have the ability to see as well as I could. In the day and night.” She said sadly, her mind forcibly recalling horrors she had buried deep down, unable to cope or accept what was done to her that night in the Ala Mhigo provinces.

She rolled on her side to face away from Rae and said “No changing the past. Get some sleep. If they were going to kill us, they would have done so by now so they could return to the warmth of their own beds. No point in standing guard against an invisible force or worrying if there is one at all. Best to get as much rest as we can as it may be few and far between from here on out.” Marishi closed her eyes and tried to sleep, though sleep would elude her for the night and the days to come. There was an uneasiness she felt at the shore of a new and uncharted world. It wasn’t excitement or curiosity. It was forebodement. It was perdition. It was the feel of the unseen noose beginning to tighten around her neck as she stood, hands bound at the gallows awaiting execution for the countless crimes and misdeeds she had committed but had never been admonished of.

In the grey hours of the morning, Marishi gently nudged Rae with the toe of her boot to wake her. “Wake up. It's time to go. We need to be gone before the others awaken, or they’ll start getting ideas that we’re going to help them settle and build. Which, for our kind, is a pain filled, horrifying, and short-lived experience.” Marishi knew the value of her race and gender. Little more than pincushions for men to beat, ravage, and release into. Miquo’te females could breed with Hyur males, though the exchange was barren and would yield no offspring. To Hyur men, they made the perfect prostitute and there was a very active trafficking and sex trade industry across the ocean to the east. It would be the same here soon enough.

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"Of course it's snow," Rae murmured, shivering and rubbing her hands over her arms. She was not a fan of the cold. Growing up in the Shroud, she rarely saw the snow and felt the cold. Perhaps a bit of her parents' genes altered her tolerance to the cold, as she hated it more than usual. More often than not did she find herself huddling closer to her wife, shivering, teeth chattering, tail lazily wrapped up around her waist, tucked up under her heavy blanket to keep her warm. It did little to that effect. The chill in the air didn't begin to nip at Rae's senses until they were a month and a half away from reaching the New World. She would wrap blankets around herself, robbing cots of them, only to replace them shortly after a few disgruntled murmurs from the crew met with her ears. Snow never fell, but it felt though at any given moment it would. It was dark. It was cold. Rae was a little more than irritable. She had one bed sheet used as a scarf while another was her coat. Her ears pressed flat against her head and her eyes leered from under her furrowed brows. She looked exactly like a miserable feline would caught out in the freezing cold.

Once all the things were in order and the civilians were allowed to leave the ship, Rae walked with Marishi, smiling to her from underneath her two layers of clothing. Mildly, she wondered if setting fire to her blankets an walking around with burning sheets was such a bad idea. There was no assigned camps for anyone but the crew, so Rae and Marishi picked a campfire and rolled out their mats. Rae, ever the attentive chef, prepared a simple soup and re-heated some rolls she made while on the ship. She knew there would be no chance to make rolls such as these once they landed, so she prepared a few within the ship's humble kitchen. A few of the onlookers glanced their way hungrily. Rae ignored them while scooping up some of the creamy soup. It tasted rich, smooth, and warmed the soul through and through. Rae ignored the scalding pain on her tongue as she gulped down as much of the soup she could before it went warm. Belly warm, her body heated up as well and he was left smiling contentedly, humming with joy. When warned to not stray from the fires, Rae scoffed, her sound muffled by the sheet. "Like I would. My Nocturne, I have no idea how you are so comfortable with this temperature. My tail would have fallen off if not for these blankets. My ears feel like icicles," She commented, laughing lightly as she allowed others to partake of the meal she made. They wouldn't be able to take it all with them, after all. As Marishi apologized, Rae smiled warmly to her. "It's not a bother, my dear. I wouldn't want you in a position where you couldn't use your senses properly to guide you. I have no qualms with resting on solid ground tonight. I'd rather the world stop rocking like the ship, anyway."

Soon after eating, sleep overtook her and Marishi. She slept near her wife, her hand reaching out from the covers and touching her's. Soon, she drifted off to sleep. Chanting filled her dreams from disembodied voices that she never heard before. A language she never knew, a song she never learned. The chanting brought a feeling of dread within her, but when it stopped, she felt peace slowly return. Once she thought the ordeal had passed, a large had reached out from the darkness and snatched her up.

The tapping at her feet caused her to stir. Rae opened her eyes and looked up to her wife, already prepared to leave. She smiled and stretched. Odd. It seemed warmer that day. It didn't take Rae long at all to pack away her roll and pull on the coat Marishi had made for her. She also stored away one of the blankets she absconded from the ship. For good measure. Once their miniature camp was cleaned, they were off. It was strange. The island reminded her of The Shroud, but at the same time, it was quite unlike the Shroud. There were cries from creatures she had never heard before. Smells she had never encountered. Fruits hung low from the overburdened trees and Rae knew most of them. There were a few that she did not recognize, so she steered clear. Thankfully, due to the Limsan sailors' trade, she was able to know what the fruits from this world was and how they tasted. They would not starve on this island, that was for certain.

The journey through the forested area was rather uneventful for the most part. The birds would fly overhead and chirp or screech, the wildlife would scurry away before spotted by the biped intruders. Rae and Marishi, at times, would need to use blades to cut through the thickets and vines that covered the discrete path they took. It was well-covered, but there was a path there. Soon, the song of the birds began to quiet down, the animals that darted around became sparse and the the fruits that over-burdened the trees appeared to be more culled and controlled in population. Rae was the first to notice the fruit count going down and made comment to Marishi. "I think we're getting close to either civilization or a gathering site." She cautioned. Before long, movement of another kind would be seen.

Larger figures darted between trees. Branches trembled. Twigs snapped. Rae stopped, ears raised in alert and her eyes watching the shadows dart around eagerly. She rested her hand on her Dreadwyrm Rapier, readying to use it for an attack. Perhaps, however, these shadow-lurkers were merely curious of their presence? They possibly had never seen a Miqo'te before and found this one fascinating. What language did they speak? Perhaps some of the earlier settlers of the island had brought the language to them. The movements stopped and Rae could clearly see one body standing not too far, not fearing to hide between the trees. It was one of the island's natives--a Mamool ja. They looked as if a snake grew arms and legs and an antennae. Like an Eft deformed. Rae kept her comments to herself, however. "Hello," she called out, warily, turning to fully address the one brave enough to not hide in the thicket. "We are friends. We do not come to harm you. Can you understand me?"

There was a silence that came as the Mamool Ja stared, cocking his head from side to side. "Of course Welool Ja understand. Smoothskins teach us words. Mamool Ja learn. Friend? But Smoothskin puts its hand on weapon. Mouth says one thing, hand does other." His voice was a gruff hiss. With his spear, he pointed at Rae's hand resting upon the pommel of her Rapier, which she dropped to her side.

"I ask for your forgiveness, Welool Ja," Rae replied, bowing slightly. "Being a stranger in a strange land puts one on edge. I meant nothing of this affront and I hope you could look past it. I'll not draw my weapon on you and yours, so long as you do not draw yours upon me and mine."

Welool Ja seemed satisfied by her words and action, although his face did not show it. "Smoothskin uses fancy words. The Mamool Ja know the Smoothskins that speak with honey in their mouth are deceitful." From somewhere in the canopy of trees, a bow string was drawn.

"It's not always that way, you see," Rae said, glancing to the tree tops, then back to Welool Ja. "I am a scholar, unlike those men who you must have seen before. I take more diplomatic approaches. If you wish for some one who speaks plainly, my wife would be happy to oblige."

"Why have the Smoothskins come to our land," Welool Ja demanded, his face contorted with anger. "Why invade? Why trespass? Why steal? Why kill? Why here?"

Rae spoke up calmly. "We have come to explore, not ki-" She was cut off by the spear-wielding Mamool Ja stamping the spear onto a rock beside him, then pointing the head at her.

"Enough from the fire-haired Smoothskin! You speak! You answer!" His spear then turned to Marishi, his face hardened as he waited an answer.

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“What? Don’t look at me. I’m just cold and want to be warm.” Marishi replied with a quip in her tone. She looked at the beastman with a sharp edge, eyeing him for any signs of more aggressiveness. They were outnumbering and the bowmen would almost surely be the end of them both.

“We mean you no harm. As you know, we arrived but a short time ago to these shores, not to conquer, but to map and explore. To offer peace to this beautiful lands populations.” Marishi said. She laughed slightly as she looked down at her left hip in which she wore her weapons. “It can seem as though we are here to subjugate, I admit. We arm ourselves so as to protect our own lives and those that cannot do so on their own. Not needlessly take others. Such is the way of honor. Of the Samurai.”

“Smoothskin speak in riddles. Understand though. Better than little mage. Smoothskin cannot leave forest. Must bring back to tribe to face elders. Elders judge if smoothskin worthy.” Said their leader as two more Mamool Ja emerged from the brush at their backs. Both armed with well maintained and honed spears. “Take weapons from Smoothskins, we go to Mamook.” At this order Marishi clicked her tongue. They weren’t being asked, they were being detained and divested. They were being escorted to another hostile environment full of potentially aggressive Mamool Ja. “Give up your Rapier, Rae. They aren’t asking.” Marishi said softly pulling her own Odachi and Wakizashi from her sash and handing them over to the nearest guard.

They were marched through the forest, single line in the middle of their guard until they picked up an actual trail leading deeper into the lush and dense forest and the foothills of the mountain range. The trees became scraggly as they thinned and gave way to rocky outcroppings. As evening began to fall, torch braziers could be seen on either side of the path and the smell of cedar burning could be detected on the winds. They entered into a small tunnel that led them through a brightly lit corridor into the interior of the mountain range and open bowls that gave way to the dimming sky.

Marishi had never seen anything quite like it. The Autumn leaves turning the trees red and yellow, mixed with the evergreens, the pools of water clear and pristine, even in the middle of thatched style huts built into the tree limbs, the sky flaring its pink and purple hues as soft white clouds drifted slowly by. She had the feeling of Coerthas, but not as it stands, as it stood. Lush green and crisp mountain air. It made her think of her own childhood, growing up among the mountains before her education at the Holy See. The smell of her father as he arrived at their small cabin fresh with sawdust from his day logging and squeezing out the frugal living, he was able to provide. The happiest time in Marishi’s unnaturally long life. Before she expierenced the full scope of human depravity and racism at the hands of Ishgard. Seated on its mountain throne among the Sea of Spires.

The village of Mamook was not small and a several corridors cut into the stone branched off in all directions leading to other areas of the village and other huts. They took the most well-trodden path until they came to one of the largest bowls that acted as the commons area for the village and place of meeting. Here, other Mamool Ja were seen that Marishi had not encountered. They weren’t rough textured or brown scaled as those she had seen from Eorzea or their own escort. There were blue Mamool Ja, their hides sleek and shining and wore neck charms and bracelets. They carried staves in their hands and the look of keen intellect in their eyes.

The leader must have noticed Marishi’s gaze holding upon one of them. “Smoothskin not see Mamool Ja that cast magic before?” He asked with an amused tone in his voce. This was the first he spoke to either her or Rae after the encounter. “No, I didn’t think the ability to manipulate Aether was as widespread to reach even here.” Marishi said, not in an unkind tone. “Smoothskin think small. Aether everywhere. Not just tiny home. Aether gift from Mother. Blessings. Life surge in all things. Mamool Ja know this.” He said with the amused tone still in his voice. Among their ranks stood What and Black Mages. Not the lesser teachings, but actual mages. Marishi was impressed and looked at Rae with an arched eyebrow.

They were taken to the central lodge where numerous Mamool Ja had gathered and gawked at the first Miquo’te they had ever seen. So small they were by comparison. More akin to annoying house cats than actual threats. Their frail bones looking like they would snap if grabbed suddenly.

They stood on the opposite side of a large and two headed Mamool Ja, one head blue, the other brown. Both possessing their own will and mind. “Smoothskin stand before Radol Ja. Chief of Mamook. Radol Ja judge if worthy of passage and friendship. Fail test and Smoothskin not leave so smooth.” The squad leader warned. Their weapons were given over to the Chief who looked them all over closely, notably the Rapier and Odachi. The two extremely potent primal infused weapons the two carried. He could sense their lingering power even if he didn’t know they were from the two most powerful Eikons to ever exist.

After a long silence and examination of the armaments, Radol Ja’s brown head spoke. “Smoothskins carry powerful weapons, dangerous in wrong hands. Very dangerous. Mamool Ja track other Smoothskins from wood house on waves. What Smoothskin want in new land?” The blue piped up “Smoothskins come to build settlements and infect land with taint. Kill forest with axe. Two small smoothskin with tail not interested in home or comfort.” Marishi bowed in her Far East and archaic stiffness. “My name is Marishi Ten, and the other to my left is known as Rae Ten. Together, we have traveled across the great divide not to settle lands or build establishments, but to survey and parley with the denizens. I am honored to meet the Great Chief Radol Ja.” She said humbly, impressing both heads of the Chief as well as the leader of the squad. “Smoothskins found in picking grove. Say looking for guide and maps. Smoothskins give weapons over without problems.” The leader said, acknowledging that they came willingly and of their own accord without use of violence or detainment. “Hm. Maybe. But something Smoothskin not say. What real purpose for voyage?” The blue head looked at them keenly. “Sit by fire. Make warm. Eat soon. Talk now.” The brown chimed in.

Rae and Marishi sat on the floor, Marishi on her knees with her hands in her lap neatly. “Thank you for your hospitality, Chieftain. The lands are unknown to us and we never would have found your beautiful village without escort.” Marishi said. “Pretty words not work on Radol Ja.” The blue head said sharply. “We come with message from the East. My companion and I are emissaries with hopes of treating with the New World and its inhabitants to open trade and cooperation negotiations. We also look to traverse the land for the other side of your realm.” Marishi told the truth. There was no point in lying when it would accomplish nothing but an irate, massive, two headed Mamool Ja and likely, their deaths. “Trade? Trade in dangerous weapons? Arm enemies of Mamool Ja? Turn profit off death? Smoothskin want to go to otherside? Mamook small nation. Not know way. No help. Blood on Smoothskin cloths. Can smell stench. Weapons stain red with lifeblood. Smoothskins warriors. Not Ambassadors.” Radol Ja’s head said in unison. “You don’t send scholars to an untamed and unknown land. You send scouts who can not only defend themselves, but also think for themselves. We are of the world and while true, we have seen our share of aggression, we seek to provide you means to defend your lands. Not enslave them. We carry means to survive and have no interest in an arms race with your people or anyone else’s.” Marishi said bluntly. They were authorized to act in semi autonomy on behalf of the House of Splendours, but everything regarding trade organization could only be approved by the Lady of the House. Rowena.

“We only ask that the offer be considered and that we are able to depart in peace with no harm to either myself, my partner, or our equipment. Any help that you are able to provide to assist us in the monumental task of charting would be greatly apricated, however small, Chieftain.” Marishi said. “Smoothskin not speak false, though smoothskin not know what is asked. Forest contain many secrets, not all protected by Mamool Ja. Some shadow. Darkness. Have own followers. Won’t show smoothskin mercy. Redol Ja say return to house boat. Safer. Live longer. Smoothskin quest folly. Wendigo stalk other lands.  Smoothskins not return if border crossed” There was the word. Wendigo. Marishi only knew the word and it being connected with the supernatural. Their actual purpose.

Marishi looked at Rae while all other pairs of eyes fell upon her. Radol Ja expecting her to pick up where Marishi had left off.

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"Which is why they sent me as well," Rae explained. She sat cross-legged, contrast to her partner. Leaning forward, Rae locked her fingers together and rested her chin on them, her elbows resting on her knees. "Wendigo need to get close in order to take on the skin of their target. They can't get close to some one wielding magic. My Rapiers are not for show. Through them, I can channel magic. However, the idea is to not have to go to such greath lengths as to slaughter the Wendigo, unless your tribe has no qualms with our methods."

"Smoothskins know of Wendigo?" Radol Ja stated, both heads speaking in unison, all eyes narrowed and leering at Rae.

She did not falter in her response. "Of course we know of them, Chief Radol Ja. We were warned of their existance upon hearing of the mission, while aboard the ship as well as in the port. There were a vast many stories told to us, all of them sharing one thing in common: the Wendigo are not to be taken lightly. They unlike anything we have ever encountered before. The beasts have raised quite a stir among the eastern lands. Sailors would not dare come here unless paid a healthy sum, soldiers demanded the finest equipment and weapons, and the people? Well, they find solace in numbers. Seeing walls up around them, seeing seasoned guards with sturdy weapons, seeing other people appearing safe, they convince themselves it will never happen to them. So long as they stay on the beach where they are supposed to, perhaps it won't."

The Chief appeared satisfied with her explanation of the Wendigo, but the blue head spoke quickly. "Smoothskins know of dangers. Know of Wendigo. Still come to explore and map. Come to establish trades. Smoothskins are either brave or foolish."

Rae smiled again, straightening up and resting her hands on her knees. "I suppose we shall find out what we are, then. It won't be of any consequence to your tribe whether we are brave or not. We go into the wild with nothing but our weapons and gumption and should we return, blessed are we. Should we die, then another soul to be lost in the abyss. Your tribe will continue on as usual, like nothing ever happened."

"Indeed," spoke the other head, turning to the other Mamool Ja within the hut. Their questions seemed to be answered with satisfaction and honesty. There was no reason to question the two further. "Smoothskins have been cooperative. Do not seem hostile. Smoothskins may have weapons back, but must answer more questions. Sailors not tell much of your land. They keep secrets. We Mamool Ja will never leave this land, must guard it, must protect it and it will protect us. Tell us of your land."

Rae's eyes gleamed as the Mamool Ja who held her Rapiers returned them to her. She gratefully took them back, bowing in respect and sheathing them while going in to great detail about Eorzea. "I was born in The Black Shroud. It's a densely forested area that's like this forest, but unlike it as well. The smell where I am from is more earthy, like tilled soil after a morning of rain," there was recognition flashing in the eyes of many around them. From the entrance, a crowd had gathered as they listened and stared at the strange newcomers. They had drawn a crowd. "Fruit is not as abundant as within your forest, but that which grows natrually are protected by the Elements - spirits of the forest that embody the core makeup of the world around them. Earth, Water, Wind, Fire. All elements are present within and help flourish the forest. At a young age, I was taken to another land: Sharlaya. An island closer to here than Aldenard. There is where some of the finest Scholars are hailed from. They take pleasure from books and knowledge and the study of magic and the cosmos. While some have their faces turned down to books, others cast their eyes up to stare at the stars. The land is... artificial. None of what remains was of the original design. The Sharlayans care little for nature if it isn't something magical. They presume to know everything of the physical world and seek to learn that of the celestial and aetherial."

"What does Smoothskin feel of that?" Asked Radol Ja, caution in his tone.

"I disagree with it whole-heartedly," Rae quipped, a scowl on her face. "There is far more of nature that the Sharlayans are willingly blind to. They think with their skant knowledge of what they have observed over the span of one decade they have seen all that the physical world has to offer. They had no idea of the Elementals. They had no idea of the tree in the Central Shroud which an elder Elemental presides within. When I attempted to teach them of more, they explained away my knowledge as... primitive folklore. Not many White Mages are among their ranks, as they are those who conjure spells and restorative magics from the vast pool of aether that is Nature."

The tension within the Chief seemed to melt away as he relaxed to Rae's answer. "Tell us more, Smoothskin. Your world seems interesting. You weild swords but claim to use magic. Is this magic from Sharrl-aye?" He spoke the word with hesitation, his tongue struggling to form the word.

Patiently, Rae answered his question. "Sharlaya. And no, not entirely. I am a Red Mage. I wield both Black and White magic, but not as potently as one who would specialize in one or the other. My magic hails from the nations of Mhach and Amdapor-"

"Amdapor!" Exclaimed Radol Ja. Many of the others turned to one another and whispered at the sudden outburst of their chief. "Amdapor is a nation we know! Smoothskins came here many years ago. Seeking passage. Seeking knowledge. Seeking forbidden things! Our grandfathers and grandmothers write of the Amdapor men! Angry. Evil. They seek curses. Do you work for nation?!"

Rae's hands were thrown up and her eyesbrows raised as well, shock on her face. "No! Of course not. You will be pleased to know the nation of Amdapor got what it wanted, and thus what it deserved. The people were wiped out, and those who remained cursed to be small monsters we call Tonberries. Amdapor is no longer a threat to this world," At her explanation, the room seemed to quiet down. Knowing the threat of the Amdapor scholars was gone seemed to put them at ease. "I had no idea other nations had made it out to this land before our own. Have you had many other visitors besides those?"

"If any, they did not enter our land by shore," Radol Ja answered, relaxing back against his chair. As he did, food was brought in, as well as drinks. Rae stared at all the prepared meals. There was meat that smelled spicy, fruits that were both charred or simply cut into sections to bite into. Rae leaned closer to one platter where a slab of meat was glazed with a sweet-smelling liquid that oozed onto large, green leafs beneath it. "Eat. Smoothskins are guests, smoothskins may eat and drink."

With a smile, Rae obliged the chief and reached to tear into the chunk of meat before her. "We appreciate your hospitality, Chief Radol Ja. This meal look simply wonderful," as she bit into the meat she tore off, Rae had to cover her mouth to keep the juice from gushing out. Flavour unlike any she had tasted before filled her mouth. It was like she had bit into a juicy fruit. Once she swallowed all that was in her mouth, she laughed. "I would love to learn of the spices and herbs you use, as well as how you cooked that! I've never bit into meat so juicy!"

One of the heads bit into a leg of something while the other spoke before filling his mouth with a leaf full of berries. "That is the bladder of a Red Crown Zuu." Upon hearing it was part of a bladder, Rae's stomach churned and she stopped herself from putting another piece into her mouth. Her expression dropped to one of dismay as she slowly lowered the hunk she cut off. A few Mamool Ja laughed while Radol Ja smirked, quite pleased with Rae's reaction. "Most Smoothskin don't finish either. Hrah hrah hrah." His laugh was a low rumble, almost a growl. Rae reached over to the charred fruit, knowing it couldn't possibly be something horrendous like a tongue or genital of some strange animal.

"Black-eyed Smoothskin does not speak of world. Speak. Tell of your world." Said the blue head before biting into the succulent leg it was gnawing on before.

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Marishi ate lightly as she listened to the two speak. She had heard the stories before. The memories of Sharlaya, the practice of mage craft, the origins of black and white schools. Years ago, Marishi even belonged to the prestigious ranks that are bestowed upon select conjurers. A White Mage.

She had long since laid down the staff and picked up the sword and her teachings of hearing and healing were all but lost to her. The ability to manipulate Aether forever broken. She glanced up at the Mamool Ja leader as he asked his question of her. Her mouth turned downward as he reminded her of her deficit and vision impairment.

“I have no great stories with which to do this mighty hall justice.” She said. “The lands east are as my companion described. A place of wonder and of sorrow. Forever gifted with choice. Forever cursed with choice.” The Chieftain looked at her with an almost puzzled look on his faces. Almost as if he didn’t understand why she did not speak of the wonders she had seen. “Smoothskin not talk about her homeland?” He said finally. “I have no homeland.” Marishi replied shortly. “Pity Smoothskin. No kith, no kin. Not understand what it is to be family. Not understand part of something greater. Something more than what is inside.” He said with pity and sadness, looking at Marishi. “Smoothskin join Mamook family. Be part of tribe. Know happiness. No more dark in heart. Darkness is how Wendigo find. Darkness is how Wendigo control. Wounds on soul Wendigo will exploit.” The blue head said.

Marishi was taken aback. To be part of a tribe she did not know or care about. She shrugged and said, “I will be part of your tribe, thank you. Though if possible, to hold off on the ceremony and ritual until another time, that would be welcome to me. The hour is getting late and I’m not used to how long the Sun stays out here. Would it be possible to rest here in Mamook for the evening and depart at first light?” The Chief thought a moment and said, “You part of family now. Always welcome. You have private lodgings in thatched hut at far end.” He waved his hand at the door. “Will give you best tracker to escort to edge of mountains. Cannot go further. Never been further. Forbidden. Do not continue. Folly to find darkness. Only pain. Things worse than death in world.”

Marishi looked at him with sadness in her eyes. “I know all too well the repercussions of hell on earth.” She smiled, snapping out of her own thoughts. “Perhaps a tale for another time. I thank you Chieftain. Your generosity is nothing short of life saving.” Marishi bowed and walked out of the hut with her companion with an escort to her lodgings.

The hut was simple with the bare comforts. A fire, sleeping mats, and thatched furniture. Marishi, lost in her thoughts laid down for rest without speaking with Rae but sleep would not come. Instead a foreboding feeling and the sensation of choking and isolated wrapped around her as a malicious lover to embrace the mists that chokes the joy of life from souls.

Marishi must have dozed off as she was startled from darkness to the sound of light movement. Quiet footsteps outside of the hut. Skilled, light footsteps moving from the back to the front flap. She slowly drew her tanto from it’s sheathes silently and forced out all other thought and emotion. Focusing on the heightened senses and duty at hand. The steps stopped at the flap and the soft sound of an animal sniffing. “Smoothskin not be alarmed. Name is Koheel Ja. Tracker. Will take to border. Take many moons. Come. Time to journey.” The voice and steps faded back. Marishi sighed and took shallow quick breaths trying to calm her nerves and anxiety. Rae slept through it and was curled in her own mat, breathing even and paced.

Marishi packed their things and nudged Rae awake. “It’s time to go. The tracker is already anxious to depart. I’m sorry, Sol. I haven’t felt like myself lately. Ever since we’ve arrived, I’ve felt like a stranger in a strange land. I’ve felt like a stranger in my own skin. Like I don’t belong in the body I inhabit. Different from the other spells of melancholy. But I’ll be fine. Worry not. It will pass.” Marishi smiled sadly and rose to her feet and walked outside with her pack.

They left as the sky began to lighten. The clouds were dark and grey, weeping frost to fall to the ground. The snow fell lightly to the ground and began to build up in on the needles and branches of the trees as they left the safety of Mamook. Being led by Koheel Ja. Smaller than those of his race, he was still much larger than both Miquo’te put together. He was thin and sinewy. Tan in color, but with sharp intelligent eyes that soaked in all information they fell on, but gave back nothing in return. Marishi couldn’t help but feel a small sadness at the departure. Expecting hostility, they had been sheltered and even adopted by a native people that had every right to mistrust and even exile or exterminate them. It was peaceful in the village. More so than the cities of man in the east. All seemed to understand their place to be apart of something greater. Their community and the care for every single one of their people. Including Marishi.

Koheel Ja spoke little. The weather seeming to put a pall on the small party as they made their way through the heavy parts of the forest. The days went by as a blur, blending into one another. Marishi retreated into herself and spoke rarely. In her own thoughts and worlds that she didn’t share with any others. The feeling of not feeling herself grew and the panic attacks continued in the night with no relent. She became used to new groove her mind and the tracker set for her body. It was as if she was a puppet. The same sights, smells, taste, and experiences causing her mind to begin to lose track of time and self.

She would be shaken out of the prison she had built herself in her mind by the faint smell of decay. What began as something she thought was in her own mind, became more frequent. Koheel Ja also seemed to pick up on the scent where he would abruptly change path, though he never gave explanation.

Slowly the forest began to thin and give way to plains and grass lands. The cold became bitter and the wind began to pick up. Throwing snow into the air in the few hours of daylight they had and encasing everything in ice and frost at night. Marishi began to feel uneasy without knowing why. Lack of sleep causing shadows flitting from the corner of her eyes. Snapping to the bush or boulder, she would scan unable to find anything. Anything, but the faint smell of death and decay. Rotting flesh and smell of iron.

“How much further are you to take us before you take your leave Koheel?” Marishi abruptly asked him, sitting on the ground around the small fire as Rae began to cook. “Smoothskin regret companions that guide? So quick to remove those that protect.” Koheel replied sharply. He had noticed Marishi’s withdraw from the outside world. “No, that’s not what I meant.” Marishi countered sharply. “Neither of us wants to remove you. Invaluable your services are. We wouldn’t have made it at all if it you weren’t our guide. I’d like to take it as a waymark per se. A reset point.” Koheel grunted and said slowly, “Soon. Trail sometimes fail and new route taken. Trail sometimes watched.” Marishi’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean watched? What is watching it? I thought the forest and plains around them belonged to your people.” She asked him. “Smoothskin dense. Spend too much time punishing for the past that eyes cannot be open to see the trail forward. All smoothskin bitter fruit?” Koheel Ja asked.

Marishi couldn’t help but smile at his quip. “No, I’m more of an outcast in my thoughts and actions than others as you can see.” Her gaze fell on her wife. “Some are able to come to terms with their sins than others. Our evils it seems do not fade in new lands. They come with us. Some of us.” Koheel Ja looked almost as if he were to give her a pitied looked. His voice softened “Do not allow darkness of the present force mind to the abyss of past. Easiest way to give into darkness. Darkness twist souls into horrors.” “Wendigo.” Marishi followed up. “Do not speak name!” Koheel Ja hissed quietly. “Omens carry on wind. Calls them. Welcomes them. Shadows block way in forest. Shades stalk on plains. Can smell darkness on wind. Can see if not looking. Hunger never satisfied. Evil. Can never stay still. Can never cure.” Marishi lowered her voice to match Koheel’s. “You know about them. What do they want? How do you rid yourself of them?”

“Smoothskin not understand folly. Calls darkness to soul. Vengeful spirits. Take over body and feed. Take revenge. No cure. Death.” Koheel Ja said as he stood fully and walked to the edge of their small camp to stand guard, considering their conversation at an end. Marishi laid awake unable to sleep. She couldn’t remember the last time she could. She would sleep, but she wouldn’t. This is when the feeling of not feeling she was herself was most apparent. Like she was watching herself as a wisp outside of herself. Her movements or actions not her own. The feeling would fade when she was called into action or until the lines blurred between sleep and the world. More and more she would feel as if she were watching herself and her actions while those actions were hers, they weren’t. She always felt like her brain was too small for her head and movements robotic. Her thoughts mirroring her past and drawing her in more and more.

The shadows in the corner of her eye became more and more prominent. The smells more perverse. Rustling of moving and quick speeds ever eluding her. Slowly driving her crazy.

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"Almost like Thralls," Rae murmured, more to herself than to the other two. She worked on a hearty meal. Potatoes, meat, seared vegetables and fruit gathered by their guide. The aroma was mouth-watering. She served the Mamool Ja first, then Marishi, then herself. They ate and Rae listened intently to what Koheel had to say. "Perhaps more Ascian than Primal." She corrected herself. To be a prisoner in one's own body and to witness the horrors that they performed felt a fate worse than death. She ate the rest of the meal in silence. Once it was done, she cleaned, but kept the fire ablaze. It would provide a bit of light and warmth for them in this chilling environment. Rae glanced to Marishi, noting her reserved disposition. She kept to herself, but would glance out to the forest trees now and then. Rae would follow her gaze, but saw nothing. Not so much as a movement. Sympathy rolled within her soul. Marishi never did well in newer environments, and she looked tired. Perhaps it was time to sleep.

Rolls out, everyone wrapped in their respective blankets, the trio slept. Rae kept her Rapiers near and her spells readied. Koheel slept on his dagger, and Marishi... There was a smell, an aroma that tickled her senses. It pulled her awake. It wasn't an unpleasant smell, in fact, it was quite delicious. Like a bowl of cut fruit, or crushed petals burning to create an aroma. She sat up and glanced around, following her nose as the scent grew stronger while drifting out from the clearing, deeper into the forest. It was a curious scent indeed. She stood, and walked out of the clearing in silence.

The forest was cold, but warm. The wind stirred the trees, but did not blast her bare skin, despite her not having her jacket on... or anything, really. When did she strip from her clothes? "Ah, it must be a dream." She murmured, then continued on. She would see this dream to its end, to find what that smell was. She followed it, through the winding paths of the forest, through the thick brush, under the tangled boughs of the trees, through the cave that was veiled by a waterfall, and there she found a plant. It rested in the middle of the hidden orchard, a light gleaming down upon it.

"Dear Child of the Stars," came a voice from around her. Rae spun, searching for its source, but none could be found. "You have come here, despite all odds. You've followed the scent of the True Plant, the Hesporicus. It only calls to those of divine blessing. And none are more divine than yourself, Child of the Stars. I have searched for you, waited, prayed to the Life Mother that you would come before it was too late."

"Too late?" Rae asked curiously, a brow piqued in intrigue. She drew nearer to the plant. It was a vibrant pink with green tips. It was like petals of a large flower closed up around its pistil, in the shape of a tear. The leaves around it looked like stars, but were ringed with thorns and sharp ridges. To touch it would surely draw blood. The aroma, however, was blissful. It exuded directly from the small opening where the petals of the fruit pressed together, almost like lips for a kiss. Rae examined it, but did not touch.

"This fruit is the last of its kind. My kin have guarded the fruit of this orchard for eons. Now, sadly, it draws to an end. The trees bear no more fruit, the grass becomes sparse, the leaves die, but do not return. I fear a poison has beset this orchard and it slowly claims the lives of all those who dwell within it," the voice went on to say. It was very clearly feminine, and filled with sorrow. "There was once a time this whole land was filled with these wondrous fruits, these miracle-workers, but the Wendigo drove it out. They ripped out the Hesporicus plants at their roots, they threw our fruits into the fire. These fruits work against them. They give those that eat it immunity, they repel those beasts from within the mind of the weakened and bless them with insight, knowledge, and intelligence. All spells become amplified with just a bite. All wounds become quick to heal. All ailments are cured... that is why it is called The True Plant."

Rae listened to the voice, then heard a twig snap behind her, which she spun to face the owner of the voice. She was beautiful. A pale woman with hair like moon light, eyes large and dark like the night sky. Her clothes danced around her, like smoke to a blown-out candle wick. She moved gracefully, but with a visible frailty. Rae watched with slight concern, then gasped when the woman fell. She landed beside the plant and let out a pained cry. Rae ran to her side, holding her, picking her up into her arms and turning her around to face her. "Why do you not partake of the fruit? You are so weak, so frail. A guardian should not be as so."

The woman smiled, her lips as pale as the rest of her skin, her teeth immaculate, her skin soft, warm, and smooth. She reached up and tenderly stroked Rae's face, brushing the hair from her eyes. "I cannot eat that which I guard, Child of the Stars. I, along with my sisters, have accepted our fate. When each plant dies, so too goes the guardian. My time is near, but I will hold on. I can hold on for you. Come to this orchard. Come, take this fruit of my plant. You will come to need it soon, I believe. I have shown you the way in this dream of yours. I bless you to remember it. I bless you, Star....Child...."

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Rae awoke, tangled in her blanket and coat. Her clothes shifted uncomfortably against her, her nose and ears cold from being exposed to the morning chill, or rather, the chill that lasted the whole night through. As she sat up and rubbed her eyes, she caught a familiar smell. She paused, eyes opening wide and she recalled her dream, the voice, the sights, the path. Her eyes darted to the forest around them, then to Koheel Ja, who was awake and watching her intently. "Koheel," Rae said, her voice cracking. Clearing it, she spoke again. "Koheel, I must ask you a question. Do you know of any plants called... Hesporicus? The True Plant?"

The Mamool Ja's expression distorted to confusion and slight disgust. "Koheel never heard of such name. Hesporicus? Sounds as a spell. Why Smoothskin ask?"

"I dreamt of it. This delicious-smelling plant... And a woman who guarded it. She was beautiful, but dying. As was this plant that bore a fruit. She... ah. Perhaps it was a dream." Rae stopped speaking when she saw the Mamool Ja's expression quickly grow more and more leery of what she said. "My apologies, Koheel. I sometimes get a little whimsical when I dream. Got my head in the clouds, one could say." She smiled and chuckled, then crawled out of her coccoon of warmth and made her way to Marishi, who looked worse for wear.

"My Lune," Rae cooed, kneeling down beside Marishi. She looked concerned as well, seeing Marishi's eyes with dark circles around them. "Are you feeling alright? How did you sleep last night?" She asked softly, not wanting their guide to hear.

At the sight of the two speaking softly, Koheel Ja stood. "I gather breakfast food. Use rest of meat from last night. Need enough food. Travel far, but not much farther. River coming soon, will need all day to pass it. We sleep there at the bank. Can fish. Fish good. More tasty. You felines, like panthers. Panthers love fish. You love fish." The Mamool Ja smirked at Rae, who glanced back to him and noted his demeanour.

"Are you being racist, Koheel?" She asked, but he turned and walked away, laughing lightly. Rae snorted, smiling as well and turned back to Marishi, stroking her fingers along her cheek. "It seems our guide has a bit of a sense of humour on him." She murmured.

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“All is as it should be. All is as it should be.” Marishi chanted under her breath over and over and over. A mantra. She couldn’t remember the last time she slept. She couldn’t remember the healing effects it had. He eyes were sunken and black smudges on her cheeks showed her condition. She was murmuring to herself. The same thing over and over again. All the while the smell of death and decay intensified every moment. The shadows from the corner of her eye became more brazen. The shrubs swayed when there was no wind. The sound of hooves in the distance. Even the gurgling scream of something that was not of the living nor the dead.

It was as if Marishi didn’t hear Rae at all. She rose slowly and pushed Rae off her, turned and said in a flat voice. “All is as it should be. The darkness is real. It is the mother. She will defend her land from ingrates and trespassers. The vengeful souls that have long since passed demand it. Be found worthy and join the ranks. Be found wanting and be consumed by their cadre. They are everywhere.”

Marishi’s hair was disheveled and unkempt. She had not bathed not even attempted to change under garments. A wet cough began to rack her body adding more stress to the frame that seemed likely to snap in half at any moment.

Koheel kept his distance from Marishi. Distrust and fear written on his scale face. “Smoothskin becoming like them. Embracing lullaby’s, they sing at night. Her sorry profound. Unlike any seen. Heart is broken with no way to soothe pain. Smoothskin prays for death. By her own hand or another. Not seeking new lands and discoveries. Seeking grave.” Koheel said to Rae as they arrived at the massive river bank.

The area around it was moist and warm. The humidity sticking to the skin and creating a layer of filth. The swamp lands were brown and stagnant rife with all sorts of reptiles and insects. Snakes slithering around boots, jaws attempting to tear leather to taste blood and bone. Long dead trees bleached bone white and lifting their claws to the heavens that have forsaken them. Bogs that left a film on the water where none could tell how deep the hole went. The smell of decay and rotten fish all around. The swamp was teeming with life. The kind to snuff out another for a meal. They slowly waded through the muck single file until they came upon the actual banks of the river.

Though it was classified as a river, the width was massive. Neither Rae nor Marishi had seen a river so wide. But it wasn’t a cool crystalline river from Eorzea. It was brackish and brown. Constantly turning the heavy topsoil of the bed to create a cloud of mud and disease.

Marishi snapped out of her morbid day dreams. “We’re not actually going to cross that, are we?” Koheel turn and faced her. “Smoothskin have better idea? Or will she call upon her new friends to help build raft?” He sneered. He was beginning to turn on her. He didn’t trust her. “I have no idea what you mean. You have been with me the entire time. Tell me of these friends I have impressed into my service reptile.” Her tone matched his own. She was no match for him in her shape. No sleep, little food, near delirious. One swipe would be all it would take to silence her and advert any more attention to them. Koheel looked at Rae. Eyes wide and frightened. He couldn’t tell if he was scared of him, or Marishi. “Smoothskin knows not what they speak. Smoothskin needs rest. Rest across river. Will help fight off darkness.” Marishi’s eyes lost focus as she said “All is as it should be.” Koheel ignored the statement and ordered trees be cut to lash together a raft.

The time it took to complete the task was unnaturally long. Marishi having to take several breaks due to her weakened state. She sweat feely even though it was cool. The sound of her cough echoed through the area like a carrion call. Growing worse in the humid climate. Fits of coughing would overwhelm her where she would stop and completely bend over with a dingy rag in her hand. Pulling the rag away left bright red wet splotches. She would quickly place the rag in her breast pocket to prevent others from seeing.

Once the raft was slung tougher, Marishi suddenly asked “How far have we traveled? A third? Halfway across the land? How far does this stretch.” Koheel looked toward the horizon and slowly said. “Don’t know. Never been further. Stories of endless desert and dunes to south. No water, just Sun and sand. North great lakes with many fishing villages of tribes of man who trap animal for fur. Stories of west talk about large mountain gods that rise into sky. Crowned with clouds in day and stars at night. Snow never gone. Bitter bitter cold. Freeze men to blocks of ice in passes. Only worth pass through gates of west. Further said to be promised land. Warm and green water and light. Aether pour to surface like hot springs. Paradise on edge of shore. Gods live in land. Mortals too weak to pass trials. Only stories from long ago. None believe. None have come back to prove legends.”

There was a buzzing in Marishi’s ears at the thought of the legends she was told. A drive to find out. But her pathetic mortal frame would never reach its end. The buzzing told her to shed her mortality and morality. To become the darkness. To let it in. All she had to do was feast on one of her own. Cannibalize her companions. She would know the strength of the ancients that had prowled this land before any other had dared step foot upon it. She slowly looked at Rae through the corner of her eye. A dangerous look. She looked slowly at the Mamool Ja guide staring back at her knowing what she intended. Marishi slowly said “All is as it should be” as she sat down on the raft and crossed her legs. She stared forward trying to fight off the urge to kill her friends and lovers to free herself of the torment that was consuming her.

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