Chapter 1: The Small Forgotten Shop
Tucked away in a forgotten little corner of Ishgard sits a curious shop. Known simply as the Feline Fatale, the well worn door has been welcoming guests since Ishgard's founding.
Curious odds and ins line its many packed shelves. From the hand crafted little Nomazu dolls that follow your every move, to dust covered greatswords that hang silently upon the walls waiting to one day be needed again.
Little balls of light can be seen wafting around in the air above one's head. Scurrying over like lost puppies whenever anyone enters, all hoping to light the way. While not a place for the faint hearted, it's rumored that you can find anything your heart desires there, as long as you're willing to pay the price that is.
Lazing behind the counter is the ever present Shopkeep . A person as much as mystery as the store he watches. Glowing eyes with pupils like a dragon peak out from beneath a veil of deep purple fabrics. Cloth like a starry sea drapes over his body, clouding his true form from view. But something within you screams that the figure hidden behind the layers is both beautiful and dangerous. For in this shop sleeps an ancient beast, of which only the Keeper may call.
The Knight's Most Holy whisper that tis the nest of a dragon, a den of heretics. But the people know the truth. Outside its well worn door hangs a freshly polished plaque, the words upon it a sharp knife in the sides of the church. Let it be known, by thine order, I King Thordan the First of my line do hereby by decree that this shope, The Feline Fatale, shall be welcome now and forever more within the Great Holy See of Ishgard. Any who dare to inflict damage upon its walls, contents, or Shopekeeper, shall be seen as traitors to the Crown and promptly hanged until death for their transgressions.
However, even with that deterrent, sometimes people get gutsy.
“Is there a reason you like making my job so difficult?” A tired voice broke the silence of the shop as the old door swung open. A handsome elezen stood in the doorway. His appearance only blemished by the dark circles forming beneath his eyes.
From behind the counter a soft chuckle replied, “My my, you say that my dear Lord Commander, yet here you are gracing my shop again. Shouldn’t you be resting? You’ll be able to store my whole inventory at this rate in those bags of yours.”
With a sigh Ser Aymeric brushed the bits of lingering snow from his shoulders as the shop door closed silently behind him.
“Dragging a corpse inside, Sho really?” Not even bothering to beat around the bush, he shot the man behind the counter an exasperated stare. “There’s already talk of you being a corpse loving heretic, dragging fresh victims to add to your perverse collection spreading upon the knights.”
A veiled head perked up from behind the counter, a pair of glowing blue eyes blinked at him innocently, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Aym. I’m just a simple shopkeeper, why would I go about collecting bodies? It’s not like the poor bloke was dropped in front of my doorstep by a heavily armored group of men during the wee hours of the morn.”
Aymeric pinched the bridge of his nose, the rumors had spread oddly fast. Figured shady dealings had to be involved. Things seemed to be going from bad to worse as of late.
“You shouldn’t be here Aym.” The Shopkeeper’s normally light jovial voice suddenly rang out deep and low. The sudden shift in tone catching Aymeric off guard. Lowering his hand, he looked almost hurt as he and the shopkeep made eye contact.
“Don’t give me that look. We both know it wouldn’t be wise for the Great Lord Commander to be seen having secret meetings with the rumored Heretic Shopkeeper. Your enemies know that you are a friend of us. This is just as much an attack towards you as it is towards the store.” Standing from his mound of cushions the Shopkeeper stretched, before making his way over to Aymeric.
“ We’ve been around far longer than those self-righteous gasbags, and believe me, we’ll be around long after they're gone as well.” There was a slight grin in his eye as he lightly rapped the taller man on the shoulder.
“The only one’s bothering to raise a fuss are the fools who know no better. You’re a smart man, Aym, I know you’ve noticed how none of the oldest houses are getting involved. Except for maybe the old froggies from House Durendaire, but they are just toothless coeurls wanting to watch the whole world burn.”
“What I’m trying to say is that you don’t need to concern yourself over anything said about the shop, let alone me.” Turning back around he made his way back over to the mountain of cushions, “Worry about your own skin. I already got an angry Dragoon sulking around my halls, I don’t need a wound up Lord Commander added to the mix as well.”
Hearing that Aymeric blanked, “Wait, Estinien has already been here?”
This time it was Sho’s turn to rub his temples, “Yes that over eager fool came busting in here not even five minutes after the poor sod was left outside for dead.”
“I heard that,” A gruff grunt came from the backside of the shop as a towering figure sulked out of the shadows. Despite being in full dragoon armor, the man's footsteps were light and nearly soundless.
The shopkeeper clicked his tongue before shooting the Dragoon a disdainful glance. “That was the point, you overgrown tree. If I wanted you and Aymeric fussing over me like mother chocobos, I would spend my days in a nest kwehing.”
“Like that isn’t what you do from that perch of pillows already…” Estinien mumbled loud enough for them all to hear, earning a chuckle from Aymeric and another click of the tongue from Sho.
“I’ll remember that when I’m charging you for the repairs of that spear of yours.”
Sho and Estinien shared a silent glare for a moment before Aymeric pulled their attention back to him.
“Alright, it’s clear I’m not needed here,” he chuckled again shooting a knowing look between the two. “Oh, but since I’m here, a reminder. That small group being hailed as the Warriors of Light arrived late yesterday evening. They’re currently being housed by House Fortemps, at Haurchefant’s behest.”
“That’s not surprising given how he sings their praises every chance he gets.” Sho inserted as he nestled back into his pile of plush. “Every time he pops in for a visit their all I hear about these days. Sho you won’t believe this! The Warriors came by again today! My heart races like a Gold Saucer Chocobo every time! ”
“Get him talking about the Au Ra in the group though,” Estinien sighed before him and Sho parroted at the same time, “ She could crush my head between her thighs and I would love every moment of it. ”
Both of them shared a light laughed as they vividly recalled how their love stricken friend would rant for hours on end if given the chance, but seemed to remain blissfully unaware of his obvious attraction.
“All right you two, don’t talk about the poor man when he can’t defend himself.” Despite his words though Aymeric was stifling a smile. He’d been victim to Haurchefant’s gushing before as well, not as often as these two, but his friend's love struckness hadn’t escaped him.
“Speak of a voidsent…” A small smile played on Sho’s lips as he motioned towards the door. The next moment it promptly flew open, a silver haired elezen standing excitedly in its wake.
“Sho I brought you some customers!!” Not even registering Aymeric and Estinien’s presence, the silver haired man waved in Sho’s general direction before spinning towards the group waiting behind him. “Come on in everyone! This is the shop I’ve been telling you about.”
The three men exchanged glances as the newest arrival proceeded to herd an odd collection of people into the small building. The little balls of light over head started expanding rapidly as the shops inhabitants increased. Giving the normally dimly lit room a new midday glow. Sho clicked his tongue as he squinted his eyes, trying to adjust to the new light level.
“You really should get out more,” Aymeric whispered as he scooted closer to the counter to make more room for the new arrivals.
“You can lecture me later, mother ,” Sho replied while rolling his eyes. “Right now we have some new guests to take care of.
Chapter 2: Three is a Crowd but Four is a Party
Lalafell, Au Ra, Miqo’te, and Hrothgar. Quite the unique sight to see in a city of Elezens. What wasn’t though, was the traces of wariness in their gazes. Just like the inhabitants of this frozen place, they hid their distrust and paranoia behind pleasant smiles. Sho observed them carefully as they filed inside. Something seemed to be poking at the back of his mind, but he promptly brushed it away.
The Au Ra led the charge, her blue eyes like searchlights, scanning the store as if unseen monsters lingered in the shadows. A large bow was strung across her back, well maintained but battle worn. A delightful smile spread across her face, but the experienced eye could tell it was mostly forced.
Behind her was a young Lalafell with strikingly pink hair, and a... dodo fledgling? Sho mentally frowned, he didn’t like animals in the shop. Yet seeing how the boy was practically clinging to it for dear life, he would let it slide. For now.
Standing over the boy like a protective shadow was the Hrothgar. Sho could smell hints of the void clinging to the man’s greenish colored fur from a mile away. Ah, a Black Mage standing guard over a Summoner. How ironic. He thought, the sarcasm nearly oozing from him as he turned his sights to the final entrant.
Bringing up the rear was a Miqo’te. The slightly twitching tail poking out from their backside being the only visible sign that they weren't just a short and stocky Hyur. Though figuring out more that was by eyesight alone was difficult. Yellow eyes peeked out from a coeurl themed mask, the rest of them however; was hidden behind a mix of dinged up plate armor and stained leather.
Having taken in enough of the group to sate his curiosity, he turned his attention to Haurchefant. The poor man was nearly floating like the light sprites, from the amount of giddiness bubbling within him.
Estinien, not wishing to be apart of the oncoming excitement, cleared his throat before pointing towards the back of the shop. Catching his meaning Sho nodded, and before anything could be said the dragoon slithered off. Making a swift hunched exit through a small door marked Staff Only . His cough had done the trick though and managed to bring Haurchefant back down to the source long enough to realize, Sho hadn’t been alone in the shop as normal.
“L-Lord Commander!” Haurchefant stuttered, snapping into a hasty salute upon registering the presence of his superior.
“No need for formalities, Haurchefant.” Aymeric chuckled, “We’re all friends here.” Yet the slight increase in tension among the four warriors, upon Haurchefaunt’s exclamation, didn’t escape this notice.
“Well, look at the time,” deciding to follow Estinien’s example, Aymeric glanced over at the clock on the wall. “If I don’t get back to my office soon Lucia will have my hide.”
Nodding to Sho he smiled, “Give my regards to Estinien whenever he comes out of hiding, and… Look out for yourself alright? I probably won’t be able to visit-”
“Yes, yes, yes, I know.” Sho said, unapologetically interrupting him. “It’s always the same ol’ line. Now shoo! Return to your stuffy office already.”
Aymeric sighed before entering his bureaucrat mode. Flashing a polite smile towards Haurchfant and the others, he promptly left the shop. The light sprites overhead dimming sightly as he did so.
A silence hung in the air before Haurchefant’s previous excitement returned in full force. Bee-bopping over to the counter he grinned broadly and motioned dramatically towards Sho.
“This here my friends, is the Shopkeeper, ” resigned to play his part, Sho nodded towards the guest as Haurchefant continued his spill.
“Known as Sho for short, if you ever need anything while in the city, he’s the one to talk to. From rare monster parts to armor and weapon repair. If he can’t find it of fix it, then no one can!” Haurchefant’s nose could be mistaken for a mountain with how high he was sticking it up during his lavish praises.
Judging from the reactions of the four though, they seemed accustomed to his antics at this point. Once he felt that he’d praised Sho enough though, he turned his attention towards the others.
“Now let me introduce these lovely friends to you Sho,” bouncing forward he placed his arm round the Miqo’te’s neck, causing the poor soul to flinch at the sudden contact. “This amazing gentleman here is Ty, don’t let his stature fool you, his battleaxe has slain many a troublesome behemoth! To see him in battle is to gaze upon Halone herself!”
“Haurchefant, please.” An exasperated sigh escaped the coeurl mask, as the Warrior shrugged himself free of Haurchefant’s clutches. The other’s in the group chuckled at the scene while Haurchefant simply moved on to his next target.
“This mountain of a man is Stille, a magical explosions expert. If Ty is Halone made flesh, then Stille is everything Rhalgr wishes he can be!” Learning from Ty’s example, Stille caught Haurchefant with a firm hand. Keeping him at a comfortable distance, earning another chuckle of the group of friends. Side stepping Stille’s hand, he zeroed in on the Lalafell instead.
“This is Sosuke, the best Summoner this side of the lifestream,” in the middle of his speech a small kweh interrupted him. “Ah, come now, I hadn’t forgotten about you, Todo. I was building up to your introduction.”
The small dodo fledgling nestled in the boys arms gave Haurchefant a skeptical look before puffing its feathers and nestling further into Sosuke’s embrace.
“Now Todo, don’t be like that.” Sosuke said, a genuine smile alighting his face for the first time since he entered the shop. Which seemed to be contagious, because not long after the other three were honestly smiling as well. With practiced hands he gently soothed the grumpy ball of feathers as he nodded towards Sho in greeting, which the Shopkeeper gracefully returned.
“Last but certainly not least, we have the lovely Vala.” There was a twinkle in his eye as Haurchefant stepped over to the last member of the group. Behind him Stille and Ty shared a look, which nearly caused Sho to snort in amusement.
“A voice like the lady of love herself, Menphina, and just as deadly.” There was a slight pink tinge on his ears as he looked at her, unable to keep a stupid lopsided grin off his face.
Already used to his over the top flattery, Vala just smiled. “Haurchefant, if you keep comparing us to the Twelve, you’re bound to call down a disaster upon yourself.”
“Hmph, if I can’t lavish my friends with the truth, then Halone strike me down!”
“Alright, alright, that’s enough,” Sho raised his voice to cut that line of discussion off. “There’s no need for all that.
Looking over the group once more he paused for a moment before sighing, “While it is a pleasure to meet you all, it’s probably for the best in you avoid this store for the time being.”
“Let me finish,” he said while holding up a hand to stop Haurchefant’s interruption. “Haurchefant, you’ve been running around seeing to your guest today so you probably haven’t heard the rumors yet. But believe me you will before the days out. Someone with too much time on their hands has decided to test their luck with the shop. As such it wouldn’t paint your friends in a good light if they’re seen here too often.”
“After all, they’re already in a delicate enough situation as it is,” he cast a knowing look over them before continuing. “They don’t need to take any risk that might make their problems worse. It would be bad for your father as well.”
“I’m not saying that I won’t help them, I know that’s why you really brought them here.” Sho gave Haurchefant a pointed stare, “But to have a group of fugitives visiting the store of a corpse loving heretic, well let’s just say, I doubt it’ll end pleasantly.”
Chapter 3: Better Left Unspoken
Silence descended upon the shop. Even the light sprites dimmed as the tension rose.
“Corpse loving heretic?! Who’s spreading such nonsense?!” Haurchefant snapped, his previous excitement gone without a trace.
“Shush.” Sho said while rolling his eyes, “You, Aymeric, and Estinien are all the same. Overprotective mother chocobos. I’m the elder after all, I don’t need you three sticking your noses into this. I can handle my own issues.”
“That’s not the point! What I want to know is why are they spreading rumors again! With everything you do for this city! To think-”
“No! This is ridiculous, the last time I visited someone was trying to stir up things as well. I kept my anger to myself last time, but not again! After all without you the D-”
Sho’s declaration echoed throughout the shop. The items lining the shelves seemed to quake in terror as Haurchefant’s mouth instantly slammed shut. The lights overhead scattered like mice, causing the shop to plunge into a murky twilight. The air vibrated with energy, causing goosebumps to raise upon all those present. Instinctively the hands of the four warriors shot towards their weapons. Their bodies reacting naturally to the sudden sense of danger.
Vala’s eyes grew wide as the grip on her bow tightened. The Shopkeeper was standing in front of Haurchefant now. She couldn’t track his movements. In her peripheral she had been able to see him lounging there on his cushions nonchalantly just moments before. Yet now they lay there still and empty, like he was never there in the first place.
Dangerous! Her mind screamed at her, a thought that was mirrored in the expressions of her comrades.
Sho ignored them though, as he gaze locked with Haurchefant’s defiant stare. They felt like weights were being stacked upon their shoulders as the stare down continued. As if gravity itself was buckling under the pressure of their stares.
After what felt like a enerntally, Haurchefant finally caved. His shoulders sagging and gaze falling to the floor. And as quickly as it came the overwhelming sense of crisis vanished. The store instantly brightening up, and the ambient noises they hadn’t realized were gone refilling the void.
The only traces that anything had happened being the cold sweat lingering on their backs. Vala and Stille shared a look before he ever so slightly shook his head. Now was not the time.
“You need to be careful of your words, Haurchefant.” Sho calmly stated, back to his normal tone. Noticing his still tightly gripped fist, Sho’s gaze softened as he sighed. “Look, if nothing else talk with Aymeric first. Don’t run around burning bridges all willy nilly.”
“We both know how murky the waters are here,” reaching up he stood on his tiptoes and lightly patted Haurchefant’s head. “I’m happy that you care so much, and your passion is appreciated. But as I said earlier, I’m your elder. I can handle this.” An unseen smile graced his lips as he watched Haurchefant finally relax.
Looking up Haurchefant frowned but there was an understanding in his eyes.
“I wish you’d stop treating my like a child. Thal's balls, Sho, I’m nearly 30 summers already.” Sighing dramatically he brushed Sho’s hand away.
“I’ll stop treating you like a kid, when you and the other’s realize that despite my small stature, I am fully capable of handling anything the foogies of this place can throw at me.” Taking a step back he flexed his arms reassuringly, though the layers of fabrics made the presence of any muscles seem nonexistent.
“But it appears we’ve made things awkward for your friends,” saying this Sho gave the four an apologetic bow. “My deepest apologies for that unsightly display just now. I’m sure you all have questions, but I ask that you keep them unspoken for the moment.”
“Alright,” clapping his hands Sho then quickly reached out and gripped Haurchefant by the waist. With surprising ease he spun the man around facing them towards the waiting four. “You’re friends have spent enough time in this stuffy shop with this snippy old man. So out you go! Take them to get some food or something.”
Pushing against Haurchefant’s back he basically sweep them all out of the shop.
“Tell your father I said hello!” And with that hanging in the air, Sho slammed the shop door closed. Leaving the other five standing outside, expressions ranging from amused to slightly confused.
Back inside the shop, the calmness in Sho’s eyes faded along with the lights in the shop. A previously unseen sternness took over as he turned on his heel and stalked off towards the staff entrance. His robes billowed behind him like smoke as he seemed to glide over across the floor.
Silently he opened the staff door to a well light sitting room. Sitting on an aged green sofa was Estinien. His helmet sitting quietly off to the side, leaving his silver locks to lay freely on his shoulders. Without looking up from his spear he was preforming maintenance on, he acknowledged Sho’s presence by clicking his tongue.
“Got real quiet earlier,” Estinien mused as he flipped his spear. “Who pissed you off?”
“Who else?” Sho answered, sweeping past Estinien towards another set of doors across the room. “Has our guest woke up yet?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re so helpful.” Sho sighed as he proceeded to peer into the shop’s one guest room. Laying unmoving of the bed inside was a well bandaged figure.
“Is it worth it?” Estinien asked as he suddenly appeared over Sho’s shoulder.
“Bah,” throwing his hand back he pushed the nosy dragoon away. “This isn’t the first time I’ve taken in an injured stray warrior, Ser. Go back to your spear, I’ve got to change this poor sods bandages.”
The door closed behind him as he walked up to the bedside. With a snap of his fingers a small black ahriman poofed into existence next to him. A series of rapid fire clicks and squeaks escaped its toothy maw, which were soon returned by mix of clicks and squeaks from the shopkeeper.
The weird conversation continued between the two as the many layers began to fall away from his form. As if alive the cloth gathered together as it fell, condensing into a long deep purple staff. Left in the wake of the vanishing robes was a Miqo’te man. However, something about him seemed ephemeral.
Long hair flowed down his body, drifting slightly in a nonexistent wind. One second it seem like a river of gold, the next it appeared to be a river of tar. From it two long black tipped ears poked out. Both with a variety of golden ornaments dangling from them.
Deeply tanned skin was pulled taunt against his lithe figure, and even more gold decorated his body. Everything from bangles on his wrist and ankles to delicate chains criss crossing his neck and chest. Flashes, like pulsing quicksilver, traced their way over his limbs. But as the cloth formed staff finished putting itself together, the lights disappeared. Leaving him standing there in just enough coverings to not be indecent, a towering staff in hand.
Glowing blue eyes narrowed as they stared at the body upon the bed. Raising the staff he then slammed it against the floor, causing a deep bone rattling note to ring out. “Rise and shine, sleeping beauty. You’ve had the misfortune of being left on my doorstep. So you don’t get to die today.”
Back in his usual spot on the sofa, Estinien paid no mind to anything happening in the other room. He’d known Sho long enough to learn when to turn a blind eye to things. Not that it would do any good to try and listen in, every room in this place seemed to become magically sound proof whenever Sho entered.
He continued polishing his spear tip, mentally noting the few new chips along it’s edge. They would have to be hammered out, he’d bring that up with Sho later. Hopefully he’d be able to bank on the dragon teeth he brought in last week as a payment. Though knowing the cheapskate, he doubted it would be that easy.
He wasn’t sure how long has passed before a disheveled Sho violently tossed open the guest room door.
“You try to do one nice thing for a person!” Like a wet cat, Sho came fuming into the room. Struggling behind him, doing it’s best to carry the large purple staff, was the little black flying eye. The poor thing was flapping its wings with all its might, yet the end of the staff was still dragging across the ground.
Estinien held in a chuckle as he watched the angry man stomp his way over to well used recliner, before ungracefully flopping down into it.
“Can you believe the nerve of some people!?” Sho’s long tail was bristled up like a porcupine as it smacked against the chair cushions. Crossing his arms he slumped back into the recliner, his ears flat against the top of his head. The thumping of his tail being the only sound as the room descended into an awkward silence.
“Do you wish to talk about it?” Estinien questioned quietly, worried his temperamental friend would turn around and murder the man he just saved if left to stew.
Estinien stared at him for a moment before sighing and began a countdown in his head. Five, four, three, two, one…
“He actually had the nerve to tell me to let him die!? To let him die! Can you believe it! Went through all the trouble of yanking his sorry ass soul out of the life stream, only for him to be like just let me die. And he got mad at me! Mad. At. Me! Like I didn’t just risk my own mental well being to make sure he was back within the realm of the living!”
Estinien just watched as Sho gestured wildly with his hands, his tail beating the poor chair senseless all the while. Anyone else would be flabbergasted to see the ever mysterious Shopkeeper so animated, but Estinien just sighed and rolled his eyes. Throwing out an empty hand, he caught the exhausted ahriman is it deposited the staff near the two of them before promptly plummeting from the sky.
With practiced ease he sat the poor dear in his lap, gently petting it as he watched Sho continue to vent. Meanwhile the little flying eye nestled into Estinien’s lap wheezing slightly as its wings laid limply at its side.
“You really should stop making Squeakers lug that staff of yours around. You’re just being cruel at this point.”
“Can you believe he had the audacity- wait what did you say?”
“I said you need to be nicer to Squeakers.” Estinien stated matter of factly as he continued to pet the now purring ahriman in his lap.
Sho just looked at him, his mouth mocking a goldfish for a moment before he huffed indignantly.
“How are you going to ask me to tell you what happened then just interrupt me like this?!”
“Because you’re just having a hissy at this point,” Estinien sighed as he looked up at Sho, a hint of reluctant affection in his eyes. “If you were honestly mad, you wouldn’t be carrying on like this.”
“Well I never!” Sho placed his hand against his chest with enough dramatic flare to make those on the Prima Vista jealous. Yet his tail had finally stopped beating the daylights out of his chair and his ears were no longer plastered against his head.
“So you ready to tell me what actually happened now?” Estinien asked while ignoring Sho’s theatrics.
“Fine,” With one more sigh Sho folded his legs up under him, wiggling a bit to get comfortable. “I wasn’t kidding when I said he told be to let him die. That’s what set me off, but you know that much. I get that that city is a cesspool, and that the Temple Knights are as clean as a aldgoat’s ass, but to give up on life so easily?”
Sho’s tail began to bristle up again just thinking about it, “It just really tans my hide.”
“Not everyone has your outlook on life. You don’t know what this fellow has gone though, sometimes people just get... tired , Sho.”
“I know, I know.” Sho’s tail soothed back down as he gazed towards the ceiling. “But life is so short, Estinien… and you only get the one. Just one and before you know it, it’s gone. Like fireflies in the night, it’s so fleeting, yet so beautiful. I know… But I just don’t truly comprehend it.” Eye’s like flickering blue flames, Sho looked at Estinien. “There’s a peace in the shortness. You burn hot and bright. Like a flash of magic in the dead of night, you sear yourself into the eyes of all that see you. That’s what makes you beautiful. That’s what makes you amazing.”
Sensing the shift in mood, Squeakers wiggled himself free from Estinien’s embrace. With surprising ease he then glided over to Sho, nuzzling his round body into his masters chest. Looking down at the little one Sho smiled softly. With the fondest of touches, he hugged Squeakers’ as if to reassure him that everything was alright.
“It’s at moments like this that I’m reminded of just how old you really are.” Estinien muttered to himself, as he watched Sho hug the flying eye. Unseen flashes of affection, sadness, and finally acceptance raced across his gaze before his normal calm took over once more.
“Did you say something, Estinien?”
“Hm, I was just musing about how much of a sentimental... person you are.”
When it starts out all fun and games and then you and your girlfriend start tossing emotional backstory headcanons back and forth that end up derailing everything creating that glorious mess. I love it.
Meanwhile in a guest room at House Fortemps…
Sitting around a small table was the four Warriors of Light. After the event inside the Feline Fatale, they hadn’t really been in the mood to keep exploring the city. Giving Haurchefant a series of excuses they managed to retire to their guest rooms provided to them by Haurchefant’s father, Count Edmont de Fortemps. They couldn't get away without being victim to Haurchefant’s puppy dog eyes though, they felt near criminal leaving him like that.
But they had things that needed to be discussed, and after what they had been through, they preferred to keep it just between their small company.
“Old magics.” A gruff voice cut through the room as the Hrothgar, Stille, voiced his thoughts. “And I mean old magics. Not the kind of aether work you’d find in any of the guilds nowadays.”
To his left the Lalafell, Sosuke, nodded, “He’s right, Eos told me the same thing. The whole shop was full of traces of old magics. Things she hadn’t felt since the glory days of Nym. Even then what she felt was just similar to the relics the Nym Scholars had found in ruins.”
“From what I saw, there were also Allagan relics hidden among the shelves as well,” Stille added.
“Why is it always Allagans?” Ty, the Miqo’te, sighed. “If there’s Allagan shite in that shop then even if there wasn’t that perverse rumor going around, you wouldn’t catch me within 100 yalms of it.”
“It might not be that simple,” Vala chimed in as she fiddled with an arrow, “With what Haurchefant said about the Shopkeepers’ ability to gather information, avoiding the place may not be possible.”
“Besides, we all saw Lord Aymeric in there. Say what you will about the man, but for him to risk his reputation to be in a Heretic shop, and call the Shopkeeper friend, then well…” She gave Ty a look causing him to sigh.
“Either way, we’ll need to talk with Alphie and Tataru first. Twelve as my witness they’re both going to need something to take their mind off things.”
“Don’t we all.” Stille muttered and once again the room sank into silence.
In a certain office in the Congregation of Our Knights Most Holy…
Hunched over his desk rapidly searching through a mountain of papers, was Knight Commander Aymeric. Like a man possessed he was scouring the unruly pile looking for only Halone knows what. Standing off to the side casually picking up the documents that fell was his assistant, Lucia goe Junius.
“Ser, I don’t believe it wise to continue like this,” Lucia said, “You have other paperwork that needs to be done.”
Still searching, Aymeric ignored her.
“Ser-” Lucia called a bit louder this time- “Knowing the Shopkeeper, I firmly believe he wouldn’t approve of this.”
Still not getting as response from the Commander, Lucia squared her shoulders before slamming the fallen papers she had collected back onto his desk.
“Halone have mercy!” Nearly jumping from his chair, Aymeric looked up at her finally acknowledging her presence. “Lucia you could have just said something, was the slamming truly necessary?”
“Ser I did in fact call out to you, twice .” She stated flatly before beginning to straighten the chaotic mess on his desk.
“Well you have my undivided attention.” he sighed as he leaned back in his chair before massaging his temples. He could feel another headache setting in, but he didn’t have the time to be worrying about that.
Watching him as she tidied the desk, Lucia revoiced her earlier concerns. “I believe that the Shopkeeper would agree with me when I say that your concern over this matter is unwise.”
“The Shopkeeper has his ways, only the truly foolish cross him.” Lucia slightly shuddered as a memory flashed across her mind. “I believe it’s in your best interest, to leave it for him to handle. Or if you really think that our meddling is needed I’ll be sure to let the Shopkeeper know we’re getting involved, Ser .”
Aymeric lowered his hand to look at her before rubbing his temples again. “Point taken, however I would feel too restless to sit here doing nothing.”
“Then just keep doing your job, Ser. If the Shopkeeper knows that you’re doing your best to keep things running per normal, I’m sure that it would ease a lot of his worries.”
“Fine, I’ll follow your advice for the time being.”
“Thank you, Ser.”
Back in the Feline Fatale…
The shops doors were locked up tight as the day outside drew to a close. The last rays of sunlight fighting their way through Ishgard’s perpetual snow cloud cover came to rest on warped glass windows. The light sprites that called the shop home had all scurried off into the unseen corners for the night, resting up so that they might welcome tomorrows would be customers. There was a peacefulness in the air, as if the shop itself was drifting off into slumber.
Behind the Staff Only door, in the quaint living room, Estinien had long drifted off on the sofa. His dragoon armor nowhere to be seen, instead bundled up in a collection of patchwork blankets. Faint sounds of his breathing was all that could be heard in the otherwise empty room. The rare relaxed look on his face a clear indicator of just how safe he currently felt.
Off to the side, peeking out from the bottom of a door next to the guest room, was a warm light. Through the door was a brightly lit kitchen. White marble counters and a wide collection of cooking tools, it was every gourmet’s dream come true. Yet the slight dust beginning to build up betrayed it’s lack of use.
Across the kitchen, separated by a half wall, sat a warmly decorated dining room. Large oil paintings of sceneries long forgotten covered the walls around a worn oak table. Nestled between the paintings where three more doors. One lead to a sizable bath, and one to Sho’s private quarters. As for the last one, unlike the other two, a series of deadbolts lined its side above the doorknob. Painted with a dark varnish, it was anything but inviting.
Surprisingly though, the door was ajar. Behind the door was a dimly lit set of stairs descending down a winding almost vertical stairwell. At the bottom, behind one final vault style door, was a room that made the shop above seem like a child's nursery.
Rows of giant glass tubs filled with brackish goo stood tall at the back of the room. Magic circles of all shapes, sizes, and colors pulsing with energy, covered every inch of the rooms stone walls. White electrical style lights hung from the ceiling. The slight buzzing coming from them filling the air.
Tens of flying eyes weaved their way through piles of books and clutter. Each set about doing their own little tasks. In one of the corners, a huge flaming furnace was roaring with vigor. A small crowd of flying eyes surrounded a slightly bigger black one as they all watched the show that was about to begin.
Like I just really like flying eyes, okay? But Squeakers is best boy 2k19. Just saying.
Lively flames danced around inside the furnace. And standing there, basking in their glow, was Sho. His loose fitting cloth garments traded for more practical leather gear. His long golden locks braided back in a tight braid, keeping it securely out of the way. A pair of thick leather gloves reached up to his elbows, patched and rough after many years of use.
To his left, all of Estinien’s armor was neatly set out. The most orderly area of the room by far. To his right was a series of piles of ores and other materials, each measured off and separated into easy to access spots.
The observing flying eyes all held their breath as Sho reach over and picked up Estinien’s spear. Holding it up to his face he carefully inspected the tip. A slight glow stretched out from his fingers slowly increasing the weapon. His brow furrowed as he stared intently at the spear, eyes glowing like searchlights as they peered past the weapons exterior into its inner workings.
“Thal’s balls, what does he do with this thing?!” He muttered to himself as he twirled the staff around in his hands. He performed a few slashes, jabs, and thrusts to get a better fill for the spear, but it only made his brow knot further.
“I only got some emergency maintenance done on it at Dragonhead, they did an okay job.” He mocked in Estinien’s voice. “Yeah, they did an okay job of screwing up a prefectly good spear!”
Over to the side the Squeakers and his buddies all chirped to themselves, as they watched Sho complain to no one in particular. Despite his displeasure though he continued to handle the weapon with practiced ease.
Hearing his name the bigger flying eye in the group snapped to attention. Springing up from him his perch he swiftly flew over to Sho’s side. Earning the envious glances from a few of the smallest ahrimans.
Sho glanced at his faithful companion, and they both shared a nod. The next moment things started to happen very quickly. Flames roared to life nearly leaping from the furnace. A comically large mallet appeared in Sho’s hand as he set about his task with a unique rhythm. The watching flying eyes unconsciously bounced in time with the striking of the hammer.
Squeakers turned into a black blur as he zipped back and forth between the furnace opening and stacks of materials. Tossing in the proper ores without Sho even needing to tell him. Years of working together had turned them into a well oiled machine, words were unnecessary at this point.
Deep roars appeared to echo out from the spear itself, as the raging flames licked at it. A wide grin split Sho’s face as the spear began to vibrate in protest. Like an old dragon being forcibly awoken from a deep slumber, it seemed to twist and struggle in Sho’s grasp as rising heat started to make the metal glow.
[Now don’t be like that you old foggy. I’m just giving you a check up!] Sho chuckled in the Dravanian tongue. His hammering swings not slowing down in the slightest at the spears protest. Instead they began to speed up the more the weapon continued to whine.
[Wake up!] Sho bellowed as things reached a fever pitch. The whole spear began to glow a vibrant green as a soul quaking roar escaped from it. A few of the younger flying eyes shrunk back at the sound earning disdainful sneers from the older eyes that were still flying around tending to their duties.
Sho’s uproarious laughter rang out as his hands blurred slamming down along the body of the spear. Waves of aether flowed from his palms weaving complex patterns along the shaft with each smack of his hand. The roaring soon silenced and the green glow faded as Sho pulled it from the flames. In its wake was a pristine spear a world apart from its earlier form.
“Much better.” He murmured, truly pleased with his work. Scale shaped groves traced their way down the shaft. So life like they seemed almost soft, like the scales of a newly emerged hatchling. They way the light reflected off them made the spear look as if it were breathing, the whole thing brimming with life.
Holding the spear out he checked the balancing of it, nodding happily as it laid motionless in his grasp. Angling it slightly, he loosened his grip, letting it slip backwards until he was holding it just behind the spear head. With one hand he supported the staff, using his free hand to carefully grip the head.
With a twist of the wrist, the head that appeared to be fused to the staff, easily unscrewed before resting in Sho’s hand. How he had managed to forge both the staff and the head at the same time a trade secret no other soul would know. Bringing it up to his face he nodded content with how it turned out, razor thin and lethally sharp. The specially designed magics coating his hands the only reason his hands were safe.
Reattaching the head, he then did a few more practice moves as one final check. Content knowing that it was as good as it could be at the moment, he walked over and sat the spear in a waiting empty weapon rack. Taking a step back he mused for a moment then reached out, tapping a systematic series of points along shaft. There was a quick flash of light, and when it faded where the previously life-like work of art sat, now a spear almost identical to the pre-reforging original took its place.
“Disappointing but necessary.” He sighed to himself, as he made sure the spears lackluster glamor was firmly in place. When Estinien had gotten ‘emergency’ repairs done, they’d muddled up the internal magic circles. So instead of a normal upkeep job, he had to do a full reforging. Much to the spears distaste. But now he’d reinforced everything so even if Estinien got some wild hair in him to let another two bit blacksmith play with it, they wouldn’t be able to screw it up this time.
Leaving the spear to rest, he turned his attention to the waiting dragoon mail. Unlike the weapon, the armor didn’t need no where near as much work. Just some simple maintenance was all it needed to be right as rain again.
Stretching his sore muscles, Sho smiled as he admired his handy work. He didn’t get to forge much these days, but keeping Estinien’s and Aymeric’s equipment up to snuff kept his skills from getting rusty. A gleaming set of armor and a battle ready weapon, prefect for the fate tempting guy upstairs.
Turning around he picked up the exhausted Squeakers, petting him gently praising him a bit before balancing him on his head. Using his little legs, Squeakers hooked them into Sho’s hair, snuggling comfortably into his favorite resting spot. Chuckling as the ahriman made himself comfy, Sho began direction the other flying eyes to help him lug all the gear back up stairs.
Was this chapter necessary? Maybe not. Is it my favorite chapter so far? Yes.
Silently, Sho peeked out from the kitchen. Seeing Estinien still fast asleep, he sighed in relief. Putting his finger to his lips he motioned for the flying eyes to be quiet, before leading the way into the room. While Estinien was aware of Squeakers’ presence, he didn’t know about the veritable army of flying eyes that nested in the belly of the shop.
Normally Sho would have had the other ahrimans just sit the things at the top of the stairs, he’d take it from there. But the smithing had left him in a rare case of exhaustion. So he betting on the dragoon still slumbering, he had them carry everything all the way. Luckily his gamble paid off.
With none the wiser, him and the flying eyes quickly deposited the gear next to the sleeping elezen, then scurried off to the kitchen. Behind the safety of closed doors they all relaxed. The flying eyes chattering a bit before heading off towards the basement to continue their duties.
Standing in the dusty kitchen, Sho paused. Shifting his weight back and forth, he debated his next course of action. Looking up at the clock on the wall, he then glanced towards the living room door. It was already well into the night, Estinien would sleep until dawn most likely. If he retired now he doubted that he’d wake up in time to get Estinien’s opinion on the gear before he took off again for who knows where.
Rubbing his face with his hands he made up his mind and stalked off to his bedroom. Swiping his hand across the door, it flashed briefly before slowly opening. Walking inside he started stripping out of his smithing gear, tossing it haphazardly to the floor.
With a disgruntled squeak, Squeakers smacked the top of Sho’s head with his wings.
“I’ll clean them up later.” Sho sighed, earning another squeak and head smack from the flying eye.
“I will, I will,” Sho promised between the wacks, but Squeakers just chittered angrily.
Not bothering to listen to any more of Sho’s false promises, Squeakers rolled backwards off his head. Doing a casual flip in the air he then glided over to the scattered gear picking them up as the lazy miqo’te tossed them out.
“Thanks, Squeaks.” Sho said, flashing the precious ahriman a tired smile.
He was naked as the day he was born by the time he reached the bathroom. Pushing the door open he entered the room, hissing slightly as he feet touched the freezing tile floor. High stepping he scurried over to the safety of the closest bath mat. Earning a loud chattering laugh from Squeakers. Scowling, he snapped his fingers, causing the bathroom door to slam shut, leaving Squeakers cackling outside.
Toeing the floor again, he sighed before sucking it up and leaving the comfort of the bathmat. Tip-toeing, he hurried over to a panel on the wall nearby. A set of lights had flickered on when he had entered, but as he flipped a few switches on the panel the room truly came to life.
A whirring noise echoed from beneath the floor, as a wave of warm air began flooding the bathroom via vents along the baseboards. Prancing about in front of the closest vent, he let his toes dethaw before finally heading over to the shower.
It wasn’t long before steam began leaking out from the gap beneath the door. Squeakers’ eye slowly closed as he lay on the bed, drifting off to the sound of Sho singing to the melody of the shower water. A deep tenor blended well with the pouring water, the words being sung in a language long forgotten. Though as he listened to its content Squeakers rolled his eye, almost regretful that he could understand it.
Thy tail it moves like the ocean,
The sway hath me hypnotised.
As thee walk to and fro,
I follow thee with my eyes.
Sir thee needs to stop,
Tis killing me can’t thee see?
Cause thou hath more sway than a dungeon Flan,
And I wish thee were pressed against me.
Squeakers couldn’t help but hum along to the catchy tune. Reminiscing about when it was first made popular, he paused his humming casting a sad glance towards the bathroom door. The people these days would find the song ‘mystical’ and ‘profound’ , completely oblivious to the fact that it’s just a bunch of nonsense written by a horny mage apprentice thirsty for a succubus.
With Sho’s lack of shame, he’s always singing the nonsense around the shop. Knowing that no one knows what he’s singing, he has no qualms about belting out the tunes in front of those three boys that always visit either. And all the flying eyes agree, contents aside they’re very catchy. So it comes as no surprise that the three kids have picked up a verse or two. Seeing Sho struggle to keep a straight face as the boys happily start singing with him, while being none the wiser, is always amusing.
Sho switched between another couple of tunes before the sound of the shower finally turned off. A few moments later the bathroom door swung open releasing a wave of steam. Out from which an over dramatic Sho emerged.
With droplets of water dripping from his hair and a towel tied loosely around his hips, he sauntered into the room. Squeakers shot him a judgmental look from the bed, causing Sho to laugh slightly.
“What’s with that look?”
[You are getting more and more shameless as the years go by.] Squeakers answered, chittering from his spot on the bed.
“You don’t say? I for one believe I’ve mellowed with age.”
[Pfft, it’s not good to lie to thyself, my lord.]
“Bah, you’re just turning into a stuffy ol’ goat.”
Squeakers snorted at that, [You’re lucky that the young fellow upstairs can’t understand me. Oh cause the stories I could tell.]
“You wouldn’t dare!” Sho exclaimed, his theatrics from earlier in the day back in full force.
Squeakers just looked at him and snorted again, before turning around. Not bothering to give Sho the satisfaction of a response.
Sho chuckled seeing him act as such. Leaving the brooding flying eye to himself, he set about looking for clothes. Normal rode attire aside, he actually preferred thick coats and pants. But once he created his mysterious shopkeeper persona, he had to keep it. Though there was no point in opening the shop for a few days. With the rumor going around, he wouldn’t be getting any customers, besides a few lookie loos, and well they weren’t worth the effort.
So comfortable clothes were the way to go. No one to impress, and no shop to keep, Sho smiled to himself. It was starting to sound like a pretty good time to take a vacation. He tapped himself on the chin lost in thought, he couldn’t remember the last time he left the city, let alone took a vacation. Though with circumstances being what they were, going to far from Ishgard wasn’t the best idea.
There wasn’t much to do around the Pillars either though… He sighed, he’d think on it later. He wasn’t in a rush, might as well get Estinien or Aymeric’s opinion. He was sure both of them would have a coeurl when they heard he wanted to leave the shop.
I've said it before, but Squeakers is 100% best boy 2k19.
The aroma of freshly cooked bacon served as an amazing alarm clock as it tickled Estinien’s nose. Grunting sleepily, but unable to resist, he slowly opened his eyes. Bits of sleep still clung to his lashes as he rubbed his face, trying to remember where he was.
Ah, Sho’s place... He thought to himself, as he rubbed his face again. The sofa under him squeaking in protest as he began to sit up. Though part of him wanted to roll back over and continue to sleep, the rumbling of his stomach was a fierce reminder of just how long he’d already snoozed. With an exaggerated sigh he stretched. His back and knees giving off questionable popping noises.
He winced a bit, his long nap on the couch had signed him up for what was sure to be a day full of aches and pains. Mentally cursing Sho for giving his normal bed away, he rubbed his knees. He was starting to feel his 32 summers, not that he’d ever let Sho or Aymeric know.
In contrast to how it was brightly lit the day before, the living room was now nice and dim. Glancing to his side he noted the neat stack of armor waiting good as new at his feet. Pausing, he decided that his current attire that he’d borrowed from Sho, though a bit tight, was enough. Leaving the armor standing by untouched, he snagged a conveniently placed hair ribbon off the coffee table close by.
With sluggish movements he tied his hair back into a messy bun. He made the off handed comment once before about wanting to cut it all off. It’d be easier to put on his helmet, and just less hassle all round. But Sho had looked at him with such confusion and distress, before getting all riled up asking him who he was declaring war on and other such nonsense.
The poor man was quick to grab his own set of scissors as he vowed to declare war as well. It took a hot minute to wrangle the clippers from his grasp, and calm the overzealous miqo’te down. According to Sho, it was tradition for the people of his tribe to grow their hair out long. Only cutting it during times of war or when mourning a loved one.
The long discarded strands would be bundled together and sent to their enemy as a declaration of war. The longer the hair the stronger the impact. Or when mourning, the hair would be bound and cremated with the dearly departed. Believing that ones hair contained a part of their spirit, that would work as a guide to see the lost safely to the distance shore.
Thankfully the misunderstanding was resolved with Sho even helping him trim the ends of his hair. As well as promising to work on an enchantment for his helmet that would make it easier to take on and off.
Yet thinking back on that moment always left him pondering. The length of Sho’s hair was nothing to scoff at. Even with it tied up, it still managed to reach down past his tailbone. Another reminder of just how little he truly knew about him. He’d known him for as long as he could remember. Even as a kid he had memories of visiting the store and seeing him with his parents during their trips into the city.
Yet he never seemed to change. Even after all these years…
Shaking his head he pushed those thoughts from his mind. Everything about this store was weird, it wouldn’t do any good to go pondering about it now. Standing from the couch he stretched again before wobbling off towards the kitchen. His stomach finally forcing him to get a move on.
Shielding his eyes from the sudden change in light as he opened the door, he stepped inside. As his eyes adjusted he could make out the figure of Sho darting around the kitchen.
“Something sure smells good.” He mumbled as he lumbered inside, absentmindedly rubbing his stomach.
“Well the last time someone came for a visit, he complained nonstop about how much of a pity it was that such a wonderful kitchen was never used.” Came as a response, as Sho continued to scramble a pan full of eggs.
“Hmm, I still stand by that statement,” Estinien quietly chuckled. Stepping up behind Sho, he leaned forward, gazing down at the pan from over his head. “But to think that you’d actually cook breakfast, what’s the occasion?”
“Can’t I do something nice-” Sho’s ears flattened suddenly and he grimaced, “Thal’s balls your breath! It makes a dragon’s seem like a rose garden!” Hunching forward he threatened to elbow the looming elezen in the gut.
“Begone with you!” Used his tail, he smacked Estinien on the chest, before using it to push him backwards. “Go make yourself useful and disinfect that dreadful mouth of yours. The food will be ready by the time you're done.”
“It can’t be that bad,” Estinien grumbled, as he allowed himself to be pushed back. Subtly he breathed into his hand, nearly gagging as he got a whiff of his own breath.
A moment not missed by Sho who gave him a very, ‘ I told you so’ stare. Throwing his arms up in defeat he sulked off towards the guest bathroom. Hearing the bathroom faucet turn on Sho smiled as he tossed a bit of shredded algoats cheese into the steadily cooking eggs.
True to his word, by the time Estinien returned from the bathroom, the eggs were done and had joined their bacon companions on the table. Walking back into the kitchen Estinien made a beeline for the dining table, only pausing to breathe dramatically in Sho’s direction.
“I’m going to tell all the little dragoons that look up to you just how much of a nasty asshole you are.” Sho scowled as he placed a set of plates on the table.
Sitting down Estinien kept a straight face as he looked Sho in the eye, “No one would ever believe you. In fact, if you showed up at the barracks and proclaimed such, you’d be cased out with more than one spear tossed in your direction.”
Plopping into the seat across from him, Sho huffed and crossed his arms. “Must be nice, being one of Ishgard’s most eligible bachelors.”
“You say that like it’s a title I chose myself.” Estinien scowled in return, shooting him a death glare, though it didn’t stop his hands from quickly starting to pile food onto his plate. Watching him loading his plate, Sho couldn’t help but sigh, before reaching over and grabbing a couple of slices of bacon for himself.
Sorry it took me so long to update. I ended up writing things that would happen later on and forgot that I have to write the events up to there first. oops~ But well we'll get there one day! Thanks for reading!