Ul’dah is, as ever, merciless.
Rhel trudges through the beaten path as the sun beats down on her, lugging her sword along. She just needs a few more kills before she can get paid. And then it’ll be enough for a boat ride and she’ll finally book it out of here to somewhere decidedly cooler. Limsa Lominsa is nice around this time of the year, she’s heard. Maybe she can visit some cousins there too, if they’re feeling un-murdery.
She finally spies a lone wolf―well, more like a walking, scraggly thing. How pitiful. It looks half-starved to death, and isn’t faring much better under the wretched heat. Rhel creeps towards the wolf, carefully unsheathing her sword.
“Sorry little guy―I need to make ends meet, yeah?”
The wolf twitches, then stills. She shrugs off the odd reaction, then darts forward with her sword raised.
She doesn’t expect for the bony thing to suddenly turn and tackle her down . Rhel manages to roll with the fall and shove the wolf off of her, at the cost of losing her only weapon. The wolf snarls and snaps at her as she scrambles to her feet.
Without warning, it lunges at her with its maw wide open. All she can do in her defense is raise her pitifully unarmored arms and hope she doesn’t lose them from those jagged fangs―
A fireball knocks the wolf off-course and sends it crashing against the beaten ground.
Rhel blinks. Then she swivels her head to find a horned adventurer lowering his arm. She swears she can still see the faint traces of smoke curling around his hand. A thaumaturge, then?
“I-I’m fine,” Rhel says. “Thanks for the help.”
The adventurer grunts in reply as he checks on the still, slightly charred body. Rhel shakes herself awake from her dumbfounded shock, gathers her wits, and stands up on shaky legs. She tries to dust herself off in vain. Her tail is going to take bells to clean, ugh … Where’s her sword anyhow? She searches the sands and catches the telltale gleam of metal.
Once she drags her sword out of hiding and sheathes it on her belt, Rhel walks over and stands next to him. She sharply inhales through her teeth. Oh. Ow. Well, at least it was quick, yeah? She nudges the body for good measure. No reaction, save a twitch from its death throes.
She clicks her tongue. “Alright. Well, let’s haul this one back and get you some food, yeah? As thanks and all.”
The horned adventurer seems shocked at the very suggestion, for some odd reason. Then he manages a small, wobbly smile and nods. Rhel smiles back and jostles him with a playful elbow. The strange man startles from the gesture.
Weird fellow, but at least he’s good at carrying things.
“Gods oh gods we are so dead,” Cocobygo whimpers.
Cocobani can’t help but agree. Their youngest brother is unconscious. Their eldest is possibly gone forever because of an ancient, wicked spirit stealing his aether. The only being capable of stopping said spirit is just some fresh-faced adventurer who can’t even read , let alone focus his aether into a proper thaumaturgy spell.
Masaki faces the impossible challenge with naught but a confident grin Cocobani can’t understand. He doesn’t even have a staff! Frankly, it’s a miracle he survived this far.
Cocobani watches with bated breath as their student stands up to Mormo, while he and his brothers cower behind his much larger frame. Then, to the brothers’ collective shock, Masaki drops into a stance reminiscent to that of a puglist’s as fire-aspected aether begins to flare out from his hands and curl around his arms. Cocobani’s jaw hits the floor. When did he learn such a trick?!
“Give it back,” says a low, crackling voice.
Cocobani blinks. He and his brothers look around for the source of the voice. None of them have such a deep pitch. Who―?
Mormo sneers down at them. “Excuse me?”
Masaki grunts. Then he points to Cocobuki’s and Cocobusi’s unconscious bodies. “Aether. Give it back to them.”
Cocobani’s eyes are the size of dinner plates. He can actually speak? And he has the gall to challenge an old spirit like that?
Mormo looks as though she isn’t sure whether to scoff or laugh at him. “Foolish mortal―”
Then Masaki surges forward and blasts the ancient spirit with a surprisingly well-formed Fire spell from his fist. He proceeds to continue blasting Mormo with spells Cocobani recognizes, and strikes with his body. She screeches, an ear-splitting noise of rage, before knocking him back with a bolt of darkness.
Cocobani snaps out of his trance and shoves Cocoboha’s shoulder.
“What are we standing around for? Come on―let’s save our brothers and student!”
Thancred feels like shite.
But, somehow, he is free of Lahabrea’s control. The only problem is that he is drained and vulnerable from the possession while the Castrum burns around them. If he can just move one muscle ―
Someone touches his shoulder.
The voice is gruff and muffled. It’s as though his head is underwater. His eyelids are as heavy as iron.
Then gravity shifts and he is no longer laying on the floor. A warm body presses against him as strong arms cradle his uselessly inert body. There is so much smoke in the air, he can barely breathe without dissolving into a coughing fit. Whoever his savior is can’t be faring much better―their chances at getting out of here are better if he is left behind. He is dead weight. He is dragging them down with him.
“Go… on without… me…” he wheezes through his coughs.
He hears a scoff, or maybe his savior is coughing too.
“Silly man,” a gruff voice says, “Stop that―Minfilia worry for you.”
Thancred furrows his brow. He recognizes the strange accent. His memory as the Ascian’s puppet is muddled at best, but he doesn’t remember the Warrior of Light arriving at the Castrum.
His grip on Thancred tightens. For a moment, something in Thancred’s chest flutters. He worries that he might be developing a heart problem―probably the Ascian’s fault. His vision grows hazy from the smoke, or exhaustion. Whichever makes more sense.
The last thing he hears before going unconscious is a joyous cry of “Maggie! Good girl!”
Masaki barely keeps himself upright by leaning heavily on his staff. Otherwise, he would’ve been on his knees, winded and unable to fight any further.
Damn this old man. And gods he needs to pull himself together.
As Ran’jit slowly draws closer, idly noting both Minfilia and Alphinaud for capture aloud, Masaki bares his teeth in an ugly snarl. He draws himself up into a protective stance, hovering over the twins as if physically shielding them with his body. At that, Ran’jit pauses.
“Don’t touch them,” Masaki growls.
Something dangerous flashes across the old man’s eyes before he settles on a look of contempt.
“Get out of the way.”
Masaki refuses to move, even putting up a shaky, half-formed Manaward. Then the old man shifts. He tenses for the incoming blow―
A blur of white flies past him and crashes against Ran’jit, who deflects with his boot. There is a whirlwind exchange of blade and limbs―mostly Ran’jit dodging and the other meeting empty air―before the old man kicks him aside.
When the dust settles, there’s a familiar figure with white hair bedecked in a similarly-colored coat standing in front of them. Beyond his silhouette, the old man’s withered face contorts in annoyance.
It is the small, uncertain voice behind Masaki that grabs his attention.
Masaki flicks his gaze between the young girl behind him to the figure in front of him and blinks hard. The two have a terse, angry exchange before they trade blows again―only for Thancred to be knocked back again by the old man’s inhuman strength. (Who stops a blade of that size with one bare hand?)
Ran’jit says something, but all Masaki can see is Thancred in front of him.
Then, in a blink, they’re all gone. Masaki finds himself and the others just outside of the chaos. This is a golden opportunity to start sprinting to safety, so he shoves the twins forward (much to their surprise and protest), helps Minfilia up, and runs. When he looks over his shoulder, he sees Thancred flashing him a grim smile and taking up the rear. Masaki smiles back.
You’re here. You’re really here.