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Attrition

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Snow, you've wisely decided, is nowhere near as cozy as you used to think it was.

It's all well and good to be looking outside one's window with nothing but malms of white stretching in every direction, bundled up as one would be in a comforter with a cup of tea in one's hands. Even better with a hearth loaded generously with well seasoned wood for a clean burn to warm the feet by.

It's less well and good to be trudging through said malms of white in every imaginable direction with no blanket, no tea, and certainly no hearth.

Coerthas by virtue is not a welcoming place. It should've come as no surprise that nigh the moment your foot crossed the border from Gridania's sun-dappled grass to the path winding through the wilderness, the temperature had begun to drop at an alarming rate until your breath ghosted on the air in front of you and frost began to trace delicate designs on anything metal. That had been the first time you'd crossed. By now you've lost count how often you've shuttled back and forth by foot or chocobo; more than a dozen if you had to make a (very) loose estimate.

So, naturally, you'd thought nothing of a little snowfall by the time you'd set off on the second leg of your journey from the Observatorium - patting your sure-footed courier steed gently on the beak as you slid off the saddle. There would be no need to empty your pockets of more gil for a short jaunt to Camp Dragonhead with such a straight path, after all. You've made this trip many times and are well acquainted with the trail by now.

And then the fog set in.

In line with your usual luck, things had gone swiftly downhill from there. They had been small things at first; a stubbing of the toe, a few missteps on uncertain footing, that sort of nature.

Bit by bit, little by little, more problems started to present themselves.The occasional wandering Croc would come barrelling out of the white, harrying you for several minutes until finally giving up to look for easier prey. Later, a Gobbue wandered by - brushing a heavily laden tree in passing between you both and sending a small avalanche of snow down to bury you up to the thighs as you hastened to get out of it's way.The Gobbue burbled happily to itself with one spindly hand scratching at it's mossy rear and wandered away to leave you to the task of digging yourself to freedom, your teeth chattering while you valiantly brushed snow out of places it had no business being anywhere near.


Yes, by this point you were somewhat annoyed.

 Any other adventurer would have surely thrown in the towel by then and trudged back the way they came, doubtless to drown their misfortune in several mugs of whatever they could find; but whether simply because you are a particularly stubborn breed or more resilient to the elements, you simply pull your collar up a little further around your ears and march on, hands tucked in your armpits for what meager heat you can generate.

Hearths, hot tea. You think longingly. And dinner besides.

Haurchefant would doubtless be more than pleased to be of service and would happily provide both meal and fireplace. The thought brings some warmth with it while you gracefully get a boot stuck in a tangle of roots hidden by the snowbank - the Elezen Lord is considerably chattier than you'd ever be able to keep up with, but he always seems genuinely interested in whatever small tasks you've completed.

He'd been comically excited over your smallest adventures and never failed to ask at least a dozen questions in his own uniquely Haurchefant fashion. He's an odd fish for someone in charge of a Coerthan military fort. Sometimes you'd be retelling a story of some kind, a small thing of no particular importance in a voice soft with disuse, and look up from your tea or meal to find him watching you with bright eyes and a wistful smile. His expression would always change when he realized you'd stopped talking, however, and would never fail to make some lighthearted remark or press more food on you so the misstep would be promptly forgotten.

You'd never say anything about it, but you'd remember. Sometimes he'd touch your shoulder lightly as you spoke, which you always shrugged off as just a way to get your attention so he could ask a question. The more you look back on it... you weren't sure if that was always the case. Not all the touches were followed by a question or speaking of any kind on his part.

 

One would almost think --

 

Your musing is interrupted by a 'WHUMP' from behind you as a shower of displaced snow splatters down your back, prompting you to make an instinctive leap forwards to spin on your heel and draw your weapon as you go. A second or two passes in silence before a figure solidifies in the mist, darkening as the beast leans towards you in preparation for another pounce forwards and hisses at you in clear threat.

Aevis. You instantly recognize it by the blunt head and outstretched wings as it takes a crunching step forwards, weaving from side to side as you size each other up. In your experience, seeing one here is exceptionally unusual. Normally Dravanians of any sort tended to stay well north of Dragonhead or any of the surrounding area.

But then - as you dodge a lunge and bring your weapon up to skitter off thickly plated hide - you suppose if you were an arse-ugly flying creature with a taste for Karakul and men both, you'd pick a day of thick fog to skulk around and find a meal, wouldn't you? It's sound strategy. All the better to avoid the sentries stationed among the Skyfire Locks.

No doubt the sly thing was in the process of trailing you for Twelve knows how long but failed to consider an armed target would not be the most promising prey.

The only warning you have is the characteristic rearing of the dragon's head before it spits a lurid purple sphere of sparking levin directly at your chest, the energy dissipating with a sharp SNAP that you can feel jolt through you from teeth to toes. It stings of course - how could it not? - but you've weathered far worse, and aside from the slightest stagger, you right yourself as quickly as it strikes.

A small dragon should pose no problem for you, as experienced and storied an adventurer as you are. It's with great resignation that you sidestep a second belched energy sphere and meet it's lunge with a parry of your weapon before starting your battle in earnest.

There's a fire and a friend waiting in Dragonhead, after all.

 

You almost pity the Aevis.