Fiction and Fantasy

Excerpt – The Lady of Ishgard: Chapter 22 (A FFXIV Fanfic)


While Dragonhead remained within view, Emaile guided Illie along the road Haurchefant had led her and Olivier down.

It felt like a lifetime ago.

Emaile’s heart weighed like lead in her chest. Likely just as poisonous, too. Her tears chilled her face, and she wiped them away impatiently. She needed to be able to see. She needed to keep her focus, or they’d be spotted for certain.

And that she could not allow. She would not. I will not let them take everything.

They couldn’t have Illie. They couldn’t have Haurchefant.

As they went further, Emaile slowed their pace. They were approaching Whitebrim Front with each step, and if anyone there saw them, especially her on Haurchefant’s striking black chocobo, such an unusual color in stark contrast to the white snow… Well, two wanted heretics on chocobos from House Fortemps could make a death sentence for all of Dragonhead.

At every sound, every motion in the distance, Emaile froze. What if a rider came across them? Anyone could emerge from this fog at any second. All it would take was one look…

Emaile could bear the tension no longer; at the very least, she had to get them off the road. So she guided Albeyr off the path, careful to ensure Illie remained ever close behind her and well within view. She led them almost due south—at least, as well as she could reckon. “We’ll hug the rock here,” Emaile explained, recalling the mountains Haurchefant had said bisected the Central Highlands. West to east, he’d said they ran. Their peaks were hidden by this fog today.

They’d follow the rocky cliffs west, to their right, which would deposit them right at the entrance to Daniffen Pass. It lay close to Whitebrim Front… close enough to see on a clear day, at least. But it was their only chance. Their only choice. She’d just have to trust in the mists to shield them.

Still, Emaile rode tense in the saddle, aching with fear as she and Illie followed the curve of the mountains westward.

But surely the Fury knew. Surely she knew the Retois’ innocence. Surely she wouldn’t allow them all to perish like this.

Emaile could only hope and pray as she and Iloise rode in utter silence.

The mountains soon opened, the riders’ route rising to the mouth of a cave: Daniffen Pass.

As she guided Albeyr to the mouth of the cave, Emaile risked one glance over her shoulder. Even in the fog, Whitebrim Front was close enough to see in the distance, its towers looming in the mist. Though she could make out no details, no guards—and hear no cries of alarm.

No sign of any other travelers either.

But it was close, too close. And here they were out in the open, exposed. Could they be seen from the tower by a keen eye?

“Come on, Illie,” Emaile whispered, urging Albeyr inside the cave. Iloise was quick to follow.

The cave system cut straight through the mountains. Pale and distant light filtered in from the far end of the tunnel, barely illuminating their ascending trail—and casting into deeper darkness the ravine that ran alongside their path.

Albeyr tweeted softly, uncertain, and Emaile agreed: best to proceed as quick and quiet as they were able. She didn’t want to risk encountering any beasts that may be fond of the dark.

They picked their way up the path, Emaile tensing at the clacking of the chocobos’ talons on the stony ground. Water dripped somewhere deep in the cave, echoing all around them: tiny sounds amplified to roars by the silence of the cave and the danger of the ride.

When they finally emerged from the cave out into the crisp open air, Emaile felt she could finally breathe again. Though something much different soon stole her breath away.

“What is that?!” Iloise gasped in amazement.

The snowy land sloped down from the mouth of the cave. More rock barred the way westward, to their right, but on the left, bursting from the valley below, was a blood-red crystal formation the size of a castle, a jagged thing shaped like a broken glass bowl. Its splintered shards reached as high as the mountain peaks.

“A remnant of the Calamity…” Emaile whispered in awe. She’d read about these: enormous collections of unfathomable aether, like the angry discharge from a firearm. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she’d ever see one in person, let alone so close. A hundred yalms more and she could reach out and touch it.

Though they could hardly linger to properly take in the beautifully eerie sight. Emaile coaxed Albeyr onward despite his peep of protest. “And a grim reminder of the destruction it wrought upon the land.”

“Like a gaping wound…” Illie whispered, and Emaile supposed that was not far off the mark, from how she understood it.

As they descended the hill, circling around the base of the crystal formation, small flakes of snow drifted down from the gray, heavy sky.

Albeyr peeped once more, stamping his foot and flaring his wings.

“What is it, boy?” Emaile asked. Normally he was such a quiet bird. Was he anxious, straying so far from home?

Then she heard the hiss coming from the rocks off to their right.

“What was—?” Iloise began, but the sound of scrabbling, tumbling pebbles arrested both women’s attention. Iloise’s chocobo tweeted in alarm as it shuffled nervously closer to Albeyr.

Emaile clung to the reins with white knuckles, as she scanned the cliffs. There was nothing there… nothing but the mottled gray rock, dusted with snow…

And then she saw the rock move—and leap toward her!

Emaile jerked the reins and Albeyr did the rest, sidestepping the nasty, spiny beast as large as Albeyr was tall.

Albeyr kicked at the beast, striking it in the eye before he and Iloise’s chocobo broke into a gallop down the slope to escape!

“Wh-what is that wicked creature?!” Iloise sobbed, clinging to her chocobo’s neck.

Emaile, against her better judgment, chanced a backward glance.

The beast was fast! Its lizardlike body wriggled as it raced after them on all fours, only two yalms behind. Its scales and fangs made it look almost dragon-like, and its gleaming fangs snapped hungrily.

“Hurry, Illie!” Emaile shouted, her mind crawling with panic. The beast was lunging closer with each clap of its jaws! “Dig your heels in the chocobo’s side!”

Iloise did so immediately, and the chocobo whistled, putting on its last burst of speed—breaking away just as the monster’s jaws snapped on where its tailfeathers had been only a split second before!

Emaile followed suit, urging Albeyr on. “Hurry, Albeyr! Get us out of here!”

With a tweet, Albeyr surged forward!

They thundered down the snowy banks, the slathering beast shrieking with dismay as its prey broke further and further away… until they swerved into a forest, losing sight of the beast altogether.

Only once they had ventured deep into those woods did Emaile dare slow down. Her heart pounded in her ears, nearly drowning out Iloise’s fearful gasps for breath and the chocobos’ shifting footfalls in the snow.

Alive. They’d survived.

Emaile turned in her saddle, glancing to Iloise before surveying her surroundings. Her hands were shaking with fear and cold… but they had to press on. Wrinkling her forehead, she strained to recall her maps and regain her bearings. They’d wound around the base of the crystal formation and were now in the valley beneath the mountains’ brows. They had to be going in a roughly easterly direction now. “There should be a river…” Emaile paused, holding her breath to listen.

The world was soft and silent, the air heavy with the falling blustery snowflakes. Even here among the trees, Emaile could tell the snow had begun to pick up already. If she could not find the river… they could be caught out in the storm. And that frightened her nearly as much as the monster had.

“I-I think I hear water… coming from that way, my lady,” Iloise said, her breath still only loosely recovered after their brush with danger. She pointed off to their right. Which, should they be facing east as Emaile thought, would mean to head south.

Emaile nodded. “Good work, Illie.” She guided Albeyr in the direction Iloise had indicated.

Sure enough, they broke through the trees and there ran the river, cold black waters bubbling despite the chill.

Emaile glanced backward. She could just make out crimson spires of the crystal formation over the tops of the trees. “We got a bit off course,” but they were well on their way now. “This river runs west to east. We’ll follow it and its offshoot straight into the Shroud.”

Iloise smiled grimly.

They rode on in silence, tensed in their saddles. Neither one felt particularly talkative after so many scares.

Ever Emaile kept her senses attuned, exceptionally wary of any other hungry beasts that should arrive.

Too late, Haurchefant’s warning rang in her ears: how dangerous it was to wander too far, how many beasts had grown restless and endangered travelers in the Central Highlands.

She’d certainly seen enough monsters to last a lifetime already!

The river gurgled, ever at their side as they followed it down, down, ever downward: for all of the Black Shroud was low-lying compared to lofty Coerthas.

Snow crunched under the chocobos’ feet, but otherwise, the land was silent. Terrifyingly still.

With the snow swirling about in sheer sheets, the sun had vanished sooner than normal, sinking the world into a wan, gray haze as twilight drew on.

And still Emaile and Iloise rode in silence. More trees, more sparse this time, appeared all around them. Emaile caught her hands aching, she was clutching the reins so tightly. Where were the birds, fluttering in the trees? Where were the nutkin clambering up bare boughs and chittering when she came too close?

Nowhere to be found out here in the silent wilderness. Just the chill, snowy wind and dampened silence.

Emaile glanced up: just ahead, the sporadic trees fell away to reveal another spur of the mountains on their left. Dead ahead, another branch of the river merged with their river companion: together, they bent southward, running along a road that led due south—straight to the Shroud.

Nearly there. They’d have to ford the rocky river here, but it seemed there were some places with low banks… But there was another complication Emaile had not foreseen.

Jutting out from a fold in the mountain rock on the left hand side was a frowning, gloomy Coerthan fortress: Dzemael Darkhold.

Emaile quickly reined in Albeyr, gesturing for Illie to stop here, where they were still concealed by the trees and the curve of the mountainside.

Her heart took up pounding once more. Terror’s icy talons stabbed into her chest. What are we to do now? The place to ford the river lay dead ahead, but it was well within sight of House Dzemael’s hold. The fortress had fallen to hideous demonic creatures of the Void not long ago, so she’d heard—yet House Dzemael would not have utterly abandoned the post; surely a guard or two waited outside, watching from the front gate to ensure nothing dangerous escaped from the hold.

A guard… who, given the lay of the land, would be turned facing the river… right where Emaile had hoped to ford.

Emaile turned, fear swiftly rising. Could they go back, find a different place to cross? But the riverbanks were high and rocky all this way, and they’d still have to cross the place where the two tributaries met afterward.

Not to mention, the longer Emaile waited, the worse the snow would get. She couldn’t risk trapping herself and Iloise in a blizzard. Already it billowed about, the bitter wind battering Emaile’s face. She could hardly see beyond twenty yalms for the snow. But if she could not, then a guard couldn’t either. Perhaps it would be enough to conceal them.

A keening wind howled around them, blowing snow in her face. Emaile shivered. Well… It will have to be enough.

Emaile turned to Iloise, speaking as softly as could be heard over the chilling wind. “Stay very, very quiet, Illie.” Gently, Emaile nudged Albeyr forward, one step at a time. Toward the river, footfall by footfall, Emaile’s gaze pinned to the haunted hold looming in the distance. Wary for any sign of movement or any telltale cry of alarm.

Albeyr’s talons sloshed into the riverbed.

Emaile tensed, again scanning the hold for any sign of movement.

But it was quiet. So quiet and still. If there was a guard there, he hadn’t seen her yet…

And then she heard gurgling, splashing… and the black mottled rocks upriver began to move.

More monsters! And three of them this time: great amphibious crawling beasts with jaws snapping.

To Iloise’s credit, she didn’t scream. But she had frozen in terror, gaping at the big black beasts crawling on their bellies after them.

The chocobos cried in warning and reared. There was no time for fear, no time to freeze! Either the guard would spot them or they’d be food for the monsters.

In a panic, Emaile did the only thing she could think to do: pulled the reins, turning Albeyr toward Iloise’s mount. If she could snatch Illie’s reins, she could drag the frightened chocobo along. She kicked Albeyr into a run—headed on a collision course straight for Illie!

She prayed Albeyr knew better than she how to maneuver as the gap closed between her and Illoise… and between them and the monsters!

Quickly Emaile gave Albeyr free rein, holding the lead in one hand as she lunged forward, grasping Iloise’s reins and pulling Illie’s chocobo along beside her.

Albeyr tipped backward, and Emaile had to hang on to the saddle pommel for dear life as he kicked one of the overgrown salamanders in the face with his talons. Iloise’s chocobo sidestepped another lunging, big-mouthed beast.

But the third monster stood directly in their path to the far side of the river.

The creatures had them surrounded. The only way through was…

“Come on, Albeyr!” Emaile whispered breathlessly as she spurred him straight ahead, dragging Iloise and her mount along with them. The two monsters on either side leaped in, snapping one of Iloise’s chocobo’s tail feathers off. The poor frightened creature peeped and shot forward, breaking Emaile’s clutch on its reins. It kept pace with Albeyr, both of them running full-tilt, side by side—charging straight at the third awaiting beast!

And dimly, Emaile heard a shout from behind: “Who goes out there?!”

Her heart iced over. The guard!

Emaile yanked back on the reins, pulling Albeyr onto the back of his talons. If this didn’t work, they’d be spotted for certain!

Albeyr, spurred by necessity and the reins, naturally reared back—and jumped into the air, his feet scrabbling onto and over the beast’s big flat head, talons raking the monster’s back. The monster growled in pain.

Iloise’s chocobo quickly followed suit: both of them trampling over the nasty beast to freedom on the other side of the riverbank!

Emaile heard more voices calling to one another behind them, but she was too frightened to look back. She immediately shifted course, turning southward to follow the flow of the river. The chocobos’ feet trampled the packed snow of what had been a road before the snowfalls had covered it.

The Shroud. It was so close; they were nearly there. If they could just make it into the Black Shroud before those guards caught up with them…

As they turned the corner, Emaile could see a tower rising in the not-so-distant distance ahead: the last Gridanian outpost in the north: Florentel’s Spire.

Now, at last, Emaile dared glance back. She could still hear soldier’s voices, but she could see nothing in the swirling snowy mist. Even the ford was too distant to see any longer due to the snowfall.

No sign nor sound of pursuit.

As the ford and Dzemael Darkhold fell away, Emaile finally breathed again. There were no further outposts between here and Florentel’s Spire.

Slowly the snowfall began to lessen, and though the air was still crisp, they soon began to see more rock and less snow at their feet… until it had all melted completely, and only bare brown rock remained… and, just around the bend, a tall Gridanian tower. Florentel’s Spire.

They’d done it. They had escaped Coerthas.

And with the Holy See having left the Eorzean Alliance after the Battle of Carteneaux, Gridania was no longer beholden to Ishgard. Which meant Emaile and Iloise were nothing more than weary travelers with no names now.

Weary, cold, sopping wet travelers.

Emaile shivered, her teeth chattering so much it made her head ache. Her body had never felt so heavy and tired. Her heart had never felt so utterly spent and weary.

With Coerthas behind them, it suddenly felt as though the entire day’s frantic events crashed together at once, weighing on her body and soul. If only it were a blanket to keep her warm; the water splashed up from their struggle at the river left her legs feeling like ice. She and Illie shuddered, cold and wet and fearful and miserable.

But alive.

Still, the warm glow of a fire down the road was one of the cheeriest, most beautiful things Emaile had ever seen.

As they approached, Emaile could make out three silhouettes sitting around the fire. Spearmen in green attire and brown leather armor, Emaile saw as she and Iloise came closer. At the soldiers’ backs was the Spire itself, like a pillar built right into the cliffs that ran alongside the road.

These were Wood Wailers, the protective force of the Black Shroud. Never had she thought a policing force would fill her with such tremendous relief.

The Wood Wailers leapt from their seats as they saw Emaile and Illie in the distance. Quickly they rushed up to meet them.

“By the Twelve, whatever has happened?”

“You’re soaked to the bones, poor things! Here, come by the fire. Your birds can dry off too.”

But one of them seemed thunderstruck. “Iloise?” he asked, an Elezen man with blond spiked hair. He rushed to her side, swinging her off her weary chocobo.

“Idristan…” Illie whimpered, sinking into him as he engulfed her in his arms.

“What are you doing here?” Idristan asked, smoothing her hair out of her face and placing a quick kiss on her cheek. But he asked no more as Iloise’s face wrinkled in anguish and she began to cry.

Marveling, bewildered, and gravely concerned, the Wood Wailers ushered all four sopping wet travelers around the fire.

Emaile plopped down as close to the flames as she dared. She’d rather burn than feel so bitter wet and cold. She rubbed her fingers together before holding out her hands toward the fire.

It took time, but eventually they were warm and mostly dry. Though the incessant questions almost wearied Emaile more than the journey here had.

“You know Idristan?”

“Are you that girl he’s always sending letters to?”

“Who’s she then?” one asked, pointing to Emaile.

Idristan shot Iloise the same sort of sidelong glance Illie had given Emaile earlier. “Iloise is… a friend.”

“Did you two come from Ishgard?”

“Or part of a caravan?”

Emaile glanced to each eager face in turn, overwhelmed. What was she to say to it all? For though she was outside Coerthas’s borders… she still was hardly keen on parading around using her true name.

“We’re cousins,” Emaile finally said, the first thing she could think of that wasn’t wholly absurd. “I’m Ema. I came to visit—”

“We were going to visit each other,” Iloise interrupted. “Ishgard first; the Shroud after.”

“Yes, and on our way back to the Shroud—”

“We were attacked by these monstrous creatures!” Iloise cried, nearly jumping to her feet as she relived the horror, describing the beasts in great detail.

Emaile used the time to quickly come up with the rest of their narrative. “Thank goodness they didn’t get the chocobos. I’d have never been able to pay the porter’s reparation fees.”

“Oh, you poor things!” one Wood Wailer cried.

“You’re safe now. We’ll escort you to the nearest settlement, Fallgourd Float, once you’re fully recovered,” another reassured them.

Emaile could only nod, genuinely grateful, but hating the knot of guilt in her stomach at deceiving these kind people. So many lies already told: to them, to Haurchefant. How many more would need to be made?

But once they’d dried and warmed themselves, it was time to send the chocobos off.

Emaile pressed a kiss to Albeyr’s neck, despite the onlookers and her cover story. Let them watch; the brave bird deserved every bit of a proper goodbye. “Thank you for saving me.” she whispered, stroking his neck feathers.

Albeyr peeped sadly, as if he knew she wasn’t returning with him.

She forced a smile for his sake. “It’s better this way, really,” she insisted.

All the memories she’d shared with this precious bird… All the rides with Haurchefant and Olivier. They’d grown her into a rider after all.

Emaile’s eyes filled with tears. Albeyr… Her last little piece of Dragonhead… of Haurchefant. She… she had to let go of all of it. Her heart shattered anew at the realization, cutting her to the quick.

“Go home now,” she commanded, patting Albeyr’s side and guiding him back toward Coerthas. “Go home and be safe, before you’re missed.”

The other chocobo was already shuffling off, but Albeyr lingered, peeping at Emaile sadly, as if stubbornly refusing to say goodbye.

The tears trickled down her face. “Go!” She pushed him gently and then turned away. She couldn’t bear this any better than she could bear facing Haurchefant.

Goodbye… She pursed her lips, struggling to stem the tears as she marched toward the Spire door, where Iloise was speaking with Idristan.

But when Emaile heard Albeyr’s slow, heavy footsteps shuffle away, Emaile sprinted the rest of the way to the Spire. She flew past Idristan and Iloise to get inside, a hand clapped to her mouth to stifle her sobs.


The evening passed in relative quiet for Emaile. The Wood Wailers seemed content with the questions they’d asked earlier, and the two strangers insisted on taking the watches so Idristan could play host for their guests.

Idristan naturally doted on Iloise, who hardly seemed to mind except for her periodic concerned glances at Emaile.

Her worry was sweet, but Emaile only ever nodded to encourage the couple to relax. A little whispered sweet nothings between those two lovebirds could hardly kill her when she saw how happy the man made Iloise.

And not that Idristan was a poor host by any means: he made sure both women were well-fed and comfortable, though of course the lion’s share of his attention went to Iloise, whose hand Emaile was sure he’d never let go of since they’d arrived.

Still, despite her reassurances, Emaile couldn’t deny, the sight of the lovebirds only worsened the wound in her heart. Haurchefant.

She shifted in her seat, glancing out a narrow window down at the misty land beyond. What are you doing right now?

Are you still hunting tirelessly for me, out in the fresh snow? Bringing all his training as a knight to bear, most likely. Struggling to find any track or trace of them. Has Albeyr returned to you yet? Her heart ached anew, and she bit back fresh tears.

An empty chocobo’s saddle… He likely thought her dead.

Please, please, forgive me, my love…

Her gaze—and her thoughts—turned back to Iloise. Where would they go? What would they do?

The longer Emaile lingered, the more she began to fear. No simple shortening of her name nor quick made-up tale could keep her and Illie safe; not if anyone of influence really wanted her dead. And Iloise was only in danger because of her. Hadn’t she fled if only to keep Haurchefant and the rest of Dragonhead safe from her association?

Yes. The further she could get from Coerthas—the more distance she could put between herself and Iloise too—the safer they’d both be.


Emaile watched as Illie uttered the first giggle she’d had since the tragedy had struck. Idristan kept sneaking kisses behind her ears.

Emaile smiled a little. How long have you two been forced to live apart? She knew that pain all too well. And here you’ve only ever been my support…

You deserve every bit of this happiness, Illie.

Emaile took a deep breath… and then blurted out, “I must beg your forgiveness. We have not been forthright with you.”

Idristan and Illie turned to stare at her. The Wood Wailer looked bewildered. Illie froze in fear.

Well, it was too late to take it back now. “She wasn’t coming to visit… I was trying to help her escape.”

Iloise opened her mouth–to protest, judging from the look in her eyes–but she slowly closed her mouth once more. Because she knew she couldn’t dissuade Emaile? Because she’d chosen to trust her? Emaile could only guess.

“Her master’s family were unkind to her,” Emaile pressed on with yet another lie. “But she was too sweet to cause a stir and leave.

“I don’t earn enough to support us both… We weren’t certain what we’d do, but…” Genuine tears misted her eyes. She looked up at Idristan. Shame weighed her down. The lies. The manipulation. Abandoning Illie, the only one left of her house. But… what more could she do?

She felt utterly helpless, and it made her sick.

I must do this, at least. She couldn’t dare look at Illie; surely she and Iloise would give away the truth. I have to protect you at least; give you a future.

“Please…” Emaile begged, breaking her gaze to bow to the Wood Wailer. She heard Iloise gasp. Emaile ignored it. She was no noblewoman any longer; just a wandering traveler. A nameless face in the crowd. “Please… would you care for her in my stead?” Emaile whispered, biting her lip. “I know I have no right to impose, but—”

“Now, none of that!” Idristan said, rushing forward and pulling Emaile back up. “Of course Illie is welcome to stay with me…” he glanced at her hopefully. “A-as long as she’d like.”

Iloise’s eyes were full of tears. She looked mortified to see Emaile in this state. But, when Idristan caught her gaze… to hear those words… Her face broke into a loving, shy smile.

Relief finally settled at least some of the guilt. You’ll be all right here. She could breathe again, knowing that. “Thank you,” Emaile exhaled.

“But,” Iloise piped up, “what will you do—?” Iloise cut her question off two words short, catching herself just before addressing Emaile. She pursed her lips, shooting a glance at Idristan.

He pressed a kiss to her temple in reply.

Emaile smiled, the second genuine smile she’d felt all day. “I’ll return to Gridania,” she said with a shrug she hoped looked nonchalant. “I’ll be fine on my own, Illie.” She stared deeply into Iloise’s eyes, insisting. Willing herself to be all right, despite having no plan, no way to earn gil, no marketable skills. But she had to be all right, or Illie would never be able to find rest… here in her new life.

Illie slowly, gradually offered a single nod. “If you’re certain.”

Once again Emaile felt she could breathe, flooded with relief. She nodded in return. As certain as she had to be.

“Merchants travel from Gridania to the outer settlements all the time,” Idristan reassured her. “You won’t have to wait long to get passage from Fallgourd Float. Much safer than chocobo porters.”

Emaile chuckled dryly. “That… sounds wonderful. Thank you, Idristan.”

Moving to a major citystate with no money, no name, and no plan. How on earth would she survive? No. She broke her swell of panic before it could crash over her. One step at a time. Get to Gridania first.

As for the rest…

She’d see on the morrow.


FINAL FANTASY is a registered trademark of SQUARE ENIX HOLDINGS CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved. And I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him


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