Hear… Feel… Think…
She was floating in a black starry abyss. She felt weightless, untethered—yet not alone.
Something like a warm embrace enveloped her. A gentle, loving voice, clear and calling into the darkness, illuminating it:
Hear… Feel… Think…
Emaile spun, and behind her, speaking to her, was an aether crystal larger than she could have ever imagined—as large as the Holy See itself. She was drawn into its pull, floating slowly around it.
Suddenly she noticed sparks of light out of the corner of her eye. She turned, and a stream of light sailed past her: the trail of another person! It was a tall and powerful Roegadyn man, like the soldiers of House Dzemael, with skin a pale jade tint. The Roegadyn man flew by as if he hadn’t even seen her, swirling around the crystal.
Soon Emaile realized there were hundreds—no, thousands of the lights circling the crystal and flying this way and that, effortless like dandelion wisps on the breeze.
So many others like her! Emaile hugged herself as warmth touched her from head to toe. She was no longer alone!
But where was this place? And who were these people? They flew so far and so fast she couldn’t catch a glimpse of their faces. So then… why did it feel as though she knew each of them so intimately, as if they were old friends she were reconnecting with?
Hear… Feel… Think…
Her eyes suddenly felt heavy, and her lids slid shut. All she needed to puzzle through this… was just… a moment’s rest…
Where was she?
“That must’ve been some nightmare ye were havin’,” commented a gravelly but kindly voice across from her.
The gentle clatter of the open cart reminded her: she’d left Illie at Florentel’s Spire and managed to gain passage on this cart, headed for Gridania.
Sitting across from her on the cart were three other travelers, whom they must have picked up while she’d slept: two adolescent Elezen twins in matching garb with striking short white hair save for their single long ponytails; and the speaker, a dark-skinned Hyurian man with light eyes that smiled amicably but shrewdly at her, as if withholding secrets.
The Elezen twins were asleep, heads resting against one another, but the Hyur seemed he’d been awake for some time.
Oh, she’d never felt so dizzy and ill on a cart before… She wished it would stop for a moment. Emaile held her head with a grunt.
“That’ll be the aether,” the Hyur explained. “Much stronger here than other places in the land.” He nodded. “I’m guessing you’ve never been to Gridania before?”
Ah. Was that why she felt so disoriented? Emaile nearly shook her head but quickly thought better of it, given her condition… “Not for some time.” Still another lie. It was becoming habit now.
“Ah, then you need to know the local goings-on!” Her companion smiled, offering her some of the details: current events and the general layout of the climate. “We’ve had trouble with the bird-men, the Ixali, lately—”
A commotion down the road drew both their attention: a soldier’s voice calling for the cart to halt.
Emaile instinctively stiffened.
A Wood Wailer approached along with two Quiver-men. “The road’s not safe here!” The Wood Wailer barked. “Haven’t you heard? There’s—”
A squawking chorus interrupted him–as well as an arrow planting itself between Emaile’s companion’s feet on the cart floorboards.
“Ixali!” The Wood Wailer shouted. “Ready yourselves, men!” He spun to the Hyur. “Get that chocobo moving and get out of here!”
As the cart pulled away, Emaile saw them for the first time in her life: the Ixali, man-shaped avian creatures. They descended from the sloped hillock upon the soldiers, one apiece. Arrows thunked into the ground as the battle commenced.
Suddenly Emaile was back at Dragonhead, hearing the shouts of anguish, smelling the smoke… She wanted to cower and leap out of the cart to help all at once!
“They’ll be all right, lass. Leave ‘em to it,” the Hyur urged.
With the commotion, the twins finally stirred awake, covering sleepy yawns. One of them spun with a start, seeing the battle behind them.
But they’d already arrived at the gate to Gridania, which swung open to quickly usher them inside.
“Hurry now, before they get in!” urged the guard on duty, and the cart and its riders swiftly obliged.
The gate slammed shut on the sight of the Wood Wailers driving the Ixali back from whence they’d come.
Emaile’s companions and she stepped off the cart, stretching to ease their stiff muscles. The Hyurian man chuckled, nodding to her. “Well, it would seem this is where we part ways, lass.” He waved, that same mysterious glint in his eyes. “But who knows? Mayhap we’ll meet again someday. May you ever walk in the light of the Crystal.”
As Emaile took in the towering trees and flourishing flowers of the citystate, she blinked at the man’s words. “The what?”
But as she turned to speak with him further, he was already shuffling halfway down the street.
Well… Now, she was truly alone.
But before lonely tears of fear could overtake her, Emaile inhaled and picked a direction, marching up the street deeper into Gridania.
This lush and spread-out settlement was far from what she’d pictured for a citystate. Of course she’d read about Gridania’s lush foliage, but nothing had prepared her for how it poked out of every nook and corner: looming trees growing side by side with the wooden plank buildings, no structure higher than a single story: humble, quaint, and close to the earth. No towers, no stone almost anywhere. A bubbling brook even babbled straight through town!
But though it lacked the grandeur of Ishgard, it lacked none of the bustle! The streets here seemed almost more crowded than she’d ever seen the Holy See. This citystate was packed with people coming and going or standing around minding their business…
And how many kinds of people there were! Broad-shouldered Roegadyns, fair Miqo’te with pointed furry ears like a cat and delicate tails, the rabbit-like Viera with their elegant long ears, or the hunched-over, powerful Hrothgar—and lots of Hyur and Elezen of course—and even some tiny Lalafell, shorter by half than even a child, yet fully-grown! And all of them wore brilliant colors or strange fashion from locations Emaile couldn’t even begin to guess, and all of them were armed to the teeth to boot!
Ah. Armed to the teeth. Suddenly all the crowds and variance made all the sense in the world. Emaile’s eyes went wide with surprise… and, despite her situation, she giggled with delight.
She had finally found the adventurers Haurchefant found so fascinating!
And none of them looked too poorly off… Oh, certainly, she saw a few in undyed robes, but many wore elegant and refined garb or full suits of armor only the richest families would have been able to afford in Ishgard.
Emaile was so spellbound taking them all in that she hardly noticed as a person two heads shorter than her bumped into her. “Oh!” Emaile cried, mortified. “I’m so terribly sorry—”
Her words caught in her throat as she beheld the robed figure before her. A woman with blue skin, eyes gleaming like blue jewels, and… ivory white horns jutting from her head! And a scaly white tail!
N-no, of course not. Emaile struggled to calm her shot nerves. No dragon. No Dravanian. She’d heard gossip about these people, though she’d never seen them herself: the Au Ra, natives of the lands far in the East.
The tiny Auri woman laughed nervously. “Oh, please do not fret. You are newly-arrived, yes?”
Had she been staring? “Y-yes. Pray forgive my lack of manners, I simply—” She’d simply never seen so much that was so new to her!
Is this what it’s like to go on adventures? Somewhere deep inside, Emaile’s heart shivered with the thrill.
The Auri woman offered a bow, but an unusual one-resting her hands on her thighs as she bent at the waist. “All is forgiven. I too must apologize for my clumsiness.” She paused, tilting her head. “Were you looking for the Adventurer’s Guild?”
“The guild?” Of course! With no other skills… perhaps she could become an adventurer too! At the very least, she could glean more information on the profession. And perhaps begin work soon.
Emaile fiddled with her hair. Ah, another thing she would need to change: the sooner she could alter her appearance, the better. It wouldn’t do to meander around with her same look and name. A full new identity was in order. “Yes, would you mind terribly pointing me in the right direction?”
“Oh, you are on the right direction.” The woman pointed back the way she’d come. “Follow this path past the great aetheryte crystal, then downhill. The guild headquarters are the building to the right. Speak with Mother Miounne. She helps the beginning adventurers here.”
Emaile beamed. “Many thanks!” She and the woman offered one another a bow before going their separate ways.
Emaile made her way to the guild headquarters, a rounded wooden building with a staircase inside that wrapped around the left side of the wall, descending downward to a lower level. Straight ahead, there were two desks where two kind-looking Elezen stood. One was a middle-aged woman with her hair styled in similar fashion to Emaile’s. As the other Elezen was a man, Emaile assumed the lady was her guild contact.
“Mother Miounne?” Emaile stepped over to the counter.
The older Elezen woman’s kind eyes brightened. “Ah, now that’s a fresh face. You must be another budding adventurer! How can Mother help you?”
Emaile shifted nervously. Did she truly stand out that much? “I was looking for work… I was told you could help me get started with the guild…”
“Of course, dear! We’ll teach you anything you need to know. First I’ll just have you sign this registry, get your name down…” Mother Miounne slid a ponderous ledger toward Emaile along with an inkwell and quill.
Emaile dipped the quill pen into ink. Here it was, then. The point of no return. Emaile’s hand remained poised over the ledger, fingers trembling. Releasing a breath, Emaile ran the pen across the page, writing with her usual meticulous care.
A few strokes of the pen. Was that all it took for her to forsake her family name, her history, her legacy?
Yes. Just a few strokes of the pen, and the last Retois vanished.
“Emarella Thiranim,” Mother Miounne read aloud. “What an unusual name. You must not be from anywhere nearby!”
Emaile—no, Emarella now—offered a wan smile in reply.
The good mother pried no further, stowing her book away. “So, Emarella, you’re in want of work! Do you have much combat experience?”
Emarella hesitated. Was she expected to? Her mind flickered to the sea of heavily-armed adventurers surrounding her, milling about even here, in this very room. “Nothing on the field…” she confessed.
Mother Miounne hummed thoughtfully as she pulled out two more books and passed one of them over to Emarella. “Most jobs require some form of martial prowess, but we can set you up with an instructor soon enough. In the meantime, I’ve got this task regarding a delivery…”
And so it began: a series of menial tasks Emarella happily ran, more than thrilled to be able to do something worthy of a few gil. Here and there the inhabitants of Gridania had her running, fetching things or delivering messages or tracking down lost children. She got lost more times than she could count, constantly pulling the locals aside to ask for directions to this house or where she might find so-and-so. All the strangers’ faces began to meld together in her memory, and she could hardly recall a handful of the dozens of new names she learned all at once.
Slowly but surely, however, Emarella would return to Mother Mionne with another task completed and be rewarded with her share in gil. Fairly soon, she’d earned enough to pay for a few meals. She came marching up to Mother Miounne, gratefully munching on a bread roll she’d purchased with her very first hard-earned gil. She swore nothing had ever tasted better.
Though perhaps that had something to do with the hunger gnawing a hole through the bottom of her stomach.
“Back for more work?” Mother Miounne laughed. “Unfortunately, all I’ve got left are tasks for combatants…”
Emarella’s pace slowed at that revelation.
“You mentioned you had some experience with weapons, just not on the field. What have you trained in?”
The last bite of bread went down hard; Emarella grimaced. “Ah… sword and shield.” Though could her few training sessions with Haurchefant truly count?
Mother Miounne tapped her chin thoughtfully. “The best place for new swordsmen is all the way in Ul’dah, unfortunately…” She knitted her brow.
Ul’dah… She’d wanted to get as far as fast as possible. Ul’dah was good, but not far enough. “I… also have… Well, I’ve studied the arcane arts a bit.” Emarella paused, recalling the words of the chief astrologian at the Observatorium. “I’ve been told I have a knack for it.”
“Oh!” Mother Miounne clapped, grinning. “Well, if it’s magic you’re looking for, we have the guild of Conjury here.”
No, no! Emarella stiffened. She already feared her day here had been a day too long. The sooner she could find a place to run to, the better!
The look on her face was enough to prompt Mother Miounne to offer an alternative. “Well… there’s a school of Thaumaturgy in Ul’dah as well, but from what I understand, they’re… not held in the highest regard. Feared, even.”
Oh, that would never work! The less attention on her, the better.
“There’s also the Arcanists’ Guild,” Mother Miounne offered. “They specialize in balancing the offensive and healing magicks. But they’re all the way in Limsa Lominsa, and without airship permission or being attuned to their aetheryte, you’d be looking at a dreadfully long journey…”
Perfect! “Are there any merchants or caravans making their way in that direction?”
“Plenty on their way to Thanalan. You’d need to take the ferry from Vesper Bay to get to Limsa from that way—”
“Could you introduce me to the next merchant headed that way then?”
“W-well, certainly, child! But they won’t be leaving for several hours yet…”
Emarella nodded. “Then I’ll do some shopping in the meantime. Thank you, Mother Miounne!”
As the good mother chuckled, Emarella offered her a wave and skipped away. I believe I remember the way to the mercantile district from here…
She found her way with fewer inquiries than she’d needed this morning. Her first purchase was a new set of Gridanian clothing. But what strange fashion they wore! Emarella perused a weaver’s shop, examining the fashion of the day: short sleeves and the absolute tiniest pantaloons she’d ever seen. Heavens! They’d expose nearly the full length of her legs! She knew the Shroud’s clime was warmer than Ishgard, but…
She offered a sheepish smile to the merchant. “I don’t suppose there’s anything a bit more… modest?”
But anything more akin to what she was used to wearing was embarrassingly out of her budget. Emarella glanced at the gil in her pouch with a despondent sigh. The scanty clothing would simply have to do.
She quickly changed into her new garb—still feeling as though she were wearing nothing at all, and constantly tugging uncomfortably at the hems of her pantalettes as she approached another vendor, this one for some dye for her hair… and a pair of shears.
Emarella sat in a quiet corner of the citystate, surrounded by roses the same hue as the pot of hair dye she’d purchased.
Good heavens, what in the Fury’s name am I doing? She wondered, watching the reflection of her hair’s jaunty curl bounce in the reflection of the rippling dye’s surface.
Tuft by tuft, Emarella brushed the dye into her hair. Soon it was soaked with the deep red color. But this wasn’t quite enough to complete her transformation.
Emarella set the empty pot aside and lifted the shears to her temple, where her one stubborn curl sat, defying its fate. Perhaps finally setting aside its pride to plead with her not to destroy it.
But every part of her had to play at this new persona. Farewell. Wincing, she clipped. And clipped. And clipped. Until her hair was a cute but certainly not prim and proper style in bright crimson.
Short red hair. An outfit her father was likely already rolling in his grave to see her wearing.
Emarella swallowed a wave of tears. The deed is done. Her transformation was complete.
Now all that was left was to leave. To venture far, far away… and pray that Illie would remain safe.
Emarella returned to the Adventurer’s Guild a new woman and waited for the merchant to arrive, fiddling with her hair all the while—her fingers searching for a curl that was no longer there.
Finally, after several hours, a Lalafell arrived at the hall, glancing around the room before zeroing in on Emarella. He waddled up to her, offering his hand in greeting. “You the Elezen adventurer who’s coming with us to Thanalan?”
With a nervous tug on the hem of her (still far too-short) pantaloons, Emarella nodded.
“All right then!” The Lalafell jabbed his thumb in the air, grinning. “Keep an eye out for trouble, Miss! We’re in your hands.”
“I-I’ll… do my best!” Emarella returned his smile with a wan one of her own.
The Lalafell led her down the path to the front gate where his cart waited, loaded up with supplies. He clambered onto the Lalafell-sized driver’s seat beside a second Lalafell, his merchant companion. No more room there nor in the back for her; it appeared she would be walking.
She bit back a sigh of dismay. This was going to be a long journey.
But, Emarella inhaled deeply, steeling herself. This new story is beginning… whether I feel prepared or not.
The Lalafell flicked the reins, and the chocobo flared its wings, trotting away with an excited peep.
Emarella marched forward, keeping easy pace with the cart. The giant trees of the Black Shroud rose to meet her as the gateway and bustle of Gridania fell away.
Sorrow plucked at her heart, but there was a stirring, tingling sensation growing in her chest too: the slightest hint of excitement. She was so far from home… so far away from anyone she knew or loved. Leaving it all behind…
Tears welled in her eyes. She dabbed them away with her knuckle.
Still, finally, truly, she was setting forth on an adventure she never expected she’d ever find.
And Illie and Haurchefant and everyone else in Dragonhead… they were safe.
The first hints of relief fluttered on her chest at that thought.
Perhaps… she would be all right, after all. As long as she knew they were safe… that was all that truly mattered.
And… perhaps someday she’d even come to find some lasting pleasure out of this grand new adventure of her own.
Emarella turned, casting one last glance at the citystate of Gridania as she raised her hand to wave. “Farewell,” she whispered. “Goodbye and farewell…”
As the tears slipped down her cheeks, Emarella set her face forward, forcing a smile. She couldn’t let those tears get in her way. She had to keep her eye out for trouble! She was an adventurer, after all.
And so Emarella Thiranim made her way down the path into the Black Shroud, off on her way to adventure.
Child of Fury, bereft of home,
Cursed to forsake both hearth and heart–
For a realm in need she’ll play a part.
O’er oft-dreamt lands soft feet shall roam,
For this chapter’s end starts a brand-new tome…
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