PROLOGUE ONE: FLIGHT
8TH SUN OF THE SECOND UMBRAL MOON
YEAR 1558 OF THE SIXTH ASTRAL ERA
Isari, East Othard Coastline, The Ruby Sea
"Eeja, why do we have to wake up? It is still dark," the little girl said, tugging at her blanket.
"Baatarsaikhan, there is no time. Please, get up!" Her mother didn't wait for the girl to get out of bed; rather, she simply picked the girl up, grabbed her emergency satchel, slung her over her shoulder and ran from the yurt. The entire village, the girl thought, was up and about and the sun was not yet up! They were loading their things into the carts, and every horse in the village was out of stable and loaded with bags.
"Eeja, where is aawa? Why is everyone going for travel?" Her mother set her down outside their yurt and hushed her, kneeling down.
"Baatar, you must stay here." Her mother stepped forward to an archer-horseman who had just ridden into the camp proper. The archer had blood on him, and his quiver was empty. "Nergui, where are the others?"
The archer slid from his horse, pulled a skin from his mount's bags and drank heavily for a moment. "Lost, Chinjaal. Many to the Garlean bastards and their cursed guns, others to the night. Gan took a few of the others, said he had a plan to hold them off a bit longer."
Her mother scowled and stepped forward again; her horns nearly touched the archer's face. "You let Gan take them on a fool's errand? Nergui, you know how stubborn-"
"-he's your mate, not mine," the archer said, shaking his head. "I tried to stop him, and he threatened to cut me in two if I did not move. He said he and the others would meet us at the docks."
"Azim above, if he does not return I will-"
"-I know, I know, I know. You can do as you like if he does not show, but I beg you to wait until we are on the sea."
Her mother said nothing, simply backing away before turning back to the girl. "Baatar, we must leave."
"The Garleans?" she asked, doing her best to keep the fear out of her voice.
"Yes, little warrior. Aawa is going to meet us before we leave, okay? You must stay very close to me, and hold on tight. Like we practiced." Her mother touched heads with the girl. "If anything happens to me, you must find the clansfolk and follow them."
"Good, little one. Let us go now." Chinjaal led her daughter to the outcropping where the horses were waiting, grabbed her pack from their family's post and slung it over her shoulders. She helped Baatarsaikhan onto the horse; Baatar liked the horse very much. She had painted yellow on him like the horsebirds she had seen in a book of the lands beyond the steppe, and so her mother had named the creature Shar.
"Hello, Shar," the girl said, patting his mane. "Are you afraid?" The horse simply shuddered. "I am afraid too, but eeja says it is not good to be scared all the time."
A few minutes later, her mother mounted the horse. "Hold on tightly, Baatar," she said, joining the rest of the clansfollk at the edge of the village. Most of the others were mounted on horse, but some, like uwuh Otgon and the youngest of the children were in carts. The entire village left as one, leaving behind the small village that was the only home Baatarsaikhan had known. It faded, first into a small speck, then to nothing, as the clan rode into the night.
She fell asleep, lulled by the rhythm of horse-hooves on steppe.
When she awoke, they were at the waters and the sun was beginning to rise. They were at the town of Yanshara, where sometimes traders would come from from Kugane, and on the rarest of occasions, from Eorzea. Baatar had never seen a ship from Eorzea, but her eeja had bought the book with animals of Eorzea drawn within many sleeps ago, when she was still a baby. That was the book with the horsebird, the green-spike, the slime and even the dragons! Baatar checked her satchel and sighed in relief, because her book was amongst the few luxuries she was allowed to put inside the bag. She looked up and saw that the villagers were on the outskirts of the town; nobody had come to greet them, but she could see many masts from the biggest ships - they had metal on them! - she had ever seen. She rubbed her eyes, and tapped her mother on the back. "Eeja, is that big boat where we are going?"
"Yes, little warrior," her mother said with a big smile. "That boat is from far away!"
"But what about the steppe?"
"It is dangerous, too dangerous to stay now," Chinjaal said, turning to face her daughter. "Some of the other clans are too stubborn to leave, but remember what I taught you?"
"Uhm...you always have to be - no, uhm, do what's right. Even if it's not the happiest thing."
"Exactly. Such a smart girl," her mother said, rubbing her hair. Chinjaal paused as one of the warriors, this one carrying a sword and shield, rode up to her. "Askaa? What's wrong?"
"Town's empty," said the man. "And one of the archers saw the decks of the boats; they're near empty, too. Someone gestured at us from the deck of one before being pulled back down - this reeks of a trap."
"Mmm. Take Baatarsaikhan to Idree and round up some of the scouts. We'll take a look around, see if we can't divine what's going on. Any sign of Gan?"
"I'm afraid not, Chinjaal." The man shook his head, and stared off into the distant steppe. "I do-" He stopped suddenly, glancing at Baatarsaikhan. "-don't know where he is. He should be here already."
Her mother made a face that she hadn't seen before. It looked angry and sad at the same time.
"We will make do. Have the men meet me at the front when we are ready." The swordsman rode to the side, and plucked Baatarsaikhan from Shar's saddle.
"Hello, little warrior," Askaa said. "Come now, I'm to take you to Aunty Idree."
"Aunty Idree is mean. She never lets me play," Baatar said, pouting. "But please don't tell her I said that."
Askaa laughed - grimly, Chinjaal noted, though her young daughter seemed unaware - and patted her on the head. "I promise not to tell, but you must listen to me like you listen to your mother, okay?"
"Good. Chinjaal, I'll be back in a moment." Askaa rode over to another woman, this one with long hair, who sat alone on her own horse, and plopped Baatar onto her saddle. "Idertuuya, Chinjaal needs scouts for the town - wanted you to watch our little warrior here."
"Of course. Hunt well, Askaa. Baatarsaikhan, do you need to relieve yourself? Are you hungry?"
"I am thirsty, Aunty Idree."
"Well, I have just the thing," the woman said, passing her a skin. "I saved a little bit of tsai from before, if you would like."
Baatarsaikhan drank the tea and ate a piece of jerky, then read from her pictures-book. She was about to ask to get off the saddle and go for a walk to the other villagers when a tall, hulking man that Baatar did not recognize rode up to them. "Chinjaal found Gan and the others - and a bunch of the sailors - locked up in a jailhouse. Garleans are everywhere, and there are even some on the boats."
"Damnation," Idree said. "She's made a plan?"
"Indeed. The scouts will work to free as many folk as they can. Second they can't stay hidden, they'll sound the horn and we're to move everyone as fast as we can onto the docks. We help clear out the boats of the Garleans, get everyone on board and make our escape."
"And if things go wrong?"
"We improvise. Come on, we need to get ready to move." The man rode off without another word, and Aunty Idree turned to Baatar. "Did you understand that, little one?"
"Um, eeja found aawa? But there are bad Garleans in the town, and we have to wait until, uhm, the horn is blown. Then we are okay to go on the boats?"
"Yes, little warrior. Stay close."
Baatar waited, and waited, and waited, when suddenly the horn was blown. The entire village's group took off into village; Baatar heard the sounds of fighting but was too busy holding on tight to Aunty Idree to notice what was going on. She could not remember what was happening when they reached the docks, because it was too loud, and there was fighting and blood everywhere; all she remembered was Aunty Idree turning to throw her off the horse, and someone carrying her away. There was more shouting, and the terrifying sounds of the Garlean guns - bang, bang, bang - and she fell to the ground, blood in her eyes. She could not cry, and so she wiped the blood from her eyes to see Nergui dead before her; she was standing on a ramp to one of the boats, not sure how she had gotten there or what to do. But her mother had said that she had to get to the boat, so she climbed the ramp as fast as she could. She was about to board the ship when something grabbed her tail and flung her to the deck; moments later, a cluster of metal balls shrieked into the wood next to her. A bald hyur, one of those hornless folk, raised a shield and knelt behind it next to Baatar.
"Fucking hells that was a close one. Oi, kid, you're not hurt, eh?"
Baatar didn't quite understand all the words he was saying through his strange accent, but she shook her head.
"Good, good. Listen, lass, stay low - crawl, like - and get yourself over to the big fella, the one with the axe over there, right? Can ya do that for me?"
She nodded, noticing a giant man with red skin beckoning at her.
"You stay low, you'll be fine. He'll bring you into the ship and you'll be nice and safe. Go!"
She crawled, doing her best to ignore the screaming and shouting and the blood on the deck that was staining her tunic. She crawled and crawled and crawled, forever it seemed like, until finally she reached the giant. He picked her up and carried her down into the belly of the ship, and pointed at a bunch of crates in the corner. "Get yourself tucked in behind those there boxes, and you'll be safe. Anyone tries to get you out of there that you're not sure about, you ask'em what they put in the grog last moon. If they don't say oranges, you don't move. Good?"
Baatar nodded and crawled behind the crates, and curled into as small a ball as she could make herself.
It seemed like another day when the shouting and fighting stopped. She heard people calling to her, but simply curled up tighter and thought of home. "Lass," a voice said, "it's safe to come out! Come on, where'd Pfarberk put ya? Bloody idiot, probably told her a code or summat. Oi! Lass! Did the big red fella tell you t'ask a question?"
She snapped out of her shock and frantically put as much calm into her voice as she could. "What, what did they put in the g-grog last moon?"
"Put in the g- ha! Pfarberk, you salty old shite. Oranges, lass! Nisfa thought he'd make that stuff taste better, ruined the whole batch, he did."
Baatar stood on her toes and looked over the crates to find a hyur standing in front of the hatch, sword at his hip and a shield slung over his back; a few of the villagefolk were with him, looking at her with relief and sadness.
"Is it safe now?"
"Safe as it gets on a boat like this'n, milady. Come on, we've got to see about getting you cleaned up and see if we can't find yer parents."
Baatar followed the hyur - who had dark skin and golden hair pulled into a strange-looking ponytail - up out of the depths of the creaking boat and up onto the deck. Despite her best efforts to remain calm, she couldn't help but stop and marvel - for, in every direction, there was nothing but water! Blue as the sky, crystal-clear and as far as the eye could see.
"Mmm, beauty, 'aint she? That'll be the sea, lass." The hyur turned, smiled at Baatar and pat her on the head. "There's nothing like the open sea. But we'll be on this here ship for plenty a day - so come on, let's go take a look-see at the adults, alright?"
Baatar tore her eyes away from the sea as best she could - a difficult prospect, given that they were on a boat - and followed the man up a small flight of stairs to a higher deck. There, many of the auri she'd ridden with, mostly adults but with a few children mixed in - and some she hadn't seen before or in a long time- were clustered together, seated, nursing wounds, staring off into space. Other sailors were handing out food, bandages and mugs of drink; Baatar marveled at how different they all looked. She recognized the sailors from her old pictures-book: tiny lalafell as short as she was, giant roegadyn who towered over even the biggest of the adults she knew, miqo'te with strange, pointy ears and tails that were furry instead of scaled.
"Pfarberk!" The man escorting her shouted, waved and sauntered over to the big, red-skinned roegadyn who was kneeling by several of the injured adults - aunty Idree among them.
"Oi, Arnar, glad to see you found our little lady," the giant said, smiling. "Well, lass - Baa-tar-sai-khan," he said, sounding out the name, "come here and let's see if we can't find kith or kin amongst our fellows here."
"Oh, little warrior," Idree said, clutching at a heavily bandaged arm. "Oh, come here."
Baatar walked over and plopped herself down, cross-legged, in front of her aunt and frowned. "How come the others are not looking at me?"
"Shite," Pfarberk hissed, leaning in to whisper into Idree's ears. "You mean-"
"-she would find out soon enough, master sailor," Idree replied with a sad, distant look on her face. "Young ones are smart - she would figure out soon enough, and I would not be the one to lie to her."
"Why are you whispering?" Baatar asked, confused. "Where's eeja? Where's aawa?"
"They did not make it to the boat, little warrior," Idree said, expression furious and eyes welling up.
"But where are they?"
"They...they died, holding the soldiers back. Killed by the Garleans, so we - you - could all escape on the boats, Baatar."
"I'm sorry, little warrior."
"NO!" Baatar stood up, shouted, stamped her feet and rushed at the red giant, swinging her tiny balled-up fists at him. "NO! NO NO NO! You turn the boat back! I want eeja and aawa back! Make them come back r-!"
"-shh, lass, shh, it'll be alright, shh, it's okay, it's okay," Pfarberk said, overpowering the tiny girl with a hug. "Shh, shh, it's alright lass, it's all right."
"Baatarsaikhan, you can cry but you will not attack the sailor!" Idree commanded.
Baatar stopped struggling, but she did not stop crying.
She did not stop crying for many days, it felt like.
She recalled being in the dark, groaning hold of the ship, swaddled in blankets and being passed around, sung to by both the sailors and her own clanmates. Rocked back and forth by the waves. She only awoke from her daze to relieve herself, to eat whatever food was put in front of her.
She did not know when she stopped crying, but, many suns and moons later, she stopped at last. When her emee had died - she never knew her övöö - she had cried for a while and had been sad for many many days after, but this was different. Now, it was like she had cried all the sad out of her and Baatar was only angry, furious, full of simmering rage at the Garleans who had stolen her family and her land and her world.
One night, finally calmed enough to speak, Baatar joined some of the sailors and her clansfolk around a small fire set up on the highest deck of the ship. The adults looked mournful as she arrived at first, but when they saw the fire in her eyes many smiled thinly, nodding with obvious approval.
"Baatarasaikhan," aunty Idree said, hoisting Baatar onto her lap. "How are you this moon?"
"I am sad," Baatar said slowly. "But...but eeja and aawa are gone now, to the Moon Mother. They have to stay there, and I have to stay here. So I will try not to be too sad."
"It is okay to miss your family, little warrior, but not so much that you do not live," Yesui - the best cook in the village - said with a warm, knowing smile. "You should never not be sad about your eeja and aawa - but they would not wish you to be forever crying."
"Yes," Baatar replied. "Did they...did they kill many Garleans?"
The auri around the fire nodded, mumbled words of prayer and assent - and even some of the sailors seemed to be nodding, too.
"The ones that stayed behind, lass," one of the tiny-men - a lalafell with a tuft of black hair and a curly mustache - said with awe, "they fought like nothing else. If those damned Garleans hadn't shown up with their blasted walkers they'd be with us."
"Nothing like it," said one of the miqo'te, swishing her tail. "Like the best of the gladiators on the bloodsands, I'd wager."
"They died fighting," Pfarberk - who was sitting next to Idree - said slowly. "Dying's not something ya want, lass, but if you have to go...they went with honour."
Baatar thought, thought, and thought. She thought while they ate strange stew and drank strange juices, and soon they had to go back under the decks into the ship to sleep - but on the way down, Baatar spotted Pfarberk standing by the railings of the ship, staring out at the endless waters, sharpening his axe with a whetstone. He paused as he heard Baatar's soft, light footsteps, and turned.
"Lass, shouldn't you be getting some shut-eye?"
"Yes, I am going."
"Then get! I'll not be getting in trouble because you wanted to stay up," the red giant said with a knowing smile.
"Okay, but I want to ask you a question."
"Just one, lass."
Baatar pointed to the axe which towered over her. "I want to fight the Garleans and I want to fight with that."
11TH SUN OF THE THIRD ASTRAL MOON
YEAR 1558 OF THE SIXTH ASTRAL ERA
Open Waters, The Sea of Thavnair
Over the next weeks, the mighty metal ship sailed to and fro, making stops at ports big and small all along the sea; Baatarsaikhan and the other auri weren't allowed off the ship at all but the smallest of the ports - the adults said that the Garleans might be out there to get them. Even so, she was ever so excited to see all sorts of strange lands. The sailors who stayed on the boats during their time in port even made sure that Baatar and the other children - Enkhjargal, Oyuunchimeg, Gerel and Ganzorig - even got toys and trinkets from each port. Still, that was not enough to occupy the entire day, and so the remaining adults continued to teach the children life skills, most important of all the traditional weapons of the steppe - bow, axe and spear. The sailors even helped the adults teach letters and numbers - for while many of the adults knew of Eorzean script, the sailors were much better suited to teaching such things.
Without her parents, it fell to the clan to raise Baatar; aunty Idree, who had always been her second-mother, took on her new role with passion. Every night, she would tuck Baatar beneath heavyset blankets and tell her the legends of the steppe, tales of great heroes and, with a book gifted to her by Pfarberk, even read to her the stories of Eorzea. Soon Baatar became enthralled by the tales of sailors just like the ones who had rescued her and kin. She knew, on some level, that one could conceivably live on a boat for most of their years- the Orben wove great reed-boats to ride the Blue Jewel which spanned the length of the Steppe, but that was a far cry from these stories of swashbuckling sailors who rode the seas, slept on boat and spurned the safety of solid ground.
A month into their journey, Baatar found herself free of lessons; Gerel and Oyuun were both napping, Enkh and Ganzorig were reading about fish or something boring like that, and Baatar hand a mind to find answers to some questions. She waited on the top deck for the time when the sailors had finished their tasks for the mid-day and would stop to take lunch. She approached Pfarberk and happily plopped down next to him, pulling the metal water-canteen she carried out of her satchel along with a piece of salted trout. "Pfarberk," she asked after taking a few bites of her fish, "aunty Idree read to me and said that you and your sailor-kith spend many years on these boats." She nodded vigorously. "Yes, she read that you stay on these waters for many, many months, even a whole year without spending more than a moon or two at shore!"
"Aye, lass, it's true," the giant replied as many of the other sailors nodded. "I'm one of the older ones - been more or less living on a boat since I was a small boy. You grew up on the steppe, an' I grew up on the high seas. Arnar," he said, pointing at the dark-skinned hyur who'd brought her topside so many weeks ago, "he was even born on a ship much like this'n!"
"What? No," Baatar said, frowning. "I do not believe it."
Arnar and the gathered sailors laughed, smiled at Baatar's tiny expression of disbelief. "Now, why'd Pfarberk have cause to lie to ya, lass?" Arnar replied, shrugging. "'tis true! Me pa were a...sailor, let's say, and so was me marm. Born on the open seas, I was."
Baatar thought about this for many minutes before concluding that, yes, Pfarberk was probably not lying to her. "Okay," she replied, "but how did your mother nurse you? On the sea there is no milk but the one from your mother's breast. How did you grow so big without sheep or goat-milk? And," she continued, a thoughtful expression on her face as she pointed at her half-finished meal, "you cannot eat only fish from the sea to become strong."
"Well, lass, we've had plenty of meat, some of it fresh, and plenty-a-cooking done by both our own and your kin," Poyi, the mustachioed-lalafell, said with a look that resembled that of a teacher. "We may eat plenty of fish and salt-meat but that's not everything. Not for Kukujisu's lack of trying, the stingy ba - fellow."
"I suppose," Baatar said with a frown. "But aren't you sad? There is so little space, even on this big ship. No fields to run in, no mountains to climb."
"Well, there's work to be done, and when the work's done there's resting and grog," one of the elezen sailors, Anaux, pointed out. "And there may be no fields or mountains aboard the Big Kweh, but I've seen you and the other children run laps up and down the decks. Once you're older, too, you can always climb the masts and the rigging, eh? Plus, on your steppe there's no endless water, no ports to visit, no far-away lands to sail to, no endless sea to look down upon."
"Hmmmm." Baatar thought some more, and rubbed at her horns, stroking them from the sides of her head to the tips which stopped just past her mouth. "Maybe you are right. When will I be allowed to climb the masts and swing along the rigging? I and the other children, we watch and it looks very fun."
"Fun, aye, but more than a little dangerous," Poyi noted. "It takes training, work, and a little courage to run the ropes like we do, Baatarsaikhan. When you're bigger, stronger, older - and if you still have a taste for watercraft and a life on the seas - I'm sure one of us, or any of the sailors back home in 'ol Limsa'd be happy ta show ya."
"Little?" Baatar sputtered, pointing a finger at the lalafell. "I am as big as you!"
"Right, but not nearly as strong," Poyi replied with a smirk. "And don't you try to deny it, little lady - I'n the others watch you kids train with weapons with us an yer elders. Strong, my arse."
"That's a curse," Baatar replied. "Aunty will be mad if she hears you talking like that."
"Shite. I mean - look, if you were so tough could you do this?" Poyi leapt forward and hoisted the little girl above his head, and began running a lazy lap around the gathered sailors. Baatar yelled in delight as the lalafell carried her around the topdeck, 'til a minute or so later the ride ended and she was set back down upon solid deck. "So! When you can do that, then we'll talk about you climbing the masts, how about."
"I will be bigger and stronger than you before you know it, Poyi!" Baatar said with her hands on her hips. "And I will carry you and the others 'round the Big Kweh, I promise!"
"You'll not be carrying me anytime soon," Pfarberk said, joining the other sailors in laughter, "unless you want a good case of being crushed, lass."
"Well we shall have to see about it in many moons," Baatar replied simply, smiling. "I say I shall be as strong as any roegadyn!"
10TH SUN OF THE THIRD UMBRAL MOON
YEAR 1558 OF THE SIXTH ASTRAL ERA
Limsa Lominsa, The Rhotano Sea
"Look, Baatarsaikhan," Idertuuya said with a warm smile as she carried the little girl aloft on her shoulders. "We're finally at our new home!"
"Wow," Baatar replied, eyes wide. "It's so...big!"
The Big Kweh was nearing the grand city-state of Limsa Lominsa, and Baatarsaikhan could come up with nothing else to describe the sight she was taking in. The Dawn Throne, home of the Oronir and mightiest of the Steppe's structures, seemed tiny in comparison to the sprawling white towers which stood before her; their metal-tipped spires seemed to touch the very skies. Even the sailors seemed to be in higher spirits than usual; their two-month journey had seen them avoid Garlean patrols, navigate rough waters and, perhaps most terrifying of all, sail the last quarter of the journey entirely sober after several of the grog barrels splintered during a rough bout of storms. Still, things had gone as well as Idertuuya or any of the other auri refugees could have imagined, all things considered: two had died on the journey - Medekhgüi, who had been nearing eighty-six years and had not expected to survive the journey, and Nayantai, who had fallen from the boat during a storm and drowned before the sailors could retrieve her. Otherwise, the refugees were in good health, with only two of their number currently being ill; most auspicious of all, they had even given witness to one of the widows, Agujam, give birth to a healthy baby boy, who she had named Dalaichin - seafarer, in the Eorzean common tongue.
"So, Limsa, is she to yer liking?" Arnar asked, dropping down from one of the ship's sail-riggings to join the refugees at the railings.
"It is so beautiful," Agujam said, smiling as she swaddled Dalaichin. "Never in my years would I have dreamed of a city so spacious and tall upon the waters."
"So it is. Baatarsaikhan, you will have to stay here for a moment, okay? I needs speak with Captain Yorsa for a moment," Idertuuya said, setting Baatar down.
"I'll take you to Nifsa," Arnar said with a nod. "You be good, Baatar!"
"Worry not," Agujam said with a smile. "I'll keep an eye on her - and you are a good girl anyways, right, Baatar?"
"I am," Baatar replied proudly, before pulling out her pictures-book from her satchel. She flipped through the pages until she reached the drawing of Limsa Lominsa, and held it up so she could see both the drawing and the city at the same time. Her mouth remained askew in silent awe as she realized that the pictures, if anything, were less grand than the real thing; one of the sailors had explained that the pictures-book was, in fact, actually quite old and that amongst other things the city of Limsa had grown quite a bit since the time the book had been made. Soon the Big Kweh was pulling alongside other boats and Baatar watched as the other vessels' occupants stared in a mix of wonder and confusion at the sight of the Xaela refugees standing atop the Big Kweh's deck; Baatar waved at whoever she could see, and to her delight more than a few people waved back.
All the sailors and refugees watched in anticipation as the ship pulled into port - and oh, Baatar thought, what a port it was! Nothing like the ones they'd visited on the long voyage to Eorzea; Limsa Lominsa's port was massive, dozens of piers and docks stretching out, each one holding ships ranging from tiny fishing rowboats to massive metal-plated behemoths double the size of the Big Kweh. There was even a small crowd of onlookers watching the ship pull in, the varied citizens of Limsa (all dressed in strange, foreign garb) talking amongst themselves at the incredible sight of the refugees. Standing at the front of the pier, seperated from the crowds by a cordon of red-jacketed soldiers carrying sword, pike, and gun, was a tall, white-skinned and white-haired roegadyn woman clad in a black coat - who, save for her evident height, looked so very different from the red-skinned and brown-haired Pfarberk - who had such an aura of power and prestige that even Baatar could recognize her importance. Once the ship came to a halt, the ramparts were lowered, and the white-haired woman strode aboard the ship with bodyguards following behind her. The sailors all walked over to meet her - and all of them saluted, Bataar noted with a mixture of confusion and awe.
"Admiral," Captain Nifsa Yorsa said, saluting the woman who towered over his tiny lalafellian frame. "These'll be the refugees we pearled ahead about."
"At ease, gentlemen," the woman replied with a small smile. "Xaela refugees of the Azim Steppe, it is my honour to welcome you to Eorzea. I am Admiral Merlwyb Bloefhiswyn."
The lady's accent was strange, Baatar thought.
She also carried two pistols on her belt which, despite their ornate decoration, also looked very well-worn.
"Thanks upon you, Admiral," Idertuuya said, stepping forward and kneeling as she bowed her head. "I know that for refugees to simply show up on your home without warning must no doubt be difficult."
"It's quite alright, Miss...?"
"Idertuuya Kha, Admiral."
"Idertuuya, you have no need of apology. I cannot speak for every Eorzean but I assure you that in my city, any victim of the Garleans will find, at the very least, an open door and a bed to sleep on."
"The Dusk Mother's blessings upon you. Your kindness is boundless."
"That's enough flattery from you." The Admiral surveyed the ship, and noticed the children who were standing at the rear of the refugees. "I see you have children with you - while I cannot promise you a life of luxury, they will not starve, or, Twelve's blessings, be shot by Garlean troops. Come, let's get you lot off this ship - Eynzahr," she said, glancing at another roegadyn man, this one green-skinned, "please escort these folks to Maelstrom Command and see that they're taken care of for the immediate future. We shall discuss your futures after you've had a proper meal and perhaps even a bath."
"At one, Admiral," Eynzahr replied with a snappy salute. "If you'll follow me, please."
Baatar followed the other refugees off the ship, watching the gathered crowds behind the cordon of red-jacketed soldiers, mouth askew and her eyes bright. She took five steps on solid earth, promptly tripped and fell face-first into the ground.
"Baatar!" Oyuunchimeg shouted, covering her chest with an arm. "Are you alright?"
Baatarsaikhan Kha got to her feet, looked around proudly and grinned at Idertuuya. "Yes, I am alright! More than alright."
Merlwyb watched the refugees go - and even managed not to laugh at the bright-eyed girl who hadn't managed a solid ten paces on solid ground before promptly tripping on herself.
"Two months at sea for a landlubber girl. It was going to happen to at least one of them," Captain Nifsa Yorsa said with a smile. But I'll dispense with the pleasantries, Admiral - you'd like my report?"
"In my office."
"Of course. Men, you're free to do as you like - stay out of too much trouble and don't go spending all our wares on booze, damn you. Clear?" Nifsa said with a grin.
"Clear, cap," the sailors replied.
"Alright, get to work offloading our booty and make sure all of it gets to the storehouse in one piece. I'll not have you lot breaking the damned cargo like last time. Pfarberk, with me."
Merlwyb, Nifsa, Pfarberk and the Maelstrom soldiers guarding the Admiral walked off the boat and walked at a brisk pace through the streets of Limsa Lominsa; many of the citizens in the street watched the Admiral and her retinue go with smiles and waves, some of which Merlwyb returned.
Merlwyb specifically ignored a group of black-jacketed privateers who shot glares at her, and even deigned not to simply pull her pistols and shoot them on the spot.
Slaver scum. My men will have you found, chained and shot before the night is done. I will not suffer your presence in my city.
Passing through the city's aetheryte plaza and waving at the artisans and merchants who clustered beneath the towering blue crystal, the group made its way over towards the central elevators to the city's Aftcastle and rode the elevator up to Merlwyb's office. Nodding at her saluting bodyguards as they stopped outside her office doors, Merlwyb entered her office, took a seat, and gestured for the lalafell and roegadyn privateers who had come with her to sit in the worn chairs sitting opposite of her.
"So, Captain Yorsa. Your thoughts?"
"If they're spies, Admiral, they're Twelve-damned actors of the realm," Nifsa replied, scratching at his mustache. "You want my honest gil, they're refugees of a very real sort. Fucking Garleans, if you'll pardon my language, they slaughtered a bunch of 'em. Those kids you saw, only one of 'em has a full set of parents with the group."
"Let us assume their innocence, then," Merlwyb replied thoughtfully. "There are only twenty-six of them, five children and one newborn, if my eyes served me."
"Hmm. Twenty-six refugees is no matter for a city like Limsa - and while I have no doubt there will be no shortage of charlatans and blackguards looking to take full advantage of our new arrivals, with a little guidance I'm sure all of them will be able to find work - honest work - of one sort or another. Twelve bless us, at least we've nothing to do with that business in Ala Mhigo."
"You're not worried, Admiral, 'bout you looking soft or nothing?" Pfarberk asked.
"You're presuming to question my actions?" Merlwyb replied, her tone low.
"No, ma'am. Just thinking about how the louts might react 'bout this," the roegadyn replied.
"It makes Limsa look good for little cost. The Maelstrom - I - take in refugees who have faced suffering at the hands of the Garleans. It costs little in the way of gil to feed twenty-six souls on a Maelstrom diet, and even then we shan't be boarding them forever." Merlwyb smiled. "Of course, if it just so happens that I'm able to do something good? So it is."
Nifsa and Pfarberk looked at one another, and grinned.
"Thank you, Admiral. Now, onto less kind buisness," Nifsa said with a nasty grin. He pulled a small scroll from his belt and handed it over. "Our reports on Garlean shipping routes, technology and even some first-hand information we gleaned while spending time ashore."
Merlwyb nodded, took the scroll and unrolled it, eyes flitting about as she read its contents for a minute or so. She smiled as she finished, tucking the scroll into her desk. "Well done, Captain, Master Pfarberk."
"I hope this makes up for the lack of privateering," Nifsa replied with an odd expression. "The boys were a little put out when I said we'd be hauling refugees instead of purloined Garlean goods - but I think it worked out well in the end. I think I'll miss having the little ones aboard, y'know."
"Looking to exit the privateering buisness?" Merlwyb asked.
"That depends on the coin. How much is information worth, compared to Garlean guns and plate?" Pfarberk replied.
"Hah! Degenerates, the lot of you. You'll be richly rewarded, worry not. Perhaps you can make a business of transporting persons, avoiding patrols and carousing with Garleans at port."
"I'd rather not. Took every ounce of my being - had to listen to some imperial bastard go on for hours about his colonial troubles, how the local savages were uppity enough to resist the Garlean noose before I got that info about their shipping lanes around Thavnair," Nifsa said, scowling. "Was minutes away from slitting his throat and dumping him at sea, to be honest."
"Well, there's no shortage of Garlean ships to strike at, if you'd like your revenge for lost time," Merlwyb pointed out.
Both sailors shrugged, smiled at one another.
"So, as far as I see it, the crew of the Big Kweh have done their good deed for the time. Speak with Maelstrom Command tomorrow and you'll get your dues; in the mean time I have other matters to see to."
"Thank you, Admiral. We'll be in touch if anything comes up on one of our excursions in the future," Nifsa said, getting up to salute Merlwyb with Pfarberk.
"Of course. Now get out of my office - I'm sure you scoundrels have a great deal of wining and whoring to catch up on."
"Perish the thought. Come on, let's go." Nifsa and Pfarberk sauntered out of the office, and once they'd left Merlwyb sighed, and gave herself twenty seconds to rest before getting up and linkpearling Maelstrom Command to check in on the refugees.
Four hours later, Baatar could not believe that she'd ever survived spending two months aboard the cramped, perpetually-swaying confines of a seaborne ship. She and the other children had been brought into a "simple" set of military barracks at the top of the city - whose massive beds, hammocks, cots and spacious interior would have been a sign of astounding luxury upon the steppe. The children were brought to the bathing-room tucked off in a side room, and while Baatar and the other refugees recognized the water-pumps and tubs, the strange, snake-like contraptions that ran up the walls and terminated in odd, flattened-discs with numerous tiny holes.
"These," Idertuuya said as she and a few of the other adults helped strip the children out of the robes that had been given to them by the sailors, "are show-ers. Here, in Eorzea, they even have hot water that falls from here," she said, pointing at the disc, "without burning fuel to make heat, or pumping to make the water fall."
The children ooh-ed and aah-ed as Idertuuya stripped out of her clothing, walked over to one of the "showers' and pulled one of its levers slightly; with stunned silence the children watched a cascade of water pour forth from the shower. Idertuuya pulled another lever - this one only halfway - and then tested the waters with an extended figure before sighing and smiling.
"Come, children, it's warm," Yesui said, beckoning.
Baatar and the others toddled along into the stream of warm, steaming water, cheering and whooping in delight as they began trying to throw water at one another; the adults indulged the children for a few minutes before yanking them back in - some by the tail - and giving them a good scrubbing with cloth and sponge; Baatar revelled in how clean her hair and skin felt, how polished her scales were, layers of grime and dirt coming off her scales in tiny pieces.
After their luxurious shower, the kids were given fresh clothes, left by a Maelstrom attendant while they were cleaning up. After the adults had all cleaned themselves, Idertuuya left the room for a few minutes, returning shortly with the Admiral's assistant - the towering green-skinned giant named Eynzahr - and several other Maelstrom soldiers, each carrying a small platter of food.
"Children! It's time to eat!" Idertuuya said as she helped the soldiers place the food on one of the tables; the eldest of the adults sat at the table, pulling up chairs, while the other adults pulled rugs and mats from their well-worn rucksacks, laid them out in a small circle on the ground and sat with the kids.
"There's no need for that - enough chairs for everyone," Eynzahr said with a frown.
"It is our way," Agujam said, rocking her young, blanket-swaddled child back and forth as she sat at the table. "The table is for the eldest and the mothers.," she explained, pointing at herself. "There is no dishonour to sit upon to the steppe; she provides us our food and we take it upon her soil with grace. Well, the floor, here, but the idea is the same."
"If that's your custom," Eynzahr replied, scratching at his hair. "Anyways we've not got anything fancy-"
"-no talk of fanciness here, Master Slafyrsyn," Idertuuya said as she leaned back in her chair at the table. "To us steppes-folk, simple as we are, your housing and your bathing-room are the height of luxury."
"Ha! You'll make good Lominsans, then," one of the other soldiers, a female red-haired miqo'te, said with a flick of her tail and a sharp-toothed grin. "Believe me, we've no shortage of recruits who bellyache about the rations and the housing."
"In any case, I'll remain to discuss your case. Everyone else, dismissed," Eynzahr said with a nod to the other soldiers. They all saluted and left the barracks; Eynzahr sat at the table with the other elders. "But enough talking - I'm sure you're hungry and the evening approaches," he continued, pointing at the wall-mounted chronometer. "Dig in. Chicken and mushroom stew, bread for sopping. Fresh greens with garlic and oil. And, of course, fruits - perfect for eating after many days at sea."
"We are humbled by your kindness." Idertuuya bowed her head with the other refugees, and when she spoke it was in the Xaela tongue. [Blessed is the Dusk Mother, who in Her glory, power and grace, has seen us safely to these far-flung shores. Tonight we eat and rest for ourselves and those we have lost along the way. Let this meal be the first of many on these soils. Thanks be to the animals who were slain for the meats. Thanks be to the steppe and this Eorzean lands which granted us these foods. Thanks be, Dusk Mother.]
[Thanks be,] the refugees replied.
"I see there are bowls here. If it is alright, however, we shall eat using our own utensils. It is a...thing of pride," Idertuuya explained.
"Go ahead. I'll not instruct you how to eat, of all things," Eynzahr said.
The elders filled their bowls with stew, bread and vegetables first, before passing along bowls of food and cups of water to the children, then the other adults. Baatar pulled her pack over from the side of the room with the other children and took out her utensil-kit; she popped the small wooden container open, pulled a well-worn metal spoon out and dug into the food with gusto. The vegetables were like any other she'd had, but the stew was odd - not unpleasant, but spiced and flavoured such that she could hardly believe she was eating a dish made of such familiar things like chicken and mushrooms. Strangest of all was the bread; its crunchy crust and white, fluffy interior was nothing like the flatbreads she had eaten before.
Soon the children had finished their meal, prayed once more and were ushered off to bed; Idertuuya and most of the other adults were packing up and leaving to discuss the clan's matters with Eynzahr in the room outside the barracks, and so Baatar and the other children were tended to by Agujam and three others. As Agujam rocked Dalaichin back and forth next to the beds the children lay in, singing a old battlesong, Baatar could barely keep her eyes open to listen to the whole thing.
[Mightiest warriors of the steppe, they bowed before Bardam,
for he was strong of arm and mind
and none could touch his body...]
That night, for the first time in a long time, Baatarsaikhan did not dream of slaying Garleans, but instead of standing upon a great, mighty sea-faring boat, dressed like a swashbuckling Limsan sailor of legend and carrying an axe just like Pfarberk's; the wind whipped at her skirts and, with a loyal crew standing beside her, she would face the endless sea, a warrior the equal to Bardam himself.
11TH SUN OF THE THIRD UMBRAL MOON
YEAR 1558 OF THE SIXTH ASTRAL ERA
Maelstrom Command, Limsa Lominsa
"You must be glad, Miss Idertuuya. To see the kids safe and sound."
"You are correct, Master Slafyrsyn. We do this for them." Idertuuya smiled, nodded. "By no means did all the Kha come to flee the lands, just us coward enough to know that the Garleans would drive us inland. We were seventy-nine, when we began our journey. Twenty-eight made it to the boat, and now we are twenty-six. For the ones who have returned to the earth, and for the children who are not yet tall, we will continue."
"Mmm. You'll do them proud."
"In any case, then, while I know that not all of the adults are here," Eynzahr said, looking around at the other Xaela adults sitting around the conference table, "I trust there are enough of you here to get the message across. Now, before I start in earnest, let me make this clear - if you've any questions, you ask. Interrupt me, even. I'd rather you do so now and clear up any confusion, alright?"
"We'll not hold our tongues for fear of upsetting you," Temulun said with a wide smile. "We are rough folk."
"And while the Limsan people may not be living on the steppe, I think you'll find they're more kin to you than the the people of the other big cities," Eynzahr said with a laugh, before his expression sobered. "So, the Maelstrom can't house and feed you forever."
"We had imagined as much," Idertuuya said, nodding. "We shall work for coin and food."
"That's good. Thankfully we're in a good period right now - there's plenty of work to be had in the shipyards, throughout the farms and on the docks, if that pleases you. Hardy, honest folk like yourselves will fit right in, I'd say. If you'd rather work in the city proper, that might be a bit tougher. Many of the jobs in town that aren't related to labouring will ask for people good with numbers and figures - but I'm sure at least some of you have the talent for it, even if you don't know it. And, frankly, coming from a foreign land like your own, I guarantee you'll make gil a-plenty selling wares from your homeland."
"People will want the goods of the steppe?" Idertuuya asked, head cocked. "Like what?"
"Everything, honestly. Clothes woven in your style. Arts, if you have them. Instruments, music and the skill to play such things. Storytelling for the taverns. Food from, to Eorzeans, an exotic land. Even your alcohol - I'm sure you have it-"
"-we do," Yesui said with a grin. "We do partake in much of it."
"Twelve's blessings, you people are going to make good Lominsans. We like hearty food and heartier spirits - and no matter the type you'll find sailors willing to buy your food and drink your alcohol, trust me. We're a city of folks who love their food - if any of you visit the Culinarian's guild, I assure you the folks there will happily pay you in coin or food to pick your brains for knowledge. And, we do no shortage of trade both seabound and upon the land - the city of Ul'dah, out in the deserts, is one which thirsts for exotic things."
"And for the warriors among us?" Idertuuya asked. "I can cook and weave and tell song - any adult of the clan can do those things - but mine soul is that of the plains-warrior who delights in battle."
"Well, then you've got two options," Eynzahr replied with a thoughtful expression. "There are adventurers - I'm sure you having something akin to them - folks who go out, take odd jobs moving goods, slaying beasts, protecting travelers."
"Ah. We have such things in our land - common, amongst us nomads," Temulun noted.
"Right. It's not an easy life, but there's always people looking for such things in a city like Limsa Lominsa. If you'd prefer a less solitary life, and think you'd work well in an organized military, the Maelstrom - that's us redcoats - serve Limsa as its standing army. We'll gladly take recruits if you can pass the entrance tests; I also know that the Admiral and a few others are looking to see if we can't learn anything from your ways of warmaking from the steppe."
"Ah, yes. We have no knowledge of your guns, but proud we all are of our warrior ways. We wield axe and spear with equal measure, and though we have no horses to ride, I am sure our mounted archery will work just as well on your horse-birds," Idertuuya replied.
"Horse-bir- ah, chocobos. Right. Anyways, I know that's a lot to take in - and there's no rush, you have a month before we're to push you out of our barracks. We'll also have lessons run by our soldiers to teach you the basics of getting by in Eorzea; things like law and custom, and a rundown of the powers in our land."
"We are grateful to you, your Maelstrom warriors and to the Admiral most of all," Idertuuya replied with a long nod. "You have done well by us and we shall forever be thankful. I promise you that we Kha who have come to your shores will repay this debt eternal to the city of Limsa Lominsa, Master Slafyrsyn."
"There's no need to be getting so formal. The Maelstrom's here to protect not just the city, but you - and, victims of the Garleans that you are, even of our underbelly only the foulest of our criminals will even think of raising a hand against you."
"Here, too, you hate the imperials?" Idertuuya asked, eyes bright and full of fire.
"Of course. Blasted Garleans think they can just stomp on over to our land, ravage the earths and pillage to their heart's content. Of course we hate them."
"Good. That is a good lesson to know. I think we Kha shall get a long very well with your people, in food and drink and custom. And most important of all, war," Idertuuya said with a wide, heartless smile. "I cannot speak for the others, but if our ways of axe and spear and bow will help kill more Garleans, I shall be blessed to assist your Maelstom in its endeavors."
END OF PROLOGUE ONE
Baatarsaikhan Kha has joined the party.
Race: Au Ra, Xaela