The stench of battle flooded the air, tried to overwhelm their senses. Their weapons, dripping with the innards of their foes; armor coated with blood. Breathing heavy, muscles fatigued, ears ringing.

And still they came.

She'd lost count of them by now, her mind no longer able to keep up with the ever-increasing numbers. She didn't even care where they came from. Her mind focused itself on the single task of survival, of the fight. As the battle raged on around her, the young Elvaan cleric tried desperately to keep up with her comrades.

Spheres of fire and lightning seemed to appear from the very crowd that surrounded them, useless against Pitié's defensive spells. But even she knew that she would not be able to maintain her performance for much longer, and she'd expressed such doubts all of two minutes ago.

Those two minutes vanished in a blink amidst all the chaos. And yet, by the Goddess, the four of them still lived.

Mesachedeau separated himself from the others early on. He dove headfirst into the pack of foes to their rear, the mad glint of battle in his eyes. The rest of his features were as granite, stoic and unflinching. Nary had a smile displayed itself as he used his halberd to tear into his foes with a force and speed gained only from a familiarity with his weapon.

Pitié attempted to shout over the din of the battle cries. "You get back here this instant!" An arrow barely brushed her nose, made her squeak in surprise and fright. She stumbled backward, only to bump into Richard.

"Hey there… you'd best watch where you're stepping."

She looked up at him with a blush on her cheeks. "I'm sorry, I just…" Her eyes widened as she spotted an orc behind them, sword high and ready to strike. She held on tight and spun to the right, taking Richard with her. The iron blade missed by three inches, and before he had an opportunity to lift his weapon, she moved again. Her wand rose for only a brief moment before a burst of light blinded him.

Seconds later, the orc had a new hole to breathe from, courtesy of a bullet from Richard's rifle. He looked down at Pitié with a smile. "Well that's one I owe you. I'll try to keep track of it."

She shook her head. "You owe me nothing. Besides, you probably won't be able to keep track for long." She looked around at the mass of foes, still encroaching on their position. "We need to retreat! There's just too many!"

Richard grimaced, drew a steel sword as two more orcs charged toward them. "There's nowhere to retreat! Besides, you try telling that to your Royal Knight friend! I doubt he's one to take orders from a healer, no matter how effective they are!" He began to defend himself against the two orcs, sparks flying from his weapon with each parry.

Pitié remained nearby, her wand at the ready. She pointed it toward the Iron Musketeer, but could not keep it steady. She muttered under her breath. "I know you want to live… but stop moving so I can help you!" Her eyes narrowed in frustration as the orcs simply would not stop harrowing him. "Okay, that's enough…" She pointed the wand at one of the attackers instead, and with an almost invisible wave of energy, the orc's swing slowed itself mere seconds before it connected with Richard's right shoulder.

He turned just in time to see the spell take effect, eyes wide at what almost befell him. Even the second orc stopped his attack, confused as to what he saw.

It gave the cleric just enough time to finally cast the spell she intended to cast. She pointed the rod toward Richard and a golden light surrounded him for but a brief moment. "Go! Finish it!"

Richard smirked and turned toward the orc behind him with uncanny speed. The creature barely saw his blade move before it collapsed on the ground from the deep cut to his gut. He continued his movement, carved a wide circle with the steel sword. The second orc's jaw slackened as his innards spilled forth, and not but a moment later, fell. He turned toward Pitié with a slight raise of his sword.

She grinned and waved toward him… before she saw what was headed toward them. "Oh no…"

Kanto the Slayer presents

A Final Fantasy XI Fanfiction

Chronicles of Vana'diel

Hiirogane tried not to curse as Mesachedeau launched himself into the enemies behind them. Did she not say to stay together? Her jaw tightened as the first wave of enemies bore down on her. Without thinking twice, she cut a wide swath. The arc of her strike tore through the brass scales of the first two orcish raiders, gutting them. A third approached head-on, a mistake he paid for via her shield in his gut. The sheer force of the strike sent him careening back into four of his fellows, clearing a path for her to advance.

And advance she did, each flash of her weapon accompanied by a spray of blood. From the corner of her right eye, she caught a glimpse of steel and ducked on instinct. The weapon sang as it missed the top of her head by mere inches. Hiirogane pivoted on her left foot while low and, as she rose to meet her would-be attacker, smashed into the underside of his head with her shield. He shot six feet into the air before landing in a heap, crushing two others beneath him.

Before she could recover, she felt a blade slice against her chain mail from the left. She looked toward the source and smiled as the orc stared at her in disbelief. "Do forgive me." She ran her sword through the orc's head, kicked him away. As she looked forward again, she noticed that more and more of the attackers focused their efforts on her.

Good. Better here than anywhere else.

Sweat drenched her face as the heat of the day tried to sap her stamina. She willed herself onward, called forth a barrier of ice blue as she drove her foes before her. It rendered their weapons useless as swords and crossbow bolts broke themselves on her armor. She knew she could withstand the trials these beastmen forced on her. But the numbers of the enemy seemed endless, and her other companions were not as fortunate as her.

They needed to retreat, now.

A voice echoed in the deepest part of her mind and she instinctively turned her head to its source. Her jaw clenched. When had those mounted reinforcements arrived? They would crush them entirely! With a roar born of frustration, she turned toward the pack of tigers and charged toward them shield first, head lowered much like a buffalo.

Orcs scattered before her as she bore down on the goblin riders. Bolts fired from mounted archers broke on her shield. Hiirogane flung the first unfortunate tiger she reached into the air with an upward smash, taking his rider with him. The remaining pack, seven others in total, scattered.

"The Goddess be praised! You heard me!"

She noted Pitié's voice in the back of her mind, but it faded just as quickly as her focus returned to keeping her friends alive. She stood from behind her shield as three riders circled around for another pass to her right, the other four re-aligning themselves for an attack on the cleric and Richard. Tigers big enough to serve as mounts… She peered at them as they approached her. "They'll have to do…"

She set herself, ran toward the centermost rider, sheathing her sword as she approached. The goblin aimed and fired at her. She ignored it. As the two neared their collision, she reached her left arm toward the tiger's neck, wrapped it around as the tiger passed, and unseated the goblin on his back with authority.

But as the goblin took a quick and dirty trip to the ground, she found herself with a new problem. Controlling the beast that now had no one to control it. She wasn't trained for tigers! "Give me a good chocobo any day," she muttered as the struggle began to make the big cat go where she wanted it to.

The sound of Richard's rifle made her ears ring as she bore down on them at speed. She saw Pitié cast her magic, four feet behind him. She had to let them know! "Retreat!" she shouted as she approached. "Get on a tiger and pull away!"

The tiger shot past before she could hear their responses. Didn't matter, she had to find Mesachedeau. The fool probably thought he didn't need any help. She shook her head as she steered the beast toward his last position. Was he…? Her eyes narrowed as she peered through the mass of foes. She saw a flash of red and gold. Yes, he was.

"I know you don't like me right now, but we must get to him." No time to think twice about this idea. She was no tamer, but perhaps it would work. As the tiger drove toward the fight, she closed her eyes and reached within, placed her left hand atop the tiger's head. "Guide me through this."

The animal did not seem to respond at first, still barreling toward the orcs. But as they passed through the troop of orcs all trying to kill the lone Royal Knight, he maneuvered his way through them, homing in on the scent of the elvaan in the midst of the battle. She opened her eyes just as they broke into the center.

Mesachedeau stood before them, his blood-stained halberd almost glowing crimson in the sun. He'd kept his five foot radius of space clear, and any who wandered past the invisible circle he'd laid out met a gruesome fate, evident by the bodies that began to pile up. Part of her was impressed, but the rest knew he was at a tactical disadvantage.

Numbers did not lie.

She glared at him as he cleaved another orc in two. "I told you to stay together! Do you not know how to follow orders?"

"And whose orders must I follow? Yours!" He impaled another foe. "I am not here for you, or the Goddess!" He lopped a head off, kicked it toward another enemy. "Where is Pitié?"

"She and Richard are halfway to Jeuno by now!" She hoped. "We must flee as well!"

He growled and looked behind his left shoulder. "Not on those damned things! Besides, a Royal Knight never flees from battle! I will remain until I die!"

Hiirogane grimaced. "I would not have you die for nothing." She turned the tiger toward the orcs again, who noticed someone else in their midst by now and began to target her. "I will clear a path, and you'd best follow me if you want to live. I don't know where they are coming from, but there are far too many of them. Your efforts will be meaningless if the others are dead!"

Mesachedeau gritted his teeth. "That is your responsibility, is it not?"

"Everyone is my responsibility!"

The knight growled. "Damn you…" He inched his way toward her, and the orcs began to tighten the circle. "This is a mad, half-cooked plan. You will get us killed." He moved closer anyway.

She looked behind her left shoulder at him and smiled. "Have a little faith."

"So let me hear this again, just so I can get this strrrraight."

Elizabeth fidgeted under the samurai's intense, blue-eyed gaze. She felt like she was being scolded in school all over again. The pit of her stomach wound itself into knots as she struggled to answer. "I-I'm from Windurst. Or I used to be. I don't think they'll let me back in anymore after what I did…"

The mithra, named Juunikyuu, raised a finger. "What you were tricked into doing."

Lizzie bowed her head. "I should have seen it. Everyone called me Unlucky Lizzie because of how bad my spells were. It even caught on with some of the teachers." She smiled, her eyebrows tilted upward in sadness. "M-maybe I deserved it. I always thought I didn't study hard enough…"

She felt the mithra tilt her chin upward, forcing her to look into those blue eyes again. "Do you really think so?"

She nodded. "I'm good for nothing. I even tried to get along once I got here to Jeuno, but…" She began to tear up. "I couldn't even do that right!" A sob tore from her throat. "I really shouldn't be here, I'll just mess things up."

"I agree. You breakie-wakie stuff just by standing next to it!"

Lizzie turned toward the tarutaru with the wide grin on his features, her eyes wide. The sobbing turned into outright crying. He was right! She'd tried to help, but she ended up almost hurting people! She made a break for the door, but the mithra's strong hands held fast to her shoulders.

"You'll have to forgive him. Kipo here still needs to learrrn tact."

"Hmm. No I don't. I just don't lie to people, taru."

The crying intensified. She couldn't even form a proper sentence now. She felt herself being led over toward a chair, plopped into it. A hand wiped the tears from her eyes even as they spilled forth. "Shhh… that's okay… take it easy. Relax. Here, breathe a little. Watch me."

She looked up toward her benefactor, blinked the tears away as the mithra closed her eyes and… well, breathed. She could barely hear the sound of her breath, couldn't see anything moving. But the samurai had the most content expression on her face. Lizzie leaned forward a bit, tried to observe and analyze every part as if she could find something in the exotic mithran features.

"What're you trying to do, read her or something? She's not a book, taru."

The mage did not respond, entranced by what she saw. Such elegant eyes! Wonderful ears! A nose that could smell for miles and miles! She let her eyes wander toward the rest of her. Who made that dress with such complicated patterns? It fit so well and so neatly!

"You like something there?"

A blush lit her cheeks as she looked up toward the mithra again. "O-oh! Was I staring again?"

A cheeky grin spread across the feline face. "You don't even know when you're staring. That's funny." She poked her nose. "You were studying me, weren't you? No, don't answer that, just listen." She pulled back and cleared her throat. "I like your focus. When you get rrreally interested about something, there's this look on your face that you probably can't see. But I like that look."

Lizzie's red cheeks turned a deeper shade and she bowed her head. "What look do I have?"

Juunikyuu scratched her forehead. "Well it kinda looks like mine, except with your eyes open and your mouth hanging just a bit. But not all the way, you know?" She sighed and shook her head. "I can't explain it all that well."

"You don't have to."

Everyone looked over to the bard, Mithania. He raised his hands defensively. "What I mean is you don't have to explain it at all. I've seen others with that same look, the look of focus." He smiled. "It's a look of interest, of curiosity. Eyes alert, body leaning forward just slightly, head tilted just a bit maybe."

The mithra pointed toward him. "That's exactly what she was doing!"

Lizzie blinked, confused at what she heard. "I did all that?"

The bard nodded, pushed off of the wall. "You like analyzing things. Examining them to the point where you can remember every detail, picking them apart and looking at every piece until it becomes a part of you. Is that not so?"

She nodded, excited. "Yes, that's right!"

He retrieved his harp from the mantle atop the fireplace, plucked a string. "When I play songs, I watch the people I play for. Certain emotions pass along the faces of every person I see. Their bodies do certain things with or without their knowledge, and I pick up on these." He strummed. "Of course, at times I find that I can't notice anything but the music I play. And it's only after I finish that I hear applause or the sound of gil falling into my hat."

Elizabeth stared, amazed. "Wow… you're wonderful."

A huff from the tarutaru. "He's just a bard, taru. Nothin' impressive about singing songs… OW!" He rubbed the back of his head. "What'd you do that for, you meanie-weanie kitty?"

The mithra looked annoyed. "Because you're being a brat, that's why. Don't make me throw you to the Ducal Guards." She looked toward Lizzie. "That focus, what he said… Do you think you can do that during a spell?"

Her eyebrows frowned. "I don't think so. I mean, I've tried to cast a spell, but everything gets all jumbled. I either can't get the magic to come, or when it does come, it overwhelms me." She sighed, head lowered. "Of course, the second tends to happen at the worst times. I don't know what to do about it."

The samurai nodded. "Then I know your problem."

Lizzie looked up, eyes wide and fixed on the cat-lady. "You do?"

Her nose scrunched as the mithra poked at it again. "You think too much!"

The mage blinked. What? Wasn't she supposed to think about the spell she wanted to use? "I don't understand. What does that mean, thinking too much?"

The mithra sat on the bed and cleared her throat. "To find something, stop trying to look for it. It's a saying that I heard from my teacher. I can't remember exactly what it means, but I'll try to spell it out as much as I can." She stroked her chin. "When you think, your mind tends to keep thinking without stopping or slowing down. It starts to think about things that are completely useless."

The bard nodded. "An object in motion tends to continue moving until something stops it."

Lizzie's eyebrows furrowed as she tried to wrap her mind around all this. They weren't making any sense at all to her. Still, it sounded terribly interesting. "What does that have to do with my problem?"

The mithra grinned. "It has everything to do with it. Focus does not require thought. So stop thinking and the results will come on their own. It's all about letting go, not trying to control things. When you don't try to control the situation, it will resolve itself."

Lizzie shook her head. "But if I don't try to control it, it'll come back to bite me. At least, that's what I was taught. I don't see the point of letting go of control when control is what I need."

The taru sighed. "I don't understand any of this, but it's boring. I'm gonna go out and do something, taru." He made his way toward the door. "You come get me when you're done. Bye!"

Juunikyuu looked over toward Mithania as soon as the door closed. "Follow him. If he gets into trouble, drag him out of it, and then drrrag him back over here so I can give him a swift kick in the ass."

The bard raised an eyebrow. "Is he that much trouble?"

"Yes, and then some. You watch him, and you keep him from getting thrown into jail. Anything happens, you come get me. He's my responsibility, and I won't have him making trouble while he's staying with me."

Mithania nodded. "I'm on it." Soon, he left as well, leaving the room to Elizabeth and her savior.

Juunikyuu turned toward her, the placid smile back on her face. "Now then… to put it in short terms, the mind makes all these other thoughts that you don't need to know or hear. It's like a storm that churns and spins, wild and out of control. Have you ever started thinking, and then couldn't stop?"

Lizzie nodded. "It happens a lot, yeah."

The mithra continued. "So what would happen if you stopped all those thoughts? What would be left?"

The mage scratched the back of her head. "I don't think I can stop thinking, so I doubt I can find out. Besides, if you stop thinking, wouldn't you stop… you know…"

Juunikyuu chuckled. "Well, let's find out." She stood from the bed, stretched out for a bit before heading toward the fireplace. "Come here and sit with me. We're gonna try something."

Lizzie walked over and sat with her, curious as to what was about to happen. She sat on her knees and looked over toward the samurai. "So what are we going to do?"

Juunikyuu grinned. "Call it an experiment." She stared into the fire. "I want you to close your eyes and breathe, like you saw me doing before." Juunikyuu straightened her neck and rolled her shoulders back. "First, you have to make sure your back's straight, like this. But don't tense up." She looked over to the mage. "Go on."

Lizzie tried to copy what she'd seen. It felt odd, like sitting in an invisible chair. "Okay… I think I got it. What now?"

The samurai placed a hand on her belly. "Next, you have to breathe from here. I know it sounds strange, but just try it. The trick is not to move anything above right here. Or at least move it as little as possible. Just imagine your middle going in and out, like the bellows to a furnace. Breathe in through your nose, like this." She took in a deep breath of air, and this time the sound of air coming in through her nose could be heard. "Try it."

Lizzie nodded. Easy enough, right? She took in a breath through her nose, but felt her chest start to lift. She huffed and took in another breath, and again it was too high. She sighed and shook her head. "I can't see how I can do this."

Juunikyuu chuckled. "Here, let me help." She placed a hand just above Lizzie's breasts. "All right, do it."

She took in another breath, but this time the samurai pushed inward. Her stomach pushed outward on its own, and it felt… easier to breathe, somehow.

"Do it again."

She took in another breath, and once again, Juunikyuu pushed on her chest. Her body acted by itself, and her lungs took in just about twice the air they had before. Lizzie sighed again, but this time with satisfaction. "That's not so bad!"

Juunikyuu nodded. "Now, do it again." She took her hand off, and Lizzie looked at her with confusion. "Trust me, okay?"

Lizzie nodded, and straightened up. She took a breath… and this time her chest rose a bit less as her stomach pushed outward. She exhaled with a grin. "I did it!" She looked over at the samurai. "How'd you do that?"

Juunikyuu shrugged. "All I did was help your body get used to the idea. Then when I asked you to do it, you did it. Did you have to think about it at all?"

Lizzie blinked, thought back on what she'd done. As hard as she tried, she couldn't remember anything like that taking place. She shook her head. "No, I didn't."

Juunikyuu grinned "See? Breathing doesn't require thought." She rubbed her hands together. "Okay, now for the real experiment. I want you to close your eyes and do that ten times. Take it slow, don't rush. And most of all, don't think."

Lizzie nodded, excited. "Okay!" She straightened herself, closed her eyes. This was so fascinating! She took in a breath, exhaled slowly. One time. Another breath, exhale. Two times. Juunikyuu probably watched every move she made. What did she think? How was she doing? Was she doing it right? Was there some other trick to this, or…?

"Open your eyes."

She opened them, blinked as the light of the fireplace entered her eyes. "What's wrong?"

Juunikyuu chuckled. "You lost your focus." She placed a hand on her chest. "This was going up and down like crazy. You were breathing the wrong way, and too fast as well."

Lizzie blushed. "I-I'm sorry…"

The cat-lady shook her head. "You don't need to apologize. Let's try again…"

Lizzie closed her eyes and began her breathing again. Slow… deep… Wait, her back started to feel a bit uncomfortable. Oh no, was that an itch? Instinctively, she reached toward her lower back to scratch. She heard a chuckle and opened her eyes. "What?"

Juunikyuu looked at her with a bemused expression. "Harder than it seems, isn't it? I bet you complained about that itch, right?"

She blushed again. "Well it's not my fault!"

"That's right, it isn't your fault." Juunikyuu ruffled the young mage's hair. "But you have to let it pass. Maintain your focus, no matter what. No thought, no disturbance, nothing but your breathing."

Lizzie shook her head, peering into the fire. "I don't think I can. I mean, there's always a thought going on all the time, right? How can I stop thinking if my brain won't stop thinking?" It sounded impossible. And yet, the content expression on the samurai's face lingered in her mind. She probably made all these faces when she was thinking about something, but Juunikyuu's face was serene, as if…

As if there were no thoughts at all.

She looked toward Juunikyuu. "I think I understand a little... But what am I supposed to do when I start thinking?"

Juunikyuu smiled. "You let it happen." Before the mage could respond, she raised a hand to stop her. "Hear me out. You let the thought happen, give it some space. Then, you focus back on your breathing. Feel the air coming and going, listen to it. Sooner or later, the thoughts will get the hint."

After a few moments, Lizzie nodded again. "Okay, I'll try."

Juunikyuu squeezed her new friend's right shoulder. "Then let's do this."

A lone tiger sprinted across the Batallia Downs, pursued by three others mounted by goblins. Crossbow bolts streaked through the air, coming within inches of the target. The lead tiger carried two riders, one on the back of the other. A very uncomfortable situation for the beast, but necessary for the two astride him.

Richard hissed as another bolt missed his left ear by an inch. "Can't this damn thing go any faster?"

Pitié shook her head. "I've cast a haste spell on him already! I don't think he can run any harder than this! Besides, I feel bad for him!" She squeaked as she felt the air part for another bolt. This one almost took her cap off. "Merciful Altana, how close are we?"

"Not even!"

She whimpered as the chase continued. "Where are the others? Goddess, please let them be alive…"

Richard smirked. "What, those two? I bet they've got their own way out of that mess by now! You'd best save your prayers for the two of us; if we die, there won't be anyone to hear about the damn army that's still roaming around out here!" He risked a glance behind them. "How are there still so many?"

The cleric shook her head. "I have no idea, but they seem to be coming from the very ether! I saw no mages to transport them here, so I can't explain how they arrived…" She looked up, gasped at what she saw. "Richard, the wall!"

He looked ahead and laughed after a few moments. "Maybe this plan of hers wasn't so crazy after all!"

They tried to spur their ride onward even as the goblins continued to fire at them. They swerved as bolts rained down; one of them almost hit the tail. With the goblins in hot pursuit, the wall still seemed so far away… and then they heard one of them cry out in pain.

Richard looked behind him, saw a goblin cover his eyes as if blinded. "Hey, did you cast something?"

Pitié shook her head. "No, I'm too busy praying!"

The momentary distraction was enough for the goblin to lose control of his ride… and the tiger rammed into the one to his left, sending both mounts and riders to the ground. Richard grinned. "Hah! Serves you right, you ugly bastards!" Then he saw just what caused the incident. "It looks like your prayers earlier were not in vain!"

The healer smiled. "I never lost hope."

Hiirogane and Mesachedeau rode several yards behind them on their own tigers, one for each instead of the two-for-one situation that Richard and Pitié found themselves in. But what he saw behind their rescuers made him growl in frustration. "Do they never cease?"

The army chased right after them, and they looked to be closing the gap.

Richard looked ahead again and saw something that made him feel a bit better. White and gold plate armor of Ducal Guards, on patrol just in front of the gate. And there seemed to be several of them armed with rifles. "Hey! Hey!"

One of the guards saw them even from their current position, pointed toward their tiger. The other guards drew their weapons, one of them hefting his rifle. Richard's eyes widened. "Oh hell… We need to move! Now!" He forced his mount to move to the right just enough… and the next moment, a shot rang out, unseating the goblin rider behind them.

Richard sighed as they neared the gate. "All right, we're almost out of this. When I tell you, I want you to jump off."

Pitié hissed through her teeth. "You're insane! I'll break my neck!"

Richard shook his head. "They'll catch you. I trust these guys." His eyes narrowed as they closed on the guards at full tilt. "Okay, here we go… One! Two! Three!"

Pitié screamed as she leapt off of Richard's back. He looked back and saw a silver-haired mithra in milky armor catch her before she hit the ground. When he turned to look ahead again, he found himself about to run headlong into the wall. He turned a hard right, just missing the stone by mere seconds. "This is where I get off, friend!" He jumped off and hit the ground rolling, pulled out his rifle, aimed… and lowered the gun as the tiger just kept running.

He chuckled. "I'd be tired of me too if I had two people on my back. You get off easy for now."

He stood and made his way toward the guards. "Don't get too complacent, it's not over yet."

A galka grimaced as he tilted his head toward the distance. "I can see that… those friends of yours?"

Richard peered toward the two incoming tigers… and the orcs chasing them. "Not all of them." He raised his rifle again. "I hope you're all good shots. We need to take them out from here, stop them from reaching the gates. If any of those orcs get in, it'll be hell."

The rest of the guards put away their swords and pulled out their rifles. The mithra who caught Pitié earlier took a deep breath. "At three hundred yards, on my mark. Steady arrrms!"

Richard saw the galka to his left take a knee and shoulder his weapon again. The others did what they could to make sure they aimed true. He nodded and peered down his sights again.

"Hold… wait until the firing line is clearrr…"

Pitié cupped her hands around her mouth. "Move out of the way!"

The two wasted no time once they saw what was about to take place. The mithra nodded. "Line clear, take aim! Hold until my command!" The army stormed onward, heedless of the impending attack. "Fire!"

Ten rifles went off at once, including Richard's.

"Reload and steady… Fire!"

They unlocked the breech on their guns, loaded a bullet from a pouch, and snapped the rifles closed. The whole thing took just over a second before they shouldered their weapons again. Once again, they fired, and more orcs fell, their armor shot clean through. Reload, steady, fire. A third group of orcs were shot down, and by then the rest of them took the hint. The beastmen fled, cursing and swearing revenge in their garbled tongue.

"Hold your firrre! They're leaving."

The guards lowered their guns as the orcs moved beyond the horizon. The mithra turned toward Richard. "Okay, now that that's over, let's starrrt with who is in charge of this merry band and why you had a whole pack of orcs chasing you. That's more ugly than I everrr wanna see again."

"That would be me."

The mithra turned toward Hiirogane. "Okay then, explain why you had an army after you."

She shook her head. "I can't. They came out of nowhere, ambushed us. How it grew to such numbers is beyond me, but there are a lot of orcs out there, and they are very, very angry." She bowed just enough to be courteous. "Thank you for saving us. Had you not been out here, we wouldn't have been able to make it through as easily."

The guards nodded and the Mithra saluted just briefly. "It's what we do. So then, what's your business in Jeuno?"

Hiirogane looked toward the towering city for a moment without speaking, and then answered. "I have an important message to deliver."

Chronicle 9: The Long, Hard Road to Jeuno

The next chapter may or may not take a bit due to life being a bitch right now, but them's the breaks. On that note, I present the latest in the new set of chapters coming down the pipe for multiple stories. I don't know when the next one of these will pop out, much less what it will contain, but I do know that it won't take as long as this one did.

At least, I hope not.

On that note, that shiny review button down there is still… shiny. And it looks inviting, yes? So leave a review for this chapter, for the story in general. Good, bad, critical or not, whatever you wish. Just give me some feedback, because I haven't done this story in quite some time, and I need to know how I'm doing.

See you next time, sports fans.