Beginnings

Seraph landed on a small outcropping overlooking the ocean. It seemed that it was a long time ago when he had stepped off the ship from the mainland. That fresh eyed wanderer, the Elvaan in Thieves’ clothing, had faded. Having realized the whispers of the world around him he had grown in power, learning the techniques inherent to the beasts of the land. He stood looking over the sea again, taking in the feel of his second home, remembering the past and wondering of his future.

A number of other teleportees appeared while Seraph considered how his life had changed since he’d become a Blue Mage. Memories of his lost time in the wilds strained against his mind. The sound of his old bronze sword against the natural armor of his enemies echoed coldly. Channelings of ever greater magic power were called to mind. The memories were not far off from the present truth, and the air around him popped as his energy lanced out. Seraph smiled to cover his dismay. As he gained more power he found himself having greater difficulty in exerting full containment.

Walking along the upper levels he marked his path, imagining a slightly younger self walking the paths of his memories below. Twice now he walked this land entering from the southern sea. Twice now he would find himself moving east through the city. This time however, he knew where to go. However, he did not see Waoud in the midst of the Heretic’s Alley. Following his memories he made his way to Shararat Teahouse.

Making his way around the entryway he was surprised to see Aisha in one of the sitting areas. Rahitb, the Teahouse’s proprietor, gave an acknowledging wave to Seraph and motioned in the Mithra’s direction. Looking again, Seraph noticed that an additional setting was placed. While facing away from the door, Aisha noticed Rahitb’s actions, and turned to see Seraph. Recalling a phrase from an unknown source history wasn’t so much a limited chain of events as a repetition of a cycle. Aisha stood, welcoming her old friend and they sat down together.

“Welcome back to Whitegate Serrraph!” she said, sliding him a saucer bearing a cup of chai. The rich spiced scent filled the air and wafted into his nose. The dairy added a subtle coolness, and it was sweetened just so as not to be overpowering. Seraph nodded to his host, and indulged in a long sip. “Is this one of the many things a martial Scholar studies?” he inquired. The Mithra laughed and shook her head. “Oh no. It is simply something one does for a frrriend.”

Seraph leaned against a wall. The stones had been warmed by the days’ heat, and he found the sensation soothing. His body still ached from his outing into Abyssea. “I take it you’ve spoken with Clearite recently?” he asked. “Indeed” Aisha replied. “It’s how I knew to find you herrre.” Seraph smiled coyly. “If I had seen Waoud in the Heretic’s Alley I wouldn’t have stopped in straightaway. You are fortunate.” Motioning slightly, Aisha’s grimoire appeared in front of her. “The fortuneteller? I wish I could tell you morrre about him. The only information I have on him is that he is often seen where you descrrribed. Outside of that I don’t know what to say.”

Seraph looked over Aisha’s notes. “How much information have you added to your grimoire?’ She caught Seraph looking over her book, and it promptly shut itself. “Not much honestly” she said defensively. “It has a habit of updating itself.” Seraph looked confused. “I haven’t noticed.” Snapping his fingers, a blue covered book appeared in front of him. “Thus far I have yet to pour over this whole volume. I still have to turn the pages myself.”

Aisha was flabbergasted. “You… you’re a Scholar now?!” she asked somewhat horrified. “In addition to everything else, yes.” Seraph’s response was lost on somewhat deaf ears. Aisha had picked up his grimoire and was looking it over. “Most unusual… did you modify this hue yourself?” she asked. Seraph thought on it and shook his head. “You were the one that remarked upon yours updating itself. Perhaps mine is no different. Is it a channeling of magic that allows you to willfully turn the pages?” Aisha nodded. “Yes. I am able to focus on a particularrr Art, Black or White. The grimoirrre attunes itself to my whim.”

Seraph considered what Aisha had told him. “I haven’t gotten so far that I can apply that technique.” She eyed him quizzically. “It’s a rather basic lesson.” Seraph cleared his mind. Channeling a bit of Blue Magic toward his own book it opened and the pages fluttered, revealing several details upon his own magical progress. Here he could clearly see every spell he had learned, the the details of them, how they augmented his baseline abilities, and several other details. Aisha went to all fours and prowled to Seraph’s side as one of her non-humanoid kin, entranced. “Amazing… this is unheard of!” She looked over the pages that were open to her. Seraph saw them and recalled learning Pollen and Sand Spin.

“You don’t have such information on yourself?” Seraph asked of Aisha. The Mithra called her own grimoire to her. “I don’t remember seeing anything…” Seraph nodded. “Try focusing on… White Magic. See what comes up.” Both spellcasters held a hand out over their tomes, focusing on their memories of Divine and Healing spells. Almost immediately Aisha’s book sprang to life. After awhile, it settled on the pages of the White Magics she had learned. Seraph’s took longer to begin, but had much less information to sort through. The two reached their respective destinations at the same time.

Aisha was thrilled. Having learned a new use for her grimoire she focused on a number of memories. Black and White Magics where what she first discovered. After a time she managed upon an section regaling her own life. It was in this section she drew inward and quiet. “What is it?” Seraph asked. Aisha snapped out of her reading at Seraph’s question. “Oh, just reading about when I first picked up this book. Since you have one I assume you know of our world’s connection to the Shadowreign era?” Seraph nodded, and Aisha continued. “I spent a long while there in an attempt to get the materials to create my grimoire. What about you?”

Focusing on the memory Seraph brought the pages to the time he first stumbled across Erlene. In order to be allowed a grimoire it was requested that he bring parchment he furnished himself. Her colleague, Ulbrecht, had muttered something about it attuning the volume to its owner. Flipping the page, Aisha screeched. “You’re kidding me?! What does that mean, you were given your parchments?!” Seraph looked at where Aisha was pointing angrily.

“Oh… there was a Galka in Selbina who wanted older and preserved rolanberries, however, I recalled a Hume male in the Shadowreign era looking for fresh samples as the Rolanberry Fields were all but destroyed there. He seemed to have a surplus of parchment that he was willing to part with in lieu of gil, which suited me fine in this instance. I had also recalled that the duty-free shop in present day Jeuno sold rolanberries for a cost. I simply found out how many the man needed, bought the amount from the Jeunoan store, and gave the appointed amount to this man. I must have filled his stores for a time because he would accept no more from me.” Seraph recalled a conversation with the man. “He was… curious as to where I got my hands on so many fresh rolanberries considering the fields were scorched and war worn… but he got what he needed and didn’t ask any questions beyond that.”

Aisha was breathing heavily, livid with rage. As she spoke she was growling, drawing out her Rs more obviously than normal. She also seemed not to notice this, as her word choice was full of Rs.“Serrraph… gatherrring materrrials and crrrafting the parrrchments took me weeks. WEEKS. I even had to rrraise my crrrrafting skills to be able to make the parrchments in the firrrst place! You mean to tell me that it you completed the same task in…” she halted her sentence and referred to Seraph’s mimetic journaling, her eyes growing wider with rage. “….HOURRRRRRRS!!! You finished in hourrrrrs?!” The angered Mithra was drawing attention from other patrons at the Teahouse. Fuming, she flopped down angrily and resumed drinking her chai. Apparently this signaled the end to the outburst, and the other patrons resumed their meals.

Seraph tried to catch Aisha’s eye, to no avail. “I am sorry… As Clearite pointed out, I am a native of San d’Oria. It’s taken a lot of time and energy to get here, and across two continents, and I have a vicious memory for little details. If I had been around I would have directed you down the same road.” Aisha seemed to be having none of Seraph’s apology. Ratihb began crossing to the duo, his son close at hand.

“Papa… we must do something!” Ratihb’s son cried. “There is nothing we can do about it now” Ratihb replied. His son was not happy about this. “But he might be in trouble! Someone has to help him!” At this point Ratihb had to turn aside and speak to his son. Still, he was close enough to be heard. “Wasuhd, I must mind the store. If I were to get involved, I would never be able to do business in Al Zahbi again. To draw the attention of the Immortals…” He paused and looked towards Seraph.

Seraph shook his head. “Ratihb… you have nothing to worry about from me. The use of Blue Magic does not an Immortal make.” Wasuhd looked between his father and Seraph. “If you’re not going to help him, then I will!” With that he rushed out of the Teahouse. Ratihb sighed, then turned to his customers. He bowed solemnly. “I am sorry you had to see that.” Seraph tried to be as disarming as he could be. “It is not a problem Ratihb. I am in the doghouse” Seraph said, looking towards Aisha, “which is never a good place to be, especially where Mithra are concerned. Perhaps I may be of some assistance to you?”

As Seraph rose from his sitting position Ratihb considered the offer. “’A Blue Mage does not an Immortal make’? That may be the case, but you may be the closest thing to hope my sons have.” Ratihb motioned towards the entry of the Teahouse, where Ratihb began explaining the situation to Seraph. “I am normally busy with managing the this shop. Wasuhd has idolize his elder brother as a result. Mutihb, my eldest son, does not run with the best of crowds. Knowing this we kept the truth of these matters and dealings secret from Wasuhd.” Ratihb shook his head. “As is the way with brothers, the truth matters little. Wasuhd still cares for Mutihb immensely. Even now I’m hard pressed to just leave the Teahouse. If you happen across either of my sons, I would be thankful for whatever help you could offer them.”

Seraph nodded. “I’ll do so happily. I am in fact looking for…” Seraph considered his next words carefully. He was uncertain what the connection was between Waoud and Raubahn, but he did not want to cause a wave by establishing even rumors of connection between the two. Knowing that one led to the other… “…Waoud. He usually can be found in Heretic’s Alley. I am sorely out of luck as he isn’t currently present.” Ratihb nodded. “Yes, I do know of the man. I have heard people speak of him in passing. I’ve had no dealing with him myself. I am sorry I ask so much and can offer nothing in return.” Seraph and Ratihb bowed to each other in departure.

Tail twitching back and forth, Seraph could see from a distance that Aisha was still quite upset. He realized he left his grimoire out. While at this point it would be simple to have it dissipate or to simply recall it, he chose to physically go over and retrieve it. It was the only reason he had to approach her passively. As he neared Aisha looked at him in a huff, but kept his gaze as he neared. “Heading off after Waoud now?” she asked, having regained her composure. Seraph smiled. “Yes, if I can find him. He seems to be the type to be found only when he wishes to be. In the meantime I can try to help out Ratihb. While I’m at it I can try to find one Iruki-Waraki.”

Aisha rose. “That ill mannered little Tarrru?” she said. “What do you need of him?” Seraph found this a statement perplexing. He could not recall meeting a member of the diminutive race who was ever anything but jovial, albeit a slight bit crazed perhaps. “A man named Shamarhaan dwells in Bastok. He was the one who originally told me of this place” Seraph said, waving his hand north west, indicating the whole of Whitegate. “He found my skills and handling of Blue Magic sufficient enough to discuss the particulars of being a Puppetmaster with me. Iruki-Waraki is apparently another practitioner of the lifestyle.” Aisha replied with shock apparent in her voice. “I never would have imagined.” She sighed, hints of apology in her voice. “Mind if I come along? I have only some preliminary notations regarding Automatons. I would love learn as much as I can.” Seraph laughed. “Ever the Scholar. As long as you are not still upset with me I welcome you. I’m not sure if I can learn a Pyrohelix spell just from it being thrown on me.” Aisha laughed in reply. “Ever the Blue Mage. Can you stop thinking with your magically augmented learning capacity for even an instant?”

Aisha clapped her hands in triumph and her massive grimoire faded in a huff of magic power. Seraph traced a hand along the cover of his grimoire. The color oscillated from a light, pale blue to a saturated, deep hued one. The Mark of Zahak took a place in the center of the cover. As the color brightened it was a rich, luscious green. As it deepened, the raising shone gold. Seraph rubbed the back of his neck.

The Mark of Zahak was two serpents, connected at the tails into one body, both slightly coiled and had their mouths facing in different directions. It serves as the official symbol of the Empire. Flags, standards, and the local currency all bore the symbol. Supposedly, it was branded somewhere on the body of every Blue Mage, but Seraph had never seen his own. Granted, this was the first time he had considered it.

The rest of the cover bore  inlaying with archaic lettering, which Seraph found himself understanding. Aisha noticed his focus, and asked after the explanation. “Well… the rough translation is ‘The Archived Hopes of Man and Beast are Blue’. However, that isn’t exactly right. I don’t recognize this word…” Seraph pointed to combinations of characters. “…from what I can gather, they read phonetically as ‘Gigas’. I know of the creatures from the mainland. This word reads the same… but it seems to mean ‘bonding of Man and Beast together as one’. I’m uncertain as to what to make of it…” Seraph shook his head. As he traced his hand along the spine he laughed off the thoughts, tapped the cover once, and it too vanished.

With that the duo made their way into toward the city proper. “What is that?” came Aisha’s voice. She was a step behind Seraph, and he could suddenly feel her finger on the back of his neck. “Does it look like a two headed serpent?” Seraph asked. Aisha replied an affirmative. “It is a branding all practitioners of Blue Magic receive upon their induction, or so I gathered. It should resemble the Mark of Zahak. Do you not recognize it?” Aisha was silent for a short while. “No… I didn’t. I don’t spend as much time here as you may think.” Seraph sighed out a laugh, and moved his hair to again cover his neck. In his time away his hair had matted and turned into thin dreadlocks. Oddly enough, it was quite a functional style, and much more controlled than he had imagined possible being away from civilization for so long. Makar had wanted to do away with it, but helped him tame the style at the Elvaan’s request. Seraph was comfortable with it.

Progressing north, Aisha and Seraph passed through Heretic’s Alley. Seraph let his eyes cover the area. The vantage point of the upper level let him look down even into the alleyways, but he was unable to see any sign of Waoud. Seraph made no obvious showing of his search and continued speaking with Aisha. She desperately wanted to take a look at his grimoire, but he would allow no such thing. He was… defensive. He had come a long way for the knowledge to just give it away. He felt a bit of pride in regards to his accomplishments.

After exiting the Alley, they were in the section of Whitegate known as The Way of the Devout. This housed the gateway leading to the Imperial Center of the city. Aht Urhgan Whitegate was composed of three sections. Al Zahbi was the outer ward, where the drifters, the transient, and oft times the banished resided in constant fear of the Beastman raids. The five Serpent Generals, along with those who answered the call to defense, routed such forces regularly and with a terrible efficiency. Aht Urhgan Whitegate was the busiest section of town. The dealings of more legitimate tradesman, merchants, and artisans as well as the business brought in by mercenaries and adventurers alike meant that there was rarely a dull moment here. The Imperial Center lay inside the rest, protected naturally by the geography, and perhaps more terrifyingly than nature itself by the full power of the Imperial Army along with the entirety of the Immortals themselves.

It was here, huddled at the end of  a closed off balcony the pair found Iruki-Waraki. Clad in mostly black Seraph was uncertain what to make of the Tarutaru. Their small statures overall made age difficult to place, their varied colors and styles in hair made such information nearly impossible to ascertain in that fashion, and the details on the clothing required close scrutiny. Iruki-Waraki looked at the pair very gruffly as they returned his stare. Seraph realized that he wasn’t going to be able to glean anything more from mere observation. “Pardon us, unless I am mistaken you are Iruki-Waraki, are you not?”

The Taru before Seraph looked the Elvaan up and down (though not so much on the latter…). “Who’s askin?” he replied. “I was sent by Shamarhaan. He said to come to you if I was interested in the use of Automatons.” The Taru turned his back and took a few steps away. “Do I look like a teacher to you? You’re barkin down the wrong shrub, bub.” Aisha was about to speak, but Seraph held her back. Traditionally, the Mithra came from a continent far to the south. Many found a new home in the jungles of Kazham, and the rest that Seraph had encountered shared a home with the Tarutaru in Windhurst. Seraph had only been a few times, and he always wondered why the most expansive city belonged to the shortest race… although being hewn from and around a tree of great size probably had more to do with that than not.

Aisha would have had more dealings with the Taru than he, but as this was for his sake, he wished to handle it himself. Seraph turned away slightly, giving the impression that he was to depart. “I have witnessed Shamarhaan’s competency with an Automaton and asked if he may teach me of their operation. At this he laughed heartily and referred me to Iruki-Waraki, citing that Waraki had a greater competency than he. If you are not who I seek, then I will proceed elsewhere to find him. If I fail in that endeavor I will seek another to aid me. I apologize for bothering you.” Seraph began his mock departure, subtly motioning for Aisha to follow suit. Unexpectedly, she piped up with a defeated “…but, Seraph…!” and a few quick glances back and forth. As they put some distance away from Iruki, they had to stifle their laughter. It was good they did too. Before they were too far away came his voice. Very exasperatedly he said “Hold on…”

The Tarutaru turned to face the pair. “I’m Iruki-Waraki. Why Shamarhaan sent you to me I don’t know. I can’t teach you. I’m without an Automaton myself, and a bit of bad blood lay between me and the only person I know of to make one worth using. There is a Galka by the name of Ghastad in town. Get him to make me a new one and I can begin to show you what I know.” Seraph bowed, then turned away and left with Aisha. Opening her grimoire before her she pointed out where Ghastad’s shop would be, and the two swiftly went about their way.

Looking back at Iruki-Waraki, and recalling his sudden pride in his progression, Seraph returned in his memories to lessons at the San d’Orian cathedral. Each of the five races of Altana were cursed with a particular sin. The Galka rage, the Tarutaru cowardice, Humes apathy, Mithra envy, and the Elvaan people were blighted with arrogance. It was something that Seraph found somewhat true and had come to loathe, however, he fell prey to it too often to be holier than thou. “Aisha… I’ll tell you what… give me a little time. I’ll sit down with both you and Clearite. My trials of my time as a Blue Mage will be open to you, grimoire and all.

The lady Mithra’s excitement was soon overwhelmed by a clamor coming from the direction of the Imperial Gateway. They had not yet exited that section of the city before a group came running from beyond the Imperial Whitegate. “Mutihb!” came a young boys’ voice. Seraph looked over towards the source and realized it was Wasuad’s voice. His focus was on another young Hume, and Seraph assumed this was Mutihb, Ratihb’s eldest son. A shudder in the surrounding area called his attention away from the two boys. His experience in Blue Magic and something of the ways of Immortals allowed Seraph a long space of notice… He could feel his bretheren coming.

Jumping from the top level down into the plaza Seraph ran to Wasuad and kept him from interfering with the pirates, keeping the young boy from implicating himself even further. Just as Seraph did a number of Immortals came from behind palings, coming back into the spectrum of sight and the range of hearing allowed to most beings. “Quite the entrance Immortals!” came a defiant challenge from one in the group. Seraph looked at this young man. A tricorne hat adorned his head, and he was dressed in very comfortable clothes in dull blues and grays. A strange gun hung from his hip, but Seraph was unable to get a good look at it. “While we’d love to stay and keep you company, I’m afraid we’ve got some business to take care of. If you’ll excuse us…” The man raised his hand as he raised his voice. “Regroup on the wing of the Seagull!”

In his hand was an explosive. Seraph realized the make. In his training as a Thief he had begun to carry a supply of small smoke bombs. They did little good except as a enjoyable little trick. They allowed him to fade from vision for little more than a second or two. He added it to his experience as a Dancer. This added a small flair to his stealth glamour, letting both physical smoke and and magical energy twist as he faded from perception. In the first few instances he was vulnerable, however after that he was deadened and dimmed. The size of the ball that the man in the hat held hinted at a much more substantial smoke screen. Seraph threw himself over the boy just as the bomb went off. The Way of the Devout was covered in smoke, covering the interlopers exit. “Damn Qultada… blasted Seagull Pharatrie…” came one voice from the smoke. “I apologize Sir Yazquhl!” came another voice, nearer to Seraph. The smoke began to clear. “Don’t just stand there! After them before they go to far!” came an order from Yazquhl’s voice. The smoke had begun to clear, revealing the ordering voice as an Immortal. Seraph felt an affirmative rise in his mind as the other Immortals faded from perception again. Yazquhl met eyes with Seraph. There was a very tense moment as not a word passed between the two. The back of Seraph’s neck tingled, and it felt as though a blade was coming out of his right eye. Yazquhl blinked, the rest of his form hidden beneath the Immortals’ uniform, then he too allowed himself into the chase.

Seraph stood, releasing Wasuad. The young boy bowed, and ran off quickly. Seraph reached out and shouted after him, to no avail. Whitegate and Al Zahbi were set up against invaders. Wasuad knew the streets better than Seraph, and disappeared before the Elvaan could discern which way he intended to go. “You risked much for that child, and at great potential expense to yourself.” Seraph looked to who spoke. He recognized the voice from the time when smoke had obscured his vision. This saluted in the style given over to the people in service of the Empire, waving a hand before him before leaving it facing up an open palm to Seraph. “I am Mafwahb” he offered in introduction. Seraph rose, pressing one hand to his chest in the Bastok style of salutation, punctuating it with a bow. “I am Seraph” the Elvaan returned. When the Hume man met his eyes he was taken aback. He looked about, then met Seraph’s gaze again.

“You… are not one of the Immortals?” both asking and stating a fact. Seraph nodded. “That is correct. I am a practitioner of Blue Magic, however I have not been welcomed into the ranks of the Immortals myself.” Mafwahb nodded, and seemed to relax a great deal. “You are openly concerned for that boy. If I were to tell you what I know, would you be able to help him?” Seraph closed his eyes. He couldn’t sense the presence of any nearby Immortals. However… something nudged at his perception. It didn’t feel vital however. Seraph returned to Mafwahb, who seemed to understand what he was doing. Seraph nodded, and again, Mafwahb relaxed.

“The name he called out was of a Corsair who had just been taken in. This breakout was, from what I noticed, their first overt act. Most of the time they are a troublesome presence.” Mafwahb paused, looked about, and returned to looking at Seraph. The Blue Mage shook his head, and Mafwahb continued. “I cannot tell you why, but the Immortals are particularly ill aligned when it comes to them. Completely intolerant. Word of the young man had just reached me from inside the palace when I saw the Immortals dragging him inside its walls.”

Seraph recalled Clearite. He remembered her unabashed disdain for the Immortals, and less so for him being a Blue Magic practitioner. However, considering all of this, he’d never known her to be particularly troublesome. In fact, she had always been low key. This whole fiasco gave ample explanation as to potential reasoning. Mafwahb huffed in spite of himself. “What am I saying… do you even know what a Corsair is?” Seraph carefully thought on this. He knew of Clearite, but had never seen her fight as a Corsair. He also didn’t want to out her in the event this guard was as equally loose lipped with his superiors. He just wasn’t unfamilier with them.

Seraph voiced his answer carefully. “I know something of them.” Mafwahb nodded. “Sensible. If you have the eyes of the Immortals on you I doubt you’d rub shoulders with that lot. Those forsaken Corsairs are the cause of many headaches. The miscreants have been maurading around the area. However, I couldn’t tell you where they’d be found. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.” Seraph bowed low. “It is of no major detriment. I know more than I did before. Thank you Mafwahb. I will see what I can discover.”

Seraph made his way back up to where he left Aisha, but found his Mithra companion had vanished. Seraph focused and thought he found her trail. Seraph went to find his map of the area and found it vanished. The maps of Vana’diel were imbued with a type of enhanced cartography. If you were in a group with others you could find their locations on these maps if you were inside the same boundaries. There was no shortage of adventurers, and no need to stop the making of these maps.

That said, Seraph was not one to easily part with his gil. He was not looking forward to buying another map. He sighed heavily. “Another map of Whitegate…” he muttered to himself, horribly displeased. He took a step in the direction he thought Aisha had gone when his grimoire appeared and opened to his map of Whitegate. He looked at it, and sure enough, Aisha was marked on the map, and in the direction he was walking. An added plus. Seraph flipped a few pages and found all the maps he had collected there as well.

Seraph suddenly had the frightening fear that his grimoire may have as much a hunger for knowledge as he did.

He patted the cover, and it disappeared. He was going to have to inquire to Aisha about the grimoire growing. He proceeded to the northern port of the town. This port hosted a boat that led to Nashmau, the adopted hometown of the Qiqirn. After the troubles Seraph had encountered with seabound fiends before, he had no interest in testing his mettle against more. On a far outcropping of the port, Seraph could see Aisha, leaning out with her eyes straining over the horizon. As he walked closer her body slumped in disappointment. She turned and nearly ran past Seraph.

“Oh, there you arrre!” she drew out. She coughed a time or two in effort to get her societial tic under control. Seraph gazed out over the northern skyline. “What were you looking at?” Aisha, having recollected herself, answered with definance. “The Corsairs went north. I lost sight of them. I was far enough away that I wasn’t caught in the midst of their parlor trick. For all Clearite’s warnings, the Immortals are still human. They didn’t see past my spells” she reported with no attempt to hide her pride. Seraph looked at the empty dock. He considered returning to Ratihb to update him but he didn’t really have any consolation to give regarding his sons. Seraph’s eyes passed over the empty port again. He may need to go north after all.

The partied pair made their way through the occasionally hard to navigate maze that is the construction of Whitegate. They had not made it to a branch in their pathway when the hushed mutterings of a Galka and a Taru caused the pair pause, in part due to the content. “Cardians vs. Automatons? I couldn’t really say…” said the Taru. “I’d say Ghastad has been away from the mainland too long, not willing to share the workings of Automatons even with me” quipped the Galka. “I’ve seen many automatons around. They aren’t uncommon. Why all the secrecy?” continued the Galka. “I’ve no clue… but to have found the source, but have no access to the information… It’s truly a puzzle.”

Mithra and Elvaan eyed the pair, then one another, and then the door to their left. The shingle above the doorway proclaimed the establishment as a member of the Goldsmithing guild. “This doesn’t look like the source of the Automatons…” Aisha remarked. The conversationalists turned to Aisha and Seraph. “True enough” said the Galka. “While the guilds from the mainland exist here as well, due to Aht Urghan’s oddities in technology and necessities, they tend to branch out more from what we may be used to.” The Tarutaru chimed in. “The shop seems to be open to all comers. Feel free to try your luck.”

Left with no other options the duo entered the shop. The wooden double doors creaked as they were opened. As many of the buildings in Whitegate the Automaton workshop consisted of three levels. What amounted to an entrance, a waiting area, and an additional area above comprised the layout. At the back of the uppermost tier they found the apparently elusive Ghastad. Aisha ran around, talking to the other workers, touching every little thing, trying to learn as much as she could on a tactile level. In contrast, Seraph when directly up to the Galka-in-charge.

Looking up from his work, Ghastad greeted Seraph. “Ah, greetings. Is there something I can help you with?” Seraph nodded. “I was referred her by Shamarhaan. I was told that you may be able to assist me in working with an Automaton.” The Galka dusted wiped his hands on his apron. “I see… interested in becoming a Puppetmaster? An admirable vocation. I actually have something you can do in payment.” Seraph nodded. A rather fortunate turn. “I have an interest in older Automaton construction. Much of technology here in Al Zahbi is rather old, or retolled and reworked from more ancient technology. I’ve heard of a number of lost souls being bound to the beastmen in Arrapago Reef. I’m willing to be that at least one Puppetmaster may have been among them. If you were to go there and confirm my theory I’d be willing to construct an Automaton on your behalf.”

Knowing that Iruki-Waraki was not partial to Ghastad at the moment, Seraph acquiesced agreement. “In the meantime, perhaps my companion here could remain. She seems to have a fervent interest in everything about Automatons.” Ghastad laughed a hearty laugh, on he had seen only a few times in Bastok. “My my… of course! I’d happily have her! Young Lady, would you care to join me?” The Mithran Scholar was elated. As Ghastad continued to work, Aisha made notes about every little glint and gear that made the Automatons function.

North again… this time to Arrapago Reef. Seraph had heard passing tales of the place. Different varieties of beastmen roamed the Near East land than did those of the Middle Lands. Arrapago Reef was an area that was home to the Lamiae. A good deal of their upper bodies bore resemblance to that Hume females, but their lower bodies were those of serpents. It was a land lost if you were a living specimen. The Lamiae raised the dead to be their puppets and enthralled servants.

Still… why was that land familiar? Seraph had never been, but thinking on it a resonance struck him. Something in the back of his head… something deep. Seraph reached for it, tried to seize hold.

A chime rang in his ears.

Seraph’s eyes went wide with shock. He turned his senses outward. Honing it towards the south he felt Waoud’s presence. “Aisha, I need to…” The Mithra absentmindedly waved to Seraph in one part acknowledgement and one part dismissal. A small wave to the equally engrossed Ghastad was all the departing fanfare Seraph could muster. He bolted out of the workshop and towards the south, slowing as he neared the Imperial Whitegate. Staring at it he felt his gaze pierce through. Waoud was not here… but had he been? It was difficult to say. Focusing again, Seraph found his quarry further south in his normal place in the Heretic’s Alley. Warily breaking his gaze beyond the palace barriers, he resumed his previous sprint.

As Waoud’s small refuge came into view, Seraph could see the fortuneteller gazing absently at the sky. As Seraph drew near Waoud did not allow his attention to slip. “Would you like a divination this day…” he began, then finally angled his head down toward Seraph. “Ah, hello again Seraph.” The Elvaan nodded to the Hume. “You seem troubled. Perhaps I can offer you a piece of solace to help you along this day?” Seraph locked gazes with Waoud as his left eye gleamed crimson. Seraph braced himself for the displacement to come.

Seraph blinked, and in that instance he again found himself with Raubahn. The cold caves and cages that Seraph met the leader of the Immortals in led the young Blue Mage to consider starkly after the true nature of this man. Raubahn was staring off in the distance. Still covered in a blue aura he was difficult to see. However, Seraph found that it was easier to see through. Without turning Raubahn began speaking. “Well… if it isn’t the ‘potential’.”

Raubahn turned to face Seraph. For a moment the concentration of the senior mage faltered. As the azure haze relented Seraph caught a quick look at Raubahn’s eyes, wide with surprise. “No longer an empty vessel I see.” Raubahn walked toward Seraph, quietly and subtly evaluating the progress of the young Blue Mage. “Unusual…” he began again, a note of surprise twinging his voice. “You have grown much, and yet you maintain your mortal form in spite of the power you wield.”

Seraph looked down at his own hand. Yes, he’d felt like he’d lost himself in the wilderness for a long while. His memories were still a mess. He could remember going off and open training in several different areas after gaining prowess as a Blue Mage, but he couldn’t remember when. Some memories of Saint rose high, but were impossible to order. For all he tried the memories of his time away from the world were locked out to him. Had he slipped from the mortal coil somehow? Looking inward Seraph could not admit to feeling as anything other than what he had always been.

“You have not experienced such a loss of self?” Raubahn pointedly inquired. “That is both impressive and unsettling.” Raubahn was circling Seraph, looking him up and down. “Tell me… do you know where the Mark of Zahak has taken root on you?” Seraph nodded. “From what I’ve been told it lays on the back of my neck.” Seraph moved his collected hair from the nape of his neck. “Ah… quite the common placement of manifestation.” From behind him Seraph felt the energy pouring off Raubahn intensify.

“What is the meaning of this heresy?!” he asked, wrath and concern augmented by his control of this place. Seraph, grossly uncertain of what was meant, could do little but stand try to look at the Immortal. Raubahn moved with a determination and prevented Seraph from budging and inch, but held his hair out of the way. Something about the Mark caught his attention. “Unprecidented. Your Mark uncoils. I do not know what to make of this.” Raubahn released Seraph’s ponytail and took his former position looking out over a gloomy and ruined landscape. While silent the energy pouring off of him sparked and crackled the air around him.

Seraph felt the back of his neck. Is that why Aisha asked after it? It was difficult to make out through his gloved hands, but it seemed that the serpents in his Mark had indeed uncoiled, and they seemed to be slithering around his neck. The tide around Raubahn relented before he spoke up again. “Your past may not have led you down a path I know, but it is obvious to me that your future will. Trust me at my word: The path of mortality is now and always sealed off from you. Is this a truth you can accept?” Seraph considered the words and their weight. He recalled his short journey into Abyssea, his battle with the undead that threatened Palometa. He felt that this was his path. Seraph lifted his voice that Raubahn could hear. “I have already done so.”

Raubahn turned slightly and nodded at Seraph, a crimson eye gleaming through his maelstrom. The same eye as Waoud… “I am glad that you understand your fate.” Raubahn faced Seraph fully. “You are new to these lands in a relative sense. It is time for you to travel to the five staging points in search of even greater power. Azouph. Dvucca. Mamool Ja. Halvung. Ilrusi Atoll. At these five places you will find your fellows… those who strive to be more than mortal while fending off the madness that erodes their souls.”

Seraph again tried to recall what he had lost, but to no avail. Raubahn responded to Seraph’s sudden drawing away with a slight withdrawing of his own. He pressed a hand to his chest, then returned to his normal at-attention stance. “Some are vessels that merely mimic the shape of men and women overflowing with savage energies, while others have achieved a balance between the nature of mortal and beast.” As was customary Seraph could feel Raubahn beginning to expel him from his mental sanctum. “They have long walked the road you now stand upon. Burn their lessons into your heart, and forge your path with renewed vigor…”

Seraph opened his eyes and was again face to face with Waoud. However, Raubahn’s voice echoed in his mind a warning. “…for no other paths remain open to you…”

A small, scattered crowd had gathered, watching the two men. From the whisperings the both of them had apparently been standing still, gazes locked, for some time with no apparent life between them. Calmly yet theatrically, Waoud began speaking aloud, applying ample melodrama. “Ah… I see a symbol of guidance. Four lamps surrond a mystical gate. The opening of this gate will lead you to distant lands.” Waoud lifted his hands, motioning to each direction in kind as he continued.

“To the land east of Nashmau, beyond the Deadmist Marsh. To the land west of the city of Mamook. To the land that lies in the northeastern shadow of Mount Zhayolm. To the land that lies west, across the sea from Nashmau to the land that lies in the nother caverns of the Arrapago Reef. As all roads lead home, return to this place when all your travels are done.” His grandstanding completed, Waoud gave a deep performers’ bow, and a small round of applause rose from the bystanders. Seraph bowed in kind, leaving the revelers to their own devices. As he passed by he caught a great many whispers. It seemed that, in the places Waoud named, were the strongholds for each of the areas’ beastman clans, or at the very least places they held a large amount of control and sway over. It sounded like a great deal of trouble.

Weighing his options carefully, Seraph was paying little attention to just where he was going. Unexpectedly, a door to his in front of him to his right splintered apart, pieces grazing that side of his face. That warning was fortunate, as a couple of bodies came flying through landing on the lower level. Seraph moved well away from the broken barrier, narrowly avoiding the follow through of a morning star that would have clipped his head. Seraph landed in a low crouch, one blade drawn in his right hand, his left holding a sphere of searing ruddy flame ready to explode.

A Mithra in a low stance perched on the broken remains of the door. The mace in her hand slid down the wall, it’s spiked head leaving grooves in the wall. Seraph listened cautiously. The men below didn’t seem to be moving, and the apparent assailant didn’t seem to be giving chase. Seraph let the ball of flame die down. The change in environment signalled the warrior, still sitting on the ruin door, to the presense of another. This caused the Mithra to jump down from the door and square up a distance from Seraph. “What’re ya doin’ standin’ arrround here? You’re just getting in the way. Can’t ya see how busy I am?” Seraph took this opportunity to stand and look over the raised stonework. Three people were tangled in a heap. Their count could only be determined by the differences in armor they wore. Othewise, where one ended and the other began was impossible to tell.

“What’s your deal anyway?” she said, snapping Seraph away from his evaluation. “I was just passing by and… happened to be in time to ‘admire your work'” he replied. This gave the Mithra woman cause to smile. She slung her mace over her shoulder. “Oh… ya got business with me…?” As she asked she looked Seraph over. As she formed her evaluation her smile diminished. Before Seraph could reply she continued on her own. “…nope, never seen ya before. Your lack of fashion sense, that slack-jawed face, and that slouching posture… ya can’t possibly be from around these parts.” Seraph had never met a Mithra nearly as tall as he, and years of Elvaan cultivation didn’t allow for slouching when relaxed. He was hardly slack-jawed. The armor was borrowed, so he couldn’t really begin to defend that…

“You’re a forreigner, aren’t ya?” asked the Mithra. Seraph laughed a bit. “Yes… but I’ve been told by a seer that I have a keen grasp of this culture.” The Mithra leaned, looking past him. Following her gaze, she caught sight of Waoud. He turned, knowingly, causing the Mithra to right herself, her smile returning. “Oh rrreally. Heheh… You’rrre just the type of person I’ve been looking for. Follow me. I’d like to have a talk with ya.” The Mithra kicked what was left of the door as she re-entered the building. It swung on its hinges which didn’t last long. Once Seraph neared even they gave way, falling to the ground. Disregarding this, he followed the Mithra inside.

The interior of this store was identical to that of the Automaton workshop. The Mithra’s display in regards to the door was commonplace. Seraph could see several places in which stone had been replaced in what could be neat mace or body sized indentations. Making her way up to a table not dissimilar to Ghastad’s she turned to face Seraph. This work area, instead of having scatterings of gears, tools and oils, had instead a variety of papers and parchments, stacked deep. The Mithra leaned forward on her mace. “So ya came to be a merrrcenary, did ya?” Seraph was taken aback by this sudden question, though it felt more like an acqusation. “Honestly, I was just passing by. I would have been on my way, but I have issues with being dogpiled.” The Mithra narrowed her eyes. Perhaps it was his turn of phrase? “You’re pretty naive if you think you can get a lie like that past Naja here” she proclaimed, pointing a thumb at herself. Naja seemed to be in the midst of her own delusions.

And then he remembered. Naja Salaheem, the leader of the illustrious Salaheem’s Sentinels, gave herself over to the service of the Empire and led the only approved group of mercanaries on the continent. Seraph heard talk of her by her subordinates on the mainland and learned her to be straightforward, brash, and aggresively undiplomatic. This was a case in point. It was widely reputed that while always carrying her morning star she never used it. Seraph found this to be a falsehood.

“Ma’am, honestly I did not return to…” Seraph was cut off by Naja’s mace impacting the table. “Don’t you lie to me. I can see it in your eyes!” She did not seem to be as keen as other Mithra he was accustomed to, as the only thing that might be seen in his eyes of late would be occasional surges of Blue Magic that spilled forth. “I am here only because I have business with the Immortals.” Naja’s ears perked up and she set her mace down on the table in front of her. “Now you’rrre speaking my language! Your long journery has been worthwhile. We’ve been waiting for ya.” She picked up a small box and set it in front of Seraph.

At this, she began going into a schpeel that Seraph had heard before. “…official Empire business…” While patient, especially in his personal dealings, waiting due to another could be quickly trying. “…only mercenary organization the rrroyal family puts its trust in…” He was uncertain how much more of the sales pitch he was willing to endure. “…the best, the crrream of the…” Seraph felt a need to carry on quickly. The sound of the Naja’s mace against the table and her voice in a sudden high yell forced his focus back on her. “…so don’t go thinkin’ ya can slack off!” Elvaan and Mithra locked gazes for an instant. Seraph cracked first, years of contained emotion relenting to the tension. Naja took this as weakness and returned to her offensive.

“Now do ya get it? First, ya gotta show me what you’re made of.” Naja nudged the box off the table, Seraph’s reaction of catching it seemed to signify acceptance of a task to the mercanary commander. Seraph undid a latch on the box. Within were five smaller boxes. These however, were sealed, and could not be opened. A small clattering sound could be heard as Seraph tilted the box in his hands while he looked over the design.

“Mothers here use stories of the Immortals to scarre their kittens into eating their vegetables. The Immortals are the Empress’ personal bodyguards, and they only hire the best of the best Blue Mages around.” Seraph looked up at Naja at this. His own words echoed cruelly in his mind: ‘Blue Magic does not an Immortal make’. “Common folk like us aren’t even allowed a glimpse of Her Rrroyal Highness. But the Immortals, they’re different. They have special perrrmission to attend the Empress at close quarters.”

“Is this sinkin’ into that thick skull o’ yours?” Naja asked. Seraph’s experience with the Immortals, while not as extensive, was much more personal than he imagined Naja’s to be. He allowed her to assume he was feigning ignorance. She shook her head as she continued. “In other words, ya can’t get anywhere in this nation without going through the Immortals first. So before ya do anything else, I need ya to go deliver these supply packages to each staging point and make yourself known.”

The irony of this demand was not lost on Seraph. While he was already heading out to meet the Immortals for his own purposes he couldn’t help but goad Naja. As he spoke he unleashed a pair of defensive spells. “And if I refuse?” Naja pointed her weapon right in Seraph’s face. “You’ll see what happens when I don’t hold back.” Seraph eyed the carrying case in his hands. He set it down with an apparent disregard for Naja’s instructions. Thinking he was blowing her off she let loose with her mace. One spell gave Seraph a barrier preventing all damage to a degree, the other reducing any physical damage inflicted by almost half. Connecting full on with these subtle weavings, it was as though the attack came into contact with a darksteel wall. Naja lost the grip on her mace. Seraph chuckled to himself.

“I didn’t say I would not do it Naja. I think learning a bit of calm and patience would suit you well. You don’t want anyone carrying your standard on such an important errand unable to appreciate the beauty of such a parcel?” Seraph asked while opening his bag. He kneeled down and set the case inside, picking up Naja’s mace and placing it where the reliquary had been on the table. Naja eyed his carefully, trying to figure out what had happened. Giving it little thought she made another attempt at flaunting her clout. “All I want is for you to do as you’re told and not bungle it up. The Immortals are an important connection for this organization.”

Naja took up her mace. She continued speaking while looking it over for damage. “They guard the Empress, ensure the safety of Al Zahbi, and manage affairs dealing with Assault. Wardens for these outings are stationed at every staging point.” Seraph nodded. Fortunately Naja read this correctly. Seeing his understanding she carried on. “No matter how high and mighty the Immortals are, I’m surrre they’re tired of being stuck out in the middle of nowhere with nothin’ to do. They’ll probably be glad to see ya. Deliver these packages, and let ’em know who ya arrre! After that, if ya manage to make it back alive, we can start thinkin’ about exactly what to do with ya and talking about your contract.”

Seraph smiled. “Some Immortals are already aware of me” he said, allowing a small surge of healing magic to obviously flow and negate what scuffs he suffered. The application was not from his White Mage training, but was instead a widely known Blue Magic spell. Naja stood with her mouth agape, nearly dropping her mace again out of shock. “You may want to consider the possibility that some may be more closely tied to the Immortals than they let on.” While she was still silent, he departed. Outside, Seraph shook his head. He again succumbed, however slightly, to his arrogance. He began moving on, when a shout came for the door to be replaced. Nary a second later Naja’s asssitant, who stayed out of the way while they spoke, came flying out of the doorway, landing a bit further than the still piled group from before.

Seraph was not known to show signs of stress easily, but he often ran a hand through his hair when he was in somewhat paniced thought. As he did so this time, he tapped the linkpearl given to him by Stormraven. Seraph realized he hadn’t actually tried using it. It was difficult to discern what unnamed horrors he might face having only stepped beyond the relative safety of Al Zahbi once. Seraph focused. Several moments of silence passed. All at once a torrent of voices hit Seraph’s ear. The linkshell members were apparently in a frenzy of activity. It took awhile to get a word in edgewise. “Hello everyone. I’m wondering if anyone knows anything about paths to the staging points on the Aradijah continent.” The torrent of activity seemed to take little notice of him.

One voice piped up in reply. “Seraph? Stormraven’s friend? I heard about you from Dacove.” Dacove? The name slammed a bit of Seraph’s memory back into place. After Seraph left Bastok and was wandering everywhere he had come across a Blue Mage of similar level to he. They teamed up for a short time to learn a spell. At this point Seraph was not wearing a linkpearl. Dacove, being the leader of a shell, offered Seraph membership. In his Hunger he declined, citing a need to go be alone.  Seraph shook the memory into place. It would be an anchor for the rest of his time lost to his Beast.

That was a while back” Seraph relayed. Seraph was unable to catch a name, but got information regarding his journies. The good news was that he did not have to go back and forth. However, he had to at least get to each of the staging points at least one time. As the conversation continued a number of other people in the LS added in their opinions, regaling Seraph with how difficult that trip would be. They whole of the group asked after his range of expertise. Hearing his upper limit, most wrote it off as a fools’ errand. Seraph acquiesed. “This is true, but it is something that I need to do. Is there anyone who would be able to assist me?” Seraph’s sole reply was silence.

Seraph entered the rented rooms and removed the linkpearl. It was functioning properly. Seraph set it aside for now. After updating Makar with the information available it was agreed that the limitations of a Dancer’s glamour would not do. With a bit of work Makar helped Seraph realign his energies so that he could more amply use his White Magics. Afterwards, Seraph tried inquiring to the linkshell for any assistance. Still, he gained no reply.

Shoring up what resources he had on hand, Seraph considered what else he knew. From what had been learned the armies of Whitegate had small outposts in many areas of the land. In these places a variety of missions were conducted. Until just recently only vetted soldiers could assist the Empire. Naja Salaheem and her forces were now allowed to add their arms to these endeavors. Watching over each of these staging areas was a lone Immortal. They alone maintained these areas for those in the Empress’ service as a safe haven and preparing ground for missions. These points were scattered and relatively disconnected. However, those without not on missions sanctioned by the Empire had to make their way to each individually. Otherwise it had to be paid for. Each place had its own resonance, and if you were unaccustomed to a place you could not get there on your own. As of now, Seraph was going to have to go to each place on foot.

Another terrifying fact reared its head. A number of the beasts Seraph heard of had senses so sharp that magical defenses rendering him silent and invisible became useless. Pawing through his grimoire he found a means to lengthen the time his spells would last. He was uncertain where he had seen this before so that it could be found now, but he decided to question that later. At the very least he wouldn’t need to worry about those creatures who could not make him out.

“Makar, have you noticed this marking on my neck?” The Moogle nodded. “Oh yes. I’m quite familiar with the Mark of Zahak. I was happy to see it on you. I hadn’t listened much to hearsay from other moogles about them, but I knew it meant you were a Blue Mage as soon as I saw it.” Seraph pulled down his collar. “Does it look any different than before?” Makar blinked “How would such a thing change…?” he asked laughing while moving closer.

“…kupo…” he stammered shocked. Seraph laughed dryly. “I assume it has then?” Makar nodded solemnly. “The first time I saw it looked like this…” Makar pulled out a bronze piece minted in Whitegate. The Mark of Zahak on it looked as would be expected. “How I missed this I don’t know… but somehow the snake heads have reached around your neck.” Makar felt along the band around Seraph’s neck. “Kupo? It’s responding to your growth. I imagine that as you continue to increase in power it will keep changing.” Seraph nodded and pulled the material of his armor back up over his marking and set out to leave. First his grimoire and now his Mark of Zahak. Too many questions…

Accepting Makar’s well wishes of safe travels Seraph made his way into Al Zahbi. It didn’t look as though the beastman hordes posed any direct attacks on the city today. After stopping at the auction house to pick up the glamour friendly mantle he went directly to the chocobo stables. “Neither Dacove nor Stormraven would happen to be around, would they?” Seraph asked of the linkshell. Several curt negative replies came in. Seraph knew what this meant.

In a number of linkshells Seraph was privy to the leaders were a bit idealistic, but this attitude helped fashion the actions of the shell from a top-down viewpoint. Of times, sackholders ended up as “beta wolves” high enough on the food chain to be deferred respect, powerful enough to go off on their own. Without an alpha to lead disarray would occur, and linkshell members would fall to their baser instincts. Seraph was not above this at all. However, as one of his “baser instincts” was to increase the power of the pack such things went unnoticed by and large.

If Dacove was away, and had been for some time, it means that the betas had no one reigning them in. This meant that Seraph was on his own. Seraph sighed mightily, paid his gil, and set out towards the first staging point. Strongly appreciating the utility of his magically bound and free floating grimoire he opened his local maps. From what he could discern two of the staging points lay on this landmass, and three others to the north, across a relatively inland sea. He decided that he would begin with those closer before working his way to the harrowing unknowns.

Again, Seraph could recall his travels with Saint. The last time he was here his Dragoon friend was leading him right into the jaws of the beast, and unwittingly onto the path of a Blue Mage. Now he was alone, walking…

The chocobo, seemingly incensed, sounded the creatures tell-tale “Kweh!!!” very loudly. Seraph laughed. “Alright… alright… riding along my path.”

….riding along his path towards an unknown future. Unbeknownst to Salaheem, a slip of paper had made its way across Seraph’s line of sight noting a number of paths to each staging point. His grimoire seemed eager to physically pounce on the information at the time, but was satisfied to leave scanning it to Seraph, now allowing the details to be given perfectly. It now highlighted with a red line a favorable pathway to the Mamool Ja staging point. “You’ve earned a spell scroll, Little One.” Seraph was not caught up on his white magic training so such a promise was not unfounded. The grimoire disappeared in something that could only be described as a happy fwump.

He worried about that book. He really did.

Spurring the chocobo steed forward, Seraph progressed west. As he rode along, he marked the unusual energy exuded by creatures denoting sources of magic he could absorb and mimic. Part of the thrill of being a Blue Mage was he gained a pretense to explore. San d’Oria was beautiful, no doubt about it. Home is home, but he remained there the whole of his life. As a Blue Mage seeing the world was part of the subtext. Tearing out pieces of souls bearing magic was a greater subtext. While not the most altruistic of endeavors, the breadth of experience Seraph had gained in a short time could not be replaced easily.

A variety of flying bird, called Colibri, densely populated this Wajaom Woodlands, which was a surprising fact. For a long while Seraph had never seen them in the Middle Lands, until he traveled to the Shadowreign period. Seraph was uncertain just why the Colibri were extinct in the current era in his homeland, but many other adventurers couldn’t be happier. These birds were well known to have exceedingly watchful eyes. They would often zoom in and snap up any morsel of food they could spot. They had learned that fighters and those that hunted them often had food on them, and they happily availed themselves.

The trouble of this was that most food carried by adventurers had some augmenting effect. Seraph had not carried any since his supply of cookies had run out, but even simple treats like that provided a boon. In their case, he could earn magic power more readily as he resting. This was not too annoying in battle, but front line fighters, Saint included, had stories of particularly sharp and lucky Colibri snapping up a snack that improved physical strength or accuracy. Sometimes, fighting these became a test of base capabilities Restoring health and magic reserves to full was relatively easy. Naught could be hunger except food.

A number of other animals, some familiar, lay across the projected path. A variety of spider had an exotic twist with black and yellow patterns, resembling bees and hornets quite completely. Tigers were a familiar sight, nearly unchanged. Something gnawed at Seraph’s senses. It wasn’t the promise of blue magic, but there was something living, something aware, that he couldn’t make out. Per the norm, the chocobo seemed to care little. What made them so unappealing to assail to every being on Vana’diel was not something Seraph knew.

Trained to only venture so far from the city, the chocobo began to pull at the bit. From what he could see, Seraph was nearing the area that officially indicated Mamook. He considered a charge in, but stealth was going to be his ally on this outing It was best to be cautious rather than rowdy. Plus, having raised a chocobo himself, he did not want to place particular strain upon anothers’. A small band of the Mamool Ja marched around totems, warnings to any who sought to trespass.

Fools rush in where angels dare to tread… Seraph wondered after his namesakes. Dismounting the chocobo a good distance away he set it back toward Al Zahbi. He opened his grimoire to ensure his route, and then began casting a full paling to cover his movements. A lesser used spell magically masked the scents put off by its recipient. While often mocked for making use of the spell, it had been learned and Seraph was going to use it no matter how silly it made him appear. He couldn’t be too careful. Besides, no one else was around.

Seraph ran deftly around the Mamool Ja. The bipedal lizards had a variety of vicious weapons hewn from wood and stone, some appearing to even have teeth of untold creatures protruding from them. All of the brown skinned Mamool Ja seemed to be fighters and foot soldiers. Some were blue, wearing high collars and were magically adept. The forces of magic took all kinds, but beastmen were always worth being wary of. Many adventurers considered them fodder. Seraph was not that strong, plus any being able of cunning and subtly was to be respected.

As one of the Mamool Ja turned, Seraph jumped over its tail. He was confident of his magics working at this point. Coming into range of both sight and sound without any warnings being set off put the Elvaan at great comfort. He shot back to an earlier thought as he made his way into the tunnel separating Wajaom from Mamook proper. “…no one else was around.” Since Seraph left Al Zahbi there wasn’t sign of another adventurer. No monsters being slain, no foot traffic signaling even regular party activity, no soldiers on patrol… nothing. Seraph pressed on the torch lit path bearing in mind this crucial fact. A failure here would probably result in the young Blue Mage never seeing civilization again.

The full facets of his paling wore as he began seeing more Mamool Ja, so Seraph backtracked and reapplied his magical shielding. The timely finishing of his invisibility spell was fortunate, as he heard a particularly energetic group of Mamool Ja storm down the tunnel. As they neared the mouth leading into their city the one in the lead, one of the blue variety, halted the others. Seraph watched as he paralleled the precautions Seraph took just a few moments ago.

While keeping his distance, Seraph had to get closer. What was going on? Listening intently, Seraph could still not understand the Mamool Ja’s speech. Watching carefully, Seraph could see the grass and plantlife shift in the direction the blue Mamool Ja had walked off to. It was quickly coming up behind another magic Mamool Ja, this one a great deal larger than its kin. The larger one was looking around, but Seraph had no clue for what. Satisfied, it turned, and it looked straight where the other Mamool Ja was making a beeline towards it. An odd hiss reached Seraph’s ears, and the larger Mamool Ja brought it’s staff into a downward swing. It connected with the smaller Mamool Ja, negating its paling. The three Mamool Ja Seraph was hiding behind caught the larger ones’ attention with their laughing. Dodging quickly into the tunnel they soon ran off. Peeking low out the tunnel the large blue Mamool Ja pointed to several places, then left them to their devices. These were orders, as the brown Mamool Ja proceeded into place.

Seraph called out his grimoire. It was wholly see through. He ordered a page to open and only what he was focusing on was highlighted. He concentrated on the Mamool Ja, particularly the one he had just seen. ‘Mamool Ja Treasurer’ became visible, an image of it beneath its name. The page was empty except for one pair of words. ‘True Sight’.

This was going to be a problem. Seraph wasn’t certain where the Treasurer was heading to in such a hurry, but it might be a good idea to follow it closely. At the very least, while it was attentive and focused elsewhere it would be less likely to look around and spot Seraph. Seraph began running quickly. While unable to make use of the Dancer skills in battle the retention of superior agility was high. Watching the Mamool Ja for any that seemed to be particularly more mindful of their surroundings than normal, Seraph followed close to the Treasurer.

The path led south, which was both convenient and terrifying. Hoping the Treauser would soon step off his path didn’t seem to be what was going to occur. Instead, one courtyard quickly led into another. The Treasurer began calling to him more Mamool Ja. It seemed that, unlike the soldiers of the Empress, those residing in Mamook were on guard. Against what Seraph could not infer. This area seemed to be some type of choke point. It seemed that, akin to the Treasurer, these could also see beyond magic. Seraph watched carefully for a time, opening his grimoire. He paged to the new Mamool Ja he sighted, but it said nothing new. After a moment, some information became available. ‘True Sight’ could be read. The room they were in was large enough for Seraph to skirt beyond the edge of their eyesight if he were careful.

Looking carefully, the Mamool Ja were engrossed in a conversation. Going to his left seemed longer. It was difficult to tell, but part of it was cut off from his vantage point. There was no telling what type of sentry waited on the upper level. The path in front of him was less spacious, but certainly clear. Seeing that, Seraph ran quickly along the curved wall he could see. The opposite path had been devoid of guards as well. The Elvaan was glad in his choice of pathway. The three soon turned into the questionable offshoot Seraph had avoided. He quickly dodged into yet another courtyard. He foolishly paid little heed to the enemies in the next room. Luckily they were of the normal variety and paid no attention to him as he found himself in another tunnel.

Something stalled Seraph in his tracks.  An immense fulcrum of blue magical energy came into his awareness. It did not feel as overbearing as did Raubahn’s, but from the plateau upon which he stood it absolutely towered. Spinning around quickly, Seraph saw a Mamool Ja giving off the telling waves he associated with spell learning. Suddenly the energy folded in, then pulsed out. Seraph’s eyes widened, his knees buckled. Beastmen drawing upon the same powers as the Children of Altana, the five aligned races found in the Middle Lands, was not unheard of. Considering that it took several entities to fully unlock his capability to learn blue magic Seraph had to wonder where the offshoot was between the beastmen and those dwelling in Whitegate.

Not being the only one picking up on the feedback, the Mamool Ja blue mage let out another pulse, looking dead at Seraph. It couldn’t see his Elvaan counterpart, but it knew another of its kind was close. Seraph turned and tore up the tunnel. Fast.

This tunnel was dark and lacking in the Mamool Ja. However, it was full of the black and gold spiders seen from Wajoam Woodlands. The ground bound path remained clear of webs. Seraph was mindful of his footing as he made his way through here. Soon he saw light from outside, but the way there was steep. Slowly, he worked his way around and upward, and found his way back into the open air. Again, he could feel his spells fading, even with the extensions granted to him by his new mantle.

Falling again into a dead run he kept his hand on the right wall, still reeling from his recent discovery. As his spells faded he slumped up against something solid and at first warm, then cool. He had come up against an iron gate. Seraph wondered after its purpose, and his grimoire popped out in response. This was the threshold to the staging area. This was odd, considering the absolutely predominant use of gold and other fine materials used in every facet of Aht Urghan construction. This gate was a dark contrast to the bright city he had come to adopt as his second home. The fall of night came quickly so it seemed. Seraph pressed his way into the fortified area beyond.

Reflecting, Seraph found the Mamool Ja were an interesting race. The fact that Blue Mages were also among their number stuck Seraph dumb, and he had no clue with how to respond. Fortunately, he went unnoticed by their number and was now safely upon the grounds of the staging point. This clearing had an overbearing silence. Seraph let his eyes graze the environment. Only a few icons could be made out. A barrier wrought of eldritch energies was in one holed off area. Seraph presumed that these are where Assault missions were carried out. A flow of power betrayed an inbound traveler. Another arcane sigil cornered with four lamps was the target of the spell, forming a tunnel straight from Whitegate. The traveler made their way directly to a lone tent. At this tent was stationed the Immortal that Seraph had been charged with meeting.

Seraph opened his eyes wide and extended his senses. The odd silence gave off the same feeling Seraph got from his dealings with Raubahn. It seemed that, at some point, Immortals gained enough sway to claim a broad territory. However, this was a physical sensation, not the one that took place in Seraph’s mind using Waoud as a medium. What was their connection, the two of them? Likewise, this place pulsed with an unusual energy. Opening himself up it was though he were in a wide open field.

The adventurer broke away from the Immortal and made his way towards the magical barrier. Seraph watched until he entered. As he passed from the field of vision Seraph turned his attention towards the Immortal. He likewise turned his attentions onto the approaching Elvaan. “This is the Mamool Ja staging point. You are on Imperial territory.” Seraph bowed, and reached one hand into his bag. Being constructed of very well worked magic it was allowed to contain a more than you would think by looking at them. His was of a Goblin/Moogle hybrid. Goblins giving the physical space while Moogle magic let items like beds, aflame weapons, and sensitive potions all be placed together without destroying one another.

That said, it was rather easy to lose track of something. It seemed this box was given low priority and “sank to the bottom” if such a thing were possible. “What’s this?” asked the Immortal, patience dwindling. Having to separate from his originally suave presentation, Seraph reached both hands into his bag until he found the box. The bags were and adventurers goddess-send, but of functionality not style. Bringing it out caught the attention of the Immortal again. “You have something to deliver? Out with it now.”

Seraph opened the box, and removed one of the slimmer packages. The black metal case gleamed in the low light as he handed it to the Immortal. Upon it was a small inlay of a wildcat head, which served the Salaheem forces as an emblem. He looked it over, running his hand along the surface. Upon finding the seal he seemed to read the top of the package. Holding it up to get a better bearing on the words, Seraph could see the Immortal with a broad grin. “Ah… a supply package. That would make you one of Naja’s messengers?” Seraph nodded, replying while placing the carrying box back in his bag, hoping it would float near the top for the next time.

“You have done a great service to me” the Immortal carried on. “This package contains a berry oil from the far southern continent of Zhwa. Even in such a small amount it takes days to extract. A valuable thing to have indeed. For those like me, stationed in forsaken lands without any trimmings of home, little things such as scents go a long way to granting comfort.” The Immortal tucked away his newly given treasure. “You will have to pardon me. Might I repay your kind service with a bit of information?” At the utterance of the offer Seraph’s grimoire sprang out beyond his volition. The Immortal seemed most entranced by it. As it fell open, an entry on Zhwa Berry Oil was being fashioned, much to the fascination of the stationed soldier. “My… what quaint wizardry.”

Seraph laughed. “I’ve had to come to admit recently that it has a mind of it’s own and the same hunger for knowledge that I do.” Seraph looked at the Immortal, whose gaze was suddenly piercing. “I’m not one to turn down any type of information. Please, what would you tell me?” The Immortal nodded, pointing to the structure surrounded by four lamps behind him.

“Hopefully you will find this information valuable. Do you see the glowing blue design a bit behind you?” Seraph was going to reply, but an image based on his current point of view was appearing upon the grimoires pages. The Immortal laughed at Seraph’s bewilderment of his own tool, then continued. “That is a runic portal. They are used for transport to distant locations. As you have probably experienced yourself, a few hours walk from here will take you to Al Zahbi, but with the runic portal you can be there in the wink of an eye! Not only that, but if you travel to capital from here, henceforth you will be able to return to this place using the same method! You’ll need approval to make use of the Chamber of Passage however.” Seraph had not known that. He’d heard talk of a Chamber of Passage, but he did not know that they furnished instantaneous travel from the city to the staging points. Seraph thought of how he may use this to shorten his journeys.

The Immortal bowed. “If you should ever have urgent business here at the Mamool Ja staging point, you can make good use of the runic portal.” Seraph bowed in kind, wondering how to broach the true purpose of his visit. “My thanks…” The Immortal looked up in shock. “Oh… my apologies. I am Daswil.” Seraph nodded, “And I am Seraph. My thanks Daswil.” he said, and turned slightly to leave. Seraph’s grimoire floated up and down impatiently, turning to a blank page. “Now you’re being greedy” the Elvaan said. He suddenly felt silly, chastising a book as he would a child or a pet. Terrifyingly, it probably had the at least enough sentience to match, so he had to regard it as such. What would Seraph himself be curious in?

“Might you know more of the portals specific workings?” The Immortal, a Hume male, was at a loss. “Well… they are a product of the great wisdom of Aht Urhgan’s honorable alchemists. It functions by wondrous principles…” The Immortal eyed Seraph’s grimoire as he paused. “…that are completely unfathomable to me. But you don’t need to understand how it works to be impressed by the runic portals. Simply use them, and you will truly understand their excellence.” The grimoire’s pages fluttered rapidly, almost resembling a growl of an animal in warning. “Now you’re just being rude” Seraph said, tapping the book, causing it to disappear.

“You can drop the act My Friend” said the Immortal. “Where is it?” Normally given over to shock at times like this, Seraph could not help but smile. He revealed his Mark of Zahak. Even from behind his headdress Daswil’s smile was apparent. “I could not be certain, but that mark… Well, well. Well, indeed…” Daswil’s laughter shook the area, the boundary of the area relenting. Seraph looked about. Suddenly the grounds seemed much less potent, but it seemed that the Immortals power had grown in response. Daswil held up the bottle he had just been handed. “Were Naja’s little errands not enough to satisfy your lust for power?” Seraph shook his head. “This land may be cultivated by the Empress, but my goals are my own. What I desire lays beyond all this.”

Daswil tucked the bottle away. “Wonderful! That is how it should be: Mortals striving to be more than ordinary. Simply look at those among the Mamool Ja likened to us. ‘Savages’ giving into further savagery. This is a prime example of the world teaching us to evolve as such.” The energy of the area began to further concentrate into Daswil. The young Blue Mage could again hear the sounds of the Bhaflau Thickets which lay just beyond the walls of the staging point. Seraph focused upon Daswil and recognized the pattern of energy he exuded. He knew what attack was coming, and not looking forward to what was next. “Ah… you are learned, and know what is coming. So good in one so young.” Daswil laughed again. “You’ve brought a smile to my face! Let’s see if I can’t do the same for you.” The wave of energy coalesced, and the attack characteristic of the cactuars assailed Seraph once more. This time, he was stronger and able to retain his composure, but barely.

Daswil knelt before the nearly fully felled Seraph, pride in his voice. “Oh-ho, you’re stronger than you look. Your ambition has tempered your will.” Seraph staggered, but soon steadied himself enough to stand. Daswil let his laughter roil forth, this time the energy which maintained the sanctity of the area returning from whence it came, drawing a veil of silence over the two again. The lack of concentration of power made the Immortal feel that much more like a mortal being again. “You know how to get on my good side. Best of fortune to you, young Mage.” Seraph made his way to the sigil that would furnish his return to Whitegate. Moving carefully, he noted what felt like the heavens trembling above him. The goddess herself seemed to laugh at the irony of events from somewhere beyond the scope of Seraph’s perception. As the power of the staging point sent him flowing back to Whitegate, he could feel an odd vibration in his neck.

Slowly but certainly, Seraph dragged his way back to the rented rooms. Upon this return Makar was in a panic as he helped Seraph remove 1,000 needles from his person. Again.

While he had survived, this was a less than stellar start to his rounds to the staging points. Drawing out his grimoire from wherever it hid Seraph plotted out his next journey, hoping to smooth out any wrinkles for his next trip. It looked as though he would be heading through Halvung, the dominion of the Trolls, up Mount Zhayolm, and the staging point beyond. Makar kept plucking, flustered. “…Cactuars aren’t even living on this continent. How did you find one AND upset it, kupo…” The path started the same as before but branched off after just a short while taking him northeastward.

Removal done, Seraph bundled the needles together. He recalled his having given a stray needle to Pashi Maccaleh, the Mithra on the ship that brought him to Whitegate. Perhaps when he maintained his promise to her this would help remind her of who he was. Pleased at the thought he picked up his bags and returned to the city. The odd feeling in his neck subsided. Perhaps it was the crude acupuncture he had been subject to? Not willing to test the theory for some time he made his way back to the chocobo stables. The attendant was somewhat perplexed at his return. The chocobo he had ridden had apparently just returned from a long day of grazing the Woodlands. When Seraph explained his venture out to the staging point, she was put at ease. Offering him another bird of burden riled up Seraph’s previous mount. Blue Mage and Chocobo Handler laughed at this, and Seraph was allowed on his way.

Out in the Wajoam Woodlands again, Seraph proceeded west, sharply turning north once the path allowed. “You just don’t like being penned in, do you?” Seraph asked the sizable yellow bird. “WARK!!!” came a belted response, accompanied by a burst of speed and a small jump over a rise in the terrain. Seraph had to smile and was pleased to have such a headstrong companion. The sudden lack of assistance was a hard blow to roll off of. Every little bit helped.

A short time later Seraph’s map switched from the Wajoam Woodlands to the Bhaflau Thickets. Leading the chocobo across the projected route Seraph couldn’t tell any difference between this area and the last. His map led him true, and the lack of discerning features meant little. This was only true for a time. Several sensations hit Seraph at the same time: A rushing onslaught of blue magic energy, a vibration in the ground, and his chocobo pulling at the bit. Responding to them all at the same time bird and Blue Mage managed to avoid a stampede.

The creatures, called Marid, seemed to be in a hurry to get away from something. By staying in a corner they careened by harmlessly, leaving one to wonder what they were in such a hurry to escape from. Ready to return to his map Seraph felt small alarms in his senses that he had once in the Wajoam Woodlands. Again, he could see nothing. His chocobo seemed unsettled at the same time, and began shaking vigorously, as though it were trying to dry off. While looking down Seraph noticed the offending party.

Small insects, known as Chigoes, inhabited these lands. A time or two Saint had told Seraph of parties of Black Mages that would draw a large number of these creatures and reduced them to nothing with their magics. While small and, even to Seraph’s honed senses, invisible they were deadly. They carried some type of vicious plague in their bite and it was impossible to catch their presence until they were already upon you. As of now they crawled everywhere over Seraph’s armor. Saint had also warned that they lived on the Marids and that attacking them would sometimes cause the chigoes to try to find a new home on the offending adventurer. The stampede had probably been enough to shake those on Seraph loose, and they found rider and mount suitable. As of now they seemed benign, content to just crawling about. Beginning to brush them loose Seraph aimed to keep them that way. A few landed on the chocobo, and it shook them off promptly.

Spurring the bird forward as not to negate their joint work Seraph called out his map. He was aimed in the right direction he was to go, but he saw no path. As he was trying to figure out the discrepancy the chocobo galloped forward at full speed, darting through a high growing plant into a passageway obscured by such growth. Coming out the other side Seraph noticed a gap in the map where the channel was. Noting this on other areas of the map he figured out why this place was known by the Thickets.

Continuing west and north as pathways allowed the two passed several more grazing marid, prowling tigers, and foraging colibri. As they had come upon Mamook, so now did they come up on Halvung. Like before, the chocobo was significantly less than thrilled to head into a beastman heavy area. Moving a good distance away the chocobo found something it wanted to peck at. Seraph dismounted and applied his spells of stealth. “You be careful heading back. Something frightened the marid and I don’t know what.” Tearing at the leafs it had found, the chocobo raised it’s head and release a piercing “Kweh!”, causing all the nearby Trolls to point their attention towards it. While not understanding the Trolls once can surmise intent. Gestures were made, indicating a few commands being given, and they made their way over to the chocobo. A conversation unfolded, and Seraph could only guess at the meanings.

(It is one of the yellow-birds) came a proclamation from an auburn Troll. It had some type of mechanical ranged weapon slung over one shoulder, and pointed warily at the chocobo.

(Yes. It probably means one of the small-bodies is nearby) grunted a gold armored Troll, who wielded a club and shield. It was looking around as if searching for the rider. Seraph moved cautiously between them.

A garbled sound came from the auburn Troll, but Seraph had no clue as to what it meant.

The gold armored Troll replied, while patting the chocobo on its head. (…shameful in any case. Leaving the yellow-bird behind.) The auburn troll patted its stomach. (Yes… these have no good meat.) They removed some greens from each of their packs and fed them to the chocobo. Elated and sated, it fed then rummaged more closely towards the entrance, wondering after more greens. As the Trolls made their way back to the bottlenecked entrance to Halvung Seraph slipped inside before they’d have any chance to be any the wiser. A large sound echoed out the tunnel, unfamiliar to Seraph. The chocobo, like the marid before, ran away with a swiftness.

Seraph had been able to see Mount Zhayolm from afar. From Port Ephermad in the northern section in Whitegate it was possible to see the mountain, which was in fact a volcano. Judging by the high use of metals in the Trolls arsenal, it was safe to assume that the heat of this place was used to help forge and smelt their armory into existence. Halvung was a tunnel network that connected Mount Zhayolm to the a good portion of the Aradijah continent. Seraph moved just quickly enough as not to accidentally stumble into one of the exposed veins of magma.

A number of cave dwelling bats littered the path, as well as a variety of Crawler called an Eruca. On the mainland Crawlers were known to spin themselves in cocoons. On the one hand, harvesting these cocoons allowed for a large variety of silks, threads, and other clothes to be made. On the other, they boasted the capability to defend themselves to a staggering degree. While not preventing damage in total, it allowed for the mitigation to be about half. It was one of the spells he used against Salaheem. Having made good time here it was still night, and the Eruca slept. Knowing better than to count his blessings Seraph moved down the tunnel to an offshoot.

A chorus of Troll voices echoed through the cavern. Listening carefully, he was able to determine that he had heard it before, just at the mouth of Halvung. This is what set off the flight instincts of first the marid, then his chocobo. This was the first time he noticed a rumbling in the ground. Listening more closely Seraph discovered an unusual rhythm. Dmm-clang-dmm-dmm-clang. The choir of Trolls began to emerge from all directions. Next thing he knew, Seraph was having to dodge wave after wave of Troll passing his way. The bulk of their army was heading out, and quickly to, heading toward the way he came.

…the way he came…? Back towards the city.

Thinking quickly, Seraph decided to press on. He fell into a hasty run again, letting his grimoire float ahead of him without caring what might see it. At this point he was about equidistant from the staging point or the entry to Al Zahbi. Ahead, he could see no Trolls in his path. If he tried to double back he’d have to push his way through the very Trolls themselves and every wild creature as well. Assuming the latter weren’t scared out of their wits already they’d be liable to lash out at Seraph if he were discovered. The path was clear with only a few Trolls at key positions. His spells held, so he was not concerned. He soon emerged into the open air and could greet Mount Zhayolm.

Open air was a bit of a stretch. The stench of sulfur mixed with oddly with the open sea nearby.

Seraph had little time to sight see, and darted past a gaggle of flightless birds. At his thought the grimoire flipped to them. These were Apkallu and he’d heard of them previously. They too exuded the potential for acquired blue magic, and he would certainly remember them here. North here, west there, avoiding running directly into the slimes in the tunnel… an abrupt halt. A number of sizable armored creatures were huddled around a cocoon. Erupting from within it was some type of large winged insect. It is difficult to give insects such human traits such as deference, but this is what this emerging being enjoyed. It was still weak, soft from being inside its cocoon. Part of his Elvaan pride was hacked at for playing to a stealthy path, but while he lived he could reconcile that. So he stuck close to the wall and proceeded north again, Seraph discovered a gate which reminded him of the one found in Bhaflau Thickets.

Touching the door with the mere intent to act on it caused his spell of invisibility to fade. He made his way inside quickly to the area of safety held beyond. He turned back, opened his grimoire, and considered the path taken. Evolving Wamouracampa, burly Trolls, and the odd Apkallu. He was glad that he had finally reached his destination.

There was little use in biding his time. As with the other staging point there was little else to do here but rest or speak to the Immortal. “Ah… what brings you here?” came the voice of the Immortal. Seraph thought it was a Hume male, from the timbre of the voice. However, as he drew closer ears betrayed him as a fellow Elvaan. Seemingly older, Seraph had learned better than to judge the strength of an Immortal by their physical form.

Seraph, slightly out of breath, began speaking. “…Trolls…mobilized..Al Zahbi…” The Immortal chuckled. “Be at ease Young One. The Trolls focus toward Al Zahbi, but neglect to often watch us here at the Halvung staging point. We keep close surveillance on matters of strategic import. As soon as they began to prepare their assault word was sent back to Whitegate. You’re companions and mine are surely ready for their arrival.”

The younger Elvaan was happy to hear this. Breathing a sigh of relief, he was able to speak without excessive labor. “I am glad at that.” When next the Immortal spoke a smile could be heard in his voice. “You ran all the way here to inform me of that? Quite dedicated.” Seraph shook his head. “I am also, in part, here on behalf of Naja Salaheem. I am to deliver this to you.” Reaching again to his bag he found the box where he intended it to be. Opening it he removed a smaller case, and handed it to the Immortal. The focus look of his eyes softened “You brought a supplies package for me! Why didn’t you say so sooner. Might you know what it is?” Nodding, Seraph replied. “Not directly, however, I have learned it to be oil from a berry native to the continent of Zhwa…”

The Immortal drew into his own outward thoughts. “Ah… I recall the indescribable fragrance. I am caked in the stench of fighting and pain. If I am ever granted audience with the Empress again at least in some fashion, I will not offend her with my smell. I feel she should be protected from all vestiges of war.”

Waving to a small blanket nearby the Immortal continued. “It may not be much, but as the day is late, please rest. Allow and old man the kindness of sharing in some tea?” Seraph had pushed himself to come all the way out here, and found the gesture too inviting to refuse. “You say this is on behalf of the proprietress of Salaheem’s Sentinels?” continued the Immortal. “That would make you a mercenary from the mainland?” Seraph nodded, but his face hinted at unspoken details. “You need not divulge all to me” assured the Immortal. “But if you can, tell me of San d’Oria. It is a long while since I have walked in the woods of Ronfaure.” And so Seraph did. The Elvaan people did not change much, so much of what Seraph relayed caused the Immortal much joy. Consistency was a comfort, he said, which may be why he was not driven mad watching over this place. As the tea was poured and passed between the two, the Immortal looked at Seraph quizzically “You did not sound unhappy in our ancestral home. What brought you all the way to this forsaken place?”

So Seraph told him of his perceptions of foes, without mentioning his awareness to blue magic. None-the-less, the elder Elvaan’s eyes widened in horror. “It would seem that you were born with the curse that I submitted to. Rather unfortunate. I know not what has brought you to this land, but I must stress that you be wary of my brethren, of the Immortals. I would go so far as to tell you to leave and never return.” Seraph nodded solemnly and said nothing.

He began drinking in the silence, and was surprised at the tea. It belonged to a variety usually found in San d’Oria. However, it was unusual to see it sold. It was a leaf first cultivated during some of San d’Oria’s more hurtful history. At one point their Kingdom stretched over the mainland continents, delving near to both Bastok and Windhurst. Over time they were pushed back, and it was at this time this tea was first consumed. As it brought painful memories it was rare to drink. This counted as only the third time Seraph had done so.

Watching Seraph looking deeply into his teacup the Immortal laughed. It seemed out of place considering Seraph’s weighty contemplation. Not perceiving the truth, the Immortal spoke on what he thought troubled his young companion. “I would guess you are only passingly familiar with this blend? I hate to admit this, but part of the reason is that the Empress herself enjoys it, and retains some good favor with the Elvaan of Aradijah by keeping it in stock here. If you ever wish for some, speak to Ratihb at the Shararat Teahouse and he will furnish you with a bag or two.”

Seraph, having finished his cup, stood. The Immortal rose with him. “There are duties to which we must attend…” he began. The elder Immortal, again overlooking the full subtext of what was said, responded swiftly. “You are all too correct. It is promising to see the young aware of how the world must care on. So I will go back to my duties…” He bowed. “I, Waudeen, thank you immensely for your concern and company. I will certainly share these acts of goodwill with my superiors. May I ask who I should mention is responsible for the delivery?”

At this, Seraph pulled at the collar of his attire, revealing in part his twisted Mark of Zahak. “I am Seraph. The gift is a token of goodwill from Naja Salaheem but I am here not solely on her errand.” Waudeen’s eyes widened, and a heavy sigh escaped his mouth. “You have chosen the life of a Blue Mage it would seem.” Seraph nodded, again hiding the Mark of Zahak.

Waudeen’s stance relaxed. The sphere of influence in the area seemed to slack it’s strain as well. “Even with my nose for such things, I did not sense such ambition. My advise was premature… you have already given yourself over to our way of life.” Waudeen’s eyes narrowed, but it was difficult to tell from what emotion the signal stemmed. Seraph offered an explanation. “This is a means to an end for me. The power of Blue Magic feels as a birthright to me. My soul finds safety in this place, in this way of life.” Waudeen nodded solemnly. “If you are intent upon this path. There is only one thing left for me to do.” The Immortal’s eyes trained Seraph into an unbreakable gaze. “If you are ready to accept your destiny, brace yourself.”

Quicker than Seraph could react the power of the area flowed through Waudeen into a stream of fire that funneled out of his swiftly outstretched hands. The sheer power was staggering. Seraph’s body tensed up in shock, the river of fire proving to be the only thing holding him up. When the attack subsided, he fell to the ground. Seraph lived, but his neck burned. He reached up and touched it, finding that his Mark was the source. Seraph steadied himself to one knee, and Waudeen dropped down likewise to him.

Waudeen placed a hand on Seraph’s shoulder and began speaking. “Well done” Waudeen said. “You cling to the mortal coil. This is an occasion for both joy and remorse.” Waudeen laughed and turned inward for just a moment. “It is always accompanied by complicated emotions…” Waudeen shook off the memory and continued. “The way is neither smooth nor easy, and you cannot turn from the road you have chosen.” The grip on Seraph’s shoulder tightened for just a few long moments. “Stay vigilant against the beast within.” The Immortal helped up his less developed counterpart, with the latter nodding in affirmation at the warning. Waudeen’s voice had a small hint of pride in it. “Be Well Seraph.” The two bowed.

As he was about to turn, Seraph thought to try his luck here. “A question Waudeen… do you know precisely how the staging points operate? I know what their function is, just not how they perform it.” The older Elvaan was silent for a long time. “Sadly, I cannot tell you. It is one of the many curious creations of the royal courts’ alchemists.” Seraph’s grimoire appeared, fluttered it’s pages in what sounded like a young child spraying spittle with their tongue, and vanished again. Waudeen blinked rapidly and looked at Seraph. “I am sorry for that” the younger Elvaan said apologetically. “That is rather difficult to explain…” Waudeen recovered himself then held up his hand. “It is of no consequence. It took me a long time to learn that there are some things I just will not understand. Perhaps that… device can learn the same.”

Seraph nodded, and placed himself in the midst of the teleportation sigil. “There is little I can do for you away from this place Young Mage. If you ever do return or have business in the area, hasten here if you need assistance.” Waudeen bowed. “If you do not make it too often and you lack in funds, mention my name and have Ratihb place some of the tea on my bill. Remember this place, and your elders, and of what fate my await you. Go in safety and peace Seraph.” The young Blue Mage bowed in return. Now attuning himself with the staging point he swiftly found himself back in Whitegate.

His neck, still burning, Seraph made his way back to the section of rented rooms. Upon voicing some concern, Makar checked his adventurer friends’ neck. “Now there is one white and one red brand around the left part of your Mark, just below the serpent’s head.” The Elvaan regaled the Moogle of what had most recently happened. Makar nodded and stated “I think the two are related.” Seraph made an unusual connection. “There are five staging points, and five Serpent Generals? Isn’t one of the the Flameserpent? Perhaps this brand corresponds… the other gave no such feeling, no elemental attunement…” Makar counted off on his little moogle fingers. “Perhaps that is of the Skyserpent? General Rujhadeen is the Skyserpent General.” Seraph thought carefully, then nodded his approval. This elated Makar to no end. “Yes… he whose blade that will pierce the heavens!” exclaimed the ecstatic Moogle, who bobbed in the air while spinning in place, one paw pointing skyward. Seraph made his way towards the door.

“What, kupo?” voiced Makar. He had stopped spinning, but still had his hand skyward. “One day I’m going to figure out all about the Moogles. I just hope that understanding doesn’t cost overmuch” Seraph replied. “Best of luck, Seraph! We’re a mysterious lot we Moog…” The grimoire popped up between the two, pages open to Makar. Reading over them caused him to go into a tizzy. “KU-PO-PO!!!” he stammered, slamming the book, pushing it at Seraph, and forcing the duo out the door. When Seraph opened the tome there was a section which read “Everything You Always Wondered about Moogles” in archaic lettering. Seraph laughed and recalled the book. That may be worth looking into later.

Having traveled to the two staging points upon this part of the continent, it was time to travel North. The route across the Silver Sea was publicisized as being a short one. However short, the boat was not currently here. Not being one for a swim led to finding meaningful distraction. Seraph’s own experience with travel by barge and ship is that they always got worse as he progressed. He was not going to take any chances. Seraph stopped in at the Shararat Teahouse and informed Ratihb of what little he knew on his sons. While relieved that at any forward progress, he was worried about where his eldest son had run off to, and that the youngest had followed so earnestly. Thankful for being appraised Ratihb furnished Seraph with some beverages and food for his journey. Having learned of his ideal route Ratihb thought it would take several days. Nashmau was home to the Qiqirn. They were hospitible to all comers, especially those with accepted currencies, but their cuisine usually “…takes some getting used to…” Ratihb said, and would speak on it no more.

Upon returning to the northern dock the ship was just coming in. Paying his fare to board, Seraph did just that. Perhaps it was his time away, the nostalgia rolling over him, but this barge seemed much more well worked than the one leading from the mainland. Although, the Tenshodo must work covertly, whereas this was a route offered freely by the Empire. It probably was from her coffers that this vessel was maintained.

Seraph breathed as the ship left the port. It was constructed the same as the one leading from Mhaura, even down to the attendant from the Fisherman’s Guild. Working his way up to the deck, he nodded at the attendant, also a Mithra. With them being centered in part out of Windhurst it was not too shocking. Placing a hand on the door and focusing outward, there was a lack of life on the other side. Having developed his expertiese in Blue Magic he was able to accurately sense the life of even potential hostiles near him.

He opened the door tentatively. No creatures from the deep were on board. The air here was a great deal cooler than he had imagined, and a fine mist lay on the deck. Not taking any major chances, Seraph sat down in the doorway. Looking back and forth, he reflected back as he often did. The Near East did not fail to be rewarding It held everything that an aspiring fighter could aim for. Uncertain of what would come next once returning to the mainland was frustrating.

Seraph opened his hand, and in them held the two pearls he had been given. Honing on the one from Fourteen Drawings he again found it silent. Focusing his intent he crafted a message to anyone who would likewise tune into it at a later time. This was a limited privilage, and one he felt would be his last time making use of. ‘Uncertain of what has occurred in my absence Anyone who knows, seek to get word to me-Seraph‘ After that he began listening in on what transpired among Heroism. The party previously in Abyssea has disbanded, and seemed to be at rest from their long outing Their voices were not a part of the din any longer.

Putting his head back against the doorway, Seraph thought on the oddity of his predicament. Somehow, in the whole of the world, he found himself alone. It had been rough going since he returned from the wilds and had finally recalled his senses. Closing his eyes, his memories had cleared. At the same time, his inner world had… stilled. The wind was not howling as it had before. The eyes that had borne down on him were significantly less in number. Focusing on the memory of each vanished set, another memory of an enemy from which he had taken a spell.

Well, maybe not that alone when you considered it.

Senses flaring, Seraph rolled inside the doorway as he felt the presence of an potentially aggressive entity. A small winged being appeared on the deck of the ship. Looking at it, one would almost think of a moogle. Arms and legs seemed too small for the body, atrophied by nigh exclusive use of the wings. While not topped with a pom pom an antennae adorned its head.

As the ship creaked allow with the waves, he timed closing a door with the sounds. As he returned to the cargo hold below deck he checked his equipment. Some time ago, at Saint’s behest, he had bought a sword called a Kilij. He had only recently been skilled enough make full use of it. He might have to discuss a few rounds with Rai, but Seraph often thought that weapons had some type of soul. He felt a resonance akin to that he felt when he learned Blue Magic, but some items in the world would not suffer use from those it did not approve. Could ones’ will be forced upon an item regardless? One could only guess. There were easier avenues than fighting an object over a thing like that.

Dancing had allowed him to use two swords with great competency. However, he and Makar had suppressed that in order for him to access more readily his White Magic. When he had first began using two jobs, Seraph had asked Makar just how that worked. Why couldn’t someone draw on all their training at the same time? The Moogle shrugged, saying he didn’t know. Responding to the inquiry, Seraph’s grimoire appeared, open to a page on Blue Magic.

In his own time with the ability, Seraph found he was unable to use every Blue Magic spell he had learned at the same time. Raubahn often alluded to the danger of ‘The Beast Within’. The competing energies of to much foreign influence could be the result in a further hastening of ones demise. Pleased with this thought he focused it towards the grimoire who added it to a swiftly filled page. Was it getting bigger? It hadn’t been this hefty when he’d been talking with Aisha. Flipping through it he stumbled across a page belonging to the enemy he had just seen.

‘Imp. True Sight.’ Fantastic.

A clamor came from above as he felt the life essence of the Imp falter. As if in reply the voice of the captain was echoed to him by the Fisherman Guild worker: They were now docking in Nashmau. In most cases aggressive entities, either by intelligence or instinct, avoided massing on cities. However, creatures of the waters were no less territorial than those dwelling on land. Ships passed right through these boundaries often to no trouble. As had been seen some came to seek retribution. And if they happened to still be on board when they got into a city? Local guards pelted them from afar until they fled or died.

The ship pulled in, and the all clear was given to depart. Passing through customs the Elvaan was now in Nashmau, a few steps closer to tying up many loose ends. This city had become populated by the Qiqirn, beastman bearing an affinity to mice, rats, and other rodents. Long snouts, sensitive noses, and a propensity to enjoy hording shiny things (including money) were all traits that loaned themselves to this.

This city was built very similarly to Whitegate. Perhaps it was the lack of the polished entryway to a palace, but this place seemed much darker. Taking a deep breath Seraph could smell loamy earth. The scent of long decomposing matter inundated this place. Sensible, since Caedarva Mire surrounded the town. It was actually likely that Nashmau was put claimed directly from it. The last of the local beastmen were known to claim bodies from the marshes to add to their undead hordes. Such a thought was rather unsettling. Cheap though he was, the acquisition of a map was important.

However, being able to trade upon local standing was also important. Seraph did not have enough to his name to get himself a map. The grimoire appeared, saddened that it could not add more information to it, but furnished the directions still retained from Naja’s desk. Nashmau had three exits into the Mire, each in a cardinal direction excluding the one facing the sea. Azouph or Dvucca Isles, or a place called Ilrusi Atoll. Checking again, this place was found in Arrapago Reef. Being the only place he had any additional business in this seemed like the best place to begin.

A floating crystal in the middle of town furnished what was called a home point. Seraph always thought it was some type of territory. In the event of an adventurer being gravely injured it was possible to be pulled back to an area of safety. Individual dwellings were common. On the mainlands outposts could be attuned to, making training in far off locales an easier venture. Lacking both amenities, these crystals could be used in the event of catastrophe While not home, it would save the effort and time of returning to Nashmau by boat. Once consumed, a warp scroll could send its user to a home point as well. Attuning himself, he proceeded out the northern gate of the city.

Out of the shelter of the city walls, the smell intensified. The smell of death, decay, and rot was rampant. You’ll get used to it Seraph caught himself thinking. He had absolutely no intent to stay in this area that long. Getting to work, he raised his paling and began the trek north. Notation was blending from one area of the notes to the other. From what could be made out he was heading towards two staging points. A rather convenient thing. The Azouph Isle staging point lay right on off the path towards Arrapago Reef.

Synthesizing the information, the grimoire’s advisement read to keep a hand on the left wall. The path quickly opened out east, and a small rise in the terrain forced him in that direction. A familiar sensation struck his head, and Seraph ducked down. He looked up, and at first saw nothing. Trusting his senses he remained low, continuing to move. Coming over the lip of the potential drop was an Imp. On his well hidden but attuned pages it read ‘Heraldic Imp. True Sight’. The little beast chirped something in an unfamiliar language.

(BORED!!!)

It looked back and forth. Releasing a sound that could only be compared to a sigh, it screeched. It raised hands and head skyward, then floated back up the way it came.

(Want to scorch the living… and  tired of these chigoes…)

A large thunder-based attack resounded. Seraph was not caught in the attack, and he pressed on. The wall opened into a larger area. The area held no threat. Continuing on, another area opened before him. If he went right he would find himself at the Azouph Isle staging point. Considering his ability to teleport to either Nashmau or return to the staging point itself he thought this to be a very sound maneuver The area bottlenecked, and well inside waited another Imp.

Just floating there. Watching the path leading to the iron gate.

It was far enough away that peeking around the corner did not gain its attention. Such heightened magical sight seemed to have its limits. Even so, it did not move or wander. It merely stayed put. Releasing a heavy sigh there was no choice but to continue northward for now. Stupid Imps. Rai and Saint never spoke of the Near East as their stomping grounds, or at least so rarely that it went beyond notice. He wondered if they had this much trouble with Imps.

Seraph made his way northeast. Surprisingly, running right past him was another adventurer, a Ninja. Speaking across the linkshell channel on accident, he was surprised to get a response. You’re a member of Heroism? the Ninja asked. “Yes, just recently joined. What are you doing here?” There was a small pause. “Sorry… Imp slaying. Magian Trial.” The Magian Trials were a series of empowerment rituals to strengthen weapons and armor. A trio of Magian Moogles were responsible for all the duties related to the tasks, and they made camp in Jeuno. As far as Seraph was concerned they were in league with Maat. Bah… old codger…

Wait…

“Slaying Imps you said? How familiar are you with this area and Arrapago Reef?” Seraph asked to his shell-mate. “Fairly well acquainted… why are you…” Another pause… and then… “What are YOU even doing here?!” Apparently limitations of Seraph’s powers had been discerned. “I have to head to the staging points. There are plenty of Imps between here and there, and I could REALLY use the cover. Would you be willing to help?” A small beat. “Sure.”

            Seraph finally caught a break. This should speed up matters sufficiently. “I have a note saying I’ll need a Lamian Fang Key to get into the to the staging point. I’m getting close… have you happened across one?” The Ninja responded… “Yeah. For some reason there’s a small island dead drop that normally has one. Tell you what… wait there and I’ll come back around to you.” Seraph returned an affirmative. After taking a scrutinizing look around he could the island where the note and Ninja had both indicated that the Keys could be found. It lay about half a dozen paces away across a span marsh water. Stepping into the bog, he found himself weighed down.

Up until this point he hadn’t walking into any of the fetid waters in the Mire. Creatures known simply as Doomed rest in them. What they were was completely unknown, but the appeared readily in places where many had died, or where wastes of war and death were rampant. In addition, they were off his set paths. He was suddenly glad for this, as it would have made his journey take a much longer time. What an odd thing… It wasn’t physical. Somehow the marsh had some magical influence, making him to unable to move faster than a purposed shuffle. Getting to the island, eventually, he sat down and picked up the key.

And waited.

A nearby Doomed slept dreaming whatever such vile beings dreamed of. Seraph checked the note. Having the key, he was clear to move through the whole of Arrapago Reef. “Clear” not being a good word as he’d have to avoid Lamiae and their servants, but he’d have the ability. Route confirmed he honed his vision, directing it as far as it would stretch. A hill stretched in front of him and it swarmed with Heraldic Imps. Where had these creatures come from, and in such numbers…

…hadn’t their numbers been recently reduced?

Seraph asked after the Ninja across the linkshell. Checking the map, he was no longer in the area. Looking to the sky the moon could barely be seen through the tops of the high growing vegetation. The sheen on the moon had altered its glow. Each day was given over to the sway of an element and the color of the moon was believed to reflect this. The Magian Trials were often related to this. The Ninja probably only earned credit on his kills if they happened while a particular elment held sway. That time having passed, it appeared as though they had moved on.

Fantastic.

Seraph and marked the locations of the Imps. While his spells would have held out he would have to be crafty as touching the marshes’ waters would again slow him down. He took a deep breath and pushed himself as fast as he could to counteract the negative backlash. Just the opposite occurred. A quickening effect seized his body, and Seraph in the midst of the Imps before he realized it. Not wasting the boon he ran up the natural inclinations, however he was spotted once he reached the top. While training as a Thief he had the ability to augment his speed to this level. He smiled, because he knew just what to do.

He ran.

The Imp began preparing a spell, which alerted all its cohorts to do the same. The first one connected, revealing Seraph plainly. Fortunately the constant healing afforded by his aligned magics kept him further from Death’s grip than he would liked to have been. It was still a harrowing strike. Powering through in spite of the foul beasts, he was able to escape the range of the other spells, and the current boon of the marshes propelled him all the way to Arrapago Reef.

As the natural enchantment wore off, Seraph was forced to stop and rest. Looking upon the desolate graveyard of ships, he could see visages of a variety of Undead. In his current state they would respond to his wounds, feeling one who could be drawn into their fold. Pulling back he used both Blue and White magic he restored his body to prime condition. Still, taking no chances, he rested. He was not going to tempt his fate and try to make it through without taking the precaution of using his palings.

As he rested his mind opened, and he felt a familiar sensation.

This jarred him out of his sleep. Apparently this journey was wearing on the young Blue Mage. His magical essence restored, he wove his spells as had become an unwelcome necessity. His wounds sufficiently bound by his magics he carried on. Arrapago Reef was a desolate place. In honesty, it would be impassible in its natural state. A number of battered hulks had crashed and settled in the spans between land masses allowing for passage. Convient, but this left a number of dead bodies ripe for harvest.

Down a hill Seraph came upon the first rotting ship. Planks made a very sparse bridge up to the deck. Hissing and moaning echoed in the otherwise silent environment betraying the presence of the Lamiae and it’s corpse hewn servents. Walking carefully, the boards creaked under Seraph’s weight, betraying his presence in spite of his spells. A sharp sound from above, then silence. Running the remaining way up the incline he hunkered down in what proved to be a narrow alcove.

Lamiae slithered by, followed by blackened undead. Unlike the Wights, animate skeletons, that he was accustomed to on the mainland, these seemed to be composed also of some flesh. These were directed by the Lamiae to scour the inlet from which Seraph had just come up. Slithering down the ramp to supervise, this opened up a clear path upon which he could proceed. Shifting on the decks’ planks influenced a number of sections near Seraph, signs that the ship as a whole remained together in a strained balance. Metal scraped against wood, and odd clicking, clockwork sound moving in time.

At first, Seraph was concerned that a part of his equipment was stuck. Neither Kilij nor armor had snagged. Looking towards the source, found an item of great interest. Ghastad had directed Seraph to this area specifically, and now he could complete this portion of the request… if only he could get to the rusted and antique Automaton that he now saw. Just like with the iron gates which shielded the staging points, reaching towards this object with any intent would negate the glamour of invisibility.

Looking to Automaton and Lamiae, he kept an eye on both, and worked his way around the ship. The path leading away from this area proved to be the way that he needed to proceed along. An idea formed, but he would need to be quick. Getting on his stomach, he crawled up to where he hung over the Automaton. With the Lamiae still looking away, he grabbed his prize and hauled it up to him. Once it was secured, he recast his invisibility spell. A curious hiss shot in his direction.

(What was that?!) The Lamiae peeked up towards Seraph. (Bah… rotted Hume-craft. Patrol we are told, but to what end? Long has the Astral Candescence laid with that blasphemed Empress and the hands of her servants. What need is there to patrol?) Seeing nothing of interest she went back down the planks to retrieve her thralls.

Proceeding downhill onto another inlet there were a group of Apkallu. Seraph found the bright green birds to be startlingly out of place, moreso because none of the surrounding life seemed to be attacking them. As they didn’t notice him, he decided that he would act in a similar fashion. A small cave just beyond housed two more Lamiae. The cave held what amounted to two tiers connected by a curved path along the caves’ edge. At the end of the curve was a gate. Running his hand across the frame he discovered a small keyhole. Addressing his not this gate was the one which required him to use the Lamian Fang Key. Droping his glamour once more, he inserted the key. The gate buckled open, slowly. Trying to retrieve the key proved difficult. It would not turn the way it had come. Still, Seraph tried. Eventually, the key broke off in the hole. Exasperated he slid through, and replaced his cloak. The gate began to shut, moving on an unseen mechanism.

The path behind him both secured and barred off he progressed forward. A number of ghosts floated past, unaware of his presense, as he made his way down the tunnels he found himself in. A particular junction held a number of pathways. Without a proper map Seraph opted to duck beyond another gate and check his path. Strangely this area held no enemies, but a few cages.  The sudden calm weighed again on Seraph’s mind. While it had not happened since he could recall, the Mamool Ja, Trolls, and Lamiae liked to capture inhabitants of Al Zahbi if they could. While not malicious to the captured, it had a tendency to harm the infrastructure and economy of the already ravenged Al Zahbi.

Breathing in and out several times, he forced this thought from his mind. He then realized the familiarity with this place. It was almost the same as the area he was drawn into during his conversations with Raubahn. Touching on of the cages, he was in fact certain of it. What connection could there have been? Had the leader of the Immortals himself had been held here at one point?

These are all questions that would have to wait to be answered. Rest would be nice, but Seraph was unwilling to take it. He still had a long road ahead of him. While clear now, there was no telling what might wander in here. His path assured, he set back out upon it. Opening the gate by which he entered, he applied the full magnitude of his paling. Repeating the drop, open, and reapplication at the next gate he returned to the open area of Arropago Reef.

As he moved along he came to a high peak and could see the whole of the area. Shambling undead and the Lamiae keepers and several rotted hulks littered the landscape. Far to the north lay the staging point Seraph sought. But much closer he heard the bickering voices of living men. Looking down he could see the group of Corsairs that had plagued the Way of the Devout. So this is where their ship had carried them. He quickly picked out the one who seemed to lead the Pharatrie, strange gun resting on his shoulder.  “Why should we let a boy join our group?” came the voice of an aggitated Elvaan female. “Look… he’s just a kid, cut him some slack” came Muthib’s voice.

Climbing onto the edge of the ship he looked down at the group. He’d heard the voice of Ratihb’s eldest son, and found him swiftly. Whle the rest of the players were difficult to make out, one was significantly shorter than the rest. Seraph had to assum that this was Wasuad. At least the young boy was safe. The leader of the Pharatrie pointed his gun up towards Seraph’s vantage point. “Who’s there?” he demanded. Seraph allowed his glamour to falter, revealing himself to all present. As string of gasps and sharp inhales followed. The Corsairs all prepared themselves for a fight. “An Immortal? You want us to let your child of a brother to join our crew and yet you have the audacity to lead an Immortal here?!”

Wasuad, with the bravery only a child could bear, ran up to the leader. Jumping as high as he could, he pulled the pirates’ arm down. “Wait Qultada! He’s not an Immortal!” Wasuad shouted defensively.  “He’s a friend of my father’s! He just happens to be able to use Blue Magic!” While most of the Corsairs turned to Mutihb, who could offer no confirmation, Qultada eyed the boy with equal parts curiosity and cunning.

Qultada waved his free hand to the crew. With some hesitance they lowered their weapons. Wasuad noticed this and backed away himself. “This child is many things, one of them being honest” Qultada said. “If what he says is true, what brings you here ‘Mage?” he asked, almost spitting the last word. Seraph thought about it. Revealing that he was on an Immortal-related errand was not going to help his case. For that matter, toting himself as being on a mercaneries’ errand wasn’t going to fly well with a group of outlaws either.

While there may be but one truth, often time such a thing has many sides. “Curiosity, Qultada.” The Corsair leader lowered his gun entirely. “Come again?” Seraph looked behind him, checking for anything that may surprise him. Seeing none he turned back to Qultada, looking ever more perplexed. “I am here for my own ends, but I was asked to watch after Wasuad by his father. And as you have said, the boy is honest. Not being from this land I have heard many things. And having the Immortals at my ear I have not heard anything positive. The truth is many-fold, and I want to see what your side of it is.”

Qultada laughed. “Who would have thought? We’re moving along mage, and we will care for the boy. He is a bit young to attempt our entry procedure, but perhaps you could complete it on his behalf? Find something linked to our history, then find us again. If you can manage that, then there is some redemption for you after all.” The group, including Wasuad, moved away. Seraph quickly veiled himself against sight. The yelling had brought scores of the undead and their keepers. An unusual breed of undead attended this lot. Wrapped in bandages they seemed to be more alive than the others. However, as they paid him no heed he ran right by.

Seraph felt a touch of pride at being able to portray an Immortal as well as he did, especially against those who regularly aligned themselves against them. While this journey caused Seraph to surrender to a very realistic take on his limitations, perhaps he had come further than even he was willing to admit. The journey north twisted many times, but still remained rather straightforward.

Regarding the note often he felt he was going the right way, but it was hard to decide. One of the reasons Seraph splurged so on every map he could was to prevent getting lost as often as possible. Still, he was able to tell much by his vantage point earlier. He stayed set on his path. In the back of his mind, he began feeling an odd tug. Akin to the silent orders and affirmations exchanged between the Immortals earlier, he wondered what could be causing this. Perhaps Raubahn’s consciousness somehow extended to this area. But just as he thought in regard to the cages… why?

An unusual feedback hit Seraph, as it had when he saw the Mamool Ja use Blue Magic. He saw nothing wielding magic, but slowly a being came into view. Hovering a small distance above the ground it was draped in illustrious robes. However, the resemblance it bore to any of Altana’s children ended there. It’s face held a mass of tentacles where the jaw and mouth should have been. It wielded a staff, and the feedback resulted from it. It didn’t pulse, it was constant. What was this?

Looking to his grimoire he found no clue. It seemed that information would connect as soon as Seraph realized it. His note did have information every now and again regarding some monsters. Consulting it, he found the last step he knew he took in Arrapago Reef. Beyond that it said: “Make your way to E-7 to reach the next portion of the map. Beware Soulflayers, as they are True Hearing.” In reply, a page flipped open and visage of the creature linked to its name and warning.

True Hearing… Looking to the terrain, it was difficult to establish a free and clear path. Assuming that there was an operative range that it could hear, it just became a matter of moving past it when it was not liable to hear you. It would have to move just right for him to pass. Making his way down the hill, Seraph waited. Moving carefully, he shadowed the Soulflayer as it moved further down the path, skirting as wide a radius as he could manage. When the fiend turned, he sidled a small way along the wall and waited. Hopefully, it would pass far enough that it would allow him to run along. It having done so Seraph repeated the process with the next two.

This was ridiculous…

Coming away from the Soulflayers’ grounds the note read that something called “Merrow No. 5” might reside in this area. The grimoire showed this fiend. Apparently, it was mentioned in regards to Besieged. More fortunately than that, it wasn’t present now. He was almost there, and entered a small cave network. Inside… a smattering of more Heraldic Imps. First True Hearing… now True Sight. Seraph was livid, but his anger served no good now. Moving with swift caution, he kept pillars that supported the cave between he and the Imps, hoping that avoid one would not put him in the field of vision of another. Miraculously it did not, and he finally found the gate leading to the staging point. Looking over his shoulder ensuring he was clear, he dropped his glamour and entered.

Once inside the safety of the Immortals’ territory he took his space to fume. He thought he abhorred Cactuar. Soulflayers and Imps were going to get theirs one day. No… he still hated the cactuar more. He ran his hand through his hair, discovering another needle left by Daswil, the first Immortal he visited. Breaking the spine in his hand, he made his way towards this staging points’ Immortal. Lost in his own rage he had not paid ample attention to his restraint. The intent of wrathful Blue Magic seethed out of him.

“Wait” came the Immortal’s voice, snapping Seraph into a modicum of control. “You bear the mark of Zahak. You and I walk the same path Seraph.” He was about to form a reply when she lifted her hand. A shift in the immediate environment was coupled with her gesture. Wait… how did she know his name? “No words are necessary” she continued. “There is only the duty that I, Meyaada, must perform.” The energy saturating the air condensed into a maelstrom around Seraph. After a time it subsided, leaving Seraph gasping for air. “You live I see” she said. “We are done here. Be on your way.”

From bended knee Seraph held up a hand to get Meyaada’s attention. “Yes? What do you require?” Seraph attempted to speak, but ended up coughing out a mouthful of water. “You wish to tell me something, yes?” Meyaada seemed happy with her solitude, and was less than keen at even a fellow Blue Mage Elvaan’s presense. “What is it?!” she finally demanded. Already withdrawing the third of the smaller boxes, he held it in an upturned hand as he regained his footing.

A wry gleam could be seen from Meyaada’s eyes. “A supplies package for me?” She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Ah… the scent of the oil is heavenly.” Looking over her fellow Elvaan she sighed. “Thank you. Outside of occasional soldiers not much activity occurs around here. I appreciate the effort undertaken to such a forsaken place.” Seraph, finally able to get a word out edge-wise… “You are welcome” he uttered, simultaneously making his way to the runic portal. Having water in places unpreventable he acquiesced to the experience relating him to the Springserpent. Meyaada barked his name.

“Are you certain this is the path you wish to walk?” she asked. Looking back towards Arrapago Reef, he remembered just these travels he had taken alone. The training it took to be strong enough to make it on his own. “I’ve traveled too far down this path. Whether I wish to walk it or not, I am here. Besides, even closed, there is no denying a door once opened.” Meyaada did not respond. There was a small serving of tea that Ratihb had granted him, and he left it with Meyaada. Perhaps, along with the oil, it would help bring her a small comfort. He nodded, and in cordial reply Meyaada mimicked the action. Seraph walked over to the runic portal. Attuning himself as he had twice before, he considered his path. He still held the capability to return immediately to Nashmau, but having this portal open would indeed be useful.

A small amount of focused intent and will left Seraph back inside the Chamber of Passage. Removing the single use Warp scroll from his bag he remembered the Automaton. Considering it would work from anywhere, he figured he may as well drop it off an allow Ghastad to get to work on it. Passing Iruki-Waraki caused a small fit from the Taru who caught up to Seraph in a rush.

“He actually made you one?!” came an impassioned question on behalf of the Tarutaru Puppetmaster. Seraph quickly debunked that theory. “No… Ghastad wanted to research older models. I happened to find this one. In exchange he’s going to furnish me with a frame. When its done I can return to you that you may use it.” Mouth still hanging wide with surprise, Iruki-Waraki nodded, allowing Seraph to proceed along his way.

Pushing open the doors to the Automaton Workshop with his shoulder, he held the worn out construct gingerly. Excited gasps came from the workers as he made his way up all the tiers. At the end Ghastad, Aisha still at his side, hadn’t noticed his arrival. “Excuse me… Ghastad…” Seraph called out. Aisha was the first to respond, hearing a familiar voice. “Oh, Seraph! There you arrre! It’s been days. Where have you…” Her tail straightened and her body stiffened. Reaching out she pawed at the air several times, until she managed to tap Ghastad on the shoulder.

This finally brought Ghastad to the world outside his automaton… but only for a short while. “Hm…? Oh… Your friend has returned Aisha. And he’s brought a model of Automaton that I requested. And such a fine specimen.” Ghastad took the frame from Seraph and looked it over. “Yes, yes… this will let me find differences in modern and more original construction. I thank you very much. We’ll be done with this in just a few days. Your new frame will be ready after that time. Afford us just a bit of patience.” Seraph looked behind him. “I am surprised it will take that long. Your assistants seem to be chomping at the bit to get started.” Ghastad laughed. “Right you are, however… Ms. Aisha has been most diligent in your absence. I am going to take the opportunity to show her an Automatons’ workings from the ground up.” Aisha perked up extremely at this declaration. Seraph nodded. “I’ll leave you to it then. Aisha, I know I still owe you an exchange on Blue Magic, but perhaps I could look over your notes once the new frame is complete.” She crossed her arms in a mocking anger. “Oh, if you insist…” She smiled as he walked out the door.

Now seizing the warp scroll he began focusing broke the seal on its energies. One moment he was on the southern shore looking at a northbound port, where as now he stood in Nashmau with a port facing south. As he could find in Bastok, there were guards here which furnished the warp scrolls which Seraph was so heavily reliant upon. The energies were very dense, and only one could be held at a time. Replenishing his singular supply he looked to where he had to go next.

Having cleared three of the staging points, the last two on his list were Azouph and Dvucca Isles. Both lay relatively close to here. Recalling that his path was barred to the Azouph staging point before, he thought how realistic it was for the self same Imp to be waiting in the same place. How long had adventurers waiting to claim the hides and prizes often furnished by exceedingly fell beasts? The answer to that was a startlingly long time. In this rare case the devil Seraph didn’t know was much preferred to the one he did, so he set out toward the west exit of Nashmau.

Again, Seraph found himself in Caedarva Mire. His note indicated that the path to his goal was an extremely short and safe one. Barely any enemies along the way. After his prior ordeal he was happy to look forward to a relatively relaxing trip. Seraph paused. When a walk through a marsh filled with undead creatures and rather annoying Imps is remotely considered “relaxing” it was certainly time to re-evaluate ones’ life. Listening to other adventurers, getting hit with techniques to use them was a touch ludicrous as well.

Perhaps it was time for a vacation. In the meantime, he wrapped himself in his paling and sallied forth. Sure enough, he quickly found the branch in his path. A lone Immortal stood guard. While not the Immortal he sought, this was the proper path. As he was preparing to drop his glamour he heard a scream. It sounded of a young boy.

The boy sounded like Wasuad.

The Immortal seemed aware of this, and of Seraph as he approached. He didn’t bother to remove any of his spells. “There’s a boy in trouble!” he began. “I am not strong enough to help him. Will you come with me.” The Immortal shook her head. “I will not leave my post. We are not all fit to be Immortal. If it be the fate of you two you shall perish this day.” The tide of anger caused a surge so potent that it nearly undid Seraph’s workings. “Then I pray that you live an eternal life with which to guard your tunnel.”

With that, a furious Seraph tore up the hill. Sunlight dappled down, even to this murky earth. Qiqirn wandered around a graveyard, through which another Imp floated. “What did it say when one Imp in an open area no longer daunted him?” Seraph thought. Moving around the fences and avoiding line of sight with the Imp Seraph continued a short way northward. Knowing not which where this path led he looked around for some clue. As he walked forward his toe kicked something metallic. While unfinished and in similar disrepair as the Automaton he found, it looked to be a gun. Looking at the face of it, the barrel ended in a six sided pattern. This was akin to the model that Qultada had pointed at him. Having no other semblance of a clue he ran ahead.

The place Seraph ran into was similarly desolate as Arrapago Reef had been. However, this place wasn’t swarming with the undead and their keepers. What an unusual space. Had he been any other race besides a Mithra, what was an argument held at length would have gone below Seraph’s notice. Rushing quickly he found a wall. At a distance it was innocuous, but upon closer inspection it gave way and allowed entry. A grounded Galka lay before Qultada. His crew, while marking Seraph’s abrupt entrance, let him to his own devices.

Qultada made his way over to his Blue Mage counterpart. “Well well. Twice you’ve managed to find us. It seemed that you picked up my name someplace along the way” remarked the Corsair leader, referencing the last time they met. “I would have yours, if you’d please.” Seraph nodded and stated it plainly. Continuing on, he held out the artifact he found. “I heard Wasuad scream. I wasn’t certain if he had come this way, but I found this.”

Taking the gun from his grasp Qultada nodded, an unusual smile gracing his face. He laughed. “Most unexpected Seraph. Looks like you’re in luck Wasuad.” The boy came running out from a place unseen. “It looks like Seraph came through. It’s not much, but welcome to the Pharatrie.” Qultada handed Seraph a small die. “I’m not too big on speeches” continued the Corsair. “Our lineage is based quite a bit on luck. As you know the power of the Immortals is pervasive, but we endure. Fight as we do. Maybe you’ll bridge the gap between your kind and my own.”

Seraph took the die. It looked simple enough, but such things rarely were. “What of the boy now?” he asked. Qultada rested his gun on his shoulder. “Well… that is a bit of a predicament. We aren’t really in a place to take him back…” Wasuad jumped up. “I can make it on my own! Any self respecting Corsair would be able to.” Qultada looked to Seraph then said to Wasuad “We survive by being smart, prepared, and lucky. Foolishness is on the other side of a very thin line.” Seraph admired the boys’ spirit. “I’m journeying to the staging points anyhow. The one near Dvucca Isle isn’t a rough trip at all. I’ll take him with me. That will be the swiftest return we can provide.” Wasuad nodded at this and ran back towards the entrance. Seraph and Qultada shook hands, and the former Elvaan ran off.

Re-entering Caedarva Mire Seraph insisted that Wasuad hold his hand. First Wasuad, then himself, soon both were blanketed in protective spells. Making there way past the Imp, they continued south until they were square in front of the Immortal. Not being experienced with spells Wasuad’s enchantments wore off swiftly. Seraph dropped his. “Ah” said the Immortal. “I see you and the boy are safe. This is good. I assume you would like passage if you come before me? I require an Imperial Silver Piece.” Seraph ensured he had one, as his note had mentioned its necessity. Handing it over he began walking forward with Wasuad.

The Immortal held up her hand. “I am sorry, but this only allows for the passage of one person.” Seraph balked. “You jest, surely. I am taking the boy HOME.” The Immortal nodded. “So you are. Still, this only permits one person passage.” Seraph looked down to Wasuad, who moved a small distance away. Having been forced to maintain his composure Seraph was spoiling for a fight. The Immortal laughed as Seraph reared up on his magical hackles. “You are a fool! Do you not realize that I am your superior?!” Seraph smiled. “Oh, I know you are. If passage is only allowed for one, I can ensure that is enacted somehow. Either I die and he goes through, or you do and it won’t matter.” In reply, the Immortal allowed her power to seethe. Not nearly as cloying as Raubahn’s presence it was still a dense and terrible thing. “I doubt you can do sufficient harm to me Stripling.” Seraph laughed. “You’re right. But I can consume enough of you to make you forever useless to the Immortals again in this lifetime on my way down. Care to risk that?”

The Immortal paused. She considered this unique threat for just a moment. Soon the energy around her dissipated. “Go” she spat. Relenting his power he waved to Wasuad and the two moved into the area beyond. Slowly, the natural tunnel gave way to an artificial structure. It was ornate, inlaid with golds and metals reminiscent of other crafts of Whitegate, just on a more grandiose scale. Following the notes’ instructions the pair happened across a teleportation panel. As they placed themselves on it a surge of energy shot through the structure. Yet still, they were enveloped in the energies and shot off to wherever it led.

Looking about at their destination, Seraph found himself looking upon a runic portal. Was this Dvucca Isle? His expectations not denied, he saw an Immortal standing guard over a sealed off area. Giving Wasuad a small tug they walked over to this Immortal. “My…” he began. “…an unusual pair, especially to be wandering through this place.” Seraph nodded. “I am merely trying to see the boy home. We were on our way to the Dvucca staging point from Nashmau. Are we in the right place?” He shook his head. “I am Shahayl, and I guard the Nyzul Isle staging point. I will attribute your arrival to the unusual power surge. It was most unusual, but has been happening with an alarming frequency of late.”

Seraph sighed, and Wasuad tugged at his hand. The Blue Mage nodded to the boy. “I assume that this runic portal will suit us just as well in his hasty return as any other?” Seraph asked. Shahayl nodded. “You are quite correct.” Seraph bowed, and began walking back towards the runic portal. Wasuad ran all around. “Seraph, look! We’re underwater! You can see fish swimming!” Miraculously Seraph had overlooked this caveat. They were indeed underwater. Everything held, but it was disconcerting none the less. Wasuad was enraptured. While he stared in wonder, Shahayl walked over to Seraph.

The Immortal asked in a low voice. “You are one of Raubahn’s lauded Potentials, are you not?” Ensuring Wasuad was a great distance away, Seraph nodded. “He has called me such.” Shahayl stood inscrutably in reply. “I see. My duties here are not so great that I cannot do you a small favor. Let us return the boy Whitegate. I will furnish your return here.” Shahayl called Wasuad over, and the three took the runic portal back to Whitegate.

Wasuad was not only happy to have returned home, but surprised. Shahayl quickly made his way over to the Chamber of Passage watchman to explain his request. Kneeling, Seraph spoke to the boy. “That was amazing!” said Wasuad. “It is a useful thing. There is one closer to where we were…” Wasuad stood on his toes and whispered in Seraph’s ear. “Talacca Cove.” Seraph nodded, and would remember the name. “We will go to the Dvucca Isle staging point one day. It will offer us quick passage back there should we need it. Now hurry home to your father. And be careful what you say to him.” Wasuad nodded and smiled. “No problem!” As he ran away Seraph was not at all concerned. At one point the city was unknown to him, but now he had experience with what lay hidden on the continent. Shahayl made his way back, furnishing a runic portal permit for Seraph. “Shall we?” he asked, and the two made their way back to Nyzul Isle.

After they re-materialized the pair walked silently toward the teleportation panel that had mislead Seraph to this place. “So you have met our brethren?” asked the Immortal. “Some” came Seraph’s reply. “Outside of the one who guards this place coming from western Nashmau, I have met three Immortals, all at staging points. To fulfill Raubahn’s, and simultaneously, Naja Salaheem’s… requests, I have to visit the last two. I find it odd they did not mention you…” Shahayl laughed. “This is an easy watch. I do not need to establish a perimeter like the others. Plus each and every entryway is guarded by a fellow Immortal. I fall below Naja’s notice because this is not a harrowing place. Plus her mercenaries still find their way here regularly. She has no desire to illicit my good will.”

Shahayl held up his hand. “Wait for the next surge, then quickly make your way onto the panel.” Seraph nodded to the Immortal. “Take Care around the Empire” he offered. “It is easy for one to become entangled in the hands of its influence.” Seraph nodded, and a thought struck him. “Out of curiosity… why are the Immortals limited to Humes and Elvaan? For that matter… why are so few Tarutaru enlisted in the Empress’s service? Every race makes up the Serpent Generals except the Taru.” Shahayl blinked, wondering after this for the first time. “Interesting… I could not say. That may be better answered by Raubahn or Rujhadeen to tell the truth.” Shahayl looked up. “Ah… be ready, a surge approaches. Safe journeys Seraph.”

Seraph jumped on the panel as a surge coursed through it. The energy had an usually purple tinge to it. As he arrived at his destination, he checked the note again. Proceeding forward he found another Immortal. “I am heading to Dvucca Isle” Seraph stated. “Is this the proper outlet?” The Immortal nodded and allowed him to pass. Applying his paling he set out along his way again.

Shahayl felt when Seraph’s footfalls ceased moving across the Alazdaal Ruins interior. Once the Blue Mage was gone, The Immortal exhaled, a wave of purple energy flowing out from him. His perimeter restored, he sensed no roving beasts within his boundaries. “Perhaps your eye will be the one to counter Raubahn’s, Young One.” He returned to his attentive stance, governing the Nyzul Isle staging point. What a fool, the Immortal commander, leaving one such as he to gather such power.

Seraph’s path was not long, and he soon found himself at yet another gate, this one furnishing entry into the Dvucca Isle staging point. Having been delayed did not help Seraph’s patience at all, nor did the knowledge that he was nearly complete with this task. Walking directly up to him, Seraph revealed his Marking to the Immortal. A sober nod was given to Seraph in reply. “You bear the mark…” The Immortal slipped into a dour yet passionate laugh. When he recovered his tone sounded annoyed. “So they send the striplings to me now?” he shouted skyward. He brought his gaze to bear down upon Seraph, his voice raised high. “Do you wish to shed your mortal shell?!” Seraph shook his head. “Not at all. I have no intent to lose myself so wholly to this power.” Seraph let a bit of energy flow obtusely over his armor.

The Immortal shook his head. “Foolish child… is there nothing worthwhile which binds you to your former life?” Seraph immediately thought of Saint and Rai, and other members of his first linkshell. He was about to respond, but then halted. His mind returned to San d’Oria. Vulilu shot through his mind at high speed, quicker than he could stop it. “There is” Seraph said. “I’m not going to lose them. I can have everything. What is the point of power if I can’t retain everything I want?”

Seraph stood toe to toe with the Immortal, who grew more and more livid. “You are changing right before their eyes. If you continue what makes you think they will stay near you? Will they even recognize you?” Seraph thought for a moment. The Immortal crossed his arms in a very haughty fashion by Seraph’s hesitation and silence. Eventually, he answered. “I don’t know. I can only hope that they won’t simply remember me as I was, but accept me as I have become and know me to be the same person they met long ago.” The Immortal continued his cold gaze. “What will you aspire to once your fall is complete, Young One?” Seraph laughed aloud, recalling how Waoud sometimes alluded to such an end. “If I fall completely I can aspire to anything. Wouldn’t you agree that our fates are the same in that way?”

The Immortal reeled back. “Me? I…” He averted his eyes, placing a hand to his head. “…but…no.” He seemed to consider much to himself. Soon he came back to conscious attention. “That is for me to pursue. What is your name, young Mage?” the Immortal asked under a note of wonder.

“I am Seraph.”

“And I am Nahshib” replied the Immortal, finally giving his name. “You have chosen the same path as me. I ask you to steel your heart and consider fully what fate now has in store for you.” Bitter air flowed inward, twisting in towards the Immortal. “Are you ready? I will give you the chance…” The winds picked Seraph up off his feet, tearing viciously at him with no regard for his well being. “…this is your last chance to perish as a mortal!” came Nahshib’s voice through the tempest.

Seraph knew this sensation all too well. For the first time he felt without what he felt within his own mind. A monster lay without, he lay within steady in his own might, and he was surrounded by a vile wind.  Seraph’s body arched, his eyes flared open, and he absorbed the wind into him, falling to the ground. As Nahshib knelt in front of him Seraph looked up, blue energy lancing out of his eyes. “So you are unscathed. Congratulations, and my condolences for the loss of your mortal existence. But this is not the end of your path. Tread carefully Seraph.”

Seraph focused on returning home, but recalled a secondary task he was charged with completing. Reaching into his bag he withdrew the fourth small box. “Something more?” asked Nahshib. Accepting the box from Seraph he looked it over, somewhat puzzled. “A supplies package… you’ve met with Naja Salaheem? Daswil sent word to me that recognition can be attributed to an Immortal through one of these.” Nodding, he set it away. “I never imagined I would see one so early. I am new to the Immortals after all.” Looking Seraph over caused the Immortal to pause. “Have you yet to be inducted into our ranks?” he asked. “Of course I haven’t.” Nahshib raised a hand. “I am not saying the trek has been at all easy, but judging by your handling of it I would think that you were one of us.”

Returning the box to his belongings, Seraph could see one lone slim case glittering from within now. He was almost complete. “I thank you for the compliment” he said, bowing to Nahshib as he made his way to the runic portal. “Familiar with the device then?” he posed to Seraph. Nodding, he snapped, and revealed his grimoire. “Quite. The information is limited, but the application is straightforward. As you are more newly inducted to the Immortals perhaps you know something of Raubahn.” Nahshib was taken aback. “I’ve only met him a couple of times. What are you wanting to know?” Seraph thought carefully what to ask. “What is his connection to Waoud?”

The Immortal stopped to think. “I don’t actually know of any Waoud. From what I’ve seen Raubahn is a rather lonely operator. I’ve never seen him speak with anyone directly if it didn’t involve a mission or a necessary exchange of information.” This was unexpected. Were Blue Mages usually handpicked? If so… what was Waoud’s role in Seraph’s case? The grimoire, sensing his confusion, vanished in a huff.

Attuning to the portal, Seraph again found himself in Whitegate. However, he had no inclination to dawdle. Using the warp scroll he held, he was returned to Nashmau. One staging point was left and he knew right where it would be. As the runic portal would send him back to Whitegate he did not bother with getting a replacement scroll. He was tired, excited… many emotions at once clouded his judgment Running to the eastern exit, Seraph discovered breathing to not just be easy, but pleasing. The power of the Galeserpent could now be felt in every inhalation.

Seraph cast his paling and ran towards the northeast. There were no creatures that would be able to see through it, and he moved with confidence through Caedarva Mire. He returned to the bottleneck that had so hampered him before. And now, as before, a lone Imp watched the path. It did not fly in place, but merely sat on the ground. This was not going to end well at all, but Seraph had no other options. Remembering Imp behavior from earlier in the Mire he knew this one would begin hammering him with magic as soon as it could. Seraph just needed enough time to get the gate open. It had never been easy before, and that was when he didn’t have to worry about keeping himself alive.

Drawing his sword he could only hope that fortune was with him. Casting a few spells to deflect the damage he incurred he hoped it would be enough to let him do as he needed to. Seraph put his focus on the door. If he were fortunate, the glancing blow would be enough to hamper the first spell being cast. That should give him the time to slip into the gate and close it shut behind him. As soon as Seraph was close the magic of his paling proved useless. The Imp saw through his guise and sprang into the air. The elemental power of Thunder flowed through the Imp, and as Seraph passed he swung his sword. He missed, the Imp lifting itself another foot, but he clipped a horn from its belt. Kicking it as he ran Seraph reached the gate and began pushing in.

It was to no avail. As he began pushing the spell struck him. The raw voltage caused his body to spasm and he jolted back from the gate. The Imp, laughing, reached down to its waist. Apparently, it searched for its horn. While the last group of Imps were close enough to see their prey, they normally used their horns to alert their kin to viable prey. Being with the horn sent this one into a frenzy. The potential for Blue Magic washed off the Imp, and it ripped into Seraph with its clawed hands.

His body could bear no more, and he succumbed to his attacker.

The Imp floated above him, laughing. As Seraph had done many times the Imp just faded… laughing all the while, its bloodlust sated. Seraph held magics that would restore a beaten body, and one that would do so for himself. However, evaluating his recent journeys he found it to be useless. Oft times he was, at his best, far out of his depth. Case in point. At first he ensured it was applied, but after the first couple staging points it seemed superfluous. Being surrounded by masses of enemies all able to put him into the dirt he didn’t foresee one situation: A singular enemy that would have ventured away.

The will to survive hammered within Seraph’s form. The energy which normally restored his body raged out of control and began to try to seize it. A craze arose within him. There was a way to warp away when ones’ life essence flowed so loosely, but Seraph could not manage to focus on it. His flesh distended, and looking within, he found the magics he consumed giving him new shape. Something… familiar.

Unable to stand against his fate, he fell to the challenge. The Beast began to win. Seraph lay writhing, fighting to maintain his Self. Untold hours passed.

The gate opened, and a White Mage exited into the Mire. Seeing the young Elvaan writhing on the ground she evaluated his condition. Being several magnitudes of power greater than Seraph’s training she wove a spell the likes of which Seraph had not seen. Upon its completion he was restored completely. While weakened, he did not experience the normal blacking out akin to such an ordeal. His experience with Cactuars was not remembered right away, but it was confirmed later on after a few retellings.

Stretching his gloved hands and feeling his frame, all felt in order. Looking within, his form was his own again. “My thanks…” Seraph uttered. In a dialect he couldn’t place, a response came. Bowing, he hoped that the message of his gratitude was understood. Pulling himself past the barrier, he left Caedarva Mire, and for the last time at that.

Upon passing the iron gate Seraph could hear boisterous speech. He allowed himself a few moments rest while he recovered his strength. The last thing he wanted was to test this last Immortal at anything less then his best. For the ensuing minutes he could hear some loud proclamations, but heard no replies. When he was ready, he wandered further into the safety of the area, looking around very confused. “I, Nareema, will carry out the Empress’s orders through fire, ice, and storm!” The raving came from the Immortal herself, a definite break from the stoic and inscrutable lot that was the standard. Nareema halted abruptly in her speech, arms still raised in the air. Her demeanor changed, sounding at once as a startled child… “Oh… welcome to the Azouph Isle staging point.” …then changed again, sounding more threatening than any other Immortal Seraph had come across. “You got something to say to me?”

“Yes… just a moment…” Seraph began turning just enough to retrieve Nareema’s portion of the Zwha oil. He blinked, and when he opened his eyes the Immortal stood right in front of him, looking him in the eyes, but on tip toe. Seraph balked, and backpedaled slightly. “I know why you’re here…” she said. “…you want information on the staging point, don’t you?” Before Seraph could either deflect or object, his grimoire appeared. However, it seemed to droop, several instances of such a promise weighing heavily on it. Nareema eyed the floating book, and stroked it along the spine.

“Oh my… what a wonderful little medium!” she resounded. The pages fluttered back and forth which made Nareema giggle. “But so sad… do you not know about staging points?” Seraph made his way to the duo. Nareema had the grimoire facing her so she could read it. It opened to a page which held preliminary information in regards to them, and rude notes detailing the other Immortal’s lack of knowledge. “They did not know, you say? How surprising! Perhaps I can be of help?”

On the opposite page an image of Nareema began taking form. Delighted, she leaned on the grimoire, having it support her weight. “Let’s see… the blue devices are properly known as ‘runic portals’, which you know…” she began, tracing her finger along the words. An odd tingle flowed back from the grimoire. “…and yes… they were created by our alchemists. Ah… here is something you don’t know my little friend… It is not just magic as in a scroll, which furnishes a type of magical bubble. These portals actually take you apart and puts you back together at the other end!”

Seraph blinked in surprise, trying to absorb what he had just heard. It translated to the grimoire, and it took a moment for it to take down her words. Once they appeared , she nodded and continued. “Scary isn’t it? I was scared at first too. I mean, the entire contraption is simply beyond belief! It’s hard to believe that such a thing could exist on Vana’diel!” The Cavernous Maws flashed to mind. To date, Seraph did not know what created them, but he assumed some deity had a hand in their appearance. To travel through time and dimension… that was truly a providence beyond the skein of mortals. That such a device, similar in purpose, was created by less than divine hands… there was still much to learn of the ways of the Aradijah continent.

“…I really don’t get it… how could you body be disassembled, and then each individual molecule meticulously reassembled in Al Zahbi’s Chamber of Passage… does that make sense to you?” Nodding, the Elvaan suddenly re-evaluated his use of the runic portals. He had made light of them before, simply believing them to be akin to the Warping and Teleporation spells he had often used been privy to. If this was the process being employed.. he could only hope everything was still where it was supposed to be.

The grimoire was utterly elated. In bobbed up and down, picking the Immortal Hume off her feet. It then disappeared in a very spectacular array of color, obviously pleased with what it now knew. It was the little things. While laughing, Nareema still looked at Seraph. “It may be frightening, but once you use it traversing between here and Al Zahbi will be of no large matter.” She returned again to the tops of her toes. “But that’s not why you’re here, is it…? I know better than that… your face says it all!”

While much more inviting, Nareema was perhaps the most aggressive Immortal he had spoken with to date. Smiling for a change, Seraph revealed the Mark of Zahak, twisted though it was, on his neck. Nareema’s eyes grew wide, and she took a few steps back. The stability of power in the area wavered, quaking, vibrating up through Seraph’s legs. “Blue…” Nareema said, gripping her head. “…muddies the purest waters…”  She looked again at Seraph. “It is the mark of a Blue mage…” She began screaming, the ground beneath echoing in reply. “I cannot bear it! Cannot…” She backed away further, her whole frame seeming to sag. “Leave me be… I cannot bear it…”

This was not possible. Knowing now the process, Seraph would not leave with it remaining undone. Nareema stood listlessly, not standing at attention as Seraph was accustomed the Immortals doing. Instead she stood wavering like grass in the wind. “Nareema…” at the sound of her name her head tilted and rolled around until she was again looking at Seraph. The vacancy in her eyes was that of a new meeting. But instead of being filled with wonder and excitement hers were merely cold.

“Blue…?” the word did not connect for an instant. She suddenly stood upright and attentive, but sorrow overtook her voice. “You are blue…?” She suddenly seemed to be listening and respond to one Seraph could not perceive. “No… you didn’t… The Immortal’s request…” Nareema slid down to the ground. She nearly sobbed. “The sadness and despair…” Seraph knelt to make an attempt to console her. “…the triumph…” she whispered, looking up a remember accomplishment crossing swiftly in her mind. He placed a hand on her shoulder, and one of her hands touched his… but it didn’t feel human. Their eyes locked, Nareema staring longingly at Seraph. “No… I mustn’t.. mustn’t…”

She tore her hand away, and her hand fell to the ground, fingers gripping around fistfuls of dirt. “I am a vessel…” she murmured without any conviction. “Blue and despoiled, I must perform my duty.” She reached her hands up to cup Seraph’s face. The scent of the ground filled his nose as the soil rubbed against his face. “I must perform my duty. It is your fate… but perhaps…?” She drew close, meeting Seraph’s gaze. Her sad eyes were hungry, and he could feel her breathing despite her covered face. “Farewell.” Through Nareema the earth focused and bore collectively onto Seraph. There was no escape, and none was necessary. Soon the upward surge of earth subsided.

A sad smile pulled at the corner of Nareema’s eyes, her voice at once both elated and resigned to defeat. “You survived! That is good, and that is bad. You have embraced the life of the Beast…” You must struggle forward as I have. So, go… Leave me…” Seraph reached behind the veil and touched Nareema’s too cold cheek. She closed her eyes, indulging in the touch. Seraph than stood to leave. Remembering his other purpose, he ensured he left Naja’s gift with the Immortal.

He knelt down, setting the small package on her leg. She gripped it, fingers touching his again. Power lanced unseen. Too cold, to removed from humanity. Her face lit up, her emotion again genuine happiness. “Oh… it’s magnificent. Look how it gleams. The scent I remember.. so fresh… so pure!” Seraph looked at Nareema’s eyes, recognizing the flash of memory behind them. Again, she was overcome with apparent sadness, but still tears did not flow. “You have lost your freedom.” she said, gripping his hand. As he stood, her brought her up with him. “…I was free…” She was disjointed in her speech. Something rang out in the back of Seraph’s mind. Some hint of connection, coming from the same place Seraph had ‘Heard’ the other Blue Mages. “The color of our blood, our souls… they are the same. We are the same, you and I…” Collecting herself, she drew the package to her chest, holding it with both hands. “If you would ever like to… talk… with me again, the runic portal. Don’t forget about it.”

Hearing the now empty box inside his bag he knew that it was time to return to Salaheem. The last of the runic portals enveloped Seraph. He stood within the boundaries of the sigil, attuning to the energies enclosed within. Nareema looked on him with with an inhumanly longing gaze in an unreadable stance. Bowing to Nareema, she did so in reply. Before total dissolution, Seraph let his hand trace up and felt his neck. The Mark at his neck felt stilled, the solidarity of the Stoneserpent now added to him. This was what Raubahn had asked of him. All five Serpent brands were now added atop his own shifting Mark of Zahak. Closing his eyes for just a moment, he found himself back in Whitegate when he opened them. Naja Salaheem’s errand was run. Raubahn’s request found itself completed. And the grimoire, which had suddenly become more active, seemed to be sated for now as well. Seraph breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Being at peace, his attention sank low enough to notice the conversations of the linkshell again. There seemed to be some type of upheaval in Heroism. Apparently, since Dacove had not been around as of late a large number of shell members were going to establish their own so that someone would have the typical administrative capacity that Heroism now lacked. Seraph removed the linkpearl from his ear. He considered tossing it aside, but such was not his way. He put it in his bag and was determined to put it somewhere in his moghouse alongside his Fourteen Drawings pearlsack to remind him of his past. One broken and forgotten, the other promised and not delivered upon.

Seraph marched onward, staving off his rage. He decided to go on to see Naja Salaheem first. Her assistant had apparently replaced the door. Seraph had either been gone for a long while or he did fast work. Seraph figured the latter, considering the high probability that it was a standard task. Thinking ahead, Seraph called on his defensive magics. As he was using white magic as of late he added to the mix magical shadows that would allow him to escape attacks, if only narrowly. Seraph entered the office and squared himself as he looked at Salaheem, feeling confident in his preparations for negotiations. “Oh… you’rrre back” she observed blithely. Seraph set the empty box on her desk which formerly held the bottles of Zhwa oil to be given to the Immortals. “Herrre to give up?” she perked up immensely at voicing this thought. “The Immortals at each of the non-Nyzul staging points have been made aware of the generosity of Salaheem’s Sentinels upon my behalf.”

Naja opened the box. “Are you kidding?! How could you mess up such a simply assignment?!” Seraph eyed Naja, confused. “You gave me five bottles, and there are five Immortals scattered about five staging points. It is sensible to conclude that each delivery was sound.” Naja growled. “This is why I hate forrreignerrrrs!” She came around the front of the table, grabbed the box, and shoved the open container in Seraph’s face. “There were five bottles…” she then slammed the lid shut. “BUT ONE BOX!!! I wanted ya to give the whole kit and caboodle to ONE OF THE IMMORTALS YOU…”  Quicker than lightning Salaheem turned, at once setting down the box and retrieving her mace. The power a full rotation of her speedy Mithra body would have completely obliterated the Elvaan’s defenses and floored him, instead she missed, connecting instead with one of the magical projections. Not anticipating a complete miss Naja lost her balance. Seraph sighed as she betrayed another attack and missed again, taking another construct in lieu of his face. She smiled viciously, her next attack rising up from a crouch, connecting straight in his chin.

Beware always the set jaws of proud races, especially those augmented by magic. Naja connected with Seraph’s spells, mace sliding from her hand, the hard heads of weapons and owner meeting. Embellishing the truth, Seraph continued. “I met with each of the Immortals without incident. Nareema’s report may come a little later, but it should corroborate with the others.” Naja nodded. “Nareema is so…” she caught herself, ears twitching rapidly. “…well, she does her job. Like you’ve done yours. Ya made it back in one piece, and I’d chalked you up to being chopped liver by now!”

Having returned to her usual boisterousness was a bit of a front. She still rubbed one hand to the other, but still held her mace. Seraph’s unbreakable expression gained a softened reaction from the mercenary overseer. “Heh, sorry about that… I’m sure it was a walk in the park for an adventurer like you.” This was exceedingly far from the truth, but he was not about to give Naja the satisfaction of this truth. “Don’t think badly of me” she said. This seemed odd. She was almost… docile. “I have a lot on my plate ya know. Everrry wannabe from herrre to Rrrabao wants to join up. I gave you a task, and you fulfilled it. Knowing the value of what they were carrying I’ve had some cubs turn tail and run.” She spun her mace on the top most spike on its head. “Never ended well, mind you, but they trrried.”

Seraph nodded his agreement. In his mind this Zwha was akin to the Mithra homeland. Never had he been himself, and he only heard tales of Mirtha coming from there. Even Saint hadn’t mentioned the place. “Although I’m morrre than a bit upset, I can’t deny your skills. Going to all the staging points, and on yourrr own… that’s no easy feat! You’ve gotta be pretty famous, rrright?” she asked, bubbling with typical Mithran enthusiasm.

Something gnawed at the back of Seraph’s mind about her sudden change in character. Maybe there was something to what she said… apparently many adventurers signed up solely for teleportation permission. On paper they were squared away. Perhaps her gruffness was just a part of the screening process.

“I wouldn’t say so” he replied. “I try to remain low key. ‘The best reputation is no reputation’ in my book.” Salaheem laughed at this. “And so humble! Maybe I’ve already heard about such a special guy from all the other mercenaries. They don’t make ’em like you anymorrre…” she said, leaning in close. “I don’t think you’ve told me your name yet…” Taking a step back, Seraph looked to Salaheem’s assistant, who swiftly busied himself with some paperwork at his disposal. A finger under Seraph’s chin directed his gaze back to Salaheem, who was on all fours on her desk. “Well, what’rrre ya waitin’ for? I just want to know who I’m ‘showing my thanks’ to…”

Something’s definantely up. Now she’s flirting? Too much experience with too many Mithra was telling Seraph one thing: Salaheem wanted something? But why was she so keen to his name?

“…oh, what’s wrong? You don’t want to give your name to poor little Naja?” she said playfully. Seraph was trying to figure out what Naja… what Salaheem’s angle was, and quickly. Crouching on the edge of her table now, she leaned closer, her tail dancing over one of Seraph’s ears. “C’mon… What would it hurrt?” she purred. Eying the Mithra, the Elvaan finally gave her his name. Speaking carefully he tried to see any betrayal of intent in her eyes. “It’s Seraph.”

Sliding seductively off the table Salaheem pursed her lips, leaning against the Elvaan. “Seraph…” she mimicked, whispering in his ear. “Serrraph” she emphasized, drawing out R in a low growl. She then pounced away, becoming more and more worked up. “Serrraph! Rrrowrr! That name just SCRRREAMS ‘power’!” Salaheem reached across the desk for something, her tail twitching playfully. That is, until she caught Seraph’s glance, and let it run up her leg as she smiled over her shoulder. Turning again to the assistant he had turned around, and was pinching the bridge of his nose. He knew something.

Seraph’s attention was recalled by Salaheem sounding out his name. “S-E-R…U-F”? Edging closer, she seemed to be spelling it out on a scrap of paper. The characters, while Mithran, were well known to him. However, while she thought they said ‘Seruf’, the character for the R was one meant to be held long and low, making it more into ‘Surf’. “Salaheem?” he called out. She turned, a saddened look in her eyes. “Seraph, call me Naja. Please…” she pleaded.

“You’rrre from the mainland, aren’t ya?” she asked, completely sullen. “Since you’ve done what you needed to, you’re going back rrright?” He nodded. “That is my plan…” She crumpled up against him. “You ran all over Aradijah for me. I’m just a working girrrl. I don’t have anything to give you for going to all the trouble for me. Well, except my heart… Maybe… I could wrrrite you? It isn’t much I know, and you’rrre probably real busy…” Here it comes said part of Seraph’s instinct. “…I just can’t figurrre out foreigners’ names. What’s the point of sending a letter you’d never get?” Putting a small distance between them she continued. “Could you write your name down for me?”

that’s it? asked the same area of instinct.

“If you wrrrite it down, I can copy it, then I know my letterrrs will reach ya!” She pulled him by the hand, put a quill in it, and led him over to the table. She discarded the small scrap she had been working on, and pointed to a blank page coming out of the bottom of one of the many large stacks. Seemed to be part of completed work orders, judging by the top sheet. “That isn’t need Naja. Really” Seraph deflected. “You pronounce the name beautifully. I’m certain porter moogles or auction house attendants can facilitate the recipient information.”

Good, good. chimed the hind-brain. Now get out of there…

Seraph turned to leave, and began walking towards the door. “I even bet that your assistant would help out!” The assistant spun on his heels waving his hands in front of him. The action screamed ‘Don’t drag me into this!’ Confused, he turned to see Naja glaring at him with her former, trademark anger. Seeing that she had been caught, Salaheem now spun around, sinking to her knees, head buried in her arms, as audible sobs came from her, becoming again disheartened. What is going on here? Seraph was suddenly torn. Leaving a lady to despair was simply not his way, but the assistant was making motions at the door. Sighing, he walked back over to Naja. The assistant slumped over in defeat.

As he reached Salaheem again, he was seized in the sensation of being pulled into his inner world. As this happened, an odd image sprang into his mind. He was suddenly back in Arrapago Reef, staring into the eyes of a soulflayer. However, this one seemed less far gone. It wielded no staff, did not float off the ground, and seemed to be wearing not the typical soulflayer robes, but a simple white garment. It hands seemed wrong, its head rounded, and it’s skin was not pale or yellow as he had remembered, but instead more of a husky read. The tentacles on its face quivered as it shouted “IT’S A TRAP!!!”

Seraph came back to the world jostled. While blinking a few times he was aware of Salaheem’s hand on his, the quill in it, tip pressed to parchment. His senses fully returning he began hearing in the middle of her sentence. “…begging now… how unbecoming. Won’t you please do this one last thing for me? I’ll wrrrite, but you don’t have to make anything out of it. Please…” Seraph shook his head. “…write?” He then focused in on the parchment. “…right…” Still not having reconnected fully he followed the suggestion and he wrote out his name.

Naja looked at the signature. “Oh… S-E-R-A-P-H. I see now. My… what an… in-ter-rrresting name…” She stood, pulling the piece of paper up as she rose.

She began reading…

“‘I vow through rain and through wind. Running not from storms of arrows, and fearing not blasts of magic. To defend in times of beastman attacks and to venture out in times of peace. In sickness and in health, through curses and petrification. I pledge myself, to Salaheem…'”

…wedding vows… that was a little quick…

“…oh… sorry… Uh… let’s see here… ‘to Salaheem’s Sentinels…'”

… her mercenary organization? What was…

“‘…for all eternity…'”

By Altana… not vows. Still binding. The contract…

“‘…Signed Seraph.'”

And there it is. Seraph… you’ve got bruised pamamas for brains…

            Everything fell into place. She had said before that after the task was done that they would discuss a contract for Seraph. Not knowing what she meant he had disregarded it. He was now forced to wonder just how many times Salaheem had had such contract “discussions”. The actions of the assistant suddenly made a great deal of since.

            Thoroughly pleased, Salaheem was smiling and giggling to herself. “Tee hee hee. Yes, yes. Brilliantly worded… as always. Anyway… I now prrronounce you an official employee of Salaheem’s Sentinels. Congratulations!” The shock had sobered Seraph up quickly. “Hold on a moment…” Her mace came crashing down on her table again. “You’re gonna love worrrking under me” she cooed, mocking her earlier flirtatious tone, laughing all the while. “Welcome to the world of bein’ a Private Second Class. I’ve got plenty to keep ya busy!”

Seraph had not joined the ranks of Blue Mages to become an Immortal. At least, not in the sense that he would serve the Empire of Aht Urhgan. In his mind, if that’s all he wanted, he would have stayed home and become a Paladin. In his mind they served the same purpose. This was a turn in a direction that he had no interest in. He clenched his fist, a bit of power coalescing into it. He could feel his neck twinging. In his mind, his power stopped at five points, each time gaining a boost of power. Perhaps his outing had a more dramatic effect than he would have been led to believe…?

Watching his stance carefully Naja rounded her desk. “Well what’re ya grrrumblin’ about now? Ya don’t like ‘Second Class’ bein’ part of your title? Tough luck! I don’t care how spoiled ya were in the west. Knight, Musketeer, Wizard… don’t mean a thing to me. You’re a mercenary now, and a rookie at that!” Seraph’s eyes flared open and he extended both hands outward. The flow of Blue Magic surged through him. However, it seemed that his mental displacement had crossed some of his energy.

While he meant to project an orb of fire outwards, hopefully to burn the document Naja now held, the energy was maintained inward. A breed of monster called a Bomb was known to explode. Why, oh why, was it possible to mimic THAT attack? Fortunately Seraph switched his energetic make up before the spell was brought to bear. He breathed a sigh of relief.

Which was more important is hard to say… A second after this he could see Naja’s mace coming around at him. He then realized he forgot one important thing: He had not reapplied any of his defensive spells after Salaheem’s original slew of attacks. At all. The look of worry in his eye betrayed this fact, and the Mithra assailant fully committed to her swing.

Two things happened very quickly at this point.

Worth primary note: Seraph was sent flying out of the office, ruining the newly repaired door.

The other event actually happened first. Naja’s mace, connecting as it usually did with Seraph’s head, caused problems, as it always did. She seemed to catch Seraph in flux, and the self destruction spell seemed to jarred back into place. An explosion took place in the office with Elvaan fuel, harming Naja, her assistant, and Seraph himself. Big explosion, small area, with him at the epicenter gave him substantially more range than even Salaheem normally attained. This added boost gave Seraph enough time in the air to apply a small healing spell and his paling spells. Landing on the lower level of the city, he planned his escape route. Though weakened, he doubt Salaheem would pose an imminent threat inside the bounds of the city even if she gave chase.

As if on cue, she came out of her office, face covered and coughing. “Nice try Serrrraph!” she shouted. “I share this city with the Immortals. You don’t think I wouldn’t Blue-proof my parchments?” Seraph watched her abject confusion. She scanned the area but couldn’t see him. Her ears perked up, but she couldn’t hear him. She even sniffed the air to find his trail. Looking back into the office, she couldn’t not pick it up. It stopped in midair. Slamming her mace on the stone bannister she stormed back inside as she shouted. “…In any case, you’re dismissed. You’d better return for duties soon. You’ve got a lot of slack to pick up!” Ah, not since being in back home was accustomed to someone maintain so many airs Seraph limped away to continue his rounds through Whitegate as a number of Immortals came to check on the commotion.

Thinking, Seraph drew up score.

Seraph 3, Naja 0, Draw 1. The most recent instance would have granted her a point, but Self-Destruct makes a draw so he thought.

Slowly pulling away from Salaheem’s office Seraph finally returned to Waoud. The fortuneteller watched him all the way from the archway leading from Port Al Zahbi. He smiled, expecting his return. Once Seraph was close, Waoud’s left eye gleamed it’s crimson glow. Again, Seraph was connected to Raubahn’s domain.

Raubahn nodded solemnly at Seraph’s arrival. “So, you have returned from your journey. The Immortals have submitted their reports.” Seraph was somewhat shocked at the haste of this revelation. However, having seen the staging points, and subsequently the runic portals, for what they were such a matter would be a small trifle. “My evaluation is that you are still not fit to join our ranks.” Seraph’s anger flared, and his magic wished to go right along with it. He contained it, and himself. “Raubahn, do you have any clue what I went through to get to each of your Immortals?” Raubahn showed no emotion. “Enlighten me.”

And Seraph did. As quickly as he could he told Raubahn of his journeys, each of them solitary, while still completing multiple tasks all at the same time. He even threw in that he sighted Corsairs at one point but gave up nothing else about them.

After Seraph finished Raubahn looked down thoughtfully. “Yes… that actually fills in a number of gaps in the submitted reports. My information had you registered as a mercenary for some time, and that you were tied into a group of adventurers with like connections. When I originally charged you with this task I thought you would walk one of those avenues. But such a feat…” Raubahn grew silent, then looked up at Seraph. “It seems my information was in error. As such, I tasked you unfairly.” Seraph accepted this with a nod, straightening up.”You did not simply walk the easy road” Raubahn acknowledged. “I stand by my ruling. However, I will recognize your continuing growth and dedication.” Raubahn, very uncharacteristic of himself opened his hands to Seraph. “Greater heights of power await you… let the desire that burns within you guide your way.” Cobalt flames flared up in Raubahn’s hands. He extended them to Seraph. Once he reached out, the flames jumped to him and a distinct weight pressed Seraph’s hands. “You have taken the first steps, but this is only the beginning. I present you with this Immortal’s Scimitar, a fitting blade for the path you must continue to carve. Wield it well.”

Seraph returned to his outward perception. A sword laid in his hand, one he oft saw used by those among the Immortals. He eyed Waoud for a moment, confused by how the inward occurred outward. Waoud’s only reply was a strange smile. Placing this sword on his hip, Seraph brandished it with pride as he made his way westward. He thought upon spending the night in Al Zahbi, but he had run all over the two parts of the continent and wanted nothing more than to be in his own bed. There was a Tarutaru in the bounds of the city proper who would teleport one to their home nation. At this point a warp scroll would lead him back to Nashmau, and he had no desire to be deeper into the Aradijah continent at this point.

He acquiesced to one small stop, again at the Shararat Teahouse. Ratihb was thrilled to see him. “Wasuhd came back, safe and sound. He told me he encountered you numerous times. Thank you for sticking with him. I don’t know what you did, but he’s been a great kid lately, even helping out with the shop.” Ratihb laughed. “He swears what transpired is a secret. Whatever you two went through, I’m sure something good must have happened.” The two spoke a little while longer, and Seraph mentioned the Immortals at the staging points, particularly his fellow Elvaan. As thanks, Ratihb would send some of the valuable San d’Orian tea to them all. A mutual bow was exchanged in parting, and Seraph resumed his path to the west part of Whitegate to head home after his long journey.

As he walked, someone called Seraph’s name from behind him. One of the higher ups from Heroism called out to him. “Seraph… be awhile! I’m glad I caught you… How’ve you been?” Seraph took the Immortal’s Scimitar off his waist and held it out to her. “Oh, that’s gorgeous! Wait… that’s one of the Immortal’s swords, isn’t it?! How’d you get that?” Seraph replied dryly, trying to keep all venom from his voice. “I earned it.” She nodded a few times. “That’s impressive. Have you heard? We’re starting a new linkshell since Dacove has been missing for awhile. I came to give you a new pearl. I’m leading the linkshell.”

Seraph returned the sword to his waist. “No offense, but I’ll have to decline.” Shocked and taken aback she asked for an explanation. “Will the new shell be comprised of the same members from the old shell?” She replied affirmatively, reiterating that it is why she was here looking for him. “Then that is where I decline.” Seraph provided a summary again as he had once for Raubahn. As he had admitted, she gave him his triumph fully, admitting that it was a nigh impossibility. “I have been asking for assistance for days now. At any point in time even one other member more experienced than I would have made a world of difference. If I had not trained sufficiently to hide myself at length the going would have been impossible. No one came. No one responded to my appeals for assistance.”

Anger rose in his voice at this point, blue energy crackling over his forearms. “Even when I happened across one of the linkshell members who was killing the very enemies I needed distracted I received no help. This is the most heinous trial I’ve had to face yet. And I did it alone.” Calming, he continued. “It is nothing against you as you weren’t around, but I don’t feel it worthwhile to stick around when I’ll end up doing things myself anyway. I’ve no problem helping others, but not when it is wholly one sided.” Seraph bowed. The new linkshell leader did so in return. Half-heartedly he extended an peace offering, saying that they may one day fight together after he felt he had gained sufficient power. That water on the bridge, he made his way to the teleporation Taru, and returned to Bastok.

Once he was back home he made his way to Port Bastok. In this section of the city unopened linkshells were available for purchase. He did not bear the power or the experience to be a leader, so he thought. At the very least, he held onto his motivation, and that would have to be enough. At this point, Seraph wanted nothing to do with another linkshell.

However, once word had gotten around that Fourteen Drawings had gone under he had gotten invites from every shell and sack holder that had come across him. Feeling no desire to deflect and deny membership invites every hundred yalms, Seraph parted with his gil, which was not something Seraph did happily. Ever. Spending the 8,000 gil on an new linkshell was a worthwhile investment in his peace of mind. If he was just holding a pearl the invites would still come. Being seen as a master of his own would allow him to be left alone. For awhile at least, this was a wonderful boon to Seraph.

Making his way back to the moghouses Seraph and Makar shared an ample meal. Seraph was famished after his days-long endeavor. Regaling his Moogle companion with his tale, they both lamented at the end. It was going to be a long road ahead, but one that Seraph would walk. He had no other choice toward his goal, or so he thought. Leaning his Scimitar against his bedpost he started to relax. Stilling his mind, he ensured that all was aligned and that his Beast was sufficiently bound. Seeing this was so, Seraph drifted. Looking around he admitted that he really needed more furniture, and shortly passed out on his bed.

 

Next: “Omens

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