Thawing Warmth

Author's note: The fifth (#5) entry in Jihli and Jahy's stories. If you're not up to date, you may choose to start from the beginning at #1 Welcome Home, Jihli or return to the previous post, #4 Minds as Cold as Ice.

There is no next post yet. Rose and I have not continued the story past this point!

Content warning: Lightly described but nonetheless violent depictions of death.

Warning: This post contains extra major Endwalker spoilers up to the point of completing the level 83 quest "In from the Cold". If you aren't comfortable with seeing such spoilers, then you should leave this post now.

Ready?

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Seriously, you'll want to have seen this for yourself, if you're at all thinking of playing the game.

Are you sure you want to continue?

If you don't turn back now, you're going to get spoiled.

You're really sure about this, right?

Okay, then, off to the races. Let's go.

The little room is dark, but even in the dark, Jahy can make out Jihli's bright-yellow coat and pink-red hair. She's laying in bed, staring at the wall. Seems like she's awake, but not moving.

Jahy gently raps her knuckles against the door frame. "Hey."

Jihli's head perks up, her ears scanning. Her head turns, an expression of distant disbelief on her features.

Jahy waves a hand from the doorway, leaning heavily against it. "Heard you were in here."

From the moment Jihli hears this, she throws herself off the bed and rushes the doorway, throwing her arms around the tall, muscular rabbit woman's waist and squeezing like she's trying to convince herself Jahy is real. Squeezing and squeezing until her arms shake with the exertion and her eyes flow over with tears that leave a wet spot in the center of Jahy's coat and her whole small body starts to shake with silent sobs.

"Hey, hey, what's all this about? I know there was a bit of a touch-and-go moment there, but I'm okay. You okay? We're all okay," Jahy says, timidly reaching down and embracing Jihli, stroking her hair. "Missed me?"

"What happened?" Jihli asks, her voice thick and sniffly. "I saw that you, you were... you were on the ground, in the snow, not moving. I thought... I thought you were dead."

Jahy leads Jihli back to the bed, sitting her down on it. "I thought I was dead too," she says with a laugh. "But it turns out, it takes more than a little soul-kidnapping to kill Jahy Relanah."

Jihli doesn't respond to the joke, clutching Jahy like she's clinging to life itself.

"It was Fandaniel," Jahy says, disgust dripping from her voice. "That gross little Ascian, the one wearing Asahi's face. I have to say, both wearers of that face have been disgusting little pukestains. It is not helping my desire to punch that face inside out every time I see it."

When there's no response aside from sniffling, Jahy continues. "He tried to get me to have a nice little dinner with his patron. Who just can't seem to get the hint, no matter how many times I mime throwing up when we're hanging out together. And... well, not only had they kidnapped my soul into another's body, but... my body was. Not mine. For a bit."

The sniffling only worsens. Jahy pauses to check on her companion, but at Jihli's waving, she picks up where she left off. "I was... dropped into the center of the city, crawling with tempered soldiers and magitek warmachina. In the body of an ordinary imperial soldier, barely able to take one of my like in a fight, let alone multiple. Nothing but a sword, a shield, and my wits. Well... and some imperial armor, of course. I guess Fandaniel didn't want me freezing to death. Don't worry, I didn't fight my way out naked."

This finally gets a reaction out of Jihli, who gives a half-sob, half-laugh and shakes her head. She opens her mouth for a moment, but no words come out.

Jahy smiles, giving a dry laugh. "Ha. Tataru would have been furious if I did, I'm sure. You too. You both worry too much, though." She leans back against the headboard, pulling Jihli into her lap. "But don't you worry... I was fine. There were a few close calls, and I had no choice but to put some of them down. But I slipped past the soldiers, snuck past the warmachina, and got into this, this magitek reaper with a broken leg. There was an injured soldier who had the key, and I promised to use it to get to safety. Of course, I had to haul a huge tank of ceruleum halfway across the capital, too, because heavens forbid the imperials leave some fuel in the armor for me to siphon off..." She chuckles, rolling her eyes and shifting her legs to cross over each other. "Of course, once I got out of the city, there were citizens in trouble. And I couldn't very well leave them in the lurch, now could I? Even with my body being used to attack my friends... we're here to help the Garleans, no?"

Jihli quietly weeps into Jahy's chest, nodding mutely to the rhetorical question.

"So, we get into a fight with some tempered imperials and their warmachina, and - get this - the stupid thing explodes. Blows me halfway across the city. I almost didn't make it. But nobody puts Jahy Relanah down, not even when she's... not Jahy Relanah." She jerks a thumb toward herself proudly. "I don't even know how I did it, but I stayed in one piece. I kept going. And ilm by ilm..." Jahy squeezes her hand into a tight fist, her jaw clenching at the memory. "I dragged myself in this soldier's half-dead body through the snow back to camp. And just in the nick of time, too. Weren't you impressed? How I threw my sword through whatever it was our dear friend was trying to pull on you and the other Scions?" She releases her fist and blows out a sigh, shrugging. "And then I guess I switched back to my body, but I don't remember a whole lot, just some vague threats that didn't impress me. I passed out somewhere in there, and woke up with all the other Scions looking at me. Just... not you."

She leans back, trying to draw Jihli's chin up to look at her. When Jihli keeps her face buried, she relents. "So I asked around for where you were. And then I came here, and... well, you've been here for all of that too."

Once again, Jihli nods, apparently still unable to speak.

"Yeah. So... what happened here while I was gone? Sorry for scaring you," Jahy says. She traces the embroidery on the back of Jihli's coat. She has the feeling that she's missed something, but she doesn't quite know what it is. "It seemed like there was a lot going on here right as I left. But everything's under control now. How did it go? I bet you were the take-charge type, running around calling orders and getting everything in order."

But Jihli doesn't nod now. She shakes her head weakly after a moment.

"No?" Jahy tries to crane her neck to meet Jihli's gaze.

Jihli finally looks up, looks Jahy in the eye. Her eyes are red from crying, and her cheeks are slick and shiny with tears. She finally regains command of her voice. "I... I wasn't here."

That intimate eye contact is all it takes. Jahy's head throbs with a piercing pain in the center of her forehead, like Jihli's gaze is boring a hole in it. The rush of blood in her ears grows louder and louder and louder, drowning out everything else as stars flood her vision and everything goes white-

===

"Jihli Mihgo! The Champion's pet cat. Aren't you going to ask me where your owner went?"

Fandaniel's mocking voice immediately grates on Jahy's nerves, but it's not her it's directed at. Jihli is just nearby, having seen Jahy's abduction. She was seemingly about to go for help, but when she sees Fandaniel return, she draws her sword and turns back toward him. "Where is she? What's going on?!"

"Easy now, my overconfident kitten, I don't have time to play with you right now." The Ascian is completely unconcerned by the furious and armed Scion in front of him. "My master wishes for you to be kept out of the way, but not disposed of. Not yet."

Jihli doesn't back down, but Jahy can see a flicker of uncertainty on her face. "Kept out of the way?"

A portal opens behind Jihli, and Fandaniel lunges forward and pushes her into it.

She topples backward, landing hard on her back in the midst of the ruined capital city. A scene not too unlike what Jahy herself experienced... although she's at least in her own body. She grunts with the force of the impact, but she quickly gets to her feet, sword at the ready to impale Fandaniel. But Fandaniel isn't here.

His voice echoes in her head all the same. "You know the way back, don't you? Don't be late, I don't want you to miss the show! You're going to love what we have planned!"

"I'm going to find you, and I'm going to kill you," Jihli growls. She surveys the city around her, fear building up in her chest. She's never even been here before. And it's crawling with the tempered, with magitek monsters. She doesn't know which way is back to Camp Broken Glass, or worse - where Jahy is. She swallows back a lump of anxiety that's been building in her throat, and starts setting off.

Wait. She still has her linkpearl. She can notify the group. Or- or teleport! Yes! Camp Broken Glass is built around one of the Garleans' magitek aetherytes, and she attuned to it earlier! Yes, yes, teleporting would be best. She closes her eyes, concentratin-

The aetherial landscape around her is so blasted with malign aether from the tower that just trying to feel for aetherytes nearby makes her drop to her knees, clutching her head. "U... uugh... O-okay... no teleporting. Think, Jihli. The linkpearl... probably doesn't work either, if the aetherial interference is this bad... But there has to be some way to get out of here. What would Jahy do? I just have to... walk in- in one direction until the city ends."

She sets off in a random direction. You studied astrology in school in Sharlayan, look at the sky! Use the sky to tell directions! Jahy pleads with her. But she can't reach the memory-Jihli, and the Miqo'te seems too overwhelmed to think straight.

Her first encounter with a group of the tempered imperials does not go well. She rushes in recklessly, sword and shield flashing, but she's not fighting with the precise, measured skill she normally has, and these imperials are not fighting like the humans they look like. She takes a few bad blows, and her shield arm is hanging limply well before the fight is over and the two imperials are unconscious at her feet.

"Warden, protect me and keep me..." Jihli murmurs, leaning up against the wall. She's breathing quickly, fearfully. There - that looks like the way out. But it's blocked by a magitek colossus. She readies her sword. It's just one colossus. She's seen Jahy take these down single-handedly time and time again. How bad could it be?

Jihli is thrown off the colossus's frame just a moment before the massive blade it carries lands with all its crushing weight in the center of her chest, splitting her body down the middle with a sound that will haunt Jihli's nightmares-

The Echo warns her off this plan of attack with a grim promise of a possible future. She looks mildly shaken, stepping back. Okay, a different path, then. Over there - that road is empty but for a singular deathclaw. If she can get the jump on it before the tempered imperial patrolling it comes back around, she should be able to-

The deathclaw goes down in a twitching, sparking heap, just in time for an imperial spear to impale the exhausted Jihli, giving her just enough time to notice it protruding from her chest covered in her own blood before her consciousness fades-

She clutches her head, whimpering. "Jahy... I wish Jahy was here...! I need you... I can't do this alone..."

A pack of magitek slashers lunges at Jihli from the side while she's distracted, showing her how they got their name as they mince her body until it's unrecognizable-

Barely thinking, Jihli leaps toward a nearby piece of rubble, climbing up onto it and out of their reach. "I have to find her. I-I have to get back!"

...

It's nearly an hour later when Jihli, exhausted and severely wounded, staggers toward Camp Broken Glass. Though she's out of danger now, her mind keeps replaying the images the Echo had shown her at nearly every turn. Of other possible timelines, other Jihlis who would have never made it.

The power to know exactly how close you came to death time and time again... It truly is a rare blessing, isn't it?

No one notices her approach. The Scions and some of the leaders of the contingent are crowded around something. She pushes forward, trying to see what it is. As she gets closer, she can hear the panicked, desperate cries from the others.

"She's not moving anymore!"

"Is she even breathing still?"

"It can't be..."

"She came all this way, she's got to be all right."

"The other body is cold. Did she get lost between them?"

"Relax, everyone. Our Warrior of Light, Slayer of Gods wouldn't die so easily!"

"I'm not betting on that! Get her some medicine!"

"Stand back, you're crowding her! Give her some air!"

"Come on, Jahy, wake up already!"

Jihli turns away, a creeping horror threatening to consume her. Too late. She's too late. She missed 'the show', and she missed her chance... The one time Jahy was counting on her, her one chance to thank Jahy for everything... and she's not going to get another one.

She stumbles to her room in the abandoned home, pours a bottle of X-potion over her wounds so they'll close, and assumes the same position Jahy had found her in. Not crying, not moving, not feeling, only barely breathing. Just staring at the wall.

The rush of blood roars in Jahy's ears, beckoning her away from the memory. It's time to go back...

===

Back in the present, Jihli is asleep, her head resting in a large wet spot on Jahy's chest. She seems to be calm now, her face placid and at peace.

Jahy watches her sleep in silence for a while, uncertain what to do or say.

"Sorry for putting you through that," Jahy murmurs finally. She lets her arms rest around Jihli loosely, trying not to wake her. "I wish I was there, too."

Vrtra's warning flashes through her mind. The Scions must have been terrified, too, but they didn't show it to her. For their friend to attack them, then seemingly die in front of them... It must have seemed like something out of a nightmare.

She tips her head back, sighing out a breath she didn't know she was holding. Tears threaten to fall, but she holds them back, not wanting them to startle Jihli awake. No pressure, right? Only the happiness and safety of the entire world and everyone she holds dear is depending on her...

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