Squeak battles for her life against a Sahagin patrol to try to save some innocent lives.
"Rhotbhir, I got you! You're it!" Qicheche shouted as she tumbled through the grass from her flying tackle. The freckle-faced Lalafell girl hoisted herself back upright, brushing loose grass and dirt off her romper. "I got him," she announced to the others proudly, having given her all into the task of catching him. "Even though he's bigger and older."
Rhotbhir pouted, helping Qicheche get her footing again. "Aw, man! I almost dodged it, too!" The stout Roegadyn boy was admittedly starting to get a little tired - he'd been working by his mother's side loading barrels of ale onto an incoming merchant ship all day, and though tag exercised his legs instead of his arms, all of him wanted a nap. But with his father's disappearance during the Calamity, he was the man of the house now, and naps were not for the men of the houses.
"Bravo, Qicheche," the tall and slim Troufort said, lightly applauding as he approached the others. He lifted his eyes toward the increasingly orange horizon, shading them with one hand. "Hm. Looks like the sun is gonna set soon. Maybe we should make this our last round? We are supposed to be indoors before sunset, and we are real far from home."
Roegadyn girl Ernalona clicked her tongue disapprovingly as she emerged from her hiding place. "What, are you scared, Trouf? Some big bad fishback is gonna carry us away? Not me. More likely I'll teach him a thing or two. There are six of us, anyway. What fishback can take on six of us?"
"Aye, we can take them," Sardal agreed, the young Lalafell man popping up from behind a bush. His upper lip was stained with berry juice, giving away what he'd been up to while hiding. "We can keep going until we hear the dinner bell."
The thought of dinner got all six children's stomachs growling. There had been a bit of a drought in the fishing recently, and with a merchant ship coming in that meant fresh meats, fruits, vegetables would be on offer.
"Fresh-baked bread..." scrawny Elezen girl Veibelle said, wiping drool off her lip. "Me da said he'd make his famous gravy and meat sandwiches..."
"Okay, but that has to wait until Rhotbhir is It because I caught him!" Qicheche insisted. "He hasn't been It all day and I was the one who got him!"
"Fine, fine, I'll go!" Rhotbhir raised his hands obligingly, heading over to a suitable tree for the home base and hiding his face. "One... Two..."
He could hear the others scampering around behind him, looking for suitable hiding spots. Giggling and whispering to each other all the way.
Qicheche was hiding somewhere close, that much was obvious. She couldn't suppress her giggles. But he would give her a break; the stubby-legged girl had been caught more times today than anyone else put together, and she had seemed concerned about him being left out. Veibelle and Sardal sounded like they were collaborating. Possibly working out a trade for Veibelle's father's sandwiches, knowing Sardal.
Ernalona was not as quiet as she thought she was, tramping through the underbrush. She'd make for a good target. Troufort was a master of stealth, as always. Rhotbhir couldn't identify any sounds that sounded like Troufort. Indeed, it was as if he had disappeared altogether.
A piercing scream from near the sounds of crushed plant life shot through Rhotbhir's ears, making him shudder. He whirled around, the game almost immediately forgotten. Erna?!
There - in the distance, Troufort was on the ground, his ankle bent at a bad angle, cowering beneath a Sahagin's spearpoint. Ernalona rushed out of her hiding spot nearby, fists at the ready. "Hey! Leave him alone!"
"Help," Troufort whimpered. "Help me..."
Rhotbhir crept toward the other two, heart pounding in his chest. If he left them, they might die or be tempered into Leviathan's service. But if he went to join them, he might never go home to his mother. And what of the others? They needed to know. But he'd be calling attention to himself if he tried to alert them...
His mother's voice whispered in his ears. The man of the house sometimes has to make difficult decisions... Just promise me you won't ever shy from them. Face them head on, just like your da did.
The Sahagin gave a burbly laugh. "Two more finlesssshhh ones to ssshherve Lord Leviathan..."
"Anyone still hiding, stay low and get home! Get help!" Rhotbhir yelled, rushing toward the Sahagin. He snatched up a stick from the ground ahead of him. A poor weapon, but better than nothing. Ernalona was quickly dispatched by the butt of the Sahagin's spear jabbing hard into her gut, sending the girl to her knees and down to the floor gasping for breath. Troufort was hauled upright, held by the collar by the Sahagin warrior.
There's only one, Rhotbhir thought, shifting his stick to his other hand and scooping up a rock. Maybe I can distract it... Giving his best stickball pitch, he wound up and hurled the rock at the Sahagin's head.
It whirled on him, dropping Troufort. It worked! Now I just have to lead it away from the others-
But his relief was short-lived as another pair of slimy, muscular arms snatched him off the ground, lifting him into the air. There were five more Sahagin hiding nearby that had emerged from the bushes.
Right... we're not the only ones that can hide, Rhotbhir thought, the realization coming far too late. Despair and horror crept into his mind. I'm sorry, ma...
There was a faint thundering in the distance. A storm coming to make this day still worse.
But there were no clouds in the sky to match that thunder. Instead, when the source of it came into view, it was a lone Lalafell on a chocobo, barely any larger than Qicheche, clad in heavy armor with a mighty greatsword taller than she was strapped to her back. She leapt off her mount's back, drawing her greatsword in a single smooth motion. She held the hilt level with her ear, the blade pointed straight ahead at her target's heart.
The Sahagin turned to look, hissing angrily at each other for not providing warning.
"Drop the kids," she growled, staring her enemies down along the blade of her greatsword.
"You are outnumbered! You too will ssshhherve Lord Leviathan!" the Sahagin who now held Troufort and Ernalona roared.
The four whose hands were empty readied their spears, crowding around the Lalafell woman. Behind her, Rhotbhir could see the others scramble out of their hiding spots and flee down the road at top speed.
Some measure of relief filled him. They're safe... The odds were definitely not in their favor, though.
"I said drop the godsdamned kids," the Lalafell knight snarled, her gauntlets squeaking as her grip tightened around the hilt. She didn't seem at all concerned by the fact that she was surrounded. "That's two warnings. You're not going to like what happens on three."
"Ssshhhe resshistssshh! Kill her!" the lead Sahagin ordered.
The four Sahagin lunged inward, their spears descending on her to skewer her from four different directions at once.
Rhotbhir looked away, unable to see their would-be savior die in front of his eyes.
But she didn't die. She roared "That's three!" and - though Rhotbhir didn't see what exactly happened - the four Sahagin scattered, sent flying in all directions.
"Tie them, quickly," the lead Sahagin growled to the one holding Rhotbhir. "Bind them and we will take them as offeringsssshhh while the finlesshh one fights."
Rhotbhir's face was pushed into the dirt, his arms roughly held behind his back and tied in wet, chafing rope. Next to him, Ernalona moaned softly, still writhing in pain from the forceful blow she'd taken earlier. Troufort put up no resistance as he was tied up the same way, his hands already bound.
"I'm sorry, Trouf, this is my fault," Rhotbhir whispered.
Troufort shook his head as his legs were tied. "I... I should have... seen..."
A blur of movement made Rhotbhir lift his eyes - and when he did, he could scarcely believe them. The Lalafell knight was riding the shoulders of the Sahagin who had tied him earlier, and she plunged her greatsword into its back. He looked away just in time to avoid getting blood splashed all over his face - though Ernalona was not quite so lucky.
Ernalona shrieked in horror, rubbing her face against the dirt. Rhotbhir scooted closer, presenting the knot on his back to her. "Erna! I need you to concentrate! Get us free, quickly!"
"Ugh..." Ernalona shuddered, shaking it off and focusing on her task. The spreading bruise in her midsection clearly distracted her, and she whined in distress as she shifted her position to try to untie the knot. "I- I'm working on it! Get off my case!"
Behind, the battle raged on. The Lalafell knight barely even gave a grunt as she was tossed a good distance by a hit from the lead Sahagin's spear and tumbled across the ground. Troufort watched, fearful. "I can't... I can't run, you two. My ankle is hurt. I think it might be broken. And Erna's hurt real bad, too. If this lady can't save us..."
Neither of the others dared finish his thought, though they all knew exactly where he was going with it.
A great clatter drew Rhotbhir's attention. The Lalafell had sliced one of the spears in half, leaving it a useless, splintered mess halfway up. She was holding back the attacks of two others when a third snagged her from behind, lifting her into the air. She kicked back for momentum, swinging her greatsword up over her head to knock the fish monster to the ground, unconscious from the force of the blow. When she dropped to the ground, she tumbled forward, landing on her feet and swinging her sword under the Sahagin's legs to make them leap back and give her some space.
But she was starting to show signs of exhaustion. She was clearly injured - there were even signs she'd been pierced by spearpoints twice or three times - and she was still outnumbered, even having taken out two of the Sahagin.
"We can't just lay here," Troufort whimpered. "If she really can't save us... Then... Rhotbhir, you should..."
Rhotbhir scanned the environment. They could try to limp into the bushes, but it wouldn't do them much good. They'd be way too obvious, and Erna's labored breathing would give them away. He couldn't carry Trouf nor Erna, and he couldn't possibly support both of them at once either. They'd be moving at too low a speed to make a real escape. The only option was for him to run and leave them behind, but...
Their savior skidded backward from the force of another hit, planting her sword in the ground to slow her movement. Her shoulders heaved with exhaustion as she caught her breath, and she poured the contents of a blue vial from her pouch over her wounds before drawing her sword from the ground once more and readying her stance. Her mount waited nearby. She could just hop on it and run away, but she didn't. She didn't even look its way. She was grimly staring her own death in the eye, never once blinking. Just for the chance at saving Rhotbhir and his friends.
Even in the face of impossible odds, she wouldn't back down, wouldn't abandon them in their moment of need...
Seeing her continue to stand up and fight again and again, Rhotbhir knew in his heart he couldn't leave his friends to face their fates alone either. He knew his father would have made the same choice.
"I... I don't know," Rhotbhir whispered. "I don't know what we can do... I'm sorry, you two. But I won't leave you, I promise that. If there's any chance we can escape... I promise I'll help you take it."
"Dumbass," Ernalona murmured, but she smiled all the same.
Still... no escape opportunity was presenting itself. And their savior's stamina was waning quickly. Her weapon was knocked from her hand, she was thrown to the ground, and she was surrounded by three of the remaining Sahagin warriors, their spears pointed down at her.
"... Take her alive," the lead Sahagin growled. "Lord Leviathan will be pleasssshed."
The Lalafell reached into her pouch for something new - but a spearpoint pinned her hand to the ground. She gritted her teeth, only the barest grunt to show for the pain.
"Enough," one of the Sahagin warriors snapped. "You have lossshht, landwalker."
The Lalafell woman was clearly about to spit an acidic response when rapidly approaching footsteps drew attention from all present. A black-scaled Au Ra, approaching on foot with a gigantic axe in one hand and a Lalafell in white robes perched on the other. A healer?
"Incomiiing! Heeeeeyah!" the Au Ra warrior yelled as she hurled the Lalafell healer forward recklessly.
The Lalafell healer somersaulted gracelessly through the air, the air currents somehow carrying her to a safe landing beside the children despite it. "Would you be more careful with that?! I could break my head, you know!"
"I hit my head all the time, I turned out fine," the Au Ra said with a hint of laughter under her voice. She pounded her axe against the ground, lifting it in defiance as she stood over the fallen Lalafell knight. "Come at me, fishbacks!"
"Definitely a matter of opinion," the healer grumbled. She turned to the children, using her hand-carved rod to get to her feet and swiftly checking over the children for injuries. "We're here to help. Your friends sent us."
Relief surged through Rhotbhir. "They're safe... Um, she has a nasty bruise in her chest, and he twisted his ankle."
"I think it's broken," Troufort whimpered.
"Let's see, does this hurt?" the healer asked, touching the bony part. She nodded, taking Troufort's howl of agony for an answer. "Yep, that's broken. Don't worry, we're gonna get you fixed up and get you all home safe. Okay?"
Rhotbhir turned his attention to the Lalafell knight who had first fought for them. She was thankfully on her feet again, her greatsword back in her hands and her wounded hand patched up thanks to some more of the stuff she had stowed in her pouch. She and the Au Ra stood back to back, fighting the Sahagin with their weapons and each other with their words.
"I didn't need your help," the Lalafell snarled, delivering a leaping blow to another Sahagin. "There's no need to risk your life like this."
The Au Ra grinned, twirling her axe over her head before nearly slicing one of the Sahagin in half. "Sure. You wanted to be disarmed on the floor getting stabbed, right? All part of the plan."
"You don't know what I was planning." A powerful thrust with her greatsword finished off another of the Lalafell's victims. And then there were three Sahagin and three adventurers.
The fourth of the six Sahagin fell soon after as the Au Ra brought her axe down hard. "If it meant getting stabbed on purpose, it was a bad plan. Even I know that, and I hate planning."
"The children needed to be saved at any cost. What happened to me didn't matter," the Lalafell grunted, the duo catching the last two Sahagin by surprise as they turned to prey on the healer and the children.
The Au Ra snorted, shaking her head as she took out the last of the Sahagin lackeys. "You were fine with dying trying to save them, huh? Real heroic."
"Are you?" the Lalafell shot back, plunging her greatsword into the leader's chest.
"I'll never die," the Au Ra boasted, letting her axe's head hit the ground and leaning on it. "Nice work. I'm Rhela, by the way. That's Izhu."
"Hm." The Lalafell nodded in brief acknowledgement, swiping the blood off her blade before sheathing it. She started heading for her chocobo, barely looking over her shoulder for a moment to confirm the children were cared for before turning away.
Rhela wasn't going to let her off that easy, though. She skipped ahead of her, barring her path. "And you are...? You know, when someone tells you their name, it's polite to say your own name back."
"My name is Squeak," the Lalafell snapped, arms folded. "Get out of my way."
"See, I think you could help us out, Squeak," Rhela said, offering a hand. "You're tough, you're strong... Not much for conversation, but we'll work on it. We could be a good team."
At this, Squeak finally looked up and met Rhela's eyes, mistrust in her own. "... You don't know the meaning of the word."
Rhela stared right back. Fierce as it was, there was something welcoming about her gaze. Even Rhotbhir, looking on, felt like he could be safe with that gaze protecting him.
Squeak felt something approaching and turned to look. Izhu, the healer, had come up alongside her. From this close, it was clear Izhu was a good few ilms taller than Squeak, though they were both quite small compared to Rhela. "Rhela is... a lot," Izhu admitted. "First impressions aren't really her strong suit. But her heart's in the right place. And I would hate to see you get hurt like that again. Will you at least let me tend your wounds before you go?"
It was hard to say no to Izhu's earnest gaze. Squeak glared at the ground opposite Izhu. "... Fine. We'll meet at the Aleport tavern. You can do your work there. After you deliver the children to their parents." She hopped onto her chocobo's back, grabbing up the reins. As her chocobo trotted toward Aleport, she glanced over her shoulder. "And... thanks for the help." She hastened her chocobo into a gallop, clearly unwilling to sit and wait for any reaction the other two adventurers might have to her words.
"Well. She seems nice," Rhela joked. She turned toward the three children. "Alright, let's get the squirts loaded into the wagon and get headed back to Aleport."
Izhu watched her go. An intense curiosity had been stirred in her. Who are you, Squeak?