The Lodestone

Tales from the Twilight

Set with the Sun

Her father was dead.

It had only been a few days since the event, and Fordola wanted nothing more than to run far, far away. Her mother had not stopped crying, and she knew that adding her own tears to the deluge would only make matters worse. All the while, the disdain of imperials and Ala Mhigans alike ate away at her. What was the point of living like this─of living at all?

As the sun began to dip towards the horizon, Fordola made for the outer walls, slipping shadowlike through alleyways disregarded by the patrolling imperial soldiers. She squeezed through a crack in the stonework barely larger than herself to reach her sanctuary. Here, she could gaze out upon the easternmost peaks of Abalathia's Spine, and─more importantly─be alone. Relaxing, she squinted into the setting sun, which had painted the sky her favorite shade of fiery red...

"How can the sky burn so?" she had once asked her father. And he hadn't tried to palm her off with some convenient myth, admitting frankly that he didn't know. That was her father: honest and kind─and quite earnest when he asked her what she thought the answer might be.

A prickle of unease jolted Fordola back to the present. She twisted around to see a pair of glowing gold eyes regarding her from above a wide, froglike maw. The abaddon's bulbous blue form quivered in anticipation of its coming meal. It must have wandered up from the water's edge in search of prey. She blinked as its long tongue flicked out to taste the air, tracing her scent.

She was going to die. Yet where she ought to feel fear, she found nothing but cold certainty.

How strange it was, then, to be proven wrong.


The woman's yell reached her first. Then a rush of air, a thud of impact, and...the creature was gone. An instant later, another thud drew her gaze some distance to the right, where she noted the now prone abaddon, stumpy legs flailing pathetically in the air. Nonplussed, Fordola stared as the woman─who she could only assume was some kind of martial artist─jogged back to her side.

"Anything broken?" the woman was inquiring cheerily, her hand extended down to where Fordola sat (when had she fallen?). With effort, Fordola eventually mustered the wherewithal to shake her head─after rather too long, judging by the almost comically relieved "Thank goodness!" she received in reply. Though most of her face was obscured by a mask, the woman's smile fairly glowed. It almost reminded Fordola of the fire in the sky.

"I'm Yda," she continued. "Nice to meet you!"

When Fordola made no move to reciprocate, Yda clasped her hand in both of her own, and shook it up and down as one might a small child's.

"Um," Fordola began.

"What's your name?" Yda interjected, heedless.


"Fordola! Did you come here alone? Where are your parents?"

"My mother's at home," she muttered sullenly. "But my father is... He's..."

"I'm sorry," Yda nodded, and said no more about it.

In fact, she seemed to forget the subject entirely.

"Shall we meet here tomorrow?"

"What?" Fordola managed. "Why?"

Yda tilted her head in confusion. "Because we're friends!"

"Since when?" Fordola fired back. This "Yda" may have saved her life, but that didn't make them friends.

"Don't worry! If any more monsters turn up, I'll kick them halfway to Doma," the woman replied, staunchly missing the point.

"So you'll come?" she continued, showing no inclination to let go of the idea or Fordola's hand.

There was nothing for it. Fordola nodded.

Accompanying Yda wherever she happened to be going became a regular occurrence for Fordola in the days that followed. She would never forget the joy of swimming across Loch Seld─or the trial of explaining away her salt-reddened eyes to her worried mother afterwards. She also learned to hunt. Her first kill, which Yda roasted over a campfire, tasted nothing like the meals her mother made, but was delicious nonetheless. And for the first time since her father's death, Fordola found that she could smile again.

Yda spoke often of her younger sister after that. She too had faced their father's death at an early age, and Yda had been desperate to cheer her up, to take her anywhere that might bring a smile to her face.

"You reminded me of her, you know. I couldn't just leave you like that."

She also mentioned that she was staying in Gyr Abania temporarily while she and her comrade did their "work." What they intended to accomplish, however, Yda would not say, waving away her questions with a smile.

Fordola had some idea, though. She had heard Yda talking to this partner of hers via linkpearl several times, always about "the refugees," and while she couldn't begin to guess at the details, it was enough to tell her that they were enemies of the Empire.

Yet in spite of this, and to her own surprise, Fordola felt perfectly at ease.

"Why don't you come with me?" There was no hesitation in the offer. Her mission accomplished, Yda would be leaving Ala Mhigo soon─with Fordola, if she so wished. They could live somewhere else, somewhere free, together.

Fordola didn't know what to say. It was all so sudden─and what about her friends and family? Could she bring them too?

"We can only take so many people. One or two we can slip in with the cargo, but no more than that." Yda looked pained. "I'm sorry... Maybe it was wrong of me to ask."

She would think about it, she promised, so Yda told her where to meet for their escape, and when. After that, Yda would be gone.

After much fretting on her own, Fordola decided to share her dilemma with her four closest friends. They were silent while she told them everything, and for a good while after. It seemed they didn't know what to say, either.

It was Emelin who spoke up first.

"...Sorry. I can't just leave my family behind. But I don't want you to leave us either," she managed, before curling in on herself, looking like she might cry.

"My granddad's really old," muttered the thickset boy next to her apologetically. "I don't think I could go either."

Fordola's shoulders slumped. Of course they'd never agree.

It was Charlet, a little boy that often trailed after her like an adoring younger brother, who spoke next, with tears in his eyes.

"I-I know you want to! You were so sad ‘cause...'cause of your dad, but you're happier now, so...if you want to...I'll miss you, but I think you should go."

At this, Charlet's older brother Ansfrid let out an exasperated snort.

"Don't be so stupid! Why does she need an Ala Mhigan's help? That's what we're here for! Don't you dare leave, Fordola." His lip trembled even as he glared at her, fists clenched at his sides.

And then Charlet began to cry.

"I don't," he sniffled, "I don't want you to go. I want everyone to be together forever!"

"Don't leave us! We'll always be your friends if you stay!" Emelin wailed.

Though she would rather they hadn't been such crybabies about it, Fordola was happy to hear how much her friends cared. They understood how hard it was to be neither Ala Mhigan nor Garlean, and she couldn't abandon them now─not after everything they had gone through together. She would tell Yda 'no.' She was staying in Ala Mhigo.

Her decision made, Fordola resolved to see Yda off with a smile. She would miss her terribly, but they were certain to meet again someday.

And so she turned for home, oblivious to the figure observing her from the shadows.

The appointed day dawned without fanfare.

When the sun had made its way across the sky, Fordola made hers to the agreed spot to wait, just as she had countless times before. The Yda that came to meet her, however, behaved quite unlike the carefree soul she knew. On every other occasion, she had bounded happily toward Fordola the moment their eyes had met, but today she hesitated, scanning their surroundings warily. Fordola followed her gaze, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary in the ruins.

"Yda?" she called out in a small voice, but the woman was distracted, pressing her linkpearl to her ear.

"It's not looking good here either," she told whoever it was—her partner, Fordola guessed. "Change of plan. Go now. Don't wait for me."

What was she talking about? Distant shouting crackled from the linkpearl. Somebody wasn't happy. Fordola strained to hear.

"I'm sorry, Papalymo! Look after Lyse for me!" Yda said with her customary cheer, silencing the connection. Relieved, Fordola approached, sure that Yda was still herself after all.

It was then that she heard the footsteps. Heart hammering, she spun to see two, three, and then more and more soldiers fanning out around them─at least ten in total.

"Nice trick."

Yda's voice was colder than she had ever heard it─so cold that it took a moment for Fordola to realize who she was speaking to.


"You knew I'd find out if you blabbed to the guards, so instead you made sure you were followed... Imperial rat!"

She made to protest, but her voice died in her throat when she realized the truth of the situation. Yda was putting on an act─though the soldiers had followed her.

"Thought I'd be able to make some decent money off a merchant's daughter, but you had to go and spoil everything... You'd better run while you can, or I'll strangle you where you stand!"

All lies to keep the imperials from accusing her of treason, and Fordola had no choice but to go along with them. She bit her tongue, feeling furious and pathetic at the same time.


Yda mouthed the word as one of the soldiers raised a magitek transceiver to his lips. At nearly the same instant, another soldier, who had been slowly closing the gap between himself and Fordola, reached out to grab her─but Yda's foot hit the earth, propelling her forward in the blink of an eye, and he collapsed from a kick to the gut with a cry. Alarmed, the others rushed to surround Yda, who danced back and forth on the balls of her feet, fists at the ready.

"Feel free to attack all at once, if you're so scared!"

"Cut her down!"

The soldiers brandished their blades with angry cries, and Fordola ran. She'd only make things harder for Yda if she stayed.

She fled through the ruins, weaving around rubble as she went. But nimble as she was, she could not hope to match a soldier's stride, and she found herself swiftly overtaken. Cowering from the wicked flash of the blade that arced toward her, Fordola lost her footing─as did the imperial, who was at that same instant propelled gracelessly into the nearby rubble, courtesy of a bone-crunching kick to the side. He slumped to the ground, unmoving.

Yda turned and met Fordola's eyes. With her usual mask gone, Fordola could see the lines of ink forming a traditional Ala Mhigan design. Her eyes─blue, Fordola now noticed─were so kind. Please run, she wanted to say, but she couldn't find her voice. Her body still trembled where she stood, frozen in place, but Yda approached as if nothing was wrong.

"Live, Fordola," she said, laying a soothing hand on her hair. "Find some hope to hold on to."

Fordola could only nod, barely able to contain the sobs that threatened to burst from her chest, as Yda graced her with one final smile. Then she was gone, running hard and fast in the other direction, beckoning their enemies to follow.

With the sky burning red behind her, Yda danced.

Imperials fell one after another to her blows, but even she could not evade every blade, every fist, every bullet that came her way─and soon the salt-white ground turned crimson too. From a distance, Fordola watched as Yda's strength waned.

More and more soldiers were coming to join the fray. She even saw a hulking magitek monstrosity approaching, the grating screech of metal on metal adding to the clamor which now resounded around the ruins.

Fleet of foot as she was, Yda surely could have escaped alone. Yet there she stayed, fighting this impossible battle. She was going to die, and why? For the sake of one child? For her?

Why me?

If she went for help, they might make it in time. But who could she ask? Who would help an enemy of the Empire? No one she knew. She cursed her own uselessness.

Still, she kept moving. One step at a time, though her legs trembled to take them, and repeated Yda's final words to herself until they were a part of her. She would live.

In the end, she faced no inquest for having been present, thanks to Yda's deception. Nevertheless, she knew that if her loyalty to the empire should ever again be cast into doubt, her mother, and perhaps even her friends would pay the price as well. It would be imprisonment or death for the lot of them.

If these were her choices, then she would prove herself a worthy citizen of the Empire. Though she had yet to find the hope that Yda spoke of, she chose to believe that she would one day.

Until then, she would live.

The tattoo stood out starkly against Fordola's complexion, its ink fresh under her skin. She traced the traditional pattern with her fingers. Today, she and Ansfrid, Emelin, and Hrudolf would join the XIIth Imperial Legion─but it was another day that occupied her thoughts as she set out, one long past, but vivid as a burning red sky.

She carried the memory with her as she took one step, then another, toward her waiting friends.

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