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Wherever they are in Ivalice, Moogles are never alone.

Moogles live in numbers, five, eight, six, but never less than three and never more than nine. First of five, or fourth of eight , or third of three, much of a Moogle's assurance, ability and efficiency is granted by the grace of knowing who they are and where they stand.

Their shame springs from the same source.

Montblanc is first of one, and ninth of nothing.

The Viera starts stalking him visibly after he breaks through Golmore's fringe of leaves.

Montblanc limps, as he has for some time. He took a wound from a fetid malboro thicket and had no way to heal. Since his youth, his magick was devoted to the black to keep the beasts at bay. It was always another sibling's task to keep him whole.

Solitude proves entirely a cruel penance. Montblanc limps, knows he cannot run, and now must walk with his eyes turned ever backwards to the Viera's distance. She stalks him with the long stride of a hunter, but he is no prey beast. He may have no magick left for strike or guard, but his daggers are long and always honed.

The Viera carries her bow across her shoulders. She does not draw it, nor try to close the distance between them. Despite the length of her leg, her pace is as slow as his. When he stops, she does. When he tries to hasten, she matches him.

The day is warm and humid. Montblanc stops, panting. The Viera matches him, still, still distant, and calm. Montblanc reaches over his shoulder. He identifies the scroll he wants by the feel of markings on the rim.

The maps take his time away from him: sourcing and production, conflict and consideration. He takes his own time consulting this one. It shall save his life.

The Viera waits.

Montblanc's undeniable relief at the sight of an unseeing stone hurts him. He misses his siblings sorely.

The crystal's healing is an unthinking, uncaring response, a realignment of flaws so the crystal's pure resonance may continue. All things in Ivalice so strive, crystal or flesh, magick or Moogle. It is the first law any Moogle learns for application to his magick or mechanics: all matter shifts from imperfection to perfection, seeking balance. Montblanc supposes this is why he keeps searching, for balance. He does not think he can call his quest one of vengeance, not when he searches in such painful solitude.

His Viera shadow is a creature of Ivalice and thus, logically, bound by the same law: to strive for her own balance. Still, Montblanc has no idea what makes this Viera move, or indeed, if anything will. She is motionless by the stone, still watching his ablutions. Moogles are known for being particular and Montblanc knows himself no exception; her gaze will not deter him as he grooms. The sun sets by the time he finishes, his blood-dark fur a renewed white luster. He wraps himself in a blanket, exactly as thick as it needs to be for the night, and settles back to wait for the moon to rise. He does not think he will sleep with her watching him, but he does.

The Viera is still there in the morning. She faces the east horizon, eyes and ears angled to the rising sun.

Montblanc tends his bed first, then approaches her from the west.

Viera stand alone.

Even in the Wood, where they are many, Viera keep silent lest the Word will be overwhelmed in the words of others. Talk risks corruption of pure thought, contamination if the wrong word should be spoken; argument is the gravest of sins. Some words are — not proscribed, but unspoken. Outside. Ivalice. Tomorrow.

In this Viera's limited experience, Moogles never stand alone. Humes will walk alone willingly, Seeq reluctantly, Bangaa angrily, but Moogles never. Moogles come to the fringe of the village with foreign sands still within the folds of their fur, foreign winds singing songs in the shell of their ears, the paws of one moving for the thought of another. This Moogle wears his solitude like an uneasy burden, much as the one he carries hand-crafted of paper and ink.

This Viera made too many choices for her own whim. It was her ascribed penance, set by the Wood and her own will, to be forever prey to even the slightest of her whims. Last moon she spent some days navigating on one leg and clad only in the sky. Seven days ago she killed twenty four thousand, eight hundred and sixty malboro, one for every sextant of the sun's path. Three days ago she spoke without surcease, every licit and illicit word she had ever learned from Viera, Moogle or Hume, to see if any would spark her sisters' ire.

Yesterday this Viera saw a Moogle limping, alone, and with a large bundle on his back. She wanted to know where he was going.

He led her out of the Wood. Her whim had never taken her so far — or perhaps better said, that her whim has never taken her far enough.

'Your name?'

This Viera says, reluctant: 'It was once spoken as Krjn.'

The Moogle gives a little bow, burdened as he is. The word in this Viera's mind is gallant, and strange it is to apply such a Hume word to a Moogle. 'Kupo, then, and greetings, Viera Krjn. My siblings call me Montblanc. Is there some way I can assist you?

'You?' This Viera looks down. All her kind could not help her against the strength of her whim, her boundaries ever undiscovered. She doubts a strange Moogle will prove himself able. 'No, you cannot.'

Her tone is mild, her ears straight; she is confused when the Moogle bridles. His eyes narrow, his nostrils flaring, facial muscles shifting in a manner tailored more for Humes than Viera.

'I am perfectly capable of assisting,' the Moogle says, 'and I am imperfectly capable of many more things than you can even imagine. My master taught me well.' He draws in a sharp, sudden breath, shivering. 'You followed me out of Golmore, Viera Krjn. There must be something I can do for you.'

This Viera considers many a thing: the word master, the extremity of modulation in the Moogle's voice, the uncertain set of his stance.

'You knew the way.'

He blinks. 'You were lost?'

This Viera shrugs her shoulders against the sun's warmth. 'You knew the way; I followed.'

The Moogle's nose twitches, whiskered fringe flexing forth and back. 'A tall tale, Viera Krjn.'

'Yes,' this Viera agrees, 'my tail is positioned much higher than yours, such is a fact. Yet all things in this world are relative.'

The Moogle shakes and makes sounds. This Viera is startled to recognize the action as a Hume one. The word comes: laughter.

'Relative indeed.' Montblanc's whiskers dance. 'Come, Viera Krjn. If you must follow my tail for want of your own, half a pace behind should be enough to satisfy your whim.'

This Viera is shocked. This Moogle somehow knew it was her whim that drove her so strongly, without any a word being spoken on the subject.

Half a pace is indeed enough to satisfy both of their whims.

Montblanc likes to talk. This Viera does as she was born to do, and listens.

'Nono,' Montblanc tells her, his words heavy with the upland humidity. 'Youngest and brightest, he was always my third, mercantile and mechanically minded. My birth sib, left in Raith's walled city.'

He labors for breath as well as distance. It is not the speed of his pace. The Moogle's crown might reach only to Krjn's hip, but his form is fit and refined. His ears unfurl to purge his heat, darker tips level with Krjn's shoulder. Moogle function is not so dissimilar to Vieran form.

'Hurdy and Gurdy,' he surrenders to the sands of Phon, 'my second and my fourth, born of one birth and never of one mind. Hurdy moves himself by magick, Gurdy by the back of a beast. Either way, they are always in motion.'

Montblanc is sorrowful, but not sorrowing. Krjn has never before made the distinction between the two words, branches from the same root. It is a matter of tense, past, present, future or always. Krjn grasps only the concept's indistinct fringe: time is not what is, but instead either history or hope. Viera live in the ever-and-always of the Wood. Their birth-dream is the same day as the dusk of their death.

'Sorbet,' Montblanc laughs at the Landisi border, laughs like a city-born Hume, 'sixth ever and always, for his humility and hunger: he would taste the world with his curiosity never sated.'

Montblanc carries his sorrow as a relic from the past, a piece of history. He carries it as he carries his maps and compasses, his notebooks and potions, as though it will come of some use in his hunt.

'And who is fifth, if you are first?' Krjn asks, midway through the estersand of Dalmasca. Montblanc is silent for the heat that has him panting. Krjn's voice sounds on the sands flat and uneasy. Krjn has thrice as many siblings as Montblanc, knows none of them so well, needs none of them half as much.

'Horne,' Montblanc answers, his whiskers fringing a smile, 'source of all our lore, a mind full of matters. It is a matter of his honor that he never makes a judgment, with all that knowledge to hold. Horne knows everything, Nono makes everything, Hurdy and Gurdy will find the way to get us there and Sorbet will bring us back. But it is to me to make the decisions.'

'This is the Moogle way, to live so bound?'

'Not bound,' Montblanc says, startled. 'They are the siblings of my choice, not of my birth. This is better, not bound. Singular is not sufficient. I could not know everything Horne knows, not and also tend to the whimsy of a chocobo as Gurdy can. I have different gifts.'

The first attack on their paired presence they fought in a strained, sympathetic solitude, too used to fighting alone. By the time Montblanc's path takes them to Dalmasca, they knew each other's limits. Montblanc's spells strike first to engender chaos: Krjn's arrows follow to sunder life. When the last few wolves venture too close for arrows and spells, Montblanc fights with long daggers, quick and powerful, his explosive motion like his spells against a stamina spent too easily. When he tires, Krjn uses her claws, and thinks she will need to get a blade crafted for her height.

'Are you wholeless, then, standing alone?'

Montblanc pauses, his paws in wolf guts for where magick congeals to precious stone. His delay is too long; the mist claims that meat back to fuel its own mysticism. He stares at his empty hands. Krjn thinks he looks very sad, his ears furled near to spines regardless of his heat exhaustion. The gaping pink of his mouth is stark against his white.

'The word is 'incomplete',' Montblanc tells her, 'not "wholeless". Kupo, for correcting you, Viera Krjn, but that is the word.'

'You are incomplete.'

He stands, the movement of muscle as he rises setting his fur to ripple like the sand's wave. His ears snap open. 'Yes, and it grieves me greatly.'

'But why? Can you not be sufficient on your own?'

He is surprised. 'You do not grieve for your own solitude? Viera have a family, of sorts, and you are alone in the world. Do you never hunger for the company of your sisters?'

Krjn thinks on the question for the time it takes them to cross the estersand, in vain, the westersand, in greater vain, Montblanc's maps ever filled with more and more detail and still, never complete. They skirt Rabanastre's wall and the rains of Giza. A storm of mist and magick breaks in the Ozmone plain, and they must run to find a shelter.

The cave mouth is very small, but mesmenir fill the thick-stormed skies with further purple terror, their nightmares come alive with the mist. Krjn is near-sick from it. Montblanc finds the way and guides Krjn through, the cave mouth near as tight-closed as her eyes. Montblanc seems pleased with his approximation of a ceiling. They strip the wet of their clothing, leather and lace still sparking with the mesmenir's clinging magicks. Viera are not made for caves; Krjn cannot find her comfort, curled.

'In the Wood,' Krjn answers him, with flickering flamelight from a tiny Mooglecraft stove their only shared warmth, 'each Viera stands alone by both the nature of her being and her will, that she can hear the Wood's Word clear and without corruption. In the Wood, I stood alone by the nature of my distinction and my whim. In the Wood, I was incomplete. In the world, I am incomplete. I did not grieve in the Wood. I do not grieve in the world.'

Montblanc makes a sound, crooning and curious. 'It must be a sad way to live, for your siblings as well as you. So alone.'

'No,' Krjn says, 'it is neither sad nor gleeful. It is only the way we live. I have seen many beasts, those that reckon and those that reckon otherwise, and each has their own way to be. My sisters may be sad, I do not know. I have not found my way, not its length or breadth, but the searching does not give me sorrow.'

'I could not live like that,' the Moogle says.

'And so,' the Viera says, 'instead, you live with sorrow on your back, marking maps that never show your way.'

He is strained. He looks at the burden of his scrolls, his ears drooping. 'This is not my choice.'

'Ah,' Krjn says. 'Then there lies the sole true difference between us.'

Montblanc curls to sleep with his back to the artificial blaze. Across the other side of the stove, Krjn does not sleep easily with the world's weight overhead.

When the storm clears, Montblanc turns his face to Rabanastre and his tail to the wilderness.

His guilt rises in his throat with every step forward, thick and familiar. He swore to his brothers he would leave the city searching to them. When they broke their bonds to spread their searching, he thought they would have gone mad forced to wander in solitude. Montblanc was first, is first: he will always take the heaviest of burdens from his brothers' shoulders.

Conversation with Krjn leaves Montblanc empty for his guilt to rise so strongly to fill the void. Every word given to the Viera is spent coin; her own words in return do not fill him up. He turns to Rabanastre for company, he will not deny it. True company, Moogle company, and words that do not have to explained with effort thrice that of speaking them. Montblanc wants to walk with someone who has legs to match his length, familiarity.

In the city, Krjn eyes everything with open interest, but shows no desire to leave his side. He has not been within Rabanastre's walls before. He can see the signs, but no Moogles in the street's crowd. The Humes move thickly here. Montblanc cannot seek his siblings or the Moogleton with Krjn in his shadow.

Montblanc considers. They buy themselves burnt kebabs of hard white cheese and red peppers to spice the dry heat of the desert, and then juice to wash away the taste. Their table offers shade if not solitude. His feet swing while Krjn's knees crimp uncomfortably. However friendly Rabanastre is to the thinking races, the chairs are still made for Humes.

'This world is a Hume world.' Montblanc spreads his paws to span the street, Rabanastre, and all of Ivalice; they have lingered over lunch, and still he cannot sight a moving Moogle in that crowd. He longs for the sight of a furred form, an unreasonable longing. He speaks half to convince himself of contentment. 'I find little to protest in such a structure. It is as it should be. Humes are the movers among us. If a Moogle hierarchy gives us our efficiencies, each complimenting the next with knowledge and skill, then Ivalice should work the same. Moogles do not change the world. Moogles do not desire to change the world. Humes do want to change, and change everything; Moogles are the ones that know how. This is a hierarchy that extends beyond a Moogle's own brotherhood. A world hierarchy.'

'Master,' Krjn says. Her voice sounds flat bound in a city's structure. 'You spoke of one, before. Your master has taught you to think thus.'

'Yes. I apprenticed us to a Hume.' The words are drier than the desert. Montblanc curls his tongue through juice before he can continue. 'It is not an unusual thing amongst Moogles to work for a Hume master. Consider even this city, Krjn. A Moogle would never have desired to wall this space. Well, Raith could see what a wall could mean; but it was a Moogle that gave that Dynast King the means to achieve his ends. I apprenticed us to a Hume. We learned. I learned. I cannot speak for my siblings, but I loved our master. He gave us respect and knowledge of who we were. Such a thing is a debt that can never be repaid.'

'Master,' Krjn says. This time, Montblanc hears the true tension in her voice.

'What does the word mean to you?'

Krjn is difficult to read. Montblanc does not think it is because she is Viera. In the gaining of true speech, he has forgotten his birth language, that cub's language based in expression of body.

'A Hume,' Krjn says, slowly, 'may look at a Moogle and see your smallness, and think you unthreatening enough to allow you your whims. Your fur marks you distinct against their furless flesh. Your muzzle, your paws, you can be adept at speech and mechanics without challenging a Hume with too much similarity. A Hume can look at you, Montblanc, and for the distinction in your form will allow himself to see your worth as a mind. What does a Hume see when he looks at a Viera, but too much similarity? Our flesh, near-matching; our bodies, wanted. I have lived long in the Wood and heard all words spoken within. A master for a Moogle will set you to a purpose that matches your own; to make. Perhaps you can reconcile yourself with such. I cannot. A master for a Viera will set her to a purpose not of her choice. I am suspicious of that word, master. It is a Hume word, not our word.'

'I did not think.' Montblanc apologises as he knows how. 'Kupo, Viera Krjn. This is - true, I see the truth in your words, but surely not all Humes would turn all Viera from purpose?'

'That is also true, but does not negate the former.'

Montblanc reaches across the table to pat Krjn's hand, an assurance on his part that falls wrong. She startles and stares at his hand on hers, her ears askance. Montblanc remembers, again and so painfully, he does not sit with a sibling. Viera are not fond of touch. He withdraws his fingers.

'Why did you leave him?'

'I did not.' Montblanc steels himself to speak. 'He died on the dart of a dragon's tongue, and I - we - could not - We failed him. For the first time, and the last.'

With an uncertain breath, Krjn lifts her fingers and pats his hand, if awkwardly, a clear mimicry of his earlier action.

This is the first time Krjn has been within a city. Rabanastre, Montblanc told her, has always had a blend of the intelligent and social races. She sights Bangaa and Seeq, Moogle and Hume; she even sights Viera, striving to flaunt the inHumeness of their flesh, and failing.

She has little desire to speak to these Viera. Montblanc asks her where she wants to go, if not into the silence of her sisterhood. He is anxious to be away from her, she recognises that, but finds such a desire strange coming from him. He has always seemed so glad for her company before. She asks.

'Hurdy is in the city,' Montblanc says, uneasily, 'and a letter came some time ago to say Horne is here, also. Since our master died we have been searching for the murderous wyrm, each of us in our own ways. I with my pathfinding, striking out into the heartland of solitude where my brothers would break. But I — it has been a long time, Viera Krjn. I want — I need — to see them.'

She will not go to where the other Viera live. They compromise. He pays for a room in the Hume part of town where the bed will fit the length of her limbs, but close to what he calls his Moogleton. She would rather sleep under the stars, but he insists for hospitality's sake. Hospitality: he offers it as though her refusal would offend him. The Hume keeper of the room for rent explains instead, intrigued at their pairing: Moogles vaunt hearth and home as evidence of their passing on this earth. Hospitality is offered where they cannot offer a home. In the face of mortality, such need for possession, debt, is a desire to mark the world with their immortality.

Viera have no need for immortality. The Wood is endless, for ever and all. Still, Krjn is not so proud to disdain comfort. She dozes on the bed, her ear half turned to where Montblanc has left his precious maps in her charge. The sound of the city lulls her to sleep.

The evening breeze rises and falls before Montblanc returns.

Krjn hears him not by the creak of the door: it is his maps that sound, an explosion of paper, a forest storm instead of a leaf's soft susurrus against its twin. She opens her eyes in time to see the cascade come to rest, scrolls scattered across the room.

She sits and watches what follows. Montblanc is in a rage the likes of which she never knew a Moogle could contain, every strand of fur and whisker erect with insult.

'Disgraced,' Montblanc cries, as paper crumples and rolls, 'they are disgraces, despairing, disobedient; they disgrace their names and nature both! My disgraces, and my despair, and for what have I sacrificed my years to searching and striving when they have surrendered — '

'Moogle,' Krjn says, 'I perceive your siblings did not welcome your return.'

'Pah,' Montblanc spits, 'I will not speak to them again, I will not call them sibs! All of them, all five of them, weak and weaklings and wandering from my word, turning themselves to triviality instead of the true task here. Our master died for our incapability to protect him, and thus we set ourselves to hunt that foul wyrm to bring an end to that which broke our bonds.' His fingers knot in his fur, clenching. 'What have they done, Viera Krjn, but surrendered? Horne and Hurdy, setting up business, working for wealth instead of true worth — '

His rage dies and leaves him empty. He is a ball of fur on the floor, paws patting aimless until he finds the crumpled curl of a map. A choked sound comes, muffled against his forearm; he smoothes the paper without lifting his head. 'I am filled with despair. I have suffered so, in solitude, and in the meantime they have set themselves up in a comfort that any a Moogle would surely envy—'

'Do you envy them so?' Krjn wonders at his rage, and the sudden lack of it. Her blood does not run so swift.

'No,' he says. 'I do not envy them. If they have failed, it is because I have failed them. I should not have come here. I could have found the wyrm on my own, wandering the wilds, I could have if it had taken all the years of my life. They are still my sibs. I have failed them.'

'My sisters have called me by such a word. But we fail to heed the Wood's word, it is because we are born to so fail. It is no cause for rage. Wiser Viera than I will say: failure is inevitable, and unchangeable.'

'Oh,' Montblanc says. He stands with facile motion, moving to her side. 'Krjn, no, you are no failed Viera. No thinking creature is born to such a thing; Ivalice moves to always find balance, and such an action involves both failure and successes, rights and wrongs. Failure is found in a creature's actions, and all actions can be amended. This is why I seek the wyrm. I will make recompense.'

Krjn considers. 'I did not say I agreed.'

Montblanc smiles in the Moogle way, with his fringe of whiskers flicked forward and back, ears unfurled that Krjn can see his heart's beat in the network of blood through that fine flesh. 'Despite your height, you are more like a Moogle than you will admit.'

'Cantankerous,' Krjn tests the bounds of her vocabulary, 'with swift thought, swift to rage and swift to resolve?'

'I do not know if you jest.'

'You are more like a Viera than you will admit. I do not know if I jest, either.'

He laughs regardless. His rage does indeed prove to be swift and swiftly surrendered: Krjn watches as he tends his scattered scrolls. Montblanc does not repack, but rather unfurls each scroll. They are spread already and for once, they are not prey to the elements.

Krjn cannot read his life's work as anything but beautiful markings, lines of symbol and once-walked boundary. She understands how a map might represent the length of Ivalice, but prefers to trust to the paths marked in her own mind than those on paper.

'On the morrow, I will leave the city.' Montblanc contemplates the white-paper voids that mark where he has not sought his dragon. 'Shall we to here — or to here?'

His choice of path always moves towards the unknown, to fill the blank spaces, not to walk the route already known. Krjn is content with that.

On the morrow Krjn wakes to find the room empty. She does not worry. Montblanc's maps are in the room, neatly re-packed. Unless he has abandoned his quest, she does not think he will leave them behind. She does not think he will abandon his quest.

In his absence, Krjn finds herself as empty of whim as the room is of Moogle. She contemplates the small portion of sky visible through the window. Dawn turns to day, an unchanging path. Krjn cannot summon a thought to tell her where she wants to be, today.

After some time, Krjn realizes she is tense.

Krjn considers the tightness inside her; tension, a taut bowstring that once plucked, could send a shaft to purpose or waste. The word is well-suited to this feeling, and to Montblanc.

Montblanc's own tension must be more than hunger for his siblings. Montblanc moves as though he itches on the inside, struck by desires he cannot scratch except with completion. Montblanc has his quest.

A quest is task and purpose, reason, all in one. Krjn contemplates what it means to have a quest, a single unifier under which all her whims might align.

When Montblanc returns he has a gift for her: a new sword. It is well-wrought for her height. Her tension eases.

Krjn thanks him. Montblanc bows his acknowledgment. They leave for the hunt.

It is a fact of life that everyone encounters frustration.

Montblanc knows that there is no escaping such a thing. He has always met setbacks with as much equanimity as he can muster. Frustrations come from external situations: it is his internal being that can overcome what cannot be changed.

Yet this time, his frustration is purely internal.

He has always had the belief that his sibs kept their search, choosing his path away from theirs. Ivalice is large, and Yiazmat of no fixed abode; but they were a diligent brotherhood. They could have found him, trapped him, killed him. Now Montblanc knows he searches alone. Mostly alone, he corrects — Krjn keeps her pace as his shoulder's shadow. Still, this is not her quest. She wanders with ease, interested in all of Ivalice where he must focus so tightly he cannot consider the glory of a dawn lest he lose a day waiting for the delights of a dusk. One day she will wander away. She has nothing to tie her to his side if he finds the fiend that haunts him with its absence.

Montblanc does not think he is afraid. If he finds Yiazmat, he will find a way to kill him. Montblanc does not think on his own death. He cannot fail again, having learned from the first time. Montblanc tells himself he is not afraid.

They are pacing across the midday calm of Cerobi Steppe, wrapped in that brief cessation of breeze, when Krjn says suddenly:

'This wyrm, Montblanc, that killed your master. What is it called?'

He cannot pretend to know why she asks. Some whim of hers, perhaps; she has ever held herself aloof from his intent.

When he tells the horizon, 'Yiazmat,' it is in a voice not his own.

It is the first time he has said the name aloud in all these long, lonely decades.

Of a sudden, Montblanc is enraged that of everyone that could have cared to ask, it is a Viera who hears.

'This wyrm,' Krjn says. 'The name you give belongs to a greater wyrm, of an age to truly earn his name as well as his intelligence.'

Montblanc's ears flick, in time with his pace as he keeps his stride stretched. 'Say 'malevolent intelligence', Viera Krjn. If he were merely intelligent, I should not have to search Ivalice to end his predation.' There is a hint of sourness now, thick enough Krjn can recognise it. 'If I do ever find his lair.'

'There is much of Ivalice left to search, Montblanc, but you are thorough. I do not doubt you will find Yiazmat.'

His tone is tight. 'Thank you for your faith.'

She shrugs, but he cannot see her motion when he walks ahead of her. 'It is not faith when it is a fact. But how can you end this beast, when you find him?'

Montblanc stops. He turns to face her, ears furious, and opens his mouth wide as though all the words in the world want to come.

When his silence lingers, long and dusk-lit, it seems he has no words left at all.

'You are a Moogle,' Krjn says. 'Moogles do not usually set themselves to the hunt. I have hunted, on my own and with my sisters. I say you need numbers, tactics, strength, to defeat a greater wyrm. You fight well, but Moogles are not accustomed to the hunt.'

His teeth snap. 'I fight better than well.'

'For a Moogle.'

'What do you suggest with your words left unsaid, Viera Krjn? You think I am incapable?'

'Capability is a characteristic of all Moogles, and you most of all. But you think to set yourself against Yiazmat, your own hand wielding your vengeance. I say: here is your mistake, to assume all your goals must be achieved with your suffering, your solitude. Moogles are the most able of mechanics on Ivalice, and known for it; Montblanc, would you set a spanner to the task of a hammer?'

'You think I should set Hume and Viera to kill Yiazmat? Bangaa and Seeq? Krjn, this is my vengeance. I cannot give the burden to another. I consider myself much aggrieved that you think me so incapable.' His shoulders set themselves, a hard line. 'You belittle me for a matter of size.'

'In a matter of weapon against wyrm, size does indeed matter. You would fight against your own nature if you think to fight Yiazmat, alone; Moogles always move in numbers, not in solitude.'

But that, perhaps, was a phrase Montblanc proves most unwilling to hear. His frustration is writ in the blood that stiffens his ears to true erection, hard and angled for aggression. It does not startle Krjn when he draws his blades, whiskers flat and black edge of lip curled. She draws her own, for her defense. Her flesh is as his, and will bleed if struck.

The fight does not stir her anger, however such an emotion motivates his every wild blow. Rage, frustration, impotence: he fights like a Hume, not a beast, thrashing his rage against her sword with cries that resonate like his strikes. He does not even try to touch her. Blade on blade, anger against tempered steel; this, then, is a fight she is familiar with. To her shame she had desecrated the Wood itself with her own matching rage, her blade set to strip a tree of bark and sap for that it could not strike back. The Wood swallowed all her frustration to leave - this - empty, nothingness, not even enough left inside her to rage: Krjn holds her sword for Montblanc to strike, and feels, still, only empty, purposeless whim.

Montblanc drops his daggers and shudders, shakes, and cries: 'Krjn!'

Krjn sets aside her sword and reaches. She is here. When she fought to find her own breaking point, none of her sisters were there to hear her cry from the breaking, nor to understand.

His fur is very warm, his heart still racing, fast and high in his chest. For the first time she considers her own slenderness, how he must view her. When she lies beside him, she sees herself as stretched too tall for efficiency of form. Montblanc may not be a fighter, but the density of his muscle meets her fingertips and does not yield. In that, she finds familiarity, pleasure. Her touch provokes a hiss, his incisors bared; Krjn sets her nose to the fur of his cheek and breathes his sorrow. So easily she masters him. Neither Viera nor Moogle are made for weeping.

'Will you consider it now?' she asks, and lifts herself from him. 'With reckoning instead of recklessness?'

Montblanc unfurls, spine pressed to the earth's camber, all his small patches of furless flesh bared to the sky. The position is vulnerable. Krjn finds comfort in that he bares himself so readily, and lies next to him to follow his gaze past the clouds.

'I must make amends with my sibs,' he says, at last. 'Such decisions cannot be made by me alone, first or otherwise.'

It is in slow silence they return to Rabanastre, a route walked twice before and reviled for that familiarity. At the fringe of the city, Montblanc leaves her in the same inn as before.

After some days, Krjn thinks he has truly left her.

In good humour, Montblanc returns to the inn to find Krjn standing outside. Her eyes ignore the street in favour of the sky.

He touches the back of her hand, light, so she is aware of his presence. When she sees him, she smiles, full and true, with shoulders as well as lips. Smiling is a Hume habit, but one that suits a Viera's form so well.

'Viera Krjn,' Montblanc says, and bows, 'I would thank you. After your words, I have made amends with my sibs. Each of us searches in our own way. I was wrong to assume that their way could not accommodate a city's luxuries as well our quest. We are considering your other words, of expanding our bank of searchers. We have made no decision as yet, but we have writ our other sibs for their comment.'

Krjn inclines her head, slow and considering. 'I am glad for your return, Montblanc.' Startlingly, he thinks he hears reproach: 'I thought you had ventured on, without me.'

'But I left word with the bartender - you did not receive the message?'

'I did not - I did not speak to the Humes within. But no matter, Montblanc, I have your thanks and your presence. No apology is necessary. You are here now.'

'Krjn, if you thought I had left - you - you remained, you waited, but why?'

'I thought.'

Krjn hesitates for long enough Montblanc wonders if two words will bear the weight of all her meaning. Her fingers reach, to touch the length of his ears and set them to flicking, involuntary. But for her height, he would repay the tickle.

'I thought long, Montblanc. To make a single choice is an easy thing. Even to continue along that first-chosen path is not difficult. Once the choice is made, it is ever our tendency to move in a direction of least resistance. To follow our natures, to abide by our choice. But to abide never tests our boundaries - that full limit of what we, individual, have as our capability.'

'You wish to test your boundaries? '

Her eyes are still distant. 'Ivalice is a world of interconnection. My boundaries are those of the world's length and breadth, and I shall discover their limits. The true difficulty, the true quest lies in finding another in whose presence I can become all that I desire to be.'

He struggles. 'You wish to travel with me as you search for a soulmate?'

Krjn regards him steadily.

Silence stretches for long moments before the realisation comes. Montblanc feels his ears flatten, fickle and treacherous things. A strange emotion is this one; embarrassment, surprise, amazement, gladness. He is disbelieving.

First of one, yet not alone.

Moogles know the world through hierarchies, small increments of category, levels, elements; stages and clear steps that they can always know where they stand, and be proud. Moogles know themselves by their achievements; Montblanc knows himself no atypical Moogle. When hunters are inexorably drawn to the suggestion, the whispered secret of a mark that cannot be defeated, the first thing Montblanc does is rank them, and name them.

'And I?' Krjn asks. 'I hunt, also, for I have been made for the hunt and through it I shall know my boundaries. But that I hunt at your word, Montblanc, what word will you gift me with in return? What title and rank am I accorded?'

'I have no word for you, in truth. Were you a Hume I would call you master for that I have learned from you, but that word is a wrongness. Were you a Moogle I could call you a sib, but you are not. We are not. I—'

'Partners,' Krjn says. 'Let the word between us be partners, Montblanc, for however long we so suit the word, or until a better comes along.'

'Yes,' Montblanc agrees. 'It is a suitable word, for the time being.'

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