A pen in hand, Micali stared down at the paper that had come alongside her new rifle and vox. With the six names written out, she crossed out Hicla Terem and Rubeum Allec. One dead, the other irrelevant, and on the flip side of the paper, she wrote the names of Pallorus Morningstorm and Valgora - whose surname eluded Micali, even now. Pallorus's name she crossed off with a tinge of regret that she attempted to ease with the memories of his betrayal. She firmly circled Valgora’s name. Within a couple weeks’ time, she’d have her second Devil. After a few more moments passed, she held a hand to her forehead- she was lucky enough not to have developed a welt, but she felt a nasty bruise beginning to surface. Nothing some ice wouldn’t fix, and she needed to discuss things with Dom regardless. As she came back down to the first floor of the wooden building, the bar had slowed some.
“Hey Mick, figured- oh, hell. What happened?” Dom’s bright smile instantly fell when he saw the dark purple wound that barely edged out beneath her bangs.
“Got my second name is what happened.” Micali couldn’t contain the proud grin that came to her features, the defiant sign to someone who had worried for her that she managed yet another feat toward her goal.
“‘S that right? Who is it?” Dom knew the Devils rather intimately, both by Micali’s recounting and firsthand experience.
“Valgora, up north, in the Inlustrovis Grand Cathedral of the Serpent.” Micali emphasized the words to clarify it was a quote as she rounded the corner of the bar and stepped up beside Dom as a customer exited the store, leaving only Miss Immersa - the older laicar woman who was always there - in the establishment.
Dom raised a hand to part Micali’s bangs, and frowned at the injury. “I’ll grab you some ice, then we can talk about this ‘Grand Cathedral’ and whatever the plan is, okay?” He moved to the kitchen at that, and for half an instant Micali felt the intense pressure that she was suddenly in charge of the bar.
Rosa materialized at that, coming from the kitchen. “The old cathedral up north? I’ve been there.”
Micali cocked an eyebrow at that. “Didn’t take you for the religious type, Rosa.”
“Oh, not really, but I went there as a kid.” Rosa’s unbridled enthusiasm was somewhere between a genuine happiness to help and the false glee that came with customer service.
“Think you could point out a good route on a map?” Micali had been smart enough to grab her map of eastern Hiemis on the way downstairs.
“Definitely! Here, let me see, please.”
Micali turned the map to face Rosa, and held the pen out to be grabbed. For a moment - a brief second - their hands lingered, tan flesh on pink scales, and the sniper had to fight that familiarly unknown feeling that threatened to rattle her rib cage. “Right,” Micali muttered, cleared her throat, then tucked her loose hair behind her ears as her cheeks burned.
“Okay so- um- yes, okay, so you’re gonna want to go through Amares Pass to the northwest, though if you don’t have a basilisk or a raedas, the journey’s gonna go from a few days to a couple weeks. Did you have...any transportation?” Rosa finished her two separate trails with the pen then held it up, hands somewhat shaky as she turned the map back to Micali and set it down.
The laicar had to try not to widen her eyes at the realization that Rosa had probably ridden in a raedas before, something only the noblest, most wealthy could typically afford. “I was planning on just walking, camping out when I had to.”
“This time of year? You’ll freeze if the wild beasts don’t get you first. Take a carriage or take some-“ Rosa cut herself off, and her eyes met Micali’s, suddenly firm and intense. An unspoken exchange left the elder cautious - if the velen woman intended what Micali thought she did...it was best to nip this in the bud.
This was the exact moment at which Dom came back from the kitchen with the ice. “Eager, huh? Here,” he said as he applied the cloth-wrapped bag of ice to Micali’s forehead after a cursory glance to the now drawn upon map.
“I can do it, c’mon Dom.” Micali groaned as the man babied her - though that was the typical experience within their friendship. “And Rosa- what’s with the look?” Micali knew what she was thinking, but some part of her hoped dearly that she was wrong.
Rosa’s eyes darted from Dom’s to Micali’s, then back and forth again as she spoke. “Well, I was thinking, since I’ve been there before-”
“No, absolutely not.” Micali had not been wrong.
“It’s out of the question.”
“But if I go with you-”
“No. It’s too dangerous. This is my fight.” Micali meant it. If anyone else got hurt in all this...she wouldn’t be able to forgive herself.
“I agree with Mick, Rosa,” Dom attempted feebly to insert himself, ever the peacekeeper.
“With my healing magic you stand a better-” Rosa crossed her arms as she was interrupted yet again.
“No. It’s unsafe, and I can’t guarantee your safety.” Maybe, just maybe she could steer her velen friend to a safer course of action.
“They didn’t just teach me healing magic, you know! I can defend myself.” Rosa leaned in close over the bar, her tone now harsh and hushed. “I’m a runaway heiress that’s survived two years under her father’s nose without being caught - I’m not some defenseless little girl.”
“Even still, this isn’t your fight and I promised-“ Micali cut herself off, but the shift in Rosa’s expression gave away that the conversation was going to go this way no matter what now. “I promised Dr. Sati you wouldn’t get hurt.”
“You what!? What, am I just some lost child!? Vis, you all know I hate being babied!” Rosa’s hands found purchase on the counter as her expression became exactly what one would expect.
“I don’t think-” Dom tried yet again to interject, but this train was already barreling off the tracks and through a burning orphanage.
“And you can tell Rev that if he’s concerned about me, he can tell me to my face.”
“No, I’m not-” Micali wasn’t only arguing for Rosa’s safety, but suddenly her own as she recalled the many fires that Rosa had stoked with her magic.
“Look, I’m going to follow you one way or another, so you can either let me come with you or go ahead of me and put me in even more danger. I have my own autonomy, and I’m choosing to come with you, whether you like it or not.” Rosa leaned back and crossed her arms again.
Dom chuckled at that. “I can’t very well give you- what, a month? A month away from work, not when we’re coming up on a busy season. The bar doesn’t run as smoothly with just the three of us working, you know that.”
Rosa looked between the two, lips a thin, straight line as her eyes blazed a black fire. “I quit.” With that, she untied her hair and moved upstairs.
Dom let out a low whistle at that, and the two remained silent until the echo of high heels faded.
Micali watched her go, and turned to see Dom staring not at Rosa, but at her. “What?”
“Nothing, nothing. Just...you seem important to her, that’s all.”
Micali didn’t respond to that.
A cleared throat across the bar had them both looking over. Miss Immersa had a neat stack of exa on her table - done with whatever papers she always worked on while she drank coffee there every day. “Just so you know,” she chuckled to herself as her greying hair bobbed with her shoulders, “she’s right, and this sizeable tip can be her severance pay.”
Dom barked a chipper laugh at that. “Have a good night, Lina. Safe walk home, too, I heard that the keepers have been harsher lately - something about Cura protestors.”
The short laicar woman simply waved a hand toward him. “Bah, this old broad’s still got a few tricks up her sleeve. Have a great night, Dom. Micali.” With the heavy emphasis on the sniper’s name, she was gone.
“How did she know my name? Why did she say it like that?” Micali was ready to write this off as paranoia, but needed some kind of evidence to cling to.
“Probably because you live here and she’s here more often than you are, and she just watched you get in an argument with her favorite waitress.” Dom patted Micali’s shoulder, his sunny disposition permanent even after his only waitress quit on him in the middle of her shift.
Micali hummed to herself for a moment while she considered. “...Yeah, that’s fair. Wait- you said Cura protests?”
“Yep,” Dom huffed back, “Some kinda demonstration by Cura got taken down by the keepers, and it came to blows. Silly.”
Micali hummed at that, curious if Volo had been involved - or Anima and the Creditori, at that. With a gaze cast to the stairs, there was a silent understanding between the two that she would have to keep Rosa safe on whatever journey lay ahead.
“Heard you’re taking a vacation.”
Micali looked up for her seat on the bed, where she poured over the map that had been marked. Before her stood Magno, hair still damp from his shower as he peaked in from her ajar door frame. She was distracted - the door shouldn’t have been left open. She cast her gaze back down to the map, a non-verbal welcoming to her housemate. “Something like that.”
“Anything we can do to help?” There was no need for him to mention Paulo by name, the two were essentially one unit in Micali’s mind, though that thought registered as suddenly impersonal in her mind.
“Can you convince Rosa to stay behind?” The request was heartfelt - the risks outweighed the benefits, and Micali couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong.
A low whistle came back as the man entered her room, heavy footfalls echoing as he approached the bed. “No chance. Ro’s stubborn - when her mind is set on something, she goes for it, no matter what. Especially since...y’know…”
She surely didn’t. It was as if there was some secret that Micali wasn’t in on - some glaring truth to the world she alone was blind to. “Since what?” Her voice growled though she hadn’t commanded it to, and she offered an apologetic glance after speaking.
Magno took no offense to it, as he just shrugged and sighed. “Nothing. But no, my advice is to just let Rosa come with you. She went to school for magic, you know, so she’s not exactly defenseless- hell, she might even save your ass.” He peered over her shoulder, and his face dropped as he saw their destination.
“What? You know the place too? Vis, it feels like I’m the only fucking person who hasn’t been to this church.” Micali brought a hand to her bruised forehead, rubbed at the painful lump, and turned back to tracing paths along the paper with her eyes.
“Something like that. Anyway, just let Rosa go with you. See you tomorrow,” he said, then disappeared out of her room quicker than she expected.
Micali grimaced. She never expected herself to care so much for other’s secrets, yet even now she felt exposed to people she knew nothing about. Shrugging off the feeling, she looked back to the map.
“So there aren’t many stops along the way - though there is a village named Amanta about a day’s ride out from the cathedral itself. Of course I don’t think we actually have anything to ride, so the journey’s gonna be closer to a couple weeks one way. About eleven days to Amanta, and that’s if we take Amantes Pass through the mountains to the north. Are you following?” Rosa’s finger traced the trail she had previously drawn, and her eyes flicked to meet Micali’s as they sat on the bed in the sniper’s room.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m getting it. So...leave tomorrow morning?” Micali couldn’t deny her eagerness, the wait for justice far too long.
“...Do you have a winter jacket at all? Anything to keep warm? A bedroll?” Rosa’s eyes probed Micali’s, trusting yet apprehensive.
Micali could hardly believe she was being lectured on survival by an heiress. “Yes. Dom’s letting me take some stuff that he had laying around. There’s enough for both of us.”
“Alright, well...okay. I guess we can leave tomorrow then.”
“You don’t need to tell the doctor where you’re going? Won’t he get worried?”
“Let him. If he wants to go behind my back and make people promise to keep me safe, maybe he needs to see that I can take care of myself. Like you all do.” Rosa stood and left the room, turning to leave a wry smile in her wake. “Night. See you bright and early!”
Micali couldn’t comprehend the heat that came to her cheeks.
The Lucrum Marginibus was all cold surface as the two walked it. Micali had her weapons attached to her back as she walked, and a pack of provisions that hung off her side, along with another pack on Rosa’s back. Rosa had her hood up and over her head as the two approached the gate.
“What’chyer bid’ness?” The voice of a stout keeper that stood watch rang out as the other three guards huddled and chuckled at whatever joke had been told.
The two had come up with a plan for getting past the gate, and it was standard enough to work. “Hunting. Allec’s funeral is in the workings, and councilman Obitus wanted preparations made well ahead of time.”
The guard stroked his bare chin for a second as the three exhaled in the chilled mid-Vesper air. “‘Isat so? ‘Cause of what I reckon, Obitus is my boss, and he ain’t give no orders ‘bout no preparations.” The man began to turn toward the other keepers who had congregated further away to talk in a circle, but Rosa spoke first.
“Here, take this. We were never here. Got it?” The velen woman’s hand extended with a hefty sack of what must have been coins, as the guard took a quick peek inside before a dubious grin stretched across his pointed face.
“Right you are. On yer way ‘en.” The guard allowed the pair through, and sure enough, they passed the other side without issue.
Once a decent ways from the city’s walls, Micali turned to her now-travelling companion. “You knew we’d fail?”
Rosa simply shook her head. “No, just always best to be prepared. The city’s namesake isn’t just for show; there’s nothing that can get you what you want in Lucrus quite like money can.”
Micali knew it to be true, and the next while was spent in relative silence as the two made small talk. As they crossed a northern hill, the top of Lucrus’s walls left the sniper’s view, and Micali felt a short sadness at the worry that she may never see them again.