He could still hear the sounds that should have gone with the wooden walls, even though they were nigh-deserted: the swishing sounds of arrows in flight, the hard chopping of blades hacking apart mandragoras, even the faint humming of curative magics. It had been years since he had last set foot in Yuhtunga, but in some ways it felt like he had never left.

Lost in his momentary reverie, Kerensky breathed deep, savoring the earthy scent of the jungle before glancing over his shoulder toward his young companion. "Can you see it?" he asked, shifting his weight slightly and wrapping his fingers around the hilt of his sword.

"See what?" she shouted, trudging up the path in her dun-colored shirt and loose slacks, a look of exasperation playing across her features. "There's nothing here! How, exactly, is this supposed to be training?"

He checked the response that sprang to mind. Of course she couldn't see what he did; she hadn't been here before. "This is where one trains at your level of knowledge," Kerensky replied calmly. "Now we sit, and we wait."

"Wait. Super." The young woman leaned against a wall with a sigh. "For what?"

"Companions. They'll come, Ninette. This is the right place to be right now. Before you know it, you'll be --"

"It was the right place to be. Not anymore." She shook her head once again, the same look in her eyes that had been dogging Kerensky all day. "If we had just gone to Jugner like I'd wanted, we could be stomping some leeches by now."

Kerensky's eyes flashed. It took some effort to remind himself that she was a hume, frail and short-lived, not possessing the dignity of a San d'Orian knight. Discipline came naturally to him, but not to her. "Watch your tone, young woman. One does not train in Jugner."

"Apparently not. One has to spend a bunch of time skimming keys off quadavs and yagudo and orcs, and then one has to take an airship ride to a village that stinks of fish and cats." Ninette brushed one hand against the fist weapons at her waist, still scowling. "I hate to break it to you, but this place has seen better days."

Kerensky laughed in spite of himself, glancing toward the clearing where a group of mandragoras were squeaking at one another. "I learned to be a paladin here, Ninette. The way of the sword, and then the way of magic and knightly demeanor. I realize that it's less crowded than it used to be, but this is a part of your training."

"Why even bother?" Pushing off the wall with practiced grace, Ninette rapped the back of her hand against Kerensky's white-and-gold armor. "You don't need any more training, and I don't seem to be getting much of anywhere with this."

"This is tradition. You have to --"

"Enough with tradition! You act like any of that matters! Seriously, Kerensky, you keep telling me that everything will be excellent and wonderful once I'm finished with my training, and each time you drag me off to some worthless stretch of land completely devoid of other people. First it was sitting on the beach for four weeks waiting for another adventurer to stumble along -- do you remember that?"

Kerensky shifted his weight uncomfortably. He hadn't expected her to forget Valkurm, precisely, but it hadn't been one of his shining moments as a mentor. "You did learn a great deal about working as part of a team," he replied, consciously avoiding her gaze.

"Yeah. I learned that when you wait for someone with a bow to get a lizard's attention, he feels the need to poke a goblin first."

"Running from the goblins there is --"

"A learning experience, I know. You said that. You told me that you had run from dozens of goblins and that the wound on my thigh would heal up just fine." Almost unconsciously, one hand dropped down just below her waist and rubbed at the spot where the butcher's weapon had caught her. "And now I have a spectacular scar there from nearly becoming an amputee, so thanks for that."

There was a scuffling noise behind him, and Kerensky turned just in time to see the chocobo heading toward him. He stepped backward swiftly enough that the bird did no more than graze his shoulder, giving an aggravated cry as it galloped into the distance. Ninette stared as the bird raced off, then looked back at Kerensky in disbelief.

"Is that part of your memory? Dodging chocobos?"

He rubbed the back of his head uncomfortably. It would have been nice to say that it wasn't. "Ninette, please. I understand that this isn't quite what you expected from adventuring, but --"

"But nothing. Ker, you're a great mentor, a great friend, but this?" She stepped away from the wall, gesturing broadly. "Just grinding away in the middle of nowhere? This is isn't adventuring, it's... it's barely even groundskeeping. It's inane, and it's boring."

"It's something I love," Kerensky replied, raising his voice just enough to focus Ninette's gaze back upon him. "You might be right. Some of the traditions I hold on to aren't quite there any longer. But that doesn't mean that there isn't some merit in them. Just because I'm looking at the past fondly doesn't mean that the past was awful."

"I know! I know. It's just..." The young woman sighed, slumped back against the wall and looked numbly into the distance.

She didn't need to finish, and Kerensky simply walked up and placed on hand on her shoulder. He wanted her to see what he saw when he walked into the jungle, wanted everyone to see it, but as he looked around, the sounds of memory faded. No longer was the air filled with the sound of battle and the laughter of comrades in arms; there were mandragoras chirping in the distance and that was it.

He closed his eyes. "Let's just wait a little longer," he said. "Then we'll try Jugner."

I hope everyone enjoyed the slight variant in format for this week's installment. As always, let me know what you thought via comments or by mail to eliot@massively.com. Apologies for being a bit rusty in my fiction, but it seemed suited to the project.

From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.

This article was originally published on Massively.
One Shots: Bald is... beautiful?