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Negotiating Her Release (Closed)


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The vindication he felt over the cost of soundproofing their room at the Breath was dwarfed and eclipsed by the indignant wrath and boiling fury which threatened to drown his wits. That malignant energy needed an outlet, lest it impair his reason and impede his good judgment, and he found that outlet in the disgraceful, barbaric, idiotic, incompetent Hellsguard beneath him.


Tengri stood over a thick and roiling cloud of smoke that lapped at his feet in much the same fashion as an abused and beaten whelp begging its master for forgiveness. The Geneqs’ room was in a shambles: both the partitions had fallen, broken, against the walls; the bookshelf had collapsed, and now tomes of various weights, sizes, and subjects lay scattered across the floorboards; nearby, their kotatsu had been upended, and many a plate or bowl had shattered; papers were strewn throughout the room, records and letters and documentation….


I sent for him but a single bell past.


Most of the room’s décor had been thoroughly trashed. Of all the valuables within, only three items remained intact:


Their bed.

A small plush doll of an ahriman.

The oriental shrine which they’d hung from the eastern wall.


Tengri and the roiling cloud, however, were the centerpiece that stood amidst this chaos. Most of the smoke writhed in an eight-fulm circle before him. Within that circle was the vague silhouette of a Roegadyn figure. It had no visible form on its own, but - outlined as it was by the smog - the features were recognizable enough. The entire cloud, from the silhouette to the outermost wisps licking at his heels, was fed by dark tendrils which fell from his grasp, drifting down between the coiled fingers of the Xaela’s claw of a hand.


Within that iron fist, he clutched a single soul. Brilliant blue-white, dimmed only by a surrounding aura of gray film, it resembled a large marble… or perhaps a translucent globe of glass which gave off dark vapors. What it looked like mattered not. What mattered was each and every moment in which he tightened his grip and crushed that soul as though it were the solitary means by which to relieve his stress… which it quite likely was. Each and every such moment resulted in an ear-piercing shriek, like nails across a chalkboard, and the silhouette would squirm and convulse in time, as though tormented… which it most certainly was.


Where is he?

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It isn’t my problem. I already made myself clear.



He had already returned to a small cottage in the Black Shroud. The same one he always retreated to when he wanted to be left alone. Its previous owner had laid a number of protective geometries around to keep unwanted visitors from gaining access. Naturally, Franz supplanted that as well. How mail found itself to the small estate was another matter. One the Garlean could not comprehend.



“It must be the work of the moogles. It wouldn’t be the first time the rotten creatures delivered a swiving letter to a remote destination,” he muttered to himself. He hadn’t opened it. There was little need to. The handwriting had already suggested who the sender was and the message contained inside.



Am I not even allowed a sennight to myself?



He retrieved a letter opener left neatly in a small desk’s drawer. Another item that had been cared for by the previous owner. Franz only opened if for formality. A quick scan had revealed he was correct in his assumptions.



He was being asked to return to Ul’dah at his earliest convenience, or rather, he was being told, /commanded/, to disembark immediately. Only a fool would take the words for their face value. He supposed he could simply ignore the letter, pretending it had never arrived. Or he could delay his actions for another evening when he wasn’t preoccupied with his own thoughts. Both would surely send the writer of the letter into an angered frenzy.



The beginnings of a smirk crept onto Franz’s face.



Is there really anything he can do or say to force me into action?



The stew he had been cooking was surely done by now. It would have been such a waste to have to dispose of it when he’d spent the sun prior gathering and buying the ingredients himself. And there was the matter of the former owner’s work that still needed to be done. A stack of pleas and orders for a variety of alchemical solutions lay piled on the desk. If he were to continue the farce that a runaway of House Kirche was indeed still alive, there needed to be some proof that he continued to exist. And fulfilling the work orders was the simplest method. His “customers” were already accustomed to waiting.



They can wait a sun longer.



Franz skimmed through the first few. The papers themselves covered in dust from the time they’d spent lying unmoved. Simple things. A few potions. Some elixirs. A request for a potent poison. Fraz knew how to prepare each according to their specifications. Mixing them was another issue. Deaspected crystals hardly made proper catalysts. And wearing gloves made the finer measurements that much more difficult. Finding an assistant would have been the only viable method. But it would also expose everything. Too many questions would arise from it. And so the orders sat. Perhaps he’d attempt a few in the morning. Just enough to provide some income and keep people thinking all was fine.



Returning to letter in hand, Franz carefully guided it into the furnace.



He can wait until I decide I’m ready. Or he can send for me with something more forceful than a letter.

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The midlander stared at the secluded little cottage with a look of utter disgust upon his face.


Truth be told, it was not the estate itself - if it could even be called that - which had earned his contempt, but the myriad geometries which sought to keep out all and sundry who were not welcome. The geometries were of mortal design, however, and were therefore flawed by mortal thinking. Yes, they were exquisite. Yes, they were worth a fortune. Yes, they constituted a masterpiece of arcanima.


...but no one had thought to add a layer of protection against the wildlife.


That was why the captain valued him, after all. He was used to thinking like an insect. “Bug,” the captain would affectionately call him every so often. Bug, indeed.


There, standing on what might have generously been called a dirt path leading up to the cottage, the diminutive Hyuran figure looked left and right, pivoted in place to ascertain whether he was being watched… and then, once satisfied, he fell apart. The enchantment which held him to this… life… was robust and yet somehow tenuous at the same, and so it was that with a mere thought he scattered his corporeal form to ash and sent the motes scurrying to the bole of a nearby oak, down along its roots into the earth, and through a winding series of cracks, fissures, and tunnels left behind by all manner of ants and worms and… bugs. Down he went, further and further, and only once he was a good twenty fulms or so deep did he begin to slowly and arduously creep his way beneath the geometries and towards the estate.


He had worked so long and hard for this assignment, for a chance at promotion beyond Fifth. He’d studied extensively under Khuja’ya, suffering the vermin’s filthy habits in silence so as to learn what he could of shifting from the natural. He’d been outspoken and forward in Pierre’s absence, ever since the Elezen had been assigned to Summerfield’s shadow. And now… now, with Gnasher on his way out, he had his chance.


The captain, their master… he’d been prepared to send Ortolf on this assignment, and Naveen had advised against it. First, there was the matter of relaying this route to Forgehands. Difficult enough to find such a small path to circumvent the wards, more difficult still to convey its whereabouts with any confidence. He, Naveen himself, has already found the way in when he’d delivered the missive the sun before… and so it should be Naveen himself to follow up. Second… the individual in question had been predisposed by recent events to distrust and despise Ala Mhigans. Sending Ortolf Forgehands would constitute too much aggression, too soon.


Rotunda had conceded both points.


Rather than emerge on the front steps, as he had the last time, Naveen pushed his way through the foundation stones… between was more honest, erosion had long since seen to the seams… and then up through the cracks between the floorboards. As the Crow coalesced within the house, he could not help but wonder at the veritable beacon of aether further in.


He glows… no, he burns like a star. Little wonder that the captain keeps him close.


He stood there, draped in a black cloak beneath which he wore black leathers and black cloth to complement his wild black hair. No one would ever dare accuse Naveen of not playing the part to his utmost ability. All that marred this ensemble were a pair of piercing blue eyes - one lighter than the other, so light it was almost white - set in a long, gaunt face.


Aloud, he said, “Caw, caw. I’d have knocked but… bugger me for a fool, someone’s thrown up a sign outside what says, ‘No Solicitors,’ and I wasn’t sure whether I count.”

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Franz had never been much of a heavy sleeper. Having spent enough time in alleys and streets, he’d nearly become accustomed to a life with rest for some time. But in the Shroud, it was supposed to be different. He could relax undisturbed.



Or should have been able to.



His guest, if one could truly call the other that, had entered in nearly unnoticed. Had he not spoken, only the faintest creeks of the floor would have ever announced he was present. Seated at a desk, his back faced Naveen. He had no intention to stop his work simply because a bug had slithered up from beneath the floorboards.



“I see I’ll need to make adjustments to the geometries at play. Perhaps something to redirect purposeful navigation elsewhere.” As he finished up what he supposed would be the last order for another few moons, he sealed the vial he had been working on and carefully wrapped it up into a package before turning to face the Crow. In a snickering tone, he addressed the assumed topic. “Has he truly become so impatient? It could not have waited until I decided I would pay a visit?”



He looked for answers expecting that he would receive none, and continued on. “Very well. It was shorter than wanted and I’ve had my respite. Am I too assume you are to force me to leave? Convince me? Or have I assumed incorrectly? I suppose it doesn’t matter.”



He waited for a moment.



“Am I supposed to struggle? Would it make your time feel better used?”

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Naveen stood with arms clasped behind his back as he waited out the man's indignation. There was the faintest trace of boredom in the Crow's expression as he watched Renatus stopper and seal the vial.


"I have all the time in the world," he drawled as soon as he found sufficient pause in the flow of the thus-far one-sided conversation. "My master, however, does not. Majestically wroth, he was, once balked by the lack of any prompt response. Not even so much as a refusal, eh? More's the pity."


The Crow approached the desk and stooped, dropping down onto his haunches to peer at the package.


"Adin would have used you without so much as a thought. Rotunda would have seen you maneuvered into precisely the position he needed you, regardless of your obstinance. But Tengri... though he has pressed for decision and for action, he's demanded bugger-all from you. Paid you respect. Paid your choices respect. That's how it's known, eh? That when Tengri Geneq calls for aid, and notes his urgency... he means it."


Naveen reached out and poked the package with a single finger.


"A pity, then, that the one man he trusts in all the realm won't take him at his word. A pity that Sarangerel has been taken. A pity that the woman who bears his child must languish in captivity for want of an intermediary to negotiate her release. A pity that her best friend isn't available. More's the pity."


The midlander's hands clamped down on the edge of the desk and he pushed himself upright with a sneer.


"I'll go and tell my boss that you were too busy brewing potions, eh? Ought to put him in a better mood, knowing you had important business to tend to that could not wait."

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“I’m sure he was rather upset at the lack of a response. As you so clear to point out, there was a lack of rejection. Our previous meeting had found me rather unhappy and by the end, it had only further soured. I’m certain your master would not have left out those details. But perhaps he has become softer through so many incarnations. I was nearly treated as a friend in an ordinary setting. Truly bewildering.”


He moved the box out of reach after seeing it poked. “You would do best to keep your hands to yourself. There are any number of substances here that could combust if mishandled. Unless you’ve chosen to ignore your best interests.”


He nearly snorted at the final retorts, choosing instead to stand from his desk to keep a closer watch on the unwelcomed visitor. “The true pity is that even with all that trust, he sent something with such a lack of detail. Something that could have been intercepted. Lost. Mishandled. If the situation was truly so dependant on time, why did he not elect to send you sooner? Or any other servant of his for that matter? This cottage may have been protected in a manner of sorts, but even I have business to handle in the city.”


There was little need to pack any belongings. He could always return later. Or simply make use of the gil he did have.


“Now then. You have my attention. If you cannot provide the details, I would kindly suggest you leave. If you do have some other useful quality beyond intruding upon my abode, then make it known.”


Franz looked unhappy. While he’d managed to complete a number of orders, they would surely expire before being received if he were to leave them to sit in the house. But perhaps he could offload that task to Naveen or to another Crow if needed. It would only be fitting to have an exchange of effort.

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Naveen's face blanked for a moment before his brow furrowed and a frown pulled at the corners of his mouth.


"A moment, please," he murmured as he shifted to stand with feet at shoulder-width, hands clasped behind his back again, his head bowed and his eyes closed.


He always hated this next bit. With any luck, the captain would spare him the disturbing feeling of serving as a sock puppet.





Malms distant, off the coast of Vylbrand, Tengri's eyes snapped open and he sat up, rather precariously so, in his hammock. Circumstances had driven him to take the scenic route to the Mist, so to speak, and so here he was... cramped below decks, desperate for sleep. He would have rather remained behind in Ul'dah, to await word of Sarangerel, but this meeting he was en route to attend was a critical one for both his business and his plans.


Captain. He is requesting specifics. Shall I furnish him with the details?


Tengri pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.


You ask foolish questions. Yes, of course. Was there aught else?


His reluctance stems, apparently, from some manner of obligation involving alchemy. Were I to attend to the matter in his place, he might sooner depart for Thanalan--


Tengri barked a laugh. Across the deck, another hammock shifted as its occupant rolled over in their sleep. A white tail flicked briefly into view, then disappeared again.


Done. Now... silence, if you'd please. I need my rest.


Of course, captain.


The trouble now, of course, that there was no rest to be had. Naveen had reminded him of the stakes... and though he knew her to be safe for the moment, Tengri trusted no one with Sarangerel.


No one... save, perhaps, for Renatus.





The Crow opened his bombardier eyes and looked up.


"Details could not have been entrusted to writing, and there were no Crows to spare. I myself delivered the missive while en route to another assignment, else you'd not have heard from my master until this evening."


His words came faster and faster as the tempo and pace of his speech picked up... though whether Naveen's intent was to convey urgency, or to divulge this information so that he might be off all the sooner... that was rather unclear.


"Sarangerel Geneq has been taken by one Delial Grimsong, alias Kinslayer, and an associate of hers, probable identification one Gharen Wolfsong given the man's build and vocal mannerisms. She was taken not far from Scorpion Crossing. Her current location is known to us, but the captain has determined that such information is best kept from you, so that you might better ingratiate yourself with her kidnappers. If questioned, your response will be honest and your instinctual reaction to the question will be honest also: you've no idea where Sarangerel is, and therefore there cannot possibly be any rescue attempt in the making. You are to make contact with Grimsong through what avenues you possess. You are to reassure them of our willingness to play this out, you are to assess Sarangerel's health to the best of your ability, you are to hear out their demands, and you are to relay them in writing to the staff at the Breath... whereupon my master will contact you as soon as he is able. Ahh--- and no violence, please, where Grimsong and her accomplice are concerned."


Naveen paused for a moment, to allow the man to process all of that.


"The price of her ransom will, more likely than not, prove to be information on the whereabouts and inclinations of one Raelisanne Banurein. You are to promise them such, but you are to avoid specifics. Be vague; I hear you excel at that sort of thing."


He shrugged.


"To put you at ease, my master has released me into your service for a fortnight; standard procedure, when exchanging favors. I was once an adept with poisons and other various concoctions; I can maintain the pace in your absence, if you so wish, or I can merely make deliveries, if that is all that is required."


The Crow smiled, pivoted, and pointed towards the front doors.


"Oh... one last thing. I left you a small plush doll, hidden in the bushes at the end of the path. Sarangerel's. She asked for it specifically. As a comfort."

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