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The Best Intentions (Complete)

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The constricting grasp of some who would consider themselves Syndicate care not for the throat they close around. The truly ruthless see the opportunity to make money and seize it without care for who becomes trampled underfoot. That is the way of the world in Ul'dah, where the matter of a few simple coins is never a simple matter. Unfortunately for one Winthrop Figgenbottom, his fledgling trading company wasn't enough to stand up to the back-door dealings and applied pressure of the longer-lived snakes.


Winthrop had watched his margins shrink more and more as the moons passed him by, unsure what sort of bad luck was more to blame than the rest; His transports were constantly beleaguered by broken wheel and wagon parts. A transport carrying delicate perishable ingredients from La Noscea had its leading beasts go missing from stable one night. His best journeymen were being lured away by other traders offering better money. By the time Winthrop became wise to the possibility of his competition causing problems for him, he was already too destitute to do anything about it. In the race of commerce, he was being lapped.


The collapse of Figgenbottom's Fineries incited more than just business turmoil; His personal life had been upturned by the result as well. While Winthrop burdened himself with attempting to make enough coin for himself and his wife to get by, she had been courted by those who had always fancied her from afar. Winthrop was once the inheritor of a goodly sum of coin and gold from his family's estate, and his leaning to live beyond his means had attracted a buxom elezen more interested in what he could provide than who could provide them. It was no surprise when some other young and eager dreaming aristocrat made his claim for her. Winthrop came home to an empty house one day to something not quite a note. Instead of finding his beloved's put-upon pouting face wanting to know how much he had made and what he was going to buy her, or perhaps coming back to find her things all packed and missing, the former-businessman had come home simply to find a business card for another's business resting upon his pillow.


These are the sorts of things that would drive a man mad. Deprived of his life's work and the few things that made him happy, it is no surprise that Winthrop started squandering his meager money on more base means of escape. There are a good many trade goods available in Ul'dah that the man knew how to obtain; He'd never dealt with them himself but he was aware of them.


The people of Ul'dah had witnessed the city consume yet one more hopeful dreamer, the spark of taking life by the horns and overcoming the stories now fizzled out. It wasn't a surprise to any of them, in fact, when Winthrop Figgenbottom turned up cold and stiff in his bed on the day his home was to be taken from him. Not a surprise at all.

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He knew he never should have trusted that bitch! For all the swearing she did and all the lies and sweet words and particular talents those honeyed lips were capable of, Bertus Bockenbower should have known that truth and loyalty shouldn't have been amongst them. The damned elf had been partners with Figgenbottom for too long to know a good deal when she saw one and he should have known he was just one more warm bed on her way out.


A reputation for a fiery countenance and the temper of a bull aldgoat had made for some highs and lows in old Bert's life. He was a practiced hand at Ul'dahn business and while he never made the sorts of figures the biggest snakes would, he wasn't some smalltime up-and-comer waiting to be run out of his own storefront. Bockenbower's business did well enough on the Lane and that was all that mattered to the book keepers and his rivals.


Still, Bertus shook out his hand as he listened to angry footsteps creeping away from his comfortable rented apartment home. He had a great view of the strip with none of the worries of owning the property; In his line of work, it was important to be able to get up and go without needing to worry about who's taking care of what. He made it a point to change residences multiple times a year, just in case. Let them overlap, make sure everything is paid. Bertus was sure he'd avoided some rather nasty company as a result of his unerring canny savvy.


It was from that wonderfully scenic lane that he watched the good for nothing tree-loving whore of his tramp away in a huff. She hadn't bothered to take her shoes and looked like a leftover from one of Otto's parties with the way she was staggering around, and the shiner he'd left on her face just added to the image. She'd go sulk away and think about what she'd done, and Bertus figured that would be the end of that. That was the plan until he saw her flag down a knight in silver armor.


Bertus cursed and began thinking about how easy it might be to get to Costa for a while.

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Warren Castille would never admit he believed in lightning striking the same place twice. He had a habit of returning to a place if it had been the scene of an incident previously, though. His ordinary patrol pattern had started as a precursory walk through the winding lanes and streets, though over time it had grown bumps and divergences. What had once been an organic geometry had been turned over time into something almost unrecognizable, changed by the criminal activity that peppered the streets of Ul'dah into something different.


Warren had watched the woman leave the entrance to her home from down the lane. She wasn't stumbling, exactly, but her movement was abnormal. Upon approaching her Warren could see why; The purplish-red splotch on her cheek and near her eye had told the tale enough times that the paladin didn't even need to ask. He'd greeted her and noted how quickly her eyes caught his and slid down his armor, away from him and back to the sun-baked streets. His inquiry to her well-being was deflected and diffused with no real conviction and it was a story he'd seen enough times in his life and travels.


She said he surely didn't mean to; Things were tight at home, was all.


"I know he loves me, but he's been so busy lately trying to keep things afloat. He wants to spoil me, but I think he resents it deep down." Her words drew slowly from her, those emerald eyes flickering up along his tabard and briefly touching back to his face before retreating. "He always did want me to have the best, even when I told him he didn't need to. Stubborn to the last..."


The words drew a small smile that Warren didn't miss. If she wouldn't make a proper claim, there wasn't anything to be done about the situation. Warren let her know to seek help should anything like that happen again, and that the Flames and Blades were there to serve Ul'dah. She thanked him and made her way down the lane in the direction of the drinking holes.



Lightning took the form of a pair of Brass Blades lingering by the doorway to one of the private domiciles that frequented the better parts of the lane. Handsome apartments dotted the second floor balconies and the ownership to many of them either rented out their storefronts on the floor below or worked there themselves.


"Evening, gentlemen. Anything going on tonight?"


The pair of Blades looked at one another, as if silently agreeing who should be talking to the free paladin. It was another aspect of the job Warren took in stride - He was not any official authority, and those with a chip on their shoulders made sure that was made clear. Behind the pair, an open doorway loomed like a box leading to darkness.


"Bertus Bock'nbower threw hisself' a party and bit off more'n he could chew." The Blade made a "we're dead" gesture with a finger across his throat and the officer to his side agreed with him.


Warren's eyebrows went up in dull surprise, hiding the suspicion that he naturally deviated towards. "Violent exit or...?"


"Don't look like he intended on dyin' tonight. Jus' went a bit overboard." The Blade's indifference was almost obligatory. "Stupid sod offs hisself and we're stuck guardin' the stairwell to a dead man. I was hopin' to get home to the missus before daybreak, but we're gonna be here all night."


Warren cast a glance upwards at the apartment. "How long ago was he discovered?" He tried to keep his questions conversational. Blades tended to clam up if they suspected someone was trying to show them up, or worse, dig into their business. They had a rough enough reputation at times, and they tended to not take too kindly into Silver Armor looking into their cases.


"Passerbyer alerted us not a bell ago. Said there was a scream from the home and some folks noticed a leggy elezen takin' off. We're lookin' into that, so don't get any ideas." The Blade pointed at Warren half-convincingly. The two of them combined perhaps weighed what Warren's armor did, not counting his shield.


"Relax, friends. I was merely asking. I trust you'll get to the bottom of this."


Warren made his peace and made his way off slowly. He knew he had some questions, but he didn't know how to find the woman in question to ask them. He just knew he wanted to beat the Blades to it.

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Warren couldn't precisely call his investigations fruitful, but the paladin would not cast aside anything he managed to glean in the short days following the discovery of a second trader found dead in his own home in as many weeks. He had been unsuccessful in attempting to track down the woman he'd had the questionable fortune of running into the night before Bockenbower turned up dead but asking around had clued him in.


Valeria Verene had been seen in some of Ul'dah's more suspect watering holes dating back to her arrival in the city-state moons and moons ago. Winthrop Figgenbottom had returned from one of his trips with a buxom elezen on his arm and wasted no effort in showing her off to anyone who would look. She stood out on account of her exoticism. The truth of the matter was simply that when an elezen of such bountiful endowments turned up in the city she was a different sort of attraction, though those who knew Figgenbottom questioned how much of her spoiled, pampered demeanor was truthful. The idea that Figgy had simply found a whore or a slave and had her put on a show crossed the mind of more than would admit it.


Word on the street spoke of Figgy's business being squeezed out by competition. No one would name names out of fear of winding up in a similar situation, but everyone could see it. The Syndicate didn't care who devoured who, and as long as the eponymous entity was constructed of anyone with more than two gil to rub together it wasn't really possible to narrow down suspects. Pressure from those looking for his space, heavy hands coming down from on top, clever calculating from someone on the rise. Ultimately it didn't matter.


Valeria turned up on the arm of Bertus Bockenbower after Winthrop's demise, and near as anyone saw that was the first time she reappeared since word broke. People suspected Bockenbower had siphoned off Figgy's stock and kept him on a string while bleeding the company dry. Valeria suddenly turning up in his camp led some credence to the theory; If she had words in the fat bastard's ears it would have been easy to convince him it was best. Bert kept his books on lockdown and with the Blades spearheading the official investigation, it would be impossible to determine whether or not he actually managed to snake anything away from his competition. Given how much people talked about the illegitimacy of Bert's real income and the attitude towards how much the Blades were on the take or in cahoots...


There was a lot of rumor and hearsay, speculation and wonder. Warren didn't have anything to go on but other people's ideas and thoughts.


Start with what you know.


Winthrop Figgenbottom died broke and alone. The instrument was an overdoze of some variety. Valeria Verene was last seen with Figgenbottom before he died and next seen with Bertus Bockenbower. Bockenbower died alone within a day of getting into a fight with Valeria, who hadn't turned up since she ran into Warren Castille.


From Warren's limited perspective, there was only one common thread linking the two traders. He had to find Valeria Verene.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Days passed. As the body of Bertus Bockenbower lay cooled on a slab in the safety of the Ossuary, life went on inside the Jewel of the Desert. The incident received little more than a footnote in the local news. It was still infinitely more than the public notice Wintrop Figgenbottom had received, and equally jarring in the manner of itself. Brass Blade investigation had turned up no wrong-doing or suspicious parameters of the trader's demise and if not for a random passing chance in the lane, that's all anyone would have thought of it. Warren Castille wasn't so sure given the parties involved, but there was a dilemma with that. Of the three known names tangled together by circumstance, two of them were dead men and the third had turned into a ghost.


The public service for Withrop Figgenbottom was a formality before his body was cremated. The man had lost everything in his life due to folly trade practices, if you believed what the public line was, and Ul'dah had long been in practice of immolating the remains of those who did not have the coin for proper burial or safekeeping. Besides a few of Thal's children keeping watchful eye, hushed prayers to the Lord of the Dead whispered to and amongst themselves, only Warren had gone to watch the deceased's time on the material plane come to an end.


"Gone is this lamb's body, but the spirit shall live on." Quiet prayers on unlistening ears.


More days passed. Warren's time was spent on patrol as it ever was, but his attention was divided. The features of the elezen woman named Valeria Verene were etched in his mind but he had only seen them once, in passing. Already the woman's identity was slipping from his memory; What were the colors of her eyes? How long, precisely, was her hair? Did he think he could pick her out of a crowd still, even if she did turn up in Ul'dah again? That was the most vexing part of all of it, and he had labored over the task of it. How could one woman with nothing vanish from the city without anyone knowing she had gone?


The services of Bertus Bockenbower were, compared to Figgenbottom's, far more expansive and attended. Friends spoke about his efforts at building his business from the ground up. Colleagues spoke kind words about his service to his country. Every word was a blessing, and every blessing dripping with sincerity. For a few fleeting bells, Bertus Bockenbower's corpse was spoken more highly of than his person ever had been.


Unlike the bonfire that awaited Figgenbottom, Bertus' remains were taken back into the Ossuary for proper keeping. Whatever the state of his fortunes, they were commensurate with what was required to be properly blessed and tended to for the rest of Ul'dah's days. Vanity of the highest order, but anything less tempted the wrath of the Death Traders. The political positioning of Ul'dah did not end when your life did.


Warren kept an eye out during these services. The former squeeze of the first dead man hadn't bothered to visit him in his last days. It was a long shot she would bother showing up to witness the end of her current dead beau either. Still, it was the only lead he had. His presence was noticed in enough bars that if anyone had been sympathetic to the elezen's situation she would have surely been tipped off. The thought dawned on him that perhaps he was the reason she hadn't bothered to show, but the bruise on her face pushed that thought aside with similar force that caused it to exist in the first place.


As ceremony ended and the crowds began to leave and the first of many who would never think of Bertus Bockenbower again had departed from the Ossuary, Warren prepared his final gambit in his investigation. The paladin, adorned not in his typical armor but merely as a citizen, approached the altar in the center of the Ossuary and knelt in prayer. One of the attending clergymen presided over the body of the deceased trader, covered from head to toe in traditional shroud.


"Come, brother. Did you know the deceased?" The gentle, friendly voice of the lalafellan follower came from beneath a hood raised over head.


"Only of him. We never met face to face, and now he is gone while I still have much left to ask." Warren kept his head bowed in reverence, and was careful to tell no lies.


"Not all questions would go unanswered. In Thal's realm and under his gaze all is possible. With, proper supplication, of course."


The crowd behind him was thinning out. The Ossuary doors would close following service and the corpse would be left with his eternal keepers. Still, the lalafell's tone was clear and after a moment the telltale sound of a purse heavy with coin clinked softly against stone.


"May your questions be answered swiftly, paladin." The lalafell rose from his position and took an incense burner with him, setting away to begin the proper admittance rites.


Warren wasted no time. Around him the quiet shuffling of the devout moved around him, oblivious or uncaring to his deed. Without trepidation he removed the shroud and uncovered the face of the dead man. His face was not the peaceful calm of someone who departed in their sleep, and the coloration of his skin did not depict someone who had passed easily. An unnatural green had seeped into the tone and his face was contorted into a face of pain. As the wrappings were undone, Warren noticed why they were bundled so tightly; The man's limbs jerked to an uneasy position, one hand clenching closed again and the other arm crossing over his chest. Warren wasn't an alchemist but even he could see the man was poisoned to death somehow, and not just on an overdose of somnus.


Having lost track of time, Warren was surprised when the lalafell returned. He couldn't see the clergyman's eyes but the direction of the hood went from the highlander, then to the corpse and finally back to the highlander.


"Thal's going to be pretty cross with me about this, isn't he...?" Warren's gaze turned upwards to the symbol of the Trader above the altar. He pondered what sort of terrible fate he might have secured in his pursuit of knowledge.


"Nonsense. This one will not be staying with us, but joining the ashes with the rest." The lalafell's tone was soft and uncaring, though not with any sort of disrespect. "He cannot afford Thal's hospitality as much as he wished he could. Like so much of this lamb's life, his death is mostly for show. I hope you have found your answers, paladin, because there is work to be done before this one may pass."


With careful thanks and another glance at the mark of the Trader, Warren made his way through the doors of the Ossuary. It is there he ran face first into another departed soul.


"Warren Castille. I think they're trying to kill me." Despite the distressing words, there wasn't any outward sign of concern on Valeria Verene's face.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Warren read the nonchalance on her face and kept his own demeanor calm, though he couldn't help but glance over her shoulder to see if there was anyone suspect in the vicinity. Following the services for the departed, there was no one except the elezen and the highlander.


"I'm not sure I follow." There was little Warren felt he could say in response, but he was aware she had the upper hand in their exchange for the time being.


"I need to talk to you. I'm sure you'll have the same to say to me, so I suggest we go and have a chat someplace. I know a bar that's cozy for these sorts of things." Valeria's words came quickly, but not rushed.


Practiced. She knew what she wanted to say before she got here. She was waiting for you to show up. Ignore the feeling in your gut - for now - because this woman hasn't done anything wrong. Don't jump to any conclusions.


"I don't normally take up requests to go drinking, you know. I've got a reputation." He kept his tone light and casual, glancing off again to scout the walls of the city.


"I know you do, Warren. That's why I sought you out." She led the knight away with a gesture of her hand and a nod of her head, carefully-styled hair flowing with the movement. Warren tucked away that she spent time getting herself together before finding him, wondering what urgency she could possibly have before quietly reprimanding himself for again looking for shadows where there might only be a victim.


The Broken Sundial was indeed cozy, if such a word could be used to describe an enlarged broom closet. The bar appeared to be run by a roegadyn so large he looked as if the place had been built around him. He was stuffed into a corner, a series of unlabeled bottles adorning the rack behind him. The elezen exchanged a small nod and the roe set his sights on Warren, who looked back as disinterested as possible. Valeria led him to a table, more of a booth than anything, and slid herself daintily into the seating. Warren took his place opposite herself and tried to not feel as if he'd break the bench.


"It's part of the draw. Tiny place, cramped seating. Keeps a lot of folks only looking to get a drink away." Verene's tone spoke of familiarity and Warren kept his expression soft. There was a gentle tap of her leg on his knee and he wondered how intentional everything might have been.


"Vigilant Idol makes a great scarecrow, too." She smiled and waved a finger at the roe. "Got his tongue bit out in a bar fight a decade ago. It's to make sure that nothing in here gets talked about by anyone else." Warren could feel the penetrating glare of the roe on the side of his head and the knight turned, holding up a hand.


"I get the feeling he doesn't like me being here." The roe just stared.


"Of course not!" The elezen laughed quietly and looked at the highlander as if he was stating the obvious. "You're one of the good ones. People like you are the reason places like this even exist."


The elezen folded her hands in front of her, sitting straight up and raising a carefully plucked eyebrow. Her leg tapped Warren's again as she spoke. "It's alright. I need your help. Did you notice anything strange about the official statement regarding the deaths of Winthrop Higgenbottom and Bertus Bockenbower?"


Seeing what you know. She's been missing, knows there was a statement. She's checking out what you think.


Warren frowned slightly, shaking his head. "Official statements came from the Blades investigating. Ruled a suicide in both counts. Only thing that stood out to me is that the lady in their lives managed to disappear right after each time. From the first victim to the second, then from the second into thin air."


"We're not discussing me right now, Warren. I wanted to know-"


"We are. You're the only connection I've got between the two, and now you've suddenly sought me out. Brought me to a front. You're giving me lots of information, Miss Verene, but none of it is integral to anything I may or may not be looking into."


"And what you may or may not be looking into has already been declared closed by the Brass Blades. You think I don't know how it looks? I'll admit it here and nowhere else that my role in Figgenbottom's life was simply to discover channels, and my relationship with Bert wasn't a secret." She took a breath with vulnerable eyes watching the paladin, waiting to see if he would jump on again. When he didn't, she continued.


"There's a lot of things that happen behind closed doors, Warren. Figgenbottom was as legitimate a trader as you can get in this city, and he was clean; All of his sales and customs were one hundred percent authentic. What you saw was what you got. That's not where the money is, though... Bert knew that. He was looking for new ways to traffic in drugs - and I'm only even telling you this now because he's dead, and it doesn't do him any harm in confessing it! - and in these times, can you blame him? He had a connection that was going to bring in something new from Limsa, Bert figured he would be able to undercut the current values on Somnus and Brittleback and establish himself as a new mover and shaker."


Warren listened carefully, making sure to keep his expressions solid. The elezen was confirming not only his suspicions but those of likely a score of rival traders.


"Word must have gotten out. Unless Bockenbower had other reasons for just turning up dead one day."


"Oh, so you don't think it was suicide either, then?" The elezen smiled, following the thought to it's logical conclusion. "You think it was murder."


Warren cursed himself inwardly as he shrugged outwardly. "Reports say no foul play. Why would the Brass Blades have a reason to lie?"


"Why indeed, Warren. I can't answer that for right now, but I'm worried that I might end up dead over this, too. You saw me the night before Bertus was killed. I left that night, by carriage to Vesper and from Vesper to Costa. I've still got the ticket stubs to prove it."


The two sat in icy silence for a moment, though for different reasons. Warren was parsing everything Valeria was submitting, and she seemed frustrated that her gamble in talking to the paladin seemed to be backfiring.


"What is it you're thinking I can do? You don't have a name. You don't have a lead. You've got accusations at Brass Blades of either killing a man in cold blood and making it look like a murder or interfering for someone who wanted that. You're jumping at shadows thinking you're next. If the Blades wanted you out, they would have fingered you as suspect number one."


"They don't want this to look like anything suspicious. But I think I can get you a name, or at least a lead. I know where Bert kept his books, even if I never went looking through them. He would have killed me if he even thought I was peeking at his business."


"Those books are due property of whomever's acquiring his assets."


"And those assets aren't set to move until the day after his interment with Nald'Thal."


Warren didn't bring up that there wouldn't be any long-term interment. "That was this afternoon."


"So we've got until morning, Warren." The elezen smiled luridly.


"I'm not breaking into anyone's home on a wild goose chase," Warren lied.


"And I'm not asking you to." The elezen reached into her shirt and dug out a gold chain with a worn key at the end of it. She let it dangle, her eyebrow raising.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The book, as it turned out, was useless. Bertus was a canny businessman and knew how much security was worth to someone on the rise; The fingers of rivals and the Syndicate were everywhere, and he was wise to encode his documents. Both Warren and Valeria poured over the borrowed tome and tried as many unique ciphers as they could muster between them but quickly came to the conclusion that without Bertus' personal key, they didn't have the means so break anything in so few bells' time.


The knight was conflicted with the action. Sure enough, Valeria had simply requested he wait for her in a public place. She had ventured off and within half a bell returned, book in hand. Those long minutes took a toll on him, however, as he weighed the morality of his decision. He had no right to look at the evidence, and it wasn't his investigation, but he knew in his heart that Bertus' death wasn't as simple as an accidental extra dose of illegal drugs. He'd been murdered, poisoned most likely, and without a second look the reasons why would be lost forever.


Once all of their attempts at breaking the code proved futile, Warren resigned himself to copying the last entries longhand.


"You need to give me a name in Limsa." His tone wasn't one of request.


"Warren, this is a dead end. I can't-"


"A name, Valeria." He looked up from his paper with furrowed brows. He spoke to her plainly. "This is a dead end, and this was all you proposed to me. You mentioned Bertus was looking to network with a seller in the port city, so give me a name."


"Warren, I-" She looked at him with her mouth hanging open, unsure what he was getting at. "Fine. You win. Bert only spoke with the guy once. Never got his name, but we dealt with his runners. Safer that way, you know?"


"A name."


"I can give you a few. Hang around the 'Bottom sometimes - that is to say the Fisherman's Bottom - and you'll probably catch them watching. It's low stock there. Tell someone you're looking for Nectar, or Baxley. Kink might work, too."


Warren nodded to himself, then finished transcribing and snapped the book closed. "You need to return this."


"What are you going to do, Warren?" The elezen accepted the tome back, but didn't release him from her gaze.


"I'm going to investigate."


"What about me? What should I do? I'm not safe, Warren." Valeria sounded downright shocked that she was about to be left to her own devices.


"Go to the Flames. Explain that you're worried you're part of a Syndicate plot. The Blades are in charge of the investigation, but the Flames might be able to lend a hand."


"Right, they'll just as likely turn me over to the Blades themselves. That's too naive, Warren."


"Then you might want to try your vanishing trick again. You probably could have made a clean break if you didn't come back to the city. Why'd you bother with that, anyway?" Warren stood from their table, preparing himself for his way out.


The elezen's gaze fell away for a moment as she searched for the words. "I... had to. I had to make sure..." She glanced up at him with big eyes, vulnerable. It was the first time that Warren remembered believing her.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It had taken the better part of a week, but Aldes Amrich had finally found his man. He'd been given the tip-off to look for him in the stinky docks of the Fisherman's Bottom, and the breeze coming off of the water did little to disperse the miasma of fish stench that permeated everything it came into contact with. A fresh breath of salted fish and you didn't even have to pay for it! Aldes cursed his luck and wrinkled his nose as he surveyed the hulking highlander. He was bigger than Aldes, but that wouldn't be much of a problem.


He knew the name was an alias. It had to be, no one was so stupid that they'd prowl the back alleys and lowdown layers of Limsa Lominsa and use their real name. Aldes looked him over and eyed the way he carried himself. Big, proud. The sword at his hip probably never saw use, the guy had a look that likely cowed anyone he decided to turn it on. Aldes had been watching him for days, tracking the folks he talked to and interacted with. It was so obvious the way he stood out, and there was no doubt he was playing a part. Aldes quietly reflected on the fact before daring to make his way over to him.


"Hail, friend!" Aldes called openly and the highlander was caught off guard; No one chatted with him like he was a friend. After a moment - too long to be natural, Aldes thought - the brute smiled back, though his brow furrowed.


"Cannae help ya?" came the reply, the accent obviously canned. Aldes fought back rolling his eyes.


"I think so! I hope so, anyway. See, I'm looking for someone, and you look like him." Aldes looked back and forth on the docks; the morning rush was over and while there was some traffic, it was the usual skulking sorts; Folks down the 'bottom didn't want any trouble if they could help it. A couple of men coming to blows was common enough. With the way clear, Aldes hauled off and suddenly coldcocked the highlander. There was a telltale crunch of a nose breaking and the larger man began to cry out, reaching for his weapon right away.


Typical brute. Afraid to settle it without his oversized toy.


Aldes was prepared for cowardice and stepped closely, positioning his leg and hips behind the yokel's and turning hard; the shift in balance threw the big man to the docks and that beautiful and expensive sword clattered into the water. Aldes cringed inwardly thinking about how bad the salt water would be for the finish.


"'lax, friend. I'm not here to kill you. I just want to know who sent you, who you're working for. Simple situation, this is. You give me a name, and I don't dump you in after your surrogate dick." He wrenched on the man's arm, the struggling highlander aiding in jarring the shoulder from his socket. A practiced grunt of pain came from the brute and he suddenly went still.


"I ain't workin' for no one." A bald lie. Aldes applied a bit more pressure; The limb was useless for anything but carrying pain to the man's stupid highlander brain.


"Not what I heard, friend. Bad mistake, lying to me. Shame. I could've found a use for you." Aldes began to stand up, dragging the downed man by his useless limb.


"W-wait! Wait! I can't swim! P-please..."


Aldes paused for just a moment, and that was all the wait the highlander needed. A kick suddenly flew from the downed man and it was only reflexes that stopped the blow from connecting. He took a step back and the highlander was on his feet in an instant. He levied that stare, pale eyes glaring out from above a broken and gushing nose. Aldes cursed his luck as he watched the highlander reach with his good arm over to his bad on, clutch his wrist, and




wrench the ball back to its bearing.


"Ya got 'bout two seconds 'fore I gut ye, worm." The highlander's accent suddenly sounded... closer to genuine.


"Baxley! Baxley my friend. I'm Aldes Amrich, and as far as you know, I'm about to be your new employer," Warren lied through his teeth.

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  • 3 weeks later...

It was the waiting that proved most difficult. Warren had indeed been following the brute known to some as Baxley for the better part of a week, and he'd correctly surmised that he wouldn't respond to conversation in a way that proved useful. Warren had never been able to close the distance enough to overhear much of anything, but the highlander seemed to fill the role of a fingerbreaker. He'd watched Baxley meet with an elezen after hours near the edge of a dock and the script practically wrote itself even at a distance.


The willowy treefolk welcomed the highlander like family. The highlander stood like a stone and said something short and to the point. The elezen looked dismayed for a moment, shrugging in a way that cried for sympathy. The highlander shook his head and muttered something again. The elezen began to back away. The highlander was on him in an instant. The elezen's leg wasn't supposed to bend that way. The highlander accepted a small pouch.


That had been the only violent incident Warren had witnessed during the week, barring his own, but the brute was busy during the daylight hours as well. It was always brief meetings, a person dropping something nearby that he then acquired or the reverse. Brief greetings with handshakes and closeness that Warren suspected was sleight of hand to pass things. Inconspicuous to any who might notice it; after all there were always those who walked the docks in the Fisherman's Bottom, old sea hands remaining near to the sea or those who simply didn't have any better place to be in the day. Warren's thoughts briefly touched back to Ul'dah and the miseries shared in Thanalan; Limsa Lominsa didn't have a refugee problem but Her People had their own plights. Small benefits, though, in that Warren's lingering and meandering didn't seem terribly out of place amidst anyone else's.


He had finally chosen to engage his contact when he'd agreed that the best method of getting a reaction was force. Warren had been surprised by the brute's use of begging to create an opening, but it gave Warren the feeling this wasn't just a dumb muscle hired to reclaim things. Verene had referred to the names she'd gleaned as "runners" and Warren didn't want to make the mistake of underestimating them again.


He was lucky when the highlander relented at mention of his name. It was fabricated, of course. The anonymous purveyor of Figgenbottom's and Bockenbower's estates had indeed remained nameless and unidentifiable and that lent credence to his con. Warren was counting on the unknown portion of the dealings to let him work in the grey areas. He felt the bet was safe, given that Bockenbower's last squeeze didn't have any idea who would have possessed his estate either.


Warren finally breathed a sigh of relief with Baxley returned to the unlit side street he'd instructed Warren to wait at. No back-up, no double-cross. Just one angry highlander who felt he owed Warren for the trouble earlier.


"A'ight. Boss said he'll meetcha."



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Baxley led Aldes Amrich through a series of back alleys and unlit corridors.


"Say, you're not leading me back here to kill me, right? I mean, you could've done that two or three turns ago." The remark went unresponded to. The brute didn't have much to say.


Seen this junction twice now. Leading circles, trying to throw off the trail.


The thought sparked a surge of achievement and encouragement in Warren. There'd be no reason to obfuscate a path that led to a trap.


"So what's he like, huh? Your boss? My new partner? If he's floated to the top of this heap he must be one of the worst cut throats, eh?" Warren let his mouth keep running as he reassessed his course of action. A simple meeting, just to feel the place out. A face to go with whatever fake name he would receive during the exchange.


That's how I'd do it. Disposable meeting space. Alias and alibi. Can't stick lies to phantoms.


The stifling alleyways opened up reveal a small row of poorly lit doorways. A slum was a slum, even if the one standing before them happened to have a particularly Limsan design to it. Poorly maintained streets and chipped doors. No noise except for the pair of highlanders' footfalls. Except for the ever-suffocating scent of the sea the street could have doubled for any back lane in Ul'dah.


"Hm. I thought he could do better." Warren-as-Aldes made sure to press how unimpressed he was to Baxley, his voice recoiling verbally as a monetarist would withdraw his hand from a refugee.


"Oi, will ya shut it?"


The brute stopped and half-turned to look at Warren. There was a look of aggression there; The quiet demeanor had cracked under the combination of Warren's presence and his annoyances. From what the paladin could figure of the man based on his reactions, he was out of his comfort zone. In the nights Warren had watched he had been his own operative.


Either so far down the chain they don't care what he does or so high up it he's used to other people doing escort duty.


The brute brought his charge to one of the doorway and knocked twice, quickly. A small slot slid across and a pair of eyes looked out. They flickered over Baxley, familiarity evident and almost expected. They lingered on the new face, though, and Warren raised a hand in a half-wave and a patronizing smile.


"R'lax. He's wit' me. Boss wants to see 'em." Baxley spoke with resignation, the bored and put-upon tone of someone stuck babysitting. The voiceless eyes retreated behind their hidden barrier and the door cracked open, stale yellow light spilling into the night as if escaping.


Baxley stepped back into the front and then between Warren and the waiting man behind the door - A giant Roegadyn with scars marking his face. It wasn't in the dramatic way heroes sometimes wore them; Warren counted four jagged gashes marring the left side of the roe's head, one of which ran across the path of his eye. The eye itself was still intact and attempting to bore a hole through the paladin's skull. Warren supposed magical healing made that possible.


The pair of highlanders had just started to step inside of the building when the roe's hand shot out and grabbed Baxley's wrist. "Hol' yer' cogs a twist, a'ight? Welk yer' soggy britches a spell and gimmut a peep; The man's got a birdshite for ye'."


There was a moment - too long of one - where the highlander and the Roe looked at one another. Warren caught it but was more occupied with looking unoccupied, glancing down the hallway.


"Git'. Wait inside, I'll jus' be a secon'." Baxley glowered at Warren and shooed him inside. Warren, for his part, acted uninterested. He walked past flaking paint and exposed boards into a small sitting area, another big door looming as the only interesting spectacle besides some beaten furniture that looked like it would break if sat in. A thin sheen of dust lay on the ancient table in the center, testament to the facade of the dwelling.


The door creaked open and Warren got a glimpse into the belly of the beast.

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Perhaps in another life, Finono Fino could have been somebody. Born the beloved daughter of a pair of poorly-matched Plainsfolk, Finono's life was uprooted when her parents could no longer pretend their sham of a marriage was working. Finono's mother, a dear woman who was willing to sacrifice what little she had for her child, was forced to let her womanizing husband take away her only daughter when she realized that his wealth might provide a better life for her. The girl had started bright and there was hope that she might take on with a guild proper, learning a true trade and carving a life for herself on her wits and her intelligence.


This was not that life.


Finono's father came into a tidy sum of money in some questionable ways. He lied about it to his wife, of course, claiming a relative had bequeathed the considerable cash on his deathbed. It was true, technically, if said deathbed was the velvety table of a certain Garlean-flavored card game. Pretty pictures gave way to piles of gil and the thought of more gave spark to adolescent fantasies. Truth be told he didn't even want the girl alongside of him for the ride, but Limsa was a land of opportunity for people like him, and how hard could it be to take care of a child? He thought he'd continue to make money by cheating for it and that would be that. He'd spoil her rotten without needing to lift a finger to raise her. That was the plan, but the tricks that are learned by bumpkins are the sort of things true artisans of the craft learn while but children, and Finono's father found out in the literal sense just how cut throat Limsa Lominsa could be.


Finono Fino was one of dozens, of hundreds, of perhaps thousands. The unwanted children of a country with no means or care to provide for them. Fino was smart but she was a child, so when the hyur who had rented Fino's father a dusty, poorly maintained room found her crying and home alone, he did the only thing he thought he could do with a bawling, lonely girl. He sold her off to the highest bidder. Young girl like that fetches a high price, higher than most slum lords would make in a lifetime. The decision was easy, and Finono was forced to grow up far faster than she might've, had things turned out differently.


Wounds of the soul variety don't take to magic healing, not that most in her shoes could afford it. There was an easier way, though. Men with a particular habit oftentimes carry others, and the drugs were a means to an end. Limsa took a lot out of the girl, a woman by her fifteenth year, but it didn't curb her mind too much. She usually just stole what she could while her suitors were asleep, but she made the mistake of being bold and paid for it. It wasn't exactly slavery, no, but when your options are replacing what you stole or paying for it with your life, it isn't freedom either. That's how Finono got her start with an alchemy kit; It was a far cry from the clean and polished tools she might've learned from back in the Jewel but it got the job done. She took quickly to learning how to make and boil and create, and she found herself drawn into the world of cooking terrible things. Didn't hurt that once her keeper got himself eaten by wolves that lurked La Noscea's belly the new owner of the facilities took a shine to her.


Finono had finished the last batch of the new brand. She'd been cooking it for a moon, maybe, special dose by the request of the boss man and his lady. They treated her nice and let her sample the products so she wasn't much one to complain. She tried to tell them once that the toxin contents were too high, that even your most wrung out junkie wouldn't be able to handle something so concentrated, but they told her it didn't matter.


"Just don't touch it yourself. You're much too vital to all of this, my dear."


Not that she needed to be told twice. Naldust was a trip if you touched it to bare skin without even altering it, and Finono made sure to wear two sets of gloves whenever she got asked to brew the new stuff. The last bit was the largest batch she'd been asked for yet, and she knew better than to ask questions. She lingered before stepping out of her "laboratory," the funny little room that might've once been a kitchen or a dining room where she was set up. She had no interest in something that would likely kill her but the night was young and there was plenty of time to enjoy it. She grabbed a small pouch of Brittleback and a vial of Bouncer and double checked all of her kit so she wouldn't burn anything else down. Then she was bouncing out of the door, head in the clouds despite being relatively sober.


She looked up for a moment, letting the door float open behind her on weary hinges. "Oi, who da 'ells are you?" Her eyes widened at the giant Highlander standing in front of her, then darted towards the door.


The highlander peered at the doorway first, craning his neck and looking into the room Finono had just exited. She thought the guy was an idiot for how long he took to notice she was standing under him and goggled at him as he just smiled back.


"Aldes Amrich. I'm here to meet with your boss."


Finono shook her head. People didn't just meet with her boss, even she knew that. Something made her pause, though, and to her relief Baxley was coming down the hallway the next instant.


"Let's go."


Finono felt safer when Baxley was around. The highlander led the new fop down the hallway, towards the room where Mr. Johnes sometimes did meet with guests.


"Aren't you going to introduce me?" The hyur asked and then looked at Finono with a lecherous grin. Disgusted, the lalafell spoke up in her own defense.


"Ain't worth my time, bucko. Won' be seein' ya' 'gain anyway." The lalafell turned with walked away, happy to see Basilisk at the door. She knew better than to call him that where he could hear her and it was obvious why.


"I'm off for the night, Ohswyn."


"Right, lovey. Gon' be a straight wave once the helm arrives. By the pick of it, might be shortlin' his ivories out for th' scraps and sup by orange."


Finono smiled serenely and blinked. She never had a head for the Cant, but she picked up just enough to follow up on it.


"Well, sure, but he's gonna feed lotsa' fish, ain't he?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Blindfold? You could just make it obvious you were going to kill me, you know." Aldes' tone was lighthearted as his mostly-mute other held up the black band of fabric.


"Our boss is a private man. You won't know what he looks like until he says you can."


"Right, right." Aldes grinned and accepted the cloth, tying it around his eyes. He held up his hands in a half-shrug. "Eh? How'd I do?"


Have to keep cool, Aldes has no reason to be worried. He's the one in control, just don't let your guard down. He's probably going to punch you just to be sure, don't react, don't-


The room he had been led into was more of a basement than anything. The scent of sea water was pungent; Passages to the outside, perhaps? Useful for getting messages in and out. Runners moving unseen. Baxley's feet shuffled on stone flooring and Warren could just feel the wind-up he knew was coming. It didn't, though.


The two highlanders stood in the room, waiting for the arrival of the secretive man behind Bockenbower's drug trade. With his vision removed, and Baxley's immediate retaliation sated, it was easier to concentrate on his other senses. The shuffling of the highlander's boots on the stone made his position easy to track. The cloying sense of the ocean being near was unshakeable, but Warren couldn't tell much else beyond that. A trap door, perhaps, or a nearby...


The train of thought was interrupted by the sound of approaching footsteps. The door opened and Warren turned his face in the direction, though not directly at it. Baxley moved on his left in the direction of the door, then perhaps beyond it. Warren was able to discern the approach of two sets of footfalls, then - The quiet footsteps of soled shoes and the telltale click of a pair of heels. His thoughts briefly turned to home.


"You must be my mystery partner!" Warren said, opening his arms in a welcoming manner. Perfume; compared to the scent of salt it was easily picked out. There came an uneasy silence that hung for a moment.


"You are an interesting man, Mister Amrich. A telling name, I think. Surely someone of your holdings had no trouble acquiring the fledgling businesses as they became available." The voice was slight; Warren's mind painted an individual of thin appearance, older than he perhaps. The soft-spoken voice of someone's grandfather.


"I do well enough. Shame what happened to those boys, really." Aldes pretended to give a damn about the deceased.


"Curious thing, that, Mister Amrich. I would like to shake your hand. Your business acumen must be astounding." The sound of shuffling clothing.


"Well, I suppose so. Please to meet you, sir." Aldes reached out in the open air, and his hand was seized by the other's. A pair of them, a firm handshake. His partner seemed to be wearing some sort of rubber glove. Warren's mind raced as the tingling sensation started on his skin.


"Yes, yes." Those hands squeezed his and Warren felt his heart start suddenly. "It takes gumption to waltz into my city and lie to my face. You do not own my businesses, Mister Amrich. I murdered my way into those holdings fair and square. In the game of life, I have always outplayed my pursuers."


The hands let go and the strength went out of Warren's legs.


"I don't know who you are, not yet. I will find out, 'Aldes.' I will find out who sent you, and I will butcher your family. For pleasure." There was a snapping sound - the gloves came off, Warren's mind connected without him realizing - and as he collapsed onto his back he felt their slight weight land on his chest. With a weak hand he pulled away at the strip covering his eyes. Two figures stood above him and Warren tried to get a glance as his vision faded.


The gentleman was thin and aged, though he was gaunt, almost ill. Warren's eyes passed over him, though, as he looked at the elezen hanging on his arm. The woman who had sent him here, the woman who had set him up.


Valeria Verene.

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Nectar did what she had always done when lines of communication broke down. It wasn't the first time a fire had disrupted her plans, and the tiny dwelling that made up her contact point for deliveries going up in flames didn't surprise her except for it being sooner than she'd expected. What did surprise her was the fact that no one had contacted her in regards to her status. The fire had been three days ago by her count and Johnes wasn't usually that loose when it came to keeping an eye on things.


The whispers started as just that, but her ears in the popular places had caught them. First, small words. Johnes was there that night. Second, murmurs just above silence. Not a fire. An explosion. Third, statements. A set-up. Finally, days later without so much as a word to defy it, acceptance. Mr. Johnes, one of the myriad drug kingpins in Limsa Lominsa, was dead.


Nectar's instincts had been sharpened from years of survival. There were others in her profession who were likely cut from the same ragged cloth, but none of them were her. She wasn't believing it for a few reasons. Chief amongst them, no one dies in Limsa without someone else taking credit. Right on the heels of that was the fact there had been no word from anyone in the hierarchy - Johnes didn't keep right-hand men but he did have those who would fill the role of contact and jurisdiction. Lummox, Feeble, even Springboard had reached her before when they needed her services. She was still carrying her last shipment, too. There's no way they'd let that much product float out in the aether without having an eye on it.


The product. She had been a user since before beginning her work for her allegedly-deceased benefactor. Johnes had begun refinement of the Naldust market a year prior, and through some means he had managed to creature a drug more pure than even the cretins in Ul'dah could muster. It was only recently that he was able to get his production costs and shipping potential under the bottom line of the politicians and imbeciles in the Jewel, and while Nectar lacked the insight as to how or why, the lucre was there. A better, cheaper high - what's not to like? There was lots of talk of expanding, of slipping into another underworld and setting up shop. With the product she was carrying. That no one else seemed to be worrying about.


In the wolf-eat-wolf world, there are those who eat and those who are eaten. Perhaps her years of toil, of suffering, of keeping her head down had finally paid off. She figured she could off-load enough in Limsa to get her to the Jewel without incident, and once there she could make connections with those who'd be interested in more. She'd let Limsa run its course, and get in touch with whomever was left when the fires were put out. If she already had a share of the world in Ul'dah, when someone else showed up to do business she could see herself in as a point of contact...


That was all it took. The dream of a better world, one with power and money. The ability to Decide, instead of being Decided For. With a smile, she helped herself to a pinch of it, working it into her hands and wiping the rest into the creases of her eyes. A contact dust, absorbed into the skin for immediate results. She'd be dead in a matter of minutes.


All around Limsa, the jaws of the serpent closed around its own tail.

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  • 3 weeks later...

"Wake up, dammit."


Syhrberk Horskhyr looked at the sleeping figure on the bed and then back to the letter in his hands. He had perhaps one more day and some fleeting bells before he'd be unable to ignore the command on the slip of paper, barely more than scrap. He'd picked up the script easily enough, tidbits of nonsense. Horskhyr was used to speaking in nonsense. It was part of what made him such a proper fit for the job.


He hadn't been blind to the situation going down on the mainlands - half blind perhaps, but no longer. One pale, large hand reached up to the lines on his face and he smiled thinking back to the warnings he'd been given. That was another part of what made him such a natural fit for the job. Scars told a story, and the destitute of Limsa Lominsa could barely afford to eat let alone get treated by anyone with more than an inkling of the aether in them. Anyone can say they'd been mauled by fierce beasts. It took an altogether different sort of sod to let them maul him so the story would check out.


The scars that raked across his eye would heal. With enough time, enough dosage, enough concentrated power healing magick could turn back nearly any wound or mark. That was the third part of what made him right for the job. Folks see a giant person, they assume he's always a giant person. Someone who's missing most of their hand, or has a mangled or missing foot, or half their face covered because of exposure to wild viper venom is identified by the missing parts. Horskhyr learned that long ago. People won't remember your face if they can just remember what's missing off of it instead.


After more than a day, the highlander stirred. Slowly at first, the small motions of a man coming from a dream, then the memories washed over him and he bolted up to a sitting position with a start.


"Don't try to stand." Syhrberk spoke softly, he knew the ball was in his court.



Warren roused from the emptiness. It wasn't the coming-to of sleep, nor was it the gradual waking that came from passing from exhaustion. All at once his mind dumped itself back into his skull - Valeria, the gaunt man, then nothing. He checked at first for shackles on his wrists and feet, reflexively, then looked around the room with gummy eyes. He was surprised to see the doorman looking back at him.


"What... I-" Talking was difficult. His tongue felt swollen, and his consciousness brought a roaring headache back from the depths with it.


"I was going to ask you the same thing." The roegadyn stood from his position, seemingly unarmed save for a slip of paper nearly balled in one massive fist. "I hear gunshots, which I expected. I go to look, I see your stupid ass in a heap. I see a dead runner. I see no one else. You know why that might be?"


Warren concentrated hard to listen and understand through the buzz in his head. Gunshots? Who had a gun?


"Look, dialogue works best when we exchange ideas." The roe motioned back and forth between himself and the highlander, indicating the give and take nature of basic conversation.


"Yeah, I just... What?"


With a sigh the roe folded his arms and rolled his head. "Ears, ya donkey walker! Won't book ya none to jes' orb the angel's wake."


Warren blinked hard. His thoughts still made sense, but the roegadyn wasn't spinning any wheels.


"How the hells did you manage to infiltrate this damned gang if you can't even talk?"


"Look, I don't know what... I got... knocked out by something. Chemical? It was on the gloves..."


"Oy, now you can speak." The roe threw his hands up in the air and looked exasperated. "We don't have a lot of time, boyo. How about you start with the most recent thing you can remember?"


"You're telling me she brought Ul'dah law enforcement in on this? What a braven woman."


Warren shook his head. "Not law enforcement. Not even anything official. I'm independent, and have been for a year."


Syrhberk nodded his head. "Aye. Takes brass ones to waltz in claiming to be a dead man, though."


"Look, it was the only thing I could come up with. It made sense, I couldn't have known I was being played as well."


The pair had decided to match wits on the details of their own investigations. Warren seemed remiss to trust the stranger initially, but logic entailed when Syhrberk pointed out he had nothing to lose. If he wanted Warren dead, he would have been twelve bells previous. For his part, Syhrberk had been working for the illustrious Mister Johnes for the better part of a year. Small time stuff initially, but he got to meet the folks who did the real operating. No one knew anything the others were up to, but the friendly slang-talking doorman was easy to open up to. The bells and days and months cramming Cant into his head had paid off, and most folks figured even if he wanted to tell someone they'd never be able to understand him.


He'd met the cooks and alchemists - the former being the needy, addicted sorts who didn't mind sharing information if they thought it would protect them, and the latter being the types that knew they were smarter than everyone else around them and spoke in real simple, patronizing terms. The runners were the most coy, but proud. He remembered the girl with the mouth that shot off when challenged, he remember how it was sometimes easy to ring information out of the daft ones. They're the sorts who sometimes didn't come back again. Over the course of his time, Syhrberk had amassed enough information to realize the network was working on something big, but it wasn't local. Other, less connected and less profitable drug lords had fought for power and influence, where Johnes just drove his prices down and his profits up. He couldn't see the bigger picture.


Warren's insight had supplied the rest of what he was missing. An unrelated investigation in another city, miles and miles away where relations were tenuous at best. It was only recently that a formal alliance had even been considered, but it wasn't Limsa's priority if a couple of seemingly-well-to-do traders got knocked off by their own political rivals. At the heart of the investigation was an elezen woman with no background, nothing important - She'd been seen with the deceased and that was all. She knew she'd be implicated and went for help.


Valeria - Syhrberk knew her as Etoile - had been working on Johnes' rivals for him. The operation was split with him working on manufacturing and her taking care of the distribution. But now both of them were gone, seemingly vanished. In their stead was what drew Warren into things in the first place - A corpse with nothing connecting him to anything else.


"Everyone's gone to ground. I haven't heard from any runners, I haven't heard from anyone else claiming responsibility, anyone moving in or anyone having heard anything. What I have heard has been troubling, though."


Warren looked on, trying to put pieces together.


"Bodies. The weak, the sick, the addicted and the ill. All users, probably clients. I heard from a contact down the line that there looked to be some sort of... civil war going on with the lowest levels. What do you think, knight? Coincidences?"


"Not a chance. Hear me out here. The two deaths in Ul'dah were the same thing. The second one was the odd one. Seemingly overdosed, but covered up by local law. At least, they didn't think it was anything strange. The first one was also an overdose, but..." Figgenbottom's death came in the middle of the night, theorized suicide after finding the calling card for someone else in lieu of his beautiful elezen, and-


"The card. The damned drug's a contact poison! She killed him with the card!"


"Look, knight. I don't know what your stake in all of this is-"


"I don't either anymore."


"-but," the roe continued, not stopping for the interruption, "You're right about it being a contact drug. Rub it on the skin, feels the effects and drift off to wherever your brain takes you. Most of the time it's harmless, you know. I mean, besides the addiction, the withdrawal and the chance of it just burning you out from the inside. But now I find everyone around here associated with it is turning up as bloatfly bedding and everyone you who touched it or knew about it is deader than driftwood. So why is it that you seemed to take it, and all you did was wind up here?"


Warren glanced away, his eyes searching the walls of the sparsely occupied room for answers that weren't written there. Why indeed?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Silence hung for a long time. The odd pair had done a good job of fitting puzzle pieces together, but the important bits were still lost to them.


"...so what do we do now, Syrhberk?" The highlander asked quietly, exhausted from the culmination of duty, task and deed. The poison didn't help, either.


"We aren't gonna do anything." The roe looked down at the crinkled paper in his hand and back up again. "Despite our paths converging here, you and I aren't partners. I've got my own duties to follow, and you yours."


"True, but-"


"No buts, Warren. You want to go after that girl, you do it alone."


The highlander looked up, his brow furrowed in confusion. "Syrh, you spent a year working to bring this whole ring down. We're on the cusp of it now, we just need-"


The roe held up his free hand. "No 'we' about it. I was assigned to root out information. You chose to. You can choose to keep digging, but I've been reassigned." The roegadyn sighed heavily, looking across at Warren with some hesitance. "You know your letters?"


Warren nodded and Syrhberk handed over the wrinkled paper. The texture was rough and the writing on it sloppy - Warren assumed it was done swiftly, and in large quantity.


Syrhberk Horkshyr,


Your services are ever valued by those of us in the Admiral's Employ. As you may or may not be aware, the Garlean advance has grown more aggressive and the Maelstrom intend to answer the call of the Eorzean Alliance. On account of this, your current station is no longer necessary. You have two suns from the receipt of this letter to report back to Maelstrom command. We will join our allies at Carteneau and drive Garlmald back to their whore mothers.


Til Sea Swallows All


"Before you ask, I received that letter a day and a half ago. I'm heading north, Warren, and I'll meet whatever fate awaits me there. You're free to do as you choose."


Warren remained silent and glanced out the window into the sky, where Dalamud loomed threateningly overhead.

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Carteneau changed everything. In the the face of potential open warfare, under the threat of a falling moon, the implications of widespread drug trade and the mystery of double-and-triple crossing fell by the wayside. Syrhberk Horskhyr was well on his way to the fated battlefield when he and Warren parted ways, and the paladin rushed home as best he could to find the pair of miqo'te sisters that he'd found himself bound to.


The realm was a changed place when he returned. That damned moon and its contained horrors remained at bay for precious few more bells, and the tiny room that Warren paid for with his meager savings was missing the most important things he'd hoped to find secreted away there; The girl was gone, as was her staff. The early year-and-some was spent as folks finding their stride, embracing their futures that seemed to stretch so far beyond them. With fear in his heart Warren ventured North in the wake of the Immortal Flames.


He wasn't present at Carteneau when Dalamud broke open and the Elder Primal Bahamut left his mark upon the world. The immediate fallout was hazy, like a dream remembered and recalled bells after waking. He doubted very much that anyone could draw a clean recollection of what transpired there, but the important things rang true. Sei, for all of her intentions to do good - something he never lorded over her when she would imply she held no worth, for she had chosen to offer what aid she could to those who needed it most - wasn't present on the field either. She did her role in savings lives where she could, and when all was said and done the pair returned home.


The intervening years were more clear to him. Sei's work in kitchens, culminating in a career in Limsa Lominsa. His work as a Free Paladin, primarily as an investigator to protecting the small folks. They took steps and returned to a sense of normalcy as the realm recovered from the nightmare. Somewhere on the way the middle details got blurred and almost forgotten; Only the most important matters were allowed to direct his attention.


...That is not to say that things stopped. In the face of the Calamity the world changed, but that does not mean the people who inhabit it did.

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