“Our focus was always to secure specific details related to the Company. To that end I think we succeeded remarkably well. It was our downwell domestic activities that proved vulnerable to overlapping blood feuds and vendettas we had no knowledge of.”
- Bondermir Exidines, “Seven Stars to the Horizon.”
Bandia Sulistian looked at the rickshaw with the degree of indignation a child presented a strange unappetizing meal. “And I am to do what with this?” she said incredulously to Tatania Umberbreaker who impassively returned the woman’s glare and replied. “It is our means of transportation and our business is not suited for speaking of in open crowds. Please be aboard and let us tend to matters.” she said, her eyes tensing as she gestured again to the three wheeled rickshaw, its driver, a cloaked Xeala waiting astride the cart.
Awkwardly Bandia climbed into the seat with an effort and Tatania sat beside her and pulled the carts overhead cover forward, affording them a modicum of privacy. With a click of her heel on the carriage seats foot rest the driver stood on her pedals. With a creak of strained metal the rickshaw edged forward. The driver turned the wheel and narrowly avoided collision with the innumerable people as she started out for the inner merchants district.
“The junction crystals?” Tatania asked tersely as the rickshaw move forward. Annoyed, Bandia pulled a long black container, which given her disposition might have been easily mistaken for a box of chocolates and thrust it to Tatania who tucked it under her cloak. Striking a firm business tone she look at Bandia.
“My liege approves of the result of your effort.” she said.
“Thank you, I am glad he values my contribution” replied Bandia.
“Do not thank me. The result of your effort met with approval. You contributed nothing but willing betrayal of a rival, to your own gain, and compliance with instructions.” Tatania said in a dismissive tone.
“Why I never! Do you treat all of your partners thusly?”
“You are not a partner, you are a tool. This was made very clear when we met. Continue to comply and produce acceptable results and you will continue to be remunerated appropriately.”
“Humph.” Bandia snorted, turning her nose up and leering at Tatania out of the corner of her eye. Unmoved Tatania sarcastically shot back. “I am sorry Ms. Sulistian, do you find the Gil insufficient? Do you feel aggrieved?”
“No.” Bandia said, backing down. Shrinking some into her seat.
“I should think not.” Tatania said, taking a moment to adjust her hood. Bandia was left with no eyes to look into as she asked, “Who are you people?”
“Your future, in success or failure, make your peace with that.” Tatania said, leaning closer to Bandia and sharpened her tone. “Success brings you the justice you seek against those whom you hate.”
“What will it bring you?” Asked Bandia. “It will avenge our blood and deliver recompense for an age of injustice.” Tatania said.
“And what exactly would that be.”
Tatania looked at Bandia and said simply, “An empire.”
Bandia’s expression went blank and turned her eyes fixed ahead on the driver. The sudden chill she felt working up her back overrode her customary incredulity for the moment.
Aubreen stepped aside from the oncoming rickshaw, pressing Katryn out of it’s turning radius. For the briefest of moments the driver's eyes met Aubreen’s before she peddled on as her passengers. “Rickshaw drivers, more dangerous than pirates.” Katryn said.
“Frequently, yes, but second only to hair stylists and bar tenders for information if you know a good one. Where do you want to eat Meldanya ?”
“A steakhouse this time.” Katryn said confidently.
“Continental or Higoshi?” Aubreen asked.
“Table or grill?”
“Cocktails.” Katryn said a bit too eagerly.
“The Fire Bowl or Benny Lala?”
“Which one does the fire trick with onion?”
“Any of them. However you seemed most impressed with Benny Lala’s chef.”
“We have a decision then!” Katryn declared and the pair continued afoot towards the heart of the merchants district.
A flash of lighting silhouetted the mountains beyond Kugane. It was a sight easy on the eyes. Both Aubreen and Katryn shared a fondness for watching storms at sea. The morning was now little more than a slate grey sky promising some sort of rain. Thunder rumbled down the foothills at last, suggesting a few hours of peace before rain arrived.
The flash was hardly noticeable near the Aetheryte crystal in Kugane. It did not enjoy the same sort of elaborate courtyard as did those in some other major cities. The rickshaw slowed to a stop near a modest flagstone path leading to the base of the crystal. Tatania paid the driver in Gil while Bandia fumbled out of the back of the rickshaw. The driver peddled away without awaiting another customer.
Recovering her wits from Tatania’s absurd belief of what her people would gain, Bandia stared up at the crystal and broke her silence. “Where are we going?” She asked.
“To meet my courier who will return with you to Ul’Dah tonight.” Tatania told her. “I’m going back to sea tonight? I had expected to be able to tour Kugane?” Bandia whined.
“You are taking the Aetheryte along with your next set of master crystals.”
“But I’m afraid of that sort of travel.”
“You are not being offered a choice. These crystals must be on-hand to be consumed when you receive the order for new devices.“ Tatania said, growing annoyed with the woman.
“How do you know when I am going to get another contract?”
“The same way I retained your effort.” Bandia’s resentful glare could not conceal a hint of hurt in her eyes. Tatania put aside her growing personal disdain for the women for a moment. Tool or not Bandia took time to find and efforts she would rather not repeat to secure as a resource.
“Do not be resentful, this is about business. For both of us. It is not personal. I’ll understand if that is cold comfort.” Bandia seemed unmoved. Tatania grasped her shoulder and put more sincerity into her effort. “Hear me. They are taking your business away. One contract at a time. Like they take everything. We know. We understand.”
Bandia nodded reluctantly, focused again on her reason for going along with all this trouble. The pair walked on to the base of the crystal’s pedestal.
“Where is this man of yours, I want to be done with this.” Bandia asked.
“He comes now.” Tatania said.
“Ms. Sulistian.” a voice said. Bandia turned and another cloaked figure thrust a thick box like that she had given to Tatania earlier.
“Your delivery for the next order.” the man said. She turned to speak to Tatania but she had vanished.
Before Bandia could turn around, she felt a firm push in the small of her back and arm reach over her shoulder towards the crystal. The world seemed to vanish in a light blue haze. All she heard was the fading voice of the man.
“We go home now.”
From the entrance to a nearby alley the rickshaw driver reflected on the coming storm and drew her own hood higher over her pitch black horns. She contemplated the intersection of people and places as she watched her fare slip around the garish clothed woman and into a crowd as the man they met shoved her toward the Aetheryte and reaching for it himself jaunted them both away. She set out across the court and followed the cloaked woman’s path towards an onsen overlooking the port.
The port district in Kugane featured one of the richest selections of street food and cuisine in Eorzea. Yatai carts in neat lines sat in squares and streets. From late afternoon until the early hours of the morning the sizzle from grills, exotic smells of spices and sauces scarcely conceivable to those not native to Higoshi filled the air. A favorite for visitors, especially those on a budget was the “Promenade of Plenty.” A long and wide but gated ally it required several Gil per person to enter, for which patrons were given tokens. These tokens could be exchanged for all manner of street food. Rice cakes, flavored mashed potatoes pressed into hand-pies, sushi, Small kabobs of spiced meat on a stick adorned the hands of many, often couples which enjoyed the promenade as a walking banquet of appetizers.
At the end of this promenade was a favorite of Katryn Vaunter.
“Benny Lala, Teppanyaki Steakhouse and Bakery” did not fit into any particular culinary orthodoxy. An old style silver nitrate image of the founding patriarch graced the wall above the maitre d station. A mustached Lalafell stared out holding a knife and onion like a scepter and orb. The back of the menus told the story of Philbers Doeburry, who in the sixth astral age established the first Teppanyaki style steakhouse and bakery. It could safely lay claim as the only restaurant to offer a sushi cupcake and Flaming Onion soju.
Aubreen offered Katryn the last of the kabob from the Promenade as they entered the restaurant. The restaurant was empty, having only just opened and the surge of mid-day diners had not yet arrived. The maitre’d, a young female Lalafell with a cheery smile stood on a set of wood boxes, at the station just inside the door. Philbers Doeburry looked down from the picture on the wall behind her. She smiled and thrust her hands into the air and cried out, “HAPPY FOOD GO!” At once the servers as well as the Itamae and teppanyaki chef’s all followed suite and the restaurant echoed with “HAPPY FOOD GO!” in response. Katryn was gleeful, even Aubreen’s ordinary self constrained nature allowed for a smile.
“Welcome to Benny Lala’s! How many in your party?”
“Two.” Katryn replied.
“Table or Grill?”
“A name for the reservation?”
“Very well, if you like you may sit at the sushi bar. It should only be a few minutes!“
Off of the main floor there was a long bar with stool seating. The bar had a narrow ledge suitable for only small plates and drinks in front of a glass protected refrigerated area in which sushi was prepared. Aubreen and Katryn took seats and took a moment to review the small menu. A Namasu waddled along the elevated floor behind the bar, bowed and in a gurggly, slightly sullen voice. “Happy food go. Welcome to Benny Lala’s. Would you like a drink or appetizer while you wait? Our Flaming Onions are on special.” The chef sounded as excited as a fish drying out on a beach.
“A Flaming Onion.” Vaunter said. “Maki rolls please, and a soju.” Aubreen added.
Aubreen settled onto her stool. She took a moment to shift her personal sword from her right to left hip as she perched on the stool. Long, slender and curved, it was of a style native to her people which she had carried for ages.
“I have noticed the light swords warriors in Higoshi carry have hilt guards. I have yet to see one like your own in our time here.” Katryn noted.
“There are none I expect. Though that is no reflection on the smiths here. The Elezen people produce weapons nearly worthy of my own Kin, however that should be expected.” Aubreen said.
The Namasu delivered the bottles of soju and Aubreen’s sushi.
“Have you been able to spar much with it since the boardings trailed off last year?”
“Sparingly. Benjimir and I had occasion to renew our old lessons. However his preference tended to be the bow, but he still holds his on I have found.” Aubreen said.
She continued, “His technique is unrefined but you would be hard pressed to find somebody more challenging to best. He can stalemate you indefinitely.”
“I’ve never had a particular proclivity for the tactical arts. The operational arts, command, control, that was what I wanted to study. I was honored to become a protege of you and Benjimir.” Katryn said.
“Student dear. Protege speaks to something different.” Aubreen explained.
Katryn looked disappointed. “In what way do you mean?”
“A student and a protege are not one and the same. The former learns from you and what you teach. The latter is something more intimate, personal. It is someone you teach, surely. However a protege has a natural resonance with you, carries a bit of who you are with them, makes it part of themselves.”
“Vaunter, party of two!” The maitre’d announced. Aubreen and Katryn carried their soju bottles to the nearest grill. Taking time to place their orders with the Lalafell waitress, they resumed their conversation.
“So not I am not a protege, eh?” Katrwn said.
Aubreen leaned toward Katrwn and lowered her tone for emphasis. “You are as fine a student as any Benjimir and I have ever taught. But Benjimir is a protege and the best of them. He always is.”
Katryn furled a brow.
“Always?” she said.
Aubreen nodded. “He comes by it honestly. I have guided and trained the Thursby line for nearly all of its generations. Benjimir is always my favorite protege.” she said. Katryn shook her head. “I mean rather how does one protege more than once?”
“Live long enough and you see everything once and again.” Aubreen said.
“You mean to say you have taught more than one Thursby named Benjimir?”
Aubreen paused and considered the question. “No. Rather I have taught many Thursbys named Benjimir, but only ever one.” she said.
Katryn smirked. “It is true what they say about asking questions of an El…..”
“Happy Food Go!” The Lalafell chef said loudly pausing their conversation for the moment. Visible by only the top of his toque as he approached the grill and climbed atop the wooden stand behind it. The waitress followed with a cart full of the chicken, shrimp, fish, rice and such to produce the orders. The chef began the classic typikaniki dinner by pour a goodly amount of oil on the already hot grill and setting it aflame. The patrons starting to be seated exclaimed their impressions even if most has frequently seen it. The chef continued to spin eggs and toss bits of shrimp and chicken around playfully as the meal cooked and assembled before Aubreen and Katryn. The meal complete and plated the chef retired to applause from Aubreen, Katryn and excited patrons seated nearby. With time to start their dishes Katryn revived the conversations along new lines.
“There was a considerable amount of talk in Tondera Hall about if the arrival of Benjimir and decline of opposition at sea were portents we may depart these shores and resume our journey. What do you see coming?” Katryn asked.
“I do not know more about tomorrow than the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. What foresight I had before we came to these shores has left me. And do not think I say that lightly.” Aubreen said. Katryn looked alarmed. “For how long?” She asked.
“Since before the fall of the moon and ever since. Unnerving at first it did have some qualities I would not trade.” Aubreen said. Katryn tilted her head and asked. “Such as?”
Aubreen smiled warmly. “I would never have broken faith with my duty as I knew it and given into your advances. Nor pondered experiencing this ages long life more freely.” Katryn returned the smile and raised it with a pair of flush cheeks.