zahara cracks her knuckles as she contemplates the stack of unmarked jade bars. "Let's see where you've come from," she murmurs, and glances over to Spring. "This should be interesting."
Spring nods grimly and watches.
zahara kneels next to the pile, closing her eyes as she runs her hands over the blocks of jade slowly. She pictures Solaria and its myriad avenues of trade within, then follows the spidering trails outwards towards the surrounding countries and communities.
zahara The cool jade becomes warm beneath her questing fingers, and she hooks one finger into a knife, tiny curls of stone coiling behind the trails she leaves in each block. Trails that denote where each has been. And still she delves further, trying to pick up the traces of who held each block, whose hands they changed through at each waypoint on her precisely abstract maps.
Zahara reaches out through the history of the money before her, seeking out knowledge of its origins and its path from there to the island cave where Imrama acquired it.
Unsurprisingly, Zahara learns that it was the expected figure -- Evim Estar -- who placed the jade there.
The faint lines of Essence connecting the money's past, present, and future paint a clear picture of the breakdown of the system -- this was probably the final delivery before the attack, and the intended recipient probably dead from a barfight or other meaningless violence -- but things are increasingly complex as Zahara looks further back, and it takes all her effort to untangle the interactions.
Upon further inspection, Zahara sees that although Evim was the owner of this jade, they only touched the very smallest parts of it -- the first two bars, perhaps, placed in the cave to mark the spot and assert ownership thereof. The remainder of the stockpile was delivered, over the course of three days, by a series of distinct messengers:
three distinct merchants and low-standing nobles dwelling in the Red Kingdom; a set of Guild representatives providing payment delivery (for a small fee, of course) for individuals of note in Chiaroscuro, Whitewall, the Empty Coast Theocracy, Paragon, and Coral;
a haggard, harried man bearing numerous injuries, with a sizeable payment originating deep within the Lintha sargasso; two distinct deliveries of jade actually stolen from Sunlands bank depositories and delivered out to this island; and finally, a single animal-person of apeish extraction, delivering a payment from his own accounts, originating far in the northeast.
Most of the debts called in for this purpose were older, many already past due or in an amount greater than that provided in payment.
zahara produces a sheet of paper and a quill and notes the details of the people who had handled the Jade, using a neat flowchart-style notation. Then she rocks back on her heels and scowls. "They stole some of it from US. I hate being stolen from almost as much as I hate zombie bombs."
Spring "This is the work of someone who thinks they are very intelligent."
zahara "I cannot deny that they have at least the intelligence of a humanoid ape."
Spring "Most do."
Spring "We will simply have to speak with some of these people in person."
zahara "Indeed. I might suggest the four in the Red Kingdom or the Lintha, who has already, it seems, had a bad day. Or, as a note of personal interest, the one from the northeast."
Spring "We might also investigate your dungeons for robbers of note."
Spring "I leave it to you."
zahara "Well, let's start there, as it's closest."
Spring In a dingy basement beneath a half-leveled brothel in the New Chayan Republic (formerly Occupied Chaya), a scrub-bearded man turns painfully beneath a threadbare blanket, seeking a sleep that will not come. A quiet knock comes from the door.
There is some rustling inside the room as the man reacts briefly, followed by complete silence.
Spring opens the door. "Housekeeping."
The man, his clothes stained with old, matted blood and his face lined with the pain of old and new wounds alike, dives for a corner.
Spring "I assure you, whatever weapon you have secreted there will do you no good."
Spring "I am a doctor. Let me help you."
The man cowers in the corner, his hand behind a convenient box. His eyes furtively search for an exit.
Spring raises an eyebrow and waits a few moments.
zahara The exit he had been hoping for is there; a secret door that the brothel owners used to spy on customers, and deal with ...problems. He discovers this fact as Zahara opens it, and leans against the frame. "It's true, he's got this whole pacifist thing going on, unlike me. I'd suggest you take his offer."
zahara idly flips a jagged blade between her knuckles.
The man jumps backwards in surprise and fallls into a pile of boxes.
zahara ::Mortals are so much fun!::
Spring "Be careful. Your wound will reopen if you exert yourself too much."
Spring ::Until they acquire Essence weaponry, I agree.::
zahara ::Oh, I don't know. Mortals with Essence weaponry are quite interesting. Like paper tigers. Fierce but fragile.::
The man, having fallen into the boxes and now slightly bleeding from one of his many injuries, does not get back up.
zahara steps through the door, closing it behind her. She starts to sit on the bed, then thinks better of it, producing a sheet of simple cloth which nonetheless has that distinctive golden sheen to it and covers the bed before seating herself primly.
Spring walks over to the man and lays him flat on the floor in preparation for attending to his injuries.
The man is shivering in worry but seems to realize he has no obvious escape.
Spring "Tell us about the money."
zahara holds up her hand "And before you try it, you should know that I can tell if you're lying."
The man swallows, and then, finally, in a raspy, sickly sounding voice, begins to speak.
"I was supposed to bring it! It's not my fault!"
Spring gestures eloquently for him to continue.
"Just let me go!"
Spring "No, I would not expect that."
Spring "What do you mean, you were supposed to? Whose fault would you say it was?"
"The..." He swallows. "The blue people."
zahara "The blue people," she repeats, deadpan.
zahara "Which specific blue people?"
"They... they sank us," he says. "They captured our whole crew..." He chokes up a little. "Did... this... to us," he says, clearly meaning his various horrible wounds. "Told me that I needed to do... what they said... or..." He chokes up again.
zahara "They'd kill you and/or your family?"
Spring "What, exactly, did they tell you to do?"
"The others," he says. "They... gave the money to me, and a little boat... told me where to go," he says, and starts coughing -- bloody speckles coming from his lips as he does. "Said it was payment for a favor, and that they'd have worse things to do to me if I didn't listen..."
Spring "What was the name of their ship?"
zahara "Spring, if you could please make him stop coughing blood so he could speak better that would be nice."
Spring taps impatiently on his breastbone with one knuckle, abruptly throwing his skeleton into alignment, then breathes a wisp of vapor into the man's mouth, which seeps into his lungs and begins to regrow bronchia.
"Their ship? It... it didn't have a name," he says. "It was a... monster, and they rode inside."
zahara "What sort of monster?"
He blinks. "It was... a demon ship."
zahara "Ahhh, I see. So, let me get this straight. You and your crew were sailing along doing completely legal and otherwise good things when you were captured by this demon ship and its blue inhabitants, who then hurt you rather badly, if inexpertly, held your crewmates hostage, and made you deliver some jade to some other place? After you did it, did they let your crew go?"
Spring glances at Zahara, then back at his erstwhile patient. "How do you propose we identify this ship? We could always bring you with us..."
"No," he says, and shakes. "They..." he closes his eyes. "They speared them on the rock spires of an atoll for predators," he says. "Still alive... when they were left."
zahara "Hm, how long ago was that?"
"Two... weeks, maybe," he says. "I... I don't remember."
zahara "Ah, little chance of a daring rescue then. Shame, that."
Spring "And they let you go?"
"Someone needs to live..." he says, "...so... others can know to be afraid." He shakes uncontrollably again.
zahara nods in acknowledgement. "So I take it you would rather have safety and a new ship and crew, over revenge?"
Spring "There is nothing to fear but fear itself, and my friends."
The man looks up at Zahara in confusion, and surprise.
zahara considers him thoughtfully. "How do you feel about heights?" A pause then as an afterthought, "Oh, and a name. You have one of those?"
"Jor Fed," he says, clearly still in pain and obviously very confused.
zahara "Well, Jor Fed, you have two paths ahead of you. One: we could get what we want from you and leave you to die alone. It is possible that you may survive this option depending on how cooperative you are, of course. Or Two: you could help us finish this mess out of the good will of your heart and become captain in my new trading fleet."
He continues shivering for a moment, then finally nods quietly.
zahara "A fine choice, thank you."
Spring spits up a lollipop and hands it to the haggard man. "You have been an excellent patient."