Chapter 3: A New Man

Updated: Dec 26, 2020


The sun rose across the savanna, warming the land, promising hope, and the lizards and birds rejoiced in its gift, which was new to each again—another day they didn’t know would come.

Moonsun lifted his head. He was face down with a mouth full of mud. He wanted to shake out his hair, his lips, but he knew that wasn’t a good idea.

“I was waiting to see if you were going to live,” said Cookie. He’d built a fire and was warming something—maybe food—and sharpening his knife on a black smooth stone. “I don’t have any healing abilities, so it was between you and the gods since last night.”

Moonsun rolled to his back. The pain in the back of his head beat with his heart, making him nauseous.

“Jael and Kruck fought to the death. They both lost,” said Cookie. “I chased a couple of those bastards down the ravine, but when I came back, they were all gone.”

“Joon?” asked Moon.

“They took her.”

Moon felt like someone stabbed him in the chest. This shit happened so fast. He hadn’t had time to get his bearings. Then again, maybe he had no bearings to get. This world he’d fallen into was not what his life had been about. “Which way?” he said. He struggled but sat up.

Cookie looked over at him and smiled. “I’m glad you’re alive,” he said.

“I’m not sure I am going to make it, yet,” said Moonsun. “I may still die.”

Cookie stood and walked over to where the boy lay. He put his huge hand behind Moon’s head and squeezed. “You’ll live,” he said. “I’ve crushed many skulls. Yours is fine.”

“We have to find her,” said Moonsun.

“I’m also glad you said that,” said the giant. “But first you need to go down to the water and wash. Then we can eat and make a plan. Joon always says, nothing good happens without a plan.’”

Moonsun stood up. His head swirled, and his ears rang like a giant summoning bell. “But we don’t have time for that!” he said. “We have to go find her, now!” He staggered toward the fire.

“If you come any closer to my food, looking like you do,” said Cookie. “You’ll be stacking your problems even higher. And look, there are two possibilities here. The people who have Joon want her dead—in which case she’s already so. Dead. And the second possibility is they want something else from her and she’s still alive—giving us time to eat and make a plan.”

“Yes, but alive for how long?” asked Moonsun.

“That’s something we’re not in charge of,” said the big man. “Now go wash before I drag you down there myself and wash you.”

Park Moonsun did as he was told. The water was cool and soothing. He scrubbed out the dirt, and soot, and blood from his shirt and pants, and swam in the water until he was clean. He pounded out his clothes and put them back on. He then joined Cookie by the fire.

“That’s better,” said Cookie. “Don’t you feel better?”

“Yes, I do.”

There was some kind of meat in a pot with wild vegetables and spices. It smelled delicious. Cookie spooned him a bowl and then one for himself. “Hope you like stew,” he said. Moonsun would have eaten almost anything at that point. He spooned in two large bites, burning his mouth, and sucking in air with an open mouth to cool it as it went down. “This is wonderful Cookie,” said the boy. “What’s the meat in it?”

“Well, I told you Jael and Kruck fought to the death, right?” Moonsun stopped eating. “And where I come from we don’t waste...”

Moonsun spit out what was left in his mouth. He got up and hopped around the fire wiping out his mouth with his hands. When Cookie had gotten enough amusement he said: “relax—it was a joke. This is just some marmot. Haven’t you eaten marmot before?”

Moonsun stopped. He felt foolish. He’d grown up in a village that was mostly Hyur. He was unfamiliar with many of the customs of the other cultures, and so had thought...

He eyed Cookie for confirmation.

“Come, sit,” said the giant. He patted Moonsun on the back a little too hard. “There are tribes back home where enemies are eaten after battle, but we never eat our friends,” he said.

“Well, thanks for that,” said Moonsun. “I’m sure that makes me feel better.”

Cookie smiled. He had that kind of face that looked evil when he smiled, betrayed only by his gentle eyes, and calm, almost soothing way of speaking. “Does it?” he asked.

“No!” said Moonsun.

They finished their food while Cookie told Moonsun what he knew, and what he didn’t know. “I was the last to join Joon’s party, Jael and Kruck knew her much longer, so I don’t have all the backstory. Plus, I was never the brains of the operation. I was more the brawn. I’m unusually large and strong—even for a Roegadyn—so when they needed a door or a skull smashed in, that was my job.”

“So you’re murderers?” asked Moon.

“Naw, nothing like that. We were in procurement. There are people, sometimes powerful people who need things. We simply get these things for them. Most of the time we really don’t even know what the things are for, but recently—.” He hesitated, looking around for anyone listening.

“Recently things have changed?” said Moonsun.”

When the big man was satisfied there was no one, he said: “recently we’ve been getting different missions. I don’t know where it began, but different missions than we used to do. It started back a few months. These were more like keeping an eye on certain things, certain situations, and sometimes people. We’d just watch people, and report back to our sources what we saw. Sometimes it was hands off surveillance and reporting, and sometimes we’d befriend a certain target, say in a tavern, have a couple of drinks, milk him for information, and report back. It was always Joon who reported, and short of one lead I have, I don’t know who these people are. There are layers of insulation between us on the street, and them. The syndicate is like a deep river, wide and quiet, but always flowing.”

“I’ve heard about the syndicate, the sort of shadow government that has its hands in every pot whether we like it or not,” said Park. “I’ve always taken the rumors as just that—rumors.”

“They’re real, trust me,” said Cookie. He stirred the coals of the fire, pushing in the last of the wood and scooted a little closer. The day would soon turn hot, but for now there was a chill in the air.

Park thought for a moment. You know,” he said. “My family, my father, is also in the procurement business. Maybe he can help?” But he quickly remembered what he was supposed to be doing there in Ul’dah, and started looking around for his bag. He stood and started combing through the ashes of the hut with his boots, frantically calling out, “oh no, oh no, oh shit.” He looked in the stove, which was, along with a few metal bandings for chests that had been burned to ash, the only recognizable feature left. “My father is not only not going to help us, he’ll probably have me flogged,” said Park.

Cookie laughed finally. He couldn’t take it anymore. “Is this what you’re looking for?” he said. “I pulled it out of the hut. It got caught on my leg, and I kicked it into the bushes over there, just as you went down.”

“By the twelve, Cookie! You let me dance around like—,” said Park.

Cookie was smiling, his face demonic with it. “I swear by the holiest things Cookie, you’ve got to stop doing that,” said Park.

“Doing what? Playing jokes on you?” said Cookie. “You don’t have a sense of humor?”

“No,” said Park. “Smiling. It’s downright creepy.”

The two talked their way through a tentative plan. Moonsun would have to go back to the inn, and his room. He would have to deliver his package. Then Cookie would accompany him back to his father's home, his home, and they would ask his father for help. “He knows a lot of people, has a lot of connections,” Moonsun said. “If there’s something going on he may know something about it, or at least know someone who might.”

“Okay,” said Cookie. “I’ll wait it out across the street at the Pugilists Guild, but I’ll keep an eye out for you. They didn’t kill us, and they didn’t take us, but we can’t assume there’s no danger.”

“I’ll be careful,” said Park. “I’ve done lots of these deliveries. My father has allies everywhere—they sometimes come out of the woodwork when necessary.”

“Not this time, apparently,” said Cookie.

“Well, I’d just gotten in, and took a different route than planned, and they probably hadn’t had time to realize it was me,” said the boy.

“Don’t go getting all full of yourself and your abilities,” said Cookie. “Remember, the best missions are the boring ones.”

The pair walked back to the city, and it was past midday when they arrived. As they passed the Pugilist Guild, Cookie peeled off and the two separated. Moonsun thought it would be good to check at the desk, see about any messages. As he approached the clerk, there was a flash of recognition between them, and the Lalafell nodded him off toward the stairs to his room. He quickly diverted and moved swiftly up to his quarters, shutting and barring the door behind him.

So my father's people are here after-all he thought. He presumed the directions for drop-off, and any pick-up that needed to be done, would come at any moment—slipped under the door with a short knock, a tap really. Or maybe since this was Ul’dah, the great and powerful Lalafell homeland, it might just appear magically on the desk. In any case, he was sure it would come. Any moment now, he thought.

When the knock came it was, well, more of a brisk knocking. A note was slipped under the door (good, good, he thought,) and as the footsteps in the hallway disappeared, he unfolded it to read:

Dear Young Mr. Park,

There has been a change in delivery plans for the merchandise you are now carrying. You will be required to hand deliver the package instead of having it picked up. There will be no return package at this time. Time and day of delivery forthcoming. Please burn this note after reading.

Best regards.

The letter had his father's seal pressed in wax, and looked official if not, comfortable, familiar. He would have to wait even longer now. He looked down at the street below and watched the crowds shuffle past, watched the children playing, and the shop keepers anxious for customers. Pretty soon he saw Cookie walk by casually and glance up at his window. He followed him down the street with his eyes until he lost him in the crowd. Moonsun would have to find a way to communicate his news. Neither man had thought to include in their plans a way to communicate in the event that something went wrong.

He thought for a moment and decided. He’d have to go down to the street and wait for Cookie to walk back. Then they’d have to find a place to talk quietly.

He took his bag with the package and casually walked the stairs down to the lobby, out the front doors, and slid in behind a post with a good view of the street. He was craning his neck for a better look when he was grabbed from behind by men he never saw, or saw coming. When he struggled, they beat him in the head until he stopped doing that.

When he woke up, Cookie was there again. They were back in his room, and he was laying in the bed. “How long?” he asked.

“Since yesterday, long nights sleep,” said Cookie. “You need to learn to fight, stop getting hit in the head so much.”

“Agreed.”

“And now that you’re awake, we need to get out of here. I learned a few things yesterday. Things we can’t talk about here,” said the giant. “Your delivery has gone sour. There are people looking for something, and they think you might have it.”

“What, this package?” said Moonsun. “My father deals in mostly boring things. Small parts and pieces for some tech he doesn’t even understand that the Garleans in the black markets, the warlord types, governors of far out outposts, are willing to buy and sell at a profit. It’s all a big game of hide and sneak, but it’s just how business gets done on the ground. That’s what my father says, anyway.”

There was a knock at the door, followed by a whistle. “It’s time,” said Cookie. “That’s our signal. I was going to carry you, but since you're awake—.”

Moonsun stumbled down the stairs, almost dragged by Cookie. “Don’t worry,” said the big man. “We have back-up, but they mostly stay hidden. Moonsun wasn’t worried so much as confused, and his head still hurt terribly. Two men, those sweaty nervous looking kind, swooped in front of the pair as they approached the doors to the street. But as quick as they’d set their feet for a collision, they were blasted by a red glowing fire, into which both of them disappeared.

“You see?” said Cookie.

“I saw,” said Moon. “What was that, and where are we going?”

“I still have some friends in town from the old days when I was trying to learn magic. My people are legendary for their mystical and magical talents, but I was never good at it. And, we’re going to see your father, but first I have to make a stop. An old friend. Might be able to help,” said Cookie. “Don’t worry, just a few more steps. You’re doing great.”

They both climbed into a covered wagon, and it took off. It pulled into a two way barn, Cookie and Moonsun were shuttled into another wagon, with some cargo and produce, and the original wagon was let out the other side of the barn and on its way. Meanwhile, the cargo wagon sat for a while before leaving in the opposite direction. They would make three more of these swaps before they found themselves on the road, in another cargo cart filled with fruit and wine, and bound for The Black Shroud.

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