Joon found herself on a small wooden bed in a tidy room which even had expensive curtains. She felt around for damage and aside from some bruises, painful to the touch, there were none. Magic spell, or chemical? she thought. She was not chained or tied up, and the appearance was that she could get out of bed and walk out if she wanted. She was wearing a nightgown, and her clothes were nowhere to be found. She tried the window and it opened to a multi-story drop to the street below. Possible, but not her first choice. She breathed in the fresh air from this height, and decided to try the door. Her weapons had been taken, and there was probably a guard at her door, but at least this whole thing would come to a head quickly. She decided against an attack. She’d knock gently, push open the door, and see. She thought about tying the sheets together and dropping them out the window first, but then decided not to. Whoever was holding her was obviously not wanting her dead or that would have already been done.
She knocked once, gently, and then pushed open the large oak slab. There was a long hallway leading away, with several doors on the left and right. There were small tables with statues placed modestly, and she could hear someone talking somewhere, but the voices didn’t sound interested in her. There was no guard of any kind.
It was just a long hallway, and her room was at the end of it. She looked down at her nightgown. It was soft and pretty, but she wished she had her own clothes. She stood for some minutes waiting for someone to notice she was escaping, and when nobody came she padded down the hall to the first open door she saw. She peered inside and there was a young man laying on a bed, a young woman sitting next to him, talking together quietly. She cleared her throat and they both turned suddenly.
“Who the hell are you, and haven’t you heard of privacy?” said the young man. He was indignant and rose from the bed, skipped across the small room and slammed the door in her face. Joon could hear them both talking about how rude some people were.
She was perplexed. Okay, this must be some elaborate thing going on here. More than just watching a few people as they came into town and reporting back in exchange for some money. They’d made a wrong step somewhere. In the old days it’d been easy. A bad guy would call. Another bad guy would have something he wanted and needed someone to procure it for him. Easy. But this was another level. She felt like she’d either gotten a promotion, or was about to endure the longest, most painful, torture of her life. So, she padded on.
The hallway opened into a reception hall, three times larger than any room she’d ever been in. There were tables and chairs to one side, stacked but ready to deploy. There were large paintings and tapestries on the walls and a painting on the ceiling of some demons devouring a few villagers while the others went on about their business like nothing was wrong. She crossed and went out the far door to another hallway where at the end, in an office, she could just make out a man sitting at a large desk talking to someone Joon couldn’t see. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, so she moved closer. When she got close enough to hear, the man noticed her, and waved her in.
"Hello, hello, please come join us my dear,” he said. “We’ve been discussing the matter and think we may have figured out where things went wrong here. Do come in. It’s okay, we don’t bite. I assure you we are harmless.”
Joon hesitated, but moved closer. “How do I know you’re not going to just kill me?”
“Kill you? My dear, if we had been going to do that we’d have done it already. No, no, I’m afraid you have the wrong idea about us.” He stood and walked to her. He was tall and graceful, with a bald head and a tight beard cropped close. “My men found you outside the Quicksand, on the steps, and having no indication as to your identity, brought you here to me. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jarod Clumly, of the family Clumly you’ve probably heard of, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.” He bowed deeply.
Joon could have killed him quickly with her hands, but didn’t.
“My name is Kojin Joon,” she said instead. She wasn’t going to bow and make herself vulnerable.
Jarod held out his hand and she took it. His grip was light and not threatening. He led her to the office where there was another man, wearing a dark robe and holding a staff with a large jewel at the top. “This is Cabel,” said Jarod. “He’s sort of my eyes and ears in the city. Sometimes it’s good to know what’s going on out there.”
The older man nodded, betraying himself to her in a way only another street hustler would know. He smiled a grim smile to top off his act, but she was on to him. He was pulling a grift. Maybe it was a long slow game, or maybe a shorter effort, she didn’t know yet, but she’d find out. And was the bald gentleman in on it, she asked herself, or was he the mark?
“Please do sit,” said Jarod. “You’ve been sleeping for a couple of days. You must be famished. I’ll have Zelda bring something. I just realized I’m delightfully hungry myself.” He was beaming with giddy curiosity and wonder. Joon had known good actors before, but if baldy was not the mark, he should be, she thought.
Jarod pressed a button on his desk, and a series of notes played in a melody through the halls—echoing out across the building it seemed. In a short while there was a mesa laid out by the window with three place settings, and a buffet table with half a dozen covered trays and pots. Joon was starving. She sat quickly, and motioned with her empty plate to the Lalafell to fill it up, and the small man complied. There were three kinds of meat, potatoes, squash, acorn sauce, pineal bread, and a few other things she didn’t recognize. Joon finished an entire plate before the other two men made their way to their seats.
“Yes, you were quite famished, weren’t you my dear,” said Jarod. “I was afraid if I’d sat down too soon I might have been sacrificing a limb.” The two men laughed and smiled as the Lalafell handed Joon a more modest plate. This one had salad, some kind fruit, and a desserty-looking thing at the top. She was still hungry but it looked like baldy-victim was going to want to talk, so she waited to dig in.
“Cabel says there’s a big stink on the street about some piece of Garlean tech gone missing,” said Jarod. “Was supposed to be delivered to a certain agent at a certain time and appears to have vanished. And not being one to be shy about making a few calls, I took liberties, cashed in a couple of favors, and discovered why we found you on the steps of the Quicksand. You my dear, according to the streets, were assigned to follow the delivery man, report back, all that. Apparently it’s a pretty important piece of tech. I don’t know the details, but I love a good Garlean gadget, so—“
“Assigned by who?” said Joon. She stood from her chair halfway, like she was going to cross the table.
“Now, now, why does that matter?” he asked. “No, I don’t really care for the who or where of it all; I’m rich enough not to have to worry about that vulgar nonsense. No dear, that’s nothing to do with my motivations here. I simply nursed you back to health, and was wondering how to fit the puzzle piece of you back down there into the puzzle. Right Cabel?”
Cabel nodded, but said nothing. Joon thought that was because he didn’t want her pinning his accent, learning where he was from, and then probably what kind of game he was playing, and blowing his cover. The grifters all knew each others’ games, cons, by where they’d come from. It didn’t always hold true, but most of the time. And that honor among thieves thing? Nah, that was never true. It was the way on the streets, here and everywhere. It was more like, when it was time, and if your game wasn’t good enough, you had to take a beating. Accept it. Wear it like a badge maybe, sometimes, if that kept you safe for a while. So she knew Cabel was nervous and would be most likely to crack.
“Okay Cabel,” she said, turning to face him. “Who am I working for, please? And who says I’m working for anyone?”
The older man placed his staff on the table (a big no-no for a real magician) and shuffled in his robe pocket for something. After some searching he produced a small crystal, handing it to her. “Crystal told me. Not in words,” he said.
“This told you? This crystal told you I was working for someone that involved following a delivery person around the city?” she said. She was aware of the quote: the hardest thing of all to see is what is really there. It had been drilled into her as a girl, flung at her from all sides as a young woman, and was now staring her in the face as she looked to get her bearings in this new situation. She sat back down, Lowered her head and began eating the pretty plate.
“Yes, and again,” said Jarod. “I’m only interested in getting you back to your proper place. Somewhere you feel comfortable my dear. Now that you’re awake I can get you your clothes, and your weapons. We just didn’t want you waking up in a panic and causing harm—the gods forbid—to one of your caregivers. They worked tirelessly in your care.”
“Well, these Lalafell do seem like great servants,” she said, pushing Jarod a little. But the man dodged the volley with his own perfectly timed response.
“Oh no my dear. The Lalafell are not servants—especially here in Ul’dah—they are partners,” he said. “Anyone silly enough to try and coax or implore a Lalafell to fall into servitude might well wake up one morning with his throat cut. These Lalafell may be small, but they are a proud people with deep traditions, and shall we say, a serious temperament. Their culture can be quite distasteful if you don’t understand it—especially here in their homeland. So no, no, they are not servants. They are part of the greater ‘free people’ like the rest of us.”
She knew Jarod didn’t care about the ‘free people.’ She saw he wasn’t a pawn or a mark either. She knew Cabel was a grifter, an odd jobs man in the best of times, but she wasn’t sure what exactly was going on.
“Well,” said Joon. “Thank you for the food, and the nightgown; it’s really pretty. If you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to my puzzle down there. Probably a lot of other puzzle pieces waiting for me.”
“Oh you’re welcome my dear. And you like the nightgown? I picked it just for you. That’s one of my businesses now,” said Jarod. “I mean, we have a factory up in Garlea that makes them for us. They are lovely.” He was looking at her a little too intently until she broke his stare by standing.
“Yes, well then, thanks for your hospitality,” she said. “Can you have my clothes and weapons sent to—“
“Your room?” said Jarod. “Of course. I’ll see to it right away. It won’t take a minute my dear, not one minute.”
Joon noticed a glance between the two of them as she left the office. She wasn’t sure, but something wasn’t right with this picture.
She kept her wits about her back to her room, but there was nothing. When she arrived, her clothes and weapons were already there, cleaned, pressed, and sparkling. She put them on quickly, rolled up the nightgown, stuffed it in her bag and left through the front door.