198 The Crux of the Problem*
Sharli rubbed the coin stamped with gold bars and a palm tree inside her pocket. When Ishta Alamone himself had handed it to her upon noticing her outside Falla's office, she'd been terrified. She'd resolved herself to throw it away just as soon as he and his unconcerned smirk were out of sight. But then his words had hit her.
"When you realise how futile it is that Falla Startree fights the inevitable alone, I would truly enjoy the presence of your company".
Sharli had hesitated. She hadn't agreed with Falla doing nothing about Rassa's clearly volatile situation initially. She agreed even less with her persistence in the matter. And now, thanks to that persistence, someone she cared for had been hurt, and it was only a matter of time before others met with the same ending.
They needed Rassa. They needed his power and authority. Sharli admitted she knew little of it, but what she did know was that Ishta would not be so confident had Rassa been present. Falla's reaction to the attack on Kit and Olly instilled even less confidence than Sharli's dwindling resolve could take.
She hadn't thrown away the coin.
Falla's questioning tone brought Sharli out of her thoughts, her fingers stilling as they wrapped around the coin inside of her pocket.
Sharli raised an eyebrow in question as she looked to Falla, "Hmm?"
"I asked if Kit and Olly were okay," Falla said.
They were travelling inside Falla's carriage on the way to Port Leis. Falla had determined that was safer than asking the others to leave the Ruin.
"Olly is fine, Kit...he was unconscious from exhaustion most of yesterday, but he seemed to be much better this morning," Sharli stated.
Falla sighed deeply, "If I'd known that Ishta would send that witch of a woman after anyone at the Ruin I would have been far more careful".
Sharli frowned, "You knew about the Inktress?"
Falla nodded, "She is quite renowned. How do you think Ishta has managed to build up his empire so quickly? He's had her doing all his dirty work, and some beyond that for over a decade. No one dares to contend with her considering that very few Magicians who can exist outside of the Guilds".
"Forgive me, I know little of Guild politics, but why don't they interfere?"
"Guilds do not align with any one entity. They may be partial to some over others, but in general they exist to protect and serve the people. Seeing as there has been no war for quite some time, they tend to find that 'protect and serve' these days falls more into the lines of academics," said Falla, "They consider business skirmishes the whims of children. Beneath their worth to deal with".
Sharli frowned in disappointment, "Even that Magician that visited you? The woman? You seemed like friends".
Falla gave a faint smile, "We were, some time ago. Perhaps we still are. But the situation we are in involves Moonshadow trading, and if the Magicians were to get their hands on Kit, or Olly for that matter, they would have the ability to create the Charms. It surely wouldn't take a bunch of academics long to figure it out once they knew the key".
"So you're avoiding asking them for help in this situation to protect your business secrets?" asked Sharli, an undertone of disgust to her words.
Falla's eyes turned to her, her gaze hardening, "I understand that you are not comfortable with the current situation, Sharli, but you need to look at the bigger picture. Regardless of whether Rassa comes back or not, we are capable of manufacturing the Charms. It may seem low and unnecessary for me to prioritise them, but exactly how do you think we will finance searches for Rassa? Or even live without the profits generated by the selling of those Charms".
"That could take years," Sharli pointed out.
"Which is why we're meeting together, we need to come up with a better plan than the one we have. We are too exposed here, all of us. And I haven't the resources to fix that," said Falla.
"Rassa trusted you would," Sharli stated.
Falla sighed, "If I had more time, sure, Sharli, I'd be able to. But I don't have time, none of us do now that Ishta is making an effort to knock on our doors himself".
"It's the Inktress you should be worried about," Sharli grumbled.
"Oh no," Falla said, "After all, if the Inktress was so powerful, why then would she bow to Ishta?"
Sharli frowned, "Are you saying that Ishta is a Magician?"
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Falla shook her head, "There are scarier things in this world than Magicians, Sharli. At least if you're facing a Magician, you can often see what they're doing. Now, Businessmen? They like working where you can't see them, and it becomes an art in itself just to navigate whatever they've placed in the waters to make it treacherous. Ishta is a Master at making things treacherous for others. Only a Master at navigating would be able to out do him, and while I've done my best, I don't have the equipment needed to deal with some of his traps".
"Your metaphors are getting exhausting," Sharli sighed.
"It is exhausting, isn't it?" Falla stated absentmindedly, "I've been dealing in illusions and metaphors for years, but Ishta is not someone I ever desired to come up against. He will win against me unless I keep my cards hidden. That is proving to be an awfully hard thing to do".
Sharli huffed and turned away. She was sick of arguing with the woman opposite her. In Sharli's eyes, the solution to their problem lay in finding Rassa. Sure, they needed to tools to find him, but if it would take years to gather those tools then what was the point? Would he even still be alive by that point? He was unlikely to still be in the same place. Even if they found him, with so many years left abandoned and half-dead, would he even want to come back to them?
Sharli turned to look out the window, her thoughts desperate for a plan that would salvage the family and hope she'd had just a few months before. Her fingers began moving over the coin in her pocket once more.