172 The Ominous Sign*
Despite the Trader's Festival having ended, Falla Startree's workload had not decreased in the slightest. If anything, it had grown larger. Moonshadow Trading Company might have been just starting out, but it's product was miraculous, and considering they'd only released the protection charm onto the market so far, Falla could only dream of what the reaction would be like when they introduced 5 more kinds of charms.
As such, she had been hard at work attempting to find an appropriate transport route between her heavily guarded and secret Evanine Mine, and Rouke Island where the business was based. There were many checkpoints and individuals that the crystals had to pass through before they made it to the Island, and Falla was doing her best to not only ensure that those individuals were trustworthy enough to be given the task, but also that no third party knew about the trade route and could therefore interrupt it.
She'd never needed to take this much caution for any of her products before. It was part of the reason she'd decided to trade in fabrics. They were mostly common materials, the only thing that Falla attempted to do differently to attract customers were the colours and patterns depicted on the fabrics. She'd met with mild success, and had been quite happy with her earnings. It was at least enough that she could live comfortably.
Now, she had to question if her decision to join hands with Rassa's new company was a good decision on her part. On the one hand, there was no doubt she'd earn incredible profits from this, and on a personal note, she had the opportunity to reconnect with Rassa. Though it was clear that it would be on a strictly friends' basis at most which she found herself having no problem with after all she'd experienced. On the other hand, she was joining hands with a new company that had an indescribably popular product and no existing security.
It was just asking for trouble, and Falla knew it.
She'd tried, in their brief meetings, to convince Rassa that he should be more cautious. He was admittedly doing a good job as it was, but his security relied solely on Rassa's abilities and likely unparalleled power. His followers had no way of protecting themselves now that Rassa had left, and Falla was sure she hadn't stressed this point enough to him beforehand. She had promised to take care of them, but she was sure that Rassa had overestimated her capabilities. Apple Star Trading Company was not large, and it was not widely known. Still, Rassa had seemed confident that she could do it, so Falla was determined not to let him down.
There was a knock on her office door as she signed a trade order that Layn had placed on her desk earlier that day.
"I've got it here, Layn," said Falla as she held up the document quickly, "Just approved, sorry I'm a little-"
"Miss Falla?" asked Layn's hesitant voice. Falla frowned, looking up. Layn was never hesitant. She looked at where Layn stood in the doorway to her office, "You have a gue-"
Falla shot up out of her seat as she saw the individual standing behind Layn in the hallway, "Jane?"
Jane grinned confidently as she stepped forward into the room. Falla hadn't seen her since her husband's funeral, Jane had been busy with her final assessments at the Academy in Barday at that time and had only come to Falla in her time of absolute need. Falla had never held it against Jane. The two young women had taken very different paths in life, and rarely communicated in any other way apart from their letters.
"Falla!" said Jane with a grin as she skipped forward to hold Falla's arms and Falla smiled in return, only to have her smile frozen in awkwardness at Jane's arrival.
It was wholly unexpected, the last Falla heard, Jane had been back in Cordon to see her parents after her graduation.
"Jane, what a surprise, what are you doing here?"
"I hope I'm not interrupting?" asked Jane as she noticed Falla's expression, her own enthusiastic smile dropping as she turned to look at Layn who still stood in the doorway.
"What?" asked Falla, reigning in her surprise, "Oh no, there are just some everyday things I have to deal with. I thought you returned to Cordon after you graduated?"
"Well, yes," Jane replied, "But I had to jump at the opportunity when my Magician Team was assigned a case here on Rouke. I thought it was such a wonderful coincidence since you would be here as well. I'm not overstepping in my assumptions am I?"
"Of course not," Falla smiled, "I'm just caught off-guard by your arrival is all. Shall we have some tea and catch up?"
"Sure," said Jane.
Falla turned to Layn who awkwardly stood in the doorway still, "Some tea please, Layn".
"Of course, Miss".
"So how has business been?" asked Jane as Falla led her to the small table and chairs she had in the corner of her office.
"Quite well, I've recently made a new deal with-"
Falla cut herself off. She couldn't mention Rassa. Not only would it make Rassa angry, but it'd no doubt worry Jane as well. That matter was far too complicated, and it was not Falla's place to explore it. It would be better if she didn't mention it at all.
"With?" prompted Jane.
Falla smiled, "Oh, sorry, I was too at ease with you. Unfortunately it is confidential so I shouldn't discuss it, but it'll bring in a lot of profits if all goes well".
Jane smiled happily, "That's great, I'm happy for you".
"And you, I heard your Graduation went well?" prompted Falla.
"Ah, yes, my Team graduated at the top of our class," Jane grinned, "Honestly it was quite the scandal when we announced the members but it all turned out well in the end. They'll be arriving here too soon. Thanks to our scores we've been assigned to the Emperor's Contingent. It's quite a prestigious position".
Jane looked quite proud of herself, and Falla couldn't help but be proud too. Falla's understanding of the Academies was not the best, but she did know that the top students from every graduating class were employed directly under the Emperor. To earn such an honour…Falla had rarely seen Jane use her abilities, but she knew that Jane must be exceptional to be in the position she was.
"Yes, we've been ordered to look into these items called Protection Charms that were made available during the Trader's Festival," said Jane. Falla froze in anticipation, "I figured the best way to get a good start on the task was to ask someone who was here during that time. Do you happen to know anything, Falla?"
What was she to say at a time like this? She definitely couldn't mention Rassa. But Jane would no doubt hear the name somewhere. Rassa hadn't hidden the Moonshadow Trading Company's establishment, especially in the latter half of the festival. With the authority of the Emperor, despite his loose hold on the Southern Isles, Jane would eventually dig up his name.
The call came from a familiar voice as the door to her office opened once more and Sharli and Iah barged in, they were clearly out of breath, but their eyes widened upon seeing Falla had a guest.
"Oh, is it urgent?" asked Falla.
Sharli and Iah both nodded their heads, eyes wide as they flicked between her and Jane.
"I see," said Falla. Falla seized the opportunity before her as she turned to Jane, "I'm terribly sorry, how about we meet for dinner tonight. We can catch up and I can tell you what I know then?"
Jane seemed to have assessed the situation as Falla being quite busy and nodded, "Very well, where should I meet you?"
"Oh, tell Layn to make a reservation at a restaurant of your choice on the way out. I'm sorry again," said Falla.
"It's okay," said Jane with a warm smile as she walked out, "I'll see you tonight then, Falla".
"See you, Jane".
The office door closed behind Jane's tall and willowy figure and Falla stared at it a moment longer.
Falla put a finger to her lips to silence Iah and Sharli. Being a Wind Magician, it wouldn't take much for Jane to overhear conversations.
Falla stood and approached the two, hurrying them away from the door before she deemed that Jane should be far enough away by now.
"What's wrong?" asked Falla as she turned to face the two of them.
Iah took out her tracking charm, holding it tightly. Falla took out her own with a frown, willing it to activate. She looked at the two lines before her, and the other line leading to Port Leis where Kit was, then the remaining three.
Two of them, though dim, were still solid somewhere to the south-west. But the third…
Falla looked at Iah and Sharli to see if they had an explanation, but the two of them were looking at her the same way. Falla sighed, placing a hand on her forehead as she thought.
"He told us he'd come back," said Falla, "So we have to have faith that he will. The connection isn't completely lost, so he is still alive. We'll continue as usual. Unless something comes up, we won't pursue this".
Sharli and Iah looked to each other, then back at Falla.
"Are you sure?"
Falla nodded, "We can't do anything else".