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At What Cost

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A scuffle outside the auction house drew Alma’s attention as she and Cabanela returned from their time at the opera, en route to meet with Jowd. Drawing closer in curiosity, they discovered Bailey, occupied in a frantic dance, and the auction master, who seemed to be trying anything just to get him to stop. The burgeoning mob muttered and grumbled, seemingly on the edge of a riot.

What’s happening?” Alma asked, her voice mild as if this was nothing out of the ordinary.

“I’m! Surprised you can’t! Feel it!” Bailey panted, still dancing for all he was worth. “They have! Two! Espers! And they’re both! Terrified!”

Alma turned her stare on the auction master. “You’re selling living beings?” Her lips went thin and Cabanela stepped back. He knew this mood and, though she couldn’t see it behind his face-covering scarf, he raised his eyebrows at the barely-controlled anger he heard from her.

“What?!” The man paled. “We don’t do slave auctions! No! They’re just pretty green stones! They’d be lovely… I don’t know, jewelry, if you cut them down and polished them…”

Bailey went into overdrive, babbling about the espers’ terror, and Cabanela could feel magic gathering around them. The mob was closing in around them. Whatever was about to happen to the auction house, it would be a looovely mess when Bailey and Alma were done with it. He stepped forward, easing Alma to one side.

“So theeese green stones… they didn’t speak to you, did they, baby?”

The man looked at Cabanela like he was crazy. “Speak to me? They’re rocks.”

“Mmm. I see, baby, but you should know those stones are by way of bein’ friends of the King and Queen of Figaro.” His fingers flicked behind his back to Alma.

“Friends. With gemstones.” The man pulled the two magicite out of his pocket and looked dubiously at them. “They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend but…”

Alma said, her tone a little less sharp but still edged, “Well, these are worth…” She stopped. “What’s your price?”

A cunning look came into the man’s eyes. “For you, your…Majesty?” He looked to Cabanela who nodded, “only 1,000,000 million gil…apiece.”

Alma’s eyes went cold and flat, as did her voice. “How about this. I take my friends here… all of them…” she gestured to the stones, then Bailey, still dancing. “And you don’t have nightmares for the rest of your life about what I’ll do to this place if you don’t give me those magicite right now.” She put her hand to her sword. “I’ll even throw in….” she put her other hand into her pocket and drew out a handful of gil. “This much, and only because you don’t know who you have.”

The auction keeper looked at her hand on her sword, and the money, and Cabanela, until now the more reasonable-seeming of the two. Cabanela favored him with a sardonic, “You heard the lady, baby,” and snapped his fingers, letting sparks ignite and flicker out. The crowd made an appreciative ooh.

The man went white. “Sold to the crazy lady with a sword and uh… uh… her attendant…” His eyes flicked to Cabanela. “And please, take this complimentary 1/12,000th scale model of the Ladybird! Built to Figaro specifications!” He took it from his assistant, and held it out to Alma with a placatory, pleading rictus on his face. “It won’t happen again.”

Alma took it and raised a brow at him. “See that it doesn’t.” She handed it to Cabanela and held out an imperious hand. “The magicite?”

He handed them to her as if they burned his fingers. Alma took them with gentle hands and paused a moment, waiting to see if they would say anything. The air sang with tension a moment; they were silent but pulsed a brighter green in her hands. The man went pale again, watching them.

“If you get any more of these, send a pigeon to Figaro,” Alma told him severely. “They are not to be sold.”


She spoke over him. “You will be paid a finders’ fee. Bill our chancellor and—” she frowned at the toy, still in Cabanela’s hands. “If you’re selling things to Figaro specifications, you had better have the certifications to back that up.”

She began to move away and Cabanela followed her. The auction master called her back. “Uh…your Majesty… your other friend? And um… his friends?”

Alma looked at the moogle, still dancing but now calmer. “Are they less frightened now, Bailey?”

“Um! Yes.” Bailey nodded. The crowd, mesmerized, swayed with him

“Then come with us.”

“But—” Bailey wailed. “Once I start dancing! I don’t know how! To stop!” He sped up again. “And now! This man! Is terrified too! And!” The mob began to mutter once again.

“All right, all right...” Alma said, and she thought for a moment, then her face cleared. “Cabanela, can you wait here a moment?”

He gave her a look he knew she couldn’t see, then shrugged. She hurried out of town, and a few minutes later the entire auction house was engulfed in shadow. Cabanela, Bailey, and the auction keeper looked up to see the airship over them, Alma being lowered by the hook into town. Gracefully she stepped off, guided Bailey’s dancing steps on to the hook, and gestured to whoever was watching on deck before casting Stop on him. The airship flew up and away, pulling Bailey up and in. The charged air went back to normal, and everyone watching drew a sigh of relief as the emotional turmoil began to die down. The mob began to disperse.

“You…you…” the auction keeper gestured to the airship toy, then Alma. “What just happened?” His eyes cleared of their panic. “Who are you people?”

Cabanela slung an arm around Alma’s shoulders and turned her away, saying back over his shoulder, “Dooon’t forget to send us that pigeon, baby.” He walked her a few steps away as she began to tremble, and pulled her around a corner, away from prying eyes. “You all right there, baby? What was that about?”

“I just… um.” Alma shrugged. “It felt… natural. To say. And Bailey could have made him have nightmares.” Her voice went flat again. “And he was selling people. Just like what happened to you, in Tzen…”

Cabanela frowned at her, although she’d already turned away. “It wasn’t exactly…” and he stopped. There were times and places to talk about these things and in the street with interested people all around did nothing for their image. And… it couldn’t help but feel good to know she’d gotten so angry on his behalf. Wordlessly, he pulled her close and held her for a long moment.

“Shall we retrieve Jowd?” She asked at last, voice calm and steady once again. “I’m sure he must be finished with his commission by now.”

He offered her his hand and they strolled away from the auction house and toward Emma’s mansion deeper in Jidoor. They would speak more about this later, he supposed, but for now they needed to press onward. Jowd was waiting.