Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 10 - "Reflection"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

the Tradewinds Mercantile District

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy,Sci-fi - Published: 2009-11-27 - Updated: 2009-11-27 - 2175 words - Complete

The Maximum sailed along at a good clip with Max at the helm. The weather was partly cloudy, but the wind was steady this evening. Which was good, for in their time with him, Abu-Sharrah had told them that there were many lands to be found out there, and the best way to find land was to keep on as constant a heading as possible, to avoid turning aside as much as possible.

After six days, it was their dwindling food supply that made them hope more and more that the old man knew what he was talking about.

Max wasn’t overly surprised to find that he enjoyed piloting their new ship. Aside from the couple times his father indulged him on trips between Layosha and the others islands, he had never piloted such a large ship before. Had commanded a variety of fast and heavily armed virtual vehicles at Club Positronic back at the Mall, but as far as he was concerned, nothing compared to the real thing.

Over the course of those days, the weather fluctuated a good deal, but when it was decent, Max and Shades trained and sparred on the spacious rear deck of the Maximum. There was hardly room for such things aboard the Reflection, so it felt great to stretch their legs, even while onboard. In addition to practicing the kata Master Al taught him, Shades was adapting empty-hand forms to his stun-sticks, as well, training as if they were tonfa. He was especially stoked about being able to train to music again— Mosh-Fu, Arthur once jokingly called it, and the name stuck— since he couldn’t do anything of the sort while cooped up in that hotel room.

Sometimes Justin got into the act, too, and the more he watched Shades train, the more Max’s words (He’s got what it takes, Justin. Just you watch…) sank in, and the more he wondered if his friend was actually on to something.

One thing both of them were impressed by, in their own ways, was how quickly Shades was adjusting to seafaring. Max and Justin had plenty of opportunity to gain their sea-legs at a young age, but Shades seemed to be making up for lost time. Clearly a natural, and very enthusiastic at that.

For his own part, it certainly took some getting used to, but Shades quickly discovered that he really liked life on the high seas. Somehow always knew he would, had always wanted to. So Max and Justin continued to show him the ropes— the latter in exchange for more music and staff pointers— and Shades took on a more equal share of running the ship.

The other day, Shades happened to notice that their ship had a depth-sounder— probably not a bad idea for a smuggling ship running waters where sandbars and reefs were a constant hazard— and decided to try an odd experiment. But when he tried a depth sounding, he got no reading. At first tried to tell himself that the Ocean was just too deep out here, but when he looked over the side, it made him question if there was any bottom to those depths.

Much the way the Ocean itself seemed to stretch beyond where the horizon ended.

Shades was helping Justin that evening as Max manned the helm. The sun was setting behind them, and soon it would be time to change their shifts. On some unknown impulse, Max just happened to glance starboard, catching a shimmer of light. Locking the wheel, he reached over for the binoculars to take a closer look.

Sure enough, it was some sort of light, not just a trick of tired eyes.

Calling out for the others, he veered toward the light to take a closer look. Shades came up behind him, taking another pair of binoculars for himself. As they drew nearer, he saw more lights the closer they came, and Justin took up Max’s binoculars to get his own look.

It looked somewhat familiar to Justin, but was unlike anything Shades had ever seen.

The island itself wasn’t very large, probably smaller than Paradise, and mostly built-over with a ramshackle assortment of driftwood buildings. As the sky slowly dimmed, more and more lights winked on, some of them clearly beacons. Soon they could make out rows of docks, and various vessels sitting at more than half of them.

After their last misadventure with the killer mansion, they approached this island with caution. Unlike their last destination, though, here they quickly picked out vague movements of individual people on the docks. Which suited them just fine, for they had developed a certain wariness of empty places.

At last they could see the large sign on the arch over the dock entrance:


They easily found an empty dock and moored the Maximum there. Up close, nothing seemed amiss about the gradually slowing bustle in and around the docks, so they decided to keep their weapons concealed. Posted at each space was a list of rules visitors were expected to follow while staying in the Tradewinds Mercantile District, among them: No animals allowed.

Posted in about a dozen languages, most of which Shades couldn’t place, so he doubted they could get away with feigning ignorance.

“Then Bandit stays with the ship,” Max sighed, wondering if this was going to be a frequent issue in other realms, Bandit just looking left out as the cabin door shut behind them.

Beyond the archway were walkways leading to several shops. All made of the same driftwood beams, with small circular portholes here and there. A few people were still out and about, but things were clearly settling down for the day.

Justin led them to a building that was marked as a trading post. Inside, the air was laced with a variety of smells, the hodgepodge of the marketplace that Shades’ nose associated with second hand stores and pawn shops. Suggesting a comparable variety of things that were bought and sold here. A sign at the door read: We buy, sell and trade many items. Please ask about store credit.

“This place should suit our needs nicely,” Shades commented as he took stock of the place.

“You better believe it,” Justin told him, striding casually toward the counter, recalling one of the first rules of the street: never look like you’re carrying anything valuable. Doubly so if you actually are.

“Good evening,” the shopkeep said, taking in the three young men in turn. “What can I do ya?”

“We’d like to do business with you, if you’re still open,” Shades began, “but we don’t have any money…”

“But we’d like to make a deal,” Justin put in, trying not to wince at his companion’s total disregard for the most basic ground rules of the bargaining table.

“Fire away, young mariner,” the shopkeep replied, flashing a good-natured smile that was a primary staple of salesmanship, “I be all ears.”

“We have some stuff aboard our ship we don’t need anymore,” Shades jumped back in, trying to keep this as discreet as possible. Justin might have grown up around pirates, smugglers and mercenaries, but he had experience with a different kind of crook: the businessman. And there were issues of their backstory he was hoping to avoid going into in a place that appeared as legit as this. “Your sign says you buy, sell and trade, right?”

“What kind of stuff?” the shopkeep asked, keeping his tone casually neutral.

“This, for starters!” Justin showed him the coin, yanking it out of his pocket, while Shades tried hard not to wince openly.

“I see…” The shopkeep’s eyes widened for a moment, but quickly narrowed again. Grinning and addressing them in a manner Shades suspected this man ordinarily reserved for favored, long-time customers, he said, “Mind if I take a look at that for a moment?”

“Sure,” said Justin, resisting a lifetime of conditioning screaming at him to not let go of it. But he had seen enough business in the marketplace to know that no one in their right mind would buy something without examining the goods first.

The shopkeep inspected it for a couple minutes, even weighing it on a small scale behind the counter, most likely to confirm that it really was solid gold, before handing it back and retiring behind the counter, saying he would be back in a couple minutes. They heard him go up a flight of steps, then start digging around upstairs. To Shades, it sounded as if he was flipping through books for a couple minutes before he finally came back downstairs and addressed them.

“I do believe we’re in business, young man,” the shopkeep told them. “I would be willing to take it off your hands for twelve thousand credits.”

“Twenty-five,” Justin told him. “No less.”

Justin had listened to many people in the marketplace— people, mostly from other realms, who actually had money— and having observed the haggling game for so long, was pretty sure he had an idea of what he was doing.

For his part, Max watched silently as the bargaining continued.




“Twenty,” Shades interjected. Pretty sure that was about where the bidding would stop anyway.

“Sold!” the shopkeep crowed. “For twenty-thousand! ’Fraid that’s more than I can shell out in hard currency, so at least ten thousand of it will have to be on credit, good at any establishment in the Tradewinds Mercantile District.”

“Deal,” Justin said pleasantly as the shopkeep fetched out some credit vouchers, then turned and glared at Shades. The guy might well have a nose for finding treasure, but left something to be desired at the bargaining table, settling for too little. “I could’ve gotten at least twenty-one,” he hissed. “Next time let me do the talking.”

Shades listened sheepishly, now finding himself wondering whatever happened to the old and venerable art of haggling in his realm. Alarmed at first that anyone might question the price on the tag, then questioned himself and how he had become trained to assume the price was automatically right. He thought about years of being poor, and all the things Mom couldn’t afford…

Meanwhile, Justin pondered the transaction for a moment, feeling strangely hesitant to part with the thing. Then he thought about it for a moment. The creepy daydreams, the nightmares, the irrational feeling that what happened in that macabre estate wasn’t the first time madness and mayhem followed in this cursed object’s wake, or befell those who held on to it for too long. He could all too easily picture it sitting behind the counter at Obscura Antiques, perhaps right next to the ominous blade resting behind a very different shopkeep. Decided that, gold or not, its only real worth was what he could sell it for. That, and he was tired of Shades badmouthing it.

And so it was a done deal, and the shopkeep also agreed to appraise any other items from their ship they wished to sell or trade. Max and his friends were given ten thousand credits, mostly in hundred-credit notes and some coins, as well as a voucher with his personal seal, good at any other establishment on the island, for the other ten grand. Justin had little experience with hard currency, but knew enough to tell that whatever he was looking at, he was looking at a lot of it.

“Not a bad reward,” Max reflected, “for escaping a haunted island.”

“Haunted, you say?” the shopkeep intoned, though Shades was starting to get the idea that, for all his initial hesitation about him, this guy was inclined to shrug at shady clientele. Wondered if there was any other kind in these waters. “I’d be careful if I were you. ’Cause there are plenty of dangerous places out there, but even if I don’t question folks’ goods none too closely, some don’t trust stories like that. They tend to get suspicious.”

Shades quickly concluded that the shopkeep wasn’t about to share anything else about the coin. The man seemed to know something about it, and he had hoped for at least some tidbit from those books upstairs, but this fellow obviously played his cards close to his vest. Then again, this guy was also a businessman, not a sorcerer, and he bet, rather bitterly, that some of those arcane texts back on that island likely contained more info than that shopkeep would ever want to know.

“We use up the credit voucher first,” Shades and Justin said in near unison, then looked at each other for a moment, both deciding that things might go more smoothly from this point on if they both continued to maintain a certain measure of accord in future transactions.

Max kindly thanked the shopkeep for his advice, and then they set out to see what the Mercantile District had to offer.
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