The Merchant of Shenkuu
How was it that such a glorious evening would turn so dismal in but an hour?
Captain Thare watched, his chest swelling with pride, as the massive ship floated gently into the sky-harbor. Like many flying ships, the Kazeriu was one with great sails to propel it upon the wind-paths. But unlike other vessels, this one had the roan red planks that came only from the forests north of Shenkuu, and they were highly prized.
As the ship landed upon a specially designated spot, it was quickly tied down and a gangplank was dropped. One by one, wind-sailors began to take the cargo from the hold and place it upon a cart that would visit the market the following day. Painted by the light of the setting sun, the crew and their ship seemed to turn blood red. Among Shenkuu sailors, it was not a good idea to berth this late in the day, but Captain Thare was eager to return after a long merchant voyage to Altador.
And besides, his cargo within and outside of the ship could not wait!
Using his exceptional trading skills, the Captain managed to sell all of his vegetables and other exports for rare minerals, soft linens, and other luxuries that would fetch a high price in the markets.
When all the perishable cargo had been placed into a warehouse, the sun had set and the dock-workers and crew bid the Captain a good night. There was one last thing to do, however, before Thare himself would slumber. As a nightly ritual, the Bori would examine the ship to check the remaining cargo and to lock everything to protect it from thieves. Guards were posted nearby, sure, but he took extra precaution because one never knew.
And then it came.
As the Captain idly strolled down the second level, feeling the roughness of the wood beneath his claws, he heard a faint, but audible crash. His pace increased, and his heart skipped a beat. What happened? At first, he thought that perhaps a petpet was responsible for the smack, but it sounded too deep.
He swerved around a corner and came face to face with the culprit – a Mynci in dark garb, clutching a golden amulet in her black palm.
“Thief!” The words tore out from Thare’s throat almost instantly, and the bandit bolted away, equally as surprised.
The Bori furiously chased after the Mynci, without even realizing that the ship was creaking and groaning like some kind of wild blurgah. It was then that it hit him. The thief had not stolen any cargo, for that was not the intention. She had stolen something far more precious... far more beloved.
All flying ships in Shenkuu were powered by a single source that channeled its energy through a complex magical latticework that was often hidden within the facets of a crystal. Called the Greytooth Amulet after the believed inventor, this ingenious device was easily used to allow a ship to fly.
Without it, the ship would fall – simple and deadly. It was only because of the tightness of the holding ropes that the ship did not overturn or fall with a huge crash. Grateful for that, Thare growled and dove towards the running thief. It was a foolish move, and the Mynci swiftly leaped up to avoid contact. Almost as if dancing, she quickly struck down a window and flew gracefully outside, sliding down the ropes and making her way into the darkness.
The guards were already alerted, and began to make haste to capture the fugitive. Slightly winded by the fall, Thare allowed himself to rest for a moment before running out of the window himself, gritting his teeth.
That thief wouldn’t get away that easy!
Tensing his muscles, the Captain became swallowed by the shadows of the Shenkuu Harbor.
The guards seemed to give up the chase, but the Bori captain did not. That amulet was worth more than the ship, and although he was wealthy through his trade, Captain Thare had no wish to buy a fresh new amulet in exchange for an older, albeit trustier one. He heard stories of new ships having awkward flights because of their new Greytooths, and he often had such rare cargo that he dared not risk a novelty.
Captain Thare was lucky enough to spot the Mynci as she turned a corner between two warehouses. But as he followed suit, she disappeared. A cliff face made the alleyway a dead end, but the thief was nowhere in sight. Confused and angry, the Bori quickly began to search for a secret entrance of some sort. What other reason was there for this sudden disappearance?
As he pawed the sides of the warehouses, searching for something that would constitute as a switch, a button, or even the entrance itself, he did not look below and with a cry he fell into the dirt. Something tripped him!
Glaring, his scowl turned into a withering smile as his eyes beheld, illuminated by moonlight, a stone that seemed more misplaced that the others. Using his Bori strength, Thare hauled the stone and saw a gaping hole in its place, with a ladder stretching into the darkness. Whoever that thief was, they were sure clumsy! But that would serve the Captain’s purpose tonight.
The ladder was long, but the Bori did not mind. In fact, it let his eyes adjust to the blackness of the tunnel. Drips of moisture in the distance and the subsequent echoes confirmed his thoughts: it was a cave system. His feet fell upon sure ground a few seconds later, and he looked around cautiously. A distant light illuminated a pathway that led elsewhere, and Thare slowly began to move towards it.
More lights appeared into his line of vision, leading down a pathway. The Bori obliged and followed their flickering flames, but then stopped short, maw agape. A new cavern appeared, and it was open to the moonlight. Bathed in silver, was an enormous flying ship with dark sails.
A pirate ship...
Shadowy figures were walking around, bearing timbers or other materials. Thare felt glad that he was so burly in stature – he blended right in. He began to walk amongst them, pushed aside occasionally but was otherwise left unbothered. His eyes swept the scene, foreboding crawling into his heart, but then he saw the Mynci thief.
The bandit also saw him, and quickly began to run towards what looked like a rather royal little house that was attached to the cave wall. Ripping open the paper door, Thare barreled inside, forgetting about the pirates outside, forgetting about any sense of stealth – if he had any – and tackled down the Mynci, who struggled angrily against his grip.
Thare looked up and spotted a Lupe in swaying royal clothes, surrounded by two burly Skeith guards that bore imperial spears. “I know you well, Merchant.”
The Bori did not rise to greet the Lupe, but instead satisfied the fellow with a hasty bow. “Chamberlain. What are you doing here? Were you captured by these loathsome pirates?”
“Not at all.”
Thare dropped the Mynci and suddenly, his eyes widened with shock and realization. If his thoughts were confirmed, the Chamberlain was committing the highest treason.
The Lupe smiled and nodded, his crimson robes moving slightly at the gesture. “I am the leader of this pirate group.”
“Recently, his Royal Highness abolished all pirate activity in Shenkuu. Of course, this was disappointing, as pirates were veritable profit makers. I tried to change his mind, but he would not allow otherwise. So I decided to gather all the pirates who ran away from the law and build a grand ship of my own to do some work around Shenkuu. When we will show the Emperor that pirateering is a worthy career, he will allow just our ship to operate.”
“Pirates are pirates, what do you intend to rob?” growled Thare.
The Lupe did not answer at once. He moved towards the now torn-off door and looked outside at the construction. “Shenkuu was always an independent land. We did not require the goods and services of other lands to help our economy. Thus, this pirate ship – the Shadowflight – will be used to rob other merchant ships and tourist ships to protect our economy and our culture from foreign influences.”
Captain Thare barked with laughter, gaining an ominous look from the guards. “Your words have some meaning, yes, but they are warped. Shenkuu is a land based off of economy and culture – whether it is in Shenkuu or abroad. We are merchant people; you cannot cut off a huge swath of our profits due to false belief that you forced yourself to believe!”
The Chamberlain smiled sadly. “I thought you would agree, Captain. Too bad.” His eyes turned back to look at the ship. “Dispose of him, guards.”
The guards hastily ran to accomplish the command, and the Mynci thief ran out of the way to watch. Captain Thare’s eyes opened wide with surprise, but then he spotted something at the back – another door, well locked – with light coming out from the other end. Diving under the spears, Thare ran towards that entrance and ripped right through the paper, landing on the other side.
The room was eloquently made, with fine tapestries and golden decorations. A comfortable silk bed and furniture were nearly set up, and some statues decorated the salmon-pink walls. Thare realized that he was in the imperial palace – this was probably how the Chamberlain arrived in the hangar – but that would only serve to help his mission. He had to find the Emperor and tell him of the plot.
He briefly wondered why the guards were not following him as he tore open another door and found himself in a crimson hallway with statues of kazeriu decorating its sides at various intervals. “Help!” he cried loudly.
Two Grarrl guards appeared, staring at him with surprise. After all, what was a merchant doing in the Imperial Palace? Thare rushed up to them and quickly explained that he needed to see the Emperor. The guards were dubious, and were about to take him away, but then a clear, regal voice stopped them in their tracks.
“What goes on in the Palace of the Emperor?” inquired a richly robed Gelert with wise eyes and a presence that made the Bori cringe.
Thare explained everything, noting that the Emperor was missing some of his usual decorations, implying that he was ready to go to sleep before he was rudely bothered by his sudden arrival.
The guards seemed quite amused, thinking that he was insane, but the Emperor’s expression proved that he was dead serious about the claims that the Bori was pouring forth. “Show this cavern to me.” The Emperor motioned to the Captain and the guards in a single, sweeping gesture.
Heart pounding with excitement and slight fear, Thare rushed back to the Chamberlain’s bedroom, pointing towards the torn door. The two guards ran inside first as a defensive measure, and then glanced outside. Their gasps confirmed Thare’s rather impossible story, and the Emperor then arrived to look as well.
Thare entered last, wondering why the room that previously held the Chamberlain, the thief, and his guard was now empty. When he looked outside, he spotted that the huge, open chamber was empty as well, and that the massive ship that once filled it was now floating high in the sky and was turning to the west.
“It is disappointing to see how my own Chamberlain was so misguided by his beliefs.”
It was morning, and the Emperor called an emergency meeting with his councilors and Captain Thare, who had been told to get a good night’s rest. The Imperial Guard, who confiscated all unused materials and sought out any abandoned pirates, scoured the empty tunnels. They found very little items, and no pirates, unfortunately.
“We cannot let this... Shadowflight continue its terrible efforts, Your Majesty. We need to find them and capture them before they do something that will affect Shenkuu for many years to come,” the first councilor said darkly, and the others nodded their agreement.
“Do you have any suggestions?”
“You say that the ship was going west, yes? It is probably very likely that if we intercept...”
“I have an idea, if I may speak...” murmured Thare.
He had never come into the presence of so many officials and the Emperor himself before, and it made him very uncomfortable.
“Speak,” said the Gelert quietly.
“The intention of these... pirates is to capture and rob all merchant or tourist ships that are going to or from Shenkuu. What if we used a ship as bait for them?”
“Of course!” The official who spoke earlier broke into a smile. “Hide the Imperial Guard in the ship, and then when storm the pirates when they arrive!”
Nods and words of agreement filled the room, but then another councilor, a stocky blue Pteri, spoke up. “We cannot use the Imperial Ships; the pirates will not go for those. We need something to give the impression of a ship laden with cargo. A merchant ship, if you will.”
“You can use mine,” Captain Thare said quickly, hoping to gain more favor in their eyes. “But it is missing a Greytooth Amulet.”
“Something easily fixed.” The Emperor nodded and then turned to the rest of the assembled. “Now, let us plan our... deception.”
A roan red ship floated lazily upon the breeze, jerking occasionally because of a new Amulet, weighed down heavily with cargo. It lay upon a medium high altitude, where it would be easily spotted by anybody, even a pirate ship.
Indeed, the Kazeriu was soon the object of interest by a black-sailed craft that was upon it in moments, like a tomamu upon a plump fish. The pirates began to board the Kazeriu and arrived in full numbers upon the deck, quickly capturing the flimsy crew that included a burly Bori Captain.
“We meet again, Captain Thare.” The Chamberlain arrived, still clad in his rich robes.
“Indeed,” growled Thare, making a slight show of struggling against the Tonu pirate who held him.
“You cannot escape, and we shall confiscate all your cargo, in the name of the Emperor.”
The Lupe Chamberlain glowered at him, proving to Thare that his intentions were very different than last mentioned.
The Captain watched as the pirates descended into the hold and began to unload the cargo. Around one hundred baskets were deposited upon the broad deck of the Kazeriu, and as the pirates were about to take them upon their own ship, one by one, the baskets popped and out of the smoke appeared an Imperial Guard, bedecked in armor, brandishing sharp weapons.
The pirates realized that this was an elaborate ruse, and rushed to return to their ship, but some of the crew that until now remained hidden quickly rushed to cut the thongs that held the boarding planks in place, and it was then that the pirates became trapped upon the very ship they sought to capture.
The battle commenced.
Some pirates gave up instantly, and allowed themselves to be captured. However, a majority met the Guard in combat, fighting with whatever weapons they had on hand. Thare tore out of his captor’s grip and rushed to untie his crew, smiling grimly as the Chamberlain was quickly seized.
In moments, the battle was over. The more experienced Guard found it ease itself to overcome the pirates, considering that the element of surprise was also a unique advantage in the scenario that the Councilors and the Emperor painstakingly set up. Although the Imperial Guard had won, the ship itself was in a bad shape. Pirates without weapons tore timbers right out of the sides and slash marks made the Kazeriu quite damaged in appearance.
“The ship! She’s leaving!” A hoarse voice from one of the pirates rose up, and all heads turned to see the Shadowflight, which was now a mere dot in the distance.
But what was that dot nearby?
The assembled watched for fifteen minutes as the Shadowflight began to return, tailed by a rather slender craft. The Imperial Ship!
Boarding planks were set up between all three ships, and the captured pirates from the Shadowflight and the Kazeriu were moved to the Imperial Ship. The guards set up a line to literally tow the Shadowflight back to Shenkuu, and the Kazeriu was to follow. Apparently, during the battle, one pirate snuck into the hold and slashed at the new Amulet with the intention of destroying it, however, it failed and a Guard captured him. In addition to the superficial damage, the Kazeriu would not last long in the air and had to be brought back to Shenkuu immediately for repairs.
Once every pirate was taken care of, a Scorchio guard came up to Thare and told him that the Emperor wanted to see him and his crew.
Captain Thare was slightly nervous as he came before the Gelert, now wearing tan colored silks and beautiful decorations upon his person. With a graceful gesture, he stretched out his hand to the Bori’s and shook it in thanks, as was custom. “Your assistance was invaluable, and the skies of Shenkuu are freed from pirate oppression. If you...”
His words were drowned out as a cry came from outside. All heads turned to watch as the Kazeriu began to falter and descend slowly. Someone had the intelligence to cut the ropes of the boarding planks, and the entire crew of the doomed ship watched as the last strength of the Greytooth Amulet faltered and the ship went crashing down into the mountains.
Thare felt a cry of despair rip out of his throat. He was fortunate that the entire crew was safe and sound aboard the Imperial Ship, but seeing his beloved craft break apart and fall to its doom was depressing.
A light touch upon his broad shoulder was enough to cut him out of his sorrow. He turned around to behold the Emperor, who was looking over the wooden, green-painted railing at the clouded mountains below.
“One is not a merchant without a ship,” he whispered softly. “When we return and my Chamberlain’s crew is dealt with, I will make sure that you shall have yourself a fresh new vessel... and...” the Gelert’s eyes twinkled with good humor, “your amulet will be restored unto you.”
Captain Thare looked up at the Gelert who was the Emperor of Shenkuu, smiled with gratitude, and bowed deeply. “Thank you, Emperor.”
A week later, the Bori captain stood upon the railings of a new ship, made of deep chestnut-colored wood and polished until it shone. His crew was working vigorously to discharge their assignments of taking out the fresh cargo. But this time, the carts that were intended for the market were already there, waiting eagerly upon the cliff for their wares.
Thare smiled brightly as his precious shipment was loaded and quickly sent off on its way. Now, it was his turn to work before he went to help his crew sell their load. With grace belying his broad stature, the Bori captain walked to the cargo hold, locking the door with a new key that only he had possession of. That job done, he did one last patrol and walked out, waving to the guards upon their towers. After that incident, and many others, they would watch more carefully for any unexpected guests.
As he began to walk down the bamboo bridge that separated the landing cliff for the merchant vessels and warehouses from the rest of Shenkuu, he turned back, gave the Kazeriu II an affectionate look, and walked away.