The Merchant's Of Adaween

By Devin Reid

The radiant summer sun beat delicately on the broad sails of the plain merchant ship, marked with the tribal geometry of the port city, Adaween.  The bright eyed sailors had just embarked on the first leg of their trade route, and their ship, The Hibiscus, was bursting with native goods. Overflowing from the ship’s hold,  the abundance of the jungle nation’s riches was clear. Clay jars, filled with fermented fruit spirits, fragrant ground spices, and the rare grains of wild flame grass, were secured to the deck by thick rope nets.  Bolts of elaborate, colorful woven silks and batiks had been tucked beneath the ship’s staircases. Crates of wooden trinkets, jeweled statues, and gold jewelry, were stacked and chained to the deck. A strong wind pushed at their back, as their hearts gleaned forward to foreign lands awaiting the splendors they were selling.  

A few of the men held gold coins, kissed them, and tossed them into the ocean for  good luck. 

The coins seeped slowly into the depths of the ocean, fading from crystal emerald waters into a deep blue darkness.  One coin’s descent came to an end. Bouncing from the edge of a black, scaled figure, it clinked it’s way clumsily down the figures back, landing in the lightless sand of the ocean floor.   The smell of the coin was undeniable, unforgettable, and irresistible. The merchant’s good luck token was illuminated in the black abyss by the curious, glowing eye of an ever expanding black figure.  A wicked, bioluminescent smile stretched the length of the merchant ship itself, as the dark creature fully comprehended it’s gift from the Emerald waters above. Humans; and gold.

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About twenty leagues away, the red and gold painted woodwork of a pristine caravel, shone bright with dancing lights reflecting off of the surface of the water.  From the mast to the stern, intricately carved, colorfully stained wooden reliefs told stories of exotic worlds, and forbidden romances. The gilded mast held crisp canvas sails embroidered with a ring of nine spheres, each its own color. As the ship, known only as Swordfish, glided calmly across the sea to the east, a handful of the crew gathered around their captain on the quarter deck.  His fur was striped with black and brown, and his eyes and neck matched the creme canvas of his vessel’s sails.


“And how do we plan on finding this place?” asked a lavishly dressed deckhand. 

“The Eye of The Mountain.” The Cat Captain replied with a grin, holding a smooth blue and white crackled stone in his wet paw.  The stone was one of nine, it’s brothers and sisters together formed one of history's most mysterious sets of artifacts, The Nine Lives of Tigros.  Each of the nine stones possessed its own unique otherworldly magics. The Cat Captain carried all nine, in a bandolier, inconspicuously draped across his chest.  These were the relics of his ancestors, and he gathered them in secret, many years ago. The Eye of The Mountain so far had proved to be the most useful of the nine relics.

“It can guide us to things we have not yet seen, all we have to do is ask it.”  The Captain followed, handing the stone to the deckhand beside him. He unsnapped a pouch from his bandolier and produced another one of the relics.  A smooth oil-slick onyx stone inlaid with a strange symbol, a solid golden portal.  

“The Wayfarer.”  He said, holding the stone out for his crew to see.  The crew clamored together curiously to catch a glimpse of the powerful stone.

 “Tigran Legend says it can reveal the secret to slipping between this realm and the next, but I have yet to figure out how to activate it.” He said, turning towards the deckhand holding the other stone. He held the Wayfarer in front of The Eye of The Mountain, speaking to it. “Perhaps, you could help us understand your sister’s purpose.”

A small black dot slowly appeared in the center of The Eye of The Mountain as the deckhand watched in awe.  The black dot slid with certainty down the side of the stone. First the black iris looked towards The Wayfarer, pausing for a moment. Then it’s gaze shifted away towards the horizon, fixating on a point, moving like a compass as the deckhand rotated his body.  

“North East!” the deckhand shouted with an excited realization.  Without the Captain’s orders or hesitation, the crew scattered to their posts.  The Swordfish followed the Eye of the Mountain’s bearings into the horizon, searching for something more valuable than all the treasures in the Captain’s secret cache, answers. 

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“Dragon!” a yelp echoed down to the crew from the crow’s nest. 

The Cat Captain extended a spyglass before him, standing in awe at the creature in the distance.     

“Captain, what are we going to do?” A voice rang from a pool of anxious sailors.

“Well,” The Captain cleared his throat nervously, “I’m not exactly sure what a dragon is…”

The crew glanced at each other, muttering concerns amongst themselves. Some sighed, rolling their eyes or rubbing their foreheads, as if the Cat Captain had played this game many times before.  The huddle split as a tall, dark skinned man wearing teal and bronze broke into the circle.

 

“They are the alpha mortals of this world, the precious children of the Elemental Gods.  Wielding immense power, wisdom, and cunning, their only real weaknesses are hidden within these strengths.   Few have bested dragons in combat, but many of the creatures have been felled to their own hubris, vanity, and lust for gold.”

“Well then we hide all the gold in our hidden cache.”  The Captain replied, stroking his whiskers. “It must never know of our treasures.”

The dark skinned man laughed, “I imagine it will demand payment or tribute, if not gold, then blood.  As skilled as you are with your silver lined tongue captain, The dragon can smell lies just as strong as it can smell the gold buttons on your cuffs.”  

     

“The cat will surely be eaten if the dragon can sense deception.”  The crew chuckled as a fair skinned woman pulled a hood from over her head.  Her face was thin and angular, and her ears were longer and sharper than the dagger on her belt. “We give the dragon everything. Fill the ship with gold, we can trick it into thinking we have emptied the hull.  We must have at least three shiploads worth of gold behind that magic little door hidden underneath your desk, Captain.”

The Cat Captain furrowed his brow and squinted as he moved towards the milk skinned woman.   His black nose curled as he sniffed the air around her for ill intent. It was not his favorite idea. 

“You often remind us, ‘There is always more than simply treasure’, Captain.” The woman smirked at him, mockingly.  

The Cat Captain held the Eye of the Mountain in his paw, the inky black dot pointed directly in the dragon’s direction.  He extended his massive paw to her dainty shoulders, and nodded with a smile.

“You heard her, unload the cache!”

Crates shifted and clay jars clamored against each other, as a magnificent dragon left a mighty wake, circling the merchant vessel.  The beast was blueish grey with black spines and claws. It’s face matched the color of the emerald waters beneath it, but its entire black and blue body was lined with glowing, bioluminescent pores that streaked across the afternoon sky like stars shooting in the dead of night.  With a piercing aqua gaze from its demonic glowing eyes, The Dragon inspected the Hibiscus’ tribal crest, and then for gold and riches.

The Hibiscus’ merchant crew had faced these creatures before, and they knew what it wanted.  The crew began to gather all of their valuable metal goods to the edge of the deck. Mounds of gold, silver, and pewter jewelry and trinkets spilled out of their crates over the side of the small unpainted ship, splashing like a rainstorm onto the surface of the water.   The men gave what little coins and jewelry they had on their persons, emptying their pockets. A sonic roar, rocked the ship after the dragon inspected the offering.  

Not enough. 

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The dragon began to circle the Hibiscus again.  It released a thick bellowing fire from its throat, into the air just above the water.  Steam rose from the ocean's surface, swirling underneath the Dragon’s fiery intimidation.

  

Just as the glittering black beast prepared for it’s assault, the piercing sound of a longhorn caught the dragon’s attention.  Swiftly summoned from the far side of the horizon, a glistening red and gold painted ship twinkled in the dragon’s eye. The merchant’s of the Hibiscus looked on with hope and amazement, as the sails marked with a ring of nine spheres came to their aid, challenging the dragon.  

The proud, gold drenched ship was too much for the dragon to ignore.  It turned it’s emerald head, marking the merchant vessel with it’s glassy eyes.  The creature snorted a short forceful exhale before flying towards the Swordfish.  

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After moments of grand anticipation, the merchant sailors anxiously watched the drama unfold on the horizon.  

“What do you see?”, a merchant sailor yelled to another on a platform halfway up the mast. 

“There seems to be some kind of half-tiger, half-man, and he’s very well dressed.” The other sailor chirped down to the deck, peering through an eyeglass.

“Tigran, I have seen them sold at slave ports over the last few years. Can’t say I've seen one in anything but tattered rags and rusted chains though.” One of the Sailors offered to the crew.

“What is it doing?”

“It looks like the Cat is… talking to it” The sentry said, squinting through the spyglass. “The dragon, it’s laughing.”

“What kind of creature tells jokes to an Abyssal Blue Dragon? Or any dragon for that matter?”  One of the olive skinned sailors asked.

“One with a death wish.” The man next to him replied.

“The crew, they are dumping their treasures into the sea! Perhaps they will finish paying the dragons debt.” The Sentry yelled down.

“If they do, I fear they will demand we pay them a debt of their own. A gift of gratitude might help avoid any confrontation.” One of the men offered to the rest of the men. 

After almost an hour of dumping riches into the sea, the sentry watched the Cat bow, feathered hat in hand. Through the lense of the spyglass, the sailor watched the dragon smirk, just before backflipping magnificently into the depths of the ocean.  The red and gold gilded ship barely rocked in the wake of the dragon’s perfect dive.

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The sturdy notched gangplank rested tight between the two ships as the Cat Captain strode across it, gripping the Eye of The Mountain in one paw.   He was greeted by the Hibiscus’ commander. 

 

“Do you speak only Draconic, Tiger?” The Commander laughed with a warm smile.

The Cat Captain chuckled, “I speak many languages, my friend.”

“Welcome aboard the Hibiscus.  We do not have much to offer you now, but perhaps you can take these gifts, the bounty of our homeland, Kiér.” The commander offered, waving to one of his crew members.

The Tigran looked to the Eye of the Mountain he held.  The stone’s iris shifted, pointing not straight, but in the direction of the commander’s quarters.

“Before we jump right into this, I would kindly like to ask for a taste of that delicious smelling fruit wine, and maybe get out from under the sun for a while.  My nerves are a bit shaken still after dealing with that... lizard.” The Cat said, snapping the Eye of The Mountain back into his bandolier. 

The Kiérian Commander nodded and motioned to his quarters.  The Cat Captain ducked through the doorway, into a messy, but humble office.  The room was filled with crates and sacks, filled with who knows what. A desk sat in the far end of the room, scattered with papers, empty ink wells, and the butts of many candles past. 

“Please, have a seat.” The Commander said, turning to fill two pewter goblets on a silver tray on the far side of the room.  The Cat Captain sat facing the desk, scanning the room as the Commander worked.   

“Banana Brandy, 12 winter’s age.” The Kiérian sat in a larger chair across from the Tigran, sipping from one goblet and placing the other on the desk in front of the Tirgan.  “The Vintner's Guild truly outdid themselves on this one.”

“Sorry about the mess,” the Commander said, shifting some papers that hung over the far end of the desk. 

“No worries,” The Cat Captain smiled, taking the goblet. “Tell me, what are you carrying that would summon such a large..uh.. Reptile?”

As the commander answered, The Cat Captains bright blue slitted eyes widened at the sight of a map now lying uncovered in front of the two men.   His eyes were so fixated on the map, he barely heard a word as the Commander told his tale. A few port cities, a deep jungle, A dark forest to the south, and most importantly a symbol nestled deep in the rainforest amongst a range of jagged mountain peaks.  A solid portal, the same symbol as the golden one engraved into the Wayfarer, strapped onto the bandolier on his chest. The Cat Captain slipped back into the conversation.

“...And then your signal caught the dragon’s eye.  I must say, I have never met a creature like you before, where are you and your crew headed?” The Commander asked, refilling his cup.

The Cat took a long sip of his wine, looking down to the map on the table.  Reading the name of the southernmost port city, on the edge of the map, far beyond the borders of the jungle. “Kazan”

“That old pirate town? Be careful there, the forests south of Kiér’s jungles are overrun with powerful magicks.  Used to be part of one of the greatest nations this world has ever known.  It has fallen to entropy, the mossy ruins of an elemental revolution. Although, you seem the type who’d enjoy a bit of anarchy.”

“Yes, of course. I have been before... hundreds of times.” The Cat bluffed, “Now you said, you had a gift of your appreciation?”  

The Commander waved his finger at one of the sailors, who returned quickly with two large sacks.  “Our city, Adaween, is the mouth of the great jungle Kiér.  Trade is king in Adaween, we are the gateway to the lush resources that are seething from an untapped wilderness.  We are a vibrant people; craftsmen, artists, laborers.”
 

The sailor gently pulled a stack of folded silken shirts from the bags.  The brightly colored, woven silks, seemed to change color as the Cat Captain moved his head.  In the second sack, were beautifully detailed Batik shirts, stained into intricate patterns with waxes and dyes and painted with gold. 

“Our Guilds and Craftsmen rule Adaween, and these shirts are the standard uniform of those who are accepted as the masters of their abilities. We have little to offer after tossing most of our goods into the sea, I hope this is enough to show you our gratitude.” The Commander suggested.

“Of course, they are marvelous. I must try one on at once.” The Cat Captain said, standing from the chair.  He finished his glass of fortified fruit wine, then removed his feathered hat, placing it over the portal-marked map on the desk.   “Ah, my first mate will love these, come, let’s show him.”

As the group cleared the cabin onto the deck, The Cat Captain was greeted by the massive midnight skinned man, waiting impatiently on the end of the gangplank. 

“We were just talking about you, look at these garments.” The Cat Captain smirked.  The man’s expression was stern and unyielding. The man looked up to the sun, reaching ever closer to the horizon, and then back to his captain in silence.  “Well, I suppose we must be going soon, these are beyond wonderful gifts.”

“We will never forget your bravery and kindness.” One of merchant sailors offered. 

“It is nothing my friends.” The Cat Captain bowed. 

“Oh, I almost forgot my hat, give me one moment.” The Cat Captain said, winking at his first mate.   The dark skinned man moved toward the commander and extended a firm handshake, as the Cat Captain scurried back into the Office. 

 

He returned shortly with hat in hand, adjusting his coat.  He held his hat close to his chest as he pounced up the railing and onto the gangplank. 

“Did you find what you were looking for Captain?” The First Mate asked, holding both of the sacks filled with the Guild master's garbs. 

“Why, yes I did.” The Cat Captain grinned as he stepped across the gangplank, subtly revealing a roll of parchment and a bottle of banana brandy from under his coat. The sun reflected dancing lights onto his face, as he took a deep victorious breath.  He stopped midway between the ships, turned and said to the Hibiscus’ Commander, “Oh and one more thing, give the Vintner’s Guild my regards.”