Looking for feedback & suggestions. Story of a wizard & a merchant on a journey.
Part I | Tales only stone can tell
Outside, thunder's deafening roar echoed over the water, and as lightning shoots across the sky with its world-blinding light, even the sea seems scared to act, as the waves moved among one another slowly. Some stared out in awe of the approaching storm, clinging to the portholes in anticipation; others sat in their chair dreading its approach, some were even fearful seeing streaks of lightning dance over the black-horizion. Yet, the wizard did not fear. Instead he retrieved a glistening crystalline-shard from his pouch. Whilst others winced as thunder boomed, the wizard began poring over his shard, every crack and point requiring him an age to ponder. For Farren was by far the most inquisitive wizard you ever met; not to say that you ever will meet a wizard, for magic died long before the age of the printer. Curiosity he considered his trustworthy ally though it was more accurately described as a meddlesome goblin that sat on his shoulder, urging him to ask questions he ought not to. A merchant sitting at a table nigh, was not so brave as to ignore the storm, he had never been at sea hitherto and was quite frightened of its approach. With each crack of lightning his seat creaked as he jumped in it. When he saw the shard glisten, he could not help but spy on the wizard, using his love for shiny things as a distraction. To the merchant's frustration, he found that no amount of readjustment in his chair gave him a vantage to see past the wizard's cape and curls. The drone of thunder, closer but still distant, enticed him to poke his button nose a little further.
"A mischievous merchant cannot help but wonder what secrets does such a bag hide from the eye?"
"What's in the bag?" said the wizard, his head only slightly turning.
"Well my mischievous friend, this bag contains many things, for some it is hope, for others it is fear, and for some, it is all that the world could possibly offer, as well as himself"
The merchant tilts his head, half in question, then half in awe.
"For you see, the bag, as of now, is empty. So really it can contain, whatever it is you need it to. But, remember, as marvellous as the contents of this bag can be, it is only one, so put in it what you will, but put it in wisely."
The merchant baffled by the man's eccentric manner rises from his chair, his expression presenting similitude of a lost child. Farren, though unwittingly, had managed to scrape at the bottom of a well long thought to be indolent; done away with almost entirely. Farren saw the merchant pause, biting his lip as he became victim to his childish impulses; struggling to remain proper whilst desiring to cast all formalities aside.
"Let go and speak, it is easier that way" spoke Farren calmly, releasing the lock which caged him.
"And what does the bag hold for you?" he asked, containing himself no longer, his eyes now wide with anticipation.
Farren gave the question an odd smile, for he knew not of folk who cared for mystery, and unheard was it of a merchant to possess such interest. He had always thought them sinister creatures who lived in caves, their dens dunes of swindled gold, it's glittering a sick light in darkness; as all other lights were chased out. Farren felt pity for such people; money was only meant to be their means to happiness, but they had gotten lost along the way confusing their riches for it; forgetting when he thirsted for the taste of towering towers of mythical underwater cities, and chased after things pretend that go bump in the night; the days when he would've thrown a gold coin away in an instant if only to see what was behind the door downstairs; though he knew it was nothing but a larder.
Verily the wizard dubbed him an oddity; after all what could such a question lead to other than trouble, and trouble has no monetary value. Intrigued and bored Farren art; be thee weary, you will seldom find a more meddling mood for a wizard to possess.
"My child, it seems you are compelled by the fruits of wonder and exploration!"
Heads began to rise from their business, as the wizard began shouting in a thespian fashion. It was a most unwelcome disturbance; the converse of two strangers they saw as tantamount to a parley between two snakes on a knife's edge, waiting to strike at each other's throats at any moment. Small talk was cheap, but inquiry was costly, for in these parts of the world, prying into the matters of others was like the kicking of a stone down a mountain. But the merchant was rather audacious, apparently oblivious of the eyes watching, he stayed his ground eagerly, waiting for the continuation of the wizard's performance, as if it were that of a great master. Of course it hardly was, but perhaps there is some good in that.
The attention was more than Farren knew he deserved, what's more his ego could handle very little of it. His back soon was no longer hunched but straight, no longer old and fidget, but now strong and wise; full of valour.
"Ah! How devious and bold thee art, to remain in the face of danger. The bag? As of now, for me at least it remains empty, but I'm sure I will find something to put in it before long. Perhaps the heart of fearsome monster pried from its gullet by mine own hands? Or perhaps the heart of a fair maid? Or perhaps...I have already ensnared something?" finished he, a qheer glance at the merchant.
The wizard had for long bottled the tales and impulses he had, their releasing was like that of corruption and malice of a heart shut away. It was much to Farren's delight, marked by the smirk that grew on his face; that the thing was not quite done with questions, "odd in a world full of their scrutiny," he thought.
"I wonder, where does such a man journey from, for I'm afraid I cannot imagine you coming from anywhere but the stars, and only on a vessel of light and splendour, shooting across the black sky to light up this dreaded hole." squeaked the merchant.
"How obscene; you ask a man his origin before his name?" the wizard ejaculated.
The merchant's voice then became rather high pitched before apologising, his face sinking as he realised how childish he had been, and likewise did the wizard's voice become soft upon seeing it; deciding, that pretending to be a fearsome and wise wizard was not nearly as fun as he thought it.
"You know, questions around these parts are costly" continued Farren, "the price? To sit" said he, motioning to a chair opposite.
The merchant did not sit to the wizard's disappointment; but instead stared at the wizard's hand, with a ferocity that would make you think that the wizard had offered him a chair whilst holding a rather large dagger, and whilst bearing a grin so large its malevolent intent was not to be second guessed. Farren of course was not bearing a grin of death, nor did he wield a blood letting dagger, but rather clasped in his hand was a simple piece of chalk. Farren now however bore a seedy grin, somewhat taken aback by the merchants vagary.
"That's chalk is it not?" the merchant squeaked.
"It is? It won't bite I promise you?"
"You wouldn't happen to be one of them wizards would you?"
"Oh really, stop that! Many different people carry chalk on their person!" retorted the wizard, slightly agitated at this generalisation.
"Perhaps, but only wizards keep it handy."
Farren grunted at this remark, for he knew its truth was firm; though he was not anywhere close to admitting it. Ordinary people had very little use for chalk; after all, what good is drawing on things in a world filled with injustice? To wizards however, its ability to etch itself into a variety of different surfaces made it a necessity for any wizard practicing alchemy.
"If I sit down, you're not gonna turn me into a toad now are you? I've heard horrible stories about that."
"I just might" snorted Farren, twirling his locks rather violently. Though the merchant ignored this taking a seat anyway, thinking little of the wizard's barking. Upon its seating the wizard studied the creature keenly, he had not seen any such one before. The creature that sat was a Mexel. Of course, just as you would not have met a wizard, you certainly would never have met a Mexel, that is to say they no longer exist. Mexel's are cats that talk and walk, belonging to an age long passed out of memory; and as such out of reality; back then people still listened to things with fur and scales, and creatures that slid and crawled. So many of them returned the manner; tipping hats and swinging swords, saying "How do you do" and "what's mine is yours." Not all of them, just the friendly and meddlesome ones. They still do talk, but nothing listens anymore, "I have things to chase and work to be raced" they said, so their calls fell on deaf ears, so they learned not to call. And before long it was forgotten that they had spoke or that they had been spoken to. The forgetting of communication betwixt them, it is like losing a name but having it dangle from the tip of your tongue; you can still feel it's there if you listen long enough.
This particular Mexel, was one that appeared middle aged, an upright cat man of the calmest grey fur, and the most mischievous countenance Farren had ever seen; though calming and kind in the same instance; covered in black stripes, though most of these were hidden by a yellow-orange tunic, and the brown pants which he wore. All of these covered with little bags and pouches "presumably with stolen goods from slouches," thought Farren.
"Forgive an inquisitive merchant, perhaps I were rather blunt with my tongue, it is just that I who has wandered plains afar for many a day, cannot say I have heard a voice full of such mystery, since my own long ago in youth. What would you have a foolhardy merchant reference thee?"
Farren was rather ecstatic to be given the stage once again; his chin immediately stiffened upwards, and with one of his hands he immediately started wrapping his curls around his finger, "I art the mighty wizard Farren; a connoisseur of the delicacies of sorcery and science. I hail from no home, but rather from adventure! Now my little mageling, up you get, a story I have given so a story thou must share, come now, tip tup!" heckled the wizard.
Doran was not sure if he liked being called little, since they were almost the same height, nor was he sure if he was comfortable being called 'mageling,' whatever that meant. But he wasn't sure if the wizard really did turn people into toads, so he figured he had better do it anyway. The merchant replied with mirth, eagerly jumping atop his chair, straightening his tunic and bellowing as he did:
"I be Doran, the traveling merchant with a taste for gold greater than a king!"
the doom of thunder, and the terror of its light castaway with crooked joy in his notes. The mexel, despite appearing to the wizard at first to be rather conservitive, exceeded the wizard in theatrics. Wizards are dangerous like that, for even the grumpiest of men end up paddling along in their tricks; perhaps it is best to lock away such grumpy men with such things people, if only that they might see that which they see not; sadly often they are belligerent to such ideas.
The wizard spoke with a tone that was quite pleased, but one which had the forbearing of a great calamity to be conquered. Farren spake unto his furry friend, "well my dear Doran, sit and pledge your companionship to a wizard who promises riches unlike thee has ever seen."
And sit he did, being an enliver to mundane table, hailing the bartender to acquire drinks. Farren watched as his new acquaintance began to shift his eyes from one spot to the next, scanning the vast hull of the ship; seemingly only now taking notice of the attention he had drawn.
"I can not say I have ever known a group of people to be quite so quiet"
"Surprised? Where have you been living, this is the world? Some rural part away from cities no doubt?"
"Something like that..." ended Doran; Farren felt he did so nervously, but he did not wish to pry any further, case his new companion was to take flight. However, Farren too disliked the silence, there was something unnerving about sitting in a room full of people, yet not hearing any voice but that of thunder, shouting down into the bowels of the ship.
"Well no question about it my little mageling," Doran looked up at the wizard, a faint smile growing as he spoke, "Troubled times breed troubled folk. And the people of this world are one such folk, not that they are inherently so or that it is their fault; after all, you cannot ask a fish to swim away from poison, if the poison makes up the entire contents of its bowl; and the world as of now...'tis ripe with poison. And Troubled folk, they are fickle, they keep to themselves; not necessarily bad nor the contrary, but rather somewhere uncomfortably unpredictable in between"
The wizard stopped and looked up, to see that he had quite successively ensnared the cat with his yarn of wonder, "Indeed my little mageling, there are many things I must show thee; on trails un-tread there is an axiom, that you as an adventurer must learn to have embedded in his mind; one only exercised in suspicious looks and dealings; false personas and pretences, 'don't ask questions unless your ready for answers.' yes, that is how it goes"
"So if you wish to keep your feet out of trouble, and sail a calm sea to the harbour on the other side; you'd better keep your nose on your face where it belongs."
Doran simply clapped.
"Ah! The little mageling doth enjoy fine literature"
"Not really, it just sounded jolly that's all."
It then dawned on Farren, that a feline bumpkin was probably not well versed in fine literature, nor was he likely to be aware of its grandeur.
" What if I wish to find a cavern full of mountains of gold?" continued Doran.
"Then you had better be prepared for trouble...and a whole lot of fun." said the wizard with glee, rubbing his fingers together as he caught sight of the barkeeper, bringing their drinks over. The barkeeper's name was Rhigot, he was a slim man, though his head was rather round and his cheeks were rather plump, Farren thought his eyes looked to childish to belong to him; "bit like a fish" he remarked in his head. The wizard offered him a seat, and a 'thrilling' tale to go along with it. Rhigot however remembered that the last time he indulged the wizard, doing so for at least half a day; patiently waiting for the end of a never ending story (which made little sense to poor Rhigot who was barely able to read or write.) The two had managed to become quite well acquainted since their departure, and as of now, good friends; but not even Farren's mother would have listened to one of his stories; not that Farren was a bad storyteller, he was just one who made the story up as he told it, never able to decide where, or how it should end. Natheless, the wizard's excitement was somewhat abated by the refusal, though he pretended not to care, (something he was skilled at.) Farren very plainly shrugged, and began wrapping his curls around his finger, declaring that he didn't really feel like telling a tale anyhow.
A Little time passed, and after some more banter, The old man's loving demeanour suddenly shifted. The wrinkles across his face became stretched, and his eyes conspicuous slits. Doran sat there quietly as he watched the wizard's hands tighten around his pint.
"To business now," said Farren, not spoken in a shout, but in a whisper, "so what interest does a traveling merchant have in the stone of legend."
Farren then observed the cat's calm expression give way to a sinister smile "whatever do you mean, Doran is simply here to sell his wares" the insincerity in this remark did not sway the wizard's gaze, but instead managed to raise his brow, "very well, you win." Doran muttered, taking a swig of his pint, and swinging it a little too far up, as ale dripped down his furry chin "Gold; the more the merrier."
Farren was not satisfied with this answer, he felt it too simple, for a character so dynamic and contrary to a merchants character; but the wizard could see that he was not getting anymore out of the mystical mexel. "Keep your secrets, for now at least anyhow," mumbled the wizard under his breath.
"So to what end does the wizard wish the stone for?"
The wizard puts his hands behind his head, before looking up at the chandelier and letting out a little chuckle, "adventure; the more the merrier."
Farren could tell, (most evidently by the impatient tapping of the mexel's little claws on the desk) that he was not at all satisfied with this answer.
"As I declared before," started Farren, attempting to justify it a little further," I go where there is adventure. A stone of legend, in a jungle of monsters; an imperial force desperate to gain its power; and ratbags and noble men alike, from every corner of the world, desperate to gain their fortune; should be fun. Mark my words it is by no mere coincidence that the empire decided to build a colony, on the long forsaken continent of Lundas, after rumours surface of the stone of legend. Not very coy if you were to ask for my opinion, it has done nothing but confirmed the stone's existence. In fact dare I be so bold as to wager that most of the passengers of this voyage...are only so to exercise their own devious plans for the stone. A conflict of peril, greed and desperation; and...perhaps it has already begun."
The two look at each other before scanning the room. At the front counter sat a man with a mug, hat and a monocle, and next to him a little goblin girl jotting things down as he spoke. On another table was a man lean in stature who sat there with a quill neatly orchestrating the letters he wrote on his parchment, as if the whole world depended on their composure. He worked in complete silence; the world around him far from any thought in his head. The parchment was one of many, which had been organised on the table as if it were an assortment of best selling novels. In the corner, as dead as night, a lizard man sat on a rocking chair, smoke every so often leaking from his nostrils as he smoked his pipe.
At the back opposite to Farren sat a man dressed entirely in black with a top hat, vigorously glaring at them, his top hat casting a shadow that left his two bloodshot eyes barely visible. His presence full of malice, contaminating the air with his devilish appearance. He sat continuously shuffling a deck of cards, watching.
"It's awfully quiet and empty for lunch time on a ship filled with military dogmatists?" noted Farren coldly, "mud-rats with guns that's all they are." he barked spitting onto the floor.
"I spoke with Rhigot earlier. He says we are not far from port, most likely the soldiers are receiving orders."
Farren nods to this and pulls his own pipe out from one of the pockets of his gown. Farren's astoundment was well placed, normally around this time the dinar was filled to the brim with a crowd of unruly soldiers, who shouted, hissed and cussed at one another; weaving in and out of place in the queue. Though the dining hall was empty, the ship was rather full, of soldiers mostly, accompanied by a high ranking officer from the empire's capital of Blackthorn in the far northeast.
"Anyhow I hope you are right; we've been at sea for much too long -I'm sick of the smell of salt" groaned Farren wearily.
Farren wanted to nap, but the sleazy look of the cardholder kept him at bay, something about Farren had fixed his gaze. He was one of the more curious passengers on the boat. He always sat in exactly the same spot, seemingly never to have moved. Always shuffling a deck of cards in his hand, and if ever Rhigot tried to offer him something, he simply ignored him, not giving so much as a literal breath to signify that he had heard. In fact if it weren't for him shuffling his deck of cards, Farren would have assuredly mistaken him for a dead man. The wizard began to feel his heart race, his eyes let not for a second from Farren; quite unnerving in its own right, save that his countenance had recently made the development of a smile. He slipped his pipe from his mouth to speak to, his hand trembling slightly as he did,
"Have you seen that man move from that spot?"
"No, but Doran thinks surely he must have at some point or another"
"Have you seen him eat or sleep"
"One can only wonder what you are trying to insinuate. To suggest he does neither is ludicrous."
"Perhaps, just a thought that's all"
Farren begins to smoke his pipe once again, seeping back into his chair. And the conversation ended with a queer look from the felines yellow eyes; Farren knew that his friend was right, but he was still unable to close his eyes entirely as to rest.
"Well you had better do less of that; just look at this" said Doran throwing an old copy of the Imperial Pigeon in front of him. "To the heavens above final winter is upon us!" Doran squawked shaking his head. Farren was not surprised at all by it, for not only did the date mark its release a month before they had departed (Doran had undoubtedly missed this); but the headlines were to be expected; to anyone who was aware of the world as at least.
"I wouldn't throw that around if were you. The serving class isn't meant to possess such things, it's seen a contraband." said Farren, looking around the room anxiously, as if the mexel's ceasing of the paper would cause a soldier to materialise out nothingness.
"If they didn't want me to have it they should not have left it on the table over there!" complained the mexel, who ignored and continued scanning the page.
"I think you're missing the severity of the situation, if the soldiers catch you with that they will surely beat you to a pulp."
Nevertheless he was just bored enough to give the headlines a glance. They read in big bold curvy letters (the work of a xerographist who was rather skilled with his xerography: a branch of sorcery in which ink can spontaneously be copied from one piece of parchment to another.)
UPRISING IN CRRIDIUM
Revolts still taking place; resistance has eased with the latest dispatchment of troops.
Priority level: no assistance required.
NOLUX TAKEN BY REVOLUTIONARIES
As feared rule over Nolux has been overthrown
Priority level: 1st(soldiers should be sent to Blackthorn for a joint assault. Departure: 1/16
The Imperial Pigeon was a newsletter to be handed to military outposts and the likes thereof, its purpose was to keep officers up to date with key events to better facilitate their troops. Farren began to grow frantic with worry, even considering moving to another table until Doran was done; to act against the upper class was to throw yourself under the lowest. But the curious creature knew not.
"At least put it in one of your bags and look at it later behind closed doors."
To the wizard's relief the creature nodded and did just that, folding it rather crudely and shoving into one of his bags. And when his face turned to look at very Farren, it did so with a large smile, and a pair of beady mischievous eyes.
"I had forgotten, you never actually told me. What was in the bag?"
"Bath salts" snickered the wizard crudely.
"Aye; bath salts" said the wizard with a grin holding the shard high above his head.
"Doran heard you. But Doran does not understand. Why are you carrying bath salts?"
"I like baths"
"On a ship?"
Farren did not really have an answer to that last part, and instead just shrugged. As the wizard's last words fell, so too did all other sound, save the muffled crackling of thunder, which streamed into one's ears as if tumbling down the sides of a valley. It was perhaps the early hours of the morning thought Farren, rubbing his wrinkly face.
"It has been dark for long enough; and some sunlight would do well to chase away this misery."
Farren was quite right, and soon many of the observed occupants of the diner, sought their beds, even if the weather prevented them of being any actual use. Only four people remained: them, Rhigot, and the skulking figure of the card holder, who sat eyeing them. His breathing, Farren almost felt he could hear; heavy and long. His eyes twinkling a deadly red. The boat seemed to have fallen silent, save the creaking timber and and the shaking of thunder. Farren stared straight back, trying to hold a stern expression in his stare, but in truth he was quite unnerved, and could not hold it well.
Each one of their hands began to move, the merchant's to a silver dagger, the wizards inside of his cloak, and the man in black to his cards. As chance would have at this unstable moment, Rhigot had been carrying a large bag of flour, which by a miscalculation in footing, and the rocking of the boat he dropped. Thus the hull was transformed into a cloud of mist, it served as an umpire casting down his flag signalling the combat to commence.