Crossing Those Hills
Claude and the Merchant
Claude walks through a long, crowded bazaar that seems to have organically formed between the city proper and Comoros' southern docks. A light wind blows through his hair, stymying the hot afternoon sun bearing down on him. Dozens of merchants line the sides of this lane, each putting an admirable effort into marketing their wares to passerby.
A gull flies low over the market, settling on a weaved basket for sale at a nearby stall. Its owner quickly shoos the bird away.
Claude approaches the owner.
The dark-skinned merchant wears a turban and loose-fitting garb common in the arid lands of Erebyss to the continent's far southeast. His makeshift booth seems to be stocked with sealed chests, jars, and crates.
Upon noticing Claude's surveying, the merchant gives a wide bow with his arms and ends the gesture by cupping his hands in a way as if grasping an invisible sphere, one hand over the other.
Claude: "Hello sir, may I ask your name?"
The man smiles gently and shakes his head. "I am no 'sir' as you would say, gudarin. Although it is customary among my people to first introduce oneself, you may call me Rasaad." He bows once more, gentlier this time, and again ends the movement in a cupping gesture with one hand above the other.
Claude: "Rasaad, an interesting name. I came to browse your wares but I find myself more interested in your people. Is there no distinction of sex among your people? What exactly is a gudarin?"
Rasaad: "Ah, my mistake. I sometimes forget the Common tongue. Gudarin, in my language, means warrior. When those of my people, the Jenarri, look upon one another, we see only the arima - the spirit. It is a strange concept to us indeed that many of the other tribes end their gazes upon flesh."
Claude: "Fascinating, absolutely fascinating! I think I would much enjoy a visit to Erebyss in my future travels. Perhaps we will meet there some time! Ah, but I digress you must be busy today with this sprawling market. I'll not occupy much more of your time, I only wish to inquire about your wares now."
Rasaad smiles wide. "The vast sands of Erebyss are not for those lacking indar. But.. I can see you bear much of it. Before we begin the business of trade, I would ask your name, gudarin."
"Please, call me Claude."
Rasaad nods knowingly. "You honor me. How can Rasaad serve one of your ahalmen - your ability?"
Claude: "I've run short on adventuring supplies. What do you have to offer? Perhaps a tour of your wares is in order?"
The merchant's eyes glint for a moment as he presses an index finger against his bottom lip. "Give me your hand, gudarin." Rasaad extends his open palm.
Claude reaches out with stymied excitement.
As you reach out and touch his hand, a serene coolness spreads from your hand and throughout your body. You feel your muscles loosen and relax.
Rasaad closes his eyes. "Dangers.. Many dangers you will face, gudarin. Rasaad sees their shadows in his mind's sky."
His closed eyes wince in pain for a moment. "Your journey.. is a cursed one." He opens them. "I will sell only that which you will need, gudarin. Nothing more, and nothing less."
Claude: "What can you tell me of this cursed journey? Are people in danger?"
The dark-skinned man laughs. "All are in danger, gudarin. From the moment we are given breath, Bukara begins its plot to return us to the Starless Night."
Rasaad bows lightly. "Forgive me. Rasaad forgets your kind do not share the customs of the Jenarri. Bukara is the great evil, the shadow mighty, terrible, and equal in measure to the warmth of Anzturak, the One Who Bathes The World In Light."
His tone takes a serious note. "In that world in which I flew, it is you that is the danger, gudarin. You, and your granmazan – your allies."
Claude: "But are we serving the will of Anzturak or Bukara? This seems most important."
Rasaad chuckles. "That is the great question. Infinite in mystery is the will of Anzturak. As such, not you nor Rasaad can understand the threads from which we are weaved."
Claude: "Ah, then only time will tell."
Rasaad: "Stand for a moment, gudarin. I shall retrieve that which you will require." Rasaad goes to the back of his makeshift stall and begins rummaging through his containers.
Rasaad returns with a small shoebox-sized chest . "For this, Rasaad asks a mere hundred gold pieces."
Claude: "What is inside?"
Rasaad: "Only what you take with you." Rasaad offers it forward once more.
Claude fails to detect any deception from Rasaad and ponders for a few seconds. "Right. I accept this deal." He takes out coins from his purse and hands them over to the merchant.
Rasaad takes the coins without counting them and hands you the sealed box. "It has been an honor meeting you, gudarin. I look forward to the winds binding our threads once again."
He pockets the coins and performs the same bow and cradling gesture he made before speaking with you.
Claude: "Stay safe, Rasaad."
Claude walks away a few yards before hearing something fall behind him. He turns to see Rasaad collapsed facedown. Claude vaults over boxes and crates and rushes over, kneeling by Rasaad. As Claude turns over him over, his fingers pass through Rasaad's loose clothing and Rasaad's unconscious face wavers for a moment before fading away, revealing the face of a light-skinned human man. The clothes, too, fade into a form consistent with their feel. Claude is left holding the stranger, bewildered.