335 The Moonshadow Trading Company Short Stories: 1 - The Return to Rouke Island II
Rassa stood on the quarter deck of The Moon Voyager, his deep hood drawn up over his head as he leaned against the railing that overlooked the main deck. The hold had been opened, the crew working to begin unloading their cargo. The warehouses that stood at the end on the shore looked abandoned and barely standing. Rassa had never mentioned them to Iah, Sharli or Falla so he hadn't exactly expected them to be well kept. He'd bought it when it was half-collapsed anyway. Almost everyone steered clear from this part of the port, believing it unused, or more likely haunted from the state of it. It was on the very edge of Port Leis, quite out of the way just as the Ruin had once been. Though from the whispers Rassa had heard the Ruin was a ruin no more.
Rassa watched as a portly man hurried down the jetty towards where The Moon Voyager had docked. He had not been expecting any ships to come in. The only time this jetty was used was when all of the other docks were full, usually that only happened during the Trader's Festival, and they were still a year away from that.
The man paused on the dock and called out, "I say, you can't dock here! Not without a permit!"
Talo, who stood giving orders on the deck, looked over his shoulder, his blue eyes sparking with annoyance. The portly man had the good sense to gulp upon meeting the large man's stare.
"This is where I was told to dock," said Talo, "So you better make sure one of those warehouses is decently secured so that we can get our cargo unloaded, Dock Master…?"
"Greyson, Dock Master Greyson," said the portly man, "And I really must insist you go elsewhere, without a permit I cannot allow you to-"
Rassa rolled his eyes. The man was doing as he'd instructed of course. Anyone who wished to use the dock had to apply to the Trader's Council to prove that they couldn't dock elsewhere, at which time they would pay rent to Greyson for using the dock and likely the warehouses. Rassa hoped the warehouses looked better up close than they did from here, though the smell assaulting his nose indicated otherwise. Had the man done anything in terms of upkeep? Rassa's fangs tingled at the thought of him having done otherwise.
Rassa straightened, Sel coming to attention behind him. The eunuch had taken it upon himself to shadow Rassa when he was acting human. The man didn't talk much, but the two had come to a silent understanding that he would act like Rassa's bodyguard when Rassa was doing business. Layton, the whip-wielding teenager, had followed along, though he was far more prone to wondering off and doing as he pleased. The boy now stood with Sel, though far more casual in his stance. Rassa barely turned to face them as he spoke to them.
"Stay here and help Talo".
Sel and Layton both nodded at the order and Rassa proceeded to walk down the stairs to the main deck, crossing to where Talo was currently arguing with Greyson.
"…I really must insist, Sir, you cannot unload her-Mr Moonshadow?"
Rassa strolled past Greyson and down onto the jetty, turning towards the shore, "Start unloading, Captain Talo. Greyson, those warehouses better not look as bad as they smell".
Greyson scurried after Rassa towards the warehouses.
"Sir…I wasn't sure you were returning, thought you were dead in fact," Greyson stated. Rassa could hear his heartbeat, smell the sweat as he filled with nervous energy.
"Oh?" asked Rassa, "How strange. I did say I'd return".
"So you did, Sir," Greyson replied, "About the warehouses…"
"Did you lack funds to repair them? I would have thought the rent and the starting money I gave you was more than enough to provide upkeep," stated Rassa as he opened the door that Greyson had stepped out of. He immediately paused, another scent in the room catching his attention and causing his eyes to turn towards the loft apartment he'd given Greyson to stay in. Two figures passed by the window. Rassa's eyes flicked back to the very nervous looking Greyson.
"What is all that money being spent on if it's not being put into the upkeep of my warehouses and docks, Greyson?"
Greyson twitched nervously, "Well, you see sir…I…I…it gets rather lonely on these docks you see, so…so I ensured that I could be in the optimal condition to carry out my duties as Dock Master, Sir".
Rassa stood still and stoic as he took in Greyson's excuse, then he raised an eyebrow.
"Aye, Sir, lonely, and a tad chilly if I'm honest".
Greyson gave a humorous laugh at his own joke, to which Rassa did not show any amusement. Greyson's laugh faded away before he gulped, "I apologise profusely, Mr Moonshadow I-"
In a rush of air and between the blinking of his eyes, Rassa vanished before portly dock master.
Greyson turned to look around, only to hear screams from the whores he'd hired the night before in his loft above. His gaze cut to the loft and his eyes widened when the screams suddenly cut off. The door to the loft wide open, Greyson heard Rassa's voice echo from within.
"Would you come and join us, Greyson?"
Greyson really didn't want to, but he sensed he didn't have a choice in the matter as he slowly, shakily, climbed up to the loft. He entered the apartment and found both of the whores, still naked bar from the sheets they clutched to their bodies, kneeling in the centre of the room. Across from them, on a chair at the dining table which he had turned to face the door, sat Rassa. His eyes were focused on where his fingers drummed the wood of the dining table, though Greyson had no doubt that Rassa was very aware of Greyson's presence in the room. Greyson's gaze flicked down to the drumming fingers on the desk, only to find the inch-long claws protruding from Rassa's fingers rather than fingernails.
"Take a seat, Greyson".
Greyson couldn't even take his eyes from the claws, let alone move. After a moment, the drumming claws froze, and Greyson glanced at Rassa's eyes. The eyes that he met were not that dark brown of before, but a predatory blood red. As the lips beneath those eyes moved, two needle-like teeth extended down slowly.
"I really don't like repeating myself".
Greyson shivered in fear. It was a predator he was looking at, plain and simple. Greyson knew immediately that he had severely underestimated his worth to this predator. He knew from one look of those eyes that he was going to die. He felt the damp warmth of piss in his pants as his bladder emptied out.
Rassa scrunched his nose in disgust, though some part of him was pleased by the fear he could induce.
"What were my instructions to you when I told you to look after my docks, Greyson?"
Greyson fell to his knees, his head banging on the floor in a bow, "Please, Mr Moonshadow, Sir, don't kill me! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please!"
Rassa heaved a sigh, then shifted. Greyson was yanked from the floor, his head pulled back so that he met Rassa's eyes.
"Stop blubbering and answer my questions!"
The allure was strong enough that Greyson immediately paused, frozen just like the whores to the side were.
"Now, what did I instruct you to do when I left?" asked Rassa.
"Maintain the docks. Collect rent from any ships that wished to dock and businesses that wished to store their cargo," stated Greyson.
"And what did you do with my money and that which was collected from the rent instead?"
"I hoarded the money for myself. Spent it on wine and whores and gambling. I saw Charm Street doing so well and thought that I should be treated the same too, but they never even glanced at me. The bitch in charge called me a vulgar pig and cast me out. So, I hoarded all of the profits for myself," said Greyson, entranced by the pull of the allure.
"How much money? Besides the initial 200 gold I gave you," Rassa asked.
"The rent collected exceeded 2700 gold over the past three years. Only 300 gold remains in a chest under the bed," Greyson pointed and Rassa felt a deep rumbling growl roll through his chest.
That was 2600 gold he'd lost on this pig.
Greyson may have been under the allure, but he still felt fear, unable to 'blubber' thanks to the allure's order, Greyson's body shook with the emotion.
"How do you suggest you make up for the losses you have caused me, Greyson?" asked Rassa.
"I…I…the whores, you can have the whores".
Rassa sighed, taking a cursory glance over at the two of them, "I'll admit they're pretty. But they're not that pretty. Not worth enough to be 1300 gold each. Think harder, Greyson".
"I…please don't kill me…please…"
Rassa turned to Greyson, "Frankly Greyson, I don't think you're worth that much either. You'd have to taste positively euphoric for me to just drain you and be done. Though I am more than tempted. I have an alternative, one that you won't have a choice but to accept, and you will get to keep your life".
"Of course, Sir. Of course".
Rassa turned to look at his left hand as he took his pointer finger and pierced the tip of his thumb with the claw. His eyes glowed as he pulled the blood from his body, the shadows lifting a piece of disposed parchment from the ground. The three were forced to sit still and watch under the allure as Rassa used the blood to write on the parchment. When he was done, the wound on his finger closed over and he turned the paper to face Greyson.
"This is called a blood contract, to put it simply, once you sign it, to break it is to die a very painful death," said Rassa, "You will work under Talo on The Moon Voyager until you have paid off your debt to me. The cost of your meals, clothing and any other necessities will be deducted from your pay. You will not earn a coin until your debt is repaid. If you happen to die before that, the debt will be passed to your descendants or blood relatives, is that clear?"
Greyson despaired, but nodded his head.
Rassa produced a blade from inside his cloak, "Sign it in blood, then report to Talo for orders".
"Yes, Mr Moonshadow".
Rassa stared down at the two whores.
"I'll be entirely honest, I don't care about your lives. I care even less about your modesty," Rassa stated, "The only way I would enjoy you was if I was drinking from you, and frankly you don't smell all that pleasant after the amount of men who have had you. That being said, I can't just let you go. I may be a Vampire, but having it broadcast won't be great for business just yet".
He met their eyes and pulled on the power of the allure, "You had your fun with Mr Greyson, you woke to find him being punished by Rassa Moonshadow for stealing from him. He was given justice, and Mr Moonshadow sent you on your way with a silver coin each for your troubles".
The girls nodded.
"Get dressed and out," Rassa stated, flicking a silver coin to each of them. They caught them, gathering their clothes before scurrying out of the loft. Rassa sat back in the dining table chair, feeling the rush of wind as Ebony joined him.
"It stinks like sex in here," she stated.
"No doubt," said Rassa, "Greyson enjoyed my coin to the fullest. I'll need to source a new dock master, and staff to rebuild and manage the whole place…I should ask if Will wants the position, he has been competent enough and works well with Talo".
Ebony nodded in agreement before she changed the subject, "Was it blood magic that you used?"
"Yes," Rassa replied, "Now come, I'm sure the others can handle the unloading, it is time we go home".
"Actually, that's what I came to get you for, it seems that home came to us," smiled Ebony.
"I think the red sails stood out a bit much," Ebony commented as Rassa rose to leave the loft.
Rassa scoffed, "Nonsense, they were just right. The perfect mix of boastful and intimidating".
Ebony rolled her eyes.
Iah couldn't boast at having spent much time over at the old docks. But then, nobody did as far as she was aware. They'd been out of use for near a decade when the past 3 owners had been ruined one after the other. The superstitious believed the place to be cursed, haunted or both. Having sailors as the main workers had led to the place being abandoned. There were rumours a while back that somebody had bought it, and certainly those that had to dock there during the festival paid rent to somebody, but nobody had ever been sure who. Considering ships never went there regularly most just dismissed it.
About a year and a half ago, a vulgar man had shown up propositioning Iah for a share of the profits. Had even mentioned that Moonshadow had been the company that bought it, but Iah had no record of the transaction, and frankly was thrilled to see him kicked out and banned from Charm Street.
After all, when you were kicked out of the Moonshadow Company, you had little to no luck anywhere else on the street.
The carriage pulled up just short of where sailors were busy unloading cargo from the ship. Mathias immediately got to work finding the captain as Iah stepped out, taking in the ship for herself.
The Moon Voyager. It was a beautiful ship. The flag that flapped lazily in the breeze displayed the Moonshadow company's symbol, the deep red sails rolled up tight now that the ship was docked.
"I say, do you have any idea of the symbol that you are advertising?" Iah heard Mathias stating as he approached a group of individuals who were standing to the side of the workers. There were several women and a couple of men, all well dressed and holding some kind of authority and power in the way they stood. Iah felt especially intimidated by the woman wearing the fur shawl. She looked rich beyond measure, and she held it brilliantly.
"I believe it is the Moonshadow Company's Symbol, yes?" asked the woman.
"The Moonshadow Company has no ships, we rely on the ships of Apple Star Trading…"
Mathias proceeded on his rant, his audience listening raptly. Iah watched from beside the carriage for a moment before she felt a vaguely familiar presence beside her accompanied by a short breeze.
"It's about time we change that, don't you think?" a deep voice stated from beside her, for her ears only, "I think we've had enough of relying on others".
Iah turned slowly to take in the hooded figure beside her.
He was dressed in all black. Leather pants and boots as well as a long coat that held a deep hood which hid his face from the sunlight. A red vest covered the black cotton shirt he wore, and Iah could only just see the outline of a bracer on his left arm with some kind of stone inlaid. A moonstone she would bet.
He turned to look at her, the deep brown of his eyes not quite the same. They were tinged with red now, a more lethal quality to them. Was this a result of his supposed 'death'? Iah had no doubt she would find out eventually as he gave her a small smile.
"It's good to see you well, Iah".
Iah couldn't help the relief that lifted from her shoulders, and the emotions that clogged her throat. He really was back. He really was alive. Iah shifted forward and wrapped her arms around him. Rassa stood solid despite her throwing her weight into him.
A snort of amusement, "Yes, I never really died…just got lost in a dream that could never be. I'm back now though, if you'll have me".
Iah stepped back, wiping her eyes, "You mean I have a choice?"
"From what I hear, Iah, you've run the place pretty damn well. Certainly beyond my expectations. What? Did you think I would cast you aside when you're clearly worthy of the position?" asked Rassa.
"I…" Iah hesitated, "Well, I didn't now for sure. We didn't know each other long before you left and it has been a long time. For all I knew you'd come back different".
"Oh, I'm certainly different," Rassa smiled as he turned back to Mathias, "But different isn't a bad thing from where I'm standing…who is the old man?"
"Mathias," Iah said, "My assistant".
"I see," Rassa stated, "Is he aware that you're not the owner?"
Iah blushed. Mathias had been pointing her out over his shoulder for the past several minutes.
"Most aren't. Considering your struggle between life and death according to the Tracking Charms I thought it better not to advertise your existence," Iah replied, "Though I have never outright claimed to be the owner of Moonshadow either".
"I see," Rassa smiled, "This should be interesting then".
He crossed his arms before him as another individual strode from the warehouse. This figure wore a deep-set hood as well. Though she wore it attached to a half-jacket over a white cotton shirt and a corset. Rather than a skirt however, she wore breeches that were so tight the outline of her hips and thighs looked practically scandalous. Iah frowned at the newcomer as she stopped in front of Mathias and the group of strangers.
"Come, I believe it will be a good opportunity to find lodgings now, having arrived so early in the morning," stated the woman, and Iah's eyes widened immediately.
The woman turned to look over at Iah and smiled from beneath her hood, "Lovely to see you again, Iah, you're looking well".
"That will not be how you address the head of the Moonshadow Trading Company, she is the Lady Moonshadow, not-"
Ebony stepped forward, right into Mathias' space. Mathias stepped back in surprise, "I think you'll find that the head is standing to Iah's right. My advice would be to stop your tongue wagging before you get yourself fired for insubordination".
Mathias frowned, then turned to look at Iah. Iah stepped forward, Rassa following by her side.
"Mathias, I'd like you to meet Rassa Moonshadow, Founder and Head of the Moonshadow Trading Company. This is Ebony, also a founding member, would you mind calling another couple of carriages for all of our guests and having them and their luggage taken to the fifth building?" asked Iah.
"R…Rassa Moonshadow?" Mathias asked.
Rassa gave a smile, and Iah couldn't help but notice that it looked a whole lot more predatory than she remembered, "Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mathias".