338 The Moonshadow Trading Company Short Stories: 2 - The Remnants of Old I
*Eldovian Era, 1713 30th day of the 9th month*
Helena had heard the rumours of course. The rumours that Iah Moonshadow had not always been the face of the Moonshadow Trading Company. That once, when the company had first appeared at the Trader's Festival in 1710, it had been represented by another woman and a young man. But they hadn't been seen since, so she'd been like everyone else in dismissing the rumours.
But then that grand ship had sailed into Port Leis with red sails and the Moonshadow Symbol displayed gloriously in white. Nobody had talked of anything else all day. Any whisper of new information making it's rounds up and down Charm Street like the wind.
"I heard Miss Iah brought two cloaked individuals up to her office, one a man, the other a scandalously dressed woman".
"The old abandoned dock actually belongs to Moonshadow! There were two whores who came back this morning and proclaimed that the dock master had attempted to steal from the owner, a Mr Moonshadow".
The more information she heard, and the more she thought about it, the fewer reasons Helena could come up with to dispute that the actual owner of Moonshadow was someone other than Miss Iah.
Helena had slipped into one of her better gowns, one without ink stains from her quills and pens, and made her way to the Willow's Bend that evening.
The woman whom had arrived with Iah was gorgeous. Golden hair like straw and eyes a mysterious green that practically shone in the night. She was however, wearing a style of dressed that would cause many to talk. The skirt of her dress was still long enough to skim the floor as she walked, but it did not flare out as all fashionable dresses did these days. Instead, it seemed shaped over her hips and fell delicately down to her ankles, scandalously revealing a hidden slit up to her thighs when she walked. She wore thin breeches underneath to hide her bare skin but they only seemed to accentuate her shapely legs. Her bodice was rather similar to the dresses Helena was used to, and when one woman, one of the tailors, was bold enough to ask after the woman, Ebony's, fashion sense, the woman stated quite simply.
"Well I do find your dresses beautiful, but they are awfully hard to move around in, are they not?"
Any scandalous thoughts were instantly dismissed. This woman had chosen a way of dressing that allowed her practicality. Helena could only respect her for it.
They were all at least two drinks in when the elusive Mr Moonshadow had arrived. He wore a black suit with a red vest and scarf, and he wore it magnificently. Helena was sure she had never seen a man so handsome. And young too.
This was the man behind the great Moonshadow Company? It seemed quite unbelievable, but the more he talked and animatedly worked the room, showing interest in all of the businesses and commanding attention and respect everywhere he went, Helena knew it couldn't be false. So, seeing as her father had left her to represent the company at this dinner whilst he left to visit her ill aunt, Helena had found herself in the seat beside Mr Moonshadow four glasses of wine into the night.
Was she tipsy? Of course, but she doubted she would have had the courage to approach such a handsome man otherwise.
So, so handsome.
His skin pale but so smooth, his jawline strong and masculine. He was lean but tall, holding himself with a strength that Helena simply didn't see in businessmen. He stood more like a soldier, but with a casualness that would have made military commanders simmer with rage. The combination was so strange she couldn't put a name to it, but it looked so elegant and ethereal that she couldn't find it in herself to care. His dark hair, almost black, fell down to masterfully frame his face and eyes. It would have been sloppy on anyone else, but on him, with hair so soft it surely would feel like silk, it only added to his beauty. And his eyes. Helena could just melt in them. A strange maroon colour that looked equal parts mysterious, playful and menacing.
He listened attentively as she spouted about her father's business. Even asked questions about the calligraphy she did. He had picked up so easily that she was passionate about it, few men did when she conversed with them. She had such fun conversing with him that by the end of the night, and two more glasses of wine, she leaned in as she said goodbye and released the most sultry whisper she could hope to give.
"I could show you my private collection, if you like…I'll leave the door unlocked".
Oh, if her father were here, he'd surely lock her away for fear she'd gone mad! For sure, she had. She hurried home, half full of anticipation, the other half embarrassment.
She'd entered her apartments above the boutique, jittery with nerves as she lit the lanterns around her apartment and filled the bath for her to wash up. Would he come? Wouldn't he? Should she really go through with this? Would she be able to face him if he didn't come?
Good gods she'd never be able to live it down if he spoke of it.
But something told her he wouldn't. The interest in his eyes had been legitimate. His questions more than just small talk. He'd even smiled, his gorgeous eyes filled with promise after she'd whispered in his ear.
So, Helena decided that if she was really going to do this, then she was going to do it without regrets.
She washed, dressed in her nicest nightwear, brewed a cup of tea, then set up her calligraphy set. She was on the second work when she felt his presence. She looked up, finding him leaning in the doorway.
He had disposed of his jacket and scarf, his vest unbuttoned as he watched her work. He looked all too comfortable and at home in a place he'd never even stepped foot before. This was clearly a man of confidence.
"You know, you really shouldn't leave the door unlocked as a woman on your own, who knows what sort of monster may wonder in?" he mused. She could have sworn his eyes flashed a mysterious red before she placed her calligraphy brush down. He was too confident, calm, and had she mentioned handsome? He had to have done this before. Had to. Still, even with that thought, she couldn't help being honest with him.
"I wasn't sure you'd come".
He circled around her calligraphy desk, so low she sat on the ground to work at it. It didn't seem to bother him as he sat beside her, one long leg partially bent behind her as he reached out and dragged a finger down her face, then her neck, flicking her long brown locks aside.
"Well, it would be rude to refuse a woman who knows what she wants now, wouldn't it?" he asked.
Helena stared back at him, entranced by him, her tongue darting out to lick her lips in anticipation as he leaned closer. His hand left her as she did, only for something soft and wet to delicately touch the back of her hand seconds later.
She glanced down, noticing he held her ink brush.
"What is it you want, Helena? Tell me where the brush should go," he whispered to her.
She'd turned to look at him, surprised by his suggestion, but finding it so personal. That touch, clearly made thanks to their earlier conversations, made her bolder. She slumped out of her covering and reached her bare arm up to rest on his shoulder.
"Down my arm," Helena had said, "Though I'd prefer you to draw with your tongue, I did just wash up".
He had grinned in response, then done exactly as she'd instructed.
Good gods on a mountain top it had felt divine. Whatever he'd done to her. A kiss, a caress…more.
She'd never felt so good in her life, and was sure that he'd felt just as good considering how he had filled her with his manhood, something no other man had done. And right over her calligraphy table too, then in her bed. She'd been thoroughly and passionately rid of her virginity, and mightily satisfied by it.
So, she couldn't help the wave of disappointment that hit her when she woke to find him gone. She felt pitifully weak when she moved, perhaps a little sick. Probably all the wine combined with her adventurous night. She could not find him, but what she did find, on the bed beside her, was a picture of herself sleeping nude. It was drawn with her calligraphy ink and paper, and on it she lay with her back exposed to the elements, the sheets draped precariously over her behind before her legs were exposed to the night air. She looked positively scandalous. In the top corner of the picture, outside of the window, was a crescent moon.
Attached was a simple note; Thank you for a beautiful night, Rassa Moonshadow.
A part of her wanted to feel heartbroken that he'd left, but another part, the part that had dared to invite him the night before, reassured her that even if this was behind them, they would be able to meet amicably as friends in the future.
Helena smiled at the note, then tucked the picture away safely where nobody else would find it and turned to get on with her day.
"I thought you said you couldn't sleep with human women,��� Ebony stated.
Frankly, it was about time. It had been uncomfortably silent in the office for several hours, ever since Rassa had reappeared with dishevelled clothes and hair and smelling of sex.
Rassa sighed, hanging his head. He had been playful about it the night before, but now he thought it would be best that if he ever did such a thing again, he would be quiet about it. He didn't want to combine his prey with pleasure often if he didn't have to. It was both convenient and euphoric at the time, but when it was over, it only served to remind him of his impending eternity of loneliness when he had to erase or alter the poor girl's memories.
"Shadow magic comes in useful," Rassa stated as way of explanation.
"What?" asked Ebony.
Rassa sighed, dropping the papers he was reading to look across the room at her, "If I use the shadows to sheath my manhood then no future problems will arise from the encounter.
Ebony blushed profusely at the image he provoked, "Oh…"
She turned awkwardly back to the papers in front of her. The door opened promptly to bring fresh air back to the stifling silence, and Rassa turned to watch Iah enter with Elsbeth in tow.
"And this is our head office, afternoon Rassa, Ebony," Iah greeted.
"Afternoon," Ebony greeted all too willingly.
Rassa sighed, "I think I'll be leaving for the mines this evening".
Iah paused, "I thought you said you'd be here for a few more days?"
"That was when I thought I needed to handle immediate problems, but you and Mathias have everything in hand, clearly. At least, it is nothing that Ebony cannot take on board," said Rassa, "I'll be withdrawing funds from the bank so I can purchase that land for the workshops. Probably a store or two as well".
"Oh, well of course," Iah stated, "How much will you be taking? Just for my own records".
Rassa thought for a moment, "You said there is roughly 50 million gold in the bank, yes?"
Iah nodded, "When I take away staff payments, maintenance and other production costs out, yes".
"I see…I'll take 20 million with me," said Rassa.
"20 mil…how big of a piece of land are you buying?" asked Ebony.
"Actually, 20 million is an acceptable amount," stated Elsbeth, "I have not been around for some time, but usually land close to any city is a considerable amount, particularly if you want to buy it and not rent it. Near a town or village will be cheaper, but you will likely not have the amenities for your staff nor the appropriate transportation routes".
Iah and Ebony turned to Elsbeth before Iah raised an eyebrow, "I can see why you're to run our Southern Branch".
Rassa smiled, "I'll be back hopefully in a couple of weeks, and remember to have those rooms cleared for me".
"Stay safe," Iah replied, fully accepting that there was no stopping him once he'd made up his mind.
"Wait, Rassa!" called Ebony as she ran after him. Rassa paused in the hallway, "What about me?"
Rassa frowned, "What about you?"
He didn't mean it in a rude way, but Ebony frowned back regardless, "I can barely feed properly, can't I come with you?"
"Ebony, you feed fine. You handled last night wonderfully, barely a drop of blood split. I was quite impressed," Rassa stated, then turned to leave. Ebony caught his arm.
"You were there, watching over me," Ebony replied, "I…I don't know if I can do it on my own".
Rassa sighed, then pulled her hands into his, "Ebony, we both literally have eternity. I am not going to spend mine making sure you eat your meals right, and I'm sure you don't want me there all the time either. This will be a good opportunity for you. Besides, you'll be fine. I have faith in you".
Ebony sighed, bowing her head in defeat when she realised she wouldn't convince him to stay nor to take her with him.
Rassa leaned forward and kissed her forehead, "I'll be back before you know it. You won't even know I was gone".
He smiled and waved to her before he turned and descended the stairs. Ebony watched him leave, hugging herself before she turned to the staff meeting room entrance where Mathias stood. He cleared his throat awkwardly.
"Forgive me, Miss Ebony, I had a report to deliver to Miss Iah but didn't want to interrupt," Mathias stated.
Ebony waved him through, "Go ahead, Mathias, she's inside with Elsbeth".
Mathias passed her, Ebony too stuck in her own worry to take the report from him herself.
The bank manager had been a pain. He fawned over Rassa like a cat to catnip. It was exhausting for Rassa to even pretend to enjoy it. He'd been so relieved when the funds had arrived, he hadn't even bothered to hide the fact that he was storing the money in his shadows. After all, he could hardly be expected to carry all those chests of gold with him. Erasing the memory of it from the manager had been easy enough as he left.
Rassa then made his way to the dock to make sure Talo, Will, Sel and Layton were all okay. Will had taken to his new post as Dock Master quickly, ensuring that he communicated with builders to get the required materials to rebuild the docks so that they were in working order once more. He'd taken the time to plan out a boat building yard while he was at it. Sel and Layton supervised construction, whilst Talo got busy preparing to retrieve any other materials from other islands. Satisfied with their progress, Rassa informed them that if they encountered any troubles over the next few weeks they were free to seek out Iah and Ebony at the Charm Shop, then he summoned his wings and shot up into the sky, climbing as fast as he could so that he could be high enough to appear like a bird rather than the man he was. Once he was satisfied with his altitude, he checked the direction from the Tracking Charm, turned North, and set off.
Ebony watched out of the window of Iah's apartment on the 3rd floor of the Ruin as the sun went down. She and Rassa had had no problems with Iah staying there. She was the only one that was going to be a constant in the shop, besides that fact that she'd treated it like her home for years anyway.
Ebony was staying at one of the many buildings that Iah had renovated and turned into apartments for rent from both business owners and those looking for a home. Rassa had a place there too, in the top floor apartment. Only the best for the head of the Moonshadow Trading Company. Though, he hadn't actually stayed there the night before. He'd played with his dinner at her place.
Ebony chewed on her lip as she thought about it. Would she have to do that one day? Be intimate with somebody whilst feeding from them? Rassa had alluded to the fact that it wasn't a requirement, but Ebony couldn't help but be curious. She had forever now, what was one night to go a little wild?
Besides, with the allure, she'd be able to erase her partner's memories of the encounter and her social status would never take a turn for the worse.
It'd certainly be much more convenient when the power within her fully awakened. She'd asked Rassa plenty of times when that would be after she'd realised she couldn't do many of the things that he could, Rassa had just shrugged in that increasingly annoying nonchalant manner, "It could be months, could be years. It'll happen when you're ready".
That vague answer had only served to frustrate her. Even more so now, as she watched the lamplighters stroll down Charm Street, putting flames in the street lamps for the night hours. If she couldn't erase memories, she'd have to drain her victims lest they talk of their attacks. She'd also have to be careful about how she left the bodies, and where. If she hunted animals it would be better as they couldn't talk, but she'd always had trouble stopping, and Rouke Island only had a limited animal population given the five port cities that bordered it. Unnecessary deaths would be noticed.
Gods almighty, why had Rassa left her on her own? She was so not ready. His faith in her unfounded. She wouldn't be able to do as good a job as he did. Never.
"Ebony?" Iah's voice cut through Ebony's panicked thoughts and her head spun around to look at where Iah had walked into her apartment, "Is there anything you need?"
Ebony smiled, though was positive it didn't reach her eyes, "No, no, just enjoying the view".
Iah smiled back, clearly not knowing Ebony well enough to tell when she was lying. Either that or Ebony had improved in at least that skill set.
"It is very pretty isn't?" Iah said, "I like to watch the lamplighters as well. I'm sure it's harder than it looks to do their job".
"There does seem to be an art to it," Ebony replied, "How is Elsbeth doing?"
"Marvellously," said Iah, "Considering she does not need to learn how to read, she spent much of the afternoon familiarising herself with the business on paper, though I did recommend she speak with the staff and learn in the shop itself over the coming months. If she is to open a Charm Shop on the Southern Continent, I'm sure Rassa would still prefer it to be run like our own here".
"I'm sure," Ebony agreed, "But I'm also sure Rassa tends to pull things out of his hat last minute so you never know".
Iah chuckled, "That's true".
Ebony stood, flicking back her hood as the last of the sun's rays disappeared, her eyes feeling the relief of the darkness.
"You won't stay for dinner?" asked Iah.
Ebony smiled, knowing she was asking only to be polite, "No, I better go. I'll see you tomorrow morning, the meeting to sort out that list is first thing, yes?"
"If you can manage it," Iah replied.
"Of course, see you then," Ebony smiled, waving goodbye as she made her way out of the apartment and down the stairs.
She passed by Mathius on the way.
"Going out, Miss Ebony?" asked Mathius.
"Yes, I'll see you in the morning, Mathius," Ebony replied.
She was warming up to the old man, despite his initial confusion and hostility, he'd taken to the new regime like a champion, adapting quickly and ensuring he attended to her needs as well. He was intelligent and kind, but firm with the staff. Iah had made a good choice in making him her assistant.
"Have a good night, Miss Ebony".
"You too," Ebony waved as she left the Charm Shop and made her way down the street at a leisurely pace. She'd go to the apartments first. Perhaps if she dressed more appropriately for a hunt she'd be able to channel the strength needed to do what Rassa was so confident that she could do.
Yes, that would help.
The Apartment block that Iah had bought and renovated for her, Rassa and other higher ranking members of the company, was located two streets east of Charm Street, the several blocks further away from the Port. The building was quite magnificent, resting on the top of a hill, it was six stories tall and overlooked much of the Cermine District if not Port Leis itself. From Ebony's apartment, she could easily see the Port, the Ruin and the Market Square.
Her apartment rested on the fifth floor, and after some rushed purchasing and moving of furniture, had been completed before she returned from dinner the night before. It took up the southern half of the floor, with two bedrooms, a glorious bathroom, a kitchen - which she doubted she'd ever use - a study and a sitting area. All in all, she was thrilled to have an apartment she called her own when Mathius had given her the key in an envelope the night before. She stopped before the door to her apartment now, 5A painted on the mahogany doors in gold leaf paint. She smiled as she pulled her key from her purse, placing it in the lock and turning it. She turned to look over her shoulder as she stepped inside, the identical doors across from hers, 5B, remained still and silent. She and Rassa had agreed that it would be kept for Aegin, to give to him upon his return. Though at this stage Ebony had to wonder if he would ever return.
She closed her door, pushing the thought aside as she swept through the foyer, hanging up her coat and stepping through the sitting room to the master bedroom she'd claimed as her own the night before. It hadn't taken her long to unpack, given her meagre belongings, and as she took up her black half-jacket and breeches, she couldn't help but remind herself that she needed to take a trip to a seamstress to have more clothes made. After all, she certainly had the coin to do so now. She also had the coin to hire somebody to wash her clothing for her, though it made her feel somewhat uncomfortable. Considering much of her wardrobe got stained with blood one way or another, it was better for her to just wash her own clothes.
Ebony changed, doffing her skirt and corset to allow for easier movement. She tied her long blonde hair up into a neat knot on top of her head, then appraised herself in the mirror. Green eyes, brighter than they'd been when she was human, stared back at her. She could see the fear in them. Unable to hide it from herself.
Ebony sucked in a breath, "You can do this. Rassa thinks you can, so you should too".
Ebony nodded, then turned and headed for the balcony. She stepped out into the cooling night air, letting her senses roam as she scented the air for her prey. So many choices. So many deaths she could cause if she took it a step too far. If she couldn't stop.
Ebony took a step back from the railing.
She berated herself. Of course they'd die. She was drinking the very thing that kept them alive. That kept her alive. If she didn't feed…
"If you don't feed, you'll starve".
"But they'll die".
"Yes, they will. They are mortal. They will die with or without your help".
Rassa. He'd told her that the first time he'd taken her hunting. She'd fed after waking up because she'd watched Aegin do it, she knew she was supposed to. She hadn't stopped like he had though. She'd just kept going. If not for Rassa, telling her to check whether or not she was full, not whether she was satisfied, she would have gone after the human residents of that villa. It had just tasted so good. Human blood always did. Animal blood was a poor substitute, but it did make her feel somewhat better about the deaths. She could ignore the animals because she hadn't sympathised with them before as human. Humans were much, much harder.
She felt their fear when she fed. Rassa had taught her how she could change it, but that had always felt wrong in some way to her. To lie to them about their mortality like that. Rassa had told her the ability was a mercy. Ebony didn't think so. She'd seen enough of the cruelties in this world to know she would never appreciate the cotton wool being dragged over her eyes. When her death came, she would want to see it for what it was.
Convenient? Yes. That was what Vampiric abilities were. But 'convenient' had seemed more and more like a synonym for 'cruel' as she learned and dealt with her new reality.
Rassa seemed to think killing one or two humans along the way wasn't a problem. In fact, he'd seemed adamant that hundreds wouldn't make a difference. Ebony couldn't bring herself to understand it. After all, she had only killed a few, and every death had had an impact on her. How long until it didn't? How long until she stopped caring?
"If you don't feed, you'll starve".
But starving wouldn't happen for some time. Would it? She'd starved as a human before and survived it. Ebony looked out into the night, then placed a hand on her stomach, sensing it was close to full.
"I don't need to go every night," Ebony breathed out in relief, "Just when I'm hungry".
She turned and walked back into her apartment, determined to catch up on some much-needed rest.