Chapter 1: The Shopkeeper’s Nephew

Our hero proves his worth. Bad news arrives.
“Xeno! Run to the back and check if we have any more spice tins.” A small kobold clambered down from his post on the stool. His green hands placed the items he was stocking back on the shelf in a heap. From the ground, he stood a little higher than the stool -- just under five feet, tall for the kobolds in Chalcis, but short for most races in Aoeth. He adjusted his cap at his manager and glanced at the customer as he scampered past. A pleasant, mild-mannered gnome from the looks of it, not likely to enjoy the heat of the Larian spice. The storeroom of The Demporium was orderly, like a map of Aoeth itself. Goods from nearby Chalcis, like shroomwine or throatfire were arranged near the entrance, and luxuries from across the continent like Larian spice nuts occupied the far wall. As he climbed over the throatfire bottles, Xeno’s eyes watered and his scalp tightened. This batch would sell well. The far wall contained the remaining spoils from Demeter’s last run to Castony: some trinket pewter casts of their great obelisk, a few faded books, expertly dyed, and aha -- ground spices from the trees surrounding their capital, Laria. “Your tin, ma’am -- fresh from the fields of Castony. These five should last you at least a year, and our galangal is especially potent this year. Very good healing properties.” The manager, Kiren, smiled and opened the tin to reveal five neat compartments of blue, purple, green, yellow, and tan powder. “Only eight silvers.” “Galangal is the ginger-looking one? Hm. It always clumps up in my sauce. I can’t do eight.” The gnome looked skeptically at the tin and around the store. Kiren nodded and stroked his whiskered scales, but before he could answer, Xeno cut in. “I like to soak it an hour or so in warm water. It’ll fizz a bit but shouldn’t clump, and the taste becomes deeper too. Oh! And you might want a bag of dragees -- whatever you are spicing, the heat becomes less fiery with the sweetness of a dragee to counteract. The Larian chili nut, this purple stuff here, can really burn your tongue without some balance.” “Huh, I was worried about that. Well young man, you know your way around your hearthstone. I can pay ten for the tin and the bag.” The manager placed a bag of shelled candies on the counter alongside the tin. “Done. He’s over fifty, you should know he’s got a long time ahead of him yet. Come back anytime!” Kiren waved out the gnome, and the Demporium was empty save for him and Xeno. “I have a few white scales. Or at least light green.” Xeno returned to finish stocking the shelves above the stool. “And even Demi would have to admit I did pretty good there.” “That’s Aunt Demeter to you.” Kiren frowned and squinted to hide the sparkle in his eyes.
A group of elder Kobolds strode into the shop. They wore the red robes of the Galleons, and the leader self importantly carried a dyed scroll in front like a shield. “I’ve told you Galleons to stay out of our business. This emporium is aboveboard, and we won’t support your racket.” Kiren moved blocked their advance and waved Xeno away from the elders. “No, we brought something else. Or rather, you’ve bring it to us.” The Galleon leader showed the scroll to Kiren who read the dyed squares on its parchment. “This contract between the offices of the Galleon Market Guild and Demeter of Chalcis….five thousand gold coins...five thousand! What was she funding? collateral the whole of the shop known as The Demporium and its contents...collectable on death?” “Precisely. You will find everything in order: fingerprints, the color signature of Demi, witnesses. The city guard outside. Now, if you please, would you leave my shop.” “Your shop! Pfeh. We’ll see. Demi is going to flip. Xeno, watch these….people. They touch nothing. A short trip to the Point should sort this out. If they try anything while I’m gone, use this.” Kiren fluorished a large scimitar from his belt and pointedly handed it to Xeno. He glared at each elder in turn and stalked out of the shop. Xeno held the scimitar menacingly up, as he had seen in festival theatre. He had always eyed Kiren’s scimitar longingly, but had never before held any weapon with any intent. “Xeno, Xeno, you’re not a warrior. We’re traders here. We will settle this like merchants of honor.” A young kobold emerged from behind the elders, wearing a red white-fringed robe and a toothy sneer. Xeno noticed the white fringe on the robe of his old classmate and once-friend. “Delen, you little lizard. Initiate to master? In the Galleons, after the co-op staked all those runs?” Delen gave a short, satisfied nod. “I’ll be running this place for these upstanding guildmasters. I never liked the name Demporium. Maybe it’ll be Delen’s Deals. Market del Delen. The Royal Delen Exchange. Ha!” “You burned our caravan in Mycoll. You screwed me on that run to Ra. You’re gonna get it.” “You’ll find that I have it already. And Chalcis is in Ra, did you sleep through all the history lessons? The Royal Exchange in Ra have been quite generous with the Galleons, and we have grand plans together.” The elder Galleons, who had been conversing in a low tone, broke apart. The leader waved curtly with his scroll. “That’s enough. You will operate the shop under Galleon regulations as agreed. The Exchange will be using it as a waypoint for their supplies. We will be watching you, Delen. You are no master yet.” Xeno saw Kiren re-entering the shop slowly, whiskers drooping, and color fading from his scales. “It’s true...they’ve got it….they get it all.” “And Aunt Demi?” Xeno asked breathlessly, removing his cap. “Dead. They recovered her body not five miles outside of Tellan. She’s gone.”
Next -- Chapter 2: A Day Out