Day of the Merchant
By Ultimoo

The merchant's rotund frame bustled along the plains of Endor. The nation of Endor had been home to the merchant all his life. Only until recently though was his home destination the capitol of Endor itself. The merchant's only downtrodding now was the drunken feeling of glory that an average merchant would only dream of. It was several years ago, that the merchant resided only in a small lake town, working subsidiary to a strict superior. Not only now was the merchant superior to his former employer, he was the undisputed master of merchants.

* * *

"It all comes with the package I guess," the merchant explained to his wife, Neta, as he violently scarfed down some chicken, "taking part in the salvation of the whole realm of Tenku, destroying the ruler of evil." The taste of battle was still in his mouth.

"Did you find anything we could put up for sale Taloon?," the merchant's wife asked him. His wife's only concern was her husband's return to normal merchanthood.

"No, I'm sure that everything I have acquired is priceless," Taloon replied.

"Papa!," Taloon's son emerged from his small cellar bedroom, greeting his father in the street outside their home. Taloon swiftly scooped up his swaddling son and proceeded to toss him about into the air above him.

"Do I have some stories for you, my boy," Taloon's first words to his son since returning from the most noble quest his world had ever seen. His young son gently landed, tucked between his father's massive arms and quivering girth. It had only been a mere hour at most that the legendary Hero saw him off to his family for what was perhaps the last time.

"Did your dreams come true Papa?," Taloon's wide-eyed son asked as his father ducked into the large alcove that was his Endor home.

"My dreams are the same, my son. To have the most prosperous equipment shop in the world," Taloon replied, watering down the complexity of his ultimate goal. It was time to return to the normal daily chores of being a great successful merchant. He grew accustomed to his old way of life just as quickly as he had to leave it.

* * *

The clouds....the sky....the people.....the castle. The Tenku capitol of Zenithia was the most wondrous place the humble merchant had ever been. 'What a place that would have been to open up a shop,' he thought to himself as he nestled into his bed, 'so high in the sky....' A new day would begin, and the merchant would once again resume the humble life from which he came, all an adventure in itself.

"Wake up dear!," Neta shook her husband.

"Morning? Already??," Taloon always felt like he needed more rest. But perhaps this time his feelings were legit, coming off from the greatest achievement imaginable to one of his craft.

"Papa, some funny-looking people are here to see you!!," his son leaped off the bedpost, bouncing off his father's gut onto the floor. Taloon proceeded to literally roll out of bed, running his rather large hands through his shaggy mop of hair.

"Neta, where are my clothes?," Taloon grumbled rising slowly as he knitted his brow.

"Right here dear!," the merchant's wife handed him a portion of his finely pressed wardrobe. Of course, Taloon's wardrobe was not the traditional green and brown the merchants were known for. Taloon's idea of tradition was pinstriped pajamas!

* * *

"Where's that portly peddler?," a hulking soldier-type bellowed gleefully as he ducked into Taloon's home.

"Ragnar?," the merchant's newfound companion from his already legendary adventure appeared to be paying a visit.

"I don't suppose you missed me?," Ragnar, captain of the Burland royal soldiers joked.

"What brings you to my humble shop so soon?," Taloon asked.

"You only babbled on about it through the entire journey!!," Ragnar explained. "And you call this humble?! I haven't seen a commercial establishment this great since Hector's Inn in Mintos!"

"Ah, thank you my friend," Taloon responded warmly, tweaking at his robust mustache, "I suppose you've come for a discount?"

"Close," chuckled Ragnar, "a reunion from our adventure is long overdue."

"Overdue?!," Taloon's family watched their husband's intensifying social exchange. "I just got home last night! You must have arrived at Burland hours later! I don't think Hero's going to like the idea of us showing up a day after he went through the effort of flying the balloon all over the world, returning us safely to our homes." Silence ensued, followed by a humorous staredown.

"Go ahead run along with your friend dear!," Neta broke the silence, sounding like she was talking to her son rather than her heroic husband.

"As a royal soldier, I order you to accompany me!," Ragnar drew his sword and continued to laugh heartily.

"Uh oh, I better go with him Neta!," Taloon joked as he accompanied his friend to the outskirts of Endor Capitol.

* * *

Fingering the merchant (and his own) weapon of choice, the Abacus of Virtue, Taloon grew pensive as a familiar band of warriors relaxed alongside him, in what was then the world-famous balloon that carried them to glory only days earlier.

"Got anymore of that chicken?," a sleepy Ragnar elbow-nudged his merchant companion, just as he was dozing off himself.

"When do you think we'll get to....hey what's his place called anyway?," Taloon inquired Ragnar about their destination.

"You know how the story goes," Ragnar replied munching at a leg, "Hero told it almost as much as told us about your weapons shop."

"He never told us about the name of his town," Taloon said, his mind still in distant and in higher places.

"What does it matter anyway, we know where it is," Ragnar put the argument to rest.
The balloon proceeded to collide into a high-placed brush. The merchant grew nervous as usual and hurried to the hull, abandoning a now snoozing Ragnar.

"Must we battle?," Taloon asked feverishly. The merchant was notorious for being followed constantly by teams of monsters. One would have thought he would have some sort of complex by now. Indeed, he did. Taloon was always ready though.

"No," the chancellor of Santeem, Cristo replied. "We just need a safe landing, we must be near Hero's home. The highest elevations in the world surround the village, second only to the range bordering of Elfville," Cristo explained.

"Ahh," Taloon calmed himself as the balloon descended. He strolled back into the cabin to retrieve the sleeping soldier. A swift kick to the shin did the trick.

"Ooch!," the soldier arose, grumbling and looking about. The merchant scrambled back to the hull and descended into the wilderness that surrounded the legendary Hero's home. All seven adventurers; the soldier, the princess, the chancellor, the wizard, the oracle, the dancer, and of course the merchant; all made there way through the brush into the mountain passage. The passage would lead to the ruined village that the hero called his home.

"Are there any monsters following us?," Taloon asked his comrades.

"I doubt a monster in the world is fearless enough to approach us now," Ragnar assured.

"Oh man, I don't like the looks of this," said the nervous merchant, a thick fog gripping the forest. It was the wet earthy atmosphere one would find on the morning after a thunderstorm. Thick, dripping foliage against a gray sky.

"I see the wreckage in the distance," Brey, the wizard mentioned.

"Wreckage?!," Taloon only grew more nervous. And who could blame him.

"Boo!," Ragnar's husky voice boomed through the crisp air, immediately getting the attention of a young man in the distance.

"Oh no....," said the young man sarcastically. He was a bit busy at the time of this visit. Their prescence broke the embrace the young man had held with an old friend. The only other survivor of the mountain-town holocaust just over a year ago. His childhood friend Ceilia.

"Miss us?," Princess Alena of Santeem asked the hero.

"Barely, I saw you all off yesterday, don't you think it's a little early for a reunion?," the young man, who of course was Hero joked. The merchant wasn't there at all. His head was once again in his Endor shop. Always thinking of his family. Even despite the fact, that now, the most noble and heroic band of adventurers in the world were reflecting upon their adventures.

"I got it!," Taloon exclaimed in the middle of one of Ragnar's Burland adventure tales. The entire group of warriors redirected their attention to the interruptive merchant. The merchant collected himself, not intending for his comrades to hear his idea. All eyes were on Taloon as he fell silent.

"Do you have things to do at home?," the Hero asked.

"Yeah, I guess he's the only one who still has something to do in the world!," Ragnar smiled.

"Farewell for now, my friends," the merchant took his leave, shaking the hand once again of Hero. He felt guilty about leaving with such hasty abandon as he trekked off into the wilderness. Taloon had no fear, though. When it was his family that he felt obligation to, encountering danger was only a secondary train of thought.

The merchant trekked through the mountain passage to the plains of Branca country. The fog only grew thicker and worried Taloon slightly. A rumbling can be heard in the distance. Taloon's only company were his frequent and various thoughts.

"Garb beneez!!," a massive Leonar emerged from the fog. One of the most fearsome beasts in all the realm of Tenku. A bipedal lion with four arms, a stoning stare, and a grotesque grimace full of razor-sharp teeth, all flanked by a robust accursed black mane.

"Gyahh!!," Taloon was of course frightened out of his pajamas. Always intelligent and clever though, was the merchant. He hurled his immense weight towards the beast, knowing that it would respond with a shoulder charge. Taloon crashed to the ground as he had planned.

"Ful nyarb!!," the Leonar bellowed as he leaped into the air for a final deathblow. Taloon of course knew this before hand.

"Bubbola!," Taloon mocked the Leonar, thrusting a weapon towards the airborne beast.
The hilt of the long sword penetrated the ground with ease due to the Leonar's immense weight descending so swiftly upon it. The threatening beast was dead on impact, not even a cry of pain was quick enough to escape the horrid creature. The pupilless eyes still stared at the quivering merchant, who was still just catching his breath.

"I could tell just from the result exactly how you did it," a tall soldier, looking remarkably like Ragnar subtract the mustache, approached Taloon. The merchant squinted into the fog.

"Strom!," Taloon recognized the Endor mercenary immediately.

"Need help carrying this Leonar back to the shop?," Strom asked. "I'm sure it would fetch a high price!"

"Hmm," the merchant was tempted, stroking his mustache in his pondering. Taloon reached into his pouch and extracted a 500G gold piece, tossing it to Strom.

"Thank you sir," Strom replied, slumping the massive beast over his shoulder.

"How's business?," Taloon asked the mercenary.

Strom explained, "I've gone from mercenary to wandering mercenary. My skills in battle have improved immensely while training in the Collosseum. And since the wild beasts are no longer instilled with that evil drive you and your comrades destroyed, the countryside is mine to roam."

"Sounds lucrative," the merchant's only response.

"You've traveled the world over, Taloon....ever seen anything like this fog?," Strom asked.

"Can't say I have," Taloon replied, a chill in his voice.

"How about this massive cave, ever see this?," Strom observed the massive cavern mouth several yards from the Endor-bound travelers.

"Can't say I--yahh!!," Taloon grew frightened at the sight of the mysterious cave.

"Looks like you haven't charted everything, old friend. Let's check it out," Strom decided, bravely trekking towards the cavern opening, rusty blade in hand. The Leonar fell from his shoulder, landing with a resounding thud. Taloon just stood there, still amazed at the looming work of nature. He contemplated whether or not he should accompany his friend into the danger, or continue his journey home. He recalled the battles Strom had fought alongside of him in his early quests for prosperity. Then again,
even then, it was all for the small fee of 400G.

"Wait, Strom!," Taloon tugged along towards the cave, overflowing sack of merchandise in hand, sure of his decision.

* * *

"Smell that stench!," Taloon exclaimed, getting the attention of Strom who was in the distance.

"Smells like Ork," Strom concluded. Orks were a common creature plaguing the Branca country landscape. But perhaps this cavern was something other to behold.

"Ork it is," Taloon noticed one of the small verminous humanoids clawing at some meat in the distance.

"Let us not bother it," Strom added, "we know what we're here for." Taloon recalled upon his dungeon-crawling days with Strom, and Laurent. Laurent was a mercenary of another kind. A magician of sorts. The purpose of all three economic workers was always, well...economic prosperity.

"Your lust for treasure never fails to amaze me," Taloon said to the mercenary.

"And of yourself," Strom replied briskly, "you said that your ultimate goal was economic prosperity."

"Prosperity is not just riches," Taloon explained firmly, "it is the appreciation of riches, and what happiness riches will bring you. That includes family, commerce, etcetera. That is why I follow you into this dark dungeon."

"I never looked at that way," Strom concurred. "Anyway, all these dungeons are alike. You just have to get used to--" A massive rumbling could be heard in the distance.

"Sounds like a b-b-boulder!!," Taloon quivered.

"I think we better high-tail it," Strom suggested, nervous himself. The two ran for the exit. Too bad the exit was now non-existant.

"Nyaaahhh!!," Taloon exclaimed, petrified. He peered through an opening in the wall. He could see the other side of where the exit had been, the Leonar carcass rotting at the entrance.

"Oh man, I don't like the looks of this," said Strom, trying to keep his cool. It was times like these that Taloon wished that the captain of the Burland royal soldiers was adventuring beside him. He would know what to do. He was probably chugging some ale guffawing along with the Hero. Taloon cursed himself, regretting he ever left the safety of his brave companions.

"I think the rumbling's stopped," Taloon inferred, still somewhat frightened.

"That's because...." Strom pointed across the meagerly thin stream to band of angry Orks.

"Gooble gahh!!," the primitive language of the Orks articulated the air.

"Gooble gahh no!," Taloon tried to reason with the uncivilized humanoids.

"I think 'Gooble gahh' means kill, and 'Gooble gahh no' means kill you," Strom had become familiar with the language of the Orks. That of course was in addition to the languages of the other beasts one would encounter, having taken upon the occupation of a traveling mercenary.

"Great," Taloon reached for his sack of weapons. It was time for those old merchant battle tactics that had saved his comrades so many times in the quest for the fate of the realm, which only concluded a mere two days ago.

"Hey, you think I could use that?," Strom eyed the legendary metal babble sword, tossing his rusty broad sword aside. One of a kind, it was. A priceless item, yielding power that was beyond priceless.

"I don't think you really can use--" Taloon objected to the use of one of his greatest finds during his legendary quest. Too late.

"Kyaahhh!!," Strom wielded the metal babble sword with blinding speed and accuracy. The Orks were promptly mowed down. Taloon was amazed. He was almost as half as powerful as Ragnar wielding the blade.

"May I have my weapon back?," Taloon's impulse reaction.

"I just might have saved your life, and you're begging for your weapon?," Strom was a bit disappointed.

"Maybe this will cool you off," Taloon handed him another 500G from a massive pouch full of gold pieces.

"Very well," Strom flicked the coin in the air, snatched it, and tucked it away. A mercenary is always tamed by the almighty gold piece. 'I guess it's part of his job,' Taloon thought to himself as they trekked across the stream in search of an entrance.

"At least we don't need a boat," Taloon's attempt to console the seething, tired warrior.

"Let's just find a way out of here okay," Strom was always a man of business. Perhaps even too much so for Taloon himself. The most successful arms merchant in the world.
Little did he know just how much more success the inner sanctums of this dungeon would yield.

"I can't take this stench much longer," Taloon implied calmly.

"All the more a reason to hurry along," Strom replied coldly. With that remark Taloon had a fearful premonition about Strom. Suddenly the merchant really wanted to get back to his family.

"Wait," Taloon suggested, "check that switch."

"Why, so another boulder can roll at us out of nowhere?," Strom asked sarcastically.
"I think you enjoy running around in dungeons." Strom tripped the switch. The floor almost instantaneously caved, as the mercenary plunged into the abyss.

"Strom!," Taloon was dangling by a dagger. Literally, a dagger was hanging out of his enormous weapons pack, which was suspending Taloon above the gaping cavity. The merchant recalled upon a new type of weapon he discovered in the markets of Elfville, the mythical, isolated town of the east. It was a type of grappling hook. Even capable of hoisting a plump frightened merchant to safety.

* * *

The path narrowed, a gleam in the distance was Taloon's only guide as fatigue set in.
"Strom!!," Taloon still had faith that the mercenary was trekking about somewhere in the dungeon. And indeed he was...or was he? Taloon stepped on another switch, a boulder began to roll along above him towards another chasm that existed directly above his head. The merchant dodged forward.

"Taloon!," a familiar voice called from the distance.

"Strom, I think we're really in for it now!," Taloon exclaimed.

"You really are Taloon," the silhouette of Strom leaped forward with a crushing blow to the humble merchant's ample breadbasket. Little did Strom know just how much bread was in that basket.

"Oof!," Taloon took the blow strongly and immediately unsheathed his Abacus of Virtue.
Despite his simple and humble ways of thinking, Taloon was never a man to be deterred by confusion.

"Now, you will have nothing more to fear merchant," Strom bellowed, "ever!!!!" Taloon
remembered Strom's weakness easily as he ducked and blocked the fierce blows from the mercenary's broad sword. So many nights at the Endor Inn would Taloon cure Strom's insomnia with a lullaby. Just one of the many skills the humble merchant from a backwater lake town would possess.

"Laaaalaaaaa.....," Taloon concentrated on the song, still deflecting harm in his subconcious.

'He should be out by now,' Taloon thought to himself. Perhaps the fury of battle enabled the mercenary to ignore the song. Or maybe it just made absolutely no sense that Strom would desire the jolly merchant's demise. Strom loved Taloon's family, and that's where Taloon realized that something had happened to the real Strom. He also realized that a merchant fighting an angry mercenary would prove futile.

"Why do you fight me, merchant?!," Strom boomed again.

"Why don't you call me by name," Taloon suggested, locked in a stalemate position, "I'm much more than a humble merchant."

"Just vanish!," 'Strom' commanded. Taloon was fevered and defeated.

"No one lives through the ruler of evil and meets his end to a filthy soldier!!," Taloon cursed the mercenary. Just then 'Strom' concluded his assault, mid-strike before grazing Taloon with his sword. Poor eyesight disabled the humble merchant from recognizing the dragon killer implanted through the torso of his opponent.

"Filthy?," who else but Ragnar pulled the dragon killer from Taloon's foe, never in a foul mood, "I take one bath per week!"

"Ragnar!!," Taloon exclaimed. He leapt up, shoved the carcass of his opponent out of obstruction, and stuck a firm handshake to the one he could clearly call his best friend.

"May I ask what in the hell you were doing in here?," Ragnar asked the merchant as they trekked towards a newfound exit.

"What else does a merchant do in dungeons?," Taloon replied cheerfully. The two laughed and chuckled as they made their way out into the fog. Another silhouette made it's way into the merchant's view. "Aww, who is it now?," Taloon asked.

"You ditched me you fat babble!," Strom rushed at the merchant, immediately taking his left side. "Who's this guy? And how much are you paying him?," Strom interrogated the merchant about Ragnar.

"Hey, I guess I owe you for making you step on that switch," said Taloon.

"Yes, I stepped on the switch, and plummeted into this tight glass container, filled with cascade water. Luckily my lean frame and muscular physique enabled an easy escape!," Strom gloated as Ragnar looked onward, deep in thought.

"Here's 1000G," Taloon handed the sum over to the mercenary.

"I'm glad I have what's called a salary!," Ragnar exclaimed. "My money comes from the king of Burland."

"Burland?," Strom remarked, "Never been there."

"Good tyrannosaur country this time of year," Ragnar replied as the bridges forked. One lead to Endor, the other to the country of Santeem, which was east of Ragnar's native Burland.

"Any job openings in Burland, soldier?," Strom inquired further.

"That's captain soldier," Ragnar spoke sharply, "and I'll definitely see what I can do."

"Will you be accompanying Ragnar to his homeland, Strom?," Taloon cut in with a question.

"I suppose so," Strom implied, "I am after all a wandering mercenary. Perhaps Burland will prove to be a good foothold for my services!"

"Very well then," said Ragnar, "farewell for now, Taloon, I'll be sure to drop by the shop once in a while."

"So long Ragnar, and thanks again," Taloon returned warmly. "So long Strom."

"Later, merchant," Strom followed Ragnar along into the distance. Taloon did not cross the bridge to his native land until the two soldiers were out of sight.

"Hum hum, hum hum," Taloon hummed a tune which he could all his own as he overlooked the waters of Endor. The royal crypt could be seen in the distance, its dark and musty interior could be told just by the fearsome appearance of the exterior. Once again, a large ominous structure could be seen in the distance. Taloon sighed in relief at the sight of the castle which he called his home.

* * *

"Taloon!," Neta greeted the tired merchant as he returned to a strikingly larger shop.

"How did this happen?," Taloon looked over the enormous structure, and observed the expansion that had taken place on his home and workplace in his absence.

"A soldier had informed the royal advisors of your deeds in some....dungeon that seemingly popped up out of nowhere," Neta explained in a confused tone.

"Really?!," Taloon was overjoyed. He was quite sure that it was Strom who had escaped the dungeon before him and informed the royal advisors before returning to the dungeon upon Taloon's exit with Ragnar.

"Yes, the advisor also said that a dungeon control program has been established for this strange phenomenon. The Endor government yields riches and other benefits," Neta proceeded gesturing to the new shop expansion, "to those who do work in reaping the numerous caverns."

"This is....maybe I should be off to another dungeon, in a more foreign land," Taloon was once again yearning for adventure.

"Relax dear," Neta suggested curiously, "and tell me how you ran into a dungeon instead of meeting with your friends."

"Oh okay then," Taloon waddled with his wife into his yet newer home. He could not help but realize that after his original quest for prosperity, and the salvation of his world, he finally had found an consistent adventure that would make his dreams complete. It was a day Taloon would look upon happily for the rest of his life. It was definitely the day of the merchant.

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