Episode 20: Class-A stock

Once the portal had vanished, the crowd surged closer to the newly-arrived wagon. Even the previously uninterested bystanders seemed eager to learn what it held. Arthur had disappeared, so Isabelle joined the crowd next to the wagon, as did Percy and Orlaith.

The trader who had opened the gate returned around the end of the wagon. He motioned for the crowd to join him, and the mass shifted towards him even as he enforced a ten-foot clearance from the wagon. When all was prepared, he whistled.

The shutters above the wagon's tailgate were slammed open by huge black hands with gold cuffs, likely those of the driver. The tailgate was likewise kicked open, unfolding to form a ramp. The interior of the wagon was as black as fine velvet.

"And now," called out the merchant, "a selected, limited release of T.P., M.M., and G.C. Incorporated's class-A stock."

There were great cheers at this pronouncement.

"Joseph, will you bring forth item number two-forty-one?"

After moment, the driver emerged from the wagon. His bare feet slammed into the metal-backed ramp, drawing attention to the thin gold bonds around his ankles. Over his shoulder was a small ballista. He got to the bottom of the ramp and set up the weapon, then stood back as his skin shaded from pitch black to a slightly mottled grey.

"We have here the famed ballista 'Thousand-Killer.' It's said that, when fired battle, it guarantees its side a thousand kills. That's limited by the number of enemy left, obviously, and no-one's ever confirmed the rumor, so we'll start the bidding at five-thousand before discounts, deals, fees, and surcharges. Do I hear five-thousand?"

A few hands went up.

"Got five. Six, anyone?"

There was a brief muttering amongst the crowd before a short figure of some sort emerged. It was three feet tall or so, humanoid, and bundled up so tightly in fur-trimmed leather that nothing more could be seen. Even the gap between its high leather collar and low helmet, a gap that exposed only it's eyes, was covered by a thick, black veil. The figure looked up at the trader. "Six."

"Got six; any seven?"

One of the first bidders raised his hand again.

"Seven up. Eight?" He looked back at the creature (or whatever it was).

The figure opened its mouth, but it was interrupted by the arrival of another. This one had dark green-red skin and was wearing only leather shoes and a hide loincloth. "Eight!" his voice crackled.

Before the trader could react, a voice in the back of the crowd thundered "TEN!!!" at a truly Stentorian volume. The sound-stunned crowd moved aside to reveal a third of these strange beings. He was a foot taller than the others, had light yellow-green skin, and wore steel-soled boots, leather briefs, and a steel helmet.

The trader started at the shout but quickly regained his composure.

"Going once? Going twice?"

"Eight," the bundled figure stated with icy determination. "Our bid is eight; I hold the purse-strings."

The trader sighed, rolled his eyes, and continued the bidding. "The triplets bid eight; do I hear nine?" He looked at the rival bidder, who shook his head. "Sold to the triplets for eight-thousand! Now if you'll just see my associate over there about payment . . ." He pointed off to the side where another trader stood waiting.

The bundled figure nodded and went over to the ballista. Reaching out with his left hand, he picked up the six-foot-long weapon and flipped it over so that it rested on his shoulder. He marched off towards the second trader as his brothers raced ahead of him.

"Joseph, bring out item two-thirty-six!" He paused while Joseph did just that. Item two-thirty-six turned out to be a solid-steel crossbow with an odd-looking grip on the underframe. "Solid-steel pump-action crossbow; fires solid-steel bolts, ten of which are included in the purchase price. Two-hundred-pound draw. Do I hear one-thousand?"

Only one person, a tall man with an eyepatch over his left eye, bid.

"Sold for one-thousand to the man with the eyepatch! Please see my associate for ammo details." He waved the customer in the direction of the second trader and continued with the auction. "Joseph, may we have three-thirty-six?"

Joseph complied, bringing out a long, dark-lacquered piece of wood similar to a walking stick or Silent Thunder's unusual sword. It was bound with fine red cord in a number of decorative or possibly mystical designs.

"Sorry, folks, but this one's already reserved." The trader set it aside.

The auction continued like this for most of the afternoon. Magical, famous, or otherwise special armor and weapons were brought out of the wagon and sold or leased to the townspeople. Isabelle didn't buy anything. When it was over, Arthur stopped by to tell her that she should meet with the other adventurers at the town hall.