The New World, Waterfall Cove, UNEF FOB

Grand Lord Hammerfall set down the emptied pitcher of fermented cococane wine and let out a deep sigh. He sipped his drink moodily as he watched the people of the Un An enjoying themselves inside the canteen and unwillingly recalled such an experience of his own, when his forces landed on the New World.

"By the mountains... Oh how have the tables has turned..." He took another sip of the wine and sighed again. "I am home... yet not home..."

"My Lord," A familiar voice greeted him and Grand Lord Hammerfall saw Lord Copperstone behind holding on a tray of food. "Are you alright?"

"Ahh, Lord Copperstone!" Grand Lord Hammerfall gestured his friend to take a seat. "I have not seen you around for quite some time!"

"My apologies," Lord Copperstone set the tray down and had to use the provided step stool for the shorter races to get up to the seat. "I had been preoccupied of late."

"There is just so much to learn from the Un An!" Lord Copperstone explained. "And I was not sure where to start at first!"

"Did you know there are four main methods of mining?" Lord Copperstone said excitedly. "And there is even such a thing called... Environmental study and the impact of mining on the environment!"

Grand Lord Hammerfall shook his head and cut in before Lord Copperstone could continue. "What do you think of the Un An?"

"What do I think?" Lord Copperstone frowned at the sudden question. "I say they have a lot more knowledge in how the world works compared to us."

"No, what I meant is, do you think they will be a threat to our people?" Grand Lord Hammerfall lowered his voice as he asked. "Either now or the future?"

Lord Copperstone's frown deepened and he too replied back in a lowered voice. "I think if we choose our actions wisely, they could become a great and powerful ally instead..."

Grand Lord Hammerfall nodded. "That was what I am thinking about... But those stubborn old bastards... They might not accept this course of action!"

"Than, my lord..." Lord Copperstone's voice turned deadly serious. "It is your job to make sure we remain as friends and not enemies!"


The New World, Entrance into Waterfall Cove

A strange sight greeted Blake as he stood on the flying bridge of the PT boat. There was a floating contraption anchored just at the side of the entrance into the hidden cove. Several boats and wooden platforms were lashed together like a giant raft and what appeared to be colourful stalls and tents covered every available surface of the makeshift raft.

Smaller boats and canoes were docked next to it and there was a large crowd of people crowded on the giant platform. Blake put down the binoculars in his hands and asked the skipper of the PT boat. "What the hell is that?"

"Sir, that... is a floating market," The Lieutenant in charge of the PT boat replied. "It had popped up a few days back and the locals all flocked over to trade their goods there."

"I know!" Blake frowned as he had read the report earlier about the floating market from Intel.

"Yes, sir," The Navy Lieutenant replied apologetically. "The owner of the floating market has requested an audience with you..."

"Bring us next to the market..." Blake ordered after a while. "Let's take a look at what stuff they have and why they want to see me."

The PT boat motored over and the pilot brought the PT boat to a halt with a gentle bump against the side of the floating market. The people nearby cheerfully reached out to grab the mooring lines tossed over and secured the PT boat and greeted Blake and the crew warmly.

The floating market was big, almost as large as a Terran soccer field and any area that could be used had a simple tent or stall set up. Others just laid out their goods on a piece of cloth, ignoring the hot sun over their heads. There were many people, most of the local villagers that took days to paddle over to peddle their wares, others were traders from afar that seemed to be naturally attracted over.

"How the hell do these people know there is even a market here?" Blake's frown deepened. "And where did they all come from?"

The Lieutenant and the guards accompanying Blake could only shrug as they too had no idea where all these people came from. Wares of all sorts were out on display, from dried seafood to fresh butchered game, to even metal tools. There was even someone trying to sell some kind of sheep looking like livestock at another corner.

Suddenly the crowd parted before Blake and a group of Beastmen appeared. A gaudy dressed Beastmen, his face covered with grey white fur and sporting a pair of rabbit like ears gave a bow to Blake and introduced himself. "Greetings and welcome, my Lord!"

"This lowly one am called, Ait," The rabbit man bowed again. "You must be Great Lord Blake of the giant steamship and the scourge of pirates!"

"Ait give many thanks to Great Lord!" The rabbit man called Ait said. "Pirates want Ait's goods for free!"

"Now no more pirates!" Ait smiled, showing off a row of sharp teeth. "Ait can do business!"

"Erm... okay..." Blake replied uncertainly as he eyed the rabbit man's teeth. "But why here?"

"Here very safe!" Ait gestured around. "Great Lord scourge of pirates! No pirates dare come make trouble to Ait! Many people come for trade and business!"

"Oh Oh!" The rabbit man suddenly called out and he gestured to one of his lackeys behind. The lackey nodded and disappeared into one of the colourful tents while the rabbit man gestured Blake to an open tent. "Come come! Great lord! Ait treat you drink and food!"

Blake hesitated for a moment before he nodded and followed the rabbit man into an opened tent with all its sides rolled up. A rich and thick locally woven carpet covered the floor and a low table was placed in the middle. Cushions covered the floor and the table was filled with silverware mixed with either gold or bronze ware, as Blake couldn't tell the difference.

As Blake sat down on one of the offered cushions, a group of female Beastman came in, each carrying a platter. Blake observed each person that entered closely and noticed most of them had rabbit ears and fur on their faces. There were a couple of the lackeys that had round ears poking out from their shaggy hair and he wondered what kind of beastman were they.

The only Beastman he saw was Kaga and Takao who were both cat people and the occasional dog person at City Hall. The beastman in the New World was a relatively small race and with the capture and destruction of their city, many were killed and those captured were mostly sold off as slaves, making their already small numbers, smaller.

"Eat! Drink! Enjoy!" Ait clapped his hands or paws and the female beastmen started dancing as music started playing from somewhere. Blake nodded politely and accepted a few pieces of sweet meat, fish and fruits on the platters.

"How did you know about us?" Blake asked in between mouthfuls. The taste of the food was interesting and not too bad for his tastebuds. "How do news travel around here?"

"Oh, many people talk of Great Lord's coming!" Ait said, his teeth rapidly shredding the piece of fruit in his mouth. "When Great Lord defeated the pirates, those you saved spread the world and Ait hears things!"

As he said that, his ears twitched. "And Ait can hear a good business from far far away!"

The earlier lackey returned and set a small chest down on the table facing towards Blake. The rabbit man excitedly rubbed his hand paws and gestured for Blake to open. "Open and see! Tribute and payment for the Great Lord!"

Blake curiously unlatched the chest and opened it. The glitter of mana stone was bright inside the tent and for a moment Blake was surprised as he looked at the gift. "Mana stones?"

"Magic crystals!" Ait proudly gestured. "Payment and gift to Great Lord! For protection and business!"

Blake picked up one of the tiny grain sized mana stones and shook his head. For a moment, he wanted to laugh but with respect to his host, he forced the urge down. In the end, a chuckle still escape his mouth as he shook his head and closed the chest. He pushed the chest of mana stones or magic crystals as they were known here back to the rabbit man.

"No, I do not need these..." Blake said.

Everyone inside the tent except for Blake and his men were shocked as they saw him reject the chest of magic crystals. The value of the magic crystals in the chest could buy an entire airship or feed thousands of people! Ait's eyes were wide with surprise as he stared at Blake, "Great Lord... unhappy with... gift? Is gift... not enough?"

"No, no," Blake quickly assured the rabbit man. "These might be valuable to you, but to me, it is not what I want!"

"Oh..." The rabbit man let out a sigh of relief. "Ait thought Great Lord displeased with gift! Ait see Great Lord is people with a goal!"

"Tell me what Great Lord wishes for payment and gift for allowing Ait's market to keep business here?" The rabbit man gestured for the chest of magic crystals to be kept away. "Ait do best to meet Great Lord's expectations!"

Blake frowned in thought before he said, "You do have trading connections right?"

Ait's ears bounced up and down as he nodded. "Ait has many trading friends! Know many people!"

"I want information regarding the region," Blake said. "And... I want to trade for resources!"

"Information?" The rabbit man frowned before he said. "There was another Lord who came to ask for information and he offered me some trade for it."

"Ahh, then never mind about the information," Blake replied as he could guess who had done so. "I want resources! Food, metal... and aetherium!"

"Food and metal are easy!" Ait proudly said before he deflated a bit. "But aetherium... is expensive!"

"Ait can get aetherium! But..." The rabbit man had a sly look on his face as he tried to look dejected.

"For aetherium, we will trade at market prices for it!" Blake said shaking his head.

"Ait no accept barter for aetherium!" Ait quickly added slyly. "Ait can barter for food and metal but not aetherium! Must pay in gold!"

"How about payment in magic crystals?" Blake asked as he gestured to his men. One of Blake guards dug into his ammo pouches and handed over a small cloth pouch.

"Ohh! Of course!" Ait replied cheerfully. "Magic crystals, gold or silver!"

"Will these do?" Blake asked as he poured out the contents of the pouch onto the table.

The pebble sized mana stones rolled out and once again, the people other than Blake and his men were shocked. Each magic crystal was at least ten to twenty times larger than what Ait had attempted to gift Blake and the soft glow and clarity were higher too which meant the magic crystals so causally poured out were of top quality too. Each magic crystal here was more than enough to feed an entire family for a year!

"Ah... uh... ah..." Ait's mouth filled with sharp teeth was opening and closing in shock as he stared dumbly at the magic crystals. It took him a moment before he regained his wits and picked up one of the magic crystals that was larger than his thumb. "This...!"

"So, do we have a deal?" Blake asked as he picked up his plate again and started eating.

"Of course! Of course!" Ait bobbed his head up and down as he appraised the magic crystal in his hand paws. "How... How much aetherium Great Lord wants?"

"As many as you can get your hands on..." Blake said in between mouthfuls. "I shall take them all!"

A note from neo Koh

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