“In times past, the term Devilfish had been applied to many sea creatures before people learned more of them, including but not limited to Sea Serpents, Krakens, Manta Rays, and many of their smaller ilks. Nowadays, people call them by their proper names, but it did little to diminish the fear their otherworldly appearances might cause regardless.” - Humboldt Costeau, Professor on Aquatic Life at the Levain Institute of Higher Learning.
Captain Bresilas Gtou’rergh of the good ship Kraken’s Bounty did not quite like the attention his humble ship had recently attracted from the imperial authorities, as he thought there were more questions asked than was normal when he came by to trade at the Empire the last time. Many rather pointed questions that wondered how he had such a steady supply of rare items that few merchants were even able to procure.
His suspicions mostly laid on the young space mage he picked up as a passenger on the previous trip to the empire - one who was present when old Ragiula rendez-vouzed with the ship as per usual, and just shortly before he started to notice the extra attention the port authorities seemed to pay to him and his ship - though they never actually did anything out of the line, just more investigative than what he knew to be normal. The mage was under the deck when he met Ragiula, but he knew from experience that space mages tend to be capable of “sensing” things that happened in a certain range around them.
He hoped this most recent trip of his would not prove to be problematic at least. The ship’s cargo holds were loaded with items sourced from either the empire itself, or traded from deeper merfolk settlements - many of which treated Al-Shan as a trade hub due to its proximity compared to the mainlands -, items that were hard to come by in the mainland and thus would fetch a good profit for him and his crew. Of course, a section of the hold was occupied by many barrels of fine dwarven Ale, for old Ragiula, and that space would be exchanged for the various bounties of the deeps she would offer them in return.
For passengers during this trip he also had more than usual, at least two small-time merchants who paid for passage for themselves and their goods, two groups of younger people who seemed to wish to find adventure in the mainland, and what looked to be a rich family on a vacation. At a glance he could tell the old human who led the family to likely be an official - it was obvious from the way the man carried himself -, together with an equally old woman that was likely his spouse, and two younger women with enough family resemblance between them they were likely to be his descendants. The young teenaged boy with them did not look like he was descended from the old man, but for all SIlas knew he might have just taken after his father’s looks or something. They had an old warrior and two younger ones along as guards, and had paid a pretty penny to rent his best rooms for the trip.
The trip was uneventful for the first four days of the journey, and Silas found himself to have grown quite fond of the young teenage boy, who was always around the place asking about everything that puzzled his young mind, usually chaperoned by one of the guards and the youngest of the women. He liked the inquisitive boy quite a bit, and for some reason, something about him reminded him of Cal, who had been a guest aboard his ship just a year prior. Probably the way the boy jumped at unusual merfolk delicacies that usually turned land-dwellers green in the gills with gusto like she did - often to the protest of the old official who was then made to shut up by way of food to the mouth.
It was on the morning of the fifth day of the trip that things went somewhat awry. As was her habit, old Ragiula sent out some “presents” for them before she arrived - in this case a gigantic manta ray easily twenty meters in width from side to side -, which quite naturally scared most of the passengers and made them take cover below decks. All the passengers except the family who just stayed and watched calmly as Silas and his men dispatched of the gigantic creature. They did not even budge when some smaller rays jumped out of the water behind their matriarch, and he saw off the corner of his eye how the old warrior that guarded the family just nonchalantly bisected a two-meter specimen that leaped their way with a single slash of his curved sword.
Neither did the family react much when Ragiula and her brood came up as usual, other than how the old man and his guards tensed notably. They made no move to do anything during his usual trade, however, other how than the boy - escorted by the youngest woman and the old guard - curiously eyed the items Ragiula had brought for trade from the deep seas, and seemed to have adopted some complex thoughts at their sight, his brows furrowed in consideration in an expression that felt out of place on his young, immature features.
Silas was about to say farewell to Ragiula and ask the family to help him keep his little secret, when the boy gave a gesture to the rest, and the old man strode forward to the edge of the deck nearest Ragiula with a sigh. He then gave a formal bow, and formally announced himself to the Kraken as one Halmout Mansoor, prime minister of the Al-Shan Empire, and that he begged her pardon for the interruption. All of which he delivered in perfectly fluent, accentless merfolk language - something Silas did not think many non-merfolk in the world could boast of.
His brows raised in consternation when he saw Halmout extract ten large clay urns as tall as an adult’s waist, all ornately decorated and sealed, and offered them to the kraken as a token of apology and goodwill. A gesture the Kraken then reciprocated with curiosity as she carefully wound one of her tentacles around one of the urns and gently raised it up, the seal removed expertly by another two tentacles. Silas watched as the ancient kraken poured the dark alcoholic liquid - for its aroma very bluntly proclaimed it as such even from this distance - right down its massive gullet, and saw the old thing practically sparkle with joy as shades of bright greens, yellows, and reds danced across its skin.
“Honored lady Ragiula.” Said the boy in a very formal tone, his merfolk language nowhere near as good as the old man’s but still very acceptable. “We land-dwellers from the Empire would like to propose a trade with your honored self. A trade that we believe will benefit both us and your brood.”
Silas sighed as the ancient Kraken gestured to him to tell these newcomers what she said - for they had not the centuries of acquaintanceship and familiarity needed to understand what she wanted said just from her gestures. “Ragiula said she is curious as to what you have in mind, and that she would like to know how you learned of her.” He said in Ragiula’s stead.
“While most would indeed dismiss the idea of a civilized Kraken as a tall tale, my dear captain, when said tale came from one of the most promising of the royal court’s mages it loses much in implausibility.” The boy explained, as he now looked far more mature than his age and features would have suggested. The young inquisitive boy full of curiosity seemed to have suddenly been replaced by a young man who was used to the position of command. “Fear not, though. We will keep your little secret with us, and you are free to continue with your business as usual. We’ll also tell off those port clerks to stop being so nosy.”
“All we would like to suggest to honored Ragiula would be to offer her a place to rest in our waters. If she liked it enough to move her brood there, all the better. In exchange for protection in case foreigners ever threaten our lands, we will offer her the finest of our hospitalities for both her and her brood.” The boy explained. “Would that not be a suggestion that benefits both sides in your opinion, captain?”
Silas had to stop and ponder on the matter for a while even as Ragiula did the same. The offer was indeed quite attractive were he to be honest. The Empire would basically be impervious to naval attacks if it had an ancient Kraken like Ragiula and her brood make their home there, a definitely more than worthwhile exchange for the food and drink the Kraken would likely request in return, and with what he knew of Ragiula’s character - speak of the devil, she just gestured that she felt the proposal was to her liking -, she would likely accept.
Several more exchanges of words and gestures between the two sides sealed the deal, which the old Kraken toasted to with one of the large urns of alcohol offered by the imperials, a gesture they did not need Silas to translate as they distributed mugs, filled it with alcohol, and toasted the Kraken. The imperials clearly came prepared, as they had another hundred large urns and as many large watertight containers filled with delicacies also brought out to give the Kraken a taste of the hospitality they offered. The amount alone meant there must be at least two extremely large storage artifacts among the party to have carried all those, which was somewhat of a mind-boggling prospect when he considered that most smaller kingdoms usually had maybe two of those at most and treated them as national treasures.
“That was quite a fruitful encounter, would you not say so, Captain?” Asked the boy after Ragiula had left cheerfully with all the delicacies plied onto her.
“I would say it was… boy.” Silas admitted, still somewhat thrown off by the whole situation. “Or should I have called you... Your Majesty Xain Haroone, Emperor of the Al-Shan Empire?”
“Just Xain will do, captain. We were never officially here, you see?” The boy-emperor winked at Silas as he said so. “We thank you for your fine hospitality during our stay regardless, and as a little reward, all taxes are exempt for any merchant ship that flies your flags in the Empire.”
“Well bargained and done, boy. Well bargained and done.” Silas said as he shook the young emperor’s hand with a sigh of resignation.
Xain and the rest of the “family” - Silas learned that they were actually Halmout’s actual family, and that the old guard was no less than the empire’s general of the army himself - discreetly left the ship by way of teleportation - apparently they had several smaller boats follow them, each separated by roughly one day’s travel, with Life-Space mages on board, which allowed them to basically travel straight back to the Empire by relay. Only the middle-aged woman who introduced herself as Samira and the two younger guards stayed with the ship as they were on a mission to act as envoys to the city-states.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, the Al-Shan Archipelago had earned itself a mighty protector for what most would deem a ridiculously cheap cost.