Chapter 4
      The wiry man seemed to be waiting, so Kal began, “I thought I was going to see Gara.  Who are you?”

     The wiry man spoke back in a thick Moltina accent, words tightly clipped, “That is impossible.  Gara is dead.  If you had business with him, you can take it up with me.”

     “And you are?”

     “Torma.  I am, was, Gara’s brother.”  Torma waved his hand in an encompassing gesture. “I am captain of these tradesmen.”

     Kal nodded and made a noncommittal hrmph, tradesmen indeed.  He tried to process the new information.  Not good.  His entire strategy was, correction, had been, based on his knowledge of Gara.  Bah, when the ship is lost, you don’t hug the mast.  Torma was an unknown quantity, but he did bear a resemblance to his late brother.  That was probably why he seemed familiar.  Did they share personality traits as well?  Gara had been proud and more than fond of money.  Kal could play to both.

     He began slowly.  First play to Torma’s ego, see where that gets you.  “Well, captain,” he glanced around the cavern, putting a look of approval on his face, “seems like you’ve got things under control here.  I’d be happy to deal with you.”  Kal stifled a wince.  He’d overdone it. Torma would smell the obvious flattery.  Instead of the annoyed stare he’d expected, Torma seemed to be suppressing a pleased look, or was that relief?  Was he afraid that Kal wouldn’t deal with him?  Maybe he wasn’t aware of all of his late brother’s affairs and thought Kal was collecting a debt.  Or maybe he just liked having his ego stroked.  So, Torma was either even more proud than his late brother, or he was yet unsure of his command.  Time to press and find Torma’s weak point.  Was it his arrogance, or his insecurity?

     Kal paused.  He needed something he could use to question Torma.  As if by request, there was a heavy thump off to the left.  Kal turned to see a weighty wooden crate fitted with several air holes pushed against the cavern wall.  Another thump and the crate rocked forward.  Lamps on top of the crate wobbled precariously, sending wild shadows across the cave.  Something inside the crate let out a deep, rumbling growl Kal felt in his guts.

     Kal turned back to Torma and raised a skeptical eyebrow. “What in the Many Worlds do you have in there?”

     Torma shot a nervous glance towards the crate but composed himself quickly. “A Dire Githrox.” Torma smirked, but the expression clearly was forced. “It doesn’t seem to like your smell.”

     Kal didn’t have to feign alarm. “A Githrox?!  By Veska’s Tales man, why would you go looking for one of those?  Did you have too many crew members?”

     Torma stiffened. “Not my idea.  Catching that creature was the last thing my brother ever did.”

     “Once you had that beast in a box, you should have tossed it into the Sea of Clouds and done everyone a favor.”

     Torma sneered, but his eyes darted back and forth between his crew members, and he raised his voice to speak, “Don’t tell me my business.  That beast cost a fortune in time, equipment and blood.  We have no choice but to sell it and recoup our losses.  We already have a buyer.”

     Kal listened to Torma’s tone more that his words.  There was definitely a defensive quality to his last statement.  He’d spoken loudly enough for everyone in the cave to hear as though his words were more for his crew’s benefit than Kal’s.  On top of that, the way he’d glanced at his men suggested something.  Yes, Torma was uncertain of his command.  The crew was probably on edge after losing so many men, and Torma had yet to prove himself.  The new captain couldn’t afford any trouble at this point, and he knew it.  Kal thought furiously.  He needed to find a way to threaten Torma, to convince him Obrin would be trouble, enough trouble to topple his shaky authority.  It wasn’t much of a plan, but it would have to do.

     Kal shook his head dismissively. “I suppose that’s your affair, not mine.  Let’s get back to our business.  You have something I want.”

     Torma spread his hands gesturing at the piles of crates about the cavern. “I have many things you might want, Kalrin of the Aleph.  Perhaps I could interest you in some Tormainian charge packs for your weapons?  I believe you bought some from Gara in the past.” He waved a hand towards an intricately etched silver ball. “Or I could offer you this Elindi silver etching. I believe my brother said you have a love of curiosities.  If you have the money to pay, I can provide.”

     Kal glanced towards the ball.  It was temptingly lovely and would look fine on his shelf, however it was undoubtedly stolen and not what he came for.  He pointed towards the prisoners in the back of the room. “I want one of them.”