Senchal had become a popular trading post with foreigners, particularly Imperial traders en route to or from the Imperial City. The staunch Argonians often came over Topal Bay in their Black Marsh skiffs to trade fresh game, botanical reagents, and fresh swamp vegetables for spices, linens, and nearly anything else the Tree Sap Folk could desire. Some travellers came as far as Alinor or Daggerfall, and the treasures they brought with them were lapped up by eager Khajiiti traders bent on having exclusive wares to sell.
The days in Senchal had a penchant for their temperate climes, and this day was no different. With easy access to the sea, the heat and humidity of the nearby rainforest was pushed away by a lattice of maritime breezes, one from the bay to the north, the other from the ocean to the south.
The breeze on this particular occasion brought something unusual to Senchal’s shores. What began as a floating speck on the horizon to the west slowly became the unnerving vision of a dead, bloated whale, its flesh stretched hideously taut over bone and sinew, intensifying the severity of the dimples and valleys in its skeleton. It came into port hovering above the water, a trail of white decaying flecks in its wake. A few of the dockhands squinted curiously at the drooping puffs. One reached out to catch one, jerking his hand back with a hiss as it burned his fur, leaving a scorch mark and foul odor in its place. The other workers took the cue and backed away a bit farther. As the horrid creature came to a full stop, the top erupted with a spout of oozing gas that smelled of rotting acid and molding meat, causing the whale to lower itself by several meters. A sphinctered opening in its side yawned wide to make way for a creature even further horrid than its chosen mode of transport.
It was obscenely large, rotund to the fear of bursting and was swaddled in a black robe accented with warm browns and cold greys, the latter of which complemented its mottled, gelatinous skin. Its head was held aloft by a beard of wobbling chins and its eyes were black, beady, and bespoke malevolent intent. Its mouth was less a mouth and more an elliptical maw, studded with grotesque teeth around its perimeter and interior. It hovered softly from the porthole in its vessel and lowered itself nearer the dock.
The deckhands stopped what tasks they worked to bear witness to this most alien of occurrences. Very few had ever seen a creature such as this one, and whispers traveled through the crowd, naming the creature in Ta’agra, “Vaba Thraza.” It’s a Sload.
The Sload paid the multitudes of staring Khajiit no mind, but approached the one nearest.
For a terse moment neither the Thrassian nor the Khajiit uttered a word. The Sload held out a hand, or rather a large suction cup as one might see upon an octopus folded into the vaguest shape of a palm and digits. Within its grasp was a coin. The young Khajiit, an Ohmes-Raht stared fearfully at the outstretched offering.
“Mind one’s bloatship,” the Sload said in a low, gurgling voice.
Taken aback, the Khajiit hesitated and snatched the coin quickly, as if afraid that the Sload might strike out without warning.
“O-of course. And who should this one expect to return for it?” The Khajiit asked, trying to hide the waver in his voice.
“Y’Shaneel is one’s name. Remember well.”
“Is there, uh, s-somewhere this one can direct you?”
“One needs corpses.”
The Khajiit nearly choked, and pointed with a trembling claw towards the bazaar visible from the dock, its tents, flags, and columns of cooksmoke waving in the sea’s wind.
“You will find what you seek in there.”
Y’Shaneel approached the Senchal market, as the cub had suggested, to find a makeshift entrance flanked by a squat cream-colored Khajiit and a tall, skinny Nord, whose conversation halted abruptly as the Sload came near. The Khajiit and the Nord exchanged worried glances.
“Corpses,” Y’Shaneel said to the Nord. His eyes grew wide. “Take this one where corpses can be purchased.”
“I just drink here,” The Nord said quickly, lifting his tankard. He grabbed the fat Khajiit by the scruff of his neck and pulled him closer, despite met resistance. “This one here, though, knows where yeh can find yer corpses, I’ll wager!”
Y’Shaneel turned his gaze to the Khajiit, who cowered with a sheepish, guilty grin.
“Yes, this one can take you to what you seek,” he mewled. “Just let this one go alert the merchant, if you’ll be so kind to wait.”
“The Khajiit has ninety seconds.” The Sload said bluntly.
In a flash of fur, the Khajiit was gone, disappeared into the dark recesses of the jungled market. The Nord avoided Y’Shaneel’s gaze, instead finding a sudden interest in the sky, taking unusually frequent and hurried sips of his ale.
Not long had passed before the portly cat returned.
“You’ll want to head inside and take your first left followed by an immediate right past the tanner’s booth. They are—uh—eagerly awaiting your business,” he said meekly.
The Sload passed through the entryway without another word, and followed the Khajiit’s directions. Within the bazaar were various booths and tents in a dazzling array of colors, a canopy of linen, silk, and lanterns hovering overhead. The pathways were crowded with people, mostly Khajiit, but also a smattering of other races—Saxhleel, Nibenese, Bosmer, Altmer, Orsimer, Redguard, and the odd Dunmer. Many of them were clumped together, singing songs and making merry. Much of the merry-making met an abrupt quiet as Y’Shaneel passed, as if a cloak of silence billowed brusquely behind him. There were merchants offering cookware, spices, freshly-made food, books, magical implements, and a variety of other goods and services too numerous to name. Arriving at a domed, covered tent, outwardly manned by a grinning Suthay-Raht, crouched down on his digitigrade haunches, the Sload met the end of the direction he had been given. The Khajiit stood upright, arms wide in a welcoming gesture at the sight of Y’Shaneel.
“Ah, friend! Welcome to Senchal! This one understands that you are in search of… unusual wares?” the Suthay-Raht purred, his yellow, spotted face twisting into a salesman’s smile.
The Sload nodded brusquely. “Affirmative.”
“Please, step inside.”
The Kahjiit held open a colorful curtain of Khajiiti design, depicting moons and dunes of sand. He gestured within. Y’Shaneel could smell the incense wafting into his facial olfactory pores. He found the scent abhorrent, but floated into the opening all the same. The sounds of the bustling market grew muffled behind him. In the dim light and smoke, Y’Shaneel could make out the vague outline of a small quadrupedal Khajiit. It sat upon an extravagantly-adorned cushion, the twofold sources of incense at its flanks, wispy motes of smoke curling into the already saturated air, leaving no room for the scent of the sea in its train.
The Suthay-Raht approached the smaller Khajiit and bent low, whispering indecipherable words into its ear. He stood upright and turned to Y’Shaneel.
“Please, make yourself comfortable–shijoh–sit,” The larger feline said, waving his arms at a series of plump cushions on the floor opposite the housecat. The Sload regarded the cushions with loathing and lowered himself upon the bare floor, his girth crowding around him as he sat. “This one has the honor of being Ma’Kir, and one’s employer, seated before you, is the magnanimous and venerable Jo’Tha Tajiir.”
Ma’Kir seated himself upon a cushion beside Jo’Tha, and moved before him a platter, upon which sat several hard-looking biscuits and some sort of red clay pot.
“Before we begin, one’s employer insists that we observe ceremony and hospitality before moving on to business.”
Ma’Kir opened the jar, revealing the white, powdery contents within. The powder glittered with a prismatic array of colored light. Ma’Kir pinched the sugar, lifted a biscuit, and sprinkled it on top, before passing it over to his diminutive superior. Jo’Tha bent her neck forward, revealing her face to the light. It was dark grey, with folds of skin in place of fur. Its disproportionately large eyes glowed eerily green in stark contrast to the sullen darkness of the tent.
Jo’Tha pressed her lips to the biscuit, and Ma’Kir did the same, before handing it to Y’Shaneel. The Sload inspected the pastry closely with black, dead, suspicious eyes, and glanced to his hosts. They nodded encouragingly, and Y’Shaneel did as was evidently necessary, albeit with some struggle being ill-possessed of conventional lips.
The moon sugar was sickeningly sweet and left a tingling sensation around Y’Shaneel’s primary stomal orifice. With the niceties out of the way, Y’Shaneel placed the biscuit, now wet with Sload saliva, back on the tray.
“Now tell us,” Ma’Kir yawned, stretching out and reclining against the crates behind him. “What sorts of ‘unusual wares’ does the Thraza seek? M’Jaal was… inspecific.”
“One requires corpses.” Y’Shaneel stated flatly.
Ma’Kir briefly glanced at Jo’Tha, who sat unperturbed.
“’Sha’sallidad,’” Ma’Kir started in Ta’agra. “‘Corpses’ you say? And this one supposes that, should corpses be made available, that you would be prepared to pay the price? Such a commodity is not typical fare, even in Senchal.”
“Affirmative.” Y’Shaneel reached into his cloak, underneath the mountains of his own flesh, and retrieved a sizable sack that, by its sound when placed upon the rushes, was full of coin.
Jo’Tha stood up on all fours and leapt down to the sack on the floor. Using one paw, she yanked the bag open, giving way to the glitter of gold. Jo’Tha purred, and sat beside the sack, turning her head to Ma’Kir.
“This one is most curious, what is the word for ‘dead body’ in your tongue?” Ma’Kir asked cheerfully.
“Restauw so mortintauw.” Y’Shaneel uttered. The fur on Ma’Kir’s arms raised slightly, but the Khajiit chuckled.
“So unusual, Thrassian is. Perhaps you will translate another phrase for this one? ‘Behold the plague,’ or perhaps, ‘This one will eat your eyeballs?’”
Y’Shaneel’s eyes stared at the Khajiit, the way a toad might stare at a fly.
“One did not come to engage in the ‘chit-chat’ as the Cyrodiils say. One is here on business, and warns that one’s time is not wasted lightly.”
Ma’Kir’s mirth vanished from his face, and he cleared his throat.
“But of course, this one meant no disrespect,” He glanced quickly at his employer. “The venerable Jo’Tha Tajiir would inquire as to what manner of corpse you seek, as some races are more difficult to come by than others.”
“In terms of race, it matters not. One requires that all corpses are whole and intact. Fresh is better, but some decay is acceptable. Minor-to-no magical damage is preferred.”
“As many as will be purchased.” Y’Shaneel grunted.
“For the amount of gold you have brought,” Ma’Kir considered the trouble that would be required to attain so many bodies. “This one’s employer is willing to sell you threescore bodies of varied race and constitution, however most will be Khajiit. Is this agreeable?”
“For the amount of gold one has brought to Senchal, one expects to leave with no less than fivescore-and-three corpses with no more than fifteen per-cent spoil.”
Ma’Kir returned his eyes to meet Jo’Tha’s.
“’Janto’mi?’ ‘De’vu halku truna!?’” Ma’Kir waved his hands in dismissal, exclaiming in exasperation. “This is too much. Fourscore with some mild decay and we can consider our business concluded, no?”
“This one will not be returning to Thras with fourscore corpses. It is within this one’s Knowings that the conflict at the border of Elsweyr and Valenwood has not yet reached its conclusion. The bodies there are fresh and instead of collecting them oneself, one has preferred to forgo the effort and offer bullion to the Khajiit in Senchal. If Ma’Kir and Jo’Tha Tajiir will not accept one’s currency, then perhaps another will.”
“You are shrewd and well-informed,” Ma’Kir said sourly, eyes narrowed at the Sload. Jo’Tha hesitantly nodded to Ma’Kir. “Very well. When do you intend to set sail?”
“One will not be ‘setting sail,’ as one has no sail to set. Instead, the dead-cattle will be loaded upon one’s bloatship within a fortnight, and departure is expected immediately thereafter. Fourteen days is an acceptable timeframe.”
There was a tense pause. Jo’Tha raised a paw to gesture out the door. In unspoken understanding Ma’Kir sighed, stood upright and made way to the door, holding a clawed hand out to the Sload in an effort to offer assistance.
“This one’s employer agrees to your terms. Within two weeks, the ‘restoo sow mortintoo’ will be brought to your, uh, ‘bloatship.’ Where will you be lodging until such time as the transfer can be completed?”
Y’Shaneel ignored the outstretched hand, instead hovering upwards to his full height. He followed Ma’Kir out of the murky, heavily-incensed tent.
“One will be at one’s bloatship. There are no other Sload here, so it will not be difficult for Ma’Kir to find.” Y’Shaneel said.
“Very good. Is there anything else this one can do for you?” Ma’Kir asked.
Y’Shaneel said nothing, and floated in the direction of the sea, disappearing in a wash of bustling bodies in the busy Senchal street.
Ma’Kir watched after him for a time until he was safely out of earshot, and returned to the inside of the tent.
“Dull claws, what a debacle this was!” Ma’Kir exclaimed. Jo’Tha raised an eyebrow and shook her head.
“Over one hundred dead bodies! Such a number is unconscionable! We’ve never moved more than, what, twenty? Thirty bodies? This one wonders why we treat with the coughed-up suetballs to begin with.”
Jo’Tha shrugged, shaking her head again. She made a dismissing gesture toward Ma’Kir with an outstretched paw.
“Fine, fine, this one will go make the necessary arrangements,” he whined. As he passed through the tent’s doorway, he added under his breath, “Bloody corpses.”“Sload Bloatship” | Illustration courtesy of Michael Kirkbride, Tumblr
“Sea Sload” | Art by Kevin Yan, ArtStation