Whispers: Who Is That Guy? (The Keep)ou sit in the most comfortable chair you can find in the crowded inn, relaxing in the soft plush velvet. Voices wind around you, interspersed with the occasional chirps from the phoenix perched on a woman's shoulder, or the annoyed growls from a panther on the floor when a winged cat bats at its tail. Glasses clink from the counter where Remy is pouring drinks, and the scent of spiced apples wafts throughout the room.
A furtive flash in the corner of your vision catches your attention. A man in a long cloak darts past your table and the counter, hurrying out the door in a dark swirl. Something long and sinuous follows at his feet, reminiscent of the panther's tail, but scalier.
When you look back from the door, Remy catches your eye. The innkeeper's usual smile has curled into a stern tightening of his lips, and you follow his gaze to the where the stranger just left.
Curious, you get up, abdicating your seat to an older mage who plops down with a grateful sigh. Pushing past his gryphon, who squawks in indignation, you head to the counter.
"You saw him too, huh?" Remy asks, his voice gruff. "I wish he wouldn't come here."
"Who?" you ask, but Remy just shakes his head.
“I don’t know much. I haven’t been affiliated with him since my time in the merchant’s guild. We went…very different ways, after training at the Keep.”
You raise your eyebrows. “Oh?”
Remy sighs, grabbing a glass for another customer who’s motioning for a drink. "If you really want to know, you can find him around the area, always at night. You'll know him by that black viper he always brings with him." You shiver at the memory of the long form that had followed him out the door. "Bring at least 10000 gold. He won't talk to you otherwise."
Try as you might walk around the streets nothing happens. Maybe you'd better collect the 10000 gold pieces to attract the mysterious man's attention.
It's taken a while, but you managed to save up the gold, and it is obvious how the man will be able tell you carry it. Your coin purse clinks as you walk down the street, making you even warier of the dark alleys you pass by on your way back home from Remy's.
Whispers: An Encounter in the Alley (The Keep)The last two nights had been busts, and this night was more of the same. But before you reach the edge of the city, something slithers over your foot. Recalling your lessons on creature training, you freeze in place.
You track the movement of the creature, and it resolves itself as a snake—no, a cobra. It slithers down the alley, winding in a circle around a hooded man who most definitely had not been standing there before.
You take a step forward, your gold clinking in your pocket. He holds up a hand, and you tense, lessons on self defense flashing through your mind.
“Relax, friend,” he says, his voice full of false cheer. “My companion and I couldn’t help but hear your gold, there. That’s quite a lot. Would you, perhaps, be looking for a place to spend it?”
You take a few steps forward, straining to see through the darkness and find who is talking. You summon up an orb of light, which is immediately extinguished by a ball of blackness.
“Ah ah. Let me,” he says. A new light forms over the head of a cloaked figure. You can't make out much of the details of the man's face, but you can tell his hair is dark, and strands of it are loose from the hood he wears, falling in strange patterns on his pale skin. You certainly don't recognize him from his appearance or voice.
When you take a step forward to see better, though, the man takes a step back, his cobra slithering forward and its eyes giving off a greenish glow. It’s much larger than any Raza Cobra you’ve ever seen.
“Well?” the man presses. “I don’t have all night. Do you want to be privy to something special? Something you’d never find at any typical shop here in the city?”
Curiosity, along with caution brought about by the memory of Remy's frown, flits across your mind. "What is it? Where would you get something like that?" you ask. The cobra stirs again, beginning to lift its top half from the ground, and you take a step back.
He grins and waves his hand, and the cobra relaxes. "I can't tell you anything now. If you truly are interested in wonders of the world, like any rich magi should be, come to the koi pond. To show I can trust you, bring four cobra eggs." He nods. "Yes, four should do nicely. And all that money, of course."
Uncertain, you nod. "Okay. Four cobra eggs, to...who are you?"
He laughs. "You may call me..." he taps his chin. "How about Alethin?" You nod, knowing better than to think that's his real name. “Trust me. A magi like you, with money like yours...We can benefit from each other.”
Before you can open your mouth to ask more, the alley is plunged into darkness, only the sound of slithering reaching your ears. When you summon up light, there is nothing at all, no sign of either Alethin or his strange cobra.
With a shiver, you head back toward the Keep. Whoever he is, and whatever his cobra's power, you hope to get answers. And to do it, you have to stop by the stream first thing.
You need to take four unfrozen unnamed Raza Cobra eggs to the Stream along with your 10000 gold.
Having collected four Raza Cobra eggs and 10000 gold you head over to the Stream.
Whispers: The Man With the Wares (The Stream)The four cobra eggs, and the gold, feel heavy in your pocket, making the journey along the Stream uncomfortable as you try not to jostle them too much. Despite your efforts, you clink with every step you take. The moon is high and full overhead, and crickets chirp from the reeds as you approach the pond. Something splashes in the water. It would be a good time to throw in some gold in the Koi Pond.
Almost as soon as you arrive at the Stream, an enormous, long shape moves through the dark grass. You track it as it winds toward the glow of the sole torch that burns by the water, put there for young students who want to try their luck late at night but haven’t mastered a light skill yet. Once it approaches the flame, it rears up, flaring its hood.
It’s Alethin’s cobra. And in the light of the flame, you can see that not only is it jet black, the markings on its hood are a fiery red that reflect the torchlight. Your heart pounds, and you tense your legs to run.
The markings on its hood flash in a pattern so fast you can't make sense of it, but your muscles begin to relax, and your heart slows. You shake your head as though trying to clear your vision, and the silence of the pond gains a fuzzy, muffling aspect.
The cobra moves to the ground and slithers through the grass, winding around the path down a path you've never traveled before. Without knowing why, you begin to follow.
The torchlight fades as you walk down the mazelike tangle of branches and crevices that really aren't meant to be paths for humans at all. Hoofmarks and tufts of fur mark what is probably a deer trail that circles the koi pond and heads toward the forest. The cobra continues, undeterred by rocks or debris or branches that have fallen from the trees. The only light you can see is the flashing red of the cobra's scales and the moon overhead. You think to call your own magelight, but with the fuzziness still in your mind you can't quite grasp it. Something inside you is telling you thisis a bad, bad idea, but you walk on anyway.
The narrow path you travel on widens, and you emerge, somehow, to the pitch black of a clearing in the forest. In your mind, you know that this is probably the forest just outside the city, far from the Stream and the Keep, but you have no idea how you got here so fast.
The moon has traveled far overhead, and you realize it may not have been fast at all.
"So, Adela, you've brought me my new customer?" A light appears, illuminating Alethin and an enormous wagon that he stands next to. Around his feet, the cobra--that must be Adela--slithers.
All at once, the fuzziness leaves you, and you jump with long repressed surprise. “Where are we?!” you exclaim.
"Ah ah, you wanted to come." he spreads his hands out. "Adela found you, which means you must be carrying a lot of gold, yes? And the cobra eggs?"
He's obviously not holding any sort of weapon, but you tense up anyway. Holding on to your best magic in case he tries anything, you nod your head.
"Good. Give them here.” You hold out the eggs, and he takes them in a careful hand. With a flick of his wrist, they disappear, either with magic or into the folds of his robes with sleight of hand. You swallow hard.
“So...who are you?” you ask. “Really?”
“I,” he says, pointing to himself and waving another hand with a flourish. “Am a merchant.” With those words, the wagon top folds down, revealing a display much like the display you would see in Remy’s shop.
Your eyes widen. There are eggs of species you’ve seen only in books, or owned only by the most talented of magi. Eggs you’ve seen only in the stream at certain times of year or only in shops permissible to members of guilds... you suck in a breath. It’s incredible.
You take a step forward, and Adela slithers near your ankles, making you stop. "Where did you get these?" you say. "Not even Remy has so many."
"Remy,” Alethin says, his voice dripping scorn, “Is only a magi, and has forgotten the meaning of being a merchant. He travels, sure, but not far enough. I, on the other hand, go everywhere. I get everything.” His eyes flash. “No-one, be they members of the Dark Brotherhood or even royalty, can stop me, or prevent me from trading what I wish. That’s not so wrong, is it?” He smiles.
“You’re a smuggler.” The words tumble from your mouth. Adela hisses.
“And if you wish, you’ll never have to see me again,” Alethin says. “But you would never have the chance to see creatures like these ever again, either.” He motions to the wagon. “What do you want to do?”
You consider your options for a moment and then decide to tell him you're interested and that you're staying.
“Excellent.” Alethin smiles, white teeth flashing. “Here.” He holds out something long and thin, and you nearly cut yourself on the snake fang when you take it.
“That will glow when you are near me," he says. "With it, you can find my wares."
“That’s all?” you ask.
“That’s all.” He flashes another grin. “Oh, except for one thing. This is very exclusive.” He enunciates the “Very”. “So if you come with anyone but yourself, Adela won’t be happy.” Adela hisses, the sound raising goosebumps on the back of your neck.
Alethin grins and dips into a mock bow. “Pleasure doing business with you,” he says. “Now, what would you like?”
See his wares