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[Alethea] An Introduction Unlike Any Other

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Living in Alethea was always a trial of making the best out of a bad situation. It was hard to live in, even harder to make a living, but people got by as best as they could. Here in this city, controversy was always just around the corner...

"Thirty gold coins for a vial of disgusting weeds? This is highway robbery!"

Squawk! "You no like, you get out! Bleak Beak doesn't run charity." Squawk!

In the outskirts of Dreadfeather territory, there was an argument of prices going on between a human alchemist and an arakkoan merchant. The alchemist, dressed in the casual robes that allowed for ease of movement as well as warmth, felt the ingredients he was buying were too expensive. On the other hand, the merchant finds it fair in that he must cover the expenses of having a stall out on this street, to pay his dues to the Dreadfeathers, and for the collection of the herbs. Regardless of who is correct in this situation, tempers were flaring and more than a few feathers were being rustled.

"Is this even fresh Gloomthistle? If it's not fresh my potion is going to rot before I can even deliver it."

"You doubt freshness?" Squawk! "Bleak Beak has most fresh ingredients." Squawk squawk! "Very fresh, yes. You pay, now." She wore a colorful arrangement of greens and yellows, complementing her similar plumage as her black beaked head twitched this way and that.

Sighing in frustration, the alchemist knew he was likely being cheated in this deal, but he didn't have much choice in the matter. There weren't many merchants that had Gloomthistle, and the ones that did have it weren't keen on selling to those part of the Human Coalition. Just finding this one that was willing to look the other way was lucky enough, maybe he shouldn't press it any harder.

"Fine, thirty gold it is." Laying down the coins on the counter, he grabbed the vial and made a face at the bird woman. "You and your damn kind." He muttered.

After responding with a an irritated squawk, the merchant gathered her money and deposited it into a small chest under her counter top. Racism was a common fixture among Alethea. There was always someone to hate, someone to shove the blame onto, and most times one wasn't wrong in that assessment. Bleak Beak didn't care much for the other races, but as long as their money was good, she would tolerate them.

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@Die Shize

Time of day is noon, cloudy skies with plenty of foot traffic

 

Edited by Grubbistch

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Lud’dred’ak’nakk
"Lud"

The Fallen

Lud’dred’ak’nakk had been wandering the alleys that day in search of the same thing that he had been looking for ever since he could remember his own existence within this world. It wasn’t his upper right arm—he had since come to terms that he was never getting that back, and he still had three others besides its mechanical replacement—but it was a certain something, some nagging, stabbing pain to that existence, of which he could not quite pinpoint.

 

So, onward he wandered, traveling here and there without ever ending up anywhere of importance. It was difficult at best to find something that you weren’t entirely sure of, and a hellish prospect of never ending disappointment at worse, as though stuck in a barbed maze in purgatory. Time, however, was a foreign concept to a creature like Lud. These Valucreans, they squandered time while begging for more, something else that was difficult for him to come to terms with. Yet, there they were, in the city of Alethea, doing the same thing he was: wandering, without really knowing where they were going or where they would end up.

 

It was just another day for Lud; another day on his lonesome amid a bustling realm. There weren’t many like him, and if there were any more like him then they had yet to show themselves. Lud had learned to garb himself in his black cloak just to keep persistent gazes from lingering too long, though Alethea had since shown him in pale colors the extent of racial tolerance, and it wasn’t much. That didn’t faze him. His was an imposing height, and four arms, with one metallic and the other’s hand holding a staff, tended to send some intimidating signals.  

 

Violence, however, was not on Lud’s mind that day. Absentminded browsing was, even if the pattern of his existence would be upheld and he would walk away empty-handed. Then he spotted one of those arakkoa that he had seen before. ‘Bird people’, some would say, and they wouldn’t be that wrong. Arakkoa, like Lud, bore the brunt of human intolerance. For his part, Lud could tolerate other species, to an extent, so he walked over to the stall to determine if the feeling was mutual.

 

“Greetings, stranger. What are you selling?”

 

The four-armed creature’s voice was guttural beneath its helmet, though it was hard to tell if that was a result of the helmet itself or its own alien voice box.

Edited by Die Shize

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At the sight of the foreigner, Bleak Beak titled her head in interest. There weren't many who came to Alethea, especially ones so strange in appearance. If he was looking at her wares, however, then she would gladly do what she can to get his money.

Squawk! "You! Yes you. Come to see Bleak Beak's wares, have you?" Squawk! "Only finest for those with eye for mystic arts."

Grouped around the wooden counter was an assortment of vials, jars and bottles, each filled with a mysterious item of some kind. Plant components, animal parts, even what looked to be pieces of bone floating in viscous liquid. For the arakkoa, these reagents were critical in the use of their strange magic. Certainly one could even find use for such things for their own forays into the metaphysical, whether for good or for bad.

"You travel much, yes?" Squawk! "Buy Drake Horn. Great for travelers." Squawk! "Vibrates when danger near. Twenty gold!"

A gnarled and ugly talon placed a small tin box onto the counter. In quick, jerky movements, the bird woman lifted the lid, revealing the fragment of horn the size of a pinky finger. Yellow in color, it looked like the beast had lived a difficult life, as shown by the chips and scratches on it's surface. Before Lud could get a better look, the merchant closed the box with a squawk, head twitching from one direction to another. One couldn't be too cautious on these streets...

"Only best at Bleak Beak's." Squawk! "No one has better product than me. No one. Yes."

Prices were high, but that was life. Generosity was reserved for the minotaurs and merfolk, maybe some humans if they were feeling righteous. Bleak Beak didn't want to be generous, she wanted to make money, to hold copious amounts of gold in her talons, and live her life the way she felt she deserved. For all she cared, this city could burn with all it's wretched people, though she wouldn't be too sad if the humans burned first.

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Image provided to show Lud's staff

 

The arakkoa had made her movements with the grace of a creature possessed by madness, but such was this one’s avian anatomy. Her head-tilt had seemed welcoming enough, if typical for a merchant on the move for money. Lud had offered one of his own; a nod at Bleak Beak’s question as to the meaning behind his arrival. Of course, she could only take it at glance and had no idea that his was more of a browsing boredom than an intent to purchase. The mystical items on display were alluring contraptions, but Lud was his own creature from a kind that favored technology over magic.

 

Then the arakkoa had fidgeted forth the box that had caught Lud’s gaze. Had the four bright blue beads that were his eyes been equipped with pupils or any interior indication of their moving, then the merchant might have caught a brow raise. As it was, however, Lud’s mask was as frozen of countenance as his own existence was within this strange world of Valucre. This Drake Horn was its own item of curiosity, though Lud knew better than to peer too closely or to reach out with a claw of his own. He turned his gaze from the sealed container and planted it back upon the arakkoa.

 

“I have twenty gold that I can give to you for this Drake Horn. This would exchange ownership of the Drake Horn from you to me, and ownership of the twenty gold from me to you.”

 

Lud spoke the words as plainly as his mechanical voice had emerged from beneath his mask. Even with his speech, he queried with himself what immediate need he had for a Drake Horn. Is it a need that I need? Must I have an immediate reason to purchase such an object? Do I need it? Do I want it? Do I like it? In the short pause that ensued, he began to recall the people who frocked to and fro about the market stalls to conduct their own business. Such trivial purchases, the buying and selling of things that would expire or did not fulfill any immediate need. Yet, sometimes, Lud would watch the merchants and their customers all the same, just as he would sometimes watch the birds fly.

 

With his two upper arms still holding his staff in a kind of lean, his two lower arms moved inward to allow his hands to clasp one another. He recalled a peculiar process in the bargaining that was conducted in markets all over. Whether he needed the Drake Horn or not, this seemed like a fitting time to haggle.

 

“Twenty gold, however, is twenty gold too much.”

 

I wonder if I am doing this right. What telltale signs will the arakkoa give away?  

 

“The Drake Horn is clearly damaged. Damaged goods require a reduction in price. Further, you claim that the Drake Horn vibrates when danger is near. Tell me, then…”

 

With that, Lud slowly leaned forward, the bottom end of his staff still planted on the ground while the top end leaned forward with the wielder's head till both were just over the edge of the merchant’s stall. Four bright blue beads of eyes stared into those of the arakkoa, along with an ovular metal staff’s head that bore a hole in the center.

 

“...Is it vibrating now?”

Edited by Die Shize

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With the stranger leaning in, Bleak Beak began to feel her paranoia kick into overdrive. Why was he getting so close? Was he going to rob her? Kill her? Try to kidnap her and put her on display like some freak show in whatever far off land he came from?

The possibilities were too much, and so she did what came naturally to her kind.

Squawk! “Back up! Back up! Back up! Back up!” Squawk!

Such a commotion was scaring away the nearby pedestrians, as well as attracting the attention of other's. The flapping of wings could be heard, and two robed figures were now perched on the lip of a roof across from them, beaks peeking out of their hoods as they watched. Regardless of Lud’s status as a foreigner, he was still in Dreadfeather territory, and they did not take kindly to their members being harassed.

Bleak Beak was breathing hard, eyes bulging, one talon clutching at a dagger underneath the counter, the other grabbing at at a potent powder in her pocket that blinded the eyes and burned the skin. This stranger would feel her wrath if he tried anything funny, if he even dared to go any closer towards her. Death would be a mercy after she was done with him.

“Too close...too too close...you try give Bleak Beak heart attack?” Twitching all over, the arakkoan gathered her wits back. Truly this was not her day.

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There was a curious quality to this big bird, a sort of sentiment parroted by the other members of her species that Lud had encountered before this one herself. Bleak Beak. I wonder why she is called that? Maybe it was due to the unfortunate standards of her stall, what with the attempt to sell scratched and chiseled dragon teeth to the most immediate customer. Though, this particular customer had no intention of losing his fortune.

 

As he stood staring and studying the arakkoa before him, all too aware of her panic mode and of the fluttering reinforcements that had come to her aid, he pondered the meaning of theft. He could take from this stall without offering a single coin, try his chances at making a quick escape before the talons fell upon him, even if he needed nothing of what he might steal. He could also attempt to thieve the life from the soul of the merchant. I could threaten to give her a truly bleak beak.

 

Only moments went by, long enough to amplify the tension but perhaps not long enough to cause wings to fly any further or talons to scrape. With four eyes bearing into the ones of the avian merchant, Lud saw more than fear and apprehension. There is a strength here. A will to fight and defend. Not terribly dissimilar from the spirit of a warrior. Interesting. With that, Lud leaned backward as slowly as he had first leaned forward. He had taken no step in either direction, returning to the exact same stance that he had been in prior to his experiment.

 

“You may tell your companions to stand down, and you may do the same, if it is your will. I will not harm you. That was not and is not my intention. My intention was and is to validate the object that you wish to sell me and in turn collect from my being the amount of twenty gold—or less.”

 

An assortment of individuals had indeed fled the area, but others apparently had done the opposite, eager to bear witness to this sudden outburst of friction. Simple souls. Always looking for a show. Ignoring any audience, Lud lowered his gaze to the stall’s counter, though he knew that Bleak Beak wouldn’t have seen the motion, so he tilted his head in the same direction. Whether he had noticed a certain container shaking or not, whether he had heard movement within it or not, he was confident that he would find the truth in the arakkoa’s eyes as he met hers with his own.

 

“Well? Did it vibrate?”

Edited by Die Shize

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Moments passed, and Bleak Beak couldn't believe the stranger wasn't even doing anything. Even with everything around him looking dire, he still looked as if he couldn't have a care in the world. Just who was this person exactly?

Tap tap, tap tap, tap tap tap

The noise came from the tin case, a soft tapping that had only just begun, especially with the arrival of her fellow Dreadfeather members. Looking to it, Bleak Beak gave a chirp of satisfaction, looking up to the traveler. “See? It works, works well. You can keep safe with Drake Horn.” Squawk!

Tap tap, tap tap tap, tap tap tap

“Only if you pay though. Bleak Beak doesn't run charity. Twenty five gold, no discussion.” Squawk! More expensive, yes, but that was the price one paid when trying to give a merchant a heart attack. Anyone else would have attacked, but Bleak Beak is more cautious, more savvy than that. Sometimes it just takes a bit of time and maneuvering to make the sale.

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It was true. The arakkoa might have been trying to deceive her customer, at least at any moment prior to then, but there was truth in the air yet. Amid the sincerity swimming in the seas of her eyes, the evidence was tapping away on the counter. Eyes might lie, but did ears? If the ears were lying, were the eyes? Maybe both senses were as deceptive as an arakkoan merchant. Maybe all of this world was just one giant illusion. Maybe I am still home, and this is all just one giant dream. Or is it a nightmare?

 

“I see.”

 

Lud saw, and Lud heard. Whatever was in that metal box, either the same Drake Horn or an infant drake itself trying to break free and failing as far as Lud was, it had moved. At the new price of this purchase, however, he had to consider it. The original cost had been twenty gold. He had attempted to lower that cost. The new cost was twenty-five gold. That was not a reduction in cost. It was an addition. Though, perhaps she has a point. A threat, direct or indirect, can affect the emotions of the merchant, which can in turn affect her mercantile tactics. Interesting.

 

“You demand no discussion. I demand it.”

 

Lud's tone was as flat as ever, with not a discernible movement upon his being except for three large fingers tapping against his staff. Then his head turned, this way and that, left and right, before his four-eyed gaze centered on Bleak Beak.

 

“You appear to have lost your clientele. If any of them were to return after such a display, on both our parts,” he trailed off just long enough to tilt his head up toward the roofs in place of an imperceptible glance. “Do you think that they would still be so interested in purchasing your wares?” He didn’t wait for a response.

 

“Reduce the price to twenty gold. This was your original price. Deduct five gold from your twenty-five-gold offer, on account of your trouble, and I shall haggle no further. The chips and scratches on your Drake Horn evidently have no bearing on its functionality.” Tap tap tap went his three fingers. “If this is acceptable, your Drake Horn will become my Drake Horn, and my twenty gold pieces will become yours.”

 

With that, one of Lud’s lower arms reached beneath his surcoat. An adjacent arm opened the pouch that was retrieved to show the polished gleam of gold coins before the merchant’s gaze.

Edited by Die Shize

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Gold, the mighty yellow object of desire for so many in this city. There wasn't many who could live without it, and the recent economic troubles have made it even more valuable. Without gold, there was no telling what kind of mayhem would ensue in the streets. At the sight of such a splendid amount, Bleak Beak began to reconsider her price.

“Maybe Bleak Beak too hasty.” Squawk! “Twenty gold is good no no...eighteen, yes.” Squawk!

He wasn't hurting for money, that much was for certain. There were plenty of other merchants out there who sold Drake Horn, and would likely under cut her in order to make the deal. Even if it was at a discount, a sale was better than no sale at all.

From the look of the situation, the two fellows figured there was nothing to worry about. They whispered to one another for a moment, and decided to stay for a time, to make certain nothing happened in their absence. It wasn't because they cared for Bleak Beak, more so that they couldn't be deemed weak by the other factions that dwelled within this city. Showing strength was important, or else someone might get a little bold and think they can take from you what isn't there's to begin with.

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Lud’s head tilted at the words of the arakkoa. She has reduced the price below what I had offered. Twenty gold pieces have become eighteen gold pieces. Interesting. Pondering the mercantile machinations of buying and selling, bargaining and haggling, would only get him so far. Annihilating his own hesitation, he used three fingers to pluck eighteen gold pieces out by the handful before scattering them upon the counter, there beside the tin, for the merchant’s eyes to verify. Those eyes would serve her true. The warrior was no liar, even though he often contemplated the habit that ran rife through this city’s streets and others.

 

“Bleak Beak is cautious and contemplative. I believe that these are signs of a capable merchant. Now,” Lud trailed off, sealing his pouch and tucking it away, two hands of his lower arms resting on the edge of the counter. “I have given you eighteen gold pieces as the fulfillment of my part in this exchange. It is now your turn to give me the Drake Horn. The eighteen gold pieces are yours. The Drake Horn is mine.”

 

It was one of those moments again where he would be standing there blinking expectantly, had he the eyelids to blink. Instead, Lud just gazed with statue-stillness, debating whether to snatch the object outright but deferring to protocol. Well, knowledge of that was limited for a being like Lud, but it seemed only proper for a purchased object to be handed to him, rather than his taking it.

Edited by Die Shize

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Every coin was taken and counted, placed into the chest beneath the counter, adding to her overall wealth. When she was done, she pushed the tin box towards Lud, chirping happily for his business.

“Good, good.” Squawk! “Thank you for your business. Come again soon.” Squawk!

Now the business was finished between them, and Beak Bleak could at least not worry about getting attacked by that freak. The day was still young, and there were lots of potential customers just waiting to relieve themselves of their gold for her products. With the danger passed, the crowd didn't seem interested anymore, making the likelihood of another customer showing up slim.

“Now go, go. Bleak Beak has other customers.” A lie at the moment, there was still a possibility others could come, but it was likely only because the stranger who had caused a disturbance was still hanging about.

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The delicate details and the precise particulars of monetary business were quite lost on Lud, overall at any rate. The economic systems of Valucre were, while unique to one another in their own way, a collective clutter of politics. Back home, such politics was generally reserved for government officials, not bean counters. Even then, such politics was generally decided by the military. Yet, back home, there are no politicians who are not in the military, and the only thing we count are the heads of our enemies.

 

“Our business was indeed engaged and has been ended.”

 

Lud spoke while his lower hands accepted the box and drew them toward his waist, though he made no move to open it. The arakkoa didn’t seem to pay much more mind to her customer still standing before her, but something stirred within that customer to keep him standing there all the same, even as his counterpart was pushing for his departure. Something is missing here. I have my Drake Horn. She has her eighteen gold pieces. Then...what am I missing..? Oh. That’s it. Now I possess the knowledge.

 

“I shall go, just as Bleak Beak insists, but I am missing something. Bleak Beak did not give me my receipt.”

Edited by Die Shize

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A receipt? Damn, Bleak Beak thought to herself, he must mean a writ of sales, introduced by the Consortium who demanded tangible records of sales made throughout the city economy. It was vexing to be certain, with merchants all over being fined for not complying, something that Bleak Beak hated even more. If he desires one so bad, then the arakkoan needed to abide by his wishes, regardless of the hassle it was in her life.

Squawk! “Fine. I write writ of sale for you.” Taking out a small piece of parchment and an archaic looking pen, the merchant began scratching out the document. “Here, as law states.”

True to her word it was indeed a receipt, specifically stating that Lud, also known as the patron in this instance, purchased a Drake Horn for eighteen gold on this day and year. Beneath the wording was what looked to be a different name from Bleak Beak, a more traditional name in the tongue of the bird people.

Blek Bekaw

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Lud studied Bleak Beak's every movement, from one penstroke to the next, taking particular note of her speed and manner. She didn't seem all too pleased about the process, new to Lud himself that it was. Where he came from, receipts were certainly not like the ones that Valucre had thus far shown him. Taking it, he read it over to make sure that all was in accordance. The end words had caused some pause. Blek Bakaw. Must be how she spells her name. Arakkoa was, after all, a language of bird-speech; chirping and squawking. Transcribing probably came with its difficulties.

"Excellent." Lud folded the receipt and tucked it away in a pouch on his person. He then opened the tin, retrieved the Drake Horn and barely gave it a glance before pouching the object as well. "This therefore concludes our business." With that, he leaned forward once more, but this time with no intention to give a threatening vibe. He just wanted their eyes locked. "We may yet meet again. If we do, perhaps it shall not be at a merchant's stall, but out in the wild of this world. May I recognize you as Bleak Beak and may you recognize me as Lud’dred’ak’nakkHe Who Has Fallen."

A moment would ensue, enough for Bleak Beak to give whatever response was good for her, before Lud would turn away and disappear the same way that he had come from: down an alley and into the shadows.

[Exit Lud]

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As Lud made his way, Bleak Beak felt relief wash over her. Business was difficult at times, but this was definitely one of the more trying times. If ever she had to deal with a queer creature like that again, she very well may just reject them outright. Paying customer or not, it simply isn't worth the hassle of someone as strange as him.

Her troubles, however, were far from over, as the two guards looking over the situation came down to speak with her. "What you want?" Squawk! 

"Just making sure you're okay, Bleak Beak." The right one chirped. 

"Wouldn't want one of our valued merchants to get hurt. We Dreadfeathers look out for one another." Tweeted the left guard. "Now, how about you pay a bit of tax towards us? For making sure you were safe and sound, after all."

The request was more of an order, one she understood well. With her feathers bristling, she handed over her tax, over half of the money she had made that day to the guards. Just another day in Alethea Bleak Beak thought with a sigh, closing down her shop for the day. Tomorrow she would open it again and begin the process all over again, a vicious cycle, but one she was growing accustomed to. 

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