Thursday, December 10, 2020

Abdael: Unfamiliar Animals

Abdael waited until nobody was looking, then slipped out of the chemist's tent. He was aware that leaving the rest of the group without telling anyone was a risk, no matter how safe their current situation seemed; but he was fairly sure that someone would want to come with him, and he really didn't want company for this. This strange carnival seemed safe enough for now, so he considered it a calculated risk. 

The tent in front of him was small, made of rich crimson cloth. As before, the space inside was vastly larger than the tent outside. Little had changed in the minutes he'd been gone: the area was still well-lit, the cages carefully spaced and mostly covered. Bearthazar was visible near the back of the tent, his head tilted to look down, and chomping sounds were clearly audible from that same direction. 

Abdael approached carefully, wending his way between the cages without touching any of them. Bearthazar turned as he approached. "Ah yes, good sir. You had some additional inquiry or concern?" 

Abdael nodded. "About your inventory... I was wondering if you had anything in a winged snake or pseudo-dragon?" 

Bearthazar shook his head sadly. "Not at present, sir. Our last pseudo-dragon was purchased by a wizard as a familiar, and tragically died with him. We did care for a couatl, briefly, but we could hardly sell her as a pet."

Abdael frowned. He wasn't familiar with couatls; if he remembered correctly, they were a sort of divine flying snake. "Why not?" 

"Well, for one thing, because she was most definitely a person; and for another, because she informed me that if we tried, she was going to execute us all as slave-traders." Bearthazar paused, looking thoughtful. "I would generally advise against trying to make a pet of anything more intelligent than you are, young sir."

Abdael nodded. "Clearly, though I'd no idea the feathered snakes -- they do have feathers, don't they? -- were so intelligent." 

"They do indeed, often in layers of bright colors. But in any case, at present we have no dragon-kin and only a very limited supply of reptiles. At least, I assume a frost turtle would not be to your tastes?" 

"...What does a frost turtle do?" asked Abdael, unwillingly fascinated. 

"Primarily, they are very cold. Their shells are made of ice, you see. And they make everything around them very cold, and frequently a bit slippery as well. Frost, you see." 

"I do. I suppose this has led to some complaints?" 

"...Perhaps a few minor quibbles. Though not fast, frost turtles are exceedingly loyal and indeed quite affectionate. Our current specimen, Jak, quite likes to crawl into his owner's blankets."

"Ah," said Abdael. "No. I'm a bit too subject to frostbite for that to work out, I'm afraid." He flexed his hand, and let tendrils of his shadow drift out. "Perhaps something shadowy?" 

Bearthaza's face lit up. "Ah, I've just the thing. Come over here, and let me introduce you to Blot." 

"Blot?" asked Abdael, but he followed the strange man to yet another cage, this one well back from the tent's entrance. 

"I don't normally show him," said Bearthazar, "but it's not so much that he minds being disturbed as that people find him disturbing. Behold!" He pulled the cloth covering from the cage, and Abdael blinked and stared. 

Most of the cages here were metal, with openings between the bars to allow light and air. This one appeared to be some sort of glass or clear crystal, and was utterly barren of all decoration. The thing inside was... inchoate, Abdael thought, while his eyes struggled to settle on it. It was dark and shifting, a flowing shadow filled with eyes, then extruding shadowy tendrils before withdrawing them in favor of endless mouths lined with hungry teeth. A moment later it was a gaping void, and Abdael was overcome with the profoundly terrifying sense of falling into it. 

"Blot is a genuine nightmare," Bearthazar announced proudly, "trawled from the dreams of a powerful mystic. He would be a fine companion and even a guardian, capable of terrifying your opponents and cowing your subjects..."

"Ahhh..." said Abdael, who was somewhat more tempted than he cared to admit. "I confess, I'm fascinated. But I don't think I can care for a pet that would constantly be frightening everyone around me." 

Bearthazar shrugged. "Your friends seemed stout of heart, but... perhaps not. Very well, I have one more possibility to show you. After that, I really must get back to feeding those animals who will be traveling on with your druid." 

"Certainly," answered Abdael. He was still curious, but nursing a growing disappointment; perhaps this wasn't going to work out after all. 

"Yes, well..." Bearthazar seemed almost hesitant as he approached another cage. "This is Puddles." 


Bearthazar lifted the cover. "Puddles." 

Abdael found himself looking down at a puppy, its body perhaps the size of his two fists pressed together. Its fur was black, and it blinked in the sudden light; then it wagged its tail. It took a moment for his thoughts to assemble themselves; then he said, "...It isn't house-trained, is it?" 

"Not yet, good sir." Bearthazar smiled. "That is where you come in." 

"Puddles," Abdael repeated. "I... my apologies, but you're going to have to explain to me why you want one-hundred and seventy gold for what is an admittedly adorable puppy." 

"Ah," answered Bearthazar. "I hoped you might be familiar with the breed. Puddles is a shadow mastiff. A puppy, but when fully grown he'll be capable of seeing the unseen and becoming all but invisible in darkness. We consider the price quite reasonable. And for a modest twenty gold more, I would be happy to throw in a leash and a darkforged cage where Puddles can comfortably sleep."

Puddles pressed his nose to the edge of the cage, sniffing, and Abdael automatically extended the palm of his hand. The puppy sniffed, wriggled, and licked his hand through the bars. Abdael blinked again. "Would you accept one-seventy for the lot?" 

Bearthazar hesitated. "Given his obvious affection for you, I must consider it... but a darkwrought cage is not easy to come by, and..." 

"One hundred and seventy-five?" asked Abdael. 

"Very well." Bearthazar nodded decisively. "One hundred and seventy-five gold, and Puddles is yours along with a proper sleeping-cage and a leash."

"Done," said Abdael. He paused, then added: "Not to be difficult, but... the sign outside the tent says that your prices are what you say they are."

"Ah," said Bearthazar. "But you asked if they could be something lower, and I said they could." 

Abdael nodded. "Makes sense. I'll... come 'round to collect Puddles after the show?" 

"Certainly, sir. We look forward to seeing you again."

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