Guns for Hire Sometimes Merchant

From questden

Sometimes Merchant is an NPC in Guns for Hire, with whom Armas has had a great deal of interaction which it is important to track. Our interactions with him are listed here.

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Five minutes later, my eyes as adjusted as they'll get, having made not a sound since entry, I begin to stand up-
>[???]"...Hm, so you're the one that's been playing down here in our home?"
I freeze, trying to triangulate-it sounded like it came from right behind me, but my back's a hand away from the wall!
>[???]"Hm? You smell of fear-why?"
"I came down here to find some food-it is not my intention to start a fight, and that is what I have apprehension about."
>[???]"...I see."
Five feet in front of me light springs into being at head level, a halo wrought in faerie-fire dancing over the head of a greenskinned man, a full-faced helm obscuring his every feature. ...But I heard the voice coming from BEHIND me!
>[???]"So, you seek food-a want many can sympathize with, myself included. What kind of food are you looking for?"
>[???]"Also to my liking-but would you care to get more specific?"
"I... don't know that I can, actually."
>[???]"Okay, I can work with that."
"Just so long as it isn't from mundane animals."
>[???]"....Oh-HOO, really? Maybe I SHOULD Bargain with you, then."
"Won't it be hard to bargain if I don't have a name to call you?"
>[???]"Call me Goblin if you wish-a title so many give to my kind-but there is a Deal to be discussed, and that takes precedence. Tell me, mortal who wanders the deep and dark for meat: What is it you most crave to taste? And what is it you'd most hesitantly part with to make it happen? How deep does your commitment to find food run, human? Because depending on your answer... you can have anything you want."

"The answer to your question is not just a single sentance-I wonder at my ability to be concise listing it all."
>[Goblin]"Please, enumerate your reasons."
"Well, originally, I came down here to hunt Sahagin, since I know supernatural meat would fulfill my need, and personally, it would be my preference to not dine on the flesh of my own kind."
>[Gobin]"A sentiment I am familiar with, even if I do not share it-go on."
"This was before I knew I would run into a... shall I call you a 'sometimes' merchant?"
>[Goblin]"...You could. In fact you should... The Sometimes Merchant... yes, I like that title."
"Well, I find myself possessed of a singular hunger, it's what drove me to my original hunt, and now drives this bargaining. In the short term: Meat, the rarer and more magical, the better. In the longer term... things of magic, perhaps, or knowledge. But I would just as soon hunt and feast, myself. We say on the surface, he who does not work, does not eat. "
>[Goblin]"Ah... that is a saying I have heard before, an old and true one."
"But now I turn that question around. What does Goblin desire? I doubt it is surface currency, which I have. Worked metal? Favors? Or something more... ephemeral? A sense, a name, a future in potentia freely given?"
>[Goblin]"What I desire and what would be accepted in trade are very different things. We are quite aware of how mortals value those strips of colored paper, have always loved precious metals, and favors are never turned away. Names and possibilities, abilities.... those two can be bargained away, and are recognized for their value."

"That's the second time you pluralized. Are you acting to represent yourself, or a collective, in the bargaining?"
>[Goblin]"An important distinction. I represent the other Goblins of Byzantium's sewers, insofar as prospective food sales go. Should the later bargaining involving more than food ever occur, you may deal with me, or you may not-the future is not revealed to us as it is to some."
The Goblin claps his hands, not a sound echoing from the meeting limbs-as his voice comes from my left even while I stare at him before me, a rich chuckle his leading intonation.
>[Goblin]"But you haven't yet said what specifically you seek as a magical meat, courtesy or no. We can hardly Bargain lacking finite boundaries."
"To be blunt, I still know little enough of the intricacies and preferences of my need, and the physiology or personal health benefits of a given creature's flesh are still unknown to me. I'd rather hunt right now for Sahagin-"
>[Goblin]"That could be a problem. Your earlier killing can be forgiven, as you defended yourself. But the Sahagin are ours, our pets, our cattle, our guards-only those Mortals covered in the Deal are allowed free access-and we would not appreciate having our guards killed out of hand by a hunter on our lands."
"Yes, I see how that could be a problem."
>[Goblin]"And your circumstances mean nothing-I cannot offer you something unless you are more specific about your desires to begin with."
"...Very well. I was going to ask for Doonongaes meat, but that request, I think, shall be tabled for now."
>[Goblin]"A circuitous route you take-but do we at last come to our Bargain's bones?"
"You tell me. Would magical amulets to ward off harm be in your care, and viable for trade?"
Again a throaty laugh-once more from behind me-as the faerie-fire crowned goblin before me slaps his knee.
>[Goblin]"I must thank you for that-it has been some time since I spoke to one quite so... abruptly prone to circuitous phrasing. The rest of the sidhe will take hours to slowly weave their way through complex schemes and haggling-but this, it is a breath of fresh air."
"Why, did I give you something you enjoyed?"
The laughter cuts short, as the goblin's hand cups his helmeted chin, head cocked as he continues to speak.
>[Goblin]"Sophistry and wordplay-most mortals don't seem to care for that now. I suppose I grew idle-yes, it would seem a different Bargain's bones were set here-for know that no matter what value I assigned to our verbal jousting, it is not comparable to any of the amulets we possess."
"Then perhaps I could name something lesser to ask in exchange?"
>[Goblin]"It is your right."
"...What of some methods of food preparation, focused around the more common beasts and monsters of supernatural origins? Something to give me a cornerstone to build off as I learn more about my needs-and come back with actual food requirements."
'>[Goblin]"....Deal made."
The goblin raises a hand to his head, reaching up towards that burning halo-hand going through it's center as if reaching outside reality, the halo widening as he pulls a stitched, leather-bound book free, and proffers it to me. I accept with my free hand, as the halo stabilizes and the goblin continues to watch me.
>[Goblin]"So-you spoke of needing Amulets. Wards against harm. We could provide something that can turn any blade, make your skin like iron-an amulet that draws strength, power from the user, stores it, and can be reused. Wearing it for a month makes every action more exhausting, but it can buy an hour's worth of blade turning. The Amulet I offer, Bladeward, holds enough power for one hour, should you desire it. Just be warned that should a magic blade find your skin, the ward shall not avail you. We also have amulets focused around arrows, weapons that fly to distant foes-a charm that grasps at luck, probability, and skews chance-in consuming itself, it will prevent the next projectile from hitting the wearer. These Arrow Charms are cheaper than the Bladeward, being disposable and not reusable. The final type of protective amulet we can offer is based on the Arcane-it can let the bearer ignore but one spell thrown their way-save that of a Wizard or a God. These Arcane Nullifiers are the most prized of amulets we vend.... and now you know the three families of treasures we offer. Now, tell me what kind of amulet you want-and tell me what you would be willing to offer-I shall tell you in turn what Bargain we think fair."
On an idle thought-
"Oh, do you know what happened to Allenaethos?"
>[Goblin]"How did you come by the late Summer Elf's name?"

"So-we have this one deal currently pending, is that correct?"
>[Goblin]"Please clarify what you reference lest I answer in error."
"Our current discussion on magic amulets, my acquisition thereof, and what I would offer for them, with the prior deal culminating in my acquisition of this tome here concluded."
>[Goblin]"That is correct."
"So then I owe you nothing for the knowledge of your wares, nor indeed for anything else which you have not already received payment for, is that not so?"
Rather than the ever-shifting voice, the completely silent Goblin merely nods his head.
"Well, as to Allenaethos-I will tell you this for free: I first heard his name from a human, but the final piece of the story I learned from a far less approachable source. For more details, well..... care to make your offer? We are, as you put it, Bargaining, are we not?"
>[Goblin]"...Perhaps payment could be had in flesh? Would the Mortal seek the flesh of Kelpies?"
"Do you offer just that, a pound, for the secrets I hold?"
The helmeted head cocks to one side-and this time I take note that the faerie-fire halo does not move with the skull, still floating square above the shoulders.
>[Goblin]"Time is a small thing. A pound of Kelpie flesh each week's cycle, till the end of your life-coudl that make you seek this deal?"
"You know, I should have put two and two together-Byzantium? I'm going to guess here, but you've been here for more than two and a half millennia, then?"
>[Goblin]"I never cared for the mortal chronology system, but the numbers sound similar to those I heard from one of your ilk half a generation ago, so I assume them still accurate."
"No wonder a few decades of food to someone doesn't bother you. Since it was not the inconvenience I thought it-then yes, accepted, as I tell you this: The one from whom I heard the Elf Allenaethos' name was the Mortal Angiluzzo Castelletti, a member and local leader of the Mafia."
>[Goblin]"...Castelletti is known to us, as is the organization from which he hails... you spoke with the one that held Allenaethos' oath?"
"On several occassions. In fact, I've done business for him in the past-the nature of our communication, as it were. With that, I believe you know where the tale starts. Now, if you want to know what I think led to his fate... well, I'm afraid that is an entirely different question."
>[Goblin]"Meaning another Bargain."
"I do believe last time you offered meat."
>[Goblin]"....Perhaps your hunting expedition was not a failure. Consider this: A pound a week of Sahagin livestock flesh, likewise to the end of your days."
"Agreed again-really works out for both of us, me being mortal and seeing it as forever, you seeing it as a blip in-"
>[Goblin]"You spoke as if you know how Allenaethos died. What was this thing you taunted me with?"
"Fine-Allenaethos owed an oath to a pawn of Mammon-"
>[Goblin]"That... is a lie, but not intentionally so."
"...Okay, I'll rephrase: The elf owed an oath to a bearer of one of Mammon's Devices, and an adherent of Mammon's 'virtues'. I was bound by contract and word to take the life of said Device wielder. Our oath's clashed-and I managed to both defend mine and my life."
>[Goblin]"That.... Well played indeed then, mortal, for Allenaethos, while horrifically unsubtle, was not incapable of defending himself."
"I will note this still omits the final piece of this puzzle-the source even I would not believe as an outsider that told me of what Castelletti carried."
>[Goblin]"...To put this story to rest I offer this-A pound of Sæhrímnir flesh once per week till the end of your days, but only to answer my questions concerning Allenaethos' death and your involvement therein-so long as you answer those I swear to probe no deeper under the confines of the Bargain."
...I can see his tightening knuckles-time to ditch the wordplay, at least for a bit. Not really sure what a Sæhrímnir is, but for a total of three pounds of creature flesh per week for life... well, it takes me ten minutes, but insofar as the final portions of the Castelletti job, in which I felled the elf, the Goblin now knows as much as I-save of my rifle's special existence, and feast on the elf's blood. I was thankfully able to imply the weapon I carry now my only longarm-and the Goblin did not think to question it.
>[Goblin]"...The Bargain is satisfied. Brownies know of where your dwelling lies-your threshold presents no challenge to them, and you shall find your first week's payment already in your care."
"Can they place it in the smaller of my two chilled boxes so the meet does not spoil?"
"Well-back to the amulets-"
>[Goblin]"So you do still seek such?"
"Yes-but only under a few conditions. Namely-the Arrow Charms, can I get ones with slightly different rules? I mean, does it have to trigger if something was going to nick me, or only if it would have slain me?"
>[Goblin]"You can stipulate your specific need-among our craftsmen are Svartelfs, your requirements can be met."
"Then I want to get two different type of Arrow Charms-one that will only trigger for a fatal ranged injury, and no other condition, with a wound that causes me to die from trauma or blood loss within thirty seconds or less being considered 'fatal'."
>[Goblin]"A comparatively common request. The second variant?"
"One that only applies to my head, but prevents any impact that would transfer thirty percent or more of its energy in impact to me."
>[Goblin]"Both types of Arrow Charms can be provided."
"Before I say whether that's all I want or not-could you give a rough estimate of how much a low-grade Arcane Nullifier goes for, in mortal currency-let's say US dollars?"
>[Goblin]"Two hundred fifteen thousand two hundred ninety two dollars, for the lowest valued one sold in the last two years. Wards of protection are not idly made or obtained-those of magic proper least of all."
"What about the two Arrow Charms? I note you mentioned that type the least expensive-"
>[Goblin]"Why would I tell you what value it could have?"
"..So you're saying that you can't tell me the specific value of the two amulets, because you know the funds I have could potentially cover it, and you don't want me to know just how much is considered 'fair'?"
The goblin says nothing.
"Do you accept labor... no, I'm not sure that's the right word... do you accept vocational work as trade?"
>[Goblin]"Give a clearer example of what you speak. Be you a smith, a woodworker?"
"...No. My profession would currently be termed mercenary-"
>[Goblin]"Ah, a sell sword, a hedge knight, is that right?"
"Former more so than the latter-I do not believe I am seeking a lord to serve."
>[Goblin]"...No, you don't. Well, why should your services be considered needed? What backing does the quality of your work have?"
"Well, put it this way-you are familiar with that bout Wizard Khubiliai with the Akkorokamui a few days ago?"
>[Goblin]"Several among our clan-myself included-were recruited into service by some of the Wizard's allies looking to curry favor-yes, I am familiar."
"So then it would be safe to say you are aware that one of the Akkorokamui's main supporters, a Doonongaes, did not show up as expected."
>[Goblin]"That would also be correct."
"You did find out about the Doonongaes surfacing with considerable wounds outside the battle to feed and recuperate, yes?"
>[Goblin]"For a third time I must confirm your suspicions."
"Okay, then knowing all this, how is this bit of information, as demonstration of my skill: The reason the Doonongaes was wounded, forced to avoid taking part in that battle? I hurt it so badly it could not take place in the second, larger battle."
>[Goblin]"...Your choice of phrasing was interesting. Answer this, then-if you were aiding the Wizard's faction, why did you not then come to participate in the battle proper? Surely, as skilled as you imply yourself your aid could have been vital."
"I may be good-but not good enough to drive away a Doonongaes without getting injured myself-I entered the field under the Triad's service, should you be familiar with them as you are with the Mafia."
>[Goblin]"We are. Word choice or no, I find no hint of falsehood in what you uttered-I shall accept your example as evidence of ability, then, and take that under consideration as reference for your competence. What of specifics, concerning this offered job?"
"Well, why not tell me what you think would be worth the two Arrow Charms I mentioned?"
>[Goblin]"A favor, to be redeemed at a time of our choosing, in the form of a freely performed service. Would you strike this Deal for the amulets you seek?"
"Well hold on there-say I've just finished another job, some big affair that's left me severely wounded, to the point I would be incapable of ably performing a service-would I be forced to still work in such a state, or do I have the ability to claim exception to your call?"
>[Goblin]"In times of injury, no demand would be made."
"And what about my profession? Say that I am actively under contract to perform a deed, but physically fit-what if your coming to demand payment then would force me to fail at me pre-existing work? Or say a request of yours would directly pit me against a faction I associate with often-would I damn myself to fulfill the deal?"
>[Goblin]"Please do not suggest we would have such low respect for Bargains as to impinge on those of others."
"Okay, I just had to be sure-last question: If I know the job will result in my death-say, for example, going alone to take on multiple Doonongaes in their homeland-then I can reject the job, and instead wait for some work that would not result in my own life ending."
>[Goblin]"There are many conditions you wish to see applied to your potential work."
"I got this far by making sure I finish what I start-I don't want to offer you something that ultimately ends with me not delivering-the dead part I don't care much for either."
>[Goblin]"That is a sentiment I feel a kinship to-but it does nothing to change the fact the offered favor's weight is reduced by your requests-to pay for what you seek, you needs must offer a second to balance the scales."
"As long as it's work that I can complete in one single day for each favor, and, now that I think about it, you don't use me in such a way that I find myself enemy to an entire Court-then yes, I accept two favors offered for two charms received."
>[Goblin]"Your favors shrink smaller still-now, the power of Three is needed to match what is demanded.
>[No haggling trait to trigger]
"...Fine then."
>[Goblin]"The Bargain is struck? The Mortal's demanded pair of Arrow Charm amulets, in exchange for favors numbering three, fitting the requirements the Mortal laid out?"
"The Bargain is struck."
Once more the close-helmed goblin reaches up, a heavily scarred arm taut with ropy muscle questing into his faerie-fire halo, moving to and fro with the sense of rummaging in that elsewhere he reaches. A handful of seconds later his hand comes forth again, a leather thong looped about his fingers, a pair of silver and bronze amulets fitted with Tiger's eye and delicate inscription dangling freely, each adorned with tiny paper strips covered in a cramped, angular script. I happen to blink while I reach my free hand forward-just blink-and I find the amulet-laden thong already in my hand. The goblin is nowhere to be seen, the sewers once more shrouded in shadow-yet I hear it's gravelly, scratchy voice whispering from beside my ear.
>[Goblin]"We will find you when your Bargain must be honored."

And so, nearly midnight or no, I arm myself with Keihäs, the single gun still remaining at my house rather than my Mafia Storage unit, and creep down the nearest manhole. After pulling the cover shut overhead, I call out.
No answer.
"....Sometimes Merchant?"
>[SM]"That mortal free will of yours has made you different-where are those that had been within you before, those of Winter and Summer? And what brings you hear?"
The voice coming from just behind my right ear is accompanied by a flickering light some ten feet away like a lightbulb snuffing out in reverse as the now familiar faerie-fire halo springs into being above the full-helm wearing, scarred bodied Goblin.
"I'll be happy to tell the tale for a price."
>[SM]"Indeed you will-though I wonder if you conceive what the price will be."
"Well-first I'd need to know something, but I need to phrase the question carefully so that answering it does not reveal anything beyond the clarifying bit of information."
>[SM]"By all means-take your time fabricating your data request-I am intrigued."
"...Does the area around my house, within three hundred yards of where it's over the sewers, fall under your sway, or the sway of those beholden to you?"
>[SM]"..I see, very vague."
"And beyond clarifying what I need to know to set my price, I stand to gain nothing from it-and with the only gain made communal, since it facilitates our dealing-the answer shall be given freely: Yes."
"Okay, then-I shall tell you what lead to the Aspects leaving me, for the price of guaranteed safe passage in the sewers within three hundred yards of my house, and to be warned of any threat to my person or belongings detected in that area."
>[SM]"You would ask to be named Friend to the Goblinkin, but in only a tiny space... fifty yards, your propensity to answer in fragments is known."
I feel like attempting to redirect the price from here, now that it's been moved-
>[Haggling success rate check: PASS]
"One hundred fifty."
>[SM]"Clearly you do indeed plan to answer in fragments aplenty, to acquiesce so swiftly. Seventy five."
>[Haggling experience check: FAIL]
"One hundred."
>[SM]"...I am not here to argue trifles-either agree to seventy five, or name a new price."
>[Haggling experience check: FAIL]
"....Fine, seventy five yards."
The helmed goblin's halo flickers-and he goes from standing several dozen feet distant, leaning against the wall to squatting on a ledge a few feet to my left, while his voice now seems to come from my own shirt.
>[SM]"The Bargain shall be made when an answer is heard."
"...Well, what lead to the Aspects leaving me was what they called a Gate to the Other side-I misspoke, they called it the Nevernever-opening."
>[SM]"A gate? They were required to return?"
"That, I'm afraid, is a separate question."
>[SM]"I shall pick the question you answer then-How did a Gate opening make them leave you?"
"The gate was opening inside of a person."
At this the goblin rocks back, knocking on his helmet's brow with scarred knuckles as his voice now echoes from behind me.
>[SM]"It was opening inside of you. How was the Gate closed? You have not become a living Conduit, nor have you died."
"That is your third question, how the Gate was closed?"
>[SM]"....No, my question is 'Which Aspect did what to close the Gate."
"Bear in mind I do not know how to analyze or describe much of what either Aspect can do."
>[SM]"That is understood-the Truth shall be heard."
"Very well-The Winter Aspect was able to take a blue-colored portion of magic that appeared to be the physical manifestation of the gate opening, and either negate or absorb it. The Winter aspect went on to contain the red-colored flames, allowing the Summer Aspect to accept being asked to absorb the energy."
The goblin's crown flickers again-this time the ropy goblin stands inches away from me, his eyeless helm somehow giving an implacable sense of being watched.
>[SM]"...You do not lie, interesting. It seems I have a fourth question then: What do you know of the identity of your prior Winter Aspect?"
"It gave me the name Ogrimir to call it by, but I suspect it to not be it's true name. I know it is strong enough to stand off a god, and to contain a Gate opening in one's flesh. I know it cold, and implacable. Beyond that, I know nothing about it, and have naught but baseless speculation."
>[SM]"...How is it Truth for you to say that the one called Ogrimir could stand off a god?"
>[Supernatural Haggling experience check: FAIL]
"You know, I think that's as much safe area as I currently need around my domocile."
>[SM]"What do you propose as alternative price?"
"Well, maybe I could get a favor stricken fro-"
>[SM]"Favors cannot be recanted, rescinded or returned-they can only be paid."
"What about wards preferential to me around-"
>[SM]"The information you hold does not interest me enough for any of our wards to be offered."
>[Haggling experience check: PASS]
"I will answer your question for a weekly supply of spices that are not harmful to humans viable for all three types of meat I receive from you and yours, specifically spices directly mentioned and used in the recipe book I received, in sufficient quantities to spice the meat I receive."
>[SM]"....Agreeable. Now-to my question."
"I was host to Ogrimir ejecting Whaitiri's presence from my mind, spirit, soul, whatever."
>[SM]"...I feel Whaitiri's presence about you, her magic, woven into your skin and sinew and bone. I feel traces of the Winter Aspect Ogrimir that were not present when last we met. That shall conclude my questions-I have answers of my own to find before I consider asking you further."
"Fine-that's enough spices to season three pounds of meat for life, and three hundred yards of safe zone about my home, correct?"
>[SM]"So it is."
"Which now brings me to why I am down here."
>[SM]"Please go on."
"Do you know what this is in my hands?"
>[SM]"A weapon of decidedly dark enchanting-a spear that can hurl metal. A.. gun."
"Are you familiar with its use?"
"In the interest of determining if a Bargain well in excess of what was already worked out is viable, will you tell me why you do not know?"
>[SM]"It looks a trivial skill."
>[Haggling experience check: PASS]
"Consider that expertise in gun handling skills is what lead me to being the victor against Allenaothos."
>[SM]"A poignant remark, with his sword and blood on your ...gun. But what good is something like that? Wood is easier to enchant, and fast as the metal fangs may travel, many are faster still-an enchanted homing arrow is more lethal."
"...When was the last time you actually watched guns in action-no, how many seasons have passed?"
>[SM]"Two hundred nineteen."
>[Haggling experience check: PASS]
"Guns-rifles, pistols, cannons-all manner of human weapons have been steadily advancing. I stood off a Doonongaes thanks to mortal weaponry. Would it not behoove you and yours to learn of it?"
>[SM]"...Perhaps. What is it you propose, that you teach us?"
"Yes-I have access to multiple different mortal masters in related sub-sets of gun use, and can access a vast wealth of information on the subject, in addition to my own expertise. I could provide individualized training to those that sought it."
>[SM]"Presume for a moment your deal intrigues-what conditions would it labor under?"
"First-time for time. For every hour I spend instructing you, or someone sent to train with me per this deal, must be repaid with an hour of learning."
>[SM]"There are many subjects we would find unacceptable to ask after." "How about only combat and survival related knowledge, so that it matches with what I offer?"
>[SM]"...What else?"
"I would have to ask for an oath that my name, presence or identity never be referenced by you, any that train with me, or any of your group that do not come for training but are otherwise aware of the Bargain's details." >[SM]"If you were to ask such a thing as that-in this hypothetical-know we would ask you to swear to teach only our group-without a counterweight oath from your side, the deal would not be acceptable."
"...To never be able to share my training is too binding-what if some events occur that we break ties, and withholding the information leads to my demise? Far better for it to only last so long as I am being used as an instructor."
>[SM]"There would need to be a counterbalance."
>[Haggle experience check: PASS]
"Obviously at whatever point in time I end up being released from instructional services, it would release you from your oath not to speak of my instruction at the same time it releases me."
>[SM]"...That condition is acceptable."
"Another stipulation-I am to be able to teach those I perceive as mortals during this time in the same skills I offer you and yours-but only mortals."
>[SM]"So long as those you help are not supporters of either Court, that would not bother us."
"But beyond that, I'm wondering what exchange ratio would be necessary for item-weapon, specifically-enchantment."
>[SM]"Instruction in the ways of magical crafting is carefully guarded. Until some time has passed and we can evaluate your teaching ability, no exchange rate could be quoted."
"Which means that such training is indeed available-good to know."
"Well really, I just wanted to get a bit more specific on how the 'training for training' thing will work. I had an idea as to how to get around all the technicalities and specifics of a direct exchange system."
>[SM]"That being?"
>[Haggle success check: PASS]
"Instead of getting my own training immediately in return, I could save up owed hours of instruction, to redeem at a time that fits both my and your schedule"
"The real question is what kind of exchange rate I get for different types of things you can teach me."
>[SM]"As to that...."
[Haggle performance tallied]
>[For Armas, the golden rule of trade is that there is no such thing as a final sale, deal or anything-a bargain isn't done until the exchange has taken place-and by that same token, a rejected offer can simply be pursued again. This improves Armas' baseline haggling ability, and lowers the prices at many shops-but his pushy attitude will give negative modifiers with certain vendors.]
>[While some mortals eye Fae dealings askance, and steer clear of the supernatural pacts and sometimes lethal wordplay, Armas has charged forward, continuing to make contracts and transactions as he has with any others he's met. Between his forthright approach and his (thus-far) blemish free record of keeping his word, most Supernatural entities will view pacts with him more along the lines as they would those with other fae than Mortals. Supernatural stock placed in Armas' word of honor has increased.]
># of hours of offered training required for one hour of Goblin training.
1----Moving Silently
1----Trapmaking and setup
3----Supernatural physiology and anatomy pertaining to butchering and hunting of assorted beasts
3----Enchanting Ingredient gathering
4----Expendable charm crafting
5----Magic weapon forging
6----Passive charm crafting
It takes another hour to hash out some last specifics-how the goblins will inform me of prospective students and their need for training (A Brownie will seek me out to pass on the information), how I'll know of groups the Goblins do not ever want me training (Any time there is a group of mortals they want blacklisted they will contact me) and so forth-but I clasp hands with Sometimes Merchant at last, and the deal is struck. I excuse myself shortly thereafter, and go to sleep, my thoughts filled with spears and contracts.

I decide that it's time to try out some of this goblin training. I hit up a bookstore, buying a generic brown leather journal, and head back home to drop into the sewers (only after making sure Camella can't see me from the house). "Sometimes merchant-I'd like to discuss a deal before today's training."
>[SM]"Yes, Deal Maker?"
The voice this time comes from atop my head, as I see the goblin sitting cross-legged on the ceiling, openly mocking gravity. To make matters worse, in his hands are a clay jug and a small cup-the heady aroma of liquor filling the air, a complement to the flickering light of his faerie fire halo. He raises the small cup to his relatively minimalistic round helm, adorned with bandannas and scarves-the liquor vanishes, and the cup is lowered.
>[SM]"Ah... a good day indeed. What business did you want to discuss."
"I wished to discuss redeeming some accrued training hours-but I find myself curious about your.... disposition."
>[SM]"An apt query. Due to the elation events inspire, sharing the information is personally viewed as positive, so a Deal need not be established-I'll tell you freely."
This... cannot be normal.
>[SM]"Those living about the bones of Rome-the Italians, today saw one of their most powerful Bloodlines mocked, beaten and rejected by a French half-breed and a Chinese Mortal. We welcome the change of order, and the chaos entailed by this."
"There are several bloodlines in Italy-of which do you speak?"
>[SM]"That of Sicilian kings-that of Savoy."
My brain nearly shuts down at this point, processing ramifications of this new data.
>[SM]"He attempted to remove a leader amongst the Triads, a mortal named Lo Fang-his attempted assassination did not go as planned."
...What? WHAT.
"...You... are happy the attempt failed, obviously."
>[SM]"If you seek the reason why this elicits such joy-that would not be so freely offered."
"I expected as much... still, Savoy went after Lo Fang, huh."
>[SM]"You know both parties."
"Since that's not a question, I'm going to ignore it-so, I was hoping to get six hours of sneaking training, and an hour of Magic Weapon forging, but JUST on how to identify magical weapon properties."
>[SM]"You request to trade eleven hours out of thirty saved-you are still available to teach tonight?"
>[SM]"For now nineteen, soon twenty two hours will still be credited to you-but your request is acceptable, and will be facilitated. ...For what reason did you bring that book?"
"I wanted to write down what I pick up in the lessons."
>[SM]"Perhaps the portions one can transcribe will behoove you-only time will tell. "
The Goblin's halo spins down and widens into a massive gateway, blazing light underneath the city streets-showing a decidedly different view through its loop than the sewer we inhabit. As I am about to ask about that-
>[SM]"The Deal shall be honored."
The halo flows forward-
-I'm in a place that distinctly reminds me of where I spoke with Whaitiri, where Ogrimir and Mahuika's servant argued-there is no ground, no sky-merely a goblin, with a mask wrought in silver, styled after an ancient, wizened scholar, drooped with age.
>[Goblin]"We shall begin with the nature of sneaking, the art of not being seen-which requires looking at what it is to be seen. You will find....."
I dutifully write down everything I am told, thankful I learned to write without needing to watch my hands at work, captivated by the sound and tone of my instructor-
>[Goblin]"That feeling when someone is watching you-that sensation that draws your attention to someone looking your way in the periphery-it can be caught, mastered, tempered. You can learn to sense attention as you would sound or smell. This is how one truly...."
As the goblin speaks, shapes form out of the blurred mist around us, a skulker flitting from posItion to position, more and more guards being added to the repeated scenario to match the pacing of the lesson.
>[Goblin]"-ot enough to simply know where someone's attention is-you must know where it will be. Lacking that, no amount of perception will let you truly Sneak-merely observe, and watch. This is why you must master that sense of attention, muster it into...."
It feels like hardly any time at all-but I note myself to have filled both sides of fifty sheets of paper throughout the lesson-and I somehow doubt they could have given me less. From there, the lesson goes into something a bit less conceptual and more analytic-an hour spent building on and honing the rough ability to sense magical weapons I've picked up from carrying such items for months-by the end I can tell with a touch if a weapon is magical, and get a rough sense of the scope of its enchantments.
And with that done, the halo appears again-
For me to be deposited in my mafia storage unit, the goblin trio already present. By the end, they have naught but the three automatic weapons left to learn-the three most time consuming to teach, judging by the first goblin. Twenty two hours saved up, one hundred six hours trained with Ito... okay.

After spending a few more hours at the gym, the time comes for evening training with the goblins once more-but this time, when I meet my trio of students I ask to speak with the Sometimes Merchant first.
>[SM]"You wished to discuss a deal?"
>[AMBUSH EXPERT Trait activated]
"So is the bouncing voice and body position thing necessary?"
>[SM]"If one only did what is necessary, what would give their life meaning? This is the answer a mortal some generations ago told me to give to that question-it seems apt enough. So-what is it you came to Deal in?"
"Well, I have some information I believe you would like to trade for-and then a deal most vast to discuss."
>[SM]"...Go on."
Turns out guesswork does not count for shit here-my suspicions about other Demonic disciples lacking substantial evidence, my thoughts on how I reached the stairwell-just as he does not give two shits about my unremembered night with Laetissi and Ervsi, saying the information holds no value for him. He makes no comment about me being struck by magic lightning twice in two days-but is most intrigued when I get to my talk with the Doonongaes, and Cornelius' involvement-the episode with Mammon's device, the nature of the deal offered-that interests him as well.
>[MMM Trait activated, DDDD Trait activated]
I'm able to break the story up into quite a few segments without aggravating Sometimes Merchant, and get quite a haul.
-One pound of Hippocamp meat per week, for life.
-One pound Griffin meat per week, for life.
-One liter of Basilisk blood per week for life. [Which reminds me I should use that Demon blood, I have three liters.]
-One pound of Ushi-oni meat per week, for life.
-One pound of Mandragora root per week, for life.
-One half pound of Erymanthian Boar liver.
-Two liters of Heiðrún's mead-milk per week for life.
A tidy haul, that. I think I could cook a supernatural meal twice a day all week, now. Pretty soon I'll have enough to start my own diner, or something.

Now the main event-how to pitch selling the magic gate strikes to the goblins-and what to ask for. I have to be careful with my word choice-it could mean everything to what is offered.
Trying to recapture that sudden sense of smooth confidence I garnered somewhere in the hectic swirl of Friday night.
"You recall the Gate issue I had some time ago?"
A voice from beneath my feet responds as the Sometimes Merchant sits on the wall.
>[SM]"It is recalled."
"Since then,, I've had two more such events, in that a gate began to open in me."
The goblin's body rock's back as if struck, halo's fire sputtering in perplexion while his words come from beside my ear.
>[SM]"You speak the truth-and you live. How-"
"Respectfully, I believe your focus could be best directed towards this, the crux of my Deal-I would offer to you the power of those gates, those irregularly common strikes, to do with as you will-naturally I'd have some conditions for their use, but I believe you will not find them restrictive."
>[SM]"You say you offer this to us-know you this must perforce mean for life?"
Figures, with their obsession with that payment method.
"Yes-those Gates that, under different circumstances could have made me a Conduit-I offer all future ones that come directly to my flesh or soul, for the rest of my natural life."
>[SM]"....An offer of great worth to us-something you know. So, what is it you would ask for this?"
"First, the conditions of the power's disposition."
>[SM]"Name them."
"Your method of claiming the power must keep it from reaching or harming me. It cannot be used directly against my person, my holdings, or those under my protection by you, your kin, or your own direct trade partners, should you trade the power. Likewise, I must ask that at no point do you reveal the power's source-on this I must be most adamant."
>[SM]"A request to prevent your own offered power from being used against you, and an oath of discretion-accommodations that can be made, but beware it will reduce what we are compelled to offer for an equivalent exchange."
"Well-My biggest focus is two parts-first, I would like whatever information you have on the individual Florent Smets, including any known character flaws or intrinsic vulnerabilities. After that is provided, I wish to learn all that can be taught concerning your two favored physical arts-that of mastering Sight and Sound, of counter-perception, of mastering the arts of sneaking and moving silently. I also note that I require this done before this current week has passed, so it may have to be done in one massive intensive training."
>[SM]"....What you ask can be done tonight, after your pre-arranged lesson."
With the most vital things I can think of dealt with, I move on to the 'would be nice' category of deal items.
"I also need to have a specific firearm modified to have magical properties-this gun here, the-"
>[SM]"AA-12, I know."
...He hasn't been at my lessons, so how-
"Idyllically I need it able to ignore or dampen regenerative effects in targets-but I'm open to suggestions if that can't be done."
The merchant's voice seems to swirl about my head, first coming from this way, then that, shifting word by word as his body continues to sit on the wall.
>[SM]"....The request can be met-but nothing further shall be added-the prospective gains of whatever comes your way in the future are not worth more than comprehensive clan teachings and personalized weapon augmentation."
>[WON'T TAKE NO Trait activated]
"Really? Even for someone who has consistently offered equitable deals, a steady source of information, and even training in modern equipment-which I have to discuss with you as well, after this Bargain."
>[SM]"Perhaps you speak true-and from the first you have been a dutiful trade partner and neighbor. ...Speak."
"I'd just want to be able to at least come in and discuss business with any goblins associated with you, you clan-really, I just want a 'foot in the door' introduction to proceed me when dealing with goblin kind."
>[SM]"...Easily offered in Istanbul-the whole of Turkey would be difficult, but achievable. The world is impossible."
"Wherever I can get an introduction, I would truly appreciate it."
>[SM]"You attempt to emotionally ply me-why?"
"You just described me as a friend of sorts-why should I not be upfront with you? I'd rather keep my good word than make an individual profit."
>[SM]"....Very well. The Deal, then, is this: For the power calamitous to your present body, each impending Gate attempt from the Nevernever that you offer us, we offer in turn to train you in our physical arts tonight, within the Nevernever. We offer to tell you what is known of the one named Florent Smets, to name you a known business partner of the Goblins in the land now called Turkey, and to gift one of your implements with gifts most biting, the taste of ruin, of healing made useless. Do you accept this deal?"
Quite frankly I'm amazed that went so well and I am NOT going to push my luck.
"The deal is accepted."
The goblin's halo flashes and dies-and with it, the Sometimes Merchant is no more. The trio of goblins before me clamor for their lesson-and with the AA-12 now missing, I skip to Brandt's gun, the three hours passing in a blur-before I blink....
Finding myself in a strange room. There is no door-yet windows abound, as well as support columns, boulders and small houses-all contained in this one massive room.
>[SM]"Florent Smets is a Vampire of the Zosimus Dynasty, an avid collector of magical firearms. He knows no magic, and is a vain creature, too obsessed with his collection to be that rational when surrounded by them. Has a known problem controlling his drinking when around magically charged bloodlines. This concludes the knowledge we have of the individual known as Florent Smets-and now to teach you that which you asked...."
So it goes-hour after hour in this place with no real reference for time, no rising sun or twinkling stars, no metric to measure by-save by my own actions. First, I measure by how many times I am asked to navigate across sand, gravel, leaves and dry timber, climb all manner of surfaces in a circuitous track throughout the massive room. Each time I do it, at every step I have the Sometimes Merchant, never present, whispering in my ear, as I try to avoid being seen or heard by shadowed figures in each window, as well as patrolling the room itself. I fail a great deal at first-off hand, I'd say the first thousand circuits I was caught at LEAST one hundred times. But I started to get better, as the lessons kept getting drilled in-how to feel someone's eyes on you, read every bit of body language, read them without looking in their eyes-or even directly at them. Listen to the environment-estimate distances, make noise only when something else closer to that which you stalk does likewise. Mask noise with noise, don't move erratically-NOTHING sudden, only smooth, measured movements. By the five thousandth circuit, I'm averaging being caught twenty times per circuit-and have become enthralled in the process, constantly striving to do better. By the ten thousandth time, I'm down to five. By fifteen, two. At twenty one thousand, two hundred and twelve circuits-I have my first incident of not being caught in a full circuit. It takes me until the thirty one thousand, five hundred seventy third circuit before the Merchant is satisfied I can reliably avoid detection moving from any point in the room to any other, no matter the terrain or distance, given sufficient time.
From there the lessons change. The room warps, and shifts-everything is new, different faux-buildings, different terrain and composition-as well as watchers in towers throughout the room, as well as a general doubling of population. All the watchers are different-their patterns of observation new and alien. With so much changed, I begin my count again, as I am asked to keep navigating the monstrous room-with the new goal being to reach a destination undetected and follow a designated patroller on a full circuit of the room. The first attempt massively deflates my ego, as I am discovered a whopping one thousand, two hundred eighty times-it seems I grew reliant on familiar terrain-and now need to move much more swiftly to take advantage of smaller windows of opportunity. It takes me forty two circuits to push the capture rate below one thousand per mission-and eleven thousand, four hundred two to get it below five hundred. It's monstrously difficult to read so many different potential observers at once-yet the timelessly patient Merchant continues to analyze each mistake I make, offer suggestions on how to not make it next time, and tie it back in with the general principles of what he calls the Goblinoid Physical Arts, involved with my error. At fifteen thousand circuits, the room changes-and predictably, my capture rate spikes again. I recover faster this time, and get the capture rate below one hundred by the next reset at thirty thousand-and down to thirty by the next. At sixty three thousand, nine hundred eight circuits completed, I experience my first 'successful' run of the new circuits. It takes another reset, and a total of eighty three thousand, seven hundred fifty eight circuits to satisfy the Sometimes Merchant that, in a small town with a population in the low hundreds, I could effectively be invisible, with sufficient effort and time. He notes that while I now seem to firmly have ingrained the principles into my bones-I am still hesitating far too much-too reliant on familiarity, on time to second guess oneself.
To this end, he says, do we come to the third and final variant of instruction. The room swells, to ten times its original size-skyscrapers, castles, huts, mansions igloos-all manner of terrain one could ever hope to see, from desert to jungle, from beach to mountain-has some representation here. I note the now small-city sized room to be packed with observers. I am told that I will learn how to be alacritous, and how to hide in crowds, and combine it all with my extant lessons. Each 'mission, will require me to use a given portrait of a target, as well as a general area of the massive room they will traverse, and am told to reach them, then stalk them for as long as possible-the goal being to shadow them until they sleep, wake, and sleep again.
The first time I am caught enough times I stop counting after ten thousand. Frustrated that each new lesson version makes the accomplishments of the last seem as dust in my hands, I continue to slog through, mission after mission. I'm down to being caught a thousand times, give or take, by the fifty nine thousandth circuit-and my progress continues to slow from there. I lose count around one hundred thousand times..... and seem to crest at being caught some hundred times, no matter how hard I try. I keep hearing Sometimes Merchant urging me to move faster, to think faster, to perceive and understand faster-and as the circuits pass by I wonder if my human limits have been reached. I couldn't really say just when it happened, but some number of circuits after I came to the conclusion, The Merchant concludes that there is nothing more that can be taught.
With that, I'm back in a tiny metal box with guns everywhere- Fuck, this is the storage shed I use-those are my Matebas, there's the AVT-40 Sniper, that... big German guy, Brandt's gun, my armor-
And there's the AA-12. Or I think that's what it is.
The metal forestock has been covered in what look like fangs, each perfectly slotted together in a manner vaguely reminiscent of scale-mail. Some creature's vertebra were cored, and slotted around the barrel and muzzle, completing the new look-that's right, I asked for the weapon to be made able to reject regeneration.
>[AA-12 now gets a +5 supernatural bonus to rolls, and negates two level's worth of regeneration in any regenerating target it strikes-up to three levels for the full magazine.]
I feel surreal as I make my way back home, staring myself in the face to make sure I haven't aged-yet despite that eternity, here I am, back home-as I open the door Camella looks up at me like she did any other day before-except that before was today, even if it was a subjective eternity. ....Nothing's changed, did that really happen?

"Sometimes Merchant, I have news you would wish to hear."
Light flickers into being behind me as a voice comes from a foot before my face, the sense of attention brushing against my back.
>[SM]"What news would that be-and what do you want?"
"You recall mentioning to me the injuries a son of Rome suffered-a mortal by the name of Galileo Savoy."
>[SM]"Of course, all deals are remembered."
"Well I offer this to you freely as a show of good faith-I ran into Savoy today, and managed to remove the new arm he had gotten in placement of the one lost before, barring enhanced healing I crippled him-and from what I saw I believe one of my shots castrated him."
The light flickers again as Sometimes Merchant now stands before me, halo dancing merrily above his head as I note his previously minimalistic helm to now be festooned with a gleeful mask.
>[SM]"You speak Truth-and have provided knowledge of value-for free. Why?"
>[DDDD Trait activated]
"I ended up consuming Savoy's replacement limb-a demonic one, to my understanding-and with it consumed some golden blood from an entity previously serving Smets by the given name of Amen-I was informed that which I consumed will have a recoil, a price-and from the timetables I was given that's about ten minutes away."
>[SM]"So you seek protection from the internal cost, then?"
"I seek discreet protection from it."
>[SM]"This can be offered-but the one you call Amen is most potent-it is costly to provide what you seek."
I see the Sometimes Merchant's halo sputtering and flaring, as a sense of power, raw and unfocused, courses through the walls of our subterranean meeting place. What could-
[FANART BONUS: RAPID RATIONALIST Trait critically activated]
Hm. Never felt that before-or seen a response like that from the goblin's halo. In fact... I'd say it feels vaguely familiar. Déjà vu-of the exact sort that I've had before-meaning this is the energy of a gate that would have opened in me. So.. they just got a heaping helping of power from me-I can roll with that for bargaining-
[WON'T TAKE NO Trait activated]
[DDDD Trait activated]
[MMM Trait activated]
"I can't help but note that you are benefiting rather immensely from your deal with me-that was the second gate you've absorbed from me, wasn't it?"
"And the power represented in just one of those is of high value to you, correct?"
>[SM]"Again, accurate."
"I have also been a consistently useful customer and business partner-or do you believe that assessment is inaccurate?"
>[SM]"It is accurate to say several generations have passed since last I spoke with a mortal so.... keen on deals-and prone to keeping his word rather than attempting a trickster's gambit."
"So would you classify me as a valued business partner?"
>[SM]"If the history we have yet established continues, I see no reason you would not be considered a valuable trading partner."
"Well, what if the recoil removes my ability to deal with you-what if it kills me, and cuts off your access to future gates?"
>[SM]"What are you implying-speak clearly so a Deal may be assessed."
"I am saying it is my belief you would benefit a great deal from offering me such protection , and that it should be offered for fre-"
>[SM]"You do not grasp the depth of power you are asking for: I cannot make such a Deal."
The way he said that... didn't sound like an opinion, but a fact. Okay...
"Alright-I will shortly have Smets' gun collection in my possession-what about taking some imbued weapons in barter?"
Finally, the goblin shifts-sitting on the ceiling now, as his voice echoes off every wall, source seemingly everywhere. >[SM]"....A different Deal is offered-one of your owed Favors to us will be erased, and the protection you seek offered-for every gun of Smets' collection that will be coming into your possession."
...Fuck, that's pricey-just how much juice is it going to cost them to protect me from the recoil?
...Double fuck, three minutes until an hour's passed-I'm running out of time. If I want to barter from here, I have a very limited window... I could probably only get in five or six sentences worth of further haggling attempts (not including run-on sentences)
"There are a few weapons among the collection which rightfully belong to others, having been retained by Smets in an attempt to cheat me and them. I can describe the particular guns in full. Those would not be part of this deal. If that's acceptable, I agree."
My head is pounding ever harder as the Sometimes Merchant nods.
>[SM]"The Deal is struck-you will be sheltered from the coming force-and none shall know of it from our lips or actions."
I try to respond as the sense of wrongness within me doubles and doubles again in the blink of an eye and my knees wobble-my mouth starts to open just as my right leg buckles and I start to fall to the ground, feeling like an over packed sausage about to burst, the Sometimes Merchant's hand reaching for me-
I realize my eyes are open, dry and burning-I close my eyelids for a moment as I assess where I am. ...Okay, I'm lying prone on something flat, hard and dry-feels like stone. ...No, not completely flat-I feel some engravings beneath my hands on either side of me. I'm still clothed-definitely a plus-and my head is no longer throbbing. My eyes rehydrated, I finally begin looking at my surroundings-and see fuckall. Great-surrounded by darkness.
The Buntline is in my hand before I have time to finish registering I feel a hand on my left shoulder.
>[SM]"It is done."
My movement stills-and as the halo flickers into life, illuminating the subterranean room-I see the smooth stone walls, the cavernous ceiling-and I know us not to be in the sewer proper. Where?-
>[SM]"I am returning you to your domicile, as it is becoming agitating preventing the mortal you took in from chasing after you."
Wha-Camella. But if she's doing THAT-
"How long did this take?"
>[SM]"A tenth of a day's worth of light."
...One hell of a strange way to phrase it-okay, a tenth of twelve hours of sunlight-over an hour. No wonder she got worried, with how quick I vanished.
>[MMM Trait activated]
"So what changes were wrought by that which I imbibed?"
>[SM]"You are no longer limited by your bodies' innate inability to regenerate lost limbs-if you survive a given injury, given sufficient time and nutrients, you will recover to full capacity. This, from the energies Demonic you consumed."
"What about Amen's blood?" At this I see a completely alien set of body language from the Sometimes Merchant-if I didn't know better I'd say he was-
>[SM]"....I do not know."
"You... don't know? Why not?"
..Wow, great sentence structure there Armas-head so damn out of sorts-
>[SM]"...The one you call Amen... it's blood would not allow us to interpret or analyze it-I cannot offer you an answer. Now."
Sometimes Merchant flashes a hand in front of my face quick as lightning, a hair's breadth from my eyes-I involuntarily blink-
I'm on the surface, a few feet away from the manhole I descended-

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