Longtooth Cavern

Once a veritable maze of stalactites and stalagmites, Longtooth Cavern has recently undergone a human-induced change to its grand natural formation. The rock "teeth" of the cavern have been shorn off, revealing that the area is actually of a fairly good size. There has also been the addition of wooden beams, which support the ceiling to prevent cave-ins, and from these beams hang lanterns to keep the space illuminated.
There are barrels lined along the walls, some empty while others hold everything from innocent trade goods to highly illegal contraband. Strewn along the floor are a few bedrolls and a pack of supplies commonly found on those who travel. The space as a whole is rather dry and snug for a cave, perhaps due to its height as compared to other such formations.
Off at a far wall, some of the stalagmites have been left attached to the floor, serving as support for a sturdy wooden structure that can serve as a makeshift prison cell should the need arise. There is one exit from this cavern: out into the lengthy tunnel that makes up the majority of the cave.

The Messenger Before you stands a willowy, androgynous figure clad in midnight blue robes that could be anything from scholarly to womanly. The figure's face is veiled, so that only the eyes are visible - yet under the veil is not a face, but a bone-white ceramic mask. The figure wears silk gloves of a matching dark blue, and speaks in a stage whisper; there is no way to tell if the figure is male or female, or any features behind its disguise.

Nightslider A tall man, reasonably muscular in build. He bears black hair that reaches to his shoulders in lazy curls and deep, dark brown eyes that seem almost black unless in bright light. Thin lips seem to have an easy time forming a smile on the occasions when the man actually tries, and a straight nose gives him ease in looking down it at people. This face is framed by a strong jaw and medium-high cheekbones.

His manner of dress, when he is unarmored, is quite extravagant. Yellows make up most of the coloring of his silk-clad form, manifesting in various shades - from the darker golden-brown of his boots and the goldenrod of his tunic to the cream-colored hue of his trousers and lemon-tinted saffron of his cloak. Yes, this man is very, very yellow. His posture, board-straight, speaks of a high-class upbringing - such as that of a noble or wealthy merchant.

There are about seven people here, as well as several barrels full of Light only knows what. Most are clad in studded leather and carry some form of short blade and crossbow. The apparent leader, though, is armored in chainmail. The man stands straight and has yet to engage in any of the grunt work taking place, merely pointing and arranging. At his side are two women, a blonde and a brunette, whose jobs seems to be to just stand there. The other four - all men - merely continue to carry out their leader's barked orders.

Into this almost domestic scene steps a being so bizarre and yet so mundane as to draw the eye without drawing fire. Robed as if leprous, the willowy Messenger enters the cavern. The figure waits, perhaps politely and perhaps only patiently, where it is clearly illuminated by the light in the cavern.

Nightslider peers at the new arrival even as the women leave his side to block him off from this Messenger. He waves a casual hand at the men, "Keep working," before placing a hand on each woman's outer shoulder and lowering his mouth between their ears. "Ladies," he purrs, "Please. You take your jobs far too seriously. He's not posing a threat yet, is he?" And then to the man who does not belong, the straight-backed serpent merely smiles and says, "Yes?"

"The interests I represent send me to see how you are settling in, Nightslider." The messenger's stage whisper is peculiarly cheerful and pleasant. "And have sent me to discover whether a proposed offer would be of interest to you."

"We settle in quite well, Messenger, thank you," replies the smuggler brightly, "As for an offer... Well, that quite depends on the terms, wouldn't you agree? Although I would like to reiterate my concern from before at your employer being anonymous. My current business partners trust me with their identities, why can the 'interests you represent' not?"

The Messenger waves a gloved hand. "Consider it a test of faith and focus, Nightslider," it says. "If it concerns you so greatly. We are not 'partners'. The interests I represent simply find it to their benefit to offer you and your merry band the occasional gift. This site, for example, for your new hideaway. Is it not suitable for your requirements?"

"Fair enough," the man lets out a mock-disappointed sigh and then moves on, "Boys, pair up and watch the exits." The four men stop moving barrels with a few muttered, "Yessirs," before heading out of the cavern. Nightslider waves a hand at a few empty barrels that serve as seating and makes for one himself, "I prefer not to talk business in front of the recruits. Please, tell me about this offer you spoke of."

"I regret we cannot offer you the man you wish to kill directly," says the messenger, with a low nod as the recruits depart. "However, I am to offer you an irresistable bait, if you wish to make use of it. Lord Varal would never fail to avenge one of his own, should he fall. I am to promise you the opportunity to take the life of a Torchbearer, and provide you the information necessary to keep Lord Varal from immediate retaliation. Does this offer please you?"

The mention of Lord Varal gets a strange reaction from the female smugglers, who part and steps away from Nightslider with bowed heads. The man himself quirks a brow and takes a breath only slightly off from natural, before smiling again, "Mm. Perhaps it does and perhaps it does not. What is it that your party gains from this?"

The messenger spreads its empty, gloved hands in a peaceful gesture. "As I said," it replies softly. "It pleases the interests I represent to offer you a gift. Should you wish, it may end there; a gift we offer you, that you may accept or refuse as you wish." The figure pauses. "Should you wish, it may be also be a path to the 'partnership' you seek. But partnerships require giving as well as receiving."

"I am a businessman, Messenger," Nightslider replies smoothly, "I understand the mechanics of a partnership. What I do not understand, however, is why it pleases 'the interests' to give gifts to smugglers. There must be a catch in there somewhere. Perhaps this Torchbearer you offer me the opportunity to kill has simply angered or inconvenienced them?" He tilts his head slightly, as though trying to read past the stranger's garb.

"It would seem you do not," the messenger replies softly. "You are offered gifts - true gifts, no reciprocation required - and your response is to demand yet more gifts." The androgynous figure flicks its gloved fingers. "We offer you this opportunity because our understanding of you suggests that it would please you to cause Lord Varal pain, and it would please you to kill him. Should you kill a Torchbearer, he will be driven to find you. You can force him to walk the path of your choosing as he investigates the death. Cause him all the pain and suffering you wish." The figure shrugs. "You may perhaps wish to manipulate the tool we offer you in some other fashion. It matters not to us. We offer you this gift because we believe it will please you. If we are correct, accept it. If we are not, refuse it. These gifts do not require us to trust you, Nightslider, and your refusal or acceptance will not hurt us."

"I like being in control," Nightslider explains simply, "Forgive my suspicions." The man scratches his chin throughfully as a smirk quirks on the corner of his lips, "Very well. I accept this gift." He walks over to one of the women who still stand rather submissively and runs a finger along her chin, speaking softly into her ear. His attention, however, is still on the Messenger.

The messenger bows to Nightslider, as if to a lord. "Your suspicions are understandable. Gifts are a rare event in this world." It straightens, nodding. "I am thus to inform you that the Torchbearer called Mareten will travel alone in this region soon. Your men should be able to take him down. I am further to tell you that Mareten cannot 'disappear'. We have observed him for some time, and there is a mage who frequently appears able to find him, wherever he may be. We therefore assume there is some use of Shadow involved, and we advise as part of this gift that you leave the man's body where you wish Varal to go - we thought perhaps a desolate stretch of the western road might be a suitable place for an ambush. We are quite certain that the mage will find Mareten's body, and see to it that people are informed. You will have to evade the Royal Guard - so we suggest the road, and far from here - but the Torchbearer's body should bring Lord Varal to a location you control."

"Sounds simple enough," Nightslider replies as the woman he just whispered to visibly relaxes, "So we kill the Torchbearer, leave him in a spot we like that is not near here, and wait for the game to begin..." He repeats the process with the other woman, who relaxes as well while her boss drifts off thoughtfully. "A pleasing gift, indeed. Is there anything else I should know, Messenger?"

The messenger stands quite still for a moment. "The last is an offer, not a gift. As I said, a partnership requires reciprocation. Kill the man where you wish, or do not kill him at all - we will not consider this a problem of any sort. However. I am to tell you that should you kill him and leave him to be found in Zahir lands, it will be sufficient sign that you desire a partnership with those I represent, that I will then be sent to speak with you without disguise, should matters of mutual interest arise."

"That is good to know," Nightslider replies with a nod, "I will give the offer due consideration." He steps forward and bows slightly, extending his right hand to shake and his left towards the exit, "Dealing with you has been an interesting experience, to say the least. I thank you and the interests you represent for the generous gifts. Please, allow one of these lovely ladies to escort you. If the men are loyal at all, they will not let you out without my leave."

The messenger bows again. "Good fortune in your endeavors, whatever they may be," it replies. The gloved hands disappear in the loose, voluminous robes as the messenger is quietly escorted out.