We had a fantastic time at Gen Con this year. As we eagerly anticipate fulfillment and delivery for the RDI5 Kickstarter we thought it would be good fun to recount one of our favorite Gen Con moments: The Annual Doppelganger Tournament! Each Gen Con we host a tournament for The Red Dragon Inn. This tournament pits players playing the whole cast of heroes against one another to prove that they truly have what it takes to survive a wild night of partying! Only the toughest and trickiest players make it to the top table, where they will go on to win fabulous prizes!
All 29(!) members of The Party have gathered at The Red Dragon Inn for their yearly reunion. But once again, dastadly doppelgangers have invaded the tavern with nearly 80 participants! With up to four each of Fiona, Zot, Deirdre, Gerki and the rest showing up, the first round of the tournament had players pitted against their mirror matches to prove that they were the real version of themselves in a battle of brains, brawn, and booze!
After the players had eliminated all of their doppelgangers from the tournament, the night really got started. With each character randomly assigned to one of six tables, they partied hard to prove that they had what it took to make it to the final table! The matchups were ferocious, and the results always exciting!
Table 1: The fearsome ninja Sera outmaneuvered Gog, Remy, Zariah and Captain Whitehawk!
Winner: Sera – Etta Scheu
Gog – Robert Castiello
Remy – Chad Somerville
Zariah – John Niemann
Whitehawk – Steven Burke
Table 2: Korash answered Bastian’s prayers for victory against Fiona, Halden, Natyli and Pooky!
Winner: Bastian – Ashley Krisp
Fiona – Emily Parkerson
Halden – Grant Allen
Natyli – Amanda Greene
Pooky – Jess Cwik
Table 3: Erin shapeshifted her way to the final table against Tara, Joran, Gerki and Zot!
Winner: Erin – Rachel McCartney
Tara – Jason Coleman
Joran – Jim Schwan
Gerki – Robert Lane
Zot – Hans Petersen
Table 4: For the second time Bryn muscled her way to the top against Serena, Deirdre, Lizwick and Dimli!
Winner: Bryn – Isaac Payne
Serena – Nicholas Peterson
Deirdre – Geoff Lynch
Lizwick – Dan Deger
Dimli – Ross Hyman
Table 5: Zakhan’s antics quickly overcame Eve, Wrench, Cormac and Kaylin!
Winner: Zakhan – Craig Scott
Eve – Daniel Moody
Wrench – Chris McMahon
Cormac – Jonathan Cucchiaro
Kaylin – John Cacciotti
Table 6: Ozrik’s elemental power was too much for Wizgille, Phrenk and Fleck!
Winner: Ozrik – Kelly Bertram
Wizgille – Kelly Overholger
Phrenk – Shane Voegerl
Fleck – Tyler Anastasia
Zakhan and Sera must have had the beginner’s luck this year, both new characters making it to the final table after going drink for drink with some tough competition. Erin, Ozrik and Bastian rounded out the table with some serious magical firepower, and strangely enough a perfectly normal (albiet outstandingly large) deck-hand took the sixth seat. These six squared off at the final table for one last round of drinks. Each player was already guaranteed a fabulous prize, and were competing for their picking order (and bragging rights!). The bulging biceps of Bryn the Boatswain won the day, piloted to victory by Isaac Payne!
1 – Bryn – Isaac Payne
2 – Erin – Rachel McCartney
3 – Bastian – Ashley Krisp
4/5 – Sera – Etta Scheu and Zakhan – Craig Scott
6 – Ozrik – Kelly Bertram
With the sweet taste of near victory of the top table last year only to be tainted by bitter defeat at the hands of Eve the Illusionist, Bryn must have been pumped to have a second chance to redeem herself. Who knew that lifting canons all day would make you tough enough to take on the likes of spell casters, shape shifters and trained martial artists?
In Part 1 of Keet’s Corner (here) we talked about how Keet mechanically affects the game and why we were so excited to bring him to the Red Dragon Inn. This week, we’re going to be diving head-first into all of the thematic design elements for this character. Welcome to Keet’s Corner Part 2: Look and Feel.
One of the guiding principles for every RDI character is that their deck needs to tell a story. We have three opportunities to tell players about the character they are playing:
The Card Titles: We try our best to have characters tell their own story. That’s why most of the card titles are quotes. We want players to know how their character talks and engages the rest of the party. Arguably, our most successful use of card titles is shown off with Gog, who doesn’t use many pronouns and yells a lot. Many newcomers sit down with us for a demo of RDI 2 and immediately start acting like Gog, shouting out their card titles and referring to themselves as “Gog” rather than “I” or “me”. This ends up drawing laughs from everyone at the table, and is just a great deal of fun.
The Art: Perhaps the most important storytelling opportunity we have is with the art. This is our chance to really show off the character’s body language and facial expressions, and is a great chance to include a visual gag. We have had a lot of success here in the past – for example, the one-two punch of title and artwork in Gerki’s “Where’d the little guy go?”
The artwork becomes even more important when we use a phrase or plain text for a card title. In these instances, we can still pull off a funny thing to say like Pooky’s “Nasty big pointy teeth” card. However, other times the title ends up being pretty vanilla, like Wrench’s “Noble sacrifice”. In these situations, we really need to push the visual gag, as we did for Pooky, or tell a lot of story, like how Wrench cowers while one of his gizmos acts heroically.
The Effects: Occasionally we’ve used the effects box to inject some extra flavor into the game. Usually, we use the mechanics of the effect to continue the story from the picture or title. Other times, we explicitly provide a bit of italicized flavor text. We drop flavor text on many Drink Cards, as well as most of the “Everyone Pay Me” cards. But sometimes it pops up in other places, like Wizgille’s Gear Deck. We are always striving to pair the mechanical effect of a card with its flavor – for instance, Joran’s “I know there’s Gold in here somewhere…” card is a perfect example of the effect playing off the visual and title.
To really bring Keet to life, we needed to figure out how he talked. Was he curt and distracted or a little bit of an insulting sour puss? Talking with Ben and going over his card effects, we figured that Keet needed to be a fair bit excitable (he’s REALLY into his artifacts) but also a good deal sarcastic (being somewhat of a rogue). It also felt appropriate to sneak in a couple of references to his primary inspiration, Indiana Jones.
With those design choices in mind, we ended up with Keet getting some rather clever card titles like:
- “Throw you the idol? All right, you asked for it!”
- “A toast to lightly-guarded loot!”
- “This whip isn’t just for show!”
- “Eureka! This must be…”
It was extremely important to get a specific reaction out of players when they saw Keet for the first time. He needed to be a pulp-fiction archaeologist adventurer, reminiscent of Indiana Jones, and we worked with our artist Erin Wong to push him more and more in that direction. In the end, we are extremely happy with how this ruggedly handsome goblin (can goblins be ruggedly handsome?) turned out.
As we moved from conceptualization to specific card art, we wanted to inject more humor into him. If we went with a simple, calm badass we wouldn’t be able to get as many laughs or give players a real character to act out. So a major part of Keet’s development went into figuring out how much of the time he really is as cool as he thinks he is, and when he isn’t. In the end, Keet turned out to be pretty energetic and emotive. His cards take you through the quiet and off-putting lows of a dedicated, meticulous researcher on up to the exhilarating highs of someone enthusiastically dedicated to his sharing his work. With a bit of sarcastic attitude mixed in, Keet came out with a great personality to fit with his exaggerated facial features and role in the party.
Another thing that’s been popping up in the artwork of our more recent characters has been the cameo. As the number of adventurers that make up the guild known simply as “The Party” grew, it made more and more sense to show off how they interacted with one another. Part of our look and feel overview usually includes a little bit about who a new character hangs out with, which other characters are their friends, and who maybe rubs them the wrong way. Often enough, we come up with little histories for our characters along with the design process. Lizwick was an obvious compatriot for Keet, as both characters have a clear interest in strange and magical objects.
We have a lot of Keet’s artwork uploaded to our Facebook Page. You can check it out in Keet’s Facebook Album.
Keet’s artifacts needed to be a collection of amazing and useless objects. Some of them were easy to come up with, such as a helmet that may or may not be Dimli’s Great-Grandfather’s (how many great-grandfathers does this dwarf have?), while others were a bit trickier. Fortunately, this deck, like many side-decks, was an excellent opportunity to inject more humor into the game. Like the rest of Keet’s art, you can check out some of these brilliant artifacts in Keet’s Facebook Album.
That just about wraps it up for Keet! Look for him to come out next year as a brand new RDI: Allies product. If you are eager to try Keet before he hits store shelves in mid-to-late 2016, you can earn a copy for yourself through our SlugCrew Program. Run demos to teach RDI to new players at your local stores or game conventions and Keet can be yours!
SlugFest Games is excited to announce all the cool stuff that will be going on at Gen Con this year. We’ll be hosting demos of our games at Booth #1749 this year, and will have all sorts of new swag for sale. So come by, sit down for a demo, and enjoy the con!
We are pleased to announce that the stars have aligned and all three of 2015’s new Allies will be available for purchase on-site. That’s right! Halden, Zariah and Wrench will all be available in limited quantities at the show this year. Don’t miss out on your chance to get them early, as they won’t be hitting store shelves until November.
Each ally is a single-character expansion for The Red Dragon Inn, and requires a base set to play. You can find out more each of these ally’s new mechanics at the blog posts listed below:
Campaign Coins will be bringing us the first batch of metal coins and markers! These full-sized coins will give your RDI game plenty of heft and a lovely tactile feel. The coins and markers are beautifully sculpted and work with all our sets and boards. We’ll have 5-player and 1-player starter sets available as well as coin booster packs if you really want to feel the jingle of gold and platinum in your stash.
The coin sets include:
5 Player Starter Set
- 30 Gold Coins
- 6 Platinum Coins
- 5 Fortitude Markers
- 5 Alcohol Content Markers
- 1 RDI Velvet Bag!
1 Player Starter Set
- 6 Gold Coins
- 1 Platinum Coin
- 1 Fortitude Marker
- 1 Alcohol Content Marker
RDI Coin Booster
- 10 Gold Coins
- 2 Platinum Coins
RDI character buttons are back, featuring seven new characters! Grab one for your favorite character, or pick up all of them!
We are also excited to release an RDI full-party poster! The cover for RDI5 turned out fantastic, and we’ll have a limited quantity of posters depicting the cover image available at the show.
You can check out a shot of the poster on our Facebook Page here.
The Red Dragon Inn 5 introduces 4 brand new characters to the game and provides long-time fans with something they’ve been drooling after: a place to store everything! The RDI5 comes in a massive, expanded box with storage space for every character, drink, mechanic and event deck released so far with room to grow. Included are replacement boards in glorious full color for each of the RDI characters, as well as newly-designed gold tokens. All of that and a heaping helping of additional storage solutions (deck dividers, baggies and more!) to top it all off!
Unfortunately, without the aid of a time machine we will not have RDI5 available for purchase at the show. However, you will have the opportunity to pre-order your copy on at our booth!
Don’t miss out on this chance, because this will be the last chance for folks who missed out on the Kickstarter to guarantee that they get the Promo Pack.
You can learn more about The Red Dragon Inn 5 on its Product Page.
It’s time for the return of the annual RDI Doppelganger Tournament Event Code: CGM1571153! Can you prove that you are the real hero against a table of your doppelgangers, and then go on to drink the rest of The Party under the table? Sign up and find out!
The Doppelganger Tournament is an event unique to RDI. Each player will be assigned a random character from the cast of our beloved heroes, whom they will represent in a massive elimination tournament. The twist is that the first round of the tournament will have you facing off against 3 look-a-likes! How will you determine which of the four Fionas is the real Fiona? Why, by seeing who can party the hardest!
There are only a handful of tickets left and you don’t want to miss out on the chance to win some absolutely fantastic prizes!
With the announcement of Keet as the Season 3 Major Reward (see the post here), we thought it would be fun to show you guys a bit of his design process. So, welcome to Part 1 of Keet’s Corner: Designing an Adventurer!
You can also check out the original designer Ben’s own blog for more of his perspective on Keet’s design process:
While most characters start the game with 10 gold, Keet instead gets 10 random artifact cards, which count as his gold. Each artifact has the potential to have an awesome ability, many of them beneficial but a handful of them dangerous! The tricky bit is that nobody, not even Keet, knows what those objects do at the beginning of the game.
Throughout the game, Keet’s cards will let him “identify” (reveal) the various artifacts he has collected on the table in front of him. However, players who steal or win his artifacts will also immediately reveal them. So, players like Gerki or Fleck, who make a living off taking gold from their friends, will have multiple opportunities to try and steal a favorable artifact.
This has the wonderful bonus of making gold and gambling even more important than they were before. As soon as Keet is at the table, there’s the potential to earn fancy new Action or Sometimes Cards by winning his artifacts in a round of gambling. Furthermore, one of the best ways for Keet to protect his goods is to win a gambling round himself, so he can have a buffer of a few actual gold pieces to protect his artifacts from pay or steal effects.
When Keet showed up for the 2014 Character Design Contest, he really sparked our imaginations. The character had a very novel mechanic of replacing his gold with artifact cards that have abilities. This completely changed the dynamic of the game in a surprisingly unobtrusive way! He also strongly fit the theme of the “friendly” monster, one that has come up in the tavern over the years. With a clear idea of his personality and an exciting, clever new mechanic, he ended up being chosen as the contest winner.
Another ringing endorsement for the character was how simply he integrated with the game. Typically, characters with new mechanics are not suitable for players new to RDI. We don’t feel that’s the case with Keet. His new mechanic helps convince players to play with their artifacts and jealously guard them for themselves – the “my precious” factor. Meanwhile his deck works to support exactly this style of game play. He gives the player a ton of ownership, and that makes players old and new immediately engage with the game.
So Keet was a character with tons of flavor, a mechanic that would excite veterans and a theme that is easy for newcomers to engage with. How could we deny this little tomb raider!?
When we getting into serious playtesting mode, we run something called “The Gauntlet”. The Gauntlet is a long series of games where the new character is matched up against every other character in a series of one-on-one games. In the late stages of development, each new version of that character runs “The Gauntlet” again, and frequently characters will be put through it many many times. After a character is deemed worthy (i.e. gets about a 50/50 win rate against the entire cast) they are generally sent out to some hand-picked uberfans for further playtesting. Typically this is the shot where those characters see new eyes for the first time, and it’s our chance to “fun-test” the character. As a result, each character gets tons of hands-on play in-house and then even more externally before they see print.
On the surface, Keet was doing everything we needed him to do to be a good character concept both mechanically and thematically. The problem was that he was just kinda bland and couldn’t actually win a game! When we put him through The Gauntlet he would be revealing plenty of artifacts, but would end up just getting drunk under the table or beaten down (or mauled, in Erin’s case). So he definitely needed a tune-up.
The original version of Keet was quite narrowly focused, with most of his cards only interacting with his own artifacts or gold. Players would spend the majority of their time simply playing cards to flip over artifacts, rather than hitting their friends, gambling or dealing out drinks. Basically, he wasn’t getting to enjoy himself at the party! As a result, his opponent needed only to just keep serving him drinks and punching him in the nose to win.
To solve this problem, we turned back to the first 8 (the cast of RDI 1 and 2) and drew some inspiration. We needed to make Keet more of a traditional RDI character so he could hold his ground against them. The current and most successful version of the artifact hunter now plays along with the party and pulls a fair win chance against the cast of heroes.
Some of Keet’s new mechanics, while intuitive, were challenging to support with rules. These little corner cases were the challenges we faced while polishing the final version of Keet.
Hidden Information: One of the mechanics we played around with early on with Keet was allowing him to peek at artifacts without revealing them. This gave him a lot more power as he could ante bad artifacts when he was going to lose a round of gambling or give them away to pay effects before they could affect him. The problem was that there was no convenient way to mark which ones Keet had peeked at and which ones were still unknown to him. The worse part was that players could accidentally cheat by looking at an artifact that they thought they had already looked at, and that’s a real feel-bad for everyone at the table.
We ended up dropping the mechanic, but reimplementing it in a variety of other forms. For instance, Keet always peeks at an unknown artifact before anteing it in a round of gambling. This, in turn, lets him bluff a bit by changing how he plays based on what the artifact is. His “hit back” card also allows him to peek at a card before he decides to keep it or give it to another player. By allowing Keet to peek only right before he would reveal an artifact, we mitigated the information overload, while still letting Keet have fun by handing out surprises to the other players.
Specific Gold: Before Keet, individual gold coin tokens didn’t matter. If someone stole a coin from you, you just gave them whatever. With the advent of artifacts, and how they can willingly (or otherwise) trade hands, we needed specific rules support for which gold is taken by “pay” effects. We played around with it both ways, and found that the victim choosing which gold is given is more fun.
Keet has a variety of nasty artifacts, however; ones that cause no end of pain and suffering for their owners. We knew we wanted Keet to have the ability to drop off these negative artifacts on a poor adventurer, but we also wanted to make sure Keet had some ways to get back the positive ones that get stolen. Thus we created a unique problem for ourselves: If an opponent had both a positive and a negative artifact, how do we let Keet steal the one he wants if we’ve rules that the victim picks?
We solved the problem in a couple of Keet’s cards. His “Let me take a closer look at that.” card lets him specifically steal the artifact of his choice, following the golden rule of gaming where the text on the card can overrule the text in the rules. We also gave him a Sometimes card that lets him take a artifact that a player just spent. This lets him cherry-pick the best artifacts that get stolen from him, and even, in the rare circumstance, take back a negative artifact to use again.
Throughout the refining process, we have had the novel experience of running mechanics, thematic elements, and just about everything regarding Keet to a person outside of the company. Ben (the winner of the Design Contest and originator of Keet) has been included in nearly all communications and major design choices with the character. We wanted to make sure we stayed true to his original vision, while also guiding it to a very polished final product. It has been an exciting experience for all of us, and is one we hope to revisit with the Honorable Mention characters when/if we get around to implementing them in the game.
Keet is going to be one of the most exciting Allies to hit the Red Dragon Inn. If you are eager to try Keet before he hits store shelves in mid-to-late 2016, you can earn a copy for yourself through our SlugCrew Program. Run demos to teach RDI to new players at your local stores or game conventions and Keet can be yours!
Check back with us next week when we launch into Part 2 of Keet Corner: Look and Feel.
Zariah, Halden and Wrench are the three new allies being released this year. Over the last few weeks we’ve enjoyed introducing you to Zariah and Halden, but now it’s our little kobold’s turn to shine. Get ready to flip Red Dragon Inn up on its head!
Wrench is a squirrelly little guy that you wouldn’t expect to be much of an adventurer. He lacks the brawn to fight it out as well as any talent to “magic” his way out of a sticky situation. However, this little fellow makes up for all that with clever ingenuity.
Wrench, like many kobolds, has been engineering traps all his life. Unlike most of his kin, though, many of his traps integrate a surprising amount of of gnomish gadgetry, due, in part, to his subscription to Gnomish Inventors’ Quarterly.
Many of Wrench’s Action Cards are “Gizmos”, a new type of card that persists turn after turn. Gizmo cards are pretty obvious due to the fortitude track along their side. Gizmos come in two flavors:
Passive: Passive Gizmos are usually defensive, shielding Wrench from Fortitude loss or Alcohol Content gain.
What makes Wrench a fun character to play, and a frightening one to behold, is playing out Gizmo after Gizmo, and stacking up a massive army of clockwork contraptions ready and willing to do your bidding!
So how do you deal with a run-away Wrench? You smash his contraptions! Each of his Gizmos have a fortitude track that ticks down once during each of Wrench’s Action Phases.However, other players can help those tracks tick down a bit faster by directing their Fortitude loss effects at them! Whenever you could cause Fortitude loss to a player, you may direct that effect at a Gizmo instead.
Each time one of Wrench’s Gizmos meets with a grisly, violent end, Wrench suffers Collateral Damage that he cannot avoid. Wrench’s worst nightmare is when Pooky goes on a rampage and he’s got a table full of one-Fortitude Gizmos!
Last week we talked about the new mechanics that Zariah the Summoner brings to the game. Now it’s Halden the Unhinged’s turn to show off his own brand of mystical mayhem!
Halden is a freaky fellow who communes with the dead and carries out their last wishes. He is sometimes a solo adventurer, but when the party needs an interpreter for the departed (recent or otherwise), there’s none better. It’s also fortunate that he arms himself with powerful Totemic Magic that helps him deal with his foes in a variety of interesting ways. Halden can overwhelm his opponents like a millstone grinding wheat or can hold off and finally swing for the fences with one titanic blow!
Halden will literally dominate the board with his 18 different Totems!
Each turn Halden will reveal a Totem card. He can accelerate this pace by playing specific cards from his deck. Each Totem is ineffective on its own, but once he amasses enough of them, they can combine their power into a Totem Combo!
This massive Totem Combo can hit up to two different players for 1 Fortitude Loss, another player for 1 Alcohol Content Gain, yet another player to pay you 1 Gold and even summons a new Totem to get you started on the next combo! Share the pain across the heroes or dump it all on one, the totemic power is yours!
Unlike most characters, Halden can do two things during his Action Phase: he can play an Action Card like normal as well as use a Totem Combo! Halden may play his Totem Combo either before or after his Action Card, giving him the flexibility to improve his hand before acting, or fish for totems before comboing. This is important, because Totems only work in specific ways, and they come in three varieties!
To create a Totem Combo, Halden chooses any or all of the Totems he has revealed and lays them out left to right. As long as a Totem is followed by a Totem that matches the resource type, it activates. If Halden holds off, he can activate Totem Combos with a dozen or more components!
Each Totem that activates in the Combo can have its own target, or be piled all on the same player. But watch out! A player only needs to play a single Ignore card to avoid the entire Combo!
Lastly, with no Totem to its right, the final Totem in a chain always fizzles and does nothing. So, do you wait to maximize the output of your combos with as many cards as possible, and risk your opponent ignoring them all, or do you burn up your Totems in short two or three card chains to get through their defenses? The choice is yours!
With new printing proofs in hand (check out the update on Kickstarter) we figured it was time to spoil the mechanics behind the new heroes coming out this year. So without further ado, let’s take a look at Zariah the Summoner and her three companions Scrappy, Bandit and Amber!
Zariah the Summoner is a generalist, capable of doing many things well without the laser focus of other characters. She usually won’t be swinging for Cormac-size damage or stealing all of your gold like Gerki does. Instead, she’ll play it safe, making plays that suit the situation at hand. The wrinkle, however (and it’s a BIG wrinkle) is that many of her cards summon her friends Scrappy the Lion, Bandit the Ferret and Amber the Alemental.
After a card with one of the above symbols resolves, Zariah gets to summon the corresponding buddy to the table. Now, Scrappy, Bandit and Amber aren’t too impressive on their own, but when you get all three of them to the table, they team up and form the mighty Chimera!
The Chimera opens up a whole world of options for Zariah. Off the bat, Chimera can be spent as an Action card that causes 3 Fortitude Loss, but that’s the least of its potential. Many of Zariah’s cards have a “Chimera:” effect. “Chimera:” effects can only be played if you spend your Chimera. Each effect is either an incredibly powerful buff (like dealing 4 Fortitude Loss) or something completely unique (like making a player drink the worst of two drinks!). The Chimera and its power-ups on Zariah’s cards give her the edge to focus her Action cards or avoid the worst the party can dish out.
Summoning the Chimera quickly and frequently will be the key to victory as Zariah. You will find yourself focusing on sculpting your hand, hunting for the cards that summon the last piece of the puzzle, while hoarding the best “Chimera:” effects!
Back in February we announced the Winner of the RDI Design Contest: Keet the Goblin Archaeologist designed by Ben Iverach-Brereton. We are excited to announce that Keet will now be next season’s Major Reward for SlugCrew!
To continue the wild success of the Major Reward, we have another Ally coming your way! Keet the Goblin Archaeologist and his collection of rare and wondrous artifacts will completely change how you approach your Gold game at the tavern. With Keet’s gold replaced by a stack of powerful relics, players will be fighting everyone at the table to try and get their hands on one. Just be careful you don’t get one that is cursed!
Our new goblin is currently in early art production, illustrated by our new staff artist Erin Wong, and will hopefully start shipping out to SlugCrew around August.
The Minor Reward for for next season will be a new set of drinks themed after Red Dragon Inn characters from our previous sets. Most of these drinks have been illustrated by Erin Wong and they look absolutely amazing! Expect to see these drinks to start shipping in July.
These fabulous rewards are offered as a thank you to the hard work of our Slug Crew members. This international demo team has been responsible for bringing the RDI fun to stores and conventions near you for more than 8 years! If you are interested in joining the ranks and sharing your love for RDI, you can sign up on the SlugCrew Homepage.
One of the best ways to get your build up your event hours is to run Organized Play events at your friendly local game store! Check out the Organized Play Homepage for more info on how you can start running these events now!
Editor’s Note: we are stoked once again to welcome guest author Geoff Bottone, a founding member of SlugFest Games and one of The Red Dragon Inn’s original designers!
While en route to the Red Dragon Inn, Fleck decided that he liked Gerki very much. Admittedly, part of that was due to Gerki’s constant and effusive praise—it was difficult not to have fond feelings for someone who kept telling you how great you were. In addition to this, Gerki also won him over by nicking a coin pouch off of a Greyport guardsman, using some of the coin in the pouch to purchase apples for himself and Fleck, and then hurling one of those apples with incredible accuracy at a foul-mouthed teenager who was bullying a pair of smaller kids.
Gerki flashing his complement of knives when the bully swung around to yell at him only sealed the deal.
“You’re going to love adventuring with us,” said Gerki. “Zot takes us into the Undercity all the time, and there’s all kinds of crazy stuff down there. Traps, monsters, treasure. You name it, it’s got it.”
They were at the steps of the inn now. Gerki started the ascent to the door, but Fleck held back.
“Before we go inside,” said Fleck, “I have a proposition for you.”
It wasn’t so much a proposition as it was a matter of presentation—there was no sense in one arriving for an audition if one couldn’t make a dazzling first impression, after all. Fleck took a moment to explain things to Gerki before sending him inside and taking up a position by the door. He tuned his lute and listened with half an ear as Gerki talked him up to his future employer. The halfling was a natural at it. Fleck wondered if he had done a stint in a circus or as a seller of miracle cures before trying his hand at adventuring.
“Without further ado,” said Gerki, his high-pitched voice rising to a crescendo, “may I present, for the first time anywhere, the newest adventurer in our merry party. Fleck. The. Bard!”
Fleck swept into the common room, strumming a tarantella on his lute and smiling to the patrons. Those that had heard the song before started clapping along, hooting and whistling as he processed down the main aisle to Gerki’s table. An olive-skinned serving girl, her silky black hair sadly imprisoned by a kerchief, stared at him as he walked by, the drink tray on her shoulder forgotten.
He favored her with a wink and a smile and moved on.
Gerki stood in front of a table at which sat two women and a man. The women could not be more unalike from one another. One was a human dressed in heavy armor, her fiery hair raggedly cut with a blunt knife and tied up in a strange nest to keep it out of her face. She hammered her mailed fist on the table in time with his song. The other was elven, poised and elegant, her long, blue hair serving as perfect counterpoint to her long, blue dress. She bore an emblem of the Goddess around her neck, but her holy orders did not prevent her from throwing Fleck a sly smirk as he approached the table.
Fleck smiled even wider and turned his attention to the man. He was old, grey-bearded, dressed in a metal skullcap and sumptuous, velvet robes. He was absent-mindedly petting a white rabbit while he stared unblinking at Fleck. If possible, both the rabbit and the man bore identical expressions of disbelief and disdain.
Fleck brought his song to a satisfying conclusion and slapped the strings to quiet them, drawing appreciative cheers from the crowd. The armored woman whooped and slammed her fist even more energetically on the table, causing the various cups and glasses to bounce. She seemed not to notice when the old man and the rabbit both shot her dirty looks.
“Thank you all,” said Fleck, bowing most gracefully before turning his attention to the old man. “It is a pleasure to be here. I only hope that my not inconsiderable skills and enthusiasm will serve me as well as a dungeon delver as they do as one of Greyport’s premiere street performers.”
The old man clutched the side of his head and winced.
“What is this?” he moaned. “Is this some kind of a joke, Gerki? Are you trying to be funny?”
Fleck’s face was a perfect, smiling mask, but inside he thought, says the old man who brings his pet rabbit wherever he goes.
The rabbit looked directly at him and….grinned?
Fleck stopped smiling.
“Everybody,” said Gerki, gesturing up at him. “This is Fleck. Fleck, this is Deirdre, Fiona, Zot, and Zot’s familiar, Pooky.”
“Lovely to meet you all,” said Fleck, taking a seat.
“So,” said Deirdre, taking a sip from her tall glass of elven wine, “you want to go crawling around in the Undercity?”
“I do,” said Fleck, nodding vigorously. “Very much.”
“Well, you’re going to think this is silly…”
“…but I’ve been telling all the stories and sagas for years and for once—just for once—I thought that I’d like to try living the adventure instead of merely reciting it in the public square. It seems like you people lead quite the interesting lives.”
“We do!” said Fiona, bringing her fist down in a rattling thump on the tabletop. “Adventuring is the best!”
“That’s what I had hoped,” said Fleck. “As luck would have it, your friend Gerki and I were talking after my latest performance…”
“And I thought he would be a good fit,” said Gerki. “Besides, he’s Fleck. The. Bard.”
“Well,” said Zot, rubbing Pooky’s head with his knuckles, “I’ve never heard of you. Do you have any qualifications?”
“Sure,” said Fleck, leaning back in his chair. “I graduated top of my class from Bard College.”
“What do they teach you in Bard College?” said Fiona.
“All kinds of things. Music, dance, etiquette, theater, history, art appreciation…”
“None of which are even remotely useful in the Undercity,” said Zot, rolling his eyes.
Fleck shrugged. “Maybe not, but I’m also pretty good with a sword, I know bardic magic, I’m fluent in three languages, passable in two more, and I can read both ancient and modern Drackist, if you give me plenty of time and something for the headache afterwards.”
Deirdre leaned in toward Zot. “There are quite a few Drackist inscriptions in the Undercity, Zot.”
Zot removed his hand from Pooky so that he could better drum his fingertips on the table. Pooky did not look amused with the change.
“It appears that I am outnumbered three…” Zot paused as Pooky flicked an ear, “…four to one.”
“It would,” said Deirdre, her expression radiant.
“Then I suppose I will bow to the weight of the majority and permit the bard to join us as a provisional member. You will be expected to behave in a perfectly professional manner when you are with us, and you will only be entitled to a lesser share of any treasure that we happen to find until we decide that you are worthy to be a full partner.”
“I happily agree to all of your terms,” said Fleck. “When do we get started?”
Gerki clapped Fleck on the shoulder. “Welcome to the party!”
Zot sighed, extracted a folded piece of parchment from somewhere within his voluminous robes, and spread it out on the table. When Pooky didn’t move to better accommodate the parchment, Zot shifted several of the half-empty drinks around to make more room.
“As you know, the Collegium has asked us to retrieve the Tome of Hirun from the depths of the Undercity…”
The stone chamber had become an abattoir, the stench of blood, decay, and death mingling with the acrid smoke of Fiona’s torch and the pervasive stink from the Greyport sewers that reached them even here. The bloated, dismembered corpse of the hideous beast lay in a heap on the floor and twitched—not from its own death spasms, but from the monstrous entity that rooted around in its insides.
Pooky burst out of the beast’s stomach, dripping red gore.
“Aw, Pooky,” said Fiona, sheathing her sword. “Give me a chance to get a few hits in next time, would you?”
Fleck thought he was going to be ill, but Zot’s snide look settled his stomach far better than any medicine. He mopped the sweat off his brow and set his face in what he hoped was a firm expression.
Pooky shook off his fur, spraying blood everywhere. Somehow, his coat was clean and white after he had finished. Fleck tried to figure out how that was possible while he wiped down the front of his lute.
“How are you holding up?” said Zot.
“I’m…managing,” said Fleck. He studied the room. “So is this the lair of the guardian beast you had told us about?”
“I think so. If that’s the case, the Tome of Hirun must be nearby.”
“And we have three doors to choose from,” said Fiona, gesturing to the far end of the room with her torch.
“The hirunians love grouping things into threes,” said Deirdre, folding her hands into the sleeves of her blood-spattered robe. “They were a numerically-obsessed people.”
“Well, their numbering system was in base three,” said Fleck, idly strumming his lute. “I think it’s because they had three fingers on each hand.”
Zot arched a bushy eyebrow. “That’s right.”
Fleck flashed him a winning smile. “Bard College.”
Gerki had picked his way over the ruins of the guardian beast and was now studying the three doors. “If this is anything like the rest of the hirunian stuff we’ve encountered, I’m guessing that only one of these doors leads to the Tome. The rest are going to do something unpleasant the moment we open them.”
“Thoughts?” said Zot.
Gerki took several long, flexible metal tools out of one of his bags. “I’ll see if I can find anything out with these, but I bet that this door with the demon carving on it and this other one with the screaming thing are probably the bad ones.”
“I will pray to the Goddess for the grace to deliver you from poison or dismemberment, should they befall you,” said Deirdre, clasping her hands before her.
“Gee, thanks,” said Gerki as he fastened two of the tools together.
Fleck, who had been studying the doors from afar, said, “I think this may not be the best course of action.”
“Why?” said Zot.
“Well, I know a bit about hirunian legendry. The demon is Zzral, Master of the Thousand Enchanted Blades.”
Fiona’s eyes got very wide and she made a little squeaking noise.
“That’s only twenty-seven blades in base ten,” said Zot. His expression was no longer readable, but it seemed less hostile than before.
“Still,” said Fiona.
“And the screaming thing is Llarz of the Ten Thousand Endless Torments.”
Gerki backed away from the door slightly. “So the middle door with the smiling lady thing is the one we want, right?”
“Well, maybe,” said Fleck, “but maybe not. That’s Alrza the Huckster. She was a lesser mercantile goddess of the hirun, but she also presided over a cult of tricksters and thieves.”
“Hang on. Are you saying that all of the doors might be traps?” said Gerki.
Fleck shrugged. “That would be my guess.”
“Oh, come on,” said Fiona, as Gerki began walking a circuit of the room. “That’s not fair! How are we supposed to get to the book if every door is trapped?”
“There may be a concealed door,” said Deirdre.
“That’s fine, I guess,” said Fiona. “But how…”
“Found it!” said Gerki. He pressed a hidden catch and a section of the blood-smeared wall rotated into a low-ceilinged tunnel. “Those hirunians were tricky bastards. I’m starting to like them.”
The secret tunnel brought them to a chamber that was lit from above by some strange trick of eldritch sorcery. The Tome of Hirun, its brass pages stored betwixt marble covers, sat ensconced upon a pillar of basalt.
A three-headed beast of truly massive proportions stood hunched before the pillar. It fixed its six glowing eyes upon them and let out a three-toned roar that sent up an unpleasant resonance in Fleck’s bones.
“Zot,” said Deirdre, as the holy symbol clutched in her hand began to shine with a blue light, “I’m beginning to think that that last creature wasn’t the guardian beast.”
“No,” said Zot.
“Yes!” shouted Fiona.
“Do we have a plan?” said Fleck.
The creature advanced on them, its footfall a thundering crash.
Zot took in the entire room in a glance and seemed to engage in a momentary, wordless communication with Pooky, who leaped down from the wizard’s shoulder.
“We’ll fight it the same way we fought the Iron Colossus.”
The others gave nods of assent. Gerki drew a pair of knives from his belt. Deirdre began to pray.
“What do I do?” said Fleck. “I wasn’t there when you fought the Iron Colossus.”
“I know,” said Zot. The tip of his staff began to glow with arcane fire. “That’s why you’re staying here. This will be a dangerous battle, and it’s no place for…”
“Chaaaarge!” shouted Fiona as she ran to meet the creature. Pooky scampered off after her, followed by the others.
“Stay there!” Zot called over his shoulder before directing all of his attention to summoning his magic.
“But…” said Fleck.
He wanted to follow them in anyway, but it had been hammered into him at Bard College that such actions were frowned upon. A soloist might be able to play what they liked, but an ensemble had to play together or the entire group suffered for it. He didn’t know the rhythm of this particular piece of music that the others had performed before, and he knew he would only hinder them if he tried to take center stage against Zot’s orders.
Fleck watched from the doorway as the party closed with the monster. Fiona and Pooky charged straight at it while Gerki swung around to the left, presumably to set up an attack from behind. Deirdre and Zot kept their distance, hurling magical energy up at the creature. Beneath their combined magical assault, the creature staggered and threw back its heads. It was truly an epic scene. Watching them, Fleck could feel the stanzas forming in his head.
And then the creature breathed, exhaling three concentrated jets of purplish gas. Fleck removed his hat and shoved it over his nose and mouth well before the expanding cloud was able to reach him. As he breathed through fabric tainted with his sweat and hair pomade, he realized that the others had not had such a luxury.
The adventurers had collapsed into the cloud’s embrace and were now hunched and sobbing on the floor of the massive chamber. Even Pooky, who Fleck was no longer entirely sure was really a rabbit, had not been able to escape the effects of the gas. He lay sprawled on his back, his fuzzy legs feebly kicking at the air.
“My magic,” sobbed Zot. “It’s gone!”
“The Goddess has abandoned me!” shrieked Deirdre. “We’re lost!”
“My weapons! They’re rusting to nothing!” cried Fiona.
“It’s eating me!” screamed Gerki, even though the creature was nowhere near him.
The creature strode forward, lifted up one of its massive feet, and began to bring it down upon Fiona and Pooky. Fleck knew that there was no time to lose. He sucked as much air as he could into his lungs and stepped into the chamber, letting his hat fall by the wayside. He struck the first notes of the Mente Libertá in G Major, a bardic spell well-suited to purging malignant mental effects. He hoped that his technique and magical prowess would be enough to negate the evil influence of the hirunian gas.
The creature’s foot paused a short distance above the prone warrior and rabbit. The three heads turned, their six, baleful eyes fixed on Fleck. The foot pivoted and came down, not on Fiona and Pooky, but on the open floor between Fleck and the creature. It advanced another step toward Fleck, and another.
Fleck knew that he could not run, not if he wanted to help his new companions. Even though his knees shook, even though his fingertips fumbled a note, even though the purple tendrils of the maddening gas tickled his nose and stung his eyes, Fleck played on.
The warm chords of his music echoed around the lost chamber of the hirun, until even the creature itself was transfixed by it. It halted its advance a perilously short distance away, cocked its three heads on its thick necks, and listened. Heartened, Fleck continued his performance, trying to ignore his throbbing skull and his aching ribs. He was sure his face was at least as purple as the gas.
The others left off their screaming and came back to themselves, clutching at their heads and moaning.
“What’s happening?” asked Zot.
Fleck use the last of his air to speak four short words. “Mind control gas. Counterspell?”
“Ah, I see,” said Zot. He spoke a quick incantation and summoned up a clean, cold wind from nowhere. It whistled through the chamber, dispersing the gas.
Fleck gulped the chilly air into his lungs and collapsed to one knee, his fingers jangling on the strings of his lute. Spots darted in front of his eyes.
“Now!” shouted Zot. “Before it breathes again!”
Gerki struck from the shadows, his blades biting deep into one of the creature’s ankles. It let out a cry of anguish that Fleck was sure would bring the roof down. The creature crashed down on one knee, mirroring Fleck, its bloodied ankle unable to support its own weight.
With a wild battle cry, Fiona rushed at the creature, using her momentum to vault up onto the creature’s knee. She lashed out from her elevated perch, bringing her sword down in a double-handed strike that all but severed the creature’s arm at the shoulder. It raised its other arm to sweep Fiona down onto the floor, but its taloned fingers never reached her, scratching uselessly on a sphere of blue light summoned forth by Deirdre.
In that instant, Pooky scurried up the body of the creature, his claws finding purchase in the folds of the creature’s rubbery skin. The creature roared at Pooky, and the rabbit took that moment to leap bodily at the central head’s eyes.
The creature raised its voices in an echoing shriek and toppled backward, crashing heavily to the floor. Fiona rode it down, walked along the creature’s heaving chest, and chopped downward with her bloodied sword three times.
Apart from Pooky’s determined chewing, there was silence.
Fleck looked up and saw Zot standing over him, offering his ring-bedecked hand. “We would surely have perished here today were it not for you.”
Fleck gratefully took the outstretched hand and struggled to his feet. “Thank you, Zot, though I’d ascribe our success to both your skilled leadership and the generous blessings of Lady Luck.”
“You’re too kind.” For the first time, Zot smiled. “In any event, I think you’ve more than proven yourself, Fleck. If this whole experience hasn’t put you off of adventuring, you’re free to join us on delves whenever you like. In fact, I think that you’ve more than earned a full cut of the treasure.”
Pooky, red and slick from blood, hopped over to them. He came right up to Fleck and began nuzzling his boots and multicolored leggings, smearing them with gore. Fleck must have made a face, because Zot waggled his bushy eyebrows and made a warding gesture with his hand.
“That’s just his way of welcoming you to the party,” said Zot. “It also means that he likes you.”
“Is that good?”
Zot scratched his beard. “It’s certainly better than the alternative.”
Editor’s Note: we are stoked once again to welcome guest author Geoff Bottone, a founding member of SlugFest Games and one of The Red Dragon Inn’s original designers!
Even though it was still early morning, the sun’s bright rays had already cooked the dew off of the grass. There was not much in the way of cover out in the mountains, and Eve suspected that it would be roasting well before noon. She was glad that she wasn’t able to feel the heat.
She continued up the winding road, along steep cliffs and past mountain fields pockmarked with craters. She rounded a bend in the road and found the way forward blocked by the ruin of a horse cart, shattered beneath the weight of a massive boulder.
After checking the immediate area to make sure that no one was looking, she stepped past the wreckage and continued onward. Had anyone been observing her, she would have gone to much greater lengths to make getting over or around the cart look convincingly difficult—there was no need to reveal her full capabilities to any potential enemies, after all—but she was also a firm believer in not wasting time when she didn’t have to.
She reached the gates, or what was left of them, of the small mountain town a short time later. Large cracks zigzagged across the town’s defensive walls, and wreckage from the shattered battlements littered the ground outside.
A wary guard, dressed in livery of brown and sky blue, peered down at Eve from atop a gatehouse that had been hastily repaired with ropes and rough-cut timbers.
With a quick, nearly invisible gesture of her hand, Eve cast a minor glamour that increased both the volume and resonance of her voice. “The one who’s going to solve your little problem.”
The guard rested his hands on the parapet and leaned over. “There have been many before you who have made such a boast. The ones that are still alive are recovering in our infirmary.”
Eve shrugged. “I could just go home, if you like.”
She watched the guard drum his mailed fingertips on the wood and stones. His shoulders sagged. “If you think you can help us then, by all means, you are welcome here. Be warned that the Beast is more formidable than you think.”
“We’ll see,” said Eve.
“You can find the infirmary off of the main square. The adventurers there will have the most current information on the Beast and its whereabouts.” Then the guard called down to someone stationed below. “Open the gate.”
One of the doors creaked open on twisted hinges. Eve was careful not to brush up against its splintered body as she stepped inside.
It only made sense for Eve to find out what she was really up against. The Greyport heralds, from whom she heard of the Beast originally, hadn’t been too clear on all of the particulars. She waited patiently outside the infirmary until a busy alchemist, carrying a satchel filled to bursting with herbs, came walking out. Eve deftly stepped around the alchemist and slipped through the door as it closed.
The main room was filled with beds, and those beds were filled with adventurers. A few of them rested quietly, playing games or reading. Others lay swaddled in bandages, lost in sleep brought by herbs or powerful soporific magics. One or two, who were not quite as sedated as the rest, groaned quietly in their sleep.
One of the groaners was an elderly man, his grey beard poking out of a thick wrapping of bandages that encircled his head. A small, white rabbit lay sleeping on his chest. From the neatly folded robes and assortment of jewelry stacked on the table beside the bed, Eve guessed that the man was some kind of wizard. A quick, Truesight-enhanced glance at the rabbit revealed to Eve that it was the wizard’s familiar, and also that she desperately needed to turn her Truesight off.
She was glad that no one could see her shivering.
“You look awful healthy,” said a grumbling voice. “You must be new.”
The voice belonged to a dwarf. His right arm was in a sling and he limped about the floor with the help of a thick cane.
“I am,” said Eve. “I’m here to solve the Beast problem.”
“What?” said the dwarf, eyeing her up and down. “You? Alone?”
Eve clicked her tongue. “Yes.”
“If I may say, lass,” said the dwarf, “ya don’t look at all properly outfitted to go tanglin’ with the likes of the Beast.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“What d’ya think it means? There’s a savage beasty out ravaging the countryside and you look like you’re dressed up for the spring harvest dance.”
“What I’m wearing should be of absolutely no concern to you. Besides, I’m a wizard. I’m carrying everything that I’m going to need to fight your Beast,” Eve tapped a gloved finger to her temple, “Right. In. Here.”
The dwarf hobbled over to an empty cot and sat down heavily on the corner. “Maybe, lass, but I gotta warn ya that whatever magic you’ve got up there may not be enough.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“I don’t know that yer in any position to judge,” said the dwarf. “You’ve got no idea what’s been happenin’ here. This beasty is the worst thing I’ve ever encountered. A dozen of us went out to fight it, only to have it knock us around like ninepins. It shattered steel plate and enchanted weapons with its teeth. I saw it hurl boulders as easily as if it were a child skippin’ stones.”
The dwarf gestured at the old man and his rabbit. “Ya say you got magic? Well so did we. That’s Zot. He’s a wizard from the Collegium, and his spells didn’t do a thing to the Beast. All they did was bounce right off its stony hide, and…”
Zot stirred, roused by the rising volume of the dwarf’s voice. He cracked open one blackened eye and fixed Eve with a bleary stare.
“Dimli,” said Zot, his voice a croak. “Who are you talking to?”
“This nice young lass.” Dimli pointed at Eve with his cane. Eve took a half-step back, ensuring that she was well out of range of the tip. “I didn’t catch her name.”
“I didn’t throw it,” she said. “I’m Eve.”
“Eve,” said Dimli. “Anyways, I’m trying to talk her out of goin’ to fight the beasty.”
Zot squinted, and Eve felt the weight of his gaze upon her. She noted the subtle probe of a sub-vocalized spell and allowed it, meeting Zot’s eyes. The rabbit poked up its head and wiggled one ear, as if in acknowledgement. It seemed to smile, which was very unnerving.
“Well,” said Zot, resting his head back on his pillow, “I think that she will have a unique approach to the problem of the Beast.”
Dimli made a small sputtering noise. “Ya know full well that magic cannot touch the Beast.”
“My magic can’t,” said Zot. The apple in his throat bobbed as he swallowed. “How’s your leg, Dimli?”
“Hurts a bit, but I can get around if I need to.”
“Good. Do you think you’d be able to take Eve up to the place where we last fought the Beast?”
The dwarf’s thick, bristly brows knitted together. He shot her a very suspicious glance out of the corner of his eye. “Aye,” he said.
“Excellent,” said Zot, his voice already tinged with sleep. “Do so as soon as you are able. I think you will find Eve to be simply filled to the brim with surprises.”
He began to snore. Eve regarded Dimli for a long moment. If his gaze was any flintier, she could have struck sparks.
“You heard the man,” said Eve at last.
Dimli snorted. “Fine, fine. I just gotta grab my boots.”
Eve tried to be patient as she followed Dimli along the ridge of the mountains. She kept telling herself that she had no idea where to start looking for the Beast, and that she couldn’t very well waste her energies searching the area in the hopes that she would stumble upon it randomly. Doing that would just leave her exhausted and defenseless when the time came for her to fight it.
That said, Dimli moved with an almost agonizing slowness. She almost screamed when he called yet another halt atop the latest of the identical, lichen-covered peaks. Eve came up beside him and the sight of Dimli sweating profusely and breathing hard made her feel terrible about being so impatient. Not everyone could move as effortlessly across the mountains as she could.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“Not great,” said the dwarf, mopping his face with a handkerchief. “Even without my armor, hoofin’ it along these hills on a bad leg is pretty tiresome. I don’t suppose ye’d have a bit of magic that might help me out?”
She lowered her head. “I’m not that kind of wizard.”
Dimli tucked the soggy handkerchief back into his soggy tunic. “What sort of wizard are you, anyway?”
“The kind of wizard that can make you feel so good that you’re liable to start running at full speed and not stop until your leg is permanently injured or your heart explodes.”
Dimli shifted his weight on his cane and frowned up at her. “What the hell kinda wizard is that?”
“I’m an illusionist.”
“Oh.” Dimli blew out a long breath that caused the hairs of his moustache to flutter. “I suppose it’s why ya don’t look nearly as tired as ya should.”
“Thank you,” said Eve, “and I do have more than just the one at my disposal. I suppose we’ll see how useful they are once we find the Beast.”
“Aye. Anyway, the last place we tried to fight the Beast was in a high valley right near…”
A low, sustained roar shuddered across the mountaintops.
“There!” said Dimli, limping off in the direction of the sound.
Eve took a quick mental inventory of her spells and followed after him.
The Beast was larger than Eve was expecting—a four-legged monstrosity that seemed to be made up of the living stone of the mountains itself. Moss and lichen clung to its rocky hide. Its joints drizzled powdery dust as it dug into the rock with claws that gleamed like diamonds. It foraged in a hollow between two peaks a short distance away from a sheer drop. The area around the Beast was littered with broken bodies and the remnants of clothing, armor strapping, and leather packs.
As Eve watched, it dug up a jagged stone bright with filaments of ore and popped it into its mouth. The grinding of its powerful jaws dwarfed all other sounds.
“That’s…impressive,” said Eve, her voice low.
“Yeah.” Dimli leaned on his cane. “Now ya can see why we’re having so much trouble fighting the thing.”
“I can,” she said.
The Beast swallowed noisily and resumed digging, its claws tearing deep grooves in the stone.
“Well, all right,” said Dimli. “It’s your show now.”
“It is.” She nodded, flexing her fingers. “Let’s try the basics.”
She made a few brisk mystical gestures in the air in front of her, weaving an aura of illusion around both herself and Dimli. When that was done, she extended her right hand and pointed. A sharp, snapping sound echoed off the valley walls.
The Beast reared back and swung its massive head around, scanning the mountainside with two sets of brightly glowing eyes. Dimli limped in front of Eve as the creature searched for them, brandishing his cane. Eve was very glad that the dwarf didn’t brush up against her or try to grab onto her.
“You can relax,” she said. “I veiled us first. It cannot see or hear us.”
“Oh, good,” said Dimli, though he did not lower his cane.
The Beast lifted its head and sniffed. The sound the air made as it vanished into its cavernous nostrils was like the first angry gust of a summer storm. It fixed its four eyes roughly in Eve and Dimli’s direction and began to stalk purposefully toward them, hoisting it’s hindquarters up in the air as if it were a big cat.
“Get back,” said Dimli. “It smells us, lass.”
“It smells you,” said Eve, raising her hands in a preparatory gesture. “Now, try not to distract me.”
She made the requisite signs and incantations, fixing the finished image of the illusion firmly in her mind. She felt the old, familiar rush of power as it came surging up from her abdomen. It tingled as it traveled down her arms to her fingertips before leaping out into the world.
A man in brilliantly gleaming armor appeared from thin air, dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. He whacked his shining sword against the polished surface of his shield. The gonging note resounded across the mountains, causing the Beast to wheel around.
“Come on, beasty!” the illusory man shouted with Dimli’s voice. “Come on and get me! I’m delicious and filling!”
“Take the bait,” said Eve under her breath.
But the Beast sniffed the air and retreated from her illusion.
“Why isn’t it going for it?” said Dimli. “That’s a feast of metal right there.”
Eve had already begun the gestures to modify her spell. “It sees the metal, but it can’t smell it. It knows something’s wrong.”
“Retreating’s starting to look better and better, lass. C’mon, we’ll tell the others what you’ve found out and figure out a new…”
“No,” said Eve. “I’ve still got a few tricks left. Here’s the next one.”
A stone paw tipped with diamond claws reached up from below to grasp the lip of the cliff. The illusory man turned around, threw down his shield and sword, and let out a shriek of terror as another Beast, identical to the first, pulled itself into view. The second Beast snapped at the illusory man with its powerful jaws, leaving behind only a pair of illusory boots and a shower of illusory blood.
The second Beast lifted itself all the way into the valley, swallowed, and squared off against the first Beast.
“Tell me that’s you,” said Dimli.
“It is,” said Eve. She raised both her hands and the second Beast reared up on its hind legs, letting out a savage bellow that shook the mountains.
The real Beast responded with an equally impressive roar. Acidic saliva dripped from its mouth to scar the stone beneath it. It pawed at the ground, getting ready to charge. Eve made the second Beast copy its movements precisely, which only seemed to agitate it further.
The first Beast sprang, mouth open, claws splayed. It struck the second Beast with all the force of its momentum and weight. The second Beast vanished upon impact, leaving behind only a few sparks drifting through the empty air. The first Beast continued its trajectory unchecked, flailing its massive paws as its roar of challenge quickly transitioning into a yelp of panic. It vanished over the side of the cliff, striking the rocks at the base with a thunderous crash.
“You think it’s dead?” said Dimli.
“Cliffs will kill pretty much anything,” said Eve.
They went to look, just in case. Eve wrinkled her nose at the sight that greeted her eyes.
“I don’t think it’s comin’ back from that, lass,” said Dimli, a note of admiration in his voice.
“No,” she said.
“I think you’ve more than earned the reward money,” said Dimli.
Dimli grinned. “Listen, I dunno how ye feel about workin’ in groups but…”
Eve raised her hand. “I’m sorry. Can you hold that thought for just a moment?”
The wench shifted the weight of the tray on her shoulder and knocked again. She was willing to be patient, especially since the room’s occupant had paid both well and in advance, but she had other customers and chores downstairs that she needed to attend to.
She was just about to holler that she was leaving the tray outside the door when the bolt slid back.
“Sorry,” said the woman on the other side. “I heard you, but I was in the middle of something.”
The woman was on the short side, freckle-faced, with piercing grey eyes and messy light brown hair. She wore a faded peasant dress and scuffed, flat shoes. The wench had overheard the barman referring to the woman as a sorcerer, or something like that, but to all appearances she looked like someone who worked at the Red Dragon Inn instead of someone who frequented it.
Then the wench saw the staff. It was a huge, ornate thing, topped with a glowing crystal and set up in some kind of holder so that it could stand upright. The woman had used chalk to draw a complicated circle around the staff on the floorboards. She waved the wench away from it, pointing to the table by the window.
“If you wouldn’t mind putting it over there, I’d appreciate it,” said the woman as she fumbled around in her apron.
The wench knew it was probably better not to ask, but she couldn’t help herself. “What is all this?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t have time to go into all the details right now,” said the woman. “The short version is that I am controlling an illusion I created of myself that I sent up into the mountains earlier today. One of the villages up there was having a problem with a Beast and…”
“Oh,” said the wench, as she arranged the trays of food and jug of wine on the table, “I heard the heralds singing about that yesterday.”
“Yes, exactly,” said the woman. “Anyway, I thought I’d go up there and take care of it.”
The wench tucked her empty tray under her arm. “And did you?”
The woman held out a small handful of coins, which the wench took with a grateful nod.
“Congratulations,” said the wench.
“Thank you.” The woman cast a sidelong glance at the freestanding staff. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I still have a few things that I need to finish up…”
“Oh, of course,” said the wench, showing herself out. “I hope you enjoy your lunch.”
“I’m sure I will.” The woman was no longer looking at her, instead gazing deeply into the glowing crystal atop the staff.
The wench paused, her hand on the door.
“I’m sorry,” she said, speaking quickly, “but I’m curious. Do you go on all of your adventures this way? Because it seems to me like that’s the smart way to do it.”
The woman snickered.
“No,” she said. “I only do this for the easy ones.”