Birthday of Adventure
In celebration of our successful Kickstarter campaign for Tales from the Red Dragon Inn, author and SlugFest founder Geoff Bottone has written a series of six stories about how Deirdre, Zot, Fiona and Gerki all met and started adventuring together. You can read part one, part two, part three, part four and part five. Here’s the grand finale!
Birthday of Adventure
“Happy Birthday, Fi!”
Fiona removed her hands from her eyes to see Gerki standing before her, grinning his buck toothed grin and holding a very lumpy cake.
“Oh, Gerki, it’s great!” she said, before the vague concern that often accompanied Gerki’s acts of generosity filtered into her conscious thoughts. “You didn’t steal it, did you?”
“You think I’d tell you if I did?” said Gerki, with a wink, as he placed the cake on the battered side table that stood next to the entry tunnel to his bolthole. He whistled a jaunty, birthday tune as he cut thick slices of cake and laid them on mismatched plates.
“I mean, it’s my birthday, so you probably should…”
“All right, all right.” Gerki shoved a chipped plate into her hands. “I didn’t steal it, but I did get it at a pretty steep discount. You see how the top’s uneven? Well, apparently, one of the customers at the baker’s stall accidentally gouged it with their elbows, and no one else wanted it.”
Gerki picked up his own plate and chopped out a ragged section of his cake slice with the side of his fork.
“This customer,” she said. “I don’t suppose his name rhymes with ‘perky?’”
“Fi, it’s your birthday and I hate lying to you, so I might as well come clean.” With that he shoved the forkful of cake into his mouth and began talking and chewing at the same time.
“Murhgle burggle cargbal gab baglaga bub.”
Fiona laughed so hard she snorted. By the time she had recovered herself, Gerki had swallowed his cake and was in the process of scrubbing stray frosting off his face with the cuff of his sleeve.
“You should eat your cake,” said Gerki. “It’s pretty good, even if it’s got extra elbows in it.”
She took a bite, and it was. “Thanks, Gerk. It was very sweet of you to get me this.”
“No trouble at all,” said Gerki, beaming. Then he stood up abruptly, scattering crumbs all over the uneven floor of his bolthole. “Oh! I almost forgot! I got you two other things!”
He set his plate down on the side table and disappeared around a scarred and water-stained chest of drawers. Fiona heard him rummaging with determination in one of his piles on the other side.
“The cake’s fine, Gerki! You don’t have to get me anything else!”
“Of course I do,” he said. “It’s your birthday! And it’s an important one!” Gerki let out a grunt as something on the other side of the chest of drawers rasped and clinked.
He came back into view, hefting a mail hauberk between his hands. Even though Gerki held it at shoulder height, the bottom hissed and clattered where it dragged across the floor. Fiona could tell from the cords on his neck and the strain in his smile that it was taking most of Gerki’s strength just to lift it.
“Oh! Oh my goodness! Gerk!” She took the hauberk from Gerki’s shaking hands and held it up. It was brand new, with riveted rings and a faint sheen of protective oil. “Thank you!”
“You’re welcome,” said Gerki. “And before you ask, no, I didn’t steal it. I bought it like a regular person from one of the blacksmiths over on Tuff Street. Paid full price and everything. Which is why I was a little short when I went to buy the cake. Anyway, there’s no chance that some ironmonger or armorer is going to demand it back from you if they see you… oof!”
Fiona had draped the hauberk over one arm and used the other to pull Gerki in for a powerful hug. Tears stung her eyes as they ran down her cheeks and into Gerki’s curly hair.
“It’s perfect,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Well,” said Gerki, his voice a touch strained from the embrace. “I haven’t been able to talk you out of doing this fool thing, so the least I could do is find some way of protecting you.”
“You’re the best,” she said.
“Yeah, I know,” said Gerki, grinning. “So, the third thing…”
Gerki’s smile got even wider, a thing that Fiona didn’t think was even possible. “You should maybe make sure that the armor fits you, because I got the two of us reservations at the Red Dragon Inn!”
Gerki, Fiona was sure, was not expecting to be hoisted up by the armpits and twirled around the room while she squealed like a schoolgirl.
Though she had given the chainmail a thorough scrubbing with some old rags, the smell and sheen of oil still remained. It rubbed off on her clothes as she climbed the steps that led from the Grey Market in the Undercity to the surface level of Greyport. By the time she and Gerki had reached the famous tavern’s main entrance, she had a roughly hauberk-shaped dark brown patch on her new adventuring outfit.
Fiona, of course, could not have cared less.
When they reached the tavern’s entrance, she took a moment to steady herself and take in a deep, fortifying breath. With one hand, she reached down to her leather belt, checking yet one more time that the scabbard of her enchanted short sword was still clipped there.
“Ready?” said Gerki, mostly obscured beneath his hooded forest cloak. It was a touch too big for him, but he insisted on wearing it to “dress the part,” for which Fiona was very grateful.
“For about ten years,” she said, as she reached out and pulled open the door to the Red Dragon Inn.
The warmth and light and low murmurs of conversation washed over her like a gentle, welcoming wave. Fiona and Gerki strode into the vestibule. Fiona was briefly stunned by her own reflection in the ancient, silver mirror behind the hostess’ stand. For a moment, she could do nothing else but marvel at how the light cast by the tavern’s many lanterns burnished her unruly red hair to a fine bronze, or picked out glimmering highlights on the shoulders of her armor.
“Fiona!” called a quavering voice from the corner of the room. Fiona knew as she turned to look that the voice belonged to Jasper, the Red Dragon’s ancient and wizened bouncer.
Jasper surveyed her with myopic eyes, magnified to tremendous size by a set of spectacles thick enough to deflect arrows. He scratched the wispy beard that curled down from his nub of a chin.
“Now, Fiona,” he said, at last, “we have been over this at least once a year for the past few years. I can’t be letting children into the Red Dragon Inn. Warthorn would have my hide. So both you kids will have to leave.”
“I’m a halfling,” said Gerki from deep within the folds of his cloak. “And I’m twenty-three.”
Jasper adjusted his spectacles. “Well, now, my apologies. You may go in, sir, of course. Fiona, unfortunately, I’m going to have to ask–”
“But, Jasper,” she replied slowly, savoring every word, “It’s my birthday today!”
Behind Jasper’s spectacles, his hugely enlarged eyes widened.
“Is that so?”
“Yes,” she said, feeling the smile spreading across her face. “Better than that, it’s my sixteenth birthday!”
Jasper beamed, and his eyes behind his thick lenses looked even wetter in the tavern’s lantern light.
“My goodness. My goodness! Well, in that case, happy birthday to you and welcome, at last, to the Red Dragon Inn!” Jasper gestured with a quavering, age-spotted hand at the inner doorway that led to the tavern’s main floor. “We have a full house tonight, but I think there’s still some seats at the bar, if you like.”
“Thank you,” said Gerki, “but we have a reservation. Mr. Underwood. Party of two.”
“Ah!” Jasper stooped to peruse the reservations list. “And so you do, and so you do, Mr. Underwood! I shall take you to your table myself, if you wouldn’t mind following me right this way.”
As he opened the inner door of the Red Dragon Inn, Jasper turned and favored Fiona with a magnified wink. “I’ll be sure to send Olivia over to take your orders. And I’ll be sure to tell her it’s your birthday. She’ll make sure you feel right at home.”
“Thanks, Jasper!” said Fiona, barely keeping the excited squeal from her voice. “I’m sure we will!!”
She stepped into the main room of the Red Dragon Inn, feeling the golden light, smells of delicious food, and the murmurs of conversation washing over her. People in mages’ and clerics’ robes sat elbow to elbow with heavily-armed mercenaries and green-clad rangers. Excited patrons ordered “from the board,” drinking whatever beverages the tavern provided them–from the famous Dragon’s Breath Ale to filthy tumblers of used dishwater. A young bard strode between the tables, trying to play both loudly enough to be heard over the background noise and well enough to get a few coins from appreciative listeners.
In a darkened corner, a man in black armor, a black helmet, and a black cloak sat and drank all alone, a beautiful sword clenched tightly in a mailed fist. The man noticed Fiona noticing him lurking and brooding and scowled at her. Fiona was too excited to be dissuaded by his annoyance, and simply waved back.
It was only as she and Gerki were seated at a small, round table in the back corner of the main tavern hall that something occurred to her.
Gerki pulled off his hood carefully and peered around the room. “Yeah.”
“But your name isn’t Underwood. Is it?”
“I know,” said Gerki, with a roll of his eyes. “It’s a fake name, Fiona. I used it so that I wouldn’t draw attention to myself.”
Fiona drummed her fingertips on the table. “Why can’t you draw attention to yourself?”
Gerki sighed. “Because I have enemies, Fiona.”
His expression was so annoyed, and so comically serious, that Fiona couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
“You? Have enemies? Really? Like who? You and the Thieves’ Guild…”
“Shh!” said Gerki, theatrically bringing a finger to his lips. “Not so loud, Fi!”
“You and the Thieves’ Guild,” she said, slightly more quietly, “agreed to go your separate ways, and you’ve been gone from the orphanage for so long that nobody really remembers all the trouble you used to get into. Seriously, Gerki, what enemies could you possibly–”
“DOWN! NO!” came a man’s desperate shout from two tables over.
Fiona half stood up from her seat and turned, her hand dipping to the hilt of her enchanted blade. As she did, a white blur hurtled itself onto an adjacent table, scattering drinks and bowls of peanuts. Before the patrons at that table could do little more than curse or let out startled cries, the white blur gathered itself, leaped again, and landed heavily in the center of Fiona and Gerki’s table. It stretched out languidly and, as it regarded Fiona with a bored, yet slightly mischievous expression, it gently scratched at one of its long, white ears with one of its long, white feet.
“Oh, hey there, bunny,” said Fiona, as Gerki dove under the table. “How did you get in here?”
She reached out to give the small, white rabbit a scratch between its ears, but stopped. Maybe it was the way the rabbit froze and stared at her with something not unlike palpable menace. Maybe it was the way the rabbit’s back fur bristled alarmingly, like porcupine quills. Or maybe it was the way the rabbit, after having done all these things, yawned almost noncommittally, revealing two rows of insanely sharp teeth.
“Um,” said Fiona. “Have we met?”
“I’m sorry! I’m so terribly sorry!” said an older, bearded man in a robe of black velvet, who had hastily run through the tavern’s main room to arrive breathlessly at Fiona’s table. “He’s usually much better behaved than this, but I think he got into my friend’s drink when she wasn’t looking, and now he’s tipsy and liable to start mischief.”
The bearded man looked down at the rabbit, his face hardening into a stern expression. The numerous lantern lights in the Red Dragon Inn glinted off of his form-fitting metal skull cap.
“But we are not going to have any more mischief tonight, are we? Because I am on very thin ice with Warthorn already, and I really need you to not get me thrown out before…”
Throughout this exchange, Fiona had been looking from the rabbit to the older man and back again, her mouth falling open of its own accord.
“Professor Zot?” she said, half in shock, half in wonder.
“Yes?” said Zot. “I’m terribly sorry about all this. As I told the people at the other tables, I’m happy to buy you a fresh round of whatever you’re drinking and pay for any damages. I really hope…”
“No, no,” said Fiona, scratching and patting Pooky until the rabbit rolled over to expose his tummy. “It’s fine. He’s fine. Hi, Pooky! I thought I recognized you. I didn’t realize that rabbits lived quite this long, but you’re a magical rabbit, aren’t you? Yes you are! Yesso are! You’re a big, fancy, magical wabbit, so the rules probably don’t apply to you.”
Pooky grinned, first at Fiona, then at Zot.
“There are a great deal of rules that, unfortunately, do not apply to Pooky,” said Zot. He looked at Fiona, as if really seeing her for the first time. “I’m sorry, young lady. You seem to know us, but… well, I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage. Have we met?”
“We have,” she said, extending a hand for the wizard to shake. “It’s me! Fiona! You remember? That thing with the magic masks? You helped out my friend Gerki… where is Gerki, anyway?”
“Oh, yes, yes!” said Zot, letting Fiona shake his hand for a few moments before gently extricating himself. “It has been a while, hasn’t it, and you’ve gotten quite a bit taller since then. I barely recognized you.”
“Well, I also washed my face,” said Fiona.
“Yes. I’d imagine that would do it, too.” Zot smiled somewhat awkwardly. “And you say Gerki’s here? I’d very much like to see him, if he is. I’d really like to hear how the both of you are doing.”
Pooky thumped a back foot on the table, very loudly, once.
A moment later, Gerki lifted his head up over the edge of the table, just far enough so that his eyes crested the top. He peered at Zot, then at Pooky, then looked levelly at Fiona.
“You see?” he said, a slightly insufferable twang in his voice. “Enemies.”
“What’s that up your sleeve?” shouted Gerki, pointing accusingly at Zot.
“There’s nothing up my sleeve!” Zot bristled, tossing his cards face down on the table. “What, you think just because I’m a wizard, that means I’m hiding cards up my sleeve? That’s ridiculous, why I…”
Fiona looked on, bemused, while Zot pulled back the sleeves of his voluminous robes and Gerki recited chapter and verse from Foyle’s Codex of Cards. To one side of her, Pooky stretched out lazily, licking at a thin pool of ale that had spilled out from Gerki’s mug. To the other, the elven priestess named Deirdre, who was apparently Zot’s dining companion that evening, sat with her hands neatly folded, gazing into her half-full glass of elven wine.
“Zot,” Deirdre said at last, “I know you badly needed a distraction to clear your head, but this is getting just a little ridiculous, don’t you think?”
“Erm,” said Zot, withdrawing a bit into his seat, his cheeks crimson behind his beard. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
Seizing the break in the argument as his opportunity, Gerki swept the handful of gold coins off of the table and tucked them into one of the pockets of his cloak. “No hard feelings?” he said to Zot.
“No,” said Zot, who absently skritched a now very relaxed Pooky. “I suppose not. Anyway, it was lovely to catch up with you, but Deirdre and I have to be getting along. There’s some rather worrying things going on in Greyport that we need to be dealing with.”
Fiona perked up at Zot’s words, which sounded just vague enough to be the opening to an evening of adventure. “Well, maybe we can help you!”
Zot, already in the process of standing, looked awkwardly over at Deirdre, who shrugged and shook her head.
“They’re awfully young,” said the priestess.
“My dear,” said Zot. “To you everyone is young. Besides, as you’ve recently heard, Fiona and Gerki have proven to be quite resourceful before.”
Deirdre took a sip of her wine and looked thoughtful, and Zot used that moment to sink back down into his chair. After a moment, she said, “well, it’s true that we haven’t had much luck on our own. Maybe they can help us, after all, but are you sure you want to be endangering children, Zot?”
Pooky, despite being in what seemed to be a hazy, drunken doze, snorted irritably.
“I’m not a child,” said Fiona, echoing the rabbit’s bristle of outrage. “I’m sixteen! Today is my birthday!”
“And I’m a lot older than I look,” said Gerki, gesturing at his face. “It’s just that I’ve got these youthful halfling features. Not that I necessarily want to be endangered, of course.”
Zot rubbed his mustache with the thumb and index finger of his right hand. “I don’t want to force your hand, Deirdre, but, as I’ve said, they’re both able and willing to help. Besides, many more people will be endangered if we fail to find… the individual.”
Deirdre nodded soberly. “True. All right, then. I grudgingly accept both of your help.”
“Great!” said Fiona. “So, what’s going on?”
Deirdre looked a touch dubious as Zot leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, “we’re having some problems with a necromancer in the city.”
“A necro–,” shouted Gerki, glaring reproachfully at Fiona.
Deirdre put a finger up to her lips. “Shh. Not so loud!”
“We thought we had them contained,” said Zot, continuing on. “You see, Deirdre had the idea to station the guard and select members of the clergy at the various graveyards around the city. The assumption being that we would either catch the necromancer in the act, or prevent them from getting any additional… ah… raw materials with which to create more minions.”
“Despite these precautions,” said Deirdre, absently running her fingertips around the edge of her wine glass, “the necromancer hasn’t stopped creating undead. We’re fairly sure they have access to a bone supply we can’t account for.”
Fiona looked at Gerki and an unspoken thought passed between them. Both nodded.
“What kind of bones?” asked Fiona.
“Initially, a mix of those belonging to the kindred species,” said Zot. “You know, humans, elves, orcs, minotaurs, and the like. As of right now, we’re still seeing bones like that, occasionally, but mostly they’re now–”
“From animals,” interrupted Gerki.
“Right,” replied Zot, raising a bushy and inquisitive eyebrow. “How did you know?”
Fiona and Gerki exchanged glances again. Then Fiona said, “well, we didn’t so much know as guess. Gerki and I have spent a lot of time in the Undercity, and we’re familiar with a bunch of places that aren’t common knowledge to surfacers. No offense.”
Deirdre smiled. “None taken.”
“Specifically,” said Gerki. “We know that the Greyport Council levies a hefty tax to the slaughterhouses and tanneries when they need to dispose of animal waste. And we also know that sometimes, to make a weensy bit more profit, they decide not to pay those taxes.”
Zot scratched his beard meditatively. “I see. And when they choose not to pay those taxes, where do the bones go?”
“They dump them in pits under the city,” said Fiona, barely able to contain her excitement. “There’s at least a dozen of them, and they’re just full of old bones. I used to play with them all the time when I was younger, until Gerki stopped me.”
Gerki rolled his eyes, “it was creepy, Fi. Besides, you could have gotten a parasite or something.”
“I was fine,” Fiona replied. “It’s not like I was licking them or anything.”
Deirdre cleared her throat delicately, breaking into the brewing argument. “These bone pits. You know where they are, yes?”
“Sure do!” said Fiona, pounding her fist on the table hard enough to awaken a drowsing Pooky.
Fiona had developed a reasonably good sense of time from her countless excursions to the Undercity. She guessed that their little group… party… adventuring party!
She took a deep breath and focused.
She guessed that her party had been down in the tunnels beneath Greyport for at least a couple of hours. Since that time, they had visited three of the illegal bone pits and had, so far, seen no signs of disturbances or necromantic activity. Despite walking for hours and finding just about nothing, Fiona was practically vibrating with excitement. A real adventure! To stop a real necromancer from ravaging the city above! And she had stumbled upon it all within a few hours of officially turning sixteen!
Fiona bet that Gerki and her new companions were having as much fun as she was having as she led the way through the sewers, enchanted sword in her hand.
“We’re almost to the next one, Fi,” said Gerki, calling from a fair distance behind her. “Time to slow down and start sneaking.”
She swung around as Gerki, Fiona, Zot, and Pooky breathlessly caught up with her. “I am being sneaky!”
“Not in that armor, you’re not,” said Gerki in a low whisper. “You sound like a bag of coins that someone tossed down a flight of stairs.”
“Oh, sorry,” she said, lowering her torch. “I didn’t realize it was that loud. I’ll try to move a little bit slower.”
Zot sucked in a deep breath. “We would be grateful if you could, Fiona. Thank you.”
Pooky scrambled up to perch on Zot’s shoulder as the quartet crept forward, threading their way down the well-worn, sloping track that led down to the fourth bone pit. Fiona moved much more carefully, mindful of the wheel ruts on the path ahead of her. Using all the stealth knowledge that Gerki had taught her, she was able to descend the rest of the way and only elicit the merest rasping whisper from her chainmail hauberk.
At the bottom of the path, she pressed flat against the wall and peeked around the opening into the chamber beyond. What she saw caused her to pull back almost instantly.
“We’ve got activity,” she whispered.
Deirdre reached up to touch the holy medallion hanging from her neck. “What kind?”
Fiona quickly rattled off what she had seen. “Somebody in robes, making the ‘woo woo’ motions with their hands. Bones sticking to other bones and moving around on their own. Also, I think they–”
“INTRUDERS!” came a wheedly voice from the other room.
“–saw me,” said Fiona, somewhat apologetically.
As a cacophony of rattling, scraping, and banging resounded around the adjacent chamber, Deirdre moved to the front of the party with an equal mix of elvish grace and firm-lipped determination.
“Gerki, Fiona, get behind us. This necromancer is liable to be extremely dangerous now that they’re cornered. Zot, are you ready?”
Fiona noticed that Zot, an accomplished mage, was making ‘woo woo’ motions of his own. Pooky sat up on Zot’s shoulder and bared his teeth, ready for action.
“I am,” said Zot.
“Well, then,” Deirdre seized her holy symbol and held it aloft. Blue-white light erupted from the sigil of Elaana, pouring between Deirdre’s fingers and driving the darkness from the tunnel.
“In the Goddess’ name!” shouted Deirdre, “necromancer, stand down or be destroyed!”
A thundering, crashing roar filled the tunnel, sounding so much like a landslide or a cave-in that Fiona instinctively dropped into a crouch and raised her magic sword over her head. Above her, the ancient ceiling of stone, mud, and petrified dwarven timber remained, blessedly, intact.
“Oh, I already hate this,” said Gerki, as a gargantuan, misshapen thing shoved itself into the tunnel entrance from the bone pit beyond.
Fiona’s gaze snapped down to the hideous creature that now blocked their progress forward. It looked almost like a skeletal snake, if that snake was huge and made out of poorly-matching bones from cattle, pigs, goats, and other livestock. This particular snake, Fiona noticed, would also have had to possess about two dozen clawed forelimbs–pieced together from smaller segments of bone–as well as about a dozen gnashing, wailing animal skulls whose eye sockets glowed with a baleful, eldritch light.
On second thought, Fiona realized that the unwieldy, undead amalgamation that loomed before her didn’t look very much like a skeletal snake at all.
“Get clear!” shouted Deirdre, over the din of clattering and grinding bones. “I’m going to try and–”
But Fiona was already surging forward, gripping her enchanted blade with two hands. She felt the shock of impact as four or five clawed, hand-like appendages raked across her chest and shoulders, only to be stymied or shattered when they became stuck in the riveted rings of her new armor. One head–which looked to Fiona like that of a horse, but with a bull’s jaw–opened its mouth and let out a dreadful hiss. Fiona swung her sword upward, cleaving through both the vertebrae and the necromantic energies that kept the head attached to the rest of the bone behemoth. The head’s mouth swung open even wider–this time apparently in surprise–and its constituent parts dropped to the tunnel floor, lifeless.
“No! Fiona! Get back!” shouted Deirdre, but Fiona barely heard her.
By this point, she had ducked underneath the final rank of skeletal heads and was now standing more or less inside of the creature’s ribcage. As she rained blow after blow on ribs and other bones that had been temporarily commanded to become ribs, bolts of arcane energies and divine power tore into the beast on every side. Within moments, the terrible power that had lashed the monstrosity together, driving it forward in an awful parody of life, was sundered and defeated. Fiona let out a cry of triumph as charred and shattered bone rained down all around her.
An instant later, Gerki was next to her, scrubbing bone fragments out of his curly hair.
“Fi! Fi! Are you okay?”
“Better than okay!” she replied, smiling so hard that her face hurt. “I’m great! That was amazing!”
Deirdre, Zot, and Pooky soon joined them. The rabbit looked amused, if anything. Zot and Deirdre significantly less so.
“That was very… impressive,” said Deirdre, “but that was a very dangerous undead creature. You could have been killed!”
“Oh, I was fine,” said Fiona.
“Hey,” muttered Gerki, quietly.
“I’m inclined to agree with Deirdre,” said Zot thoughtfully. “This is twice now that I’ve seen you tangle with very powerful enchantments, Fiona. You’re very resourceful, and very lucky, but I’m concerned that if you don’t learn some basic tactics, one day your luck is going to run–”
“HEY!” shouted Gerki, causing Zot to look down at him sharply.
“You remember the necromancer?” Gerki pointed past the ruins of the undead monstrosity and into the next chamber. “Well, I think they’re getting away!”
Fiona wheeled around, sword raised. Beyond the ravaged tunnel entrance lay the irregular cavern that housed one of Greyport’s illegal bone disposal pits. The level of the pit was quite a bit lower than she remembered, owing in no small part to the sheer number of bones needed to create the creature they had just destroyed. Fiona imagined that the squad of roughly humanoid skeletal figures at the far side of the room were also partially responsible. As she watched, the skeletons pivoted clumsily and began lumbering after a figure who had hoisted up the hem of their overlarge robe and who had fled down another passageway.
“All right,” said Zot. “Now, the necromancer is leading us into a trap, so it’s important that we proceed cautiously and–”
Fiona leaped across the bone pit, her sword held high. Her booted feet skidded when she landed on the far side of the pit, but she swiftly regained her balance and pursued the necromancer and their minions.
As she ran down the darkening tunnel, she thought she could hear Zot’s voice behind her.
“Well,” he said evenly. “She grew up to be a touch… volatile.”
“Yeah,” Fiona heard Gerki respond. “She’s always been like that.”
It was very dark, and she had outdistanced not only her party, but also the magical light that she had been using to navigate the Undercity’s tunnels. Fiona, fearing that she would lose the necromancer, tried to keep up the pace, but only succeeded in smashing her shin into an outcropping of rock. Moments later, she was skidding across the uneven tunnel floor, her new armor shrieking loudly where it made contact with the damp stone.
“Ow,” she said.
She took a deep breath and held it as she mentally checked herself over for injuries. Her shin was unhappy, but intact. The heels of her hands were a little scuffed from where they had made contact with the ground, but they could still hold her sword. Speaking of her sword, where had it gotten to? She must have let go of it when she fell.
Fiona drew herself up onto her hands and knees and crawled around the area, groping blindly for her sword. She found it a moment later, when one of her fingertips accidentally brushed its magically honed blade. Fiona let out a string of very unpleasant words before reflexively shoving her dirty and bloodied finger into her mouth. She sucked on the wound angrily, cursing at her own clumsiness.
Finger still in mouth, Fiona retrieved her sword with her other hand, stood, and continued onward down the passageway. She tried to move more slowly and cautiously, since she couldn’t see and she wasn’t terribly familiar with this section of the Undercity tunnels. Part of Fiona’s mind kept telling her to stop, to wait until the others had caught up with her. The rest of her mind, which was admittedly the much louder part, insisted that she press on as quickly as she dared, making sure that the necromancer didn’t get away.
It wasn’t long before her louder mental voice goaded her into action, causing Fiona to let out a low, frustrated grunt before bursting into a brisk jog. She made good time for the first score of steps or so, but her forward progress was immediately brought to a halt when she clipped her head on the passageway’s low ceiling. Fiona dropped her sword and clutched her head with both hands.
As the stars faded from her vision and the pain subsided, she became aware of ominous, rattle-click sounds that seemed to surround her on every side.
“Foolish girl,” said a sibilant voice off to her left somewhere. “Now you pay the price for your recklessness.”
Bony hands lunged from the darkness to seize Fiona. She screamed in fury as her arms were wrenched up behind her back.
“You struggle in vain,” said the voice. “You will find that these undead are significantly better put together than the construct I animated to cover my escape.”
Much as she didn’t want to, Fiona found herself agreeing with the voice. Though she twisted and pulled as hard as she could, the undead hands that grasped her refused to budge. Her struggles seemed to do nothing other than aggravate her already blinding headache. She gritted her teeth against the pain, and tried to marshal her strength.
In the darkness, she heard a rustle of cloth and the soft ring of metal upon stone as the speaker picked her sword up from the tunnel floor.
“How poetic,” the voice hissed. “The brave heroine dies by her own blade. Goodbye, my…”
Fiona snapped one foot sharply upward, her toes crunching painfully as they connected with something relatively fleshy. Her sword once again fell ringing on the stones as the concealed speaker gurgled and struggled to speak.
“Ack…” gasped the voice. “That… really stings…”
“Good!” shouted Fiona, though the pain that blossomed in her head made her instantly regret it.
“No more… poetry…” the voice wheezed. “Tear her… to pieces…”
The hands that held Fiona squeezed down even more tightly and began to pull her limbs in extremely uncomfortable directions. Her sinews quavered. The bones in her right shoulder ground against one another.
“Now!” came another voice, right by Fiona’s nearly dislocated elbow.
An explosion of noise and light rocked the tunnel. Fiona shut her eyes against the blinding radiance and felt the hands that held her slacken just enough. She flexed her muscles, pulled her extremities close to her body and dropped to her knees. Her captors struggled against her dead weight to no avail, and Fiona grinned as unliving digits popped free from animated arms.
She cracked open one eye as wide as she could bear and peered around the now brightly-lit tunnel. The necromancer–who, as it happened, was an albino kobold in an ogre-sized robe–clutched at their injured throat and stared in horror as Gerki struck blow after resounding blow off of their minion’s skulls with the heavy brass pommels of his daggers. Zot and Deirdre let fly waves of arcane and divine force from their hands, incinerating and imploding the necromancer’s undead thralls.
In the chaos of battle, Fiona managed to recover her enchanted sword. Calmly, carefully, so as not to jostle or injure her head any further, she strode toward the injured necromancer, the point of her blade aimed right for their neck.
The necromancer, their pink eyes bulging wide, turned and tried to flee, only to discover that Pooky had hopped into view to block the far side of the corridor. The necromancer briefly considered stepping over the rabbit and making good their escape, but then Pooky opened his mouth wide enough to show the necromancer all of his teeth.
“Ah,” said the necromancer. “I… surrender.”
“Damn right you do,” said Fiona.
“Fi,” said Gerki, unable to keep the panic from his voice, “are you all right?”
“Depends on whether or not Deirdre has anything to cure this headache.”
Deirdre strode through the broken, and once again lifeless, remains of the necromancer’s forces, her holy symbol glowing softly in her hands.
“I do,” said Deirdre with a smirk, “but if I use it, you have to promise that you’re not going to run off on me again.”
A wave of pain crashed into Fiona’s head, and for a moment there were twice as many elven priestesses as there should have been.
They escorted the necromancer to the nearest watchpost of the City Guard, and Fiona felt herself smiling proudly as the now embarrassed-looking kobold was booked, shackled with anti-magical restraints, and placed in a cell to await justice. She smiled even more after the officer at the front explained that there was a reward for the necromancer’s capture, and proceeded to produce a small, jingling pouch.
For Fiona, who had lived in an orphanage for most of her life, the small cluster of gold coins contained within the pouch represented riches beyond the dreams of avarice. Cupping the pouch in one freshly-healed hand, she carefully counted out the contents into four smaller piles.
“What are you doing?” said Gerki.
“Divvying up the treasure,” Fiona replied, too excited with the process to scoff at Gerki’s ignorance of adventuring etiquette. “Four of us went on an adventure, and so the four of us get an equal share of the reward.”
“Oh,” said Zot, rubbing the back of his neck. “That’s not necessary. You and Gerki can keep the money. I assure you that Deirdre and I don’t really need–”
“That’s not how this works.” Fiona held out her hands, carefully balancing the four small piles of money. “We went on an adventure. We beat an evil necromancer. We split the treasure. That’s the rules!”
Zot pursed his lips and looked down uncomfortably at the coins in Fiona’s hand. He might have remained standing there, had not Deirdre stepped forward to graciously take her share.
“Very fair and generous of you, Fiona,” said Deirdre, smiling.
“Er, yes,” said Zot, taking one of the other coin piles.
Gerki had no such reservations, and scooped his share out of Fiona’s hand before she even had a chance to offer it to him.
“Thanks, Fi. This’ll help with expenses this month, for sure. And it’s nice to be able to come by coin honestly, for a change.”
“And that coin you won from me at the Red Dragon Inn,” said Zot, smirking behind his beard. “That was for what, exactly?”
Gerki turned his back on Zot and began whistling innocently.
“Thank you very much for your help, both of you,” said Deirdre, still smiling. “We couldn’t have done this without you.”
“Yeah! We made quite a team,” said Fiona, pocketing her own share of the reward.
“I don’t know that we worked together well enough to be called a team,” said Zot, stroking Pooky absently.
“Sure we did,” said Fiona. “I managed to distract the necromancer long enough for the rest of you to show up and blast their minions to smithereens! That’s gotta count for something, right?”
“I… suppose…” said Zot.
“And it’s like you said,” continued Fiona, giving the mage a friendly elbow to the ribs. “We just need to practice our tactics and work together some more. Once we do that, the four of us will be unstoppable.”
Zot rubbed his side, a pained look on his face. “The four of us? Oh, I don’t quite know about that. I feel as though this was a one-time grouping.”
“Two times,” said Fiona, brandishing that many fingers. “You said it yourself, Zot! You wouldn’t have been able to stop that evil mask without Gerki and me.”
Zot looked like a sailor who suddenly found himself standing ankle deep in water in what he had once thought was a perfectly seaworthy ship. “Did I say that?”
“Well, sort of,” said Deirdre, trying to suppress a giggle. “You didn’t use those exact words, of course, but you did intimate as much when you told me about your previous adventures back at the Red Dragon.”
“See?” said Fiona, triumphantly. “Besides, the way I see it, we have a perfectly balanced team here. I’m the warrior, of course. Then we have a mage, a cleric–”
“Priestess,” said Deirdre, gently.
“–and a thief!”
Gerki looked panicked. “You know I can’t call myself that, Fi. The Thieves’ Guild has rules…”
But Fiona wasn’t listening. She had already decided that the four of them–and Pooky, of course–were already a team, and were already off on the next of what would likely be hundreds of exciting and daring adventures.
“This has been the best birthday ever!”
The Kickstarter campaign for Tales from the Red Dragon Inn ends TOMORROW, October 28, 2021!