Out of the Ashes
In celebration of our upcoming 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. Part one was posted last week, so here’s part two. Enjoy!
Out of the Ashes
Eighty Years Ago
Greyport burned so hot and so brightly that Deirdre knew it was past the point where it could be saved. All she and the city’s defenders could do now is save as many lives as possible.
She turned down an alley, only to find it choked with burning debris. She shifted the child in her arm from one shoulder to the other and turned to the cluster of people gathered around her.
“We have to keep moving! Stay close to me!”
A shadow slid across the sky, large and dark despite the towering flames. The child screamed and buried their face into Deirdre’s shoulder. Several of the other people flattened themselves in terror against the ground and nearby walls while others clutched their faces and howled despairingly at the sky. One person, an ancient woman with barely a tooth in her head, shook her ironwood cane at the sky and cursed.
The great red dragon gliding low overhead heeded none of them. Instead, it blew jets of white-hot flames from its nostrils, incinerating a storefront. With a single pump of its great wings, it vaulted into the sky, while at the same time sending a downdraft to fan the conflagration that burned all around Deirdre and her charges.
Through the smoke and the fires, Deirdre saw a narrow avenue of escape.
“Hurry now,” she cried. “This way. Stick close to me!”
The people followed after her single file as the fires raged hot and hungry on either side.
“Oh, where are the mages?” said one of the men behind her. “They could help, couldn’t they? They could put a stop to this!”
Deirdre wondered the same thing, though she didn’t want to distract her charges with her own worries and musings. Of the wizards and students in the Mages’ Collegium, she had heard and seen almost nothing since the coming of the dragon. She dared to hope that they were planning something up there in their lofty towers and were even now getting ready to blast the dragon out of the sky.
Despite the inferno raging all around her, a chill gripped Deirdre’s heart. The dragon’s first act, upon its arrival, had been to incinerate the Great Temple where she had been visiting. Many of the temple’s defenders lay dead or critically injured beneath its smoldering walls, its usefulness as a safe haven and beacon of hope to the city all but obliterated in minutes. If the dragon was smart—and Deirdre had never heard of one that was not—its next strike would have been against the mages.
She turned and looked up, trying to spot the towers of the Collegium at the top of the city, above the thick plumes of choking smoke. They still stood, for now, though Deirdre could not shake the thought that something was terribly wrong with them.
A loud sundering crack from overhead brought her out of her worries. The large building her group now passed, completely gutted by flames, was collapsing in on itself, spraying embers every which way.
“It’s falling!” said one of her charges.
“Run!” said another.
The child, heavy in Deirdre’s arms, buried their face in her neck.
As the building toppled toward them, Deirdre took her holy symbol in her hand and raised it skywards, beseeching Elaana for a little grace. The goddess’ answer was immediate. From the symbol, a silvery-blue sphere of energy sprang, growing until it had encompassed Deirdre and her entire group. The building’s blackened timbers struck sparks as they hit the protective sphere and broke apart. A rain of shattered glass and melted tiles pelted the sphere, sliding off to clatter harmlessly into the street.
When the heap that had once been a building finally settled, Deirdre sent a quiet prayer of thanks to the goddess and dispelled the sphere. She was glad to see that the road ahead of her was still clear, and that Greyport’s western gate was, at last, in view.
The refugees had begun to gather at the bend of the River Sharlay about a mile away from the western edge of Greyport. Deirdre led her group towards them and, at last, handed the child she had carried back to their injured father. Together, Deirdre and the other refugees stared silently eastward, watching as the rays of the setting sun behind them bathed the now utterly ruined city with a golden glow.
The great red dragon still seemed to be venting its rage upon what remained of the city, spiraling upwards on thermals of its own making, only to descend and sear the streets and buildings beneath it with another jet of deadly flame.
Deirdre could see more refugees pouring out of the city, fleeing across the western plains. There were hundreds of them. Thousands. Exhausted, injured, and traumatized, they would need food, water, shelter, and medical attention very, very soon.
Deirdre squeezed her eyes shut, marshalling her flagging strength. She needed to save all of these people. It would be hard, and it would be harrowing, but it was a task that must be done. At least Elaana would be with her.
She opened her eyes and, at the sight of the burning city, felt the sharp stab of renewed anguish.
“All right,” she said, in as loud and as confident a voice as her smoke-scoured throat could muster. “We’re going to wait for the others here. Then we’re going to all travel together a few miles to the edge of Highthorn Forest. The trees will give us shelter and will hide us from the dragon’s sight.”
All around her there were cries of despair and groans of exhaustion. Several people burst into tears.
“Isn’t anyone coming to save us?” said one of the refugees. “The City Guard? The mages? Anyone?”
Deirdre looked back at Greyport. The towers of the Mages’ Collegium still stood. But to Deirdre’s keen elven eyes, they looked indistinct around the edges, almost immaterial. It was as if she was looking at the fading memory of the Collegium, rather than at the buildings themselves.
She hastily brushed the corners of her eyes.
“They may,” she said. “But until then, we have to save ourselves. This has been an awful day, but together we can survive this night and all the nights that follow afterward. Come with me.”
And, her sooty sky-blue robes glimmering in the light of the setting sun, Deirdre led the refugees of the City of Greyport across the open plains to safety.
The mages came at dawn the next day. Well, some of them did. Bedraggled, exhausted, and with their fine robes scorched and blackened with smoke, they trudged into the outskirts of the forest where Deirdre and the refugees had been working to set up something resembling a camp.
There weren’t very many amenities, unfortunately, though they had managed to dig a few pit latrines and build some shelters. Teams of foragers returned with enough roots, herbs, berries, and wild game to just take the edge off of the encampment’s growing hunger. Deirdre helped as best as she could, healing the injured and calling upon Elaana to send a restful night’s sleep to those who needed it.
She had not had any rest herself, and it was with no small amount of relief that she welcomed the exhausted mages into the camp. They were all students, with a few teaching assistants, researchers, a slightly singed minotaur loaded down with blackened scrolls, and a lone librarian also amongst their numbers. But mages were mages, and so Deirdre put them to work conjuring supplies, shaping shelters, and aiding the refugees with other useful enchantments.
In the meantime, Deirdre took the librarian aside.
“I don’t want to sound ungrateful,” she said, pushing her hair out of her eyes, “but where are the senior staff? The professors? Chancellor Tobenhorne?”
Deirdre glanced around to make certain that none of the other refugees were within earshot, then asked a question in a voice pitched perceptibly lower. “They didn’t…”
The librarian pushed her cracked spectacles up on her nose with a sooty finger and shook her head.
“As far as I know, most of them survived the initial attack.”
“That’s good,” said Deirdre. Then, after a pause, she added. “So where are they?”
“Well,” said the librarian. “Chancellor Tobenhorne was worried that the dragon would attempt to either steal or destroy the various artifacts and restricted magical tomes that the Mages’ Collegium keeps in its vault. He also wanted to make sure that the Collegium could serve as a safe haven for survivors once the attacks subsided. So he ordered everyone to weave their magic together and cast a giant stasis field that encompassed the Collegium grounds.”
Deirdre considered this for a moment. The stasis spell was one of the more powerful spells in a skilled mage’s arsenal, capable of suspending the target in perfect safety slightly adjacent to the passage of time. To cast a spell large enough to affect the whole Collegium would require a level of power and focus that was impossible to conceive of. At least, Deirdre couldn’t conceive of it. Whether this was because she lacked the requisite knowledge of magery, or whether her imagination was studiously not trying to wrap itself around the problem to keep Deirdre sane was, at least from her limited perspective, impossible to determine.
Still, the strange, quasi-real state of the Collegium as seen from several miles outside of Greyport could mean only one thing.
“You were successful?”
“Oh yes. Beyond everyone’s wildest expectations. The entirety of the Collegium is out of phase with reality. Because of that, it was completely unharmed when the dragon destroyed the rest of Greyport…”
“But?” said Deirdre.
“The trouble is that we can’t seem to undo the spell. It may be that we wove it too well because we all wanted to protect the Collegium as best as we could. Or it could be that we were so desperate to protect it that we didn’t so much weave the spell together as tangle it up like a ball of old yarn.”
“We could really use the Collegium’s resources to help with the refugees,” said Deirdre. “Especially considering that the Great Temple is destroyed. Do you have any idea when they’ll be able to take the spell down?”
The librarian shrugged, words failing her for a moment. Desperate to fill the silence, she took her spectacles off her nose and began to polish them with the grubby sleeve of her robe. The cracked lens gave way under the slight pressure of her fingers and fell tinkling to the ground in several bright pieces.
“Damn,” said the librarian, before making an heroic attempt to balance the now broken spectacles on her nose. She blinked myopically at Deidre. “Chancellor Tobenhorne said that they’ll keep trying to collapse the stasis field for as long as they can. But he also said that, if they weren’t able to bring it down, it might possibly fade away on its own in…”
The mumbling became so strained and so quiet that Deirdre couldn’t hear it. “How long?”
“Oh, by the Goddess,” said Deirdre.
The librarian raised her head. “By the time the senior faculty sent us away to find you all, several of them were already talking about the groundbreaking research papers that they’re going to write about weaving such a large and complicated spell.”
“Though, honestly,” continued the librarian, looking back toward the Collegium, “I think most of the work is going to be finished by their descendants.”
Thirty Years Ago
For the young, Greyport had always been the way it was now: broad avenues, bright buildings, beautiful public gardens, a large and prosperous harbor, and industrious folks either working at their market stalls or hustling from place to place on one errand or another.
For the elderly–which included Deirdre, even though she didn’t look it–the present Greyport was a fraud, a fake, a quick and desperate bandage slapped onto an old and seeping wound. They remembered the narrow mazes of ancient streets, the squat and heavy buildings built in ancient days by dwarven crafters, and the much smaller harbor that could not hold nearly enough ships to evacuate the city’s populace.
For Deirdre, walking around the resurrected Greyport was especially poignant. She had a very clear memory of the city as it was, before it had been incinerated by dragonsfire. Oh, yes, the survivors had returned eventually, the city had been rebuilt, and now, fifty years later, it was all but impossible for the casual observer to notice that any damage had ever been done. Deirdre, unfortunately, could not stop noticing all the tiny details–the sooty patch on a wall that had somehow never been entirely wiped away, the way the older folks glanced up warily at the sky whenever large clouds blocked the sun, the fact that so many people and businesses displayed small, sad lots of fire-blackened knicknacks, to remind them of what they had survived on that horrible day.
Deirdre knew that, as time continued its inexorable march forward, it would soon come to pass that only she, and a few others, would have memories of the Day of Red Fire. It would gradually pass from a recent tragedy to vaguely remembered misfortune to an interesting historical fact about the City of Greyport. Whole generations would grow up in the new city–the hastily reassembled one–and think that that was and had always been their home, omnipresent and unchanging until the next great catastrophe.
Deirdre glanced eastward, toward the sea, and at the semi-transparent buildings that rose above the water. Unlike the rest of the city, the Mages’ Collegium had remained as it was since the Day of Red Fire, a constant reminder of the scouring of Greyport. Yet, it was said that even this reminder would pass away, and soon. The one opinion of a tired and singed librarian all those years ago had been heard and repeated by countless survivors and refugees until it had become indisputable fact: in fifty years, the spell would end, the Collegium would return to the world, and Greyport, at last, would be whole.
She could go nowhere in the city without hearing at least a little speculation about when the stasis spell would finally exhaust its store of magical energy and unravel. At the harbor, in the Red Dragon Inn, in the cloisters of the Grand Temple, everywhere. She had overheard people who were just speculating wildly and those who had done careful math. She had overheard priests who said that the five gods would not be so cruel as to keep the Collegium from Greyport. She had listened to the gripes of astronomer mages who were hoping that, sometime within their lifetimes, they could once again access the Tower of the Stars instead of tromping off into the mountains to their “temporary” observatory.
Deirdre sighed and shook her head as she wrestled her gaze away from the out-of-phase Collegium and back down to the city street ahead of her. A short distance away, in the shadow of an arched doorway, a set of stone steps led down into the bowels of Greyport, to the Undercity. Before the coming of the dragon, it had been little more than a system of damp caves, inhabited by the destitute, the desperate, and the criminal elements in the city. In the aftermath of the Day of Red Fire, those people unable to flee the confines of Greyport for the lands beyond escaped underground, praying that the streets and the bedrock they were built upon were strong enough to withstand the dragonsfire.
Those who fled into the Undercity remained there long after the dragon had left, carving out homes and lives for themselves, often with fingertips and sheer force of will as their only tools. The thieves that already dwelled there sensed that they could profit by playing a very long game, and so offered protection, food, supplies, and a sense of community while the rest of the city smoldered and smoked above.
The Thieves’ Guild had won their long game many years ago, and were now the de facto rulers of the Undercity. Powerful, entrenched, and tolerated (though not trusted) by the denizens of Greyport above, they retained their hold long after Greyport had rebuilt itself. That was why, instead of arresting the lot of them, the city council periodically sent representatives like Deirdre to treat with their leadership, agreeing to certain, frankly, less-than-agreeable concessions in return for a certain level of stability, peace, and open trade between the upper and lower parts of Greyport.
As Deirdre crossed the street to the steps that descended, she once again went over the council’s latest list of demands. It would be difficult to get the Thieves’ Guild to limit their depredations on visitors to the city, but she knew that she needed to convince them, otherwise trade would suffer and Greyport would…
A vicious crackling noise split the clear sky. Deirdre stepped back from the top of the stairs and scanned the area around her, fingers raised in preparation to cast defensive magics. The younger folks on the street looked around, baffled and curious but not terrified. Older people, however, with memories of the dragon still alive in their minds, immediately fled into their homes and shops.
“Look,” said one of the youngsters, pointing.
The Mages’ Collegium had become solid, the clear sky and the sea no longer slightly visible behind it. As she watched, the Collegium retreated back into nothingness, fading, becoming less substantial.
Until it came back to the physical world with another crackling noise that shattered the sky.
“It’s happening!” said someone on the street. “It’s finally happening!”
Deirdre turned and raced toward a sloping street that would take her to Enchantment Park and the Collegium. Her business with the Thieves’ Guild could wait.
Mages and onlookers alike had already packed the streets around the Mages’ Collegium by the time Deirdre reached it. The new chancellor, a gnomish woman named Yanzil Timingear was doing her best to maintain order. Behind her, the Collegium cycled ever faster between real and unreal, the crackling, sparking noise growing louder with each repetition.
“Now, I know we’re all curious,” Chancellor Timingear was saying, using an enhancement spell to increase the volume of her voice, “and I know we’re all terribly excited that the Collegium might be returning, but I must remind you that we don’t know what the potential side effects of the stasis spell might be. That is why–”
The crowd, as if energized by the magical discharge, strained forward.
“Ahem! That is why I and the senior staff of the Collegium will proceed inside first, to inspect the environs and to ensure that the buildings are safe and stable enough for–”
“–we have secured the building, we will permit small, chaperoned groups inside. Now, are there any questions?”
Dozens of hands went up, but Deirdre was no longer listening. Instead, she was looking over the top of Chancellor Timingear’s cowled head and into the Collegium’s flickering main doorway, her mind once again turning to the past.
So many mages had fallen that day, some from the dragon’s killing breath, others while attempting to use their magics to save the city and its people. A grim census, taken a year after the Day of Red Fire, had been conducted by the acting chancellor to account for all of the wizards who had fallen that day. Of them all, a handful were still missing, their whereabouts unknown and unable to be determined by even the most powerful scrying spells.
Deirdre wondered, as the Collegium slowly resynchronized itself with the normal passage of time, if those unfortunate mages had been unable to escape the Collegium before it went into stasis. And if so, what had happened to them?
As she contemplated this thought, the air crackled one final, tooth-rattling time and the Collegium settled back into reality. The crowd around her all seemed to collectively hold their breath and, when it appeared that the cycle of phasing in and out of the timestream had well and truly come to an end, began to shout and cheer.
“All right, then!” shouted Chancellor Timingear, “Fourth years! Maintain the perimeter until the city guard gets here! Professors and adjunct faculty! Ready your detection magics! We are going inside!”
“Chancellor,” said Deirdre, as she gently pushed her way through the crowd, “permission to accompany you?”
“Deirdre! Yes, of course! Your abilities would be most welcome. Let her through!”
And, with that, Deirdre and the senior mages went into the Collegium together.
They made a slow, methodical search, first testing and securing the main entryway and the rooms directly off of it. From there, the mages slowly spread out across the quads and courtyards of the Collegium, seeking any sign of magical anomaly. Every new location they encountered seemed to be completely normal, free of any lasting temporal or planar effects. Deirdre was, quite frankly, relieved at this, though it meant that her own goddess-given gifts were not of much particular use to the reclamation effort. She waited patiently while one of the search parties inspected and secured one of the reading rooms off of the library. When it was cleared, Deirdre told them that she would remain behind and set up a triage area, just in case. She also promised to come running at the first signs of trouble.
And so, the search party continued onward without her. Deidre began arranging reading tables into makeshift beds and moving chairs and books out of the way to make an open path from the stacks. She paused frequently to marvel at the relative freshness of the air, and how the polished tables and chairs of the reading room were, despite fifty years passing on the outside, remarkably dust free.
“H…hello?” came a tentative voice from behind a nearby bookcase.
Deirdre turned and rose at the sound, clutching her holy symbol in her right hand. Though she was startled, she tried to keep the excitement out of her voice.
“Hello,” she said, smiling uncertainly.
“Are you…are you real?”
“Yes, I am.” Sensing the distress in the voice, she released her holy symbol and stepped toward the bookcase, her hands outstretched in a welcoming gesture. “I’m real and I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Oh, thank the gods,” said the voice, quavering with emotion. “It’s been so long. I thought…I thought.”
A very thin, hunched over man stepped out of the shelter of the bookcase. He was dressed in green and gold graduation robes. A matching mortar board rested slightly askew on his head, tassel dangling in front of one of his wide eyes. His beard was bushier, greyer, and much more unkempt than the last time Deirdre had seen him, but that didn’t prevent her from recognizing him almost immediately.
Zot blinked and stared at her, cocking his head to one side and causing his mortar board tassel to swing in a wild arc. “Yes? I mean. Yes. I’m Zot. That’s me. Hello.”
“It’s me. Deirdre.”
At last, a spark of recognition flared in the wizard’s eyes. “Deirdre! Oh, thank the gods!”
He stumbled forward and enfolded Deirdre in a clumsy embrace, squeezing her tightly before stepping back to marvel at her.
“I’m so terribly glad to see you,” he said, his voice uneven and thick with emotion. “I didn’t think I’d ever see anyone ever again. First the dragon and then the stasis spell, and then my familiar…”
Zot paused for a long moment, took a breath, collected himself. “…never mind. Never mind. The city must be absolutely devastated. What can I do to help?”
“The city is all right, Zot,” she said, unable to look him in the eye.
“But I saw the dragon. The fires. The smoke from the harbor was…why are you looking at me like that?”
Deirdre touched her holy symbol and tried to draw strength from her goddess.
“Zot,” she said, “how long do you think you’ve been in stasis?”
The wizard shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. Once the spell went up, I was shifted outside of time. I couldn’t leave the library building, and any time I looked out a window, all I saw was this formless, grey mist. Then Pooky suggested that we have a talk and, after that, told me that I should probably read books to pass the time until the spell’s duration ran out. I…”
He looked down at himself, dragged his fingertips tentatively through his beard. “I…that is…I’m very hungry and very thirsty, and it seems as though my grooming has gotten away from me, but I’m still alive, and I’m still here and you still look the same. So maybe a week. Two weeks?” His expression fell as he waited for Deirdre to confirm. “A month? Six…months?”
“Zot,” she said, reaching out to touch him gently on the shoulder. “I think you should sit down. There’s a lot to discuss.”
Zot’s screams brought two search parties darting back into the reading room as fast as their movement-enhancing spells could bring them. They spent the next few moments helping Deirdre to calm him before summoning up a pot of cool tea and a platter of toasted bread for him to eat. Everyone watched in silence as Zot wolfed down the contents of the platter, heedless of the crumbs that sprayed out onto his beard and robe, and poured serving after serving of tea from pot into cup and from cup into his mouth. He drank so quickly that he gave himself a coughing fit, but Deirdre was able to sort it out with a few sharp raps between his shoulder blades.
“Better?” Deirdre ventured.
“No. Well, a little.” said Zot. “It’s just very hard to internalize everything that’s happened in fifty years.”
“Oh, I understand,” said Deirdre sympathetically. “I’ve had fifty years to do it, and I still haven’t managed it.”
They both fell silent. The mages who were in attendance looked at one another uncomfortably and, as if they were all seized with the same thought at the same moment, hastily scurried from the reading room.
“Call us if there’s any problems,” said one, as they retreated. “In the meantime, we’ll keep searching.”
After they had left the room, Deirdre turned to Zot. “Let’s start somewhere different. Somewhere smaller. Tell me about what happened to you?”
“Well.” Zot stared at his hands for a moment. “I was getting ready for graduation when the dragon attacked. Chancellor Tobenhorne told us that he had seen the dragon incinerate the Great Temple, and assumed we might be next. He asked everyone to go to the parapets and prepare to defend the Collegium.
“When the dragon came for us, I was on the roof of the library with some of the other graduating fourth years. We poured all kinds of magical energy into the dragon’s underbelly: Ice, lightning, fire–whatever we could summon up to use, essentially. It shrugged off all of our attacks, and ignited the roof. Some of us stayed behind to put out the fires while the rest retreated.
“It was about that time that the chancellor ordered us to switch tactics and build a stasis spell to surround the whole campus. I came down here to do my part, and Pooky, for once, seemed very interested in helping me. I don’t quite know what happened after that. The spell went wrong, I think, although since I was trapped in the wake of it, I wasn’t in the best position to see how it went wrong. My guess, based on what you’ve said, is that it was a lot more powerful than anyone expected. Harmonics, possibly, though it’s difficult to say. Everyone started to run for the exits, but I had to go back for Pooky and then…I was trapped.”
As Zot told his story, Deirdre watched as his face shifted from exhaustion, to panic, to grief, and back again. She laid her hand on top of one of Zot’s and smiled reassuringly at him.
“I’m not a mage,” said Deirdre, “but I didn’t think people inside of a stasis spell remained conscious. To think that you were trapped here, for fifty years, awake…”
Zot shook his head. “I was and I wasn’t. It’s hard to explain. I definitely don’t feel as though fifty years has passed, but I remember being awake for…quite a long time…I think that was Pooky’s doing, honestly. I got the impression that he wanted me to be conscious inside of the stasis field because there were things that he wanted to tell me…to show me. He also wanted to make sure that I made the best use of my time by brushing up on as much reading as I could manage.”
“You keep mentioning this ‘Pooky,’” said Deirdre. “Is that another wizard? Someone else trapped in here?”
Zot let out a dry chuckle and looked around. “I’m surprised he’s not here. I wonder if he’s keeping himself hidden for a more dramatic entrance, or if he’s not revealing himself to make me look like I’ve lost my spell components. I suspect the former, but I wouldn’t rule out the latter. I think he does his very, very best to make my life more difficult.”
Zot paused and peered into the shadows beneath the reading room tables. “Oh, there he is. Come on out, Pooky.”
Into the light hopped a white, fluffy rabbit.
“Oh,” said Deirdre. “Hello, Pooky.”
The rabbit thumped a hind leg, as if in greeting, and began to groom his ears.
“Your familiar, I take it?” said Deirdre.
“He is.” Once again, Zot let out a dry laugh.
“I guess you gave up on having a mirror drake, after all.”
“That’s the thing, I didn’t. I had all the correct components, performed the proper incantations, spent extra time on the ritual circle, everything. I was sure I was going to get a mirror drake, but when the smoke finally cleared, I realized that I had summoned this thing.”
He gestured at Pooky, who cocked his head toward Zot and seemed, somehow, to smile.
“‘This rabbit,’ you mean,” said Deirdre.
“Oh, he’s not a rabbit. I mean, he looks like a rabbit, and some of the time he acts like a rabbit, but deep down inside, he’s about as much of an actual rabbit as you or I.”
“What is he, then?”
Zot locked eyes with Pooky, who thumped his hind leg again.
“Best not to speculate,” said Zot. “At all. Ever.”
The wizard cleared his throat and brushed some of the scattering of crumbs off his robe. “He’s quite magically adept–when he wants to be–and he knows quite a lot of things that he probably shouldn’t. I think it was his magical aptitude that kept the dragon from incinerating me up on the roof, and I’m fairly certain that he was also able to move me around inside the stasis spell so that I could talk and think and read sometimes. What we discussed was…” he looked at Pooky again before turning his gaze abruptly away, “was just for me, but it was certainly interesting. A great deal of facts about the history of Orrhean–some of which I was able to partially verify.”
Deirdre thought back to the long-ago conversation that she had had with a librarian who had just fled the conflagration of Greyport. How the surviving mages suspected that someone or something might have been maintaining the stasis spell from the inside, frustrating and turning aside all attempts to dispel it.
Now it was her turn to scrutinize Pooky. The rabbit, for his part, simply stared up at her with wide, extremely innocent eyes. According to Zot, Pooky was powerful. Could he have been powerful enough to maintain the stasis spell from the inside? And if so, why would he do that?
BEST NOT TO SPECULATE, said a voice in her head.
Deirdre recoiled, composed herself, and thought very, very hard at the rabbit.
Just what are you, exactly?
Deirdre blinked. I’ll take you at your word, for now, but I want to know…
Pooky yawned, revealing that his mouth was unusually full of sharp teeth.
Deirdre continued to think furiously at Zot’s familiar, demanding answers to her myriad questions, but Pooky did not speak to her again. She wondered if he was just being stubborn, or smug, or if…
“Deirdre?” asked Zot, tentatively.
“Sorry,” she said, trying to smile reassuringly at the wizard. “I was just lost in thought. I can’t imagine what you must have been through, and I also can’t imagine how hard it’s going to be for you to reintegrate into modern society.”
Only, truth be told, she did have more than a bit of an inkling. As someone just over three hundred years of age, she was used to watching the world shift and change all around her. Watch her friends born to shorter-lived species grow up, grow old, and pass on to the next world and the next adventure while she remained, seemingly unchanging.
She knew that wasn’t so, of course. She also aged, just like any other natural living thing, and one day in the hopefully distant future she, too, would pass on into Elaana’s keeping. But until then, she felt like the only constant in a world that was a riot of change and chaos, with each year seeming to come faster and faster, and with the world seeming less and less permanent–less and less stable–from her rather unique perspective.
No, Deirdre did have an inkling as to how Zot was feeling, even if their experiences weren’t exactly identical. After all, didn’t she wake up some mornings and feel as if, somehow, the gears of time had slipped and ten, twenty, thirty years had passed her by in an instant?
“It’s a lot,” said Zot. “I can’t even conceive of it myself. My family. My friends. Most of them must be gone by now. The city is different, I’m sure. The customs. The people. I don’t quite know where to start.”
“Let’s start with dinner,” said Deirdre, rising to her feet. “We can walk down from the Collegium to my favorite tavern. You can see the new sights, get a feel for the city, get a proper meal back in you. I remember what Greyport used to look like before the dragon came pretty well, so you and I can commiserate about how different and new everything looks.”
“All right,” said Zot. As he got up out of his chair, Pooky bounced over to land next to his feet. “I mean, so long as it’s no trouble. I don’t want to keep you from anything important.”
“This is important,” she said. “And trust me, the other stuff will keep for a bit. Shall we?”
Zot removed his mortar board. “Of course. Where are we going?”
“To the center of town, to the Red Dragon Inn.”
Zot’s face crinkled, as if he had bitten into something extremely sour. “Let me see if I have this right,” he said, as he summoned Pooky to him with a waggle of his hand.
“Yes?” asked Deirdre, watching with no small amount of surprise as the rabbit bounded up onto Zot’s shoulder.
“A red dragon incinerates Greyport, and then, fifty years later, still in living memory of the attack, they name an inn after it?”
“Pretty much, yes.”
Zot pinched the bridge of his nose with his long fingers. “I mean, really?!”
Tales from the Red Dragon Inn, the epic dungeoncrawl adventure game, launches on Kickstarter tomorrow, September 30, 2021!