The Inn of Adventurers: Teatime for the Dead
Cold wind howled, and heavy sleet hammered into the Inn of Adventurers. A fire sputtered in the hearth, casting little light or warmth upon the four figures huddled nearby. They had pulled a table as close to the meager flames as possible. Wooden legs flush with the brick hearth. Bottles and jugs littered the table — run dry, and dismissed. It was a bad winter, and the Sentient Woods were a miserable place to spend it. The very trees fought root and limb to protect even the dead-fall; the adventurers had the wounds to prove it.
What little firewood they'd gathered hadn’t lasted long. The adventurers were cold, miserable, and quite inebriated. The curator was keeping them company. Both with tales of their predecessors, and copious quantities of spirits – billed to their account, of course. An account that was getting rather large. Another bottle or two, and the curator thought the destitute trio would be ready to hear the news: time for them to find work, and pay their tab, or get out. The curator smiled into his mug, and watched Randell turn to Tarly.
“Why’d you have to be a wizard? I don’t like wizards.”
The two were well past drunk. As was Drudge. The dour cleric drank from his mug, and stared into the pathetic embers with smug satisfaction. If only the other two would quit talking. This was almost like being back home. Drudge found that he missed his home, and his brethren. It was a strange sensation for him, and an uncomfortable realization. Some prayer was in order. The cleric closed his eyes, and beseeched the God of Doom and Gloom to forgive his lapse into positive sentimentality.
While the cleric prayed, Tarly worked on how to best answer his friend’s question. He wasn’t having much luck. The storm raged louder, and nothing else could be heard. After a few minutes of competition with it, the quarreling pair gave up, and went back to silent contemplation of their beverages.
The curator cast his eyes upwards, clearing his throat irritably. The storm abated, and the tail end of his cough sounded loudly in the sudden silence.
“About time you chaps found another job, don’t you think?”
Drudge grunted apathetically, Tarly felt a wave of panic — lingering trauma from their last job. Randell surged to his feet.
“In this?! Are you daft? Even if we found one, we couldn’t do it. Not until the weather clears.”
“Bad weather is just another part of the adventure. If it were easy it wouldn’t be an adventure.”
Randell paused at this, giving the words serious consideration before nodding begrudging agreement.
“Besides, if you don’t find a way to pay your tab you’re going to be out in this storm anyway.”
Randell glared at the old man, spluttering incoherently.
“Surely you wouldn't actually turn us out in this storm, would you?” Squeaked Tarly.
The wizard had begun to see a little of how strange the curator was, but he still found it hard to believe that he would go to such extremes. Sure, they hadn’t taken any jobs since that first one. The one with the goblins, and the boy. Tarly still had nightmares about that day. That had been two months ago, and they had turned down three jobs since. Two because of Tarly’s reluctance, and one because Randell had thought their potential employer was laying siege to the inn.
“You bet I would. Right on your asses.”
Tarly sat there, stunned. This was unlike the old man who, while very strange, was also quite pleasant. Usually.
Randell was having none of it. Let the crazy old man try to throw them out, and just see what happened. Besides; there was no work to be had in weather like this. Randell had no qualms with calling the curators bluff.
“Fine. Find us a job in this weather, and we’ll take it.”
“In the weather, you say?”
This got everybody's attention. Even Drudge, though his look was decidedly more pleased than those of the others.
Tarly interjected, “No, no. Not in the weather, but during this weather. That’s what he meant. Right, Randell?”
“Right. Exactly that. The only thing we’d accomplish in this weather is freezing to death.”
The curator thoughtfully loaded his pipe, clamped it between his teeth, and began puffing away on the inexplicably lit bowl. He gave Tarly a loaded smile. A neurotic dance of sympathy and ruthlessness, tipped with mischief. It scared Tarly, and gave Randell the creeps. Drudge saw it as the answer to his prayers and the path to his due atonement. They were going to have another adventure. No doubt it would end even worse than the last.
“I have just the thing. Indoors. Pleasant temperature. Nice atmosphere. The Dwarf will be right at home. You’ll all love it. Even you, Drudge.”
The curator stood from the table, and began a wild caper about the room, chanting arcane words, and trailing motes of incandescent light. The adventurers stared at him, wondering if he'd gone completely mad. Tarly would have thought the old man was casting spell, what with the visual effects and all, but it certainly didn't resemble any magic that he'd seen before.
“Best grab your things boys; because you’re going for a ride!"
As the curator spoke the specks of light began pulsing and swirling. Soon there was a silent maelstrom occupying the room, far more terrifying than the one kicking around outside. Tarly barely managed a strangled shout before the frenzy of magic slammed into him. It tore him apart. And it put him back together somewhere else entirely.
Tarly couldn’t see in the darkness, his presumed elven blood had never given him that advantage, but he could hear his two companions imitating his behavior to either side — retching up hours of heavy food, and strong drink. Teleportation magic was restricted for a reason.
It was extremely dangerous, and incredibly hard on the body. That was the official reason. Tarly’s analysis indicated that it actually had far more to do with the Wizard’s College controlling the transportation industry through its regulation of teleportation magic. His paper on the subject had received failing marks, and been promptly burned.
Randell, like Tarly, was reminiscing. He was recalling a time with his father. They'd been visiting one of their breweries. Sampling the ale and inspecting the casks. An elderly wizard had been there, buying a cask of ale. Randell hit him in the face. He was hoping to forge a new memory. A similar one. With the curator taking center stage.
Drudge was feeling grateful for his punishment, and sinful for his gratefulness.
A noise pierced the darkness, startling all three. It was followed by a series of sharp clicking sounds, like an entire night's worth of chirping bugs squashed into an impossibly small volume. More followed. Many more.