The Inn of Adventurers: First, Introductions
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Cox-Steib
Randell stomped down the forest path, his trusty battle-axe glinting dully from where the rusted antique had been strapped upon his broad back. He had been marching through this cursed forest for three weeks now, and he was pursuing his new favorite hobby: fantasizing about starting a forest fire. It wouldn’t work of course, he’d tried. Only once, but once had been enough to discourage him from further attempts. Most of the trees were sturdy pines, of the sentient persuasion, and the forest floor was thickly covered in perpetually damp undergrowth. The brush wouldn’t light, and the trees took to vigorously thrashing any who tried. He had the cuts and bruises to prove it.
Three weeks in this blasted forest, and no telling when he’d see the sun again. Not that Randell cared much for the sun, being a mountain dwarf and all, but even so he fancied that anything would be an improvement over this dirty mass of life that he was marching through. Randell was on a quest – according to him. According to the elders back home he was on a fool’s errand of his own making. Semantics. He was on a quest, and he was going to win fame and fortune, of this he was sure. Thoughts of his upcoming glory were the only things bolstering his spirits as he trudged through the woods – that, and his fantasies of pyromania.
Randell was on a quest to become a true adventurer. And like adventurers in the stories he was beginning his journey by finding to the well-known, and rarely seen Adventurer’s Inn. It was a place of legend. A place that Rondell had heard tales of his entire life. Those that believed the stories, in accordance with the lore, all agreed that the inn never stayed in one place for long.
Randell had travelled through many towns looking seeking word of the Inn. It was an arduous process, but it was starting to pay off. The last town he’d stopped at had still sported a scorched patch of earth where the locals claimed that the inn had stood until a few years back. One night the town had been awakened by bright lights and a shuddering of the ground. The area had grown stale – which is to say calm and stable; it was now devoid of the necessary environment for adventure, and hence the inn had no further cause to be there; so it packed itself up, and disappeared in an earthshaking blast of flame.
It was shortly after leaving there when Randell had found himself confronted by a giant forest that stretched as far as he could see. True to his dwarven nature he’d concluded that it would be far better to go through than around. The gods alone knew how far he had come from his beloved mountain and irritating kindred. He didn’t pay much mind to such curiosities – like his kindred, Randell worried only about what lay ahead, while stodgily ignoring what was past.
Now, one who was familiar with the inhabitants of Esgriloth, as this world is known, might wonder why a competent dwarf such as Randell was hunting for his query by methodically searching the land and chasing rumors when he could have easily hired a wizard to divine the location with magic. The answer was simple – Randell hated wizards. If asked why he hated wizards he would immediately commence to spluttering indignantly, and gesticulating wildly. Once he was this way it took many stiff drinks to bring him around, by which time he’d usually forgotten the question, and the one questioning would have learned better than to ask.
The truth was that Randell himself didn’t know why he hated wizards, and he didn’t care. If he were a bit more inclined towards introspection, he might remember a young dwarf that had desperately wished for the powers of magic. A young dwarf name Randell, whose hopes had been thoroughly crushed by the practical wisdom of his elders. Dwarves became warriors, not wizards. And so he searched for his destination the old fashioned way; stomping around the land and interrogating farmers.
Randell was beginning to reconsider his stance on wizards as he pulled his foot out of a mud-pit that had seemingly appeared just in time for him to step in. Shaking his boot in disgust the dwarf sat down with a thump, and decided that he might need to do some serious soul searching about this whole hating wizards bit. Luckily for him, but unfortunately for wizards everywhere, at just that moment the loud thwack of an axe biting into wood rang throughout the forest.
He scrambled to his feet, and took off at a run towards the sound. After an accidental face-first dive into the forgotten mud-pit, and a number of subsequent minutes spent cursing and flailing his limbs, the dwarf was on his way with boot in hand. At that moment he didn’t care one lick if the woodcutter could help him find the Inn, just so long as he could point him a way out of this forest. And maybe share a pint or four.
Off in the distance a black robed figure casually smoked a pipe as he watched the floating axe take another swing at the large, uprooted oak tree that had fallen in last month’s storms. Glancing swiftly in the direction from which the dwarf was coming the figure made a hurried gesture. An illusory woodsman was now wielding the animated axe. The dark-robed figure was nowhere to be seen.
By the time the mud covered dwarf appeared it was near nightfall, and the animated axe, along with its illusory woodsman, was about finished chopping at the fallen tree. After no small amount of bartering the muddy dwarf agreed to haul the lumber for the woodsman back to his dwelling in return for a night’s lodging. Now Randell thought that it was for the woodsman, but technically it was for the axe, as it was real, unlike the woodsman. It’s easy to see why our friend the dwarf was left with the impression that he had. And it’s beside the point. The dwarf carried the wood, tying it up, and dragging the whole lot behind him, much to the annoyance and disgust of the trees around him.
Tarly was a fine boned man, of less than average height, with short-cut brown hair. If not for his slightly pointed ears, and amber eyes, one might not know that he had elven blood running through his veins. Unless, of course, one was to see him performing his art; for in Esgriloth it was considered fact that only those with elven heritage could perform the magics of wizardry.
He was an unusual fellow, even for a wizard. When asked about his profession he would invariably answer with “Why, I am a social scientist,” only adding later, and with much prompting, that he was also a skilled wizard. Unlike some wizards Tarly was not swift to anger; however, he was remarkably quick to divulge unwanted, and even less understood, information and commentary of a sociological nature. This did go over well on a world where the only people to even use the word “scientist” were the solitary gnomes. The rest of Esgriloth considered these gnomish recluses quite mad; although this didn’t do a thing to prevent their alchemical concoctions from remaining in high demand throughout the lands.
Tarly had spent a number of years studying with the gnomes, at the invitation of a wizard that had mentored him. How a gnome came by elven blood was a matter of much debate at the College of Wizardry, with the most common theory involving large quantities of elven blood being injected into his body.
This was not the case. Tarly’s mentor had explained at great length, and with great regularity, why this most commonly accepted theory was also the most ridiculous. In a fit of disgust over his colleagues being unable to grasp a concept as simple as blood-typology and host rejection – a matter of basic biology, part of gnomish elementary curriculum – the aging wizard had eventually retired from the college and returned to his village, where he could reasonable expect to not be surrounded by morons.
The relocation of Tarly’s mentor had happened at a good time, in that Tarly had just passed the exam for his wizarding license a mere two days beforehand, but it had also left our oddball friend in a bit of a quandary. The new wizard didn’t have a clue as to what to do with himself now. Most wizards of the college were depressingly ignorant and regressive on all matters not purely magical, and the gnomes would not allow outsiders to stay with them for any serious length of time. Tarly had already used up his one month that year with the gnomes. He couldn’t even visit his mentor, as the retired wizard was back with his fellow gnomes now.
It was in a bleak mood that Tarly decided to travel the world, and see more of the cultures that he found so fascinating. Tarly was a good wizard, some even said that he had a genius for magic, but his true passion was that which he called the social sciences – something that when he was asked to define would most often result in an open-ended debate with himself that could last for hours, or more often until he was politely asked to shut up.
Tarly had recently experienced many such occasions, over numerous glasses of wine throughout the fanciest of pubs that could be found in the bustling trade city of Brangamoor. He had spent the last month lingering in the city and pestering locals with questions about their religion, family customs, and other such personal matters that most would know to leave well enough alone.
He was beginning to realize that he had worn out his welcome here – truth be told it had worn out the day Tarly arrived, right when asking the gate guard if he knew that Plagaza, the local deity of commerce, was a cultural derivative of an ancient dwarven God of fertility. The human guard had taken exception to this, but was hesitant to anger an unknown wizard. It should be noted that by ancient law all certified wizards were required to wear their official robes when in public – a law that sensible wizards ignored when it suited them.
So it came to be that Tarly was once again settling his accounts with an angry innkeeper, and making his haphazard preparations to venture back into the unknown. Tarly was a nice enough fellow, and he certainly didn’t want to anger anyone, but his proclivity for loquacious objectification of culture when mixed with conformity to the legally mandated visibility of his status as a wizard had resulted in Tarly’s ignorance of his aggravating effect upon others, as they did their best to hide it – due to fear of death, unwanted transformations, and all around wizardly nastiness.
They needn’t have worried. In fact, if Tarly had been aware of this phenomena he would have gone to great lengths to analyze and explain the nature of social privilege that was being exemplified here. But that wasn’t to be.
It was a weary wizard that made his way out the gates of Brangamoor that night, headed towards what the inhabitants had assured him was a vast haunted forest where the trees themselves had been known to speak.
“Best watch your footing lad.”
The voice brought Tarly out of his reflections just in time for him to fully appreciate the experience of tripping over a sharp rock. The wizard crashed to the ground with a shout. Picking himself up with an equal mix of embarrassment and amusement the wizard looked about for the owner of the voice that had warned him of his predicament too late for it to accurately be called a warning at all.
Off to the side of the road, sitting on a log, and smoking a pipe, was a dark-skinned man wearing velvety black robes. The hood was thrown back revealing a face wrinkled by age, with a wild mane of white, accompanied by a rather impressive beard.
The beard parted to reveal a broad grin, “I did warn you.”
“No you didn’t, you simply stated the inevitable as it was transpiring.” Tarly was not trying to be argumentative or confrontational, he was simply attempting to be candid and accurate.
The black-robed man let loose a laugh big enough to shatter his frail body. “Now that raises an interesting question, my new friend. What is the nature of a warning? To tell that something is going to happen? Or that something might happen? Now if the first, then it was a warning truly told, but if the second then perhaps not.”
“Perhaps not? How so? If the second, then it was definitively not.” Tarly peered intently at this stranger that struck him as the most reasonable person he’d had the pleasure of speaking with since he last spent time with the gnomes.
“Only if you limit the context to a single instance of the event that is debatably being warned about. If, on the other hand, you allow that it may apply to further reaches of the future then it might easily satisfy the second definition as well as the first – it tells of what is going to happen in the current, while warning of what might happen in the future. For instance, you tripped over that rock due to lack of awareness. True, because of timing my words didn’t have a chance of preventing your fall. It seems likely though, that my words may have increased your awareness of the event as it transpired, and in so doing they may help to decrease the likelihood of a similar event occurring in the future. In this way my words can be construed as a warning by both of the definitions that I’ve offered.” With a satisfied look the man stuck his pipe between his teeth and proceeded to puff away, the debate, in his mind, concluded.
Tarly considered the man’s argument, and found it much to his liking – both in style and execution. “Given those qualifiers I can’t help but agree with you, and therefore I thank you for your warning. Though I still might have preferred it a few moments earlier.”
He paused thoughtfully before speaking again. “Upon further thought I find that I disagree with myself. If you’d warned me any sooner then we might have been robbed of the opportunity for our discussion on the nature of warnings, and I find myself valuing that discussion more that I am disliking the battering that I took from my fall. In all honesty it may be the most reasonable discussion that I’ve had in months. A few scrapes and bruises are a small price to pay for it. Might I join you on your log for a bit?”
The older man made room for the younger, and soon both were puffing away on their respective pipes. Occasionally conversation of a similar nature to their first would interrupt the otherwise quiet smoking.
Far sooner than Tarly would have liked the sun began to set. He was too energized from discussions with his newfound friend to sleep anytime soon, let alone on the hard ground. With some distaste he was contemplating continuing his journey throughout the night, and looking for lodging on the morrow, when his new friend saved him the trouble.
“Well, the day has fled, and it now seems to me that a well-tended fireplace is in order. I happen to be the caretaker of an Inn, and if you’re interested I would very much like for you to join me as my guest. I too rarely find people such as yourself, of an inclination for the style of discourse that we’ve so enjoyed. It is only a few hours walk from here, where it rests in the outskirts of a rather remarkable forest.”
It didn’t take Tarly much time at all to decide that this was a fantastic idea. Thinking on the joys of coincidental encounters Tarly gave silent thanks to the rock that had tripped him.
Drudge gazed across the landscape with an air of extreme depression. Too much sunlight, and too many cheery hilltops dotted the scenery. It seemed like a blatant insult to the Being that guided him. The Deity had no name that Drudge knew of it, but was simply known as the God of Gloom and Doom. Drudge had been a devout follower all of his life, though he hadn’t known it; Drudge had a predisposition for pessimism and depression, and to him this was the natural, and correct, way of things. Upon learning of the Temple of Gloom and Doom Drudge had set out to join the ranks of the clerics – a task that came easily for him, but was near impossible for those of an even remotely cheerful disposition.
After years of dedicated service Drudge had been called upon by his God to go forth on a quest. This was rather unusual for the followers of the God of Doom and Gloom, as their duties were mostly limited to those of village doomsayers. They spent their time working studiously to counter the optimism and cheerfulness that was so unnaturally prevalent in the world.
This work usually comprised of hollering predictions of death, pestilence, and all around bad luck in the town square. It was often followed by a gathering at their dilapidated temple for evenings of depressingly silent drinking. They weren’t a very social bunch, outside of their propensity to rain on other people’s parades, as it were, and seeing as they were by their nature people without anything resembling a parade they had little enough to say to one another. The silence would occasionally be interrupted by “This stinks”, or “Those fools don’t have a clue how bad it’s going to be for them”, but seeing as the Doom clerics were all in agreement about such things these statements never led to any lasting conversation.
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“Fantastic news sir, just fantastic. Yes, yes, you’ve come to exactly the right place, and perhaps more importantly, you’ve done so at just the right time. These three daring adventurers are the persons that you seek. They’re renowned throughout the lands, and are only here in these remote parts as something of a sabbatical from their exhausting, and perpetual heroism. Lucky for you, sir. Lucky indeed.” A satirical fantasy featuring three protagonists reminiscent of d20 gaming tropes, as well as mocking many stereotypes from a broader swath of the fantasy genre. A wizard-hating dwarf, a wizard made socially awkward by his intelligence, and a depressed cleric devoted to the God of Gloom and Doom: these characters fuel the story through their interactions with each other, the curator of the Inn of Adventurers, and those few unlucky enough to meet this trio of inept heroes.