Beorian Tales by Brian Mullin (aka Catfish Waterdancer)
Based upon characters, history & lore of the game EPIC TAVERN, created by Hyperkinetic Studios
******* Father Mike *******
Father Michael Roedaboetazure awoke to the sound of his own snores. It happened at the most unlucky of times: during Mass, in class, or while visiting the privy. Tonight, his cursed disorder had caused him to knock the pots of ink off of his desk, where their many colors had begun to bleed together. All was not lost, though, for the precious gold paint used for the illuminations had remained in its place.
He slowly lowered himself onto the stone floor, and winced as his cassock caught at the knee, causing him to land painfully face-down. He breathed slowly and raised his head. Spread before him was a rainbow-colored network of tiny foot prints. They crisscrossed his room, beginning from the entrance, meandering under his desk, and then up a chair and onto his small dresser (a gift from a patron) and then leading out through the small window.
The bells began to ring. He’d slept through Lauds and Prime, but he’d make Terce. With no time to waste, he quickly cleaned his hands of paint splotches. Walking into the hall, he saw the little footprints going in the same direction he was – towards the Day Chapel. But when he came to the corridor which branched to the Cathedral and the outdoor plaza, the footsteps veered towards the latter. He’d follow them later. For now, he’d have to slip into the Day Chapel unnoticed, and then try to stay awake through the brief but – saints forgive me, he thought – boring service.
******* An Oath Is Taken *******
Thankfully, High Priest Dronon N. Blathers was in a good mood – which meant he’d eaten well that morning – so the service was short and to the point, as Terce should be. Fr. Mike was just about to leave when Blathers harrumphed behind him.
“Michael, a word.”
It was well known that they detested each other. Whatever it was that Blathers had to say, it must be serious. The High Priest motioned him to sit in one of the pews. Blathers smelled musty – not the comforting dry and woody smell of old books, but the moist and grimy smell of wet clothing. Blathers made a point of looking around the Chapel.
“Good. We are alone, it seems. We are currently playing host to a rather troublesome guest. She is currently safely locked away in the catacombs of the Old Temple. You may be hearing some unusual…ah…animal-like noises for a few days. You may see unusual things – the Volunteer Fire Department coming and going at odd hours, hooded figures slinking in the shadows. Do not converse with strangers. You will not speak of these things to anyone.” All this was said in the gravest of tones – so grave and without inflection that Fr. Mike began to nod off.
And he was rewarded by a slap in the face. He stood up to his full height and was about to strike the High Priest into the next life, when Blathers grabbed his wrist.
“You will swear that to me, using the oldest magic.”
“You’re serious? Here, in the Cathedral of the Blessed Blodwin the Blameless, Patron Saint of Not-Quite-Virgin Births, Daughter of Tasuil Beor?”
Blathers nodded, and handed him a six-inch cross from his pocket, holding it from the bottom. Fr. Mike grabbed it from the top, and a crystal blade pulled free. It was the Umbilical Dagger, made at the behest of the heretical sect of Cursed Blodwin the Bloody, Slayer of Bastards, Whore of Tasuil Beor. Well, all religions had their psychotic zealots who took an alternative view of things.
He steadied himself, and drew the blade across his palm, a baby’s scream whispering in his ear as the blood welled beneath him, smoking on the tiled floor.
“I swear, by the blood I spill, that I will not speak of these things to anyone, else I forfeit my life.”
The two men watched as the blood disappeared, leaving neither stain nor spot. Fr. Mike gave the Umbilical Dagger back to Blathers, who promptly turned and left the Chapel, saying, “See you at lunch, you withered old pellet of duergar dung.”
******* A Trail, a Tail, and a Scale *******
Fr. Mike sat down on a bench in the Cathedral’s Plaza. On the front, engraved in a small metal plaque, were the words – Donated by Morbid Curiosities: Unique Gifts For the Discerning Collector (all sales final.) Each bench – there were twenty of them at last count – cost a small fortune. The one he sat on had been there since the Plaza’s dedication, more than 400 years ago.
The blood magic ritual made his skin crawl, and right now he couldn’t stop shaking. He’d long suspected that Blathers belonged to the sect of Blodwin the Bloody. He himself had once been a member, back in his carefree youth. But when the final initiation rite came, he couldn’t bring himself to kill the child. How did Blathers find out?
Something big is going on, he thought. Most likely also evil. What I wouldn’t give, Fr. Mike mused, to give Blathers a truly holy wedgie. Well, I’ve a lot to do today. First things first. He located the tiny colorful footprints and began to follow them.
He loved the Cathedral Plaza’s gardens. Flowering species of all kinds had been brought here, which bloomed in various seasons. Something was always in bloom. Officially the gardens were named Blodwin’s Blooming Bower, but young acolytes in the early days had called them Blodwin’s Bloomers, and the name caught on with the citizenry. The footprints went through several rose beds, up a statue of St. Petra the Charitably Challenged (she kept giving things away – including her clothing) and wound around to the back of the herbarium of meditational medicine, where there were several mushrooms lying about the pathway.
The ‘shrooms were in varying states of having been nibbled. Certain now that his quarry was a rodent, Fr. Mike was none too surprised that the trail was growing increasingly faint as the paint was being walked away – or padded away, he corrected himself. It ended where the path entered the Great Forest of Pagan Perfidy. The old priest had to stifle a rather blasphemous chuckle. Some races do tend to exaggerate, and the Builders of Blodwin’s Cathedral had been stupefied to find that the original site had to be moved over by several thousands of feet.
After three days of digging, the dwarven construction crew discovered that the entire area was filled with the ruins of a once enormous Temple, which had apparently been struck by either some ancient cataclysm or a rival deity’s wrath. What’s more, their tools couldn’t put a dent in them. Magic didn’t work on them, or in them. A week of many trials and efforts passed, followed by a week of heavy dwarven drinking and a day or two of dwarven puking. In their fury, they decided to make the ruins disappear by planting a few trees. Big trees, mind you, but only 70 or 80. So they called it The Great Forest, even though it was, technically, a copse. Overcompensating, guessed Fr. Mike.
Imagine his surprise when he saw the object of his quest sipping some morning dew from out the curve of a fallen leaf. Well, technically he saw the tail first, which was a rather startling shade of pink and red. He started to quietly creep up on it, but he stepped on a twig and the snap echoed ominously. The rodent’s ears perked up, and it no sooner spotted him when it ran deeper into the forest (or copse, if you will.) Now, Fr. Mike might be old, but he was in fairly good shape. He kept the little critter in sight, noting that it was headed for the door to the very Catacombs that Blathers had referred to earlier that morning. And it vanished under it.
Fr. Mike would have come to a nice, safe stop if he hadn’t tripped. I hope, he thought, this doesn’t become a habit. (There’s a rather bawdy joke that has that as the punch line, but I digress.) He sat up, checked his knee for abrasions, and satisfied that the only thing harmed was his dignity, he turned around to see what had tripped him. It was at least 3 feet square, tapering off to a razor-edged point at one end, shining like burnished gold. It lay in the sun, yet it was ice cold to the touch. It was a wonder he hadn’t accidently sliced his foot off at the ankle.
He’d tripped on a dragon scale.
******* Smaug with an “Ugh” not an “Awg” *******
Fr. Mike left the scale where it was, for now. It was far too heavy to carry through the Catacombs, and much too valuable to leave it for someone else to make off with, so he managed to drag it under a dead tree trunk and cover it with leaves. As he was gathering them, he found a body under a rather large pile. The body was cold, but relatively fresh as dead bodies go. The cause was obviously blood loss. Obvious because both hands had been cut off, chopped into pieces and stuffed into the poor bastard’s mouth. There were many footprints here, most likely made by the heavy boots of the Royal Guard, or the Local Mace-Lobbing League. Probably the former.
Fr. Mike said a quick prayer for the thief’s soul, for cutting off hands was the punishment for thieves and teenagers with no self-control (Blodwin the Bloody’s Order had added them some 300 years ago.) He was probably after the dragon scale, or perhaps he had seen something nefarious and paid the price. He opened the door to the Catacombs and entered. Although the stairs went downwards, there was light shining through the many cracks in the forest (copse) floor. There were odd statues of holy men and women of various races in niches along the walls. Some were races long extinct – one resembled a slug with spectacles, another a deformed fruit fly hung from a chain in mid-flight, holding a crucible in its forelegs.
The floor showed signs of being walked upon recently. Well, walked upon would be putting it mildly. It appeared that someone or something had swept the entire length and breadth of the floor…with a broom about forty feet wide. Other corridors that branched into near-darkness or downwards had floors covered with moss, or dust and debris. Because the cleanliness of the floor marked his trail, he turned wherever the spotlessness led, until he came into a large chamber, at the end of which was a cavernous room behind a very large stone prison gate. And total darkness.
But it was not silent. After a few moments, the priest discovered three things: the room was unnaturally moist, and cold; there was a steady whoosh of air blowing; and there was an oiled wooden club by the gate, which on closer inspection proved to be an unlit torch. He decided that if someone were to leave behind a torch, the least they could do would be to also leave some flint nearby. He started to search for it when he heard a rather seductive voice say:
“Is this the one who was chasing you, Drattus? He’s not very frightening.”
A thin shaft of dim light filled the room as two very large eyes opened wide. Fr. Mike suddenly lost the desire to light a torch. In the now dimly lit chamber, he made out the body of dragon, to whom must belong the scale which he had
found. And was the troublesome guest which Blathers had spoken of. A female gold dragon. And perched upon her great left leg was his quarry, the hot pink tailed rodent. Rat, he thought, if the dimensions were right.
“Yes. I got lost, you see, because I’d never been to their livin’ quarters, and I was about to leave Fr. Mike’s room – beggin’ your pardon, Father – when he knocked ‘is paints off the table. So, I left real quick, and sure as a skippyloom is cute I’m guessin’ me feet got all painted-like and he followed me and found me.” The rat then turned to look at Fr. Mike.
“Where’s me manners? Gone wi’ the day’s wages, as me mam used to squeak. Drattus Thaddeus Rattus at yer service.” And the rat gave a very elegant, if somewhat florid bow. “This here’s…”
A low rumbling issued from the dragoness, followed by a cough that shook the walls, filling the room with clouds of smoke.
“I may be weakened, vermin, but I am not mute.”
“Her most piss-ant and powerful Lady Smaug,” continued Drattus.
“Arrrgh! The word is puissant. And it’s Lady Smaug with an ‘ugh’ not an ‘awg!’ Get it right, why don’t you?”
“You are most certainly smug. In fact, in light of your current situation, and especially your current condition, I’d say the smuggest one of all is Archbishop Sircomstance.”
“What do you mean, ‘her condition,’” asked Fr. Mike.
“Look closer, priest. Now why would a dragoness be brought to St. Blodwin’s?”
He walked close to the stone bars and squinted at Lady Smaug.
“Really,” complained the dragoness, “Such nerve!”
Lady Smaug rolled on her side. She was very, very pregnant.
Emerging from the shadows behind Fr. Mike was a very attractive, though battle-scarred Orc. She was well-muscled but slender all the same, with two daggers at her waist, one on the outside of either boot, and a slender stiletto as a hair decoration. And that was only the weapons that he could see.
She was dressed head to toe in black fabric, that shimmered in the light, creating an effect that was very disconcerting, as if she were constantly in motion. Drattus jumped away from the dragoness and hopped onto the stranger’s shoulder, whispering into her ear.
“Ah, yes. Oh…can he now? Yes, that could be very…useful. Go and tell Thorgrin, and I’ll suss this one out.” And away scampered the talking rat. Dragons talking was one thing, thought Fr. Mike, but a rat?
The Orc’s clothing had miraculously stopped shimmering, becoming simple but well-tended black leather. She extended her hand.
“Blaze Evershadow, Assassin for hire. I’ve got a proposal for you, Father. Interested?”
******* Chaotic Stupid Is Not A Good Alignment *******
Father Mike sat at his desk and carefully penned a letter. He paused, and realized he needed a break. Before leaving for the Rectory’s kitchen, he covered up the letter with the book whose illuminations he had been copying – a rather obscure book, purportedly written by the Mad Orc Sage Mushblarg Merdebrain, entitled “You Can’t Go There And Back Again.” It was something involving hairy-footed heroes and jewelry. Totally not a bestseller, but the pictures were spectacular, done by an artist called “Morty Parra Escargots.”
Today had certainly been a day of surprises: clandestine meetings, a blood oath, dead handless bodies, talking rats, pregnant dragons, and revelations that left him (at first) dumbstruck with disbelief. But, as belief was very much his stock-in-trade, he recovered quickly. He accepted Blaze’s proposal and met the rest of her group. It turned out that the blood oath only covered people who didn’t already know what was afoot. The Necromancer had seemed a little offended when Fr. Mike had said he’d never heard of “The Ravinger Four,” but his wife explained that the questing quartet had been working tirelessly behind the scenes of treachery, corruption and evil plots to destroy the world. And so, while he may not of have heard of them yet, it was only a matter of time. (At which point, the husband – Merrick – had been about to say something, but she stepped on his foot.)
They were an odd bunch, and on any other day he would have dismissed them as fools. But their pleas for help were in earnest, and even Blaze’s ‘pet’ crawled up onto his shoulder and whispered a “Thank you good pater”, to which the rat added quietly, “May the Blessed Blodwin keep you from the hearts & hands of those who would do you harm.” The rat – the rat! – knew something of his faith, and that assured him that he’d chosen the right course of action.
The gist of their story went something like this:
A year or so ago, the head of Beor’s Most Holy Church of Right & Lawful Intelligence, His Astute Eminence Archbishop Pumpin Sircomstance, was caught in flagrante delicto with Beor’s Happy Prince, & (don’t ask), by a party of wandering Netherkin. Their leader, Natty Nquirer, threatened to expose the already exposed prelate and royal scion if they did not cooperate. Had he been of sound mind, and not full of unreleased energy, the Archbishop could have called down the Lawfully Intelligent Forces of Good to smite the Netherkin. But no, he agreed to do their bidding. Chaotically Stupid, that one.
The Dragons, knowing that Evil was going to burst out of the Flaming Nethergate very soon, had been planning an attack. They would focus their flames en masse, melting and fusing the dimensional gate closed forever. Fighting fire with dragonfire, if you will. But the Netherkin had a plan. They meant to capture the first pregnant dragoness in years and stow her in the one place where her magic flames, power of flight and ultimately, her biological processes would not work – The Forest (ah, copse) of Pagan Perfidy’s Old Temple.
Dragon birth is 100% magical, in a very real sense. Dragons are a magical construct, made of a melding of reptile and human. The fetus inside is cocooned in a womb, very like a human. But when it begins to show its reptilian side, a shell forms around it before it is expelled from the mother. The transformation is magic-powered. A lengthy incarceration for Lady Smaug would result in certain death for both herself and the dragonling.
It was imperative that Lady Smaug be freed from her prison. Of course, moving a pregnant dragoness the size of a pirate ship presented a few problems. The guard units, for one. The priests and staff of St. Blodwin’s Rectory, for another. The Ravinger Four had ideas, but none seemed to stand up once they were thought through. Until the diminutive Drattus came up with a rather big idea – one that involved Fr. Mike. He’d never dreamed of using his skill at copying in this manner. It could, Lycacia Ravinger had said, put him in danger if his complicity was discovered, so she offered him a lifetime of room & board at a tavern that she and her husband had just purchased.
He sipped his steaming cup of – what had their cook called it? – yes, his cup of koppee. Its effect was almost instantaneous – he felt warm all over, energized and alert. Its aroma was heady and earthy, and altogether intoxicating. (Truth is, someone’s pet skippyloom had run up onto the shelf of pots above the stove and left little bean-like pellets in one of them. The sleepy cook had filled it with water and set it on the fire. The awakened skippyloom had leapt out of the pot and back to its owner. The resulting brew, which Fr. Mike was now enjoying, had first been named ‘poopee’ by the cook, and then poot of the ‘loom…until he was convinced that truth in advertising was not always the most appetizing way to sell something.)
Back in his room, Father Mike looked at the letter on which he was modeling his first work. It had been filched from High Priest Blathers’ private study by the nimble footed Drattus. It was written by the Archbishop himself, and in it he discussed the arrangements for Lady Smaug’s imprisonment. It was Fr. Mike’s task to write a letter in the Archbishop’s handwriting to Blathers, informing him that Lady Smaug was going to be moved in two days, during the evening hours. There were to be no guards, no watchmen, and no one was allowed out for evening strolls. The reason to be given was that the dragoness was close to giving birth, and nothing was to startle or disturb her lest she panic and fight free from her heavily sedated state.
The second letter had been his own inspiration. Acquired by Drattus at no small peril to the rat’s life, it was in &’s handwriting, snatched from the Rectory’s archives, which were guarded by several vicious street cats. The new letter would be addressed to the Archbishop, and informed him to meet & just before dawn, while the moon was still out, under the enormous Red Rooster blossoms, for a daring morning tryst. The third and final letter was to be from the Archbishop to &, informing him of the same.
It was not until the sun had risen, and Fr. Mike was snoring away at his desk, that Drattus took the three letters and brought them to Blaze, who, dressed in appropriate messenger clothing, delivered them.
******* Not All Ends Well That Ends *******
The Lady Smaug was freed from her prison. She rewarded the Ravinger Four with the location of a secret dragon stash of treasures. She told the Four she’d let the other dragons know about their group and pledged to give them aid should they ever be in need. Lycacia reminded her of the dragons’ plans to attack the Nethergate. The dragoness said “Right you are.” And that was the last they saw of her. No cooperative dragon siege ever happened.
The Netherkin, robbed of their bargaining chip, and believing that a dragon siege was imminent, stepped up their plans and backed a newly awakened evil demi-goddess. A week later the Ravinger Four marched on the Mountain, and with help from the dragons not forthcoming, gave up their lives while doing the impossible, buying the known world some more time to learn how to work together and save themselves.
Fr. Mike’s letters worked their magic, and the Archbishop met with Prince & just before dawn. The old priest had counted on their ignorance of two things: a knowledge of exotic flowers and the gardeners’ schedules. When dawn broke on that fateful day, and the two were basking in its glow after a long hour of exercise, they were unprepared for the closing of those huge Red Rooster blossoms, exposing them to the startled eyes of a small army of gardeners, whose workday begins at dawn. The High Priest and the other servants of the Blessed Blodwin were on their way to Lauds at the Dawn Chapel when they heard the raucous laughter. Needless to say, they went to investigate it.
The prince told the King that he’d been seduced, and the Archbishop pled temporary insanity while under the influence of the Netherkin. Prince & soon discovered that the Captain of the Royal Guard had a crush on him, and they’re still together today. The Archbishop bribed his way out of a jail sentence, and Pope Bigg EyeQuu was set to remove him from office when he died under questionable circumstances. The Guards who were on duty that night swear that, before they entered the Pope’s bedchambers and found his throat neatly cut, they heard a baby scream.
Which brings us to Fr. Mike and Drattus Thaddeus Rattus.
******* An Out, An Inn, And A Friend *******
As soon as Fr. Mike heard the laughter outside in the Gardens, he smiled and then sighed. It was just a matter of time before the Royal Investigation would begin, and he knew that the Cathedral’s special watermark would be discovered on those letters. If not by the Prince or the Archbishop, certainly Blathers would think of looking for it. So, he packed up his few belongings: some shirts and work pants, from his younger days; a sketchbook of portraits of family & friends that he’d done over the years; a razor, a pair of scissors, pens & pencils he’d saved from the trash; a woman’s garter from his wilder days; a love letter from a former acolyte, now a farmer and father of two. He donned a well-worn shirt, a pair of burlap pants and some comfortable shoes, and walked out of the Cathedral grounds. As he walked past the crowds of onlookers, craning to catch a glimpse of the nearly naked Archbishop, he gave up a prayer to Blodwin, asking her to watch over his friends.
He walked through the streets of South Tasuil, and then onto the main road. The Ravingers’ establishment was a few miles south. A wagon stopped beside him, and the man inside offered him a ride. The wagon was full of livestock. He was a big, burly man. He had a brow that was thick, and what appeared to be two very big upper & lower incisors. Finally, the cart stopped beside a building of moderate size. It was unnoteworthy except for two things: a blank sign hung at the entrance; and, as Fr. Mike stepped out of the carriage, a horse that was tethered nearby. It would have kicked him in the head, if the cart driver had not grabbed him.
“That nag’ll kill ya iffen ya don’ watch out,” chuckled the driver.
“Thanks for saving me, Mister?”
“Gorn Fleshcleaver, butcher, at yer service. Tell those Ravingers they better put a name on the tavern. Folk aroun’ here are startin’ ta call it The Tavern Wi’ No Name, and that jes’ sounds stupid.” And the man turned his Cart towards Millston.
He walked into a plain room, but there was something about it that made him smile broadly. Sitting at one of the tables were Lycacia, Merrick, Blaze – with Drattus on her shoulder, and Thorgrin. They all gave him hugs and claps on the back, and he sat down to join them. Much was discussed, mostly how Fr. Mike – under his new name, Artie Pendrake – could help them with his skills.
Over the next week, he learned a lot about them all. The Ravingers had a child – good-looking, personable, and smart as a whip. But the biggest surprise was Drattus. He’d been a human thief, and scholar, and cook – until some drunken mage had performed a very old transformation spell on him that turned him into a rat. The mage had died two days later without telling anyone the counter-spell. Drattus had been horrified to learn that, in rat years, he only had 4 years left to live.
He thought he’d drown his sorrow in drink, so he’d squeezed his way through a mouse hole into the Tavern and been caught while drinking inside an orcish mug by Blaze, who almost swallowed him whole. She too was several sheets to the wind, so she didn’t drop him or throw him at the wall when he pleaded for his life. They’d been friends ever since. Luckily (or unluckily, you decide), while on a job for Blaze which involved stealing from an alchemist, he’d been hit with a flask. He was certain he’d be dead within hours, but when Thorgrin examined him, it turned out it had contained not poison, but an immortality potion.
So, the week passed and the Mountain fell. It was Drattus who returned to the tavern, days later, with a broken tail and a shattered leg, and told the world the tale of the Ravinger Four. He also had a message for Fr. Mike from Lycacia, who had been the last to die. She wanted him to look after the child. The Tavern was his, to sell or to keep.
Artie Pendrake, a.k.a. Fr. Mike, kept the Tavern going. It remained the Tavern With No Name, because he felt that the right to name it belonged to their heir. He supplemented their income with his forgery skills, never taking on jobs that would bring about death or misfortune or misdeeds. It’s not what you do, he told the Ravinger heir, but how you do it and what you do it for, that determines the kind of person you are. He & Drattus became the very best of friends. Tavern
regulars used to joke that his collarbones had grown dents in them from the rat’s constant presence.
When that epic tavern finally did get named, and the Ravinger’s child had grown and come into its inheritance, Artie Pendrake and Drattus disappeared. They’re out there, having their own adventures.