Beorian Tales by Brian Mullin (aka Catfish Waterdancer)
Based upon characters, history & lore of the game EPIC TAVERN, created by Hyperkinetic Studios
Act 1, Scene 1: The Old Priest and Rat Tavern, Valridge
“What do you think their assignment will be?” asked Dave LaPlaid, who was enjoying a shot of Flarey Frisky Whiskey.
The three men were sitting at a table in the Old Priest and Rat Tavern. Originally, they’d sat at the table by the fire but were politely told by Young Ravinger, the tavern owner & barkeep, that it was reserved for a returning group of adventurers. So, they’d taken the table by an old bookcase full of volumes that had most likely been left behind by people staying overnight. There was Headbashers Monthly, An Encyclopedia of Beor (from 500 years ago), Dungeon Crawling for Non-Dwarves, the Adventures of Pip the Barbarian & her pet direlizard Broomhilda (recently published), a variety of romance novels and a worn copy of Map Reading for Idiots.
“I bet it’s finding the lost city of Shaka-La,” proposed rat kabob seller Kwan Dooley (real name: Memnos Ignatius Eladden, Thief/Escort/Information Gatherer and ridiculously wealthy.)
“Tsk, tsk,” commented Jumpin’ Supplejack Bonecracker, “It wasn’t lost, you know. It just went elsewhen.”
“You mean elsewhere,” said Dave, “Don’t you?”
“I mean elsewhen. It is still where it always was, but it moves through time. The far future, or the distant past, it’s not certain. It shows up every now and then, shrouded in fog, when certain conditions are met. It’s like the travelling Carnival except they don’t move around as much.”
The Bard, in order to change the topic, stood up and began to sing the popular song “The Maid and The Palmer.” As an adventuring bard, he’d often encountered unusual and fantastical beings, but Jack was the first dhampir he’d ever met. He couldn’t help but get chills when he thought of all the songs Jack must know, heard over his 1,000 years. He couldn’t wait to learn original versions, and hear old tales told by someone who may have been there to experience them.
“Oh, the maid went down to the well for to wash,
And the dew fell down from her snow-white flesh,
Dew fell down from her snow-white flesh
As the sun shone down so early.”
Memnos cackled softly. His mother used to sing that to him when he was a young boy of four – when his father wasn’t around, of course – such a scandalous tune would be cause for a stinging rebuke. He’d been using the persona of Kwan Dooley for so long that it felt like a comfortable pair of undies. If any of the pub’s clientele thought it odd that the rat gourmet was seated among them, they didn’t show it. Some had offered to buy him a drink or two, but he thanked them and asked if he could take them up on their kind offer another time. He figured that somehow, Miss Prim-and-Proper Mentos would find out if he’d had more than one drink.
He wasn’t sure why he’d attended the ‘auditions’ – it had been over a decade since he’d been on the stage. He had to admit to himself the real reason: he was tired, tired of always being in disguise. And he was bored. It had been time for something new. He had to admit that the people in whose company he now found himself were fascinating, interesting and diverse.
Dave was singing extremely well, and the crowd was clapping along as he sang of the maid’s deception. Memnos didn’t trust anyone in the group, except the dhampir. He was the one soul (does a dhampir have a soul?) who had nothing to gain from becoming his enemy or double-crossing or exposing him. Dave reached the last stanza:
“Seven more as a clapper to ring in a bell,
Seven to run as an ape through Hell
Seven to run as an ape through Hell,
As the sun shines down so early.”
Group 1 had begun leaving through the kitchen door and heading for the tavern’s exit. They had a different look about them, thought Jack. They were walking a little taller, and his heightened senses told him they were wearing confidence like a perfume. But where was Sarah? He used his dhampir trick of voice projection to get the dwarven druid’s attention. Amy came over and told him that Sarah had stayed behind at Miss Mentos’ request. She shook his hand and wished the three men good luck.
A few moments later Sarah appeared, followed closely by Miss Mentos, who summoned Group number 2.
Act 1, Scene 2: The Green Room, Valridge
After they were seated at the dining table, Memnos couldn’t help himself from saying, “I hope you went easy on them, Miss Stage Manager, ma’am.” Thorgrin’s daughter gave him a very cool regard. She walked up to him and looked him straight in the eye.
“I’m going to be less ‘easy’ on you, Mr. Eladden, if you don’t drop the mocking tone. I’ve read your file backwards and forwards and between the lines. You’re not used to working under someone else’s authority, I get that. You’re not used to working with others. Your sense of independence is invaluable to us, but do not let it become a liability. You need to trust PANACEA, its agents, and your fellow teammates.”
“Why should I trust you? What have you done to earn it?”
Miss Mentos went around to the other side of the table, where she reached into a sack and took out a small picture in an exquisite gilt frame. It was facing her, so no one could see what scene it might depict. But Jack sensed Memnos’ shock of recognition – every muscle had tensed the second he had seen the frame. Shock, and more than a little fear.
“Consider this: you now know enough about our organization to destroy us. There are three people in this very dearly bought portrait. One of them is you. PANACEA knows who the others are, and more importantly where they are. That knowledge is enough to destroy you. As a token of good faith, this picture will be given to you at the end of your first ‘season’ of assignments. Are we clear?”
“Perfectly,” said Memnos, who bowed with sincerity.
“There have been mysterious eggs spotted in various locations around Beor. I say mysterious because sometimes adventurers have seen them hatch. They seem to spawn fully adult monsters of varying species, sizes and ferocity. We get a report of one hatching almost every other day, and while it generally can be handled by any group of capable adventurers, but before they arrive the monsters are likely to injure or kill several travelers or townsfolk. Your mission is this: Find a permanent solution to whoever or whatever is producing those eggs.”
“You’re joking, surely,” said Jack. “You haven’t told us how large these eggs are, and why people aren’t just making really, really big omelets. How long do they take to hatch? Are these real eggs? Do you have a piece of the shells to show us? Where should…”
“First, they’re about four feet high,” answered Algebria, “Second, have you ever tried lifting a dragon’s egg? It takes four strong dwarves to move one. So far, no one has been able to even cause one to crack! Third, no one knows. As to the last two, this is what happens when they ‘hatch’: one moment you’re looking at an egg, the next moment you’re looking at a monster – a full grown, usually pissed-off monster. No shell remains, no fluids, nothing.”
“Magical, then,” stated Memnos.
“But even dragon eggs leave some pieces of shell behind,” offered Dave, who had been lucky enough to see one being born.
“Yes,” said Miss Mentos. “This is a proper mystery. It could be the start of something frightening, or it could be nothing but some ne’er-do-wells trying to stir up trouble.”
“It does sound like something,” mused Memnos, “that Cranston Grimm would come up with.”
“Our Founder suggests you start in Hidington. He’s gotten some intel that suggests one may drop there in a day or two. I’ve made arrangements for you to stay at the home of Babe Acosudo, a local farmer. He knows nothing about you, so we’re leaving it up to you three to come up with your own convincing identities. If you need something, send a message to me here. Good luck!” Algebria stopped Jack before he exited. “A word, please.”
“This is not the sort of mission we usually take on,” she told him, “and so I’m a bit concerned. It may sound, at first, like something trivial, but be assured it must be important. The Founder wanted me to relay this message to you personally – he said to look out for ‘too much magic.’ He said you’d know what it implied.”
Jack’s desire to know who this Founder was just intensified. The hairs on his neck stood up for the first time in centuries. It was the second time that evening that someone had made a reference to Shaka-La. He questioned, and not for the first time, the wisdom of his joining the Understudies. Because, he would later admit, it was uncharacteristically reckless and would shatter the complacency he had found himself festering in.
“Give him my thanks,” replied Jack, “and tell him the Balance will be respected.” At least, he thought, I’ll try.
Act 1, Scene 3: The South Road, between Parras and Hilltop
DeeDee Padd emptied her seventh bucket of glowing grain in a pile, and ran as fast as she could, back to her wagon and old NomNom the doggerelf. He was deaf as a post, thank goodness, so he only stirred when he felt the wagon rock as DeeDee jumped into the driver’s seat and yanked the horse’s bit, sending the cart speeding down the road. It was good to finally get away from the stinky feed, a by-product of Aunt Elissa’s experiments.
Although, she admitted to herself, not even she had expected this particular result. Her new pet had grown during the time she’d been giving it this stuff, so much so that the first cave she’d hidden her in had gotten too small, so she’d found a valley between two hills where she could hide her. And the bigger she’d gotten, the more grain she demanded. She’d wanted to try some herself, maybe as a porridge, but when she cooked it the smell had been horrendous.
She stopped the wagon when she was about a half-mile away and turned to wait and watch. She felt the ground shake, and her magnificent pet came into view. Fifteen feet tall, she bent down and consumed the big bucketful DeeDee had left as if it were nothing. It had rained today, and her pet left huge footprints as it moved. DeeDee watched as another egg dropped. She’d tried to get close to one once but began feeling queasy as soon as she’d gotten close to it. It was always gone by the next day, so she assumed someone had taken the chick away to raise for themselves.
Act 2, Scene 1: The Acosudo Farm & Environs, Hidington
They hired horses (Memnos’ treat) and left the Tavern around noon. On the road, they decided they would be cousins who had inherited money from a rich Great Grandmother who’d recently passed away. They were looking to buy a farm to start a rare vegetable business.
“We like to stay a while in each place that’s for sale,” explained Dave, “To get the real spirit of the place.”
“We’re not haunted,” replied Babe, who shrugged his shoulders, “Leastaways not that I know. Hey, Eri, do we have any ghosts wandering about?”
“Nah,” said the raven-haired Mrs. Acosudo, “Jus’ a coupla zombie crows. Been here since I was a kid. Had two young girls stay here once, Elly and Emmy. When they saw my Pa kill some crows who were eatin’ our fiddle beans, they got real upset. Waved their hands and ‘puddly, piddly, poof’ – we gets zombie crows. Then the lil’ one called Emmy asks the other ‘What will they eat?’ and Elly stomps on a buncha worms, and now the undead crows eat the undead worms every mornin’. That’s the sickle of life.”
“You mean ‘circle’ don’t you?” asked Dave.
“No honey, I means sickle. Even iffen you’re undead, you’re still dead.”
“Musca, God of the Flies, might disagree,” offered Jack.
“Well, anyroad,” said Farmer Babe, “You’ll be staying over there. That’s the original house. It’s small but you all should fit real nice and cozy.”
It was slightly larger than a stable meant for two horses. There were windows with old lace curtains on three sides, the door hung askew in its frame on the fourth wall, and three plank cots were lined up, one against the other, with a straw-filled mattress covering all three. There was no blanket. On one wall was a picture, drawn by a child (Jack guessed), of a dog with an elven face & ears. An impossibly long tongue lolled out of its mouth, a drop of drool artfully added to its tip.
“That was done a few years ago by our niece DeeDee,” said Babe a little too nervously.
“She has got quite the imagination,” said Dave.
“Y-yes. She came to live with us after her parents died in a lab accident. She doesn’t mix much with people. You’ll meet her at dinner, which will be just before sundown. If you eat late, you clean up after yourselves.”
Eri approached Memnos, who was dressed as a young aristocrat, and said, “Let me know if she gives you any trouble, good sir.” With that, she and her husband left the Understudies in their close quarters.
Memnos leaned against the doorframe, watching them walk across the fields. When the couple was out of earshot, he grumbled “This is totally un…”
“…like anything you were expecting, yes, I agree,” interjected Dave, “But it would be unbelievably rude to seek accommodations elsewhere, not to mention insulting to the PANACEA contact who arranged them for us.”
“You’re both right,” Jack said. “But Dave, you’ve got the gist of our dilemma. Like it or not, my wealthy friend,” he continued, looking at Memnos, “I’m afraid that tonight – at least – we’ll be staying here. And if I’m not mistaken, I think all of us have slept in places with much more discomfort than a simple lack of space produces.”
“I don’t have to like it!” Memnos complained. “I’m going to take a look around, talk to the neighbors,” he said and left.
“By the time he gets back, it will be dinner. If I remember, the closest neighbor is about two and a half miles south. The Kettles’ Dairy farm, I think,” said Dave. He saw Jack, who was looking very closely at the child’s drawing. Jack had been staring at it for a while. The dhampir turned around, and his face, as usual, was difficult to read. The Bard was curious to a fault, however. “Why does that child’s drawing fascinate you?”
Jack’s eyes, when he looked at Dave, wore a haunted look. “A memory, my father, and too much magic. That’s all you’ll get from me for now,” he said. “I’m going to nap for a bit.” He languidly stretched out onto the middle bed, saying, “I feel it’s going to be a very, very long night.” Patting the mattress that was meant for all three, he winked and said, “You’re welcome to join me, young man, if you like.” In reply, the Bard took out his lute and sang a stanza from ‘Reynardine” –
“Her ruby lips and cherry cheeks, the lass of Firmadie,
She fainted in my arms there, all on the mountains high,
When I had kissed her once or twice, she came to herself again,
And said kind Sir be civil and tell to me your name.
Go down in yonder forest, my castle there you’ll find,
Well wrote in ancient history, my name is Reynardine…”
Jack chuckled. “I haven’t heard that one in a few centuries. Reynardine was a werefox, not a dhampir.” He patted the bed again.
“Thank you. Another time, perhaps. I’m feeling an itch to compose something, and I’ve learned to trust that,” Dave said, and left while strumming some chords.
Act 2, Scene 3: Acosudo Home, Kitchen (A few hours later)
Dinner was simple fare: loaves of crusty, freshly baked bread, hot and aromatic with herbs picked from their garden; a thick ragout of garden vegetables and wild mushrooms in honor of their guests’ supposed interest in starting an exotic vegetable farm; and a plate of seasonal fruit with gargoat cheese. And it was altogether delicious.
Memnos had returned none the wiser after interviewing the Kettles. They’d heard stories of the mysterious eggs but had not seen one themselves. There had also been several minor earth shakings of late, and odd nightly screeches. They’d voiced a few concerns about the Acosudo’s niece DeeDee, who seemed very concerned with animal welfare, even if the animals didn’t belong to her. They’d shooed her away from their cows many times, and she’d shouted that they were overmilking them.
Jack decided that DeeDee was essentially harmless, if a little quiet around the dinner table. It was only when he’d asked her about the drawing that she became agitated. “So, tell me about your dog. Is he a special breed?”
“DeeDee does errands for her Aunt Elissa. She works with animals, her Aunt does. She gave the dog to DeeDee,” said Eri Acosudo. “Dee didn’t ask us if she could have a pet, but she accepted him anyway.”
“She was gonna hurt NomNom,” DeeDee cried, and then Jack heard her say under her breath, “She was gonna kill him!”
“Why,” asked Jack with concern, “would your aunt want to kill him?”
“She said he was a failure, and failures don’t deserve to live.”
“She sounds mean!” offered Memnos.
“She’s okay,” said DeeDee quietly, “But sometimes she’s just…cruel.”
“DeeDee Padd, don’t you talk badly about your Aunt! I won’t have it! Go to your room!” Eri shouted.
“Don’t you care anymore?” said the girl accusingly. “Mom would tell you about what Dad and Elissa were working on, and I’d hear you begging her to stop hurting things! And now it’s not just animals, it’s…”
“Enough, young lady!” said Babe, “Go feed NomNom. And be happy we let you keep him.” As DeeDee stood up, Jack noticed some dark brown hairs fall from her clothes onto the seat of her chair. Because he was sitting next to her, he was able to snag a few before anyone noticed.
Eri Acosudo threw her hands upwards and shrugged. “I sincerely apologize for my niece. I don’t know what’s gotten into her. She was never this jittery and ill-mannered. Now, who would like some crackleberry cobbler?”
Act 2, Scene 4: Acosudo Farm, Western Fields
The Understudies were hiding in the shadows cast by a full moon, behind the Barn wall. After dinner, Jack had examined the brown hair he’d found, which to his horror was not dog hair at all. Its texture was all wrong. It was elven hair. When he told the others, they decided that they had to see the creature. Memnos turned out to have uncanny tracking skills, finding NomNom’s doghouse in under a few minutes. But their plans were stymied by finding DeeDee there as well. The three decided to eavesdrop.
“I don’t know, boy,” Deedee said, scratching under her pet’s ear “where we’re gonna go, but we can’t stay here. They’re gonna sell this place sooner or later, and then all kindsa folk are gonna see you. And now we’ve got Pertyloot to look after. Course, I dunno if Aunt Elissa will keep letting us use this here feed.” At which point she stepped away, uncovering a big bucket whose contents glowed and stank worse than a boatload of rotting fish. And to Jack, it stank of foul magic.
Suddenly everything he’d heard at dinner came together, and he knew who they were dealing with – Elissa Bloodworth, former head of the Mage College. His danger sense flared. “Gentlemen, we’ve got a…” he began, but the night’s silence was broken by two things: NomNom’s hoarse howl, which sounded like nothing the trio had ever heard, and the ground began to shake. In the distance, from down the road came a red-eyed netherchicken, hop-flying towards them. It might have been a humorous sight, except it was fifteen feet tall. And, of course, it was a netherchicken.
Netherchickens have not been in Beor forever. They are, in fact, a rather recent arrival, only 400 years or so. Most people have not, in fact, ever actually seen one, unless you happen to be, shall we say, ‘in the business.’ It is said they have 8 arms. It would also be true that they have 8 wings. More accurate, however, would be to say that they have 16 appendages.
“Pertyloot!! No, no no no no!” cried DeeDee. But Pertyloot’s attention was fixed on the bucket of glowing feed. She inhaled both the bucket and its putrid contents in less than 2 seconds, raised its red eyes, hacked up the bucket, and headed for the barn. Which is where the Understudies were standing. “Run,” shouted Memnos, Dave singing the Song of Speedy Retreat. They had run about a half mile in under 5 seconds when they stopped and watched as Pertyloot gave the barn a single peck, collapsing the roof and exposing more glowing, foully fragrant feed buckets.
“What’s going on,” cried Farmer Babe, axe in hand as he ran from the house. “Dagnabbit, DeeDee, I tol’ you to keep that chicken hidden! Now the whole neighborhood’s gonna find out!” Unfortunately, he didn’t see the hacked-up bucket in front of him, which spilled its remaining seeds on him when he stepped in it and fell over. That caught Pertyloot’s attention, and she made a beeline for him.
Memnos and Jack both watched as Dave, who’d remained behind to stand next to DeeDee, produced a lyre from inside his jerkin and as he began to play, the instrument glowed.
Hush a bye birdie, croon, croon
Hush a bye birdie, croon
The sheep are gone to the silver wood,
And the cows are gone to the broom, broom.
Hush a bye birdie, croon, croon
Hush a bye birdie, croon
The goats are gone to the mountain high,
And they’ll not be home till noon, noon…”
Dave motioned with his head to DeeDee to move back to the house, where Eri was watching the whole thing with bated breath. But DeeDee, along with Nom-Nom, had disappeared. Dave continued to croon the old lullaby, aided by his obviously magical lyre. Pertyloot swayed back and forth, her lids starting to fall over her eyes.
The sheep are gone to the silver wood,
And the cows are gone to the broom, broom.
Hush a bye birdie, croon, croon
Hush a bye birdie, croon.
Pertyloot gave what could be said was a sigh (if she weren’t a chicken), and toppled over, sound asleep. As she hit the ground, though, a four-foot egg popped out. Well, thought Memnos, that makes perfect sense.
Eri ran out of the house and helped Babe remove the bucket from his foot, holding her nose as she brushed the reeking feed off of his clothes, only to realize that the stench was now all over her hands. Babe Acosudo, however, had other plans. “She’s going to make me rich,” he said, as he stood up and approached the netherchicken, axe raised.
From behind the house, a wagon appeared, with DeeDee in the driver’s seat with NomNom beside her and yet another load of odiferous grain as its cargo. “Perty! Peertyloo! Pertyloooot! Feeeeeeeeeding time!” she yelled, as the cart sped towards the road. The netherchicken, hearing the voice of its primary feeder, sprang awake, tearing off two arms that had been grasping the ground. Blood erupted, hissing and steaming upon the field it fell upon. Farmer Babe hacked at a wing, but Pertyloot did not suffer hindrances gladly. As two new arms emerged from within its bulk to replace the lost pair, she neatly bit off the farmer’s head, spitting it out where it hit Mrs. Acosudo in her head, knocking her unconscious.
As the Understudies carried Eri back into the house, they could see purple lightning in the direction of where DeeDee had ridden, and Pertyloot had followed. They also witnessed the two netherchicken arms use their fingers to claw their way into the ground. The stumps had stopped their bleeding and were now sprouting leaves and what appeared to be flower buds. Netherchickens, thought Jack, might not have started as mutants at all. Maybe they started as “failures” in someone’s lab from long ago.
“You watch over her until she wakes,” said Jack to Memnos.
“Okay, although I don’t remember who made you the boss,” he replied.
“If you’ve got a better idea for the use of your time, tell me.” Jack was met by grumbling as Memnos sat down on a rather comfortable chair and watched. He was asleep with minutes. “But you told him to…” started Dave.
“Shhhh! It was on purpose. You and I are going to go outside and wait for that egg to hatch, so that we can – hopefully – kill whatever nasty surprise is inside. And while we wait, I’ll tell you a little about Shaka-La.”
Jack didn’t have time to tell any story, because at the very moment that they got close to it, the egg split open, vanished and in its place was…a structure. It was nothing more than a simple wooden surface, raised about a foot off the ground, and having five wooden poles around its pentagonal shape, with a roof on top. Inside were two wooden benches, and a very nice planter.
“What the? I’ll bet Miss Mentos was pulling our legs! C’mon, let’s sit down and you can tell me all about Shaka-La!” said Dave, mounting the small staircase. Jack joined him, saying, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
About two hours later, after slaughtering scores of interdimensional sharp-toothed teddy bears, fanged killer rabbits, razor-clawed psychotic koalas, and one rather annoyingly insipid singing purple dinosaur, the Bard and the Dhampir sat around a fire made from the structure’s remains, meat roasting on a makeshift spit. “You know,” mused Dave, “There’s a song in this somewhere.” “I’ll do unspeakable things to you with this purple dinosaur drumstick if you even try,” stated Jack.
Act 3, Scene 1: A Valley North of Hilltop (the next afternoon)
It was a very bitter farmwife that confronted them that morning. Memnos had been elected to speak with her, since she seemed willing to still speak only to him. He apologized that they had misrepresented themselves. As it turned out, he bought the place outright from her, telling her she had a week to gather her things and leave. The three were still discussing the day’s agenda when Eri appeared with a suitcase in hand. She told them that her niece could fend for herself and left.
Their mission was to ‘find a permanent solution’ for Pertyloot. However, it had become apparent that whatever that solution was would have to involve young DeeDee. So, they somehow had to find her, talk to her, and get her cooperation. Surely, she knew about the monster-hatching eggs. They set off to the south, towards Hilltop. They encountered a few giants – one drumming a lively tune, a little further on one practicing a soliloquy, and finally one weeping over a love gone wrong – but few others.
They spotted an occasional purple lightning bolt, even if the sky was clear; that and the growing warning of Jack’s Sense Magic skill let them know they were on the right track. Finally, they spotted a huge ridge of netherchicken feathers, sticking above a stand of trees. Although Memnos had amazing stealth skills, they all agreed that Jack’s non-magical invisibility trick would serve them better. He made his way silently through the forest and saw Pertyloot nestled amidst about 20 fallen trees. A small river ran at one end of the valley, and beside it sat DeeDee. There was no sign of NomNom. Jack started to approach the girl when NomNom howled, revealing that he was right behind Jack.
Without thinking, Jack sprang to jump over the creature when he hit a huge overhanging tree branch and knocked himself out. From their positions, Memnos and Dave watched as DeeDee produced a rope from her travel bag and tied him up. Pertyloot had awakened, and stood a few paces away, some of its arms picking at leaves and branches.
“We’ve got to get him out of there before she feeds him to that thing!” said Dave.
Memnos spat. “It’s a chicken. They prefer grain,” he said, “not meat.”
“That you know of,” countered Dave.
“Point taken. Let’s get closer so we can listen,” suggested Memnos, “And keep your eye on NomNom. If you lose sight of him, let me know.”
Jack came around a few moments later, went to rub the sore spot on his head and discovered he couldn’t. His hands strained at his bonds, testing their hold on him, and finding their weak spot, decided to play the captive role. He felt cold water being thrown at him and opened his eyes. DeeDee was standing in front of him, hands on her hips, somehow managing to look both annoyed at him and pleased with herself. Sitting beside her was NomNom, his fully elven face prominently showing through the long elven hair that covered his canine body, regarding him with an unsettling intelligence.
Behind them both was Pertyloot, busily snarfing down bushes that her many arms uprooted from the ground and carried, hand over hand to her beak. DeeDee followed his gaze. “She’s actually very gentle, if ya take the time to know her,” she said, “but then all anybody wants to do is kill her or breed her like Uncle Babe. That’s a cruel way to force anythin’ to live, make them a breeding stock.”
Good, thought the dhampir, she’s trusting me with her story. Now if I can just make her see that we…and he stopped his train of thought right there. We were planning on what? Capturing it, but then what? From his place of concealment, Dave was thinking along the same lines.
“I foun’ her, ya know. On the side of the road. A wagon from Harper’s farm was passin’ by with crates full of ‘em, all packed together with no room to turn around or nothin’. One of the crates fell off when the wagon hit a bump, and the door sprang open. I saw her jump out ‘n run into the bushes afore the driver got the crate back on the cart.” The netherchicken had come over to her, and its beady red eyes looked at the girl with love. DeeDee reach up and scratched under its neck, and Jack could swear the resultant growl was almost like a purr.
“She came right to me. When I showed her to Uncle Babe, he wasn’t happy. The farm is for growin’ stuff, not livestock, he said. I’d hafta take responsibilty for it. Then I ‘membered Aunt Elissa worked a bit at a brewery, ‘n that making beer needs grain. So, she showed me a warehouse full of grain that she couldn’t use anymore, she blamed that on ‘venturers, ‘n said I could use it. It smelled real bad, but Pertyloot liked it well ‘nuff. Then she started gettin’ bigger.” DeeDee grinned.
“That was when Uncle Babe got his idea to breed her. But she got to be so big, she couldn’t stay on the farm, otherwise folk would see her. So, I’d feed her at night, far away from the farm. Then the eggs started droppin’, but I couldn’t bring ‘em as they were too big ‘n heavy. I’m kinda happy though, ‘cause that means Uncle Babe can’t sell ‘em. I’m hopin’ the ‘lil chicks are happy somewheres safe.”
She doesn’t know, Jack realized, about the monsters. “You know, the reason why we…” And he was interrupted by a warning growl from NomNom.
Dave had been so focused on watching NomNom that he hadn’t seen Memnos sneak away into the trees. Now he was behind DeeDee, a dagger in one hand and her neck held in the other. NomNom bared his teeth, which were definitely canine, and caught Memnos off guard by barreling into them and knocking them to the ground. DeeDee was on the wagon in the blink of an eye, followed by her pet, galloping away. The netherchicken saw its owner fleeing, took one look at the prone Memnos, and lunged at him with her beak, leaving a nasty gash across his calf as he rolled away.
The Understudy shrieked, blood soaking into his trousers, as DeeDee called for Pertyloot. The netherchicken leapt with a mighty squawk as its 8 wings flapped furiously, its arms waving wildy as if they too could assist in gaining altitude, and it jumped/flew over the trees and was soon a speck in the distance.
Dave erupted from the trees, and promptly untied Jack, brought out his lyre and improvised a quick Song of Mending as the dhampir set about binding their comrade’s injury. “That looks ugly,” Jack commented, “How do you feel?”
“I don’t think I’m poisoned, if that’s what you mean,” replied Memnos, who promptly threw up bile that was a remarkably sickly shade of orange and fainted.
“Well, you’ve made a mess of things all right,” said a familiar voice. “I guess I’ve arrived none too soon.” In the nesting space once occupied by Pertyloot stood Granny Ginny. “Let’s get him to a healer’s hut and see what to do next.”
Act 3, Scene 2: Harriet’s Helpful Hospital Hut (2 hours later)
It’s unknown if there really was a person named Harriet who came up with the idea of a chain geared towards providing helpful healing for heroes on the go, but whoever she was (probably dead by now) her chain lives up to its name. Many is the adventurer whose life was saved by getting healing salves, bandages and most importantly antidotes (don’t leave home base without ‘em!) at the Four Aitches.
It turns out that netherchickens fed on magical fetid feed really do have poisonous bites. Our Understudies were skeptical when asked to don protective clothing as the shaman-doctor-priest worked her cure. Using normal chicken feet to draw out the netherchicken poison seemed a little odd, but they watched as each foot increased in size and stench until they exploded all over their protective gear. It took ten chicken feet to do the trick, at which point our hardy crew removed their rank and stylish coverings to go regurgitate outside.
Memnos was not the least bit happy be given a pot of chicken soup to eat. When he asked the healer why ‘chicken’ soup, she shrugged and said, “It couldn’t hoit!” Granny Ginny sat on the edge of his cot. “So, do you want to share with us the reason why you so stupidly interrupted what could have been a simple, peaceful solution to this mission, hmm?” And she slapped him on his just scabbed-over gash. The scream that followed would have done Pertyloot justice. The healer, whose name really was Harriet (they all call themselves Harriet, by the way) came rushing into the room, said a few things to Ginny that made even Jack wince, and left after seeing the gash scab over once again.
“Why did you take off like that?” asked Dave.
“I was just going to explain to her that we…” started Jack.
“That we are going to kill her beloved mutant monster-spawning pet chicken, and possibly her abominable pet whatever-it-is, leaving her homeless and alone? I don’t think so,” said Memnos with a catch in his voice, “No sir, I don’t think so. Better to kill Pertyloot – I mean, the netherchicken – and be done with it, right? She’s just a bystander, collateral damage. Why should we care?”
“The issue, as I see it, Mr. Eladden, is why should you care? It’s because you see yourself in that girl. But she has a different reason for not trusting anyone. You can’t because you can’t trust yourself,” noted Ginny.
“Go to the Netherlands!” spat Memnos.
“Either you tell them, or I will. The truth will out, sooner or later, and right now you’re a danger to this party.” Granny Ginny waited for a moment, and Memnos kept silent. “Suit yourself. Feel free to jump in anytime, though. It is your story after all. The true story, that is.” Harriet brought them some steaming cups of something redolent of mint and ginger, then left to attend to a new customer.
“Memmy, here, was travelling with his parents that day. Except his mother was already dead, killed by his father, who was an abusive bully. He’d set up the whole non-human ambush, which would then kill his son, who’d witnessed his mother’s murder. What he didn’t know was that his brother Genghis had paid the non-humans double, to kill both father and son. When they arrived at the ambush location, they killed the coachmen but found the father already dead, along with the mother’s body.”
Memnos was softly crying. Ginny continued: “Memnos, in a fit of anger, struck out at his father, fatally stabbing him in the throat when their carriage jerked violently as it hit the trap that had been set for it. It was an accident.” Ginny paused to look at the wounded man. “I just wanted to hurt him,” he explained, “To stand up to him the way mother had always wanted to but didn’t until it was too late. I’m not sorry I killed him.”
“What’s worse,” said Ginny, “is that your father’s butler snitched on you the moment you’d left the house, and Ghengis’s men went after you. A group of thieves spotted you and knew who you were immediately, and they killed your pursuers. That’s how you ended up with the Thieves Guild, who to this day keep your secret – for a price.” She paused, then said with kindness, “PANACEA needs Memmy the Caring as well as Memnos the Ruthless. Let us earn your trust, by honoring your concern, and ours, for this girl.”
“Deal,” he said, “But, Orc, don’t ever call me Memmy again.”
“Now, let’s talk about how to catch a netherchicken. I believe you said you saw some giants about? I’ll need one of you to go to Retaw, one to go to a granary, and one to accompany me to Tasuil South see a man about renting an amphitheatre. Meet me on the main road due east of Parras when you’re done,” ordered the gypsy orc. “Here’s the plan…”
Act 3, Scene 3: Main Road, East of Parras (Dawn, the next day)
Bottom (the tallest giant, at 27 feet) spotted Pertyloot first, heading east and closely followed by an understandably cautious DeeDee, with NomNom beside her in the wagon. Jack had bought and transported a silo full of rotting grain, which was now sitting in the middle of the main road. It had taken the rest of yesterday, and the better part of last night to accomplish it. The road was guarded on the south and north, about a mile either end, by Snout and Flute (the drumming giant and the weeping giant, respectively).
It turned out that all 3 giants were part of a newly-formed acting troupe of giants called the Gargantuan Players. They’d encountered a strange human who blurred in and out of focus, but before he vanished he’d given them a book of plays by some guy named W. Shakspear. The whole troupe agreed to help the Understudies, mostly because Ginny (assisted by Memnos, disguised as Producer Max B. Alleystock) had secured the Fillinsbrush Ampitheatre for their first performance of A Midsummer Wight’s Drum. The company had painted camouflaging canvas drops that they were now hiding under, looking very much like mounds of moss and rocky outcroppings.
As soon as the big fowl stopped by the rotten grain and began devouring it, a small pouch was levitated high above, as Ginny upended its contents onto the heads of Ginny and NomNom, who instantly fell asleep. Ginny knew that the aromancy sampler kit that Talisa had given her the day before would come in handy! She shouted “Now!” which was amplified by Dave, who was quietly singing a Song of Volume. Eight giants yanked on the Kraken-catching net that Dave had borrowed from some fishermen friends of Ginny’s in Retaw, and successfully captured the struggling fifteen-foot netherchicken. As Ginny had explained to them yesterday, ‘Sometimes it takes giants to catch a giant!”
Act 3, Scene 4: The Acosudo Farm (3 hours later)
By the time everyone had arrived, the sleeping powder had worn off. DeeDee and NomNom stood next to the captive Pertyloot, who had settled down somewhat. The presence of the Giants made the netherchicken curious, and they in turn were murmuring softly to her, being occasionally pinched or stroked by one of her stray arms. Bottom was walking around the property with Memnos, pointing occasionally and speaking to Flute, who was busily sketching something on a large pad.
Dave sat down next to DeeDee, and Jack sat next to NomNom. The girl played with some blades of grass with one hand, and stroked NomNom’s head with the other. “What happens now? I mean, to Pertyloot? Are ya gonna kill her?”
“We don’t want to, DeeDee,” said Dave, “but her eggs hatch monsters that can hurt a lot of people.”
“Ya mean like that one there?” And Dee pointed behind her at the egg which had been laid not 10 minutes ago, but which no one had really noticed because she’d been sitting on it.
“Dave,” asked Jack, “do you remember the last egg being pitted with dents?”
“Nope,” Dave replied. “Hey Ginny, get over here!” When the gypsy orc got close, she beckoned to the giant named Snout. “Do me a favor, friend,” she asked him, “and try to crack that egg.” Snout looked it over and brought his fist down on top of it. The giant, orc, doggerelf and humans alike were subsequently soaked from top to bottom in egg white and yolk, about 70 fragrant gallons worth. “Where’s a raincloud when you need one?” laughed DeeDee.
Remember, readers, this is Beor. Out of nowhere one appeared, and completely drenched the five astonished and ‘battered’ adventurers until they were clean. Memnos and the Gargantuan Players had watched the whole episode, and were doubled over in laughter, at which point the raincloud drenched them and then disappeared. Somewhere, a god/dess was chuckling.
“Maybe,” offered Jack, “the change in diet allows Pertyloot to have normal eggs. And that changes things. But, DeeDee, about NomNom…”
“Aunt Elissa woulda killed him. It wasn’t that dog’s or that elf’s fault that the experiment went wrong. If she hadn’t freaked out, then maybe it would have worked. But the poor thing looked so sad…” cried the girl.
“Of course, he’s sad!” Memnos spoke softly, “Can’t you see he’s more elf than dog? That he has a mind, and memories? Try to imagine what your life would be like if you were in his place!”
DeeDee began to cry, putting her arms around NomNom’s neck. NomNom started to whimper, and tears rolled down his eyes as well. She held his head in her hands, looked him in the eyes, and said “I Love you.” Then she snapped his neck. Memnos took her in his arms and held her. Ginny motioned to everyone, and for a while the two were left alone, hugging each other under the watchful beady red eyes of a 15-foot netherchicken.
As you may recall, Memnos had bought the farm (literally.) He gave it to DeeDee, putting it in her name and naming the Gargantuan Players as her legal guardians. The giants built a huge coop to house Pertyloot, then a roadside restaurant called Eggs R Us which does a ginormous business. The players performances are a huge hit in Tasuil Beor. DeeDee turned the rest of the farm into an animal sanctuary which she named NomNom’s Place; PANACEA brings animals there that are from magical or non-magical laboratories to be cared for and carefully placed in foster homes.
On the trip back to The Old Priest and Rat Tavern, Dave asked Jack when he was going to tell him about Shaka-La. “Sometime, over a drink. When the rest of the team is present. But not before,” said the dhampir, “and provided you don’t compose anything about the goddamned Gazebo.”
About Bard Dave La Plaid’s songs:
I’m a huge fan of folk and traditional music, especially English, Irish and Scottish. His songs are – and will be – culled from the vast treasury that thankfully still exists.
The Maid and The Palmer –
Hush A Bye Birdie
This one is the most recent, dateable to 1858, which is still 150 years ago and may be even older.