Last week, on DnDF17 (some artistic liberties have been taken)
The weary members of Bacon Ipsum wound through the streets of Moscone. They were silent, all of them thinking only of the destination and what would await them there – the best coffee in Forcelandia and payment for their efforts defeating what may or may not have been a dragon. What was definitely not a dragon. What had definitely been someone with too much time on their hands. Either way, the team would be paid through the Trailhead Expeditionary Forces.
The Apex palace loomed before them, the Master of Coffee nestled within its walls, when Kriv, the surly and aloof wizard heard his name being called. The rest of the team paused, waiting for their companion to complete his transaction, all of them on edge at the rough tones of the conversation. Brunhilde, the dwarf better known as Trailblazer, watched and waited, ready to jump in and pull the wizard out of a scuffle.
“Oh, hey, guys,” Datatello suddenly began at her side, pulling her attention away from hearing what words were being exchanged, “I just remembered! Remember those crystal shards that we found in that basement a long time ago?”
Kriv and Brunhilde remembered, of course, having been part of their first adventure. Bakaryu and Flash both nodded politely, not wanting to correct the half-orc. After all, they had all traveled long enough, it was easy to forget who was where and for what.
“I sold them!”
Kriv straightened under his robe, hearing the words sold, as he approached the group once more.
“I found a buyer at the Wizard School, and this guy bought them for 600 gold!”
“600 gold?” Kriv began.
“Yeah! I gave it to a children’s hospital,” Datatello beamed.
Kriv shriveled within his cowl, “You gave it away?”
“Not all of it,” the half-orc continued, producing pouches from his bag and handing them out, “here’s what’s was left.”
The party entered Master of Coffee, placing orders and taking their respective places at a table large enough to seat them all.
“We should check in,” Kriv muttered, waving for Bakaryu to follow. It was best that others be with him when dealing with their handler, and the noble paladin was a good choice, despite her looming presence and scaled visage.
Their handler sat in the back, clothed in all black, peering at them from behind half-moon spectacles, “Yes?”
“We’re checking in,” Kriv spat, his mood only darkening after the exchange he shared with his supplier, Quick. His problem was becoming increasingly expensive, and he just wanted to take on the next job. And the next. However many it took.
“I suppose you have evidence, then?”
Something like a growl left the wizard, as he turned and stalked back toward his dwarf companion, who was staring into the steaming mug in front of her and watching Datatello request other patrons join him in a game of darts. She had offered, but experience had proven that her height put her at somewhat of a disadvantage for the monk’s preferred play style, specifically another player throwing a dart at his face, so he could deflect it.
He was, perhaps unsurprisingly, very good at the game.
“Do we have any evidence from the last job?”
“Dragon scales,” she leveled at Kriv, taking a sip.
The words sparked the memory of their dragon born compatriot, who smiled widely – probably smiled; the teeth made it difficult to tell – and presented a bag, “Oh yes! The dragon scales.”
Satisfied, their handler nodded, “500 gold then.”
Brunhilde saw Kriv’s jaw clench, “500? Fine. Well what’s the next job?”
“There is not one.”
Apparently things were quiet. Too quiet. They would swiftly become much louder, if Kriv had nothing to occupy himself with. Trailblazer prepared to talk him from the ledge, shove something free in front of him and distract him, but the planning was unnecessary, as just at that moment, the door opened, and the loud thumping of heavy boots rang through the air.
The coffee tavern, as a whole, turned to watch a group of angry dwarves step inside. They were known to Brunhilde, the one at the fore a known rabble rouser, and to her surprise, a usually friendly Skuid vendor from the markets. Friendly or no, it was clear this group was looking for trouble.
The friendly monk approached, hoping to calm whatever had the dwarves so angry, “Hello there! Can I offer you a beverage?”
“Ale,” the leader growled at Master Coffee.
Master Coffee smiled calmly, “I’m afraid we don’t sell ale here.”
“What kind of tavern is this?”
Datatello watched the exchange, clearly uncomfortable with the tone. Kriv, too, saw the tension rising.
“Datatello, ask me for ale.”
The half-orc tilted his head, “I don’t need it. They’re-”
“Just ask me for ale. Tell me you need ale. Ask me for ale!”
Unsure what the wizard was on about, but not wishing to disappoint, he complied, “Kriv, can I get some ale?”
The wizard reached into his robe, digging around for a moment, before pulling out a smallish barrel and showing it to the dwarves, as well as the proprietor, “Here. Ale. Please open the barrel.”
Master Coffee didn’t seem pleased with the idea, but he agreed. Kriv placed the barrel on the counter and stepped away, just before an axe whizzed through the air and shattered the wooden cask.
Moving on instinct, Kriv raised his hand, fire springing from his palm to shoot directly at the dwarf who had thrown the axe. The smell of burnt dwarven beard followed, as well the angry shout of alarm and the sound of many heavy weapons being drawn from their scabbards and holsters.
It was enough for Datatello. The half-orc pulled his bo-staff free, swiping high and then low against the dwarf just in front of him before moving beyond him to stun the second armed intruder. He was caught on the calf with a blade but elected to ignore it, the cut barely registering, as he left open-handed strikes on his attacker.
There was a brief pause, as Bakaryu stood, looking down at the dwarves, “Listen, friends, let’s not be short sighted here. I understand that tempers may be short, but fighting is only a short-term solution. I’m sure there’s a way to short – oh, no, sort – this out, so that everyone gets what they want, and we can all go our separate ways shortly.”
Flash, their silent thief, ducked into the shadows, hoping to remain unseen until he could strike.
Brunhilde blinked at the calm, reassuring dragon born, wincing with each passing moment. Other dwarves, who had been ducked behind tables to avoid being caught in the fray, stood to level shocked glares at the paladin.
Before the angry, at least no longer flaming, leader could roar and charge at her companion, Brunhilde slid her longbow around and lifted it, tilted to ensure she could use it, and took aim. The arrow soared through the air and struck its intended target – the thick rope holding onto a strange contraption, unique to this establishment, with wooden blades than spun lazily through the air. The rope snapped, and the heavy instrument fell, knocking into the dwarf’s shoulder and sending him to the ground, though it did not knock him out.
That was a mistake.
The dwarf stared at her, recognition sparked, and he bellowed toward the door, “SHE’S HERE!”
The spectacle served as enough of a distraction, though. Flash leapt from the shadows, his sights on the dwarf who was still stunned by Datatello’s flurry of blows. It was all he needed, taking two swipes, enough that the dwarf staggered away.
Ignoring his companion in need, the dwarf who had just yelled sprinted, or at least lunged forward. Brunhilde watched as the attacker, and her past, rushed to greet her. He didn’t make it to her, though, instead tripping. Her relief was short-lived, as behind came another attacker, this one wielding two axes, both of which came down swiftly and lodged deep in her chest.
She grunted, unable to pull away, then staggered when the dwarf ripped the blades back out. Pain blossomed, and she at first thought the shaking of the wooden planks beneath her were her imagination until she saw the hulking form coming through the doorway.
All patrons stopped and stared at the dwarf entering the coffee tavern, if one could still call this creature a dwarf. Parts of his body had been covered in ore, as if he had been dipped in molten metal and left to cool, or something blew up and fused to his skin. He turned to Trailblazer, “Traitors die a terrible death,” he rumbled.
Never one to standby, when the shock wore off, Datatello sprung into action, launching his magical rolling board at one of the stocky attackers who had hurt his friend. It did little to deter their enemy, but it was of little concern. He swung back with his hand, feeling the distinct crunch of crushing bone under his palm, followed by the sound of someone gasping for breath.
“Someone throw me an alley-oop!” the monk shouted.
For a breath, nothing happened. Then the half-orc, Sodak, popped out from a table, tossing a dart. Datatello spun, kicking the dart furiously. It turned and sped toward the new-comer, only to ping uselessly against the metal coating on his skin.
Bakaryu rushed past the remaining combatants, ignoring the dwarf that ran into her, only to bounce off again with a grimace. She inhaled deeply, rearing back, then opened her mouth again, a purple and blue cloud of writhing electricity spitting out at the intruder. The tendrils wrapped around him, sparking to life, then fizzling out. He choked for a moment, enough time for her to hurl a nearby table. He stood and shook off the energy in time to watch the table soar overhead and crash through the window behind him.
He ignored both attackers, his focus still intent on Brunhilde, as he took floor-rattling steps toward her.
“You are a disgrace to your kind,” he spat, “First you took the dishonorable path of a role not meant for you. Then you abandoned that path for an even less honorable path.”
“And now you sit in a tavern that does not even serve ale!”
“You have usurped your rightful place.”
“You are a crime with your very existence.”
As he approached, the remains of his face became clear, and Trailblazer realized who this dwarf was, why he was angry, rambling and intent on destroying her. Eric the Unready.
Maybe it was the pain or the blood loss, but all she could think to say was, “Eric, hey. How are you?”
He blinked at her, “I – what?”
It was enough time for her to take action. She kicked Datatello’s magical rolling board at him, as he took a step, hoping to trip him. His foot landed on the wooden board, and as he brought up his other foot, he lost his forward momentum, though not his balance. Brunhilde watched, as he rolled slowly back away from her, his low center of gravity keeping him upright, but the momentum of the board enough to carry him at least a few feet away.
Sodak, still peeking out from behind the table, stuck out a leg.
Eric toppled onto his back with a roar, and Trailblazer, eyes narrowed, swung out with her short sword at the closest thing still nearby, the dwarf who had nearly cleaved her. He grabbed at his throat and fell away.
Seeing his opportunity, Flash narrowed his eyes at the monstrosity on the floor. The metal and stone had him still prone, rolling in an effort to stand. Before he could, Flash moved with the speed he had been nicknamed for, trusty daggers in hand.
As the dwarf stood, Flash dropped, sliding past him on the floor to dig one biting dagger into the behemoth’s back.
Eric the Unready roared and swung back with his left arm. Flash ducked, leaning back and then lunging with his remaining blade, sliding it under the dwarf’s arm to lodge firmly in his chest. Eric stumbled back, gurgled, and then fell to the floor, unmoving.
The remaining dwarves took their cue, rushing out of the tavern.
Through the open door, they all saw it. Smoke and flames.
Moscone was burning.