Exferlin sat in the corner of the gloomy tavern, golden eyes scanning the loud, boisterous crowd for any sign of the Antraxian mercenaries that had been tailing him for the past week. He carefully sipped on a warm mug of ale, his half-elven ancestry preventing such meager fare from dulling his senses. Across the room, a group of dwarves were belting out the 10th (or was it 11th?) verse of some ancient battle song that involved the dwarven god of fire and a horde of stampeding goblins. Several other groups of humans were scattered about the room, none of which seemed to be interested in him. All in all, it was a typical Saturday night in Flotsam, the seaport town on the southwestern edge of the Inner Sea. Taking another drink of ale, he had just about decided his two hour vigil in the tavern common room could stand to be bolstered by a meal, when three men walked through the door.
They were human, Exferlin could tell that much. Dressed in dusty leather armor, they had the appearance of having been upon the road for weeks. Dirt and mud caked their insignia, but there was enough showing to make out the crest of the Inner Kingdoms. His heart rate picked up as they men stood in the doorway for a moment, scanning the crowd. Exferlin dipped his head, allowing his face and features to fall hidden by his hood. It was then that a shadow fell across his view and he looked up.
It was a human man, tall and wiry, with black hair and cracked leather armor. Blue eyes shined like pinpoints of ice and a long sword lay strapped in a sheathe across his back. The newcomer locked eyes with Exferlin for a moment and then said, “Friend, we might have a problem.”
“And what problem might that be sir? For I do not know you, nor do I count you friend or foe just yet,” Exferlin said, his voice barely audible above the din that had resumed as the men at the door made their way slowly towards the barkeep.
“If you will allow me to sit, good sir, I will explain,” the man said with a flourish, motioning at the empty seat across from Exferlin.
Exferlin nodded his head, absently dropping his hand to a small bag at his hip as he raised his mug and took a long drink. Exferlin wasn't much of a wizard, his human heritage stunting the influence of his elven ancestry, but he was mentally deciding which of his few spells he could afford to use up if this man turned out to be the distraction that the mercenaries who had just walked in would be looking for. Despite their appearance, the leather armor they wore was a dead giveaway, being of a style that was only made well within the borders of the Kingdom of Antrax. The faked Inner Kingdom insignia wasn't well done either.
The man dropped like a stone into the seat and glanced around. Zeroing in on Exferlin's gaze, he turned back and nodded gravely and said, “Yes, those men are the problem, wouldn't you say?”
Exferlin snapped back to the man and narrowed his gaze suspiciously. “And what would you know of my problems, sir? I do not know those men there and, since I do not know you, I fail to see how any problem of yours could possibly be of concern to me.” Exferlin attempted to put on the air of superiority that all elves were able to project like a wall around them. He'd never been much good at it and hadn't improved in the years since he'd been a servant in one of the great elven houses of Myth Drannor. A half breed, bastard child of the House Lord's only daughter, the product of a whirlwind romance that had ultimately left his father dead at a house guard's hands, and him given over to a kitchen servant to raise.
“My friend, do not lie. I am a student of faces, a broker of the emotions, and I saw clearly the concern in your eyes when those men walked through the door. Now, we both know they aren't Roderick's men, no Inner Kingdom fool would be this far out along the inner coast and none of his men would be caught dead in Antraxian leather.” Taking a drink from an ale mug that he deftly snatched from a passing serving girl, he continued. “Now, Antraxian mercenaries would only be this far north for a few reasons. Either old King Leriman has finally decided to make good on his threats and invade the Inner Kingdoms, or they've got a bounty. I'm guessing the latter, gauging from your reactions when they walked in, and by the fact you've been sitting here for a couple hours, drinking piss warm ale that can't get you drunk 'cause you're a half-elf.”
Exferlin sat, mouth open in astonishment. This stranger, whomever he was, had nailed the situation quite thoroughly. There was indeed a bounty on his head, the same bounty pronounced two years earlier by his former master when he'd caught him with a minor book of spells and cantrips. Servants weren't allowed to study the mystical arts in elven society, especially half-breeds. He'd been fortunate enough to escape the executioners ax the next morning, helped by a few fellow servants who despised their masters as much as they revered them. He'd found out a few moths later about the bounty, after mercenaries had tried to capture, then kill him, outside a Waterdeep hotel. He'd decided then to stay on the move and spent the last few years wandering the Inner Kingdoms and keeping an eye out for the mercenaries that he knew would never give up. Now, here was a total stranger who'd deduced so much about him simply by watching as he watched the rest of the room.
“No need to confirm anything, the look on your face is enough.” The man finished his mug and cast about for the closest serving girl. Placing another order, he continued on. “Now, under normal circumstances, I'd have let things go their course. You look as though you haven't the real need for my help and, judging by the fact that you haven't cut and run, you've had more than one run in with these fellows.” The serving girl brought him another mug and he smiled, as if it was the finest of elven wines. “However, there is another factor which I think you might be able to appreciate.”
“And what might that be?” Exferlin asked, his eyes drawn back to the mercenaries at the end of the bar.
“Why, the fact that I, too, have a bounty on my head, redeemable by those fine sell-swords over there.” Swallowing a entirely unbelievable amount of ale, he went on. “The elven lords have not taken...kindly...to my recent excursions in their land. One of them has decided to take my most recent visit there personally and has pronounced a rather disgustingly large bounty for the return of my head. Dreadfully rude, considering the current state of race relations.” He shook his head sadly and took another drink.
“Yes, I can see where that would cause difficulties.” Exferlin sighed and weighed his options. To simply stand and leave would mean alerting the mercenaries to his presence and a likely messy bar battle, which would end with all parties in the Flotsam jail and likely with the two of them handed over officially to the Antraxians. The other was to let this fellow keep talking and, hopefully, escape the mercenaries notice long enough to slip out the back door.
“Yes, quite.” The man stated flatly. “I have a plan to get us both out of here, if you'd like to hear it.”
“Not saying you are right about me...but, hypothetically, suppose you were. In that case, I'd be inclined to listening to such a plan......hypothetically speaking, of course.” Exferlin smiled and waited.
“Excellent!” The smile on the mans face was so broad, Exferlin wondered if the top of his head was going to fall off. “Now, it seems to me that we will need some kind of distraction.” Glancing around the room he said, “Think you could get to the fireplace without them noticing you?”
Exferlin studied the room for a moment and then nodded.
“Again, excellent!” The man reached into a backpack that Exferlin hadn't noticed before and brought out a small black object and began, “ OK, take this.....”
The man's words were drowned out by a sudden roaring sound, like a thousand animals all calling and crying at once. The moment of silence was followed by a loud crash as the front window of the tavern suddenly exploded into a million pieces. Something shot through the room, taking the table that Exferlin and the other man sat at with it as it crashed into the far wall. Wood splinters flew as the table disintegrated and the room was left gaping at the destruction.
As everyone in the room watched, the mound of debris moved and a small man emerged, no taller than 3 or 4 feet and sporting a bright blue set of robes. His white hair stood out from either side of his head like shocks of hay bound and lying in a harvest field. He appeared to be a human, although Exferlin had never seen a full blood human so short. Dusting himself off, the little man glanced about and, with a smile, reached down and swept a large pointed hat that matched his robes onto his head.
Spying Exferlin, the man's smile broadened and he made straight for their table, all eyes in the room watching in stunned silence.
“Greetings, Mighty Exferlin, slayer of Ngrissxxyaxx....” The man trailed off, his face suddenly confused. “No, no, that's not right, not yet anyway....” he muttered as he looked for all the world like a child who had gotten lost at a fair. The frown suddenly dissipated, replaced by another wide grin. “No matter! I am here!” Sweeping his arms wide, he proclaimed, “I, the Dungeon Master have come to....” He trailed off again, looking flustered. With a puzzled look, he glanced about furiously and then said, “Say, this doesn't look like the Mines of Arotosh....”
“This is Flotsam, you idiot!” a random voice from the room shouted. It had not been lost on Exferlin that the mercenaries at the bar had taken notice of the old man mentioning his name. Exferlin didn't want to fight here, but now it looked as if he may have no choice.
One of the mercenaries stepped forward and stated loudly, “This man is wanted by the Elven Kingdoms for treason and base treachery...”
His words were cut off by a spitoon that had suddenly flown across the room and struck the mercenary in the back of the head. He crumpled to the floor as his companions looked from the old man, who stood with a grin on his face and his hand in the air, and back to their unconscious leader on the floor.
“That's quite enough of that,” the old man said. “Seems I'm a bit early.” He gathered himself and drew close to Exferlin and the man sitting with him. “Have you even told him your name yet?” He asked the man.
“Ummm...” The man stammered.
“No matter!” cried the little old man. “Exferlin, this is....well....you can just call him Thief. That's as good a name as any.”
“Hey...” began the Thief....
“Shush!” The Dungeon Master snapped. “I've been rehearsing this for a month! Now look! I've gotten here early and spoiled it!” The old man sighed and looked distraught. He snorted angrily and reached into his robes, pulling out a parchment. “Fine! Here, here is your quest.” He held the parchment out towards Exferlin. When Exferlin didn't immediately take it, he shook it angrily and said again, “I said...HERE IS YOUR QUEST!”
Exferlin had not taken his attention from the two mercenaries still standing at the bar. As one reached for a dagger, Exferlin flicked his wrist and muttered an incantation. Both men at the bar fell fast asleep and, inwardly, he celebrated. Outwardly, he turned a cool look to the little old man and said, “Look sir, I don't know anything about a quest. I'm just a traveler....”
“Nonsense!” the little old man cried. “You are Exferlin of Myth Drannor, half-breed son of Algaranna Starside....” The old man's words were cut off by Exferlin's sword at his throat.
“Have a care old man. Use not those names with me,” Exferlin snarled.
“Umm, well, yes, I,...umm...” the old man stammered. “At any rate, this is your quest, the one you should have been given in the mines...which I've totally messed up now. God, the union is gonna have a cow over this...” The old man trailed off, looking worried.
At this point the Thief looked and pointed at the sleeping mercenaries on the floor. “Gentlemen, I do believe those fellows there are waking up. And I, for one, have no desire to be here when they wake up.” He glanced at the crowd, who had scarcely moved during the entire exchange. Lowering his voice, he added, “ And...this crowd is mesmerized but that won't last. How many of these men here will let two bounties pass by them once they wake up to that fact?”
Exferlin thought. Yes, getting out of here was a good idea. And he was dying to hear this little fellow out, at least for a little longer. There were the stirring mercenaries to consider. Stay much longer and he'd need to deal with them again, and this time he'd have to use his sword. The few more spells he knew weren't exactly combat magic. There was also the fact that the door to the tavern stood wide open and there was no reason he couldn't walk right out, get his horse and ride on out of town. He was torn. What to do??
If you want Exferlin to go with the thief and hear the Dungeon Master out, comment “Leave With”,
If you want Exferlin to stay in the tavern and deal with the mercenaries, comment “STAY”
If you want Exferlin to to tell the Dungeon Master and the Thief to go screw themselves, comment “Leave w/o”
This is my first attempt at a “twist-a-plot” style story, where you, the reader, decide where the story goes. I will try to keep each section short and will take your comments, as described above, to decide the next step in the story.
I will tally the comments and write the next section based on what you, the reader, want Exferlin to do on March 2nd, 2018.
I hope this is something that will catch on and maybe I can do other stories in other settings. Let me know what you think.