“You think this will work, Krecdax?”
The young gnome eyed his halfling companion over the dust covered bar of the abandoned tavern. “Don’t know. Don’t care.”
“If we get this open, we might be able to save the Dragon.”
Krecdax glanced at the cracked door, the gutted stone fireplace, the rotting roof beams. “I don’t know, kid, maybe it’s time for the Dragon to die. It had a good run, for a tavern, but it’s seen better days.”
“But what if that locket holds untold riches? Or a treasure map? Think of the opportunity! Think of the -“
“Don’t say it.” Krecdax came to the Gold Dragon Inn in its heyday. Some words held more danger than others.
“Think of the adventure!”
Adventure. Folks had gone out on normal bounties and come back not quite right. Not just in the half-orc-got-lycanthropy way either. People’s personalities changed for days, sometimes weeks at a time, and then they’d just sit silently in the corner until a new bounty came in. Not just that, but interacting with them got weird. Krecdax swore sometimes he’d have the same conversations with them two, maybe three times, long pauses and fumbling words that he’d both remember and not remember. Happened the most with folks that got real strong, real fast.
“Four of them.” Krecdax mumbled. “Almost always four of them.”
“Sorry, kid, can’t be an adventure. Not enough of us.”
The halfling, carrying a sword taller than himself, rolled his eyes. “An adventure is an adventure. Doesn’t matter if it’s just the two of us.”
“He’s right, you know. There’s power in the number four. Dangerous to go with less.”
Krecdax turned slowly to the cobweb covered bar. He hadn’t heard that voice in years. Not since one party headed to an orc camp and never really returned. The day the Dragon started dying.
“Hello, barkeep.” Krecdax said to the plain looking man polishing a pewter mug. “I see your hat’s back.”
The large yellow hat atop the man’s head flickered to translucence for a moment before solidifying. “For now, it seems.”
Krecdax’s stomach tightened. This man, more than any other, changed by the week, changed enough to be an avatar of some mad god. His appearance always meant trouble. But not anymore. The Dragon had died.
“I’m not just going to stand here, Krec,” the halfling said. “I’m going to do something about it.”
“Good luck, kid.” Krecdax said as the innkeeper placed a fresh mug of ale on the polished bar in front of him.
As the halfling passed through the front door, a half orc dressed in fine robes stepped inside.
“Greetings! I’m a warlock. I seek a new adventuring party because my previous mercenary company constantly put themselves in danger just to prove a point.”
The stilted way she said this sent a shiver down Krecdax’s spine. Memories of madness.
“I’m Krecdax,” he said. “Tracker. Not much adventure here.”
“If there’s no adventure, may I join you for a drink?”
The bartender set a freshly polished mug in front of the seat next to Krecdax.
“Sure, I guess.”
Before her ass hit the barstool, the barkeep poured another two mugs and set them in front of the seats on either side. Four. No. No no no.
Krecdax stood. He turned to the door, no longer cracked and faded. In stepped another half-orc, this one clad in austere robes.
“Hello, friends! I have traveled far from my monastery in a small border town. The villagers drove me off because I refused to recognize the social construct of gender.”
Too much information for an introduction. Krecdax felt like he’d been punched in the head. “Krecdax. Tracker. Charmed locket.”
He took a staggering step towards the front door. If only he could make it out, he might not get caught up in this madness
“A charmed locket, you say? Sounds right up my alley,” said a gruff voice near the back door of the inn.
The voice belonged to a dwarf wearing threadbare robes, carefully sewn patches covering the worst of the holes. The stout wizard carefully avoided the roaring fire at the center of the common room, almost bumping into a barmaid carrying a tray full of mugs and steaming hot food.
Krecdax motioned the dwarf over, uncertain why he’d been standing. He spoke to his companions as quietly as he could and still be heard over the bustle of the well lit common room. He could trust his friends, but he didn’t need to broadcast this to the other patrons.
“The locket’s not with me now. My impatient halfling friend charged off with it on his own a few hours ago. I fear he may be in danger. I can track him, but I need help.
The others quickly offered their aid. It was good to have such friends, such trustworthy companions. Krecdax frowned for a moment. Something felt wrong. He looked towards the busy barkeep. The human’s eyes flashed gold, just for a moment. Krecdax smiled, unable to remember what had been bothering him.
“To Adventure!” he cried. His party picked up the cheer.
All around them, the Gold Dragon Inn, once discarded and dilapidated, now pulsed with life. Somewhere, on a distant plane the mad gods smiled, their laughter drowning out the distant rolling of dice.