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XII. At Vladimir and Audrey’s

 

1.

I’m expecting Club Six South, or maybe Sleepy’s Deep. Instead, it’s that dive bar by the East Gate, the one which changes ownership and name every couple of years and no one remembers its name anyway. The dive. The place where people go when they just want to indulge their alcoholism without being bothered by someone else’s party.

Of course, Vladimir’s has a name everyone knows, and its owners, who are reputed to be a Guardian (Vladimir) married to a Time Warrior (Audrey), haven’t stopped being its owners in the past several centuries. There he is behind the bar, a big man with a thin reddish beard, wearing a stained tunic with an apron over it. There she is, in and out of the little back room with plates of food or wine bottles, a not-short, not-skinny woman with tousled reddish hair reaching down around her collar bone, in a once-nice dress and a necklace with an eye-catching diamond. No doubt it has some powerful magic in it, but what really catches the eye is the ring on her finger. So, yes, she is a Time Warrior.

The bar stretches most of the length of the left side of the room, maybe thirty feet, with twelve stools. There are eight little square tables crowded in the middle and along the right wall. There is a tiny space for a few people to set up and play music at the far right corner, but no one is there now. Six of the eight tables and eight of the twelve bar seats are taken. Unlike the dive at the end of town, these people are not dead-enders drinking themselves into oblivion. No, these are driven, successful adventurers drinking themselves into oblivion. Of course half of them aren’t human, and that’s counting Elves and Dwarves as human, which Elves and Dwarves would find offensive.

There are old grizzled warriors, and one table of old grizzled wizards. A guy who looks like the Archbishop of Thomasport is sitting with three Amazon warriors. There are three ogres hunched over the bar; the last person along turns out to be a smallish giantess. At the corner table to our right as we come in are two leering demons, a gal who must be a vampire and a greenish dude with tentacles around his face. They’re playing cards.

“That would be a mind flayer,” Zelin whispers in my ear. But I’m not looking at them. I’m watching Audrey, arguably the most normal-looking person in the room, except for that big fat gold ring with a greyish gem the size of a sparrow.

I’ve seen a time warrior ring before. But I don’t realize that until just now.

Professor Shmoke has one. That’s what that ring is, his only ring. It’s much like hers, but with a purple gem, a sort of dark amethyst. That he only wears one ring when most wizards sport at least four is always a topic of discussion at the Institute. But no one ever said, “He’s a Time Warrior, you know.” Why would a Time Warrior be teaching History of Magic at the Insmoor Magic Institute? Well, why would a Time Warrior be delivering a plate of nachos to two demons, a vampiress and a mind flayer fourteen levels deep in Valen Dungeon?

“Tables over there,” says Lali. “Excuse me. Can we put these tables together?”

“Oh, certainly, dear,” says Audrey, not stopping as she passes. “Pitchers and glasses? Bottles of wine?”

“Your best ale,” says Fenric amiably.

“Two pitchers,” says Audrey, already behind the bar. “We only have our best, dear.”

“Am I allowed to say,” asks Othgar the Gnome, “that this is your first time here? Do you mind if I say that aloud?”

“You’re an old hand, I guess,” says Padric.

“My mates and I have a place you can get to off Level Ten,” the gnome replies. “Stop by any time, just mention my name, presuming that by that time they know I’m still alive. Don’t want to shock my brethren: most gnomes don’t react well to pleasant surprises. Anyway,” and he leans over the table in a way that makes all the rest of us do the same, “I guess I’ll have a beer or two and head home, but before I do, I suppose you want the lowdown on local dragons?”

“Yes, actually,” says Fenric. “Those two we saw—?”

“Those are both wandering cave dragons. Cave dragons are stupid, they have the brains of a reptile. But they’re fire breathers, so they can be quite dangerous. But, you, you are looking for a dragon with some sort of treasure.

The party manages to all look at one another, except that I’m still watching Audrey move about the bar, and Glee Fredkin is still just in awe or something.

“It’s fair to say,” replies Zelin, “that we are looking for treasure.”

“And you consider that you lot are ready to take on the type of dragon that would sit atop a major hoard?” He looks around; so does everyone else, including me and Glee. At the next table, a beautiful witch with long silvery hair, in a classic witch hat and a black bikini, raises a bored eyebrow at us. We lean back together.

“No,” and “Yes,” various of us say: Lali and Fenric are in the Yes column, while Zelin, Jan, Lucette and Gurth are all No. “It’s not a simple question,” says Zelin.

“We’re gonna lose a few people,” says Lucette. “But then me and Daisy will be up for Sorceress and—!”

“Make room, dears,” says Audrey, plunking down ten mugs and two pitchers of coppery ale. That left hand with that big ring is right in my face. As everyone else is thanking her, I’m thinking of the color I want my gem to be.

 

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