An Espresso Tale
Accipiter G. Goshawk
Some characters have a tendency to stick around, even when you think you’re finished with them.
The Dungeon Mistress from “Dungeons in the Wasteland” is one such case. As soon as I finished writing the tale, I knew she was probably going to come back.
Here then, is her origin story.
Her master’s words rattled through her mind as she banged about in the back of the rusty old pick-up truck. A slanting beam of deadly sunlight peaked through a crack in the tarp, and she quickly moved her foot away, to avoid getting burned.
“You will be taken to the World-Building. You will reach it at nightfall. There you will meet the first of us; he waits for you in the ruins. He shall test you. If you succeed, you will receive your bandoleer and take up the mantle of Dungeon Mistress.”
He hadn’t specified what would happen should she fail.
They drove over a rock and she bounced again, her hands rubbing uncomfortably against the rope that bound them. She wiggled backwards towards the front of the truck, where the movement was less pronounced and where she could be farther from the beam of light.
She coughed a little, as another puff of the poisonous dust that covered the Wasteland filtered into the enclosed space. This was of course, all part of the test: if tonight she succeeded, she would walk in places far more hostile than this.
She closed her eyes and calmed her breathing. Her pulse slowed, and she began to take in less air. Her nose barely moved, and slowly she entered a deep state of trance. The ancient road tumbled away beneath her, and the cruel sun shone above. She became ignorant to it all. No heat, or dust or movement could touch her. She was far away, lost in the intricacies of a Game she was planning; lost in some NPC’s head or in the features of some verdant otherworld.
The truck ground to a halt, and her eyes fluttered open.
The sun had set. Her breath came from her in small puffs of mist, and she found herself shivering under the tarp.
Footsteps moved around the vehicle and Gurno’s shiny bald head appeared, as he lifted the heavy material.
“Good, you’re still with us. Here, take these. Bundle up, and when you’re ready, come on out. No rush now; the night is young.” He passed her a pack and a knife, then closed the opening.
She quickly cut the ropes and extracted the heavier clothes from the pack. She trembled as she pulled on her boots and heavy desert coat, and then sighed as warmth began to return to her shaking limbs. Last but not least, she pulled on her wool cap and goggles. Then, kissing her lucky D20, she lifted the tarp and stepped out into the Wasteland.
Gurno was standing next to the ruin of an old building, warming his hands over a small fire he had built. She stopped a moment, admiring the light dancing off the older Dungeon Master’s bandoleer of chance. Countless dice glittered in the firelight, and cast their colours on to the rusted metal construction.
“Welcome to the World-Building,” Gurno said, stretching out a burly arm to hand her a steaming cup of broth. “The Master is inside and below. When you are ready, you can go in. No rush,” he added eyeing her for a moment.
She smiled at the big man, trying to express in one gesture the gratitude for years of friendship and guardianship. He beamed back and winked, his grey eyebrows descending to meet his beard.
“Any advice? Any tips?” she asked, eyeing the broken opening to the building.
He extracted a small bar of food and chewed on it for a moment.
“Not really,” he said at last looking up at the sky. “It’s different fro everyone. You will either find the strength within yourself, or you won’t. There isn’t a trick to it: either you do, or you don’t.”
She shivered again.-