The Duel VI

Tales of the Dungeon Mistress


Accipiter G. Goshawk

This story continues form where it left off in The Duel V

The last to find a die was Weird Ivy. She was the town recluse, but even she had her character sheet, neatly folded in a soft leather satchel.

“I don’t think I remember the last time I played as Skirrv,” she murmured thoughtfully, as she shuffled towards the other players at the table.

The Dungeon Mistress smiled, as each player presented their precious character sheet. Every inhabitant of the Blasted Suburbs filled one out as soon as they were old enough to write. They then spent years modifying, perfecting and updating them, in the hopes of one day being chosen to play in a Game.

Weird Ivy’s Skirrv was a squirrel-folk rogue, with an obsession for fine foods and delicate wines. He was a connoisseur of all the good things in life, and always wore a scarlet velvet overcoat and a heavy silver pocket watch. From behind her screen, the Dungeon Mistress observed Ivy as she described her character with a verve that surprised her fellow citizens.

“I wonder what happened to her,” she thought to herself, taking note of the shabby, ragged clothing and comparing it to the pristine, leather-bound character sheet and backstory the old woman was clutching.

Nuri’s character was a troll barbarian by the name of Gunbo Fleck. A brutish, unsubtle fellow. But contrary to his species reputation, he was a kind-hearted soul who would do anything in exchange for a smile. Nuri’s spectacles slowly slid along his nose as he stood up on the bench and imitated Gunbo’s slouching posture, toothy grin and haphazard diction. The people who had chosen to follow this half of the competition howled with laughter at the sight of their librarian jumping around like a rowdy monkey.

Twelve-year old Jack was initially a little shy and self-conscious after Nuri’s performance, but quickly recovered and presented Alar’kela, an elven paladin. Raised to be a farmer, she had heeded the call to adventure and had set out into the world to rid it of all evil-doers and monsters. She had also sworn to never kill a living being.

“And she really means it,” he added, eyeing the Dungeon Mistress fiercely.

“I’m sure she does,” she said gravely. “It is a hard road Alar’kela travels, but without a doubt a most worthy one. Fear not: there is no need for killing in this Game.”

From the other side of broken staircase, somebody scoffed loudly.

“And what of you, Helem?” she asked, ignoring her adversary.

Helem’s character was a gnomish bard by the name of Trevor Korkorav. They delighted in entertaining anyone who would take the time to sit and listen. They sang, played the lute, the harp, the accordion and the bagpipes. Their greatest secret was that they had never fallen in love with anyone, believing to be ugly. So, their heart’s desire was to find someone that would see and touch their soul, as no one ever had.

“Perhaps then, dear Trevor, you will find what you seek in the lands we shall travel,” the Mistress said with a wink. Helem blushed and mumbled something for a moment, then went quiet.

The next to speak was Kerna. She pulled out an old, crinkly sheet of paper. Then a second and a third. Finally, she opened a small booklet, which was filled with a beautiful, elegant script.

“I will be playing Nuthrun, a draconic wizard. She…she is…” she faltered, bowed her head and grew silent. She took a few shuddering breaths and then a deeper one. When her head finally came back up, her eyes were shining.

“She is strong, kind, clever. She loves to knit and make things with her hands. She loves the smell of pine and she has a bad foot. She has a wooden cane for that. Her…her daughter made it for her.”

The Dungeon Mistress nodded as she pointed towards a lovely cherry cane lying on the bench, carved to look like an owl’s head at the top. “A bit like that one?” she asked gently.

“Yeah,” hiccupped the large woman, her dark skin and hair glowing in the solemn firelight. She let one hand fall to stroke the walking stick, and the tears she had been holding back fell freely.

“Our characters come from who we are, from the people we know. And love. There is a place for everyone in this story. Even those who we think have left us.”

The Mistress moved out from behind her screen and gently hugged the cook. Nobody said a word as she held her for a few minutes. When she finally let go, Kerna was smiling.

“Thank you,” she said in a voice like horn-song, “for your words and for your kindness. Nuthrun was my mother’s character. I kept her after my mother passed, last autumn. I’ve changed her somewhat, to make her more like mom.”

The Dungeon Mistress smiled and took a tear from the cook’s face and placed it on her own. “Both Nuthrun and your mother are welcome to this Game, Kerna. I will try to weave a story worthy of the amazing woman they both are.”

Kerna nodded, and her smile widened, beneath a small veil of tears.

The Mistress turned to Old Harry and beamed.

“Well Harry? What do you have for us?”

The foreman was still ecstatic: in his mind he was still relieving the moment when he’d picked the first bone die. He’d been so flustered, that he’d immediately run home to tell his husband. They’d spent a good hour looking over his character sheet and going through their rooms to find their good dice set.

“My character is called Orgodjom, if it please you, tale-spinner,” he garbled happily.

Orgodjom was a being made of crystal and light. Fascinated with all things mechanical, he had devoted himself to science and the arcane from an early age and was now an artificer of some renown. Most of his inventions had become extensions of his own crystalline form, which he had learned to grown and extend. He fought with light and for the Light.

“He does however have a small weakness. Ahem, he’s really bad at money you see, and loves all things shiny or clever. Be they true artifacts or just junk.” The last words were almost apologetic but elicited a peal of laughter from his teammates. He joined in and his voice rang out in the large space like church bell.

Slowly, their laughter died away, and their gaze was drawn to the hooded figure behind the screen.

“My dear players. Thank you for bringing such amazing characters to my Game. I shall do my very best to honour both them and you. Now, the time for introductions has passed. Let me take you to a land far away from Flattop. A land of swamps, lagoons and pirate nobility. A land threatened by a sinister plot and a shadowy puppet master…”

Her words drew them beyond the town cave, and into themselves, where dreams and stories dwelled. –

The story continues in Part VII…

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