The Phoenix Tavern
A Tale of DDO
The tavern was busy. Patrons crowded the bar and huddled in standing groups all the way to the back. Every table was occupied -- round ones, square ones, a long rectangular one surrounded by two dozen chairs, and all were filled with people, a drink in hand.
“It’s so crowded, Grandma Door,” she said.
“Taverns always are at this hour, child.”
A man missing his left eye turned Mary’s way. The skin around his onyx eye patch looked like it had been raked with a sharp fork, the multiple scar lines cut into the skin at a slant. He arched the eyebrow over his one good eye at Mary. Had he heard her speak? Mary was not sure. And if so, had he heard her or Grandma Door’s voice come out of her mouth? Mary could never tell, but from the look the man shot her she supposed it was something of the sort. Looking back at the one-eyed man and not watching where she was going, she stumbled into a Halfling. Mumbling apologies, she moved away from him and his annoyed stare.
The deeper into the tavern Mary moved, the more doors opened and closed in her head. The dead wanted a peek at what was going on within the Phoenix Tavern. She winced and jolted to a stop as five doors opened and closed at once in her mind: KaBAAM! It startled her and she twitched. “BELLY UP TO THE BAR!” bellowed a deep bass voice out of Mary’s mouth. People around her turned. They looked aghast and bewildered at the deep male sound that had emanated from the small, filthy girl with the matted white hair. Several stepped back. “WHERE IN THE NAME OF THE SIX DOES A MAN GET A DRINK IN THIS PLACE?” said the door, said the spirit of a long dead warrior from Cyre out of Mary’s mouth. She could see him in her mind’s eye, tall and willowy, proud in his armor. He had ruddy cheeks and laugh lines around the eyes. She pulled at her own hair and said, “Hush door, people will see.”
People did see.
They stared at her as she gradually made her way to the back of the tavern. They looked surprised. They looked amused. Some cast looks of pity her way, some looks of disgust. People tut-tutted and shook their heads in disbelief. Others looked away quickly when Mary turned their way, and still some stared too long at her as she moved on past; so many watched the girl that lived in the graveyard come to move among them. Mary looked up at the adults all around her as she waded through the crowded room. She gripped the fabric of her tattered rags tightly in her dirty little fists, trying to deal with the rushing around inside her mind as spirits jostled and crowded, pushed and bullied, argued and snapped at one another behind her nervously darting eyes.
Two men at a table beside her jumped up to fight. Their chairs banged back and hit the floor. The loud crash sent Mary skittering to get out of the way. The man nearer to her struck first. It was a powerful punch. Blood spots struck Mary’s cheek. She blinked and reached up to feel the wetness there. The other man, the one hit, recovered his balance and lunged across at his opponent. And then everyone was yelling and calling and swearing. Mary was pushed back by the sudden crowd. People made a large circle around the fighting men to watch. She was squeezed back against the wall as the crowd of viewers grew. She bit her lip and squinted in pain from the doubling of pressure in her head. Like the living, the dead wanted to see. whamwhamWhamWHAMWHAMM! Her doors opened.
Mary went rigid, jaw clenched, her eyes bulged and spittle coated the corners of her lips as the spirits piled in. They all wanted to speak at once: “I CANNOT BLOODY SEE!” boomed a deep, barrel like voice. “This place is a nest of thieves and liars and Harbor scum,” said the voice of an ancient woman, so frail sounding and old it was sad. “I’m afraid and want to go home,” piped the voice of a tiny girl no more than four. “I’LL KILL YOU ALL TO GET MY ORB BACK,” said a tenor voice in a nasally whine. Mary gagged and coughed, shook her head and spoke again. “NIGHTS TREES TICK TOC BLUE BLACK RED ROCK,” screamed out a mad boy’s voice from within her. “STOPITSTOPITSTOPITSTOPIT!” blurted out a woman’s voice after that. Mary rocked her head from side to side, her young face contorting to match the dominant voice in control with each exhaled sentence. “Kill him! Kill him! Kill Him! KILL HIM! KILL HIM! KILLHIMKILLHIMKILLHIM!!!” blurted out a wild woman’s voice in a long horrid screech. Spittle ran down Mary’s chin, her fingers cramped into crooked claws, and her chest heaved.
Over from her, fists struck again and again. Furniture smashed in a cacophony of noise, a body landed hard on the floor. Four City Guard and two Paladins of the Silver Flame waded in and broke apart the men. Abruptly, the only sound in the room was the murmurs of disappointed onlookers, heavy breathing…and Mary.
Those watching the fight turned around.
The Paladins and City Guard stopped and stared. The two brawling men in their clutches, now bloody and breathing hard, stared. Cog, the Warforged bartender, put down his glass, blinked once and stared. Mary’s face was a warring mask, each expression that of someone else. It was like watching milk-white tar shape itself into first a grimace of disgust, and then a face of scorn, a mask of pain, a rictus of sorrow, a façade of terror, and a visage of anger -- her war within manifesting out.
A voice laughed softly from Mary not her own: “We’re going to get you! We’re going to get you! “WE’RE GOING TO GET YOU!” She smiled evilly, wrung her hands, and dropped her head down shyly. In one breath her head popped up and her face looked different. The next voice said, “EVERYONE IS STARING. WHY ARE THEY STARING? WE ARE THEM. BRETHREN, WE ARE THE FORGOTTEN HOARD.” And another, this voice soft and calm and caring said, “The child is ours. Our Princess come to pull us from the forever black, from the depths of not.” Mary turned around in place. Mary growled.
The customers in the Phoenix Tavern backed up. The circle was now around Mary, but it widened. She stepped into their center. “So many heroes, so many walking dead,” spoke a voice that wheezed and rattled like an old man with a bad throat. People inhaled in fear, in surprise, is stunned disbelief. Laughter poured out of Mary in three voices. She leaned over from the pressure. Her head snapped up, her wild eyes looking at those nearest. “I have the secret,” spoke a scratchy baritone male voice. He giggled and shouted, “ZERO, ONE, ONE, TWO, THREE, FIVE, EIGHT, THIRTEEN, TWENTY-ONE, THIRTY-FOUR, FIFTY-FIVE…IT’S THE SOURCE! THE SOURCE OF MAGIC. THE KEY. CAN YOU NOT HEAR IT? IT’S HIDDEN IN THE NUMBERS, HIDDEN IN THE DESIGN…” and then more mad laughter. Mary bent over in pain, clawed at herself, at her face, and pulled at her own hair.
Several people in the tavern braved a step and moved closer.
Cemetery Mary’s head popped up. She gazed around at her audience. Her arm came up and she pointed accusingly at an old man in the crowd. He blinked and looked around; making sure it was he she gestured towards. “Taneran,” said a man’s voice from Mary. “I knew you would be here tonight. You drank too much then and you drink too much now.”
“What? How do you know my name?” said the old man called Taneran. He puffed up his chest, adjusted his sword belt. He was an old Fighter that still wanted to show he had fire.
“Know your name?” asked the voice from Mary’s mouth. Mary stepped one step closer. “Know your name? The man that took my wife. The man that was my closest friend, my best mate. The man who took my gold and my treasure and my love. THE MAN WHO STOLE MY LIFE! How could I forget? I know where you put my bones, Taneran. I know why you hid me away. Where is the Dagger of Ranilesh, Taneran? Where is the Shield of Kell-re-Set? Where is all MY TREASURE?”
The color in the old man’s face drained away. He shook his head in denial. He backed into the crowd behind him, met the wall of bodies there and pushed and scooted with his boots against the wooden floor trying for purchase.
Mary’s body came off the ground, hovered. People let out gasps of surprise. In one heartbeat her tiny form rushed across the floor at the old man. Her feet floated two feet above the boards. People shrieked and swore. “I WILL HAVE MY VENGENCE, TANERAN. I WILL MAKE YOU PAY! THERE WILL BE A RECKONING! DO YOU HEAR? DO YOU HEAR ME, OLD MAN? I KNOW WHERE MY BONES ARE HIDDEN! I KNOW. I KNOW. I’M COMING FOR YOU, TANERAN.”
A Cleric rushed down the ramp behind the crowd, moving as fast as she could from the loft area above. She had short blonde hair, a pretty face. Her robes dragged over the filthy floor boards and she pushed and shoved her way towards Mary.
“Let me by! Please, let me by. I know her. I know this child,” she said.
Mary lifted a hand over the sobbing old man, Taneran. The man’s voice speaking through her began mumbling the words to a spell, but then a hand was pulling Mary back, pulling her down.
Mary was in a sea of moving ink. She could hear the voices coming from her mouth, feel their urgency and need to speak; they pushed her out. She felt good ghosts and bad inside, spirits full of happiness and spirits full of pain, and all fought for room. One violent apparition zoomed in and pushed the others back in his rage. He boomed and ranted and screamed. Mary felt his hate well up inside her like bubbles on lava. And then there was a voice outside of her. It was familiar. It was nice. It chanted something and all the doors began to close in Mary’s head. The voice was far away but sweet, calling from the top of a cliff, the top of a tall well.
And then only black.
“Child? Dear heart? You are safe now. Let my words lead you back. Listen to me, dear heart. Follow the sound,” said a familiar female voice. It was a gentle voice. It sounded like tinkling water on rocks.
Mary opened her eyes and saw a ceiling above soiled in oily black stains from ages of burning lamps. The ceiling was made of wooden slats, some were warped with age. A face came into view. A pretty blond woman looked down at her. The woman had big blue eyes that sparkled wet with tears of concern. Her lips were a tiny pink flower bud of worry. She whispered words and white light floated around her fingers and tiny tendrils of gold wiggling things landed on Mary. They made her feel like she was floating on a boat, and very calm. Mary rose up and saw she was on the floor on her back. How long had she been out?
“Pretty Eyes? How long was I out?”
“Long enough to worry me greatly, dear heart.”
“I’m sorry,” said Mary. “I was talking with Grandma Door when I walked in here and then things got…got…”
“Hush now, child. It is past,” said Pretty Eyes, said the Cleric named Nuadia.
“Drink this,” said a man’s voice.
Mary turned and saw Intayazz behind her holding out a steaming cup. “It’s tea,” he said, “for strength.
Mary took the offered cup and smiled. She looked around. All the familiar faces were near. Nalinor smiled at her from just behind Nuadia. Nklos looked down from the table. Points and Valianna were staring her way. A big pink and black Warforged was looking at Mary. If a Warforged could look concerned, this one did so now.
“This is why I don’t leave the graveyard,” mumbled Mary in her own voice.
Nalinor laughed. “It’s nice to see you too.”
Mary’s heart sank. “No! I don’t mean it like that.”
Nuadia put a hand on her chest. “He is only teasing. He knows what you meant.”
Nalinor smiled and winked.
“Oh, all right. I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about, girl. You put a touch of fear into a few of the small-minded and superstitious. They need a jolt once a while, anyway,” said Points.
Mary smiled at the Elf but didn’t feel that she agreed. Why did she leave Delera’s and come out into the world? Why? She knew better. The doors always acted badly with lots of people near. She sipped her tea. The warmth traveled down and spread out behind her ribs. It felt wonderful, and it tasted of lemon and honey.
“Thank you all for helping me…again,” said Mary. She looked down at her feet meekly. I should go before my doors get restless.” She looked up and blinked. “I’m talking in my own voice a lot!” She looked at Nuadia. “Pretty Eyes, why can’t I hear my doors?”
Nuadia helped her stand. “The spell will last a few hours. It is to help calm you and give you peace.”
Mary felt strange. She said, “It feels good and bad.”
“Child?” asked Nuadia.
Mary bit her lip, tried to think of a way to describe it. “Good in the way my body gets so tired from all the doors trying to take a turn at once, because they are not trying to right now. But bad like…um…like lonely. It’s so quiet.”
Intayazz laughed. “I bet it is. That’s a good thing, right?”
Mary looked at him oddly. “I should go,” she said. “Everybody is frightened of me.”
“Nonsense, girl,” said Nklos from the table. “You only just arrived.”
“It is true, dear heart. You must sit with us and tell us how you’ve been.” Nuadia led her to the table, pulled out a chair.
“Besides,” Nalinor said, “those two Silver Flame Paladins were taking a bit too much of an interest in how you can talk to spirits and how they also like to talk out through you.”
“Silver Flame? What’s Silver Flame?” asked Mary.
“What’s the Silver Flame?” asked Nklos in exasperation. He looked around at the others at the table. “I swear it is like this child fell from the sky.”
Nuadia passed Mary some food and said, “The Silver Flame is another organization like mine, child. They are a bit…difficult when it comes to things like your gift.”
Nklos snorted. “Difficult is one word for them.”
“I have a few words describing them but we have a child sitting at our table at the moment,” said Nalinor.
Nuadia punched him in the arm and he laughed.
Mary settled in. The table was placed up in the loft at the Phoenix Tavern and it had an interesting view of the customers moving about downstairs. Around the table were ten chairs, and friends stopped by for a drink or a quick hello way up into the night. During her visit, Mary had more tea and a hot drink made of chocolate that she decided was her new favorite of all drinks. She ate candies and sweet breads, slices of ham and beef. Points shared with her an Elven treat made of almonds, honey and some type of seed that made the lights in the room brighter. Nklos taught her the lock mechanism he was fiddling with and how to pick it. Nalinor showed her secret finger signs for his guild and how to show you mean no harm to another Rogue you meet. On and on into the night it went. Mary felt happier than she remembered being with all the grown ups showing her things and welcoming her. She settled back into her big chair, hot chocolate in hand and listened to the sounds in the room wash over her.
It was time to leave. Mary needed to get back to Delera’s Graveyard, get back to her place. She said her goodbyes and took the offered potion from Nuadia. It was supposed to help keep her doors at bay, stated the Cleric. Mary wasn’t sure it would work but a gift was a gift and she thanked Pretty Eyes profusely.
She walked through the Phoenix Tavern and was amazed at how calm the torrent inside her head felt. No doors banged open at all. Her mind was all her own.
The numerous tables were now only a quarter full of patrons. It was very late. People whispered in corners and drank. One Dwarf, his head down on the table top, snored loudly. The one difference Mary noticed was the ones still remaining had a much more sinister slant than the droves of drinkers and revelers from earlier. These patrons stared hard as she walked past. Mary could feel them examining her in every way. It made her jumpy.
She moved by the bar in the main room, headed for the exit when a soft voice behind her said, “Excuse me.”
Mary’s pulse pounded behind her eyes from the sudden nervousness at being addressed, but she turned around anyway.
She looked around and then down. A Gnome stood behind her. He had on a luxuriant emerald green robe adorned in tassels of every color. His hair was an unnatural red and stuck out at every angle. His eyes studied her, darting over her face like an excited child. “Yes,” said Mary.
“I saw what you did,” said the Gnome.
“What I did?” Mary was confused.
The Gnome waved his hands around wildly. “Oh, let me start again. Where are my manners? My name is Biddletinks, Biddletinks the Awesome.” He bowed before her. When he rose back upright he looked backwards and yelled, “FLEABITE.”
A Halfling in a blue and silver robe ran up. He had brown hair cut short, spectacles over his squinting eyes and carried an armful of heavy books. “Will she do it? Will she do it? Is she going to come with us? Can we count her in? I hope so. Oh, dear me, I hope so.” The Halfling named Fleabite looked at Mary. “Will you come with us to the tombs?”
Mary blinked at the two. “What?”
Biddletinks slapped Fleabite in the arm. “You rush into everything. I haven’t even made proper introductions yet.”
“Then why did you call me over here?” said Fleabite.
Mary said, “I was going to go home and go to bed now.”
“Nonsense!” declared the Gnome. “We need you to help us. We need you to show us the way. We need your…” he leaned in close and held his hand against his cheek to share the information with only Mary in a confidential manner. “powers over the ghosts.”
Mary rose up and arched her back to her full human height, which was not much for a twelve year old girl. She was suddenly suspicious. “How do you know about my doors?”
“Your doors?” asked Fleabite. He looked at the Gnome. “I believe the child refers to the spirits that possess her as doors. That has a certain logic to it, oh yes!. If each haunting spirit were to approach down a hallway or corridor of sorts from the plane of the afterlife to her conscious mind, perhaps in her mind’s eye it appears as a doorway. If this happens in a chaotic and disorderly fashion – like we earlier observed, it could be the cause for the seizures. Doors…fascinating!” He pushed his spectacles up his little nose.
Biddletinks nodded at his companion, “The body can only take so much.
Mary said, “How do you know about my doors?”
Biddltinks the Awesome said, “Ah! We watched you attack the old man.”
Fleabite said, “Quite a spectacle. I was very impressed. When you levitated and soared up to him, I thought it would be his death.”
“Indeed,” said Biddletinks.
“To be sure,” said Fleabite.
Mary looked at her feet. “I didn’t mean to. That was an angry door. He closed the others off because he was so mad.”
The two studied her in silence for a handful of seconds. Fleabite, clutching his tomes tightly under an arm, held out his hand to shake. “I am the Wizard Fleabite. Short on stature, big on brains. This is my associate, Biddletinks.”
Mary smiled timidly and shook the Halfling’s hand. She looked at Biddletinks and his crazy red hair. He said, “I am an Illusionist, Artificer and Poet.” Mary shook his hand too.
What my friend forgot to ask of you is if you will grace us with your fellowship.”
“My what?” Mary smiled. “You two are funny.”
The two blinked. Biddletinks, looking flustered, said, “That was not our intent.”
Fleabite hushed him and stepped nearer. “No matter,” he said, “we are in need of another companion. You see, we are adventurers and we would like you to be our number four.”
“Number four? I see,” Mary said. Her eyes widened. She looked around the room “Where is your number three?”
“We shall hurry you along to meet her at once,” said Biddletinks.
“If you agree to be in our band of heroes,” said Fleabite. One of his books started to slip but he caught it in time before it fell.
Mary smiled from ear to ear. She thought of all the tales she had just heard that night. Nalinor and Nklos and Points told such good tales. A Halfling named Smudge had stopped by for a while during the night, and her tales were some of the best of all because a girl was the hero in every one she told. Mary wanted to make her own tales; she wanted to be a hero, too. “I would be honored to be the forth adventurer.”
Biddletinks slapped Fleabite on the back. “That’s wonderful!” he exclaimed.
Fleabite said, “You have made our night complete.”
The Halfling and the Gnome jumped forward and hugged Mary tightly. Mary laughed and hugged them back.
When they finally stepped away, laughing and smiling yet still holding hands in a circle, Mary asked, “What’s next? What do we do now?”
Biddletinks the Awesome held up a finger and declared with boisterous confidence: “Ah! The details.” And then he explained it all.
…to be cont.
He worried at the human foot. The bones of the ankle were especially difficult to maneuver but the taste far outweighed the troublesomeness of gnawing around the area. The cartilage in an ankle had a very unique and mouthwatering flavor. He crunched into a bone and pulled it free. Blood dripped from his chin and coated his chest from his meal. Capatoss dug his teeth in, bit skin and pulled it loose from the side of the foot. It tore, lengthened, stretched out and finally snapped free with a *plip* noise near the dead man’s toes. Capatoss chewed it slowly. He relished it and closed his eyes in delight.
A fly landed on his hand, the hand holding the severed foot, and he shooed it away. It came back and landed again. He shooed it away again. Two more flies joined their companion.
He opened his eyes.
A buzzing sound met Capatoss’s ears. He glanced up from his meal. The body of the human, in gory parts and pieces, was all around him. He sat in a wet puddle of crimson gore. A cloud of flies entered the alley he hid in. They buzzed over to where he sat. Their numbers grew larger and larger quickly, right across from him. He watched as the flies buzzed and circled. Their numbers grew, first in the hundreds, and rapidly into thousands. The insects’ numbers doubled, tripled and doubled again. Tens of thousands filled the alley. Their sound was deafening; a maddening hum. Capatoss held his gory hands over his ears to blot out the unremitting noise. The flies shaped into a black gyrating cloud, and the cloud grew, shifted, and took shape. A woman stepped out from the teeming black mass of insect bodies. The flies moved, billowed until only a cloak hung down her naked body. It was made entirely of flies clinging together, crawling over one another, a million multi-faceted eyes watching and protecting their mother.
Capatoss said, “Hello Mordenne.”
Mordenne looked down at him in disgust. “Why aren’t you working?”
“Because I am eating,” he said and gestured with the foot at the ruined human body all around. “Want some?”
“You forget yourself, brother. We have a job to do here. This is not a time to eat and gorge.”
Angrily, Capatoss said, “It is ALWAYS time to eat and gorge, sister. Have you forgotten who I am?”
“Would that I could,” said Mordenne.
“Sister, you hurt me deeply.” He picked at his teeth.
“Have you done anything since you arrived? You do remember why we are here?”
“I remember. Do you know what they call me here, sister? I have earned a nickname here at this little hovel.”
“What?” Mordenne impatiently asked.
Her brother smiled a terrible smile. His teeth were crooked, broken and some shaved down to points. All were stained pink and black. His breath was a dead thing in the hot sun. “Here I am called Capatoss the Cannibal. Is that not the most amusing thing you have ever heard, sister? If they only knew…”
Mordenne crossed her arms. “If only,” she said.
“You are no fun at all,” said Capatoss. “Fine. We have work.”
“Father sent you ahead and all you have down is gorge yourself on Stormreach.”
He perked up then, full of animation. “Humans taste the best!”
She waved away his words like he had earlier waved away her flies. “Do not interrupt me. Father has sent me along to keep you on track and help with the assignment. It should not be too complex, brother. You were sent here to bring her home.”
Capatoss got up from the alley floor. He looked sadly down at the foot he had been eating and tossed it away. It made a wet splat sound as it hit the cobblestones behind him. “Fine,” he said, “Let us bring our little niece home.”
Mordenne smiled. Her cloak made of ten thousand flies billowed and flapped behind her without the help of any wind. “Mary should be with family,” she said.