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Something’s Rotten at the Dragon’s Beard

a Tabletop Beard story by Kevin Breauxpart two, (find part one here).

Balbo did not get back to work at the tavern until afternoon the following day. He had stayed up late, chatted with his new druid friend, Kreqe Kregrummen, and did not sleep until daybreak. He and Evelyn sent Krege off with a satchel full of food and water, along with some souvenirs from the Dragon’s Beard in the form of trinkets and several bottles of Tabletop Beard’s druid-themed beard oil.

It was clear to Balbo that Krege was happy to return to the wilds, the elf lit up with a huge smile and drew in the deepest inhale of breath Balbo had ever seen a man take. He even recited something Balbo guessed was an elven prayer before he strolled off toward the forest outside of town.

Evelyn said it best, when she turned to Balbo earlier this morning and offered her hopes that they would see Krege again soon. Balbo chuckled to himself as he walked down the stairs and laid eyes on a full tavern of customers eating their lunch.

“Gonna miss that druid’s fuzzy little nose.”

“Morning, Balbo!” Evelyn sung out from behind the bar.

“Morning.” Balbo sneered; Evelyn was just too chipper for him to handle. “What time did you start your day?”

“I have been awake since we saw off Krege.”

“You haven’t slept?”

“No,” she answered.

Balbo shook his head. “Why?”

“Someone needs to run the Dragon’s Beard when its beloved owner is resting.”

“Ha! Beloved.”

“Revered, perhaps?”

“If you are aiming to pocket some extra coin for the hard work today Evelyn—”

“Yes, Balbo?”

“Consider it yours,” he said with a smile. “You’ve earned it.”

“See ladies,” Evelyn called out to the two barmaids on the floor. “All you need to do is butter up old Balbo. He’s a softy.”

Balbo reached the bar, where Evelyn handed him a mug of cider. He drank it dry in one gulp and then ran his hand down his beard. He was so used to her teasing now that he did not feel a need to reply to it. Anyway, there was a cleric at a table in the corner who drew his fullest attention. The man was in the middle of an exciting tale and Balbo loved a good story.

“So, our team was slaughtered before my eyes. I was convinced I was next. That…that thing just…nothing seemed to stop it. So, big, and gooey and…gross. I simply tossed my torch at it, and it bounced off the thing and landed on Harold’s body. Yes, Harold the wizard. Yes, the one guy with the long robe everyone used to guess was made of burlap. Well, we were right, it must have been made of burlap because my torch ignited it in a second.”

“Harold the flammable,” a patron laughed. “That guy was always setting things on fire. Always claiming they were accidents.”

“He did love his fireball spells; I am surprised his robe never lit up before. Honestly. How did he manage not setting himself ablaze, right Bertram?” The cleric tapped the other man at his table on the shoulder and then continued his story. “Well, there I was, just staring in shock. Harold’s body had created a wall of flames that was keeping the beast away from me. But not for long. It slid, or maybe slithered, to the right. I was about to run around it, to the other side, but the growing flames on Harold had suddenly spread to Timmus.”

“The rogue?”

“Yes, he had managed to sneak behind the thing and land a good backstab, but it grabbed him with one of its tentacles and slammed him hard to the ground. His head burst like a ripe melon. It was disgusting.”

“I liked Timmus!” Another patron yelled. “And he owed me 10 gold!”

“Well, I can give you a map to where he is located, and you can go collect the 10 gold if you dare, right Bertram?”

The cleric’s friend looked ill. Which only added spice to the intrigue of the story. Balbo was hooked.

“Okay, where was I?” The cleric said, “Yes, I was blocked by the fire that had spread onto Timmus. And that foul creature was on the other side. Poor Bertram here, bless his soul, had succumb to the beast first and was several feet behind it, near the entrance. I could see him there and realized, he was my last and only hope.”

“What did you do?” Balbo asked as he approached the table.

“I cast a resurrection spell!” the cleric cheered. “I raised mighty Bertram!

“I’m alive,” Bertram mumbled.

“Yes, my friend. Thanks to me.”

“You brought me back?”

“I did.”

“Evelyn, can I get some water for Bertram here, please?” Balbo asked as he waved to her.

Balbo leaned in toward Bertram, the man looked seriously unwell; covered in sweat with red circles around his eyes.

“What killed you, friend?”

“A cloud of something. That creature puffed out a thick green mist, it burned my lungs. I was gone so quickly. I—”

“Leave it to the fighter to rush right in and take the first shot. We all would have died in that cloud had Bertram not been so brave and shown us what we should all to be aware of.”

“What happened to your ranger?”

“April? She died trying to pull Betram from the cloud.”

“So, the cloud killed her too?”

“Well, not exactly,” the cleric explained. “A tentacle grabbed her too. Lifted her high off the ground and started squeezing her. I watched her struggle, even cast a healing spell on her, but it crushed her. Crush her like a—”

“Grape?” someone called out. “Ape the grape. Rest in peace.”

“Hush!”

“Show some respect.” Balbo raised his voice.

Evelyn approached with a pitcher of water and when she reached the table, Balbo watched her nose crinkle. He had seen that look on her face before and he knew exactly what was next.

“Oh,” she fanned her nose. “What stinks?”

Balbo hooked her arm after she set the pitcher down and escorted her from the table. “I think that smell is Betram.”

“He smells like a corpse.”

Balbo nodded and before he could say another word there was a loud gasp behind him. When he gazed back at the table where the cleric and resurrected fighter sat, he witnessed something truly disturbing. The fighter choked. He had turned purple, and clutched his throat. The look on his face was one of shock and horror. Balbo had seen it before, but this time it was different. He could tell the man knew he was dying but there was something more.

“Bertram! Bertram! What’s wrong?” the cleric shouted at his friend. “What ails you?”

Balbo rushed back to the table. “Can you heal him?”

“What?” the cleric looked confused by Balbo’s request.

“Heal him, man. Heal him!”

The cleric took a step back, brushed down the wrinkles in his robe and started to chat. But it was clear to Balbo, and everyone else in the tavern, that nothing was happening. Bertram’s face was distorted and a deep shade of purple; his eyes even bulged.

“Balbo!” Evelyn pointed.

When Bertram’s head struck the table before him, it did with a loud thud that echoed throughout the building. One of the barmaids shrieked and many of the patrons cried out.

“Bertram is dead,” the cleric said. “…a-again.”

Balbo grabbed the cleric by his white robes and shook him. “Why didn’t you heal him?”

“I tried. I-I can’t cast. My spells are…I can’t cast my spells,” he said with his arms up. “Nothing is working. Not even the smallest trick.”

“Wait! I can’t cast either,” another patron shouted.

“Me too!”

“What’s happening here?”

“Balbo?” Evelyn asked.

“It seems like something is dispelling magic in the Dragon’s Beard…” Balbo drew a deep breath and held it in his chest as he steadied himself. “And that worries me deeply.”

To Be Continued…