There were momentous things happening in the world. In every continent it seemed there were stories to follow, epic tales of adventure or tragedies of dark design. Comedies, farces, the whimsical games of fate, there were so many stories to be told.
In Chandrar, The King of Destruction rode across the sands with the twins Teres and Trey, followed by his faithful servant, Gazi to a mining town to see about having a new sword made for himself. His enemies plotted against him and his allies prepared to march as spring finally arrived.
In Baleros, Niers Astoragon spent an outrageous sum of money commissioning an enchanted Go board as this new strategy game swept across the continent. He played his 37th game of Go in preparation for it reaching his unknown adversary in Liscor.
In Terandria—well, perhaps some things are better left unsaid. Perhaps there were too many stories to focus on. For while it might have been entertaining to witness the current political struggles in Wistram, or peer into the mind of the only [Clown] in the world and hear his tormented madness, why not pay attention to the doings of Goblins?
Surely the two Knights of the Petal that had been captured by the Flooded Waters Tribe were of interest. What of Tremborag and his mountain home? Or the steady growth of the Unseen Empire, the new relationships forged by Emperor Laken and his people? How about Minotaurs? Or a Minotaur? No? Perhaps not, then.
So many stories. Too many stories. While a certain skeleton walked below Liscor and stomped on some eggs with a team of adventurers another tale was taking place above. It was humbler than other stories that could have been told, and perhaps, yes, perhaps it was a trivial event to focus on but perhaps not. Sometimes it is the small things that matter. The tiny blades of grass in the growing storm. So then, this is not a tale about legends or empires or figures of great renown. This is a tale about Gnolls. One Gnoll in particular.
This is the legend of Mrsha, the Great and Terrible.
Mrsha woke up to the sound of the rain falling. She got up, yawned, stretched, and stared out her dark window. Was it night or day? Her body told her it was day, but the dark skies outside and pouring rain said otherwise. Mrsha stared out through the glass panes at a world consumed by the downpour, an unending tyranny of water threatening floods, changing the very landscape.
She smiled and raced around her room. It looked like a fun day!
Adults were boring and tired. They groaned about rain and complained about waking up back pains, work, and so on. But Mrsha was young. She was excited by the heavy downpour. She would have been excited to see the sun too, though. She was happy in all weather. She would have been happy if it was raining frogs.
A new day. Mrsha was already full of energy on waking up. She leapt over her bed, ran past her window on all fours and saw a large insect stir from the nest she’d built on the windowsill. Apista the large Ashfire Bee fanned her wings and took off from her perch. She landed on a head sticking out of the covers. Mrsha stopped and wagged her tail as the third occupant of her room turned over.
“Apista, please. Give me five more minutes.”
One hand rose and lethargically covered Apista. The bee struggled to get free as Lyonette groaned and turned about in her bed. Mrsha ignored Lyonette. She was grumpy when she woke up. Apista struggled free of the hand and flew into the air, looking offended. Mrsha grinned. She liked Apista. The Ashfire Bee landed on her head as she padded over to Lyonette and poked the young woman in the side, eliciting a groan.
She didn’t understand why Lyonette hated morning. Mrsha loved waking up. She loved sleeping too. The feeling of curling up in her warm bed next to Lyonette when she was tired and waking up to a fresh new world and the smell of Erin’s cooking was the best thing in the world. Carefully, the small Gnoll poked Lyonette through her bedding again.
“Ow! Mrsha, your claws!”
Lyonette sat up with a yelp. She scowled blearily at Mrsha as the Gnoll leapt back. Lyonette blinked, rubbed her eyes, and then suddenly lunged for the Gnoll. Mrsha yelped and scurried away.
“Come here, you little troublemaker, you!”
The [Princess] and [Barmaid] chased Mrsha and Apista around the room for a grand total of three seconds before she collapsed. She groaned as Mrsha walked around her excitedly and Apista crawled onto her head. Mrsha tried to copy her. Lyonette sighed.
“I’m awake. Please get off me, Apista. Mrsha, why don’t you go downstairs and see if Erin’s done cooking breakfast?”
Lyonette’s ploy worked. Mrsha raced to the door, all too willing to pester Erin for scraps. She had to stand on two legs to operate the door handle, and then she was out in the corridor—
And a Goblin was standing in front of her. Mrsha froze and her hair stood up as one of the Redfang Warriors turned. He froze as he saw her. Headscratcher and Mrsha stared at each other for a frozen second, and then the Hobgoblin nodded carefully at Mrsha. He was still wearing his security badge. Mrsha didn’t nod back. She edged towards the stairs leading down and Headscratcher warily walked the other way down the hallway. The Gnoll and Goblin stared for another few seconds and then they both turned and fled, one up the stairs, another down.
Goblins. Mrsha dwelled on them as she hurried down the stairs, trying not to slip and fall head-over-heels as she did when she was racing. She hated Goblins. They had killed her tribe. Mrsha was afraid of Goblins. However, the Redfang Warriors were different Goblins and so Mrsha merely disliked them. They were big and scary and green. She forgot about them in an instant as she smelled breakfast.
Meat. Cooked meat and spices and—Mrsha’s stomach rumbled—fried egg. Her nose was extremely good, even for a Gnoll, and Mrsha could tell that Erin was cooking with a hint of caramelized sugar, fatty oils, and there was fresh bread baking in the ovens!
It was overwhelmingly delicious. The Gnoll immediately headed for the kitchen. As she did she slunk low along the ground, as if she were prowling in the grass. She made herself as small and unnoticeable as possible. Normally this would not have helped; a small white Gnoll creeping along the floorboards of an inn is usually not hard to spot. But Mrsha had a secret. Three of them, actually.
Her first big secret that no one knew was that she was a Level 8 [Last Survivor] and that she had a Skill. [Natural Concealment]. It made Mrsha less noticeable so that she could sneak up on people. Now she used it to sneak into the kitchen. Peeking around a counter, Mrsha saw a young woman moving in a flurry about the kitchen.
Erin Solstice hummed as she worked, checking on her bread, frying something in a pan, sliding scrambled eggs into a large bowl, and then getting out a jar of honey and the butter. Mrsha’s stomach rumbled. Erin was making what she called her Classic American Breakfast. What that meant was fresh, fluffy bread made with the strange baking powder that Octavia had given her, hot eggs, butter, honey, and bacon. Only today, Erin had changed her breakfast’s lineup slightly because Mrsha saw she was flipping small sausages in her pan!
They were nice and oily, but Mrsha’s keen nose detected another surprise. The sausages were what smelled of sugar! Erin had mixed some spices and sugar together and glazed them. Now they were roasting away in the pan, giving Mrsha the most wonderful of smells to start her morning.
The Gnoll couldn’t help it. She knew she wasn’t allowed in the kitchen when cooking was happening, but she wanted a taste. Slowly, carefully, she reached up to the counter. It was taller than she was, so Mrsha got up on two legs. She reached ever-so-slowly for a bowl filled with finished sausages on the counter. Slowly, slowly—
Erin whirled around and Mrsha jumped. The [Innkeeper] caught the bowl before Mrsha could knock it over and then grabbed Mrsha before the Gnoll could flee. She lifted Mrsha up, laughing.
“I knew you were there you little thief! Trying to steal from me? I told you, no sneaking in! Honestly, you’re worse than Pisces with his [Invisibility]! No, wait, you’re not. But if you don’t scat right now I’ll make sure you get none of my sausages! Understand?”
She stared at Mrsha and the Gnoll nodded her head rapidly. The fear of no sausages made her flee Erin’s kitchen. By the time Lyonette came down with Apista, Mrsha was sitting at a table looking as innocent as possible. Somehow, that didn’t fool Lyonette who glanced at her suspiciously and then headed into the kitchen. Mrsha heard the adult’s voices as she doodled on a table with a claw and Apista flew over to the windows and the bright yellow flowers growing there.
“Morning, Erin. Did Mrsha cause any trouble? I sent her downstairs, sorry about that…”
Mrsha heard a laugh as she slid off her chair and hid behind the table’s leg.
“She tried to steal one of my sausages!”
“Oh, did she now? Well maybe she shouldn’t have any for breakfast.”
Mrsha’s heart broke. She turned towards the kitchen, begging for mercy. Erin chuckled.
“She didn’t get any so I think she can have some. But if she does it again, maybe we’ll take them away next time.”
Lyonette returned to the common room and stared at Mrsha as she hid behind a table. Mrsha gave her a pleading look as the [Barmaid] sighed.
“Next time you’re getting no sausages at all young miss, understand?”
Mrsha nodded rapidly, trying to look as guilty as possible. Lyonette eyed her and then looked back towards the kitchen.
“I’ll start setting up, Erin! Are the Goblins…?”
“I fed them right when I woke up! They get up at the crack of dawn. It’s just the Halfseekers today. The Horns are still out.”
Relieved that her trial was over, Mrsha slid back into her seat and swung her legs back and forth, barely able to wait as she heard the clink of pottery and silverware from the kitchen. She stared hungrily at Lyonette as she brought out a small stack of plates and cutlery. The [Barmaid] began setting two tables but she stared pointedly at Mrsha as she did.
“Mrsha? Do you have something to do before you eat?”
The Gnoll blinked at her, and then Mrsha’s eyes widened. She slid off her seat and looked around. Lyonette pointed to the door.
“The bucket’s just outside. It’s raining so pull it in—and don’t get wet!”
Mrsha carefully opened the door and stared out into a truly tremendous rainstorm. The roar of the rain and millions of drops hitting the ground entranced Mrsha for a second. It wasn’t blowing hard, but every time the slightest breeze blew, she could see sheets of rain pelting the ground. It was wild and tremendous, and Mrsha felt her heart skip a beat as she stared at the world, loving the primal nature of it all. A voice called from inside.
“Mrsha! Hurry up! Don’t let the rain in!”
Adults had no time for rain. Mrsha obediently reached out and grabbed the bucket sitting just outside. It was full to overflowing and she slopped some of it coming inside. Lyonette watched Mrsha push the bucket across the floor to the windowsill.
“One cup, remember?”
Mrsha gave her a look of scorn. Of course she remembered! This was her special task! She’d done it every morning for two weeks now. She reached for the cup that had been left on the windowsill next to the large boxes filled with dirt. Tiny yellow flowers, as bright and gleaming as the sun stood out of the soil. They were special flowers, Mrsha knew. Faerie flowers. She dipped the cup in the bucket of water and filled it to the brim. Then she carefully poured it into the first box of flowers, standing on the tips of her toes to reach up that high.
One full cup in each of the gardening planters. Mrsha carefully poured the water in, watching it drain into the soil, staring at the bright yellow flowers and the new ones budding out of the soil. They were growing! She felt proud. She had made them grow!
It was her special job. Lyonette had suggested it and Erin agreed. Mrsha had to have some responsibilities, so she was in charge of feeding Erin’s flowers each morning before breakfast. For her hard work Mrsha received four whole copper coins each week! It was enough to buy a snack or two snacks in Liscor and thus a lot of money.
Mrsha put the cup back as she finished her job and stared at the line of flower boxes along the windowsills. They were all growing nicely. Flowers didn’t grow much in the winter even in the warm inn, but there were always enough for Lyonette to use a few every week to gather more honey. That was because of Mrsha. Not just because she watered them, no. It was part of her second big secret.
She was a Level 2 [Gardener]. Mrsha stared at the glistening flowers, willing them to grow big and strong. As she did, Apista flew over. The Ashfire Bee crawled onto the box Mrsha was standing next to and delicately extended a red ‘tongue’ out of her pincers to lap at the flowers. Mrsha watched Apista eat with interest. Lyonette fed the bee honey, royal jelly, and sugary water as well, but the bee seemed addicted to the tiny flowers despite her size. Erin called Apista’s tongue a ‘proboscis’, but Mrsha knew a tongue when she saw it. The bee was larger than both of Mrsha’s paws combined and slowly getting bigger each week. It seemed like the flowers shouldn’t be that important to her, but every day when Mrsha watered, Apista ate.
“All done, Mrsha? Breakfast’s ready!”
Lyonette called and Mrsha immediately abandoned the flowers. She raced to the table and sat, jiggling in place with impatience as Lyonette ladled four lovely sausages onto Mrsha’s plate, some eggs, and a small bit of bread with honey and butter. She began eating at once.
So delicious! So hot! Mrsha’s face was a scene of contented bliss for Lyon and Erin who both watched her eat with amusement. Mrsha had milk today, and she greedily reached for it and her bread. Only to find Apista was there! The Ashfire Bee Queen loved honey as much as Mrsha and she was snacking on Mrsha’s breakfast! The Gnoll instantly swatted her on the head. Not hard, but enough to surprise Apista.
Lyonette scolded the Gnoll as Erin ducked. Apista took into the air, agitated, and Lyonette reached for her. But though she was clearly upset as she crawled onto Lyonette’s hand, the Ashfire Bee did not seek vengeance on Mrsha. Erin was puzzled by this and she stared at Apista with a frown.
“She must really like Mrsha. I’ve had her try to sting me when I shooed her away from my honey. Of course, I told her I’d feed her to Bird if she did so she doesn’t bother me, but just the other day she tried to sting Badarrow when he was drinking mead. Why’s Mrsha safe?”
“Maybe she knows I’d never let her hurt Mrsha. But you shouldn’t do that either, Mrsha!”
The Gnoll ignored Lyonette as she chewed happily on her bread. Apista was smart. She knew she was stealing food and she knew it was Mrsha’s. So Mrsha was right to smack her! Besides, she’d never be stung. Mrsha had a Skill that allowed her to understand and be understood by the Ashfire Bee in some ways. She had the skill [Wild Affinity], which made her Apista’s friend.
That was her third secret. She was a Level 1 [Beast Tamer] too, just like Lyonette! Mrsha knew that most children didn’t get classes until they were older, until they were closer to grownups. But she’d grown up a lot and so she’d gained the classes. They weren’t much, but they were hers. Her special secret.
The adults talked about boring things while Mrsha finished breakfast. Things like where the Horns of Hammerad were, food supplies, money, paying the [Actors]—who were very exciting Mrsha would admit, but only when they were here—and her faerie flowers.
“They’re blooming nicely although we haven’t had much sunlight. I wonder why?”
Lyonette peered at the boxes of yellow flowers. Erin smiled as she stacked plates, shooing Apista away and getting a warning buzz for her trouble.
“I bet it’s because Mrsha has taken extra good care of the flowers every day, isn’t that right, Mrsha?”
Erin patted Mrsha on the head and the Gnoll smiled, her secret kept hidden away in her chest. Lyonette smiled and then glanced out the window and sighed.
“Ugh, that rain really keeps coming down. I really don’t want to walk in it but—I’m taking Mrsha into the city now, Erin.”
“Into the city? Why?”
Perplexed, Erin frowned at Lyonette. The [Barmaid] paused as she reached for the dirty dishes.
“She’s going to stay at Krshia’s for a while, remember?”
“Oh. Right! Well, cover up! Take one of those stupid cloaks—it’s pouring outside!”
Lyonette nodded. In short order she and Mrsha were bundled up in cloaks and heading out into the rain. Apista stayed at the inn—upstairs in Mrsha’s room since Bird was coming down for breakfast. He was having ‘bird babies’ today, which meant a big bowl of scrambled eggs. That would be nice, although Mrsha privately thought that meat and eggs in a big bowl would be better.
But then she was out in the rain. Mrsha splashed about happily and Lyonette sighed.
“Come on, let’s go get to Krshia. Stay close, Mrsha.”
They walked out into the storm. Mrsha smiled. It was going to be a fun day! She walked with Lyonette as the young woman winced and muttered about the wetness, crossing over the high ground. Mrsha stared down at the valleys they passed. They were filled with water! If she went down into one of them she could swim about! Lyonette kept a tight grip on Mrsha’s hand as if she could read the Gnoll’s thoughts. She seldom let Mrsha have fun. But that was okay. Mrsha would have forgiven Lyonette any number of sins. Because of one important fact.
She loved Lyonette. Wholeheartedly, without reservation. Mrsha couldn’t remember her mother. She didn’t know what a mother should be, but she had seen other mothers and their children. She thought Lyonette was as good as a mother. No, better. Mothers ran away from their children. Lyonette had taken care of Mrsha even though she hadn’t given birth to her. That was better.
It was a simple story Mrsha had grown up knowing. A fact of life. She had been a child of the Stone Spears tribe and her parents had both been [Hunters]. When she was born they had listened for her crying and heard only strange sounds. They had feared she was crippled or sick in some way. And they had been partly right. Mrsha had been born unable to speak. She could make guttural sounds, and she had learned to howl, but words and other coherent sounds were beyond her. It didn’t matter to Mrsha, but then again, it did, because it had mattered to her parents.
A simple story. Her parents had tried to abandon her when it became clear that Mrsha was mute. For that, their tribe’s Chieftain, Urksh, had exiled them. Being unable to speak was not a crime worthy of death, or so he had said. The Stone Spears tribe had agreed. Mrsha had never known her parents. But she had known Urksh. He had raised Mrsha like a father until he was slain by Goblins. Her entire tribe had died so one might live. And so Mrsha had been carried to a new home, and in time found someone to love her like the mother she never had.
Such cruelty and love was part of life. Mrsha accepted it all, with the unthinking innocence of youth. This was the way the world was and no one had ever told her it should be different.
She was happy now. Ryoka was gone, and Mrsha thought of her sometimes, but it was O.K. because Erin had said Ryoka would come back. And if she didn’t, well, Mrsha would find her when she grew up. In the meantime she was gaining levels. [Gardener] and [Beast Tamer] weren’t good classes yet, but Mrsha could have lots! Just like Lyonette.
Happy, content, the white Gnoll cub splashed across the ground. She had to walk on two legs in the little boots that Lyonette had bought, but that was fine too since Lyonette was holding her hand tight in case Mrsha slipped. And she was going to see Krshia! There were always snacks at her apartment and she had secrets too. Mrsha knew all about Krshia’s secrets.
Lyonette grinned at Mrsha.
“Excited to see Krshia? I’m sure she’s ready for you. And it’s probably best that she’s not out in the rain. Still, it was nice of her to agree to give you lessons, wasn’t it?”
Mrsha nodded along until she heard the bit about lessons. Wait, not those! She looked at Lyonette in horror and the [Barmaid] bit off a curse as she realized she’d given away the secret. She held on as Mrsha tried to turn back to the inn.
“No, Mrsha, you can’t go back! You have lessons! Darn it, Erin was right, I shouldn’t have let that slip! Mrsha, come on! You’ve done this before! It’s not bad, and I’ll be back in two hours! Mrsha!”
The Gnoll ignored Lyonette, pulling and slipping in the mud as she tried to run back to The Wandering Inn. She had been tricked! This wasn’t going to be fun at all! She had lessons? Mrsha tried to pull away but it was too late. She was caught.
It had been a trap!
“What is change for one gold coin if I have bought eighteen silver pieces’ worth of goods? Mrsha?”
Mrsha was in hell. Not that she had any concept of what hell was. It was just a phrase she’d picked up from Erin. If Mrsha had been told what hell was supposed to be she would have pictured the crevice on the mountainside where she’d fallen, or the battlefield at night and Ryoka’s scream. But since she only thought about the past occasionally now, she regarded the idea of ‘hell’ as Krshia’s apartment where she had to sit on a high chair and learn.
The Gnoll child hated learning. It wasn’t the new things that got her down, or the act of sitting, but the boredom of it all. She stared dully at the coins on the table.
A kind but somewhat stern voice prodded her. Mrsha looked up at the brown Gnoll sitting across from her. Krshia was sipping some tea and eying Mrsha sternly. She’d get mad if the Gnoll didn’t answer. Mrsha sighed through her nose and pushed two silver coins across the table. Krshia smiled.
“Good! Hrr. It is surprising, yes? You know how to change coins well. Very quickly! You have been practicing since we last met, just as I said, yes?”
Mrsha nodded obediently although that was a lie. She hadn’t practiced math. Rather, she’d been taught by Erin.
Education was very important to all of her guardians. Erin had suggested it after she realized Mrsha hadn’t had any formal lessons in the inn and Lyonette had talked to Krshia and agreed to teach her. All three women had begun teaching Mrsha everything from advanced reading—a subject which Erin herself struggled with—math, geography, history, and so on.
Mrsha liked learning some lessons and hated others. Just the other week Krshia had told her stories about Gnoll history, many of which Mrsha had known from growing up in her tribe and read from a book about the Second Antinium Wars. Sadly, the stories had ended and Krshia had decided that Mrsha needed to learn how to count.
They were changing money. It was a practical example of math and Krshia kept giving Mrsha harder questions.
“What is change for two silver coins if I buy three copper coins’ worth of goods? You may only give me copper coins, Mrsha.”
Mrsha hesitated and counted. One, two, three…she patiently counted up to seventeen and pushed the head of coins across the table. Krshia smiled.
“Good! Arrange the coins so, Mrsha. In fives, stacked up. That way it is simpler to count.”
She demonstrated. Mrsha sighed again. She didn’t want to learn this! Krshia eyed her sternly and the slouching Gnoll sat up reluctantly in her chair. Krshia stroked her chin.
“You know math well. Strange, it takes other children longer to learn this. Hmm. If you answer this next question correctly, I may reward you.”
That made Mrsha’s ears perk up. She listened to Krshia’s question. Then she pushed a gold coin and five copper ones across the table. Krshia blinked at her.
She got up and found a sweet biscuit for Mrsha. The Gnoll ate it happily. Krshia shook her head.
“A gift for numbers. It is good! Surprising, but good. I am glad you understand it so well, Mrsha.”
The Gnoll rolled her eyes as she licked crumbs off her fur. It wasn’t surprising at all! Unbeknownst to Krshia, Erin and Lyonette had both taken their shots at teaching her math beforehand, to varying degrees of success. They each had their own strengths. Lyonette had taught Mrsha about royalty and politics and secrets of leveling passed down through her family. Erin taught Mrsha math and science and about silly things that couldn’t be seen like germs and ‘oxygen’.
And her math lessons were a lot harder than Krshia’s. Erin had not only taught Mrsha how to add and subtract perfectly, but she’d started Mrsha on multiplication and division. The Gnoll hated those lessons even more than Krshia’s practical ones. Math got silly when Erin taught it.
At least Krshia understood how math really worked. The next question the Gnoll gave her was a stumper.
“I have given you twenty gold pieces by accident to buy goods worth eleven gold pieces, four silver, and three copper. How many coins will you give me back?”
The correct answer was eight gold pieces, fifteen silver, and seven copper pieces. Mrsha mulled it over and pushed eight gold pieces and fifteen silver across the table. Krshia stared at her expectantly and Mrsha folded her arms.
That made the older Gnoll laugh. She ruffled Mrsha’s head as she growled approvingly.
“Good answer! Yes, that is what I would do.”
Mrsha brightened up. Krshia reached for the coins and Mrsha hoped it was to end the lessons. But she paused and her ears perked up. Mrsha had already smelled Tkrn coming up the stairs and she heard him knock once.
Krshia went to answer the door. Mrsha heard her and Tkrn talking as she peered at the Gnoll. He was a junior [Guardsman] in the City Watch, but like most Gnolls in the city he was under Krshia’s unofficial command. She led the Silverfang Tribe in Liscor and was one of the leaders of the city-Gnolls here. If there was a crisis, Krshia would be one of the ones who decided what the Gnollish response should be.
It was hard to be a Gnoll in Drake cities. The Gnolls had to look out for each other. Mrsha understood that Liscor was good as Drake cities went—the Watch didn’t allow Drakes to gang up on Gnolls and there was only a little conflict between species. Still, Gnolls watched each other’s backs which was why Tkrn had come to tip Krshia off about a buying opportunity.
“…had to put down many cows and calves that were injured. It is a shame, but the meat is fresh and good! However, many [Shopkeepers] and [Butchers] and so on want the meat, so an auction will take place in the hour! Aunt Krshia, if you bought the meat for the others—lately all your deals have been excellent and you could save us much coin. Lism is there with his Drake friends and they are planning to buy all the good meat. Do you think you can outbid him or find the best cuts?”
“Hrm. Yes, I do think so. I have a new Skill that allows me to select goods of the highest quality. I should go in person to get the best cuts of meat. Lism, vindictive as he is, may try to outbid me. But I would win either way. However—”
She glanced at Mrsha and the Gnoll waved at Tkrn. Krshia looked conflicted.
“I must take care of Mrsha.”
“Please, Aunt? We’ll have nothing but gristle and too much fat otherwise! The Drakes, they are trying to crowd out our stores ever since you lost your place as one of the top stalls in the market!”
The younger Gnoll pleaded with Krshia. She scratched at her head, growling under her breath, and then nodded decisively. She turned to Mrsha.
“Mrsha, I must go to this auction. It may take a while, so you must wait. Stay indoors, understand? You may wander, but you are not to touch anything fragile or sharp. Understand?”
She gave Mrsha a look, and the Gnoll nodded carefully. In Gnoll tribes, the young were expected to know what was off-limits after they were old enough to stand on two legs. If she broke anything, Krshia would spank her, Mrsha had no doubt. So she wouldn’t. Reassured, Krshia nodded.
“I will be back soon. Now, Tkrn, lead me to the [Butcher] before that scale-flint Lism gets away with all the choice cuts of meat!”
She and the other Gnoll hurried out of the door. Mrsha watched them go, not terribly disappointed by the development. She waited until the scents of the two Gnolls wasn’t fresh and then decided to go peek at Krshia’s secret.
If it seemed wrong of Krshia to leave Mrsha unattended, well, it was because she wasn’t. Not really. Mrsha was smart enough not to stab herself in the eye with a knife and there was no danger of a fire or [Thief] breaking into the apartment. Because Krshia had secrets. Mrsha was aware of them. Krshia thought that Mrsha couldn’t smell the Gnolls who took turns watching her apartment, but she was wrong. Mrsha’s nose was so good she could smell their blades, or their oiled bowstrings and the glue on their fletched arrows.
There was always a guard on Krshia’s apartment, watching and waiting. They were supposedly housewives and mothers, but a Gnoll mother could still put an arrow though a would-be [Burglar]’s eyes at fifty paces. Krshia’s apartment was important. And Mrsha knew why.
This wasn’t the first time she’d been left alone. Mrsha, knowing she was alone except for the Gnoll woman sitting in an apartment across the street and watching the door, padded over to Krshia’s kitchen. She rummaged around in the top drawer of one of the counters and found the secret compartment there. She slipped the key out, padded into the living room, and grabbed the second key that was hidden inside a fold of the couch. Then she walked into Krshia’s bedroom and paused.
She could still smell Brunkr’s scent here, faintly. Mrsha rubbed at her nose and tried to think about the secret. Which key was first? Kitchen key, it was very important. She found the false floorboards under the bed and pulled them out, one by one. There was a very large chest hidden in the crawlspace there. Mrsha put the first key in the lock, twisted it, then removed it and put the second one in.
Kitchen first, and then living room. If the keys weren’t in the right order or someone tried opening the chest with just one, the chest would fill the room with poison. Mrsha had heard Krshia whispering about it with the other Gnolls. What she hadn’t known was what was inside. Mrsha opened the chest, heart pounding and saw—
A book. The little Gnoll stared at it. It was a big book that filled the chest—a massive tome with golden lettering and fancy symbols and colorful illustrations on the cover, but a book nonetheless. Mrsha knew that such a book was probably worth thousands of gold pieces, but she was a little disappointed nonetheless. She had heard Krshia talking with the others about their great treasure, the thing that would make the Silverfang Tribe great.
They were going to offer this at the Meeting of the Tribes, which would be soon. Mrsha knew about the Meeting. It was the biggest Gnollish tradition. Every tribe would gather and offer something to benefit all of Gnollkind. They would discuss important matters, help tribes that were suffering and dispense justice among their own kind and on others.
The Stone Spears had been preparing a massive bounty of alchemical ingredients that could be sold or made into potions before they had been destroyed. Tribes worked hard to bring good gifts because they would receive benefits from the Meeting as well. The Silverfang tribe was rich. And this was all they were going to bring?
It didn’t seem right. Mrsha wrinkled her nose at the book. She had been taught how to read and could read better than Erin, but she had trouble deciphering the script on the front of the book. It didn’t look like the Drakish script, or the Human one which looked like Erin’s English language, or the secret writings that Gnolls sometimes used. Was it in another language? Mrsha opened the book and blinked.
Words on the page. Meaning—see here and comprehend. That which is stone is mutable. The earth sings; the stone resists flow. So shape it as a firm object in your head. A sword of stone, the edge keen. Touch a blade, feel the sharpness. The same sharpness of stone, and the entire blade. Visualize it all as one object, for stone is a complete thing. Then call it out of the ground. Shape it there and draw together all it requires. If sand is all that is there, draw into the sand. The elements are as follows. Take them, meld them, create a sword—
Mrsha jerked backwards and the book closed. She sat up, banged her head on the bottom of Krshia’s bed, and clutched at her skull as the words receded. What was that? She’d opened the book to a random page and the words had been—
They weren’t words. Not proper, written ones. Not language. The symbols had shone into Mrsha’s head and spoken there, instantly comprehendible. They were…well, it was like Krshia’s lesson, only vividly being shown in Mrsha’s mind. It was amazing—and painful. The effort of understanding gave Mrsha a migraine, but she understood! Oh, she understood.
What the page had been telling her was how to make a sword. No, not make one, conjure one out of the ground. If Mrsha had read through the rest and if her mind had been able to grasp it all, she would have been able to cast a spell. [Stone Sword], or perhaps [Blade of the Earth]. Mrsha’s understanding was incomplete from that brief glimpse, but the other page had shown a faceless warrior drawing a blade out of the earth. Mrsha’s paws trembled as she held the tome up, marveling at how light it was. Now it made sense.
This was a spellbook! It was worth infinitely more than a mundane book. And if the entire book held spells—Mrsha stared round-eyed at the book. If Krshia’s home had been filled with gold coins it might not have been worth enough to buy this book. This was what the Silverfang Tribe was going to offer at the Meeting of Tribes! It was ambitious, worthy. And risky.
Mrsha understood the gamble. It hinged on Gnolls wanting to use the spellbook, the tribes considering it worthwhile. Because if not…it was just something to be sold, worth only gold and even then, it would be gold that wouldn’t reach the other tribes in time for the meeting. If Gnollkind desired to learn magic, it was a princely, no, a kingly gift. If not…
Here was the issue. Gnolls couldn’t learn magic, not the magic of [Mages]. That was a fact across the world. They had no aptitude for it, no interest, and most tellingly, no representatives of their kind in Wistram, home of the mages.
Gnolls had tried to send one of their kind to Wistram, oh yes. But their great representative had been cast out of Wistram, laughed at by the [Mages] there. For that insult, no Gnoll would trade with Wistram. It was a grudge of decades. Of course, the tribes didn’t really need to have their own [Mages] since Gnolls were able to become [Shamans], who were just as good, if not better in some areas.
But there had never been a Gnoll [Mage] in living memory—the tribes had no spellbooks and few [Mages] wanted to have a Gnoll apprentice, and fewer Gnolls wanted to risk wasting their time trying to learn if it was impossible. So there were no Gnoll [Mages]. Some said Gnolls couldn’t learn conventional magic. But Mrsha had read the spellbook.
What did that mean? Mrsha had no idea. But she didn’t think overlong on the subject. People said Gnolls couldn’t learn magic. But she didn’t really care. Magic. If she could learn it—with a trembling paw, Mrsha slowly opened the spell tome again to a random page near the middle.
Words. The meaning is simple. Complex in nuance. The earth lives. It harbors magic. It harbors life and the memory of it. Where there is memory, create an echo. For a brief time reach into the past and call out a reflection of the self. Grass springs forth from soil and wood—even stone. But caution. Memory is strongest where life begins. Draw forth a tree from the ground, but never from uncaring rock. With more magic comes more growth. Diversify—seek more understanding, more knowledge of the green. Grow, and such creations shall last until magic is gone or until destroyed. Grow, the earth calls. And remembers.
The spell struck Mrsha’s mind, burning itself across her thoughts like a brand, etched there, unfading. It was a simple spell, but with infinite variations. It was a spell of the earth, a spell worthy of a novice.
[Grow Grass]. Nothing more, nothing less. Mrsha struggled with the images in her head, telling her how the spell could be used, how to provoke the earth to conjure magical grass that would last for minutes or possibly hours. Her head ached and Mrsha reached for the book, to hunt for another spell, the spell of the stone sword, when she heard and smelled something.
Meat. Blood. The faint odor of gold and silver and copper and emotion. Satisfaction. Wet fur and a bit of sweat, the hint of spices and other goods on her paws.
Krshia was coming back. Mrsha slammed the book closed in a panic and shoved it back in the chest. She heard the chest lock itself as she ran with the keys, remembering to put the kitchen one in the drawer and the living room one in the couch. By the time Krshia opened the door to her apartment looking smug, Mrsha was sitting at the table, stacking gold and silver into a tower and trying to look innocent.
Perhaps if Krshia had been more alert she would have noticed Mrsha’s guilt. But the Gnoll [Shopkeeper] was elated, high on her success.
“Hah! That fool Lism had no idea what happened! He couldn’t tell a prime cut from entrails, but I could. Four of the best cuts and plenty more for our [Butchers] to sell! We will earn triple what I paid, at least!”
She strode around the apartment and Mrsha’s tail wagged in unison with Krshia’s. Mrsha was happy, understanding a bit of what Krshia meant but mainly picking up on her mood. Krshia was exultant, and then guilty.
“But I am sorry, Mrsha. I have left you for over an hour and a quarter, far too long! I must apologize to Lyonette and thank her—come, we will meet her outside. And I must buy you a snack to make up for it.”
She took Mrsha by the paw. The little Gnoll was astounded. An hour had passed? But it felt like minutes since she’d opened the book! She stared in awe at the wet street. The wet street, but the rainless skies. The rain had stopped pounding sometime while she’d been in that trance. Krshia sniffed as she took Mrsha down the street.
“Here. A snack. Hejor, give young Mrsha a meatball. No, two. She deserves a treat.”
A Gnoll was frying meatballs at a stand covered by an awning on the street. Mrsha’s stomach rumbled as he carefully took two large ones and put them in a little bit of wax paper. Erin’s hamburgers and other fast food delights were still popular in the city—now you could buy a hamburger at any number of taverns or food stands, and these meatballs were a popular variation on the concept. Mrsha greedily licked her lips as Krshia offered her the meatballs.
“My treat. No, save your coins Mrsha. A good [Trader] takes what is given freely, unless the debt is too great. Now, let us meet Lyonette since it is time.”
She led Mrsha onwards, the Gnoll nibbling at her steaming meatballs as she went. Mrsha smiled happily, then her eyes went wide and vacant as she stared at a cobblestone. Grass could grow from it. All she had to do was reach into the earth and call the memory of—
Her grip slipped and Mrsha nearly dropped both her meatballs onto the street! The Gnoll quickly popped one in her mouth and chewed as she walked on. Krshia didn’t notice, save to warn Mrsha not to scarf down her food and ruin lunch. She also told Mrsha not to let Lyonette or Erin know she’d been abandoned and Mrsha nodded dutifully. But her mind was racing. The book’s spell still burning across her memory, and when she looked at the ground she could feel the spell in her mind, ready to be cast.
But surely it was impossible to learn a spell so quickly? Unless the book was special? Unless Mrsha was special? The Gnoll was confused.
What had just happened?
They met Lyonette at the city gates just as she was coming in. The young woman looked relieved to be out of the downpour and she said as much as Mrsha ate her second meatball.
“Rain’s stopped. I’m glad—it’s a pain trying not to slip and tumble down a hill on the way here.”
Krshia nodded. She cast an eye up at the dour skies.
“A short reprieve. The rain will be back in a day or two at most. It will rain all month and the next and then the flooding will stop. But already some valleys flood, yes? Soon we will be unable to travel except by boat so tell Erin to prepare well.”
“I will. Thank Miss Krshia, Mrsha.”
Mrsha waved at the tall Gnoll and Krshia bared her teeth in a slight smile.
“Go well, Mrsha. Stay out of trouble.”
They returned to the inn. Lyonette asked Mrsha if her day had been fun and if she’d learned a lot. Mrsha’s deep nod of conviction seemed to please the young woman and they returned to the inn to find the Halfseekers sitting about, talking, rather than being out in the rain.
Mrsha would have loved to go to her room and put her head under the pillows to make sense of what had just happened, but her ears perked up as she saw the three Gold-rank adventurers sitting at a table. Normally they’d be in the dungeon, but as they were telling Erin, they were taking a vacation today. Jelaqua grimaced over her mug as she waved at the wet landscape outside.
“Not every day’s a good day to adventure. Today is all politics—we’re trying to get the city to build the dungeon entrance higher. The official one, that is. Not sure how you’d stop that rift in the ground from flooding. And it’s important to have at least one entrance open if we want to continue challenging the dungeon this spring!”
“Can’t you, I dunno, let the dungeon flood and kill all the monsters?”
Erin was writing down notes for a new play on a piece of parchment. She waved to Lyonette and Mrsha and nearly knocked ink over the entire table. Jelaqua grimaced. Moore leaned over. The half-Giant [Mage] shook his head as he politely eyed Erin’s notes.
“I believe you’ve misspelled hawthorn, Miss Erin. It’s a ‘w’ not a ‘u’. And the dungeon is protected against flooding. Water will not enter past a certain point to prevent adventurers from using the tactics you just described.”
Erin grimaced as she crossed out a word.
“Oh, thanks Moore. Jeeze, this is hard. Even if I can remember all of King Lear, my head hurts from trying to write down all the lines! Stupid Skills…so you want to make sure it doesn’t flood since it won’t work, right Jelaqua?”
“That’s right. Anti-flood and earthquake measures are standard for magic dungeons, but I don’t feel like swimming to the entrance every day. We need to build a rampart from the city to the dungeon or at least create a fortification around the entrance. But the Antinium refuse to work in the downpour and there’s practically no [Diggers] in the city besides that lot! The city’s content to just let the dungeon flood because they think monsters will be trapped inside.”
“Bad idea. Lots of monsters like water and it’s a nightmare fighting them in those conditions. Take it from me. There’s a reason why I left the sea.”
Seborn leaned over, his claw-hand gripping a mug. Jelaqua nodded seriously in agreement. Erin thought for a second.
“Sounds rough. Yeah, the Antinium are really scared of water. And they’re busy in the Hive, or so Bird says. Look, if the issue is finding people to dig…why not see if you can hire some people from Celum? I don’t know if they’re as good as digging as the Antinium and they’ll probably charge more, but you could probably hire a lot of help between them and Liscor. Krshia could introduce you to some Gnolls who’ll work for a day I bet.”
Jelaqua snapped her fingers together and grinned.
“Oh, of course! I’m a vine-cursed idiot. Moore, Seborn, why didn’t either of you think of that?”
“Because you’re an idiot?”
Seborn ducked as Jelaqua swung at him and Moore smiled gently. Mrsha padded up to him and the half-Giant looked down.
He very carefully lowered a finger and stroked her head. Mrsha smiled up at him. Moore was as gentle as could be and he was always nice to her. She loved him. Jelaqua spotted the Gnoll and reached over to ruffle her head as well. Mrsha smelled her rotting body and the Selphid’s true form within. She didn’t flinch, although she could tell that Jelaqua’s body was falling apart.
“Hey there, kid! How are you doing?”
Moore waved at the Selphid who grinned at her. Jelaqua was loud and laughed a lot, and she was nice too. She liked Jelaqua. Seborn she wasn’t sure about. The Drowned Man just nodded at Mrsha. Sometimes she couldn’t smell or hear him at all, which was spooky. Jelaqua stood up after giving Mrsha another ruffle. She nodded at her companions.
“Come on, let’s go see if we can hire a group. It’ll be pricey, but I figure we can talk the Adventurer’s Guild into reimbursing us the costs. I don’t want to ask Griffon Hunt to chip in, but—whoops!”
She was striding over to the door when it opened and Octavia came out. The [Alchemist] stopped before she ran into Jelaqua and the bottles in the crate she was carrying clinked together.
“Whoa! Hey, careful!”
“My mistake, Miss [Alchemist].”
Jelaqua edged around the Stitch-Girl and Octavia put the crate on a counter. She wiped at her forehead.
“Hey Erin, got another delivery for that Gnoll [Shopkeeper].”
“Yup, that’s the one. I’ll bring some more potions through. The ones I made sold really well—hah, of course they would! You know, I undercut the prices from the regular potions since I can buy from Celum and Liscor and manufacture cheap. And I don’t have to sell my stock to a [Merchant] or [Trader] who has to lug his goods all the way from Pallass to Liscor—we can earn the same profits and sell for a lot less! Hey, can I leave this here?”
“What, on the table? No! How about over there?”
“Can’t put it by a fire, Erin. Some of this stuff—well, let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t run into that Selphid lady.”
“Okay, how about over there?”
“Uh…is that an Ashfire Bee I see hovering around those flowers? How about you put it over there?”
“How about over there?”
Mrsha crept away now that the boring adults were doing boring things again. Her head still hurt from reading the book. [Grow Grass]. She knew the spell! But could she cast it? Mrsha hesitated, and then pointed at a floorboard as she ascended to the second floor. She concentrated, did what she’d seen in the book. She pulled—and nothing happened.
Nothing. Not one thing. Mrsha poked at the ground, stepped on it, and then realized something was wrong. She knew the spell. But…she didn’t know how to cast it.
She needed something. Mrsha furrowed her brow as she tried to understand the spell searing in her mind. To cast a spell you needed…how had Lyonette explained it? Oh, yes. Mana and a catalyst. Mana was the fuel a spell burned and it came from the world and the mage. But a catalyst was important, too.
A toe or a finger was a bad catalyst for magic because all the flesh and bone got in the way. Only a good mage could work around the issue, like Pisces, and even then, a catalyst made the magic easier, boosted spells.
She needed one of those. And as she had that idea, Mrsha realized she’d had a catalyst all along! She raced up the stairs and into her room. There she rummaged around in a pillow and pulled out her prized possession: Pisces’ wand. She looked at it, slightly guiltily because she remembered the bad thing she’d done with it.
It had been a very bad thing, trying to hurt Badarrow with the wand. It had been taken away from Mrsha after the incident, but she’d snuck into Pisces’ room and taken it back. It wasn’t the wand’s fault and Pisces kept forgetting about it. The wand was lovely and hard and Mrsha liked gnawing on it—it was practically unbreakable as far as she could tell, since neither her teeth nor poking at logs in the fireplace had harmed it in any way. It was special.
And now it was important. Mrsha closed her eyes as she lifted the wand. She raised it, swished it, and tapped the ground. She cast the spell in her mind.
[Grow Grass]. Mrsha waited and stared at the floorboards.
Nothing happened. Mrsha frowned, licked her nose, and tried again. [Grow Grass]. Nothing happened. She growled and peered at the wand. Maybe it didn’t work? Maybe that was why Pisces didn’t use it. She tapped the ground again and reached. This time she found something in her chest.
A burning feeling, a howl. A cold beyond cold. The sight of glowing shapes, Ryoka’s arms around her. The earth as it froze. The feeling of warmth in the snow.
And the floorboards shifted. Mrsha leapt back as a single blade of grass grew out of the floorboards, shimmering, flush with life. Mrsha touched it, awestruck. She plucked the blade of grass and saw it shimmer. Mrsha tore it in half and the pieces dissipated in her hands. She stared at the floorboards and they were completely untouched. She felt a pang of exhaustion in her body and stared at her wand.
She’d done it. Magic. Real magic.
The next few minutes saw Mrsha running around the room, the inn, howling with excitement. Lyonette, Erin and Octavia ran upstairs, but Mrsha was unable to explain. She just pointed at the floorboards and waved her wand, which was regarded as cute, if ultimately pointless. Mrsha didn’t know if she should tell them about her new spell—she had a feeling that looking at Krshia’s magic book would earn her a very big spanking, and the Gnoll spanked a lot harder than Lyonette.
It was her secret. Mrsha let the adults go back to arguing over where Octavia should put her potions—Erin had the opinion that the picky [Alchemist] could put it up somewhere and Mrsha wondered if they were going to put it on the third floor. She didn’t care. She stared at her wand as she went to the common room. The adults were busy and Mrsha?
Mrsha was a [Mage]. She was an adventurer. The Gnoll had dreamed of being a [Warrior], of being a hero in the tales that Ryoka and the Gnolls of her tribe had told around the campfires. She’d dreamed, but never believed she could actually be one. Now it was all different.
The Gnoll stared out a window. It wasn’t raining outside. She’d been cooped up for days now, and she suddenly had a burning desire to be out. She wasn’t supposed to be—Lyonette had to come with her, but wasn’t everything different now? Mrsha could do magic. Surely that means she could break the rules! She was Mrsha, Mrsha the [Mage]. No—
Mrsha the Great. She’d become a world-famous [Mage], a Gnoll who could cast magic! Mrsha swung her wand excitedly as she wandered out of the inn, unnoticed by Octavia and Erin who were fussing over the potions. Lyonette might have noticed Mrsha, but just as Mrsha opened the door there was a crash of breaking glass and a scream.
“No one touch anything! Get back in case it explodes! Don’t panic—I’m an [Alchemist]!”
“Oh my god, what’s that smoke?”
“Don’t panic! I said, don’t p—”
Mrsha closed the door. Exciting as that sounded, she had places to be. She looked around the soggy landscape, wand in hand, and noticed Apista had flown out with her. Well, that was good. It was time for an adventure! Mrsha knew it was dangerous outside, but now she knew magic! Or at least, one spell. She was going to be Mrsha the Great! Not just great—she’d be Mrsha, the Great and Terrible! The Gnoll wandered off in search of an adventure.
And found it.
This was the adventure of Mrsha, the Great and Terrible. She left The Wandering Inn with her magic wand and her trusty companion, Apista. The Gnoll and Ashfire Bee travelled down the hill, ready for adventure, monsters, and maybe treasure!
They found a frog. Mrsha the Great and Terrible chased after it and the frog hopped into a pond forming in one of the valleys. It was vanquished! Mrsha raised her wand triumphantly and grew some grass. It was hard work! But she could make it grow larger outside of the inn. Apista landed on a cluster of stalks and then Mrsha spotted a rabbit.
A monster! The rabbit monster fled as Mrsha the Most Excellent Mage cast her spell and grass stems erupted around the startled creature. Another monster defeated! Apista waved her antennae encouragingly as Mrsha decided to go over one more hill. The inn was still in sight after all, and Mrsha the Brave and Responsible wouldn’t get scolded if she went a bit further, right?
As Mrsha the Explorative crested the next hill she saw an amazing battle taking place below her. A small, colorful, blue and yellow slime was fighting two horrible aggressors! A pair of large, ugly, green and brown poo slimes was attacking it, smacking it with their bodies, trying to splatter the poor slime! The magic slime was clearly magic; its insides swirled with color and it glowed. It was bright blue with a yellow streak running down the center.
The magic slime was beautiful, and thus, clearly important. Mrsha hesitated, unsure if she should actually fight monsters. But she was an adventurer wasn’t she? Apista fanned her wings agitatedly and Mrsha made up her mind. She raised her wand and howled as all three slimes turned to stare at her.
The epic battle of the grasses went like this: Mrsha the Great and Terrible charged into battle, wand waving. She brought her magic wand squarely down on the center of one of the poo slimes. It was barely bigger then she was and her wand went splash into it. The slime turned to her and Mrsha the Tactically Unsound realized she might have made a mistake.
So began an epic chase as Mrsha the Quick to Flee ran and the first poo slime pursued her! It stank horribly and it kept trying to swallow her legs! Mrsha the Fiercely Hygienic kicked at it and part of the slime splashed away. Apista, her loyal friend tried to stab the slime with her stinger, but the slime was all liquid and the Ashfire Bee nearly got swallowed! She flew away as Mrsha, She of Stinky Paws, punched the slime and splashed its nasty body everywhere.
The poo slime retreated and Mrsha, In Dire Need of a Bath, pursued. She leapt on the slime and, remembering what she’d been told, grabbed the small glowing stone in its body. The slime constricted around her hand and Mrsha cried out, feeling it twisting her paw, digesting her fur and skin! She pulled at the core, ignoring the slime as it resisted. The slime reacted, trying to engulf Mrsha entirely, but the Gnoll plucked its heart out and the slime was no more!
Panting, covered in very nasty liquid, Mrsha the Stinky triumphantly raised her wand and saw the second poo slime had been defeated as well! The glowing slime had engulfed it and was now jettisoning a steady stream of liquid out of its body. It ‘spat’ the other slime’s body away and as Mrsha watched, ate the other slime’s core. The magic slime’s body glowed and it rolled towards her, reaching for the slime core she held.
Mrsha had to take a break for a second to wipe her face and try not to retch at the horrible smells around her. But then, the slime was engulfing her leg, reaching upwards with its bulbous body for the mana stone she held. Aha! The damsel in distress was in fact a brigand! Mrsha thumped the slime with her paw, making it retreat.
A standoff ensued. Mrsha the Perplexed stared at the glowing slime. It looked familiar. The slime quivered as Apista circled it menacingly. Was it friend or foe? Mrsha the Merciful decided it was probably okay. She handed the mana stone from the second poo slime to the magic slime and watched in fascination as it ate the stone! It had a mana stone of its own and the slime’s core grew as it absorbed the first stone.
It rolled around Mrsha, lightly touching her, and the Gnoll, fascinated, gently patted the slime. At first she was nervous and at first the slime was nervous, but Mrsha was a [Beast Tamer]! She and the slime became friends or at least, didn’t try to kill each other. Mrsha decided this slime would make an excellent companion with Apista. She patted the slime and gingerly poked her paw into its side. The slime pulled away, but Mrsha felt her sore paw heal instantly!
Wide-eyed, Mrsha the Surprised pulled her paw back and realized this slime was no ordinary magic slime, but some kind of amazing healing slime! Just like Erin had talked about! Healing slimes were real, and this slime had healed her! It was also, apparently, hungry.
The healing slime crawled across the ground, examining the remains of the poo slimes and the grass and mud. It absorbed some of the water and horrible sewer remains and promptly spat out the sewer stuff. It plucked some grass, spat that out too. It found a grey flower hiding among the grass and ate that, and a cluster of spotted white mushrooms.
It was a picky slime. It was only as half as big as the poo slimes had been, for all it seemed energetic. Maybe there wasn’t enough for it to eat? What did healing slimes eat anyways? Mrsha the Keen Observer watched and decided her new friend could use some help. Thus, Mrsha the Great and Terrible went back home.
There was uproar in the inn, and Mrsha the Unobtrusive heard a lot of shouting as she pushed open the door and padded inside.
“Okay, no one step on the glowing puddle! I don’t know how it’s going to react!”
Octavia the Very Panicked was shouting and waving her hands near the kitchen. Lyonette and Erin were shouting too with buckets and mops. Mrsha the Slightly Interested decided that watching might not be a good idea, especially when she saw a small fireball rise up and all three young women scatter.
She snuck behind the panicking adults and into Octavia’s shop which was, ironically, probably the safest place to be at the moment. Mrsha the Inquisitive stared around at the shelves full of bottles. She felt a bit guilty, but this was an experiment! She stared around at the potions on the bottom shelves, looking for a good one. A large bottle at the end caught her eye. It was purple and had green flecks, tiny shimmering stars contained within the dark liquid.
The purple potion with green stars called to Mrsha. She picked up the bottle and shook it gently, watching the glowing colors swirling together. Yes, this would do. Mrsha the Daring Thief snuck back through to Erin’s inn. Once again no one noticed her—they were trying to put the fire out, and stymied by the fact that adding water just made it grow.
“Oil? Are you trying to burn my inn down?”
“What about dirt?”
“It’s all wet! What about this? We have uh—flour?”
Lyonette grabbed a bag of flour and both Erin and Octavia tackled her.
“Get the beans! Smother it with beans! I have two whole bags here!”
Mrsha the Vastly Entertained watched for a while, and then decided her new friend needed her more. She walked back outside and found the healing slime wandering about. It froze when it saw her and Apista again, but Mrsha patted it on the head and offered it the potion. It accepted the bottle into its center and Mrsha, fascinated, saw the glass begin to crack as the slime tried to digest it. The bottle broke and the magic purple liquid filled the slime.
Mrsha the Prudent took a few steps back as the healing slime froze. Its swirling center turned purple and the yellow sparks within it swirled brightly. For all of three seconds it seemed to fight the new colors within, and then—surprisingly—it changed color!
First it was the bright blue and yellow color it had been before. And then, suddenly, it was purple with green spots! It rolled about and then suddenly blue blossomed around the core and it shifted back into its original configuration! Mrsha the Amazed stared at the slime and padded over to it. She gingerly poked a finger into the slime as it turned from blue to purple and licked a bit of the purple potion.
She immediately spat it back out. Whatever was in Octavia’s potion, it tasted horrible! Too horrible to consider tasting! Mrsha scrubbed her mouth with some grass as the slime rolled about. Was it…faster? It zipped around Mrsha, a purple blur and she blinked and chased after it.
Now it was a race! Mrsha and the purple slime ran about the plains! It was quick! Fast as Mrsha was, she could barely keep up and the slime seemed to enjoy shooting up and down the hills, avoiding the small lakes. Fast, fast! Mrsha ran after the magic slime, leaping after it, watching it race around her tail, turning, and then—
And then she ran over a hill and saw the Fortress Beaver. It was limping along, a huge gash cut down the side of its body. It was larger than she was and as Mrsha halted, she, Apista, and the magic slime faced the large beaver. It made a wary chattering sound and Mrsha backed up, ready to flee. The magic slime made to run as well.
But wait, wasn’t she Mrsha the Great and Terrible? And she was a [Beast Tamer], a friend of Apista’s! She had [Wild Affinity], so surely she wasn’t a threat? Mrsha the Generally Peaceful edged forwards and the beaver retreated a step. She raised a paw and waved at the beaver. It stared at her and then decided she wasn’t a threat. It collapsed, lying down, and Mrsha the Horrified saw that it was still bleeding from its wound!
Whatever had cut the beaver must have been poisonous, because the wound looked greenish. The beaver was foaming a bit around the mouth and Mrsha the Healer realized something had to be done. She stared at the magic slime, and then stared at the beaver. The healing slime trembled as Mrsha padded over to it, but it reluctantly rolled towards the beaver and inspected the wound. It stared at the dying creature and Mrsha saw it shift from purple to blue. The slime slowly rolled over the wound and before her stunned eyes, the beaver’s wounds closed. The Fortress Beaver sat up and Mrsha the Savior of Beavers saw it lick the healing slime and then walk over to her! She patted it on the head and felt it whuff as it smelled her.
Another triumph! Another victory! The beaver seemed to realize that Mrsha and the slime had saved its life, and it seemed to want them to follow it. Mrsha the Great and Terrible followed the beaver with her band of trusty followers in tow. Apista seemed to enjoy licking the healing slime with her proboscis and the healing slime kept trying to swat her away, but that was okay. They were all friends and Mrsha was their great leader!
The Fortress Beaver led her over two hills and then Mrsha saw a group of Beavers chattering around the entrance of a cave! They were all Fortress Beavers and all very big. When they saw Mrsha and the other beaver they clustered around her. They were all hurt for some reason. Mrsha the Confused wondered why. Then she saw the beaver she had saved walk into the cave, followed by his kin.
Of course, Mrsha the Generally Inquisitive had to follow. She marched into the cave, head held high, ready for an adventure. She walked into the darkness, her eyes adjusting to the dim light, and saw the beavers tense. Mrsha the Suddenly Wary stopped, and she saw a shape lying on the ground.
It was…a Fortress Beaver. It was dead. The back of its head had been torn away and it was being ripped apart from the back. Something was tearing at it, savaging it. It crawled over the top of the beaver as Mrsha and the other Fortress Beavers stared and she saw an orange glowing body, protected by an exoskeleton of black and bloody red chitin. The Gnoll’s heart stopped as she realized what it and the other shapes clustered around the beaver were.
Crelers. The scuttling horrors with too many legs and teeth looked up as they dug into the flesh of the rotting Fortress Beaver’s corpse. Like a wave they scuttled towards Mrsha and the other animals. Their pincers and maws were red with blood and Mrsha saw a headless Corusdeer lying on the ground, the remains of three Shield Spiders. The Crelers came at her, hissing.
And suddenly it wasn’t a game anymore.
This was how the battle went. Mrsha fled as the Crelers attacked the Fortress Beavers, howling in panic. This wasn’t a game! Apista flew after her, just as afraid and the magic slime was zipping out of the cave! They were being pursued. Two of the Crelers had followed her and they scuttled out into the daylight after the Gnoll with alarming speed. Mrsha ran, howling, her magic and adventure forgotten. She tripped as she tumbled down a hill and fell—
Into a Shield Spider’s nest. The ground collapsed and Mrsha saw a flashing, rolling vision of large bodies, white egg sacks and then—a Shield Spider. It stared down at her, mandibles wide. Mrsha went very still. She tried to will herself to be invisible, to use her Skill to hide. But the Shield Spider had seen her! It opened its mandibles as more flooded into the pit—
And the Crelers charged into the nest. One leapt onto the Shield Spider standing over Mrsha and the second shuddered down the side of the nest. They began biting, tearing into the armored spiders as if their bodies were nothing more than paper! Alarmed, Mrsha retreated and the Shield Spiders shrieked and attacked the invaders.
It was a battle between the two species! To her horror, Mrsha saw the Crelers were tearing apart the Shield Spiders. They were too strong, too quick, and too tough! Their bodies were made of something stronger than the Shield Spiders and no matter how hard the spiders bit they couldn’t deliver more than superficial injuries. Whereas the Crelers could literally dig into their opponents and tear them apart!
It was terrible. And once the Crelers were done with the spiders, Mrsha would be next! She looked around desperately but there was no good way out. She saw a Creler leap off an eviscerated spider and scuttle towards her. It reared up—
And a bee smacked into it from the side! Apista, wings stretched wide, stabbed the Creler in its soft underbelly with her stinger. The Creler reared back and the Ashfire Bee flew around it, furiously attacking! Mrsha saw the other Creler break off as a whirling purple mass leapt at it. The magic healing slime engulfed the Creler into its body and Mrsha saw the creature fighting mightily to get out. But her attention was on the Creler in front of her.
It was trying to leap onto Apista! Mrsha raised her wand and smacked it on the back. The Creler whipped around, fast as a snake. The Gnoll leapt back and the Creler might have bit her then, but for the other Shield Spiders! They swarmed onto the creature, biting, fighting it in a mass of writhing limbs as the Creler thrashed about. It was a horrible battle and Mrsha saw more than one Shield Spider stumble away, practically ripped apart by the Creler’s claws. But then the Creler was dead, torn apart, and the second had fallen to the healing slime. It drifted in the slime’s body, its body twisted and mangled by the internal pressures put on it.
A silence fell over the Shield Spider nest as they realized there were still three uninvited guests. The spiders limped around Mrsha and she, realizing it was do-or-die, grabbed the healing slime and began splashing the spiders with its liquid. The spiders scuttled away at first, but then realized their wounds were healing! They crowded around Mrsha and she did her very best to convey that she was not prey. She pointed, and tried to convey a simple message.
There were more Crelers above. The Shield Spiders looked at her. They opened their mandibles wide and Mrsha the Great and Terrible held her breath.
The Fortress Beavers had retreated again. They had left six of their dead in the caves this time and killed only one Creler. They were all wounded, all poisoned by the Creler’s toxins. And yet, the beavers did not retreat. It was death or victory here. They had lost most of their colony to the Crelers already and they would not run.
This time they waited outside the cave, knowing the end was coming. The Crelers were eating their kin, laying their foul eggs. But they would not wait long, knowing more prey was ready to be slain.
The Fortress Beaver young stayed behind their parents as the beavers formed a semicircle around the cave. This was it. They heard scuttling, and then, to their astonishment, a howl! They turned and saw an unexpected ally. The white Gnoll had returned! In this dire hour she raced towards the cave, towards certain death. The Fortress Beavers stared at her and then at her strange companions.
An Ashfire Bee, a magic slime, and a Gnoll? Surely that wouldn’t be enough. But then they saw Shield Spiders scuttling across the ground behind them! The Fortress Beavers braced, but it was not the beavers that the Shield Spiders had come to slay. The scuttling grew louder as all sides heard the sounds from in the cave grew louder. There was a shriek, an inhuman noise that no animal would make either.
The Crelers had come. They poured out of the cave and the Fortress Beavers slapped their tails and chattered in fury. The battle was joined as Mrsha howled in alarm and Apista and the healing slime charged the creatures. It was a thin line of Fortress Beavers and Shield Spiders that rushed to meet them, but they were not alone! To her astonishment, the Gnoll saw more Shield Spiders pouring out of other pits, crawling across the grassland, drawn by some unknown message between their comrades. They set upon the Crelers, ignoring the Fortress Beavers, biting and clawing at the horrific things.
Mrsha understood as she saw the whirling bundles of legs and fangs turn and attack the large spiders. The Crelers bit into the armored shells of the spiders, tearing them apart, fighting the Shield Spiders as the massive Fortress Beavers tried to bite and pound them into submission. This wasn’t about predator and prey, this wasn’t about sides! The Crelers were a threat to all species!
They had not been born of this world. Not like animals. They had not sprung into being. They had been created, and they were malice and death. Mrsha understood that in a flash, connected by her tenuous bond with the animals. They had to be stopped. She saw the healing slime engulf another Creler and then Apista stabbing at a second one as a Fortress Beaver tried to smash it onto the ground.
The Creler leapt and bit the beaver’s throat. As the huge furry defender fell it turned towards Apista. This time the young Ashfire Bee was too slow to fly back and the Creler bore Apista to the ground with a powerful leap. It fought Apista as the Ashfire Bee grappled with it on the ground. The Creler was biting, tearing with all its claws and pincers! It was going to kill Apista! Mrsha didn’t realize she was running until her wand was stabbing into the Creler’s back.
The earth remembers. Call it out, diversify. Change what is, shape it to what it must be. Tell the earth what could happen. Combine memory and thought.
Make it grow.
Mrsha cast the spell. Grass shot up from the patch of earth around the Creler as Apista struggled free. The bee crept away, bleeding, as Mrsha held her wand in place. Bright green tendrils of grass snaked around the Creler as it turned towards her, weaving around its legs, its body.
The grass grew in a spurt around the Creler, weaving together, snaring it, pulling it down towards the ground. Surprised, the Creler scuttled at Mrsha, but she held her concentration. The grass tightened around the Creler as it fought to break free, holding it against the ground. It struggled there, helpless, as Mrsha staggered backwards.
The world greyed out and Mrsha fell backwards. She felt like the life had been sucked out of her. She saw a dim shape, and saw Apista crawling towards her. Her trustworthy companion had been savaged; she was bleeding from her abdomen, her sides. She crawled onto Mrsha’s hand as the Gnoll closed her eyes. They lay together as the darkness consumed Mrsha and the sounds of battle raged around her.
And then Mrsha woke up. She felt a wet sensation on her face and sat up suddenly. The heavy gelatinous mass slid off and Mrsha got a glimpse of a bright blue glowing form, and saw the healing slime slide away. She stared at it and then looked around wildly. Apista, where was—
The Ashfire Bee flew onto Mrsha’s head and clung to her! The Gnoll, stunned, stared at the bee and then looked around. She saw devastation in the cave, blood, broken body parts, and the Crelers.
They were all dead. The alliance of spiders and beavers had won, if barely. Mrsha saw Fortress Beavers and the carcasses of Shield Spiders strewn about the cave. And yet, more were on their feet and moving about then she would have imagined. Mrsha stared at the unhurt beavers and spiders and then realized who was responsible. The healing slime rolled towards a beaver that was missing a leg and engulfed the bleeding stump. The beaver stopped bleeding. The leg did not regrow, but the beaver seemed to visibly perk up. It turned around and licked the slime and the healing slime rolled away.
The healing slime. Mrsha approached it and the slime retreated warily. She waited and it rolled back. Mrsha gently patted the slime and the slime engulfed her paw and then let go. She looked around the cave and saw countless beady eyes on her. The Shield Spiders and Fortress Beavers stared at Mrsha and there was something intelligent in their eyes.
Intelligent, yes. Thoughtful—no. Mrsha saw no words in the eyes of the animals and spiders. But as some of the beavers surrounded her and began to groom her fur, Mrsha realized something.
Fortress Beavers could think. The slime could think. The Shield Spiders…well, Mrsha got more simplistic thoughts out of them. But they were wise enough to avoid a second battle in the wake of the war. They left, carrying their dead, as the Fortress Beavers reclaimed their cave. They began to tear apart the Crelers with their claws, not to eat, but to make sure not a hint of life remained in any of them. And they made sure to destroy the eggs as well.
The eggs. They were bright orange and red and contained swimming shapes within the dusky orbs. They had been laid in the bodies of the dead Fortress Beavers and Shield Spiders. Ruthlessly, the beavers smashed each one. Mrsha stared as a lone Creler egg rolled towards her. She picked it up and stared around the cave.
This had been a battle. An actual battle. Mrsha stared at the magic slime, at Apista, looking fierce and triumphant, and at the Fortress Beavers grimly reclaiming their home and pushing their dead out. She felt triumphant and tired. She was done playing. She wanted to go back home.
And so it was that Mrsha the Great and Terrible, hero of the Battle of the Cave, left the Fortress Beavers and the healing slime behind. It seemed content to roll about the caves and it apparently liked the dead Crelers enough to keep eating them. Mrsha hoped it would survive. But as for herself, she was going home. She walked back proudly to the inn, bearing the spoils of her travels with her.
“And where have you been?”
Erin propped her hands on her hips as Mrsha walked into the inn just in time for dinner. The Gnoll guiltily avoided Erin’s look. Erin peered at her suspiciously and then sniffed.
“Eurgh! You smell awful, Mrsha! Did you fall into the outhouse? Lyonette, we’re going to need to give Mrsha a bath!”
Jelaqua raised her hand. The Selphid was covered in dirt, as was Moore and Seborn. They were tired, but happy. They’d found their diggers and done a lot of digging themselves, apparently. Mrsha padded over to them, noting the blackened spot of floorboards in front of the kitchen. She wondered if they’d put the fire out.
“Beans are a wonderful extinguisher for magical fires. I learned that today. Also, we’re out of beans. I’m definitely not serving the ones we burnt on the fire and I really hope they don’t grow.”
Erin announced this to the room as she carried out a pot of macaroni and cheese for the hungry adventurers and Mrsha. The Gnoll sat happily at the table with the Halfseekers, thinking it was about time that she joined their ranks. Moore smiled at Mrsha.
“Did you have a good day, Mrsha?”
The Gnoll nodded. She began placing her treasures on the table. Jelaqua laughed as she leaned over to look.
“What’s that? Oh, you’ve been outside, have you? Let’s see, you’ve got a lovely flower, an empty potion bottle—where’d you get that, then? And an egg. Huh. What’s that?”
She stared at the orange, translucent egg with a frown. Moore and Seborn leaned over too as Mrsha rolled the egg towards the Selphid. Jelaqua frowned as she stared at the egg and then her eyes widened.
She flipped the table as she leapt to her feet with a shout. Erin watched her pot of macaroni fly everywhere. She stared at Mrsha. Mrsha stared around the inn as Seborn stomped on the Creler egg. She thought about the future and what it might hold. Every eye turned towards her. Erin folded her arms. Mrsha slid from her chair at the table and gave everyone her best, most innocent smile.
Then she ran for it.
One last detail. As Mrsha, the Great and Very-Much-In-Trouble fled from the inn with Lyonette, Erin, and the Halfseekers pursing her, a predator of the skies took wing. A Razorbeak, a massive avian similar to a pterodactyl with sharp claws and sharper teeth flew overhead. It was known to Erin as a Dino-Bird, and as it spotted the small Gnoll it began to dive.
It was a large creature, bigger than an eagle and fully capable of grabbing the Gnoll and lifting her up into the air where it would happily tear her apart. It dove as Mrsha hid from Lyonette behind the crest of a hill, beak pointed at the Gnoll’s back, talons outstretched—
An arrow pierced it through the chest. Surprised, the Razorbeak had only time for a strangled squawk before it fell. It landed dead on the ground and Bird lowered his bow and hummed his song.
“Birds, birds, I shoot birds. Because I am Birds. La, la, birds…”
It was the eighth bird he’d killed in the last hour, and all thanks to Mrsha. Bird nodded happily as he mentally marked the spot where the Razorbeak had fallen for picking up later. He watched as Mrsha disappeared behind the crest of a hill, pursued by the angry adults.
She’d been going out a lot today. He wondered if he should have stopped her, especially given that she was so young. But she had a wand and that meant she was a [Mage]. And mages could defend themselves, right? Bird happily went back to waiting for the next bird to try to carry Mrsha off.
Life was good.
[Beast Tamer Level 6!]
[Gardener Level 3!]
[Mage Level 2!]
[Conditions Met: Mage → Druid Class!]
[Class Consolidation: Gardener removed.]
[Class Consolidation: Beast Tamer removed.]
[Druid Level 2!]
[Skill – Spell: Wild Growth obtained!]
[Skill Change – Wild Affinity → Peace of the Wild!]
[Skill – Peace of the Wild obtained!]
Mrsha woke up in the middle of the night. She rubbed at her sore bottom, and then rolled over and went back to sleep. And thus the tale of Mrsha the Great and Terrible ended.