What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus trades what he believes to be the final Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans' from a homeless man. After dumping the coffee made by the magic beans into a potted bonsai tree, a massive ash tree mysteriously grows overnight inside the shop. Following a miraculous weekend which saves the coffee shop, Andrew suddenly and inexplicably leaves work in the company of a mysterious and fatally attractive woman...The golden dragon reared up, its long sinuous neck twisting about the confines of the cavern. Stalactites and stalagmites burst as the beast threw its body around in an attempt to shake loose the intrepid soul who had scaled the monster’s back, climbing nimbly to the top of its neck.
Perched precariously, Flyc the Fox, greatest thief of the four quarters, was trying desperately to sink the dagger of Igal into the dragon’s only vulnerable spot; it’s amber eyes. It was requiring all of Flyc’s skill as an acrobat and climber just to hold on; were he to free one hand to stab at the dragon’s eye, he’d be thrown loose for sure. While he was sure he could manage the fall without killing himself, he knew that the price he’d pay for not killing this dragon would be the lives of his companions.
On the ground, positioned in a semi-circle of readiness were the rest of the adventurers, treasure seekers all. The largest of them, a powerfully built woman dressed in armour black as her blacker than midnight (on a new moon) hair, was standing in a ready position, massive battle axe brandished, when she suddenly rolled her eyes and yelled up to Flyc.
“Stab the bloody thing already! It’s my turn to take a swing at it!” the warrior woman shouted.
From the back of the dragon, Flyc looked down at Amadrylia Blackstone and shouted in reply, “Piss off! I need this kill to make the next level!”
“Let me kill the dragon, and you can get your points looting the place!” Amadrylia said.
The older man in mystical looking robes next to Amadrylia nodded his head. “Quit your complaining!” he yelled. “Try being in my line of work for the first ten levels and getting anything that even vaguely resembles power!”
Flyc loosed one hand to give his accusers the finger; the dragon gave one last lurch and Flyc was tossed through the air like a rag doll. The thief did a roll in mid-air before striking one of the piles of gold and jewels that lay strewn about the cavern. White hot pain shot through his leg; likely broken, but all things considered, not the worst that could have happened.
In the meantime, the dragon had stopped thrashing about and was now sitting docile. If Flyc wasn’t mistaken, the dragon seemed to be taking a very deep breath.
“He’s going to use his breath weapon!” Flyc shouted in horror. “Everyone take cover.”
“I’m not about to use my breath weapon,” the dragon said through clenched fangs the size of Flyc’s arm. “I’m counting to ten…”
“Counting to ten?” said Kyaress, the group’s cleric and de facto healer. It was well known amongst adventurers that while clerics themselves got great self worth out of serving their deity, their only appreciated purpose by their team was their ability to take away all the consequences of a bad choice.
“Yes,” said the dragon in a surprisingly calm voice. “If I don’t count to ten, then the breath weapon is a foregone conclusion. And I’ll use it on all of you.”
“You can’t,” a Drow who had been leaning against a stalactite said with a smug grin. “I’ve got armour that’s impervious to heat attacks.”
“See, you’re out of character again,” the dragon said, breathing out a heavy sigh. “Why can’t you guys just stick with playing out the story instead of always getting pissed off about who does what, or kills who, or steals what or gains the most experience points. That’s not the point of the game you know.” The dragon picked his coffee cup that was sitting to the side of the treasure piles and took a long drink. When he finished, he ran his fingers through his hair and sighed again, deeper than the first time.
“Did you lock the door?” the Drow asked suddenly.
“Which door?” the Dragon replied.
“The one at the bottom of the stairs,” the Drow said.
“I was carrying two coffee cup trays,” the Dragon replied. “Besides I invited the new girl from the coffee shop up to see the place.”
The walls of the dragon’s cavern melted away, to be replaced by the familiar space of Force Five Comics, which in the Dragon’s mind was the best comic shop in town, not because of its great selection; one could get a better selection at the monolithic and overrated store on Whyte Ave., and not because of its cool owner, since the guy at Happy Harbor comics was still cooler than Mark Ripper, even though Ripper (The Dragon addressed Ripper by his last name because the two of them shared first names, and having two Marks in the same room was always confusing) played lead guitar in a local goth metal band. It was the best comic shop in town because Ripper opened the space up on certain evenings for the Dragon’s gaming group. And since Ripper had ordered all their miniatures and Dwarven Forge scenery as “Store Décor”, it had been a tax write off.
It also had a much better décor aesthetic than most other comic shops due to the fact that Ripper had been dating a student from the Interior Design program at the University’s outreach college. She’d used the shop as a final project; the green-gray faux finish gave the impression of foliage or castle walls without being overtly tacky. There was only a smattering of medieval weaponry on the walls (the presence of any weapons being the reason they finally broke up) and the shelves containing the gaming figures and scenery were very subtle. The store lacked the cluttered, unorganized feel of most comic shops.
Blackout, now fully removed from any Draconian persona, put his coffee cup back down onto the long, heavy wooden table which was used for reading and sketching during store hours. It was currently covered in pieces of graph paper, polyhedron dice, a forest of pencils, lead figurines in various stages of paint, Dwarven Forge scenery and Blackout’s Dungeon Master’s screen. Everything a geek could desire on a Tuesday night.
Seated around the table were the five other gamers. Mark Ripper, the store’s owner, had been hastily working through a last minute level-up of his character, his eyes fixed on his character sheet, chewing on a pencil, head leaning on one hand, his long, straight dark hair falling in a curtain to either side of his face, when he’d paused to look up and ask Blackout whether or not he’d closed the door leading up to the shop. Ripper was the group’s dark heart, playing the Drow bard whose goal was to find a song that would undo creation, or barring that, to aggravate Blackout, Dragon or no.
“I asked the new coffee girl to come up and see the place after she gets off work.” Blackout asked him. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah, no problem,” Ripper replied. He looked up from his character sheet. “Are you interested in her or something?”
“Not sure yet,” Blackout said. “But until I know, hands off, okay? I don’t stand a chance against you and your rockstar charm. Especially with her.”
“Why’s that?” asked a brunette girl with ice blue eyes (one of which was currently sporting a decent shiner) who was wearing a dirty green and black rugby uniform. Courtney won the award for ‘least likely to play tabletop fantasy roleplaying games’; she was in her third year at the University, played for the U’s rugby team, and worked with troubled youth on weekends part time. Courtney was Amadrylia Blackstone, the group’s warrior-woman who wielded a two-handed battle-axe and wore more suitable armor than a chain mail bikini, much to Ripper’s chagrin.
“She’s really into the kind of music Ripper plays,” Blackout replied. “I imagine he’s like her wet dream or something.”
“Girls don’t have wet dreams,” Courtney replied matter-of-factly.
“Whatever,” Blackout said. “Speaking of wet dreams, have any of you seen Andrew the past few days?”
“Saw him on the weekend,” said a teenager with dreadlocks. Mikey was the baby of their gaming group, and yet the most experience player with nearly 8 years under his belt, having played ever since he was in grade 5, as well as having been Flyc the Fox in their current campaign.
“Since the weekend Mikey,” Blackout said.
“Nope,” Mikey replied. “But I had to stay home last night and finish up a math assignment.”
“Man I’m glad I’m not in school anymore,” Courtney said.
“You don’t think of University as school?” asked a middle-aged man with a goatee and salt and pepper hair. George, aka ‘Geo’ aka ‘the Geomancer,’ aka ‘G’, was a late blooming gamer, introduced to the game through one of his students a few years earlier. He had joined their group when Ripper had put up an ad on the comic shop wall looking for “someone who can competently play a magic-user’. As a professor of mathematics, Geo could more than competently play a magic-user. He was the first player Blackout had ever gamed with who had frustrated him as a Dungeon Master.
“No way Geo,” Courtney replied. “School…as in what Mikey attends, is where they force you to take subjects you have no interest in. University is where, with the exception of calculus,” she aimed a look at Geo, “You get to choose courses you want to take.”
“And go for free on a rugby scholarship!” grinned a short Korean girl with platinum blonde hair chopped above her shoulders, adding an enthusiastic “Yay!” If Ripper was the group’s darkness, Sun-hi, or Sunny as she liked to be called, was definitely its light. She played Kyaress, priestess of the Light, who was fond of undoing the darkness Ripper’s Drow unleashed. It drove him nuts. She was generally oblivious.
“Like you need caffeine,” Blackout growled. “So none of you have seen Andrew?”
“I haven’t seen him with my eyes, but I did run into him online Sunday night,” Courtney said. “We were on a chat, and we talked for a bit, but he went into a private chat with somebody. That was the last I talked to him.”
“Why are you inquiring?” Geo asked. “I’m not sure I want to know why talking about nocturnal emissions reminded you of Andrew.”
“Well, that’s why I invited Lara – the new coffee girl – up. But she’s not the wet dream part,” he blurted. “She’s really worried about Andrew. He left work yesterday pretty abruptly…with a girl who was a dead ringer for a famous porn star. That’s the wet dream part.”
“Which one?” Ripper asked, suddenly interested in the conversation again.
“Which what?” Blackout said.
“Which porn star?”
“How would I know?” Blackout said with very convincing ignorance. “I wouldn’t have even known she looked like a porn star if someone hadn’t told me.”
“Who?” Courtney asked.
“Who what?” Blackout replied.
“Who told you she looked like a porn star?”
“We’re getting off topic here,” Blackout recovered.
“If I left work yesterday with a girl who looked like a porn star, I doubt I’d have come into work either,” Ripper said.
“Well, she’s worried about him,” Blackout said, “And I offered to go over to his apartment with her and see if he’s sick or something.”
“You seriously think there’s something mysterious going on here?” Ripper asked. “Andrew is a first class vanilla personality. He has nothing going for him. Sounds to me like he got himself a hooker with his newfound prosperity and is taking a few days to enjoy himself.”
“She said it wasn’t like that,” Blackout said.
“She’s only known him for a week,” Ripper said. “How well can you know anyone in a week?”
“Well, I’ve known Andrew for longer than a week. I took a few classes with him last year,” Courtney said. “And he didn’t say anything on the chat about prosperity or taking time off. In fact, almost everything we talked about had to do with how much financial trouble the coffee shop has been in and how relieved he was when they broke even.”
“Yeah, that Tree sure adds a certain something to the place,” Geo said. “I went in there for a tea and ended up staying all afternoon reading.”
“So he didn’t say anything about having met a girl?” Blackout asked Courtney.
“Not in so many words, no…” Courtney replied.
“But…?” Blackout prompted.
Courtney rolled her eyes. “We were on a singles’ chat. And if you go to private chat with someone, it sometimes means you’ve met someone.”
“Or you’re having cybersex,” Ripper said.
“Will you please not think with your dick for just one minute?” Courtney growled.
“I did,” Ripper replied. “It was like ten minutes ago when Blackout was out getting us coffee.”
Courtney punched Ripper on the thigh, giving him a Charley horse, which, while it did not make him quieter, helped him to stop thinking with his dick for not one, but several minutes.
“So you think he met this porn star on a chat?” Mikey asked. “That’s just crazy. You don’t meet porn stars online…you meet losers.”
Courtney shot him a look.
“What?” Mikey said. “I’m a loser. You need to embrace your inner geek already. You may be an athlete by day, but you’re a serious barbarian babe, otherwise referred to as la-hoooz-er by night.”
Courtney flipped him an ‘up-your-kilt’ salute and turned to Blackout. “Maybe she just looked like a porn star. Maybe they got talking, shared fantasies, and she came dressed as his.”
“And he hasn’t answered his phone or come into work because….?” Blackout held his hands out, awaiting a plausible explanation.
“Because she’s really a succubus,” Ripper said, putting his pencil down with a sarcastic finality that signaled he was done leveling up his character and was ready to get back to the serious business of gaming. “And she’s been sucking the life force out of him for the past 24 hours.”
“A succubus,” Sunny said brightly. “We killed one of those once, didn’t we?”