Questball - Chapter V
In Chapter IV you chose to let the rabbit Jimmy Foofkins join our heroes on their quest. Time shall tell if that was a good decision…
If you’re just getting caught up, you can read previous chapters here:
Cynthia is slobbering, her paw on Jimmy Foofkins’s throat, pinning him to the ground. She’s hungry for rabbit stew.
The rabbit has just proposed they let him join their quest. Our heroes’ questing skillsets are too narrow, he says, too focused on combat and slaying demons. He, on the other hand, is more astute in practical matters, like making money and figuring out how to avoid demons in the first place.
Granwell looks to Vlarax, considering the proposal.
“Well, I suppose having money with which to buy food would be kind of helpful,” Vlarax says. “And I’m just terrible with accounting.”
Granwell nods, then takes a knee beside Jimmy Foofkins, who is still gasping for air.
“Fine then,” he says to the rabbit. “Let’s put your skills to the test. If you can get us a meal and free drinks in that tavern, then you can join our quest.”
Jimmy Foofkins kicks open the tavern door in dramatic fashion. Granwell, Vlarax, and Cynthia follow close behind. The bar goes silent for a moment as everyone turns to see what all the fuss is about. Jimmy stands in the doorway, his furry front feet on his hips, and scans the room from right to left.
This tavern has passed through many names and owners over the years, as bars are apt to do. Originally it was known as The King’s Head. Some royal emissaries passing through took offense to this, seeing as it slandered The King’s Good Name, and had the owner hanged. It then became Seven Cockatrices Tavern. Some other emissaries took offense to this, seeing as it didn’t honor The King’s Good Name sufficiently. The owner was once again hanged, and the name changed to the tolerably reverent yet vaguely nostalgic His Majesty’s Cockatrice; or, as it is known colloquially, The King’s Cock.
The ambience and decor are about what you would expect in a roadside tavern in the forest during the opening stages of a quest to save the Realm from destruction. It’s just lively enough to have a good time, but just ominous enough to remind you that you might get murdered at any minute. In the far right corner a hooded figure sits in sinister silence, his face shrouded in darkness. Against the back wall a group of merry, drunken dwarves are engaged in a game of yarts. On the near side a few people are huddled around a table that gives off a faint purple glow, loudly engaged in some sort of magickal game. Creatures of various species and levels of intoxication sit interspersed throughout the dining area. It’s not crowded, but one has to wonder where all these people came from, and where they’re going. Perhaps they’re embarking on quests of their own. Perhaps they’ve just returned from conquering another Great Evil in some faraway land, and are treating themselves to a long deserved rest. Or perhaps they just happened to be in the forest and wanted to get drunk. As Vlarax looks around the room, he wonders whether each of the strange creatures in here has their own story, with each of them as the hero at its center, and he just an extra passing through.
But theirs is not this story, and he doesn’t dwell on this long because he’s hungry.
Behind the bar, a large muscular woman with bulging forearms and a nose ring cleans a clay drinking vessel with a cloth. Jimmy nods at her, and she nods back. A few of the more pathetic patrons of The King’s Cock sit slouched at the bar, their heads buried in their drinks. At least one of them conspicuously avoids eye contact with Jimmy. This is the one that Jimmy approaches. He narrows his eyes at this unfortunate soul then hops onto the bar next to him.
“Where’s my money, Kronk?” The creature is a burly orc-like thing that looks like he’s seen his fair share of fights. Yet he appears scared of this small rabbit whose nose wiggles from side-to-side while he talks.
“I told you I’d get your money, Jimmy. Just gimme a couple days,” Kronk says, still avoiding eye contact. Jimmy grabs him by the back of the head and slams his face onto the bar. Then, with a rapid thumping of his hind right leg, slaps him half a dozen times across the face.
“Not the answer I’m looking for, wise guy.” The other patrons shift a seat or two left or right, to give Jimmy and his foe some space. “Looks like you got enough dough to get yourself a few drinks though, eh? Maybe we’ll just throw a few more on your tab while we’re at it.”
“Sure, Jimmy, whatever you want,” Kronk says nervously. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“Gerta, three pints on my friend Kronk here, please,” Jimmy says to the bartender. “Three bowls of hoof stew, too. Big ones. Extra carrots, easy on the hoof.” He remembers Cynthia. “And a unicorn horn for the dog.”
Our three heroes sit at a table drinking their beers and eating hoof stew, compliments of Kronk. Cynthia is underneath gnawing a unicorn horn. It’s not an authentic unicorn horn — those are far too expensive, and public sentiment has long ago turned against the practice of unicorn poaching — but dogs can’t tell the difference, or they don’t care.
Jimmy sticks his snout into his pint, laps up some beer, then wiggles his nose contentedly. “So, about that quest.”
Vlarax and Granwell look at each other and nod.
“I suppose you’ve proven yourself capable,” Granwell says. “Welcome to the Quest to Save the Realm from the Evil Brewing in the North.”
Jimmy proceeds to question them on their plan for the quest, to include funding, logistics, etc. To the extent that they have a plan at all, it primarily involves journeying through the wilderness and slaying whoever gets in their way. Granwell, experienced hero though he is, has never been one for details in this regard.
“I’m more of a ‘big picture’ kind of guy,” he says. “The rest usually just sort of works out on its own.”
Of course, Everdale the Green is the leader of the whole operation, and ultimately they’ll have to reach her to complete the final leg of the journey. Perhaps she has bigger plans in mind. If she does, they are not aware of them. In quests, just as in other aspects of life, leaders are often reluctant to keep their underlings fully informed, or to keep them informed at all.
“First things first, we’ll need some dough,” Jimmy says. “There’s stretches of wilderness around here where you can go a week or more without seeing civilization. We’ll need to buy supplies, stock up on food. I’m talking carrots, lettuce, berries: the good stuff. And blankets. My days of eating grass and sleeping in holes are over.”
“How do you suppose we earn this ‘dough’ you speak of?” Granwell asks.
“That’s where our wizard here will make himself useful,” Jimmy says. He motions to the back of the bar. “Option One: Those dwarves back there are playing a game called yarts. And they’re big gamblers. I happen to be an accomplished yartsman myself, but no guarantees I can beat them all. We place a big bet on me to beat all of them in yarts, then the wizard here can secretly use his magick to guide my yarts to their target.
“The downside, of course, is that we don’t have any money to wager. So if we lose they will definitely murder us.”
Vlarax winces as a heavily intoxicated dwarf smashes a table in half with a battle axe and lets out a roaring laugh. He raises his hand.
“Yes, wizard?” the rabbit says.
“Umm, I’m actually not all that great at magick,” Vlarax says.
“What’s Option Two?” asks Granwell. Jimmy motions to the group of characters huddled around the glowing table.
“Option Two: The guys gathered around that table over there are playing a particular type of game. They’re in here every day. They’re obsessed with that game, addicted to it, really. And they bet a lot of money on it. They can’t control themselves. They won’t stop betting until they’re staggering drunk and the bar closes for the night. The game is called Questball.”
Vlarax’s ears perk up at the word Questball, the memories of which now seem in the distant past.
“Well now,” he says, cracking his knuckles. “Questball is somewhat of a specialty of mine.” He proceeds to list the many ranks and achievements he has earned in the game, as well as some particularly impressive records he holds, accomplishments which would awe any knowledgeable Questball player.
“All right, all right. Enough.” Jimmy cuts Vlarax off just as he starts to explain how he was the first player ever to complete the quest to deliver the sacred something-or-other to the great Elven king of someplace-or-other. “I was gonna suggest we get them drunk and rob them. But if you’re good at this game I guess that works, too. How good are you?”
“Quite good,” Vlarax says. “Perhaps even rather good.”
“Good enough to bet our lives on it?” the rabbit asks. “These guys are tavern scum. They’re liars and cheaters. They know every cheat code in the book, and won’t hesitate to use them on you.”
The group contemplates for a moment, drinking/lapping their beers, or chewing their faux unicorn horns.
“Okay,” says Jimmy, breaking the silence. “Here’s the deal: Option One, I play the dwarves in yarts, and our useless wizard tries to conjure up a little magick sauce for this special occasion; Option Two, the wizard challenges those lowlifes to a game of Questball for all that they’re worth; Option Three, we get someone drunk and rob them. Either way, I’d say there’s a decent chance we wind up dead. But we need money, and we can’t stick around here for long. Our friend Kronk isn’t happy about how we treated him earlier. In a couple hours he’ll be back here with his orc buddies looking for revenge.”
“How we treated him?” Vlarax says. “I seem to recall it was you that beat him up.”
“I don’t see you complaining about those beers,” Jimmy says.
“Option Three might pose a bit of a moral dilemma for us,” says Granwell, steering the conversation back to the matter at hand. “We’re supposed to be on a ‘good’ quest, after all. Let’s scrap Option Three for now. If the others don’t work out, we can reassess and come up with some way to rationalize it.”
None of the options seem ideal, but Jimmy is right: they need money.