The innkeeper turned to look at her thoughtfully before looking back out the door of his inn off toward the east. Westward, smoke was rising up over the horizon. Somewhere beyond the range of his eyes great fires burned in Emon has they had done for nearly week.
“Tarre!” he called out.
The dark-skinned girl looked up and blinked before walking towards him with an expression that combined hope and anxiety in one bundle of nervous anticipation. “Umm, yes, Master Gareth?”
“The floors are as swept as they’re going to be,” he told her. “Go to the cellar and bring up some fresh kegs for the taps. Then take the empties to the brewer.”
“Right, Master,” she declared with a smile, “I’ll get right on that.” The tension in her shoulders seemed to just melt at the prospect of being somehow useful.
Tarre twisted and took three steps toward the cellar before stop and looking uncertainly at the broom in her hands and then glancing around before finally fixing her look on a corner of the room and taking several quick steps to reach it before gingerly setting the broom down, treating it as if it were incredibly fragile. Then she walked quickly to the stairwell down, one hand holding on to the railing while the other lifted up and out, held at just under shoulder height with the elbow pointed downward.
A handful of the early morning patrons turned to watch the delicate mannerisms and gestures with a mixture of expressions ranging from the bemused to the hungry. Some of those expressions became quite surprised to see her return carrying a keg of ale almost as if it was nothing, but the locals were used to it. Oblivious to this attention and her tongue sticking barely out of the left of her mouth, Tarre settled the keg behind the bar and then returned to the cellar to get another.
The innkeeper had already put her out of his mind as he turned to a pair of his customers and shook his head. “They say that one of them is up in the Gatshadow overlooking Westruun.”
“Aye, I’ve seen it,” one of the two agreed. “There’s a gaggle of those savages over there doing its dirty work. They took my entire stock out from under me; horse and wagon included.”
“You’re lucky to have gotten out of there with your skin!” the third noted excitedly.
“I almost didn’t,” the merchant protested. “I had to run pretty quick.” He sighed and shook his head. “It’s going to be a trick getting my business back up and going after this.”
“It’s only a matter of time before the wyverns start knocking on our doors,” the third man said darkly.
“I doubt it’ll be an issue,” Master Gareth insisted.
“You seem confident,” the merchant responded. “What makes you think they won’t sweep through here when they’ve picked the bones of the cities clean?”
Behind them, Tarre was carefully setting another keg down and trying to shift the empty ones out of the way. She pulled sharply and the morning was interrupted with the sound of splintering wood as the keg tore apart in her hands.
“Damn it, Tarre,” Master Gareth snapped causing her to flinch. “Can’t you do anything without causing some sort of problem?”
“I’m sorry, Master Gareth,” she apologized stutteringly. “I…I’ll p..pay for a new one.”
“See that you do!” he declared. “And get along now! We’ll need the new kegs ready for tonight. There’ll be lots of people ready for a good drink tonight.”
Tarre nodded past hunched shoulders while using a rag to wipe off the dregs of old alcohol that had splashed out of the empty keg. Very carefully, she returned to the task of changing out the kegs before grabbing the unbroken empty and starting out of the building.
“That girl is strong,” the merchant said with a low whistle. “What kind of name is Tarre anyway?”
“Because she’s black as tar and just as sticky,” Master Gareth explained in the manner of something often heard and repeated in the course of his life.
“You sound like you’d rather be rid of her,” the merchant said, cupping his chin. “You know, I could think of a few merchants that would be interested in an exotic…servant.”
“You mean slave,” the third snapped.
“The girl’s a nuisance surely,” Master Gareth said. “And costs a fortune to keep fed, but that’s not the answer.”
“I was only suggesting you might be able to profit some out of finding her a contract elsewhere,” the merchant insisted. “I won’t bring it up again.”
“Aye, see that you don’t,” Master Gareth noted.
“Where did she come from anyway?” the regular asked. “She’s been here as long as I can remember.”
“My grandparents took her in as a servant,” Gareth explained.
“Your grand-,” the merchant gasped. “How old is she?”
“Hard to say,” Master Gareth said with a shrug. “She ages like an elf even if she isn’t one, but I think she’s closing in on a hundred years. I imagine she’ll still be a useless girl when my own kids inherit the inn.”
Tarre returned, looking sort of morosely at a coin purse as she stored the fresh kegs into the cellar. The common began to fill up. In another time it would have been merchants and caravans moving up and down the roads. Now, however, it was stragglers and survivors filtering in from cities east and west looking for a place to stop, rest and drown out their troubles for a night.
“Tarre!” Master Gareth shouted. “Take this to that group and find out what they want!”
He gestured broadly at a tray full of mugs of varying sizes. She wiped her hands on her apron and nodded, carefully gathering up the tray and walking purposefully and slowly through the crowds to the table in question. “H…hello. These are your drinks?”
The group was spread between three tables and was a rather assorted group with three half-elves, a human and two gnomes. Then there was the last member of the group, a truly massive goliath with a majestic beard. Tarre gulped and eyed him carefully as she handed over his mug, stepping back reflexively as he took it.
“Oh, thank you,” the goliath noted with a broad smile. “My throat was getting a bit dry.”
“Don’t worry about Grog, dear,” one of the half-elves assured her. She was a woman with long black hair and a curious amulet that smelled of magic to Tarre. “He’s cuddly and harmless.”
“Until he takes your head off,” another half-elf retorted with a snort, clearly the first’s brother. He was dressed in a feathery sort of armor that also held a lot of magic. Actually, the whole group smelled heavy with magic of various types.
“Umm, okay,” Tarre commented. “Master Gareth asked me to find out i..if you’d like anything.”
“Do you have anything that isn’t chicken?” the white-haired but young human asked as he cleaned his spectacles.
“I…I caught some venison last night,” Tarre noted. “I think there’s plenty left.”
“You caught it, you say?” the first half-elf asked leaning forward. “Are you a ranger.”
“Umm, no?” Tarre said nervously.
“Druid?” the third half-elf asked, a woman
“Not really,” she answered. “Would you like the venison?”
“That sounds lovely,” the human agreed.
“Now hold on a moment,” the male gnome declared. Tarre recognized him vaguely from a caravan of entertainers that had been through the crossroads a few times decades ago. “I think I will have the chicken.”
“Of course, you will,” the human sighed.
“What’s wrong with chicken?” the gnome asked with an innocent seeming expression.
“I thought that one of the reasons we stopped here was to get something other than chicken for once,” the second half-elf woman noted.
“Just some bread and soup for me,” the blonde gnomish woman noted pleasantly, tapping Tarre’s hand gently as she jotted down what they were asking for.
“An…and, you, umm sir,” she said turning to the goliath.
“Venison sounds good to me,” he said after a long, period of heavy and painful seeming thought. “Something good with mayonnaise.”
“Oh, our shipment of mayonnaise was intercepted by the wyvern riders last week,” she said. Then she realized who she was talking to and cringed away momentarily. “Umm, I’m sorry?”
“Really?” the goliath asked, looking curious. “Anyway, I have my own mayonnaise.”
“Oh, uh, good, well then,” Tarre said. “Excuse me.”
“Wait, wait,” the red-headed half-elf that had asked her about being a druid asked, catching her attention. Tarre cautiously turned to look at her.
“Yes?” Tarre asked.
“You’re not a drow are you,” she declared. “I don’t mean anything. I just recently learned how to change around what I look like too.” So saying, she let her face and appearance shift slightly. “And I thought maybe I could help you out. You know with some pointers or something.”
“I..” Tarre paused and considered it seriously for a moment before opting to bow out with what she as sure was going to be an easily seen through excuse. “I don’t think it would work. I don’t think my change works the same at all? Maybe?”
“And why do you feel ever so…draconic?” the dark-haired half-elf woman asked through narrowed eyes.
Tarre’s panic showed clearly on her face as she looked around and back toward Master Gareth and leaning in to whisper. “I c…can’t talk about that. Master Gareth wouldn’t be happy about it at all.” She stood up straight and backed nervously away before loudly speaking. “I’ll go take in your order now!” Then she turned about and practically fled as the obvious adventurers watched her.
The girl didn’t hear what came after that as she vanished into the kitchen with the order. After which she found something to busy herself with so one of the other servers would have to take the food to those adventurers. She continued to make herself scarce with background tasks as the night progressed. She was very relieved to slip down into the basement where she dwelled and lock the door behind her.
As the earliest signs of dawn filtered in through the lower window of the inn next morning, Tarre crept to the window sill and watched as the adventuring party left the inn from the basement before leaving it for her morning chores.
“Tarre!” Master Gareth yelled as she appeared. The sound made her flinch. “Where’ve you been all morning?”
“I…I was ill this morning,” she lied. “I didn’t want to risk…umm…anything in front of clients.”
Master Gareth examined her closely for a bit and cupped his chin. “Don’t let it happen again. This is a business we run here.”
Once again, the day moved on and the sun climbed up high in the sky. Tarre was behind the inn, preparing to take boxes of refuse out and down the road to a local pig-farmer who would pay for the cheap feed. A shadow crossed along the edge of her vision and she twisted to watch it skim over the ground before turning her eyes upward to see the five circling wyverns skimming lower to the ground.
“They’re landing!” she gasped out loud before sprinting towards the town square and blending with the small crowd of terror struck humans watching the descending beasts and their riders.
“We are soldiers of the Chroma Conclave!” the lead rider shouted. Behind him on the other wyverns were four lizardmen but he was a leather armored human with a gleefully sadistic look on his slim and cultured face, “Your new lords and masters! And we think it is time you became accustomed to the new taxes being levied.”
“What are these taxes?” someone asked hesitantly, taking the clear invitation to speak in the pause after the lead rider spoke.
“Why, everything of course,” the man said with a chuckle. “Everything of value. Coins, jewels, food, fine wines. That sort of thing. Bring it forward now and make ready to transport it. We will be your escorts to make sure that you’re…safe.”
“But what will we live on?” another person asked.
The lead rider nudged his wyvern and the stinger-tail whipped outward toward the source of the last question. Tarre stumbled forward herself as quickly as she could and grabbed the stinger as it neared the end of its path and stopping it cold.
“Go away!” She shouted. “T..this is my town.”
Several of the riders shuffled uncomfortably as the leader laughed in bemusement. “You’re strong and fast girl. But I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, I do,” Tarre declared pushing forward still holding the stinger before tossing it aside.
Her form shimmered and stretched growing larger with each moment, the neck stretching out and the shoulders bulging out into a pair of wide, heavily scarred wings. In bare moments she matched the size of the wyverns, her horned, skull like head looking down toward the lead rider as she stretched out, a long tail twisting out behind her.
Poorly healed bones ground together with each tiny movement and the smallest actions were fractions of a puzzle of nightmarish pain. She moved deliberately, suppressing every twinge and crippling fire her natural form was afflicted with. She looked at the lead rider again and spoke in draconic, so that the wyverns would understand as well.
“This is my town,” she repeated. “These are my people. Go away.”
The human riders and his lizardfolk looked unsure and hesitant, and Tarre had hopes that her tight voice had been interpreted as anger and wrath. Perhaps it had been, but the wyverns knew better and the aggressive creatures knew vulnerability when they saw, smelled and heard it. Before the riders could decide, one of the wyverns launched from where it had settled on the roof of a building to leap at Tarre, claws outstretched.
She leaped up and out of the way, wincing and shrieking as her wings lifted her up into the air. If she were in her humanoid form, tears would have been forming in the corners, but this body had no tear ducts. With a breath she filled the air with fog.
They were fast, much faster than her crippled wings could carry her, but they didn’t have the senses to deal with the fog the same way that she did. The first went rushing past her, heading up into the sky. She reached outward to grab it as it passed, holding it in her claws and tearing into its throat before pushing away and watching as one of its own flight descended on the injured wyvern and rider.
Tarre angled further upward pulling out of the fog cloud and into the air above. The protests of the wounded wyvern were soon cut off and replaced with those of feasting as three other winged forms pushed out of the cloud following her. One darted past claws tearing into her as it did, followed immediately by a second tearing another chunk out of her body.
The third had lingered, waiting for her to be disoriented by the first throw before lashing out with its stinger. The spike stabbed deep into her shoulder and the burning poison filled her already pain-wracked body. But she grabbed tight of the wyvern’s tail and let her body fall down to the ground into the fog cloud, pulling the wyvern down with her and using it to break her fall into the cobblestone path covered in the fog below.
She staggered to the side, trying to keep low in the fog when another pain stabbed through her and she turned to see the wyvern’s lizardman rider with a spear jabbed into her side. The accumulated pain cluttered her mind and the fog cloud began to disperse, showing the townsfolk having scattered to cover in fear and confusion.
Lashing out, she grabbed the lizardman and tore him apart knowing the other wyverns and their riders were already sweeping around to her position. She twisted about and released a gout of acid at the enemy. They scattered clear of the line, catching only the edges of the acid stream. The snarls and calls of pain spoke more of annoyance than fear.
Another wyvern dashed past her, slicing across her skull and pouring draconic blood down into her eyes. Then came the painful, stabbing and burning sensation of another stinger stabbed into her back. She lashed out blindly, trusting her other senses to guide her and taking a long strip out of the hide of one of her attackers. The wyvern that she had slammed into the ground rose up, shaking its head clear and snarled before reaching out to bite into her shoulder and slam a stinger into her back.
Tarre tossed the monster back, throwing it off her and stumbled away, body shrinking again into a humanoid form. The pain had gotten too much and she couldn’t hold her birth form any longer. She fell backwards onto the pavement and tried to stand, two arrows appearing in her shoulder and chest. She blinked, breathing in raspingly as blood slipped into her humanoid lungs and coughed out of her mouth. Another stinger stabbed into her abdomen and pulled out as she wobbled and stared up at the wyverns and their riders.
“Well, you’ve left your mark,” the lead rider said. “Two riders and a wyvern. Not bad for what is essentially a scrawny child. As dragons go anyway. Think we should take her alive?”
“Best not to risk it,” one of the lizardfolk hissed in draconic.
“Please, just go away.” Tarre pleaded, trying and failing to put some ounce of draconic pride into her voice. The wyvern’s venom was filling her, making her head pound and her vision split. She wasn’t sure what she was smelling, blood or bile or the terror of the village.
The human rider chuckled as he gestured for the other wyverns to move in. “I don’t think so.”
Tarre watched, or tried to as one of the wyverns widened its jaws to descend on her tiny, bite-sized humanoid form. Then the skull was torn apart by a serious of explosions and the wyvern’s body toppled beside her. A moment a later a volley of arrows slashed through the flight of wyverns and their riders immediately followed by a terrifying roar and the appearance of the goliath from the last night descending with a great, black sword and slicing through the neck of another wyvern.
The dark-skinned dragon in humanoid form stumbled to her knees as attempts to deal with the goliath where interrupted by a burst of purple lighting and vines grabbing riders off the wyverns. Daggers seemed to manifest out of the body of the human rider and then vanish. Everything was spinning around her and she dropped forward trying to catch her breath and fight off the poison as a small form came up beside her.
“Hold on, hold on,” a gentle voice was saying. “Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine.”
A rush of soothing energy filled her and drove away most of the pain as she felt herself falling into darkness.
Tarre woke up slowly at first until she saw the faces surrounding her and then snapped awake before clutching her blankets up to herself protectively. She saw that she was in the cellar of the inn on her own bed, but was currently surrounded by the adventurers from before.
“Wh..what are you doing here?” she demanded. “This is my room!”
“So, you are a dragon,” the dark-haired half-elf woman noted with a suspicious smirk. The woman winked at her in a way that made her very nervous.
“I…yes,” Tarre admitted.
“A black dragon,” the half-elf woman’s apparent brother noted. “As I recall, that’s not usually a good sort.”
“I’m not bad!” Tarre insisted. “And…and this is my room. Except it’s the cellar, so I guess I share it.”
“Vex said she was a child,” the red-headed woman noted. “Maybe we should be acting a little bit less like an inquisition.”
“I said she was almost an adult,” Vex corrected. “And I’m still not sure she isn’t bad. You know about dragons and their tricks, Keyleth.”
“Yeah, but this isn’t Raishan,” the red-head said sharply.
“What I’d like to know,” the human noted. “Is why you’re drow right now. Well, drow-ish. Shouldn’t you have gone back to your true form when you fell unconscious?”
Tarre’s eyes shifted between the adventurers and momentarily eyed the goliaths dark sword, swallowing nervously before quietly answering. “Goblins.”
“What was that?”
“Goblins,” she answered slightly stronger. “They tortured me as a hatchling. My body’s broken…I can’t stay long in that form because of the pain. Master Gareth’s grandparents rescued me. So I help their family.”
“And you thought you could fight those wyverns?” the gnomish musician asked incredulously.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time?” she suggested.
“Well, that’s in keeping with a teenager, I suppose,” the blonde gnomish healer said with a shrug. “Next time maybe be a bit smarter about things. Get help at least.”
“Right, so are we making her one of the good guys?” the goliath asked. “If we are, maybe we can get back on to what we were doing.”
“I think we can safely do so,” the human noted. “She seems, well, relatively harmless enough.”
“Well, Percy not being immediately paranoid,” the half-elf man commented with a smile.
“My paranoia is what brought us back and has been sufficiently answered,” Percy responded. “For the moment, at least. She at least is not something we’ll have to worry about right now and we do have pressing issues to consider.”
“Ah, well do you have any more venison?” the goliath asked. “I’m feeling a little bit hungry.”
Tarre blinked in confusion. “I’ll check the larder?”
Sample Text from Demon Next Door expansion
Dungeons and Dragons: Draconic Calm
Teen Titans Bio: Mari Archer aka Hecate
Said OC isn't actually mine, she's something I ran across in a mid-90s fanfic being set up as a quirky background character. But the three or four paragraphs of her background have stuck with me for years and I've been curious how VM would interact with her.
Doubt I did well since I spent only about six hours or so on this. (I opted for the family she attached herself to be less full of bastards than the original version)