The Founding of the Monster Inn
A lot of businesses are founded on good partnerships...
I learned that the hard way a long time ago.
Once again, I found myself on the run. Halflings get a bad rap for being light fingered little thieves. In my case, I earned the title dishonestly, as my last band of adventurers would attest to (if they caught up to me.) ‘Tasty snack’ is the other stereotype though luckily I've yet to prove that one right.
Anyhow, where was I? Oh yes, exhausted, footsore, and very lost. I needed rest and daylight if I wanted to find the mountain path, there was worse in these woods than the party running me down. Probably.
I'd like to say that I came across my current fortuitous circumstances by wit to guile, but the truth of it is I stumbled backwards through a bramble bush and landed practically on the lintel of the strangest building I'd ever seen.
It had a roof, a chimney stack and four walls, to be sure, but nothing about it made sense. Each wall was a different size, and appeared constructed of some form of animal skin, crudely painted to resemble bean and brick. The door was red and yawed open as if abandoned to the wind. If not for the low light and shadows passing by its lopsided windows, I'd have though the whole place a shambolic ruin. Still, this was no time to have standards, it would be safer than a night in the dark forest scurrying from one hiding place to another.
Or so I thought.
I pushed through the creaking door, expecting to find a Fur-Trappers Inn or Goblin's Rest. Either could be handled with coin or entertainment and for once, I was good for both. The short red hallway opened up into a targe taproom. I stopped dead in the doorway, the hair on my arms rising. There was something off about this place. For a start, it was empty. No shadows nursing pints in dark corners, nobody to look up from behind the bar. The illogical architecture carried on inside. The bar appeared to grow from the floor, pointed, milky, bottles of some moonshine arranged along its counter. Portraits, that were when you looked closely were nothing but blobs of colour, spouted from the walls. It was if someone had tried to grow the idea of a Travelers Inn, without having much of a clue what one looked like.
My first thought was some mad elf's abandoned building project. I never met an elf that built in a straight line and there were few enough to be seen here. Their buildings always had a bit of life in them too, long after they had wandered off someplace else. Mayhap it was trying to be an Inn, out here alone where nobody but luckless halflings would find it.
My mother always told me “In unfamiliar locales it is best to take an inventory of the situation”. Usually when we were out stealing together. Right now, there was nobody here to try and kill or eat me, so things were looking up. Warped stairs led to a second story, and I wasn't about to test them. I went to the front window and scanned the tree line. My pursuers weren’t anywhere in sight. That was good, there was nobody in here to sell me out, also good. I could find a tight little corner to curl up in and trust that luck and a little magic would keep me hidden till morning. Yet, unease still lingered.
The place had a brooding air to it. I knew the dangers of the woods, this familiar unfamiliarity made the thought of sleep uneasy. I went to the door I had moments ago walked through. There here was no handle. I pushed, hard. It wouldn’t budge; it was as if the door had in the last few seconds become part of the wall itself.
Panic began to set in.
I wasn't supposed to leave.
I ran to the back of the taproom. darting through stools and tables that appeared fused to the floor. There had to be another exit. There wasn't, what I took for a door was more stretched skin and painted wood. It vibrated under by little fists. What was the point of this place? Who had built such a strange trap so far from where any traveler was likely to find it. How was I going to get out?
That’s when it hit me.
There was a steady breathing coming from all around me.
Oh, no, nonono, they don't grow that big, surely-
I wrenched at a stool. I was getting out. Through a window if necessary. It wouldn't budge. Right head first it was. Grimly I raised my hood and wrapped my hands, this was going to hurt, but glass cuts was about to be the least of my problems.
I charged head first at the glass. The bar warped. I stopped, skidding on the unwood floor, skuttling backwards as a piece bar top stretched out towards me, as if it were made of rubber. The milky bottles - teeth - that lined the counter top curving into a wicked grin.
Pure terror set in. I crawled, scrambled, skuttled backwards. A tounge whipped out of somewhere, licking at my feet as I fell behind a not-table.
. The walls erupted with laughter, a monstrous sound which emanated from all around me.
“Oh, don’t be scared little girl,” a mocking voice said. “It will make your meat gamey and sour!”
Little points of light appeared throughout the room, dozens of eyes all fixed on me. The walls seemed to shimmer like snakeskin, and more tendrils reached outward. I got to my feet and ran towards the stairs. If I had been thinking clearly I would have stuck to my window-smashing plan, but fear filled my mind. The stairs heaved under my feet, steps forming into teeth that snapped at my ankles. I leapt for the landing. Too far, curling into a ball I tumbled back to the bottom. The wind knocked out of me.
This was it. I was going to be eaten by the biggest Mimic I'd ever heard of. There was no way out, I was already in its terrible mouth. A thick liquid started running down the walls, crude wood forming into red flesh as teeth began and more teeth displaced the stools and tables.
“You are but a morsel,” the fiendish voice said, the wall reverberating with sound, eyes opened all around me, staring hungry. “But my children and I are starving! It has been so long since last we ate. To us, you will be a feast!”
"I am nothing but a snack," I agreed, almost tripping over my own words "but what if I could give you a real feast?"
I sensed a hesitation, an opening. Everything wants something, even a monster like this.
“What trick are you trying you pull Halfling? There is no feast here, only you!”
“You’ve got…” I began, knowing what I said next would save my life or seal my fate. “An impressive operation here! Managed to lure me in. But I was desperate. No normal traveler is going to believe you’re a real inn. But I know people; what they like and what they like to do. You let me fix you up and we can both profit.”
“My children and I lived fruitfully up in the mountains, we are new to the world of men. What is this…’profit’ you speak of?” the thing asked. I could hear in its voice that it was considering what I was saying. After all, I was still uneaten.
“Profit is my specialty. Profit means we both get something.” I managed to get to my feet. “I get coin from the patrons of your fine…self. You get a steady supply of meals from customers who piss me off. Sounds to me like this could be a mutually beneficial partnership. Much more reliable way of getting food that sitting way out here in the woods.”
The creature was silent for a time. Few eyes stared at me from the walls. the tendrils and teeth retreating just a little . Just when I had gotten used to the idea I might live through this nightmare they snapped back to attention, and I pinned myself to the wall on reflex.
“You have many words, Halfing!” it roared. “But I cannot eat words. My children cannot thrive on ideas. We need meat now. You will give us meat now, one way or another.”
Sweat began to build up on my forehead. Maybe the idea would have worked, but I had nothing to give, and it was hungry.
“Open up, Freya!” screamed a voice from outside. “We know you’re in there, we can see you moving inside this shit shack!” My pursuers had evidently tracked me down after all. A smile crept over my face as I realized the opportunity that was upon us.
“Inn,” I said, deciding that was as good a name as any for my new partner. “Your takeout is here.”
So that was how it began. I learned in time that my Inn was the largest and the oldest Mimic around. Usually minor shapeshifter that trap their prey by forming into something inviting, a door or treasure chest perhaps. My Inn was ancient, and with time came the cunning and size she had become. She had survived for many years in the mountains disguised as a warm and inviting cave. Luring in all manner of foolish creatures seeking shelter. Which had worked wonderfully until she took a bite out of a dragon looking for shelter from a nasty storm. She fled down the mountain and into the word of men. It took a while for us to understand one another, but I eventually got a beat on how her abilities worked. After we got her outsides and insides to look more like a welcoming establishment, we were open for business.
There were ground rules, of course. My Inn couldn’t eat everybody, just patrons who were unruly and detestable. We had more than one argument about what constituted an ‘eatable offence’. It took some convincing to get her to understand that people slamming their glasses down happily on her tables was a good thing.
A well spread rumour that anybody who left a piece of meat by the doorstep would be blessed with good luck helped with the food situation. As did a quiet work in the ear of the local Magistrate, cut purses and robbers had a way of vanishing after a drink or two and the local area got a lot safer as a result. .A heavy bag of coin slipped across the bar would also assure the company you walked in with would not be joining you on the way out... the magistrates didn't know about that bit though.
It wasn’t always easy. Once we started getting the hang of things my Inn began demanding I help find homes for all her children. I was reluctant at first, it seemed like a quick way to piss off all my new customers. However having so many extra Mimics around did put a damper on things, especially ones that couldn’t or wouldn’t cooperate as readily as Inn could.
I had Inn coax them into becoming piles of coins at first, which were happily scooped up by greedy drunks. A while later one of the adventurers figured that I had been the supplier of her handy new coin Mimic. Luckily she had managed to tame the tiny monster, and we had a good laugh over some drinks about their adventures together. The next day, I presented my new idea to Inn. We train up her children and sell them to adventurers as pets and companions. Inn was skeptical, but her coin child regaled her with adventures until she agreed to try it out. Before long we had so many customers wanting Mimics that we now openly boast the best companion Mimics in the world!
My first encounter with my Inn was years ago now. I could have left so many times. The business idea was just a desperate attempt to get out of being eaten. So why am I still here? Maybe its just nice that the people around here don’t call me ‘thief’ or ‘snack’. Or maybe on my darker days, when the sky is grey and the world is cold, I remember I have somewhere to go where everyone knows my name. I have coin in my pocket, food in my belly and a laugh in my throat. Best of all I have a partner. A true friend who I know in their own strange way, really loves me. I don’t know about you, but I think it could be a worse life.
- Extract from the chapter ‘Allegorical tales’ from ‘Mimics, a Deceptive History’, by Steven Bernardi, Historian
Steve can be found
“A good place to play a lute and earn some loot,”
-Michael Echobreath, travelling bard
“Big place, got lost a lot. The acoustics must be great though because I could hear the barkeep shouting directions like they were right beside me!”
“Love to play a round of darts here. I’m not very good though, and I keep hitting the wall. Someone keeps shouting ‘ouch’ when I do; am I hurting somebody? I need more mead…” --Gareth Gygax
“Tables are wobbly. Like, really wobbly. Also, this might sound weird, but I think the walls were…sweating? Food is good though,”
“Grimlick bite the bar as part of bet. Bar bite Grimlick back…Grimlick like bar’s style!”
-Grimlick the Goblin
“A great place to bring the wife and 8 kids. Wait, I had 9 kids!”
– Philis Mercy
“The booze in this place is really strong. I saw myself in my drinking glass, but the reflection winked at me. Ask for the house wine if you go,”
“The bartender is kind of odd. I caught her arguing with nobody and smacking the wall with a broom. I guess this is why they say not to sample your own product,”
"Saw a fight break out. One of the guys literally got eaten by his chair, so that was weird. Its probably cheaper than hiring bouncers though. That being said, the food was good, mead was great."
"Whole place is infested with rouges! i placed my sword in the sword chest, cam back and it was already stolen. I just had to investigate, so i stuck my head in the ches-"
-Swordless Headless Swordman
"Fantastic food and drink! i'd give two thumbs up, but I wasn't very careful when I picked up my ale. So that'll be 1.5 thumbs up from me!"
- Erastus of Glennwood
“…you guys know this place is a Mimic, right? Like, am I the only one seeing this? You’re all in terrible danger! Put down the phoenix wings and run away, you morons!”
-Nattwen the wandering Gnome