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. As many Halflings often do, I found myself on the run. Our kind gets a bad rap for being thieves and I just so happened to match the stereotype, so of course a band of adventurers was chasing me down. ‘Tasty snack’ is the second most common signifier attached to us after thief, and I’ve been viewed as both often enough to lose track.
Anyway, the point is I was on the run. It was night-time and I was exhausted. After stumbling through some trees I came into a clearing, and a strange building was there. It had four walls, but they were all different sizes, which gave it a very lopsided look. The details had been painted on to what I can only assume was some kind of animal skin. The place was in shambles and could easily have been abandoned, if not for the fact that there was a light in the window and shadows moving around inside. All in all, it seemed safer than being outside with what was chasing me.
I would learn very soon just how wrong I was.
There was something off about the place from the minute I stepped inside, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The front door opened to a large room, with odd structures placed at different angles. At first I thought some Elf was using the joint to house really crappy art projects, but that didn’t seem right. There were stairs going up on the far wall, but they were just as warped as the exterior, so I didn’t dare test them. When I looked up as far as I could see I couldn’t tell if they led anywhere. I saw squares hung up on the wall which I initially assumed to be portraits, but on closer inspection they seemed to be just blobs of colour.
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. Neither lights nor signs of life I had seen from the outside seems to be here now. That was a bad sign. I went to the front window and scanned the treeline. My pursuers weren’t anywhere in sight, so it was time to say goodbye to this peculiar hidey-hole I’d found myself in. However, when I went to the door I had moments ago walked through, there was no handle. I pushed as hard as I could, but 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 ran to the back of the room in hopes that there would be another exit. There was a long counter which raised up out of the floor just underneath the stairs. It reminded me of a countertop you would see in a pub, and that’s when the gears began to turn in my head. Those strange sculptures were supposed to be tables and chairs, but they were each fused together in one single piece. The shapes on the wall were meant to be paintings. This whole place was set up to look like a tavern, but if the person who made it only had the image and the vaguest idea of the inside of one to go off. That was enough to frighten me, but there was still something I wasn’t seeing. That’s when it hit me.
There was a steady breathing coming from all around me.
I could now unequivocally say that I felt like my life was in danger. Content to throw myself through the glass window in the front, wounded but at least free to lick my wounds another day, I started for the forward but was stopped by a ghastly sight. A piece of the wall jutted out towards me, as if it were made of rubber and an invisible hand were stretching out a part of it. I stared blankly at it, watching with horror as it turned towards me and grew a set of sharp teeth. With a smile it lunged forward, its intent to kill wickedly apparent.
I fell on my backside and instinctively crawled away. 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 with smoke.
The trip up was wobbly, and I came close to bringing my foot down into another mouth which appeared underneath me. The fright was enough to knock me off balance, and I fell onto the floor behind the bar.
“You are but a morsel,” the fiendish voice said, tendrils of mouths and eyes closing in around me. “But my children and I are starving! It has been so long since last we ate. To us, you will be a feast!” A mouth got uncomfortably close to my face, green saliva dripping off a purple tongue.
“But you could have a real feast!” I blurted out, my roguish tongue moving faster than my brain. The mouth snapped shut and hesitated.
“What are these words, Halfling?” the voice from within the walls barked. “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 and frantic. No one is actually going to buy that 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. Whatever this monster was, it was intelligent enough to be reasoned with.
“Profit is my specialty. Profit means we both get something.” There were still tendrils hovering over me, but I managed enough finesse 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 which flanked me had become lethargic and wilted. 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. Could I really turn this freak of nature into a lucrative business? I wasn’t sure, but even if I could it wouldn’t happen right away. I needed to give this thing something now.
“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 Inn was something called a Mimic, a creature which lures in its prey by shapeshifting into something mundane. They typically took the form of treasure chests and doors, though. 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. She was forced from her home after trying to take 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. 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.
We also spread a rumour that anybody who left a piece of meat by the doorstep would be blessed with good luck all the while they were inside. Crime remained rampant in the area, but after a quiet word with the local magistrate, Inn became a handy way of getting rid of local criminals…..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 Inn began demanding I help find homes for all her children. I didn’t want to, 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, battling a banging headache I presented my new idea to Inn. We train up her children and sell them to adventurers as pets and companions. Inn was sceptical at first, but I pointed out my drinking partner from the night before, nursing a hangover rivalling my own and whispering to a coin in her hand. Inn was so pleased that her coin child was on the right side of the adventurers sword 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 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 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!” -Urgo Ironcrop
“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,” -Luenna Brightmaple
“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,” -Grotz Strongarm
“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,” -Matthew McElroy
"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." -Matthew Mcree
"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