D&D&Tea, day 1, roll 3: 13
“So,” Rabs said, holding out a new scroll and quill for Cait to take, “ready for the last one for today? Then you’ll probably need to rest up a bit.”
“Sure!” Cait said gamely. “Bring it on!”
Rabs held cupped hands up to the innkeeper, who was still watching them with amusement. “Care to pick again, m’lady?”
She tapped her fingers together for luck and poked downward. “There!”
“Ah!” said Rabs, and Cait braced herself. “Shall we see if thirteen proves lucky?”
“I’m ready!” Cait said, but her words were drowned out by the clatter of a six-legged carriage stomping down the street. Another one rumbled behind it, and a faster two-legged machine raced between them and was away before Cait could blink. All around her, people swarmed in and out of tiny shops carrying tiny parcels; the smell of spices, shocking after the bright floral notes from the jungle, suddenly washed away as if they had never been. A scarf flew by in the rising wind, then a bonnet, then most of a penny dreadful, and the shoppers around Cait fled before the cold cutting air.
The sky darkened — no, the sky filled with a flock of birds, cawing in strange grating voices to each other. One swooped down at Cait, who dodged it. Three more followed, and Cait paid for a strike which knocked one from the air with a slice across her shoulder. The bird hit the cobblestones with a metallic crunch, and Cait stared as it burst apart and spilled wires and cogs into the street. More birds were wheeling about, and Cait raised her club and set her jaw.
“Over here, lassie!” someone yelled, and Cait sprinted for the open door. The inside was dark and warm, and as the door slammed shut behind her she could hear birds strike it with tinkling crashes. With a rasp, a lantern on a table flickered into light. “Now then,” said her rescuer, “why were you standing out there like a fool?”
“I didn’t know what they were,” Cait said. “I still don’t.”
Her rescuer, a big woman with her shirtsleeves rolled up and three different hammers stuck through loops in her belt, didn’t look impressed by this ignorance. “And what are you doing running around in robes? Are you some kind of cultist, then?” Cait clutched at her steaming-teapot taliman and drew breath to explain that she was a cleric, but the woman suddenly barked out a laugh. “Ah, one of those tea-worshippers! You lot are okay. Go on downstairs, then.”
Cait followed her gesture left, seeing a dark doorway that might lead to steps, and turned back only to find the room empty again. She opened her mouth, closed it, and took the lantern. Through the doorway and down the stairs, down, down, and down. The walls sometimes seemed to vibrate softly with the hum of some machinery, hopefully something that was keeping them safe from those mechanical birds. Finally she reached a low, dark cellar that seemed to stretch out endlessly into the earth. Along the near wall were hearths with chimneys drawing upward, and in each hearth was a cauldron.
“All that steam has to come from something, doesn’t it?” said a voice, and Cait jumped, seeing the same woman suddenly beside her again. Although, at a second glance, she might be carrying different hammers. “Here,” she said, holding out a hand for Cait’s mug and scooping liquid from the first cauldron into it. “I think you’ll find this one suits.”
“Thank you,” Cait said, but the woman was already gone again. With a sigh, Cait bent her head over the mug and breathed deeply. This was pure essence of tea, wonderful to smell, and Cait was sure its steam could power any number of marvels. The first sip was thick without being heavy; it felt round and full on her tongue. Cait set the lantern down and wandered with her mug, letting the soft earthiness of the tea meld with the warmth and darkness of her surroundings and the arcane hum of the machinery. Each sip lingered, warm and comforting, and the last cooling drop was as good as the first had been.
When her mug was empty, Cait drew out the scroll and quill and let the runes flow: the crosshatched earth, the glowing embers, the soft curves for subtle sweetness like honey combined with the strong posts that could support so much. Then, peacefully, she snapped the quill.
“You look satisfied,” Rabs said from her seat by the fire.
“I am,” Cait said, and she made a bow to the wizard. “Thank you very much for this adventure.”