A side-quest novella in the bestselling Geekomancy urban fantasy series—when D&D-style adventures go from the tabletop to real life, look out!
Ree Reyes, urban fantasista and Geekomancer extraordinaire, is working her regular drink-slinger shift at Grognard’s bar-and-gaming salon when everything goes wrong. The assorted magic wielders of the city’s underground have come to test their battle skills via RPGs like D&D, V:TES, White Wolf, and the like. All the usuals are there: her ex-mentor Eastwood, Drake (the man-out-of-time adventurer), and, of course, Grognard himself (her boss and a brewer of beer that act as magic potions). However, it’s the presence of these and other “usuals” that makes all the trouble. For, a nemesis from Eastwood and Ree’s past decides to finally take her revenge not just on those two, but on every self-styled “hero” in the city who happens to have crossed her at one point or another. When wave after wave of monsters besiege Grogrnard’s store, if Ree & Co. are going to survive, they’re going to have to work together. And avoid the minotaur. That’s always a good rule of thumb.
The mass of gnomes looked like a beehive. They were stacked on top of one another, falling and scrambling over one another to get to the group.
Uncle Joe raised several cards over his head, tore them with a whoop, and a wave of fire pushed forward, enveloping the gnomes. They screamed and scuttled backward, and the group stepped forward into the sewer. Eastwood tossed out a handful of industrial-grade glow sticks, which filled the tunnel with yellow light.
Ree did her best Steve Ditko Spidey-fingers, unleashing a net of webbing that pinned a handful of gnomes to the far wall. She jumped forward and swung up, the blue blade strobing across her vision. She caught two of the gnomes, but several more leapt out of the way. As soon as her blade swung past, more of the miniature monsters scuttled forward. Their nails clicked on the concrete floor with the strange familiarity of her golden retriever, Booster, trying to get purchase in the linoleum kitchen back at her dad’s place.
She let loose another dose of webbing, then jumped and stuck to the ceiling, leaving her sword arm free to continue swinging.
Ree’s spider-shtick attracted a dozen of the gnomes’ attention as they tried to climb over one another to get to her. Even with their considerable ups, they fell short, putting them just in range of her lightsaber.
From her vantage point, she saw the rest of the group as they fought, each in their own style.
Out front, Grognard tore through the creatures, swinging the glaive-guisarme around as easily as a broom at closing time.
Talon covered Grognard’s back, following his movements and keeping the gnomes from sneaking through legs and flanking the group as they formed a semicircle out from the door. She fought with practiced efficiency, the longsword always striking and blocking at once as her hands moved in concert, levering the pommel around for maximum precision.
On the other side of the group, Eastwood fought with lightsaber and blaster in perfect harmony, managing not to chop his hand off even as he wove and dove through the crowd at a breakneck pace. He was a jerk sometimes, but he’d earned his Badass bona fides years ago. Gnomes jumped at him by the dozen, like they’d all decided he was the most delicious dish on the menu.
Drake stood back, picking his targets quickly but deliberately, squeezing off shots that thinned the herd rushing at Eastwood.
Wickham hugged the side of the door, taking shots where she could. She wasn’t comfortable in a fight, but she’d logged plenty of practice time somewhere—range or arcade—so her shots connected more often than not. Trouble was, her peashooter only seemed to stun the gnomes.
A musty wind hit her cheek, and Ree looked down to see that the gnomes clustered beneath her had started to get smart. Two gnomes held their hands together, boosting up the others. Ree wanted to know where they’d picked up cheerleading techniques, but that would have to wait. She flattened against the ceiling to avoid a tall gnome’s swipe, which fell just inches short.
The magical energy from Spider-Man was waning, as she’d only gotten a quick dose of the film. Rather than spending the energy on another burst of webbing, she cut the arm off the next gnome that got a boost. The gnome crashed into its accomplices, which would scatter them for a bit. Ree pulled out her phaser and zapped a few more, then turned and dropped one that had managed to Xenomorph its way along the ceiling, just a few feet from Wickham’s head.
The sizzling gnome fell to the sewer ledge in a heap at Wickham’s feet, and the model looked up to Ree, who saluted.
“That’s two you owe me,” Ree said with a grin, then turned back to her cheerleader gnomes. She picked off the two boosters, hoping that they were the bearded brains of the operation. If Wickham responded, the sound was lost in the din. Gloating was hard to do when you were dead, so she could wait.
“How you feeling, boss?” Ree asked, her voice echoing in the sewer over the sound of clanging metal, exertion, and snarling.
“They don’t seem to be running out of friends! Somebody pour on the AoE!” he called.
“On it!” Uncle Joe flipped through a card binder, then pulled out several cards, which he tore in half and then threw, Gambit-style. The card shreds flew true, exploding on impact. The blasts engulfed a dozen gnomes, but as the dust settled, more had filled the space, hopping over their charred compatriots.
“I didn’t think there were that many in the whole city!” Ree said.
“Recent surveys put their numbers at under a hundred. We’ve seen at least twice that,” Drake answered, his voice level even as his firing routine had become more harried. He stopped as one of the crystals in his aetheric rifle went dark, and cleared the gem, replacing it with a ruby red one that Ree knew as his flamethrower mode.
“Clear!” Drake called, and Talon cycled right, opening up a space. The inventor knelt forward and the rifle belched a cone of flame that took another cluster of the gnomes. The repeated blasts turned the sewer into a sauna, including the concrete she held on to with Spider-fu. It was either burn her ass off or lose the higher ground, so she dropped from the ceiling, cleaving through several gnomes as she landed.
When she hit the concrete pathway near the group, the sewer shook.
“Someone needs to lay off the lagers,” Wickham said.
“That wasn’t her,” Grognard said, looking down the tunnel.
A roar shook the walls of the sewer, making it very apparent that the gnomes were no longer the worst of their problems. If possible, the smell in the tunnel got worse.
That’s never a good sign. In her nine months of hero-ing, she’d noticed a clear correlation between “smells bad” and “likes to snack on humans and suck the marrow from their bones nom nom nom” types of creatures.
“Boss?” Ree asked, closing ranks with Drake between one of the adventurer’s bursts of flame. The gnomes on the roar side of the tunnel parted. Even worse sign.
Grognard buried the head of his blade in a gnome’s shoulder, the butt of the haft held down with his foot. Then he used the weapon like a lever, slamming four gnomes into the wall with one heave. “Anyone got a land mine?” he asked.
“Let me check!” Uncle Joe said, flipping through his binder. “I just had a big order for a Direct Damage deck, haven’t had a chance to restock.”
A second roar gave way to the sound of charging and splashing sewage. The gnomes on the far side vanished into the shadows.
On one hand, it gave them a breather. On the other hand . . . “Faster would be better!” Ree said, quoting her favorite space cowboy.
Eastwood holstered his blaster and leveled his Green Lantern ring at the right side of the tunnel. Ree pointed her blaster in the same direction. The group formed their best imitation of a pike formation, reinforcing their position in the direction of the oncoming . . .
. . . Minotaur.
Really? Just what I fuckin’ need.
Link continuing the excerpt to XOXO After Dark:
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