by Just Jae
A group of gamers finds the perfect place to play.
The Jaunty Mug
When customers enter, they believe I am a mystical place. What they don't realize is that I straddle two realities. The atmosphere changes, depending on the clientele. Thursday nights are my favorite. That's the night the gaming group takes over the establishment to lose themselves in the world on the far side of my portal.
My avatar, Stevie, stands behind the bar, taking orders from the youngsters here to escape from their mundane lives. They know that their privacy is guaranteed once they push the tables together. I make sure of it. Through the glass panes, the rest of the world sees a group of friends immersed in playing a game. Inside is a whole other world where these patrons live a fantasy life.
This night, though, I notice that Aislynn is missing. She is the group's healer and has saved their skins more than once while adventuring on the other side. I think nothing of it as Chuck orders a decaf latte with a hint of chocolate. Bert orders his usual double macchiato, and Stevie fills orders for the other four.
"So, what do you think happened to Aislynn?" asks Yvonne when she sits at her usual seat.
"I heard she was hit by a car on her way to class," replies Chuck. "Cops said it was a hit-and-run. They're looking for clues."
"Oh, crap," says Mac, joining the rest of his companions. "How are we gonna survive without our healer?"
"What is wrong with you?" Sandra punches him in the shoulder.
"Ow," he rubs his arm where her fist connects. "That hurt."
"It was supposed to," she says. "Our friend is in the hospital and you're worried about a game? Will you pu-leeze grow up a little?" Sandra turns back to Chuck. "Where did you hear that?"
"My brother Dave told me. He works for the school paper and was sent to write a story about it."
"Has anyone visited her yet?" asks Yvonne.
"No," said Bert, arriving with his drink. "I tried earlier, but they wouldn't let me in." He sits at the head of the table and sets up his game master screen. "I'm gonna try again tomorrow. I'll keep trying until they let me see her." He looks around the table. "Is anyone interested in playing tonight? I could go either way, but could really use the distraction."
"Honestly, so could I," replied Chuck. "It's been a tough day, and I could use a good fight," he flexes like his half-orc barbarian, Grok. The rest of the table laughs. Even Stevie chuckles. Chuck is the littlest person in the room, a bean-pole of a young man, standing all of five feet tall.
"Last week," Bert begins as the taste of coffee morphs into something more potent. "We left our intrepid adventurers sitting in The Jaunty Mug, raising a toast to their success against the swamp witch. Exhausted after fighting the Shambling Mound, ...."
The group sips a morning ale as they sit in a seedy tavern filled with creatures that exist on this plane but not theirs. A blue-skinned dragon-man walks in, taking a seat in the corner opposite the adventurers. Four dwarves argue passionately about the ore vein recently discovered in the nearby mountain range. A pair of guards enter, look around the common room, and with a nod to Steppin, they leave.
"Has anyone seen Katra?" asks Grok. He has attached himself to the cleric, knowing she is the one that keeps them all alive. The truth is, they look out for each other.
"She wanted me to tell you she went to the temple this morn," says my avatar on this side of the rift, Steppin, the bartender, as he delivers their usual plates of food. "She said she would be indisposed with prayers for the day." The avatar smiles and returns to the bar.
"Well," says Mac in his role as Samson, their thief, "In that case, I'll check around town for more clues for our next step."
"My chainmail and sword really need some care after the swamp," adds Sandy, as their fighter Portia.
Nods of agreement circle the table as the party settles into their respective roles for the evening. Bert keeps them role-playing this night, letting each player choose their way to deal with the injury to their friend. I divert any violent disagreements that could arise during their day. They spend their fantasy day repairing or purchasing equipment, bartering with craftsmen, searching for clues.
I ease them back to the inn four hours later, where they imbibe more ale and cider. Steppin prepares a specialty of the realm before sending them back to their reality. I make sure the meal is ambrosia to their lips to soothe their pain.
"That was fun," says Chuck, "thanks for getting us going tonight, Bert. I needed that."
"Yeah," says Yvonne, "me too."
"Me three," Mac pipes up.
Sandra grins and gives Bert a thumbs-up as she joins the rest of the group outside to wait for Bert before heading to the subway.
The game master gathers his gear, neatly packing everything into its place.
"You know why I picked this place, don't you?" he says aloud to no one in particular, but I hear him. "It's magical. We are never bothered when we're here, and our adventures always feel real. You keep us safe, and we appreciate you."
Bert joins his friends on their way to the station. I send a Blessing for him to pass to Aislynn, turn off the lights, and lock the door. Stevie will keep this side safe and secure while I join Steppin and gather gossip to pass along when they return next Thursday evening.