"Oh really? Such as?"
She promptly vanished in a burst of glittery particles. In her place sat a stunned little black-and-white bunny rabbit, twitching its nose in adorable wonder for a few seconds before the transformation reversed. There was a brief surreal in-between moment when the rabbit momentarily had breasts and a head four times too large, then there was the crack of a universe falling back into line and Meryl returned.
"The rabbit spell," she said, bored. "Yeah, it was a funny prank the first ten or twelve times I fell for it at Dreadgrave's."
"It is not a prank. It's a combat control strategy that also happens to be incredibly hilarious."
"Thaddeus is here," she announced, pointing to the nearest inn, The Good Innvestment, whose shingle was optimistically decorated with the image of an innkeeper waist-deep in coins. "Slippery John went scouting ahead, said he'd be back by sunrise."
"Did he take Drylda?" I asked as we entered the Good Innvestment.
"I'm thinking that the only thing that's going to get scouted is the inside of her bodice."
"Why don't you like Slippery John? You seem to spend your whole unlife following him around."
"He set us on fire."
"Oh, that was just adventurer stuff. You wouldn't understand. You shouldn't take it so seriously."
Another thing that was difficult to take seriously was the interior of the Good Innvestment. The designers obviously knew what adventurers expected from a wayside inn - scowling battle-scarred innkeeper in eyepatch and apron, unvarnished tables, smoky torchlight and ale served in the biggest flagons your restaurant supplier could find - and they were trying so hard to be that kind of place you could practically hear the walls straining with the effort. The tables had had their varnish sanded off, then scratches and imperfections had been carefully added with a chisel. The flaming torches were normal magic-powered lights with fluttering bits of orange cloth attached. The barman had the eyepatch and apron, but he was thin and permanently beaming, and his battle scars were drawn on with eyebrow pencil.
"How much, exactly, has the priest lightened up?" I asked, as we dodged the innkeeper's attempts to wish us a nice day.
"Thaddeus? It's like talking to a different man. I really think you'll be amazed."
I'd seen him now, his lanky, gray-skinned form easy to spot among the rippling bronzed musculature of the other clientele. He was sitting by himself at one of the unvarnished tables, arms folded, intently watching a nearby table of dwarves and narrowing his eyes every time any of them started to raise a glass to their lips.
"Hey, Thaddeus," said Meryl. "Look who I found."
Thaddeus sneered so hard that his nose became sandwiched between the two halves of his upper lip. "My soul weeps blood to know that your putrescence blights this realm still, suckler of evil's horny nipple."
I glared at him, then at Meryl, who shrugged. "Well, Slippery John really seemed to be getting through to him,
I sat down and buried my face in my elbows. "Will you please stop going on about Slippery John?"
"What have you got against him? He's trying to get along with you, you know."