This is a taste of Tribe of the Snow Tiger, which is now available for Pre-Order. There is a cut in case there are bigger spoilers than I realize. Anyway, this kind of introduces an interesting character that can give Yola Biggs a run for her money in terms of chaos and mischief. First, don’t forget:
Flames erupt from stone sconces that are high on the walls, their light filling the entire chamber. Round tables with sturdy chairs give the room the appearance of a tavern, complete with a bar taking up the right hand wall. There are nearly one hundred bottles of alcohol on the lower shelf that runs along the base of a flawless mirror. A large chandelier hangs crooked from the ceiling with a ‘No Swinging’ sign dangling from its iron rim. Carts with empty dishware and cups have been gathered in a far corner, the small collection blocking a thin door to what the champions assume is a bathroom. A stage with various instruments sits opposite the entrance and the skeletal remains of a bard remains on a stool, his boney hand holding a feathered hat out for tips. The smell of fresh ale and hot food drifts from a metal door that routinely opens and closes because of a soothing breeze. Brief glimpses into the kitchen show hanging pots and pans, which glint in the flickering torchlight.
“I did not expect anything like this,” Timoran admits as he leads his friends down the middle of the room. He runs a finger along a table and finds that there is not a single mote of dust. “The guardian must be very neat and organized. Strange that it has not approached us. I was under the impression that we would be greeted or face another challenge.”
“I do sense something here,” Dariana whispers while rubbing her temples. A strong presence surrounds her and she attempts to make contact before a psychic jolt hits her brain. “Purple boots rice puzzle box. Tickle! Elephant gnome underwear. Spank me!”
Dariana claps her hands around her mouth and tries shaking her head clear of the fog that is making her spout embarrassing gibberish. The others jump away when a tiny penguin clambers out of her ear and grows to its full height. With a gentlemanly bow, the animal puts on a tasseled cap and waddles to the bar where it crawls into the ice box. Applause erupts from around the room and the chairs stomp their wooden feet to create a deafening symphony. Nyx attempts to use a magic sight spell to find the source of the enchantments, but the casting causes her eyes to leap out of her head. Free of their sockets, the twin orbs fly around the chandelier and land on Timoran’s shoulders to nuzzle against his warm hair. More applause causes them to disappear in a puff of smoke and return to the half-elf’s face.
“Are we being attacked or toyed with?” Luke asks, taking a cautious step toward the bar. A tap on his shoulder makes him whirl around and he continues spinning like a top. “I’m definitely going with the second option. I want to throw up, but I’m really afraid of what will happen if I do.”
“Spiders breeches pomegranate,” Dariana blurts out, groaning at her own voice. She points emphatically at Timoran, her finger lancing out and curving to go into Nyx’s mouth. “Salty. Hag turtle door scratch sternum.”
“What can I do against something like this?” the barbarian asks, reaching for his axe. The weapon floats off his back and coyly bats his hand away. “If this is the guardian then it could be corrupted. Although it does not appear violent like some of the others. Perhaps there is a way to draw it out and kill it before things get worse.”
“So close to the answer!” screams a musical voice from every corner of the chamber. Luke stops spinning and Dariana can feel her mind relax, the suffocating influence leaving with a cackling laugh. “I was so happy to finally meet the champions. Sure, I’m missing the fun one and the smartest one. Though four out of six isn’t a terrible turnout. Too bad I now learn that my master is the dummy. Not the little one, but the big, burly one. All you can think about is killing me?”
“You did attack us,” Nyx mentions, creating a fireball in her palm. Her hand raises above her head and the spell becomes a chocolate pie that she mashes into her own face. “At least that tasted good. I get the feeling that this thing could have killed us by now. With very little effort too. So what do we do?”
“Don’t guests announce themselves?” the hidden guardian asks.
“Don’t proper hosts greet their guests at the door?” Luke contends with a grin. His lips keep stretching until the top of his head falls to the floor and he scrambles to put it back on. “We don’t want to hurt you if you’re friendly. You have to understand that two of the other guardians we ran into tried to kill us because they were corrupted. We figured the same challenge was happening here when strange things started happening. How am I still talking while in this state?”
A delightful laugh ripples through the air and is joined by a chorus of giggles from the furniture. “Oh, I was corrupted. Then I found it incredibly dull and decided to get better. Now I’m simply bored and hoping to let a champion into the real challenges. All I’ve had for centuries are barbarians who want a piece of jade and have no interest in fun. Walk through the front door, fight whatever monster I decide to create, pick up the fallen rock, and leave without even a thank you. The least those fleshy, hairy landmasses on legs could do is say hello.”
“Hello,” Timoran says, waving toward the bar. A tight grip catches his hand and shakes it emphatically. “Nice to meet you.”
“Manners at last! It’s been far too long. Coming right out!”