Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Story Time! Part 2.

If you haven't already, please read part 1 first. This short story takes place in the same universe, involving the same characters, among diverse others.

The Game

By Adam Wester


    It was a dark and stormy night. Okay, so it wasn’t really dark or stormy, but it sounded cool; actually it was a bright and clear Saturday in June. We had gathered at Bobby’s house for the usual Day of Reckoning, our nickname for D and D day. We usually played from three in the afternoon till three in the morning. Just us, our dice and pizza. Yeah how threatening to the religious sect. Anyhow, like I said, we’d gathered at Bobby’s, and we set up our stuff and Bobby sat behind his D.M. screen (more of a power trip than any necessary precaution), we whipped out our dice and characters and started.
    Okay, before I go any further I should set the record straight. We were the guys in school that got picked on, the geeks who spent more time in the library than in the backs of cars with the cheerleaders. Hell, we’d have gone for the cheerleaders proverbial ugly sisters if they’d looked at us. Life in high school was interesting at least, I mean, where else can you combine reading, talking to your friends, walking to the cafeteria, and dodging flying drinks thrown at you from the top of the concourse all at the same time? We had more free time back then, so instead of doing the same thing as everyone else at lunch (which was generally nothing); we’d go to the library and play D and D. There’s something about the game that brings people closer together, and even though we met in our freshman year, after a short time we were best friends in the sense that we’d known each other for all of our conscious lives. I like to think that the game had something to do with the fact that when Jimmy came out to us all we said was, “Okay, so where do we get pink dice?” 
    There were four of us, Bobby, Jimmy, Dorian (guess whose parents played the game too) and me, Sam. We all had our personality quirks, and they only added to the enjoyment of the game. We also played the same characters since ninth grade, so by now they were all something on the level of minor deities. It was fun to sometimes allow it to go to our heads, but for the most part we were pretty humble.
    Bobby D.M.’d us, but that didn’t stop him from having a character. He was Ratliff Bokor, a now powerful Elf sorcerer. When we met Ratliff however, he was reading fortunes just to survive. He was always very twitchy, and sometimes he’d wake us up on his watch, not on purpose, but sometimes a cricket would chirp or something and he’d freak out and start casting everything he had to find the mystery invader.
    Jimmy was our Dwarf ranger. Hot tempered and a raunchy sense of humor; Felberk Crolheim added a necessary element of humor to the game. It was funny when we first met him, he couldn’t tell a human footprint from that of a Satyr. Of course now, he can not only tell which direction the Satyr was going when it left the track; he can tell us when it passed by, its height, weight, and what it had for breakfast.
Many was the tavern fight Felberk got us in to. He just couldn’t stop himself when he’d hear some off remark about Dwarves or rangers, or…

    Dorian was our Gnome cleric/rogue, Shim Gartoli Frenel Mekor Litten Murnig, but we just called him “Fumblefoot,” his nickname from when he was younger. Dorian was every bit as arrogant as Fumblefoot (note that, I feel that the character defines the person, not the other way around), but we let it slide, since we needed the cleric. He never caused any fights, but man could he instigate Felberk. We found him while he was trying to steal from us during our first quest. Obviously, he failed.
    I guess I was the odd man out in this setting. I play a human fighter by the name of Derom Y’Carrath. He’s an honest, humble and self-effacing former serf who won his freedom after a contest held by his Lord. In the beginning, he could barely handle his sword, now he’s widely known for his fighting prowess. During the second year of playing him, he was attacked by a werebear, and failed to save against the disease, and so now he is one himself. (Oh yeah, for all you mundanes, non-geeks, and whoever doesn’t know what a werebear is, it is a good lycanthrope who changes between his human form and that of a Brown bear.) Of course, only his closest friends know this, and maybe a few of his closest enemies.
    Is that geeky enough for you? Well, if you don’t like it, tough shit. It’s who we are. Besides, we talked to psychologists, and they all told us that the role playing was a healthy way of getting away from all the stresses of a normal, day to day life. Kinda like a mental vacation. It’s not like we were out on street corners screaming at traffic “The Orcs are coming! Run from the raiders!” Hmm, that could be fun.
    Anyway, that was our crew. We got on each others nerves all the time, but I can’t imagine pulling off some of the things we have without any one of us. It just seems that everything in the campaigns just fell into place perfectly. Over the years, we’ve all had our individual adventures, but some force (and not just Bobby) keeps bringing us back together. It is such a big part of our lives that we even have memories of the things our characters did. Yeah, no shit. I really remember going into the cave of Taljun, to destroy the Eye of Taljun in his statue. I can remember back to the day we met each other, and exactly what has changed over the years.
Part 1:
The Existentialist Debate

    Anyway, that’s us. Like I said, we’d gathered at Bobby’s for the game that Saturday, and we sat down for the hours of role-playing that lay ahead. The pizzas had just arrived, and we got set. Got out our books, dice, character sheets and game faces. We were just starting a new campaign, after resting in the small town of Fulcrom for about two weeks.
    “Fulcrom is a small town on the outskirts of the southern edge of the Great Forest of Darkness. Mostly inhabited by Half-Orcs, Fulcrom is a rough place to be, but you guys can handle it.” Bobby set the scene for us. “You’ve had a couple of run-ins over the past two weeks, but all in all once again your reputation precedes you.” Bobby said it with a tiny amount of annoyance, almost as if he was trying to think of something else to say.
    “Hey,” I interrupted, “what’s the name of the inn we’re staying at?”
    “The Lion.” Bobby said. Okay, something I should point out: every town, every town has a Lion inn. They’re not some mega–corp. like Howard Johnsons; it’s just that since this takes place in a pseudo-medieval mind frame, one has to ruefully admit that medieval people had a profound lack of imagination. Now where have I heard that before?  
    “Okay, so we agreed last time that we’d meet in the common room for breakfast before heading out to the forest, right?” Jimmy asked.
    “That’s what we said, isn’t it?” Dorian said.
    “Just checking.”
    “Cool?” Bobby re-started. “We’re all in the common room at the inn. Everybody eating?”
    “Yeah.” We all agreed; no sense in starting a campaign on an empty stomach.
    “Okay, you guys are eating the watery gruel that is the staple in Fulcrom. Felberk, you’re the only one who thinks it’s even remotely edible.”
    “Huzzah for me.” Jimmy said dryly.
    “Not long after you guys finish eating, before you are about to leave, a haggard looking man in tattered rags runs into the inn. You can hear him yelling in the front room, being pushed out by the Half-Orcs running the desk.”
    “Thus enters the messenger of the new campaign.” I said.
    “What do we hear him saying?” Dorian asked.
    “He’s yelling ‘They’re coming! Run if you want to live!’”
    “Oh man, Ratliff go see what he wants.” I said.
    “Why me?” Bobby asked.
    “You’re the Elf; he’d probably trust you more then say me.” Dorian said.
    “True. Okay, Ratliff goes out into the front room, and you hear him talking to the man in Elven. Seeing how you all understand Elven, no one needs to roll for a language check. You hear the man saying that he’s been running for three days from a camp of barbarians who have somehow managed to raise several Demons. They’ve been tracking him for some time, and he fears that they may have followed him into town.
    “Great, wesa goin on a Demon hunt.” Jimmy said.
    “Ratliff says to the man that we can help, and brings him around to see you.”
    “Demons?” I say, “This should be interesting.”
    “Ratliff asks, ‘You heard?’”
    “Yes,” I said, “to put it lightly, we heard.”
    “This is Joran; he’s a blacksmith from Kerth, a good sized town about three days north of here.”
    “Please,” Joran pleaded, “You must help me, they came from all around us.”
    “The Demons?” Dorian asked.
    “No, the barbarians. They surrounded our walls, and rushed our gates. When they got to the center of town, they started to chant and Demons started appearing everywhere.”
    “Who were they chanting to?” Dorian asked.
    “I don’t know they were speaking in some strange sort of language.”
    “I’m going to need to pray to Garl Glittergold for guidance, if you don’t know who they were chanting to. I’m going up to my room to pray. Come get me when you’re ready.” Dorian said.
    “Okay, so you went up to your room. What now?” Bobby asked.
    “I’m praying to Garl Glittergold.” Dorian said.
    “I need to know what you are saying.”
    “Oh, okay. ‘Great Garl Glittergold, hear me Lord. How might I aid this poor man in vanquishing the Demons who have laid his people waste?’”?
    As if in answer to this question, Bobby’s phone rang. For some reason, he had it on speaker phone.
    “Yes,” an amused sounding voice said, “I just received an urgent sounding calling from someone there.”
    “No, sorry man, wrong number” Bobby said.
    “No no, I’m quite sure it was from there.”
    “I’m sorry, but nobody here called you, goodbye.”
    Bobby pushed the button to hang up, and as soon as he did, the room went black. Not really dark, but more of an absence of light. When the light finally did return, I can’t say, because I seem to have gone unconscious.
    I awoke next to Bobby and Jimmy, in a large room. But it wasn’t Bobby and Jimmy, it was Ratliff and Felberk. Their images were kind of superimposed over each other. I figured I must have been dreaming. About then, Dorian came running down the hall, but where Dorian stood, the image of Fumblefoot faced us.
    “Guy’s, what the hell is this?” I asked
    “I don’t know, but come here and check this out.” Dorian said.
    We followed Dorian to a room, and he pointed to a mirror hanging on the wall.
    “Look.” He said.
    We turned to face the mirror. What we saw wasn’t our faces looking back at us. We saw our characters.
    “What the hell is this?” I repeated.
    Jimmy looked at me and asked, “Sam, why is it, whenever anything happens to you, you always repeat yourself? Guys, my tire went flat, my tire went flat.”
    “Shut the hell up Jimmy, I’m just a tad confused.”
    “We all are guys,” Dorian said, “we just need to stop for a minute and think.”
    A man dressed in rags entered the room then, he had a wild look to his eyes and he smelled as though he hadn’t bathed in a month.
    “Will you help me or not?” He demanded.
    “What?” Bobby asked.
    “Guys, remember this must be Joran.” Dorian said.
    “Wait, if this is Joran, we must be in Kerth, and that means…” I said.
    “We’re living our characters lives.” Bobby finished.
    “Neat,” Jimmy said, leaning on Felberks axe, “but getting back to the point, do we help him?”
    “What manner of people are you?” Joran said, backing away from us.
    “Calm down,” I said, “we’re just a little confused; we just needed a moment to discuss our plan.”
    “Look,” Bobby said, why don’t you go to the main room and get some food, you look like you could use some, and when we’re all packed we’ll come out there and figure out what we can do to help you.”
    “Just tell them to put it on our bill.” I said.
    He left to go to the common room, and we all stared at each other. We could see our real selves, but also our characters and the images of both were somehow superimposed upon each other.
    “Did you get the peasant out?” A strange, voice said.
    “The hell?” Jimmy said, turning around.
    The door suddenly closed, and the area in front of the door started to shimmer. When the disturbance was through, a small man stood there, with a smirk on his somewhat angular face.
    “I don’t really need to tell you who I am, do I?” He asked.
    “Are you, I mean, you’re…” Dorian stuttered.
    “Yes, Fumlefoot, I am Garl Glittergold. You should have known that.”
    “What happened?” Jimmy asked.
    “You were all a little too sure of yourselves, Felberk. I thought a reality trip was in order.” He sighed then. “And I know what you’re going to say, but here this is reality, so don’t argue. I brought you all here to learn. While you are here you cannot die, but be very careful, as there are far worse things then death.”
    “So what are we supposed to do?” Dorian asked.
    “It would seem that you’re supposed to go fight some demons, wouldn’t it.”
    “Is that it?” I asked. “Then we can go home?”
    “If you’re ready, yes.” He said, rubbing his hands together. “It has been fun chatting, but I must be off,” He said, already starting to shimmer again, “oh, one more thing, you should use your known names here.” And he was gone.

Part 2:
Getting There is Half the Fun

    We left Fumblefoots room, and went out to the common room. We spotted Joran, ravenously devouring his gruel at a small table toward the back of the room.
    “You’ll help me?” He pleaded when he saw us.
    “I know I’ll regret this,” I muttered under my breath, “Yes, we will.”
    “Praise Pelor,” he exclaimed, “thank you.”
    “Somehow I doubt Pelor had much to do with any of this.” Felberk muttered.
    “What?” Joran asked.
    “Oh, nothing. I was just thinking to myself. Uh, Dwarven stuff.”
    “How odd.”
    “Alright, how do we get to your town from here?” Ratliff asked, sitting down.
    “Kerth is about three days walk to the north.” He said. “But they might have followed me, so we should probably take the other route.”
    “Other route?” Fumblefoot asked.
    “Yes, it goes just east of town, and enters from the back. It stays off the main road, and should keep us out of danger if I was followed.” 
    “Sneaky.” Fumblefoot said. “I can do sneaky.”
    “We know, Fumblefoot, we know.” Felberk mumbled, leaning on his ax.
    “Oh don't start, you two.” I said. I turned to Joran, “We'll need a little while to pack and get our final supplies ready for the trip. I'd be more than happy to buy you some fresh clothes and more food, if you'd like.”
    “I don't know how to thank you for this, noble sir. You are truly a gift from the gods.”
    “Well, something like that.” Ratliff said under his breath. “Actually, that brings up an interesting point. Give me a moment.” And he walked over to the innkeeper. A moment later, he returned. “Grelsch there says there is a monastery of Obad-Hai not far from here. He suggested we go there and speak with the monks before we head out. He thinks this may have something to do with a local legend.”
    “Fine by me,” I said, “do we all want to head there, or what?”
    “I think we should all go,” Ratliff said, “Something about this just seems to be clicking into place. Kind of like how I wrote the campaign, but it's not the same. Anyway,” he said, shifting his overcoat, “no time like the present. Shall we?”
    We confirmed the directions with Grelsch the innkeeper (who was remarkably helpful for a half-orc) and headed to the monastery. After the usual token bribe, we were seated in a hall in the back of the monastery, outside what we assumed to be the grand-poobah's office. When he finally came out, he looked at us each in turn, and finally said to us, “The bear may come in, but the rest of you will remain here.” When none of us said anything, he looked pointedly at me and simply said “Come with me.”
    I followed. How he knew about my lycanthropy was beyond me. Hell, I didn't even remember it. I didn't feel any less human, so why should I have?
    His office was what one would best call scantily-clad. He had a plain table with a few plain chairs, a totem of Obad-Hai, and in one corner, an old, beaten quarterstaff. He sat down at his table, and said to me “Sit, please.”
    How could I turn down an offer like that?
    He studied me for a moment, then spoke. “You are confused.” He said. “You don't know how I know about your alternate form.”
    “Yeah, you might say that.”
    “Do not forget that holy Obad-Hai is god over nature. Through him, I can see many things.” He sighed then, and shook his head, as if erasing a mental Etch-a-Sketch. “You must understand, this is all highly irregular. I'm not used to having to deal with other gods.”
    “Beg pardon?” I said.
    “Why I was chosen to be your contact, that is truly a mystery. Even holy Obad-Hai will not answer that particular question.” He must have seen that I was confused again. “I was visited by both Ehlonna and Garl Glittergold in a dream last night. They told me I was to be the contact for two groups of adventurers who would join here, through me. The first group arrived shortly before you did.”
    “Wait, there are others? We weren't told there would be others.”
    “I know, For some reason, it was decided that you would not be told, but for the time being, that is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you are both here now.” He got up, and walked to the totem of Obad-Hai on the other side of his office. He did something to it, something I could not see, but I saw a door beside it that had not been there before. Opening the door, he said “Well, they are here. You might as well come on out now.”
    Out walked quite possibly the three most mismatched men I'd ever seen. The first out was a human wearing a black overcoat and hooded cloak over it. The second was obviously a half-elf, and took the term “pretty boy” to a new level. The last was a shorter guy, wearing full plate (that did not look to be metal) and a pendant of a wolf around his neck. By the fact that he was holding his helm, I could tell that he was human as well.
    “Which one is this?” The first one asked the monk.
    “This is their fighter.” The monk replied.
    “Brilliant. Now does 'their fighter' happen to have a name?” The first one snapped back. There was an arrogance about this guy I didn't like. I could already smell the fights he and Fumblefoot (and Felberk, for that matter) would have brewing.
    “My name is Derom Y’Carrath.” I said, trying to not feed his arrogance. “And yours?”
    “ I'm Leoric, my charmingly inept clerical companion here is Phadian Gess.”
    “I can bloody well introduce myself, thank you.” The one called Phadian said.
    “Can I finish? Thanks.” Leoric said. “The one in the bug is...”
    “Artok Hortence.” The one in the armor said, reaching out to shake my hand.
    “Brother Thelonious tells us that we are to work together to rid this part of Pangea of an infestation of demonic entities.” Phadian said.
    “That seems to be the gist of it.” I said, stifling laughter. “Actually, if you will excuse me for a moment, I think the rest of my group needs to be present.”
    I stepped out through the door I'd come in through, and saw the rest of my group waiting.
    “Well?” Felberk asked impatiently.
    I walked past him to Ratliff. “You are never allowed to drink again.”
    “The hell?” Ratliff asked.
    “Our contact here is a monk named 'Thelonious,' and the world is named “Pangea.” I said, looking Ratliff in the face.
    Fumblefoot almost fell over laughing.
    “I'm afraid he's right, Ratliff.” Felberk said. “Friends don't let friends drink and DM.”
    “I was flustered, they were only supposed to be temporary names.” Ratliff said. “How the hell was I supposed to know that they'd stick here?”
    “Let's just get back in there, guys.” I said, leading them back through the door.
    We went through the introductions again, and then got down to business.
    “Obad-Hai has a theory regarding the demons.” Thelonious said. “Obad-Hai doesn't think they are being summoned. He thinks they are coming through to this plane through a person. The difference is...”
    “Kill the channel, kill the passage.” Leoric interrupted.
    “Indeed.” Thelonious confirmed. “I don't see any other way of doing it.”
    There was a pounding on the door just then, and a younger monk rushed in.
    “Sir, the monastery is under attack!” He screamed. “A hole in the central courtyard appeared, and a mob of Kobolds rushed out and started attacking anything in sight!”
    The one named Artok raised out of his chair, put on his helm and said, “Well, let's go to work, boys.” He looked back at me, “You folks coming?”
    “They're just Kobolds guys, we can take them.” Fumblefoot said enthusiastically in the hall to the central courtyard.
    “We're level 8 here, we can take a lot of things.” Felberk reminded him.
    We could hear screaming as we got closer. Artok looked back at me and said “Here we go.” He kicked through a door into the courtyard and started carving a path through the hoard of smallish lizards armed with spears and shortswords. I drew my broadsword and followed. A Kobold rushed at me, and somehow I, without even knowing I could, blocked his attack, and swept my blade down low, cutting deep into it. It fell limply off my blade, and I went on to the next one. And the next one. And the next one. Ratliff and Leoric stood in the doorway, casting various spells to do their part, Fumblefoot and Felberk did their part by guarding them. Phadian was perched in a window facing into the courtyard, taking popshots with his bow at the lizards.
    Artok and I ended up in the center of the courtyard, more or less back to back, cutting our way through the Kobolds, who were seemingly insane enough to climb over their dead and dying to get to us. I heard a whooshing sound rush past me, and I looked and saw that several of them were firing at the two of us with crossbows. “Archers!” I yelled, but it was a moment too late. I felt a thump against my back, and turned to see Artok falling to the ground, a bolt in his chest.
    Looking up to me, he groaned, “You're going to want to run.”
    “Not a chance.” I said.
    I heard a growling sound coming from Artok, and then the buckles of his armor started to pop. Another bolt hit him, and I threw my dagger at the archer who'd shot it. The armor Artok was wearing now fell off of him, the buckles having given way under what looked to be massive swelling of his entire body. Between Kobold killings, I looked back at Artok, and saw that he was shifting into something resembling a large fur rug. I killed several more Kobolds in succession, and was knocked to the ground by a six foot tall wolf-man. It looked down at me and growled, “Told you.”, then proceeded to rampage through the hoard.
    It didn't take long.
    I stumbled wearily back to the doorway. Ratliff, Fumblefoot and Felberk were all looking at the werewolf that was Artok, who was making sure every last Kobold was dead, with a look of utter astonishment. Phadian ran out into the courtyard and gathered up Artok's armor and gear, than came back over to us.
    “Just let him finish. He sometimes needs to just do his thing.” Phadian said, though he looked slightly green in the face too.
    When Artok was done, he changed back. He walked back to us, naked and covered in blood that was not his own.
    “Sorry about that.” He said to me, reaching into his pack and pulling out a rag to clean himself off. “You okay?”
    “I somehow think I'll live.” I said, still in awe.
    Fumblefoot must have heard something, because he started picking through the dead Kobolds. “Guys, give me a hand here.”
    Felberk went over to him and helped him move a few more bodies. After a moment, we could all hear it. Groaning.
    “I missed one?” Artok muttered under his breath.
    “Let me see him.” Phadian said. “Good, no bites.” He knelt over the dying Kobold and started praying to Ehlonna. After a moment, the wounds started to heal. After a few moments, the Kobold looked no less worse for wear than Artok did. Fumblefoot removed the Kobold's armor and weapons so it wouldn't be a threat, and we waited a minute for it to come to.
    “Ugh.” It groaned. “What you do to Meepo?” It said in a high voice.
    “He healed your wounds.” Ratliff said, pointing to Phadian. “Now the question is, why were you attacking the monastery?”
    “Meepo doing Meepo's job.” The Kobold calling itself Meepo said. “Told Meepo to dig to monk-place. I dig. Told Meepo to kill monk-people. I kill. Then you people come with big ugly and kill us. Meepo just doing Meepo's job.”
    “Okay, but who told you to do it?” Ratliff asked.
    “You kill Meepo?” Meepo asked.
    “No, we aren't going to kill Meepo, err, you.” Ratliff said.
    “Meepo told come here by Flumkin. Flumkin say Meepo live, be honored.”
    “And you believed him?” Felberk said incredulously.
    “Why Flumkin lie Meepo?”
    “Alright, alright. That's all in the past now.” Ratliff said. Somehow he knew exactly what to say to negotiate with the confused little Kobold. “Will you, Meepo, help us go to see Flumkin?”
    “Meepo do this, you no kill Meepo?” Meepo asked. It seemed to me that he was used to living in absolutes. Do this and live; don't do it and die.
    Ratliff must have also noticed that too, because he just played into it and said, “Yes, if you do this, we won't kill you.”
    “Meepo help people than.” Meepo said, with a nod.

Part 3:
Where is Flumkin?

     We walked back into Thelonious's office once Artok was dressed again, and told him we'd be leaving with our new little companion. He bid us farewell, though I can't imagine he was sorry to see us go, after the mess we'd left in the courtyard. We left the monastery, and went back to The Lion. When we got there, the place was in ruins. Grelsch stood picking through the broken bits that had been his home and business, and I genuinely felt sorry for him. He looked up and saw us coming, and pointed to a crumpled heap in the corner of what had only a short while before been the common room. Phadian walked over to look, and came back with a sad expression on his face. “It's Joran.” Was all he said.
    “Meepo not did this!” Meepo yelled, tugging on one of my armor buckles. “Other group come did this. Flumkin say two group go here do job.”
    “It's alright, Meepo.” Ratliff said.
    “Remind me to make his death take a while.” Felberk said.
    Realizing we now had no reason to stay in Fulcrom anymore, we decided to leave. I handed Grelsch more than enough gold to rebuild, and we left. The three days on the road were uneventful, thankfully. We all knew what we were going to have to do, but we had no idea how we were to actually do it. Meepo wasn't a whole lot of help, though he did keep us on a safe path. The final night out on the road, Artok looked up into the night sky and said “Tomorrow night I'll be changing again. In the courtyard, that was a reaction to serious wound. This will be from the moon.”
    “What about you, Derom?” Fumblefoot asked.
    “What about me?” Then it hit me. “Oh shit, you're right. Artok, you aren't the only one who will be changing tomorrow.”
    “You too?” He said, looking at me quizzically.
    “Bear.” I said simply.
    “Never met a werebear before.”
    “Honestly, neither have I.” I said.
    He looked confused, but said nothing.
    The next day, around midday, we arrived at Kerth. Aside from the burn marks in the wall surrounding the town, and the skulls on poles at the gate, it looked like any other small town. We walked in, and walked through the quiet streets until we found an inn. We walked into the inn, and looked for the innkeeper. He looked at Meepo and said something in a language none of us had ever heard before. Meepo responded, and we were given a set of rooms. We dropped our gear off, and went back out into the town, following Meepo. He led us to a burnt out tavern, where we walked down a flight of stairs to a cellar. He pulled on one of the bottles in the wall, and a doorway in the wall opened up. Meepo walked into the narrow passage, and said “Two you no fit. One at time.” So we followed, single file.
    After what seemed an eternity, he told us to stop, and groped around at a wall, and another doorway opened. Stepping out into a lit room, he said, “Flumkin live in next room. Meepo no want die in there. Meepo stay here.”
    “Fair enough.” Ratliff said.
    I rummaged through my pack, and pulled out Meepo's torn hard leather shirt and shortsword and gave them to him. He'd need some protection if anyone saw him. Walking to the door, I looked back to Meepo and said, “Here's hoping we see you again.” and I turned the knob.
    The room I stepped into looked normal enough, though it reeked of sulfur. Demon smell, I thought to myself. We spread in the doorway, Artok and myself taking the front, Fumblefoot and Felberk taking the sides, and Ratliff, Leoric and Phadian taking up the rear. The room was empty, but there was a note left on a table. “Why not come outside, adventurers.” it said. The door on the other side of the room had light coming through it, so we went out through it. It opened into an alley, and taking the lead, Artok noted  “It's almost sunset.”
    At the end of the alley, there was a small courtyard, and in the precise center of it, an altar. Standing at the altar was a small man, whom we all recognized as a Gnome.
    “Greetings, adventurers.” He said, drawing a circle on the ground around the altar. “In case there was any doubt, I am Flumkin.”

Part 4:

    He wasn't an altogether imposing looking Gnome, but he had a burning in his eyes that anyone would have taken seriously. The circle he'd drawn on the ground began to glow red.
    “He's starting to channel them.” Phadian said quietly.
    Ratliff cast a magic missile at the ground, scattering dirt over the circle, which caused it to stop glowing.
    “Clever bugger, aren't you?” Flumkin said. “No matter, they are already here. Or, they will be soon.”
    The sun was beginning to set, and Artok began to quietly remove his armor.
    “Ahh yes, I had almost forgotten about that. Go ahead, and change. It won't do you any good.”
    I suddenly felt an intense pain in my back, which launched me forward a couple of steps. It felt like my body was on fire, and I could feel my skin breaking open and course fur growing out over every inch of my body.
    I screamed.
    My armor felt like it was closing in on me, and I started to scream again. “Get it off! Get it off!” I shouted to my friends. I started to burst the buckles of my armor, which unlike Artok's, were not made to quickly release. I could feel the plates of my armor biting into my expanding body all the while.
    “Stop fighting it!” Artok, who was by now in his hybrid form growled at me.
    “I can't!” I screamed back.
    Artok then did something I hadn't expected. He reeled back, and swung a massive paw at my face. I felt a dull thud as I hit the ground, and then the world went black.
    I awoke feeling “larger.” I stood up, and everyone looked somehow tiny. Everyone save Artok, at least. Looking down at myself, I realized I was a bear, and standing on my hind legs, I was approaching ten feet tall.
    Artok was still smaller than me, but not by much. He looked up at me and growled “Feeling better?”
    I grumbled back, but noticed that nobody understood me. Lucky bastard, he could talk when he shape-shifted. Me, I was just a big bear.
    “Touching, really it is.” Flumkin said. “But I'm afraid my friends will be here momentarily. So, were I you, I'd be making my peace with whatever god you beat your chest to, right about now.”
    There was howling in the distance, getting closer. Flumkin wasn't lying. They would be here soon. I looked for an opportunity to advance on the little bastard. Artok must have sensed my motives, as he whirled back, and called to the others “Block the alley!”
    Leoric and Ratliff both started casting everything they could at the narrow alley to impede their advance. Phadian and Fumblefoot both tried to cast blindness on Flumkin, and one of them seemed to have succeeded. Felberk threw one of his daggers at him, and it sank deep into his right thigh. Howling in pain, he grabbed at the dagger. Seeing our opportunity, Artok and I advanced. Artok grabbed at him, and I bit down. Neither one of us wanted to let go, though we could hear his screams of agony. I could hear the yells from the rest of the group that the demons were starting to break through. Artok and I bit down, hard. The screaming, all of it, ended with the final gurgling sigh of his death rattle.


    After a moment, things calmed down. The demons who were no more than seconds away from Ratliff and Leoric vanished in puffs of smoke, as their channel to this plane died. Artok and I dropped the shredded body to the ground, and Felberk came over, and with a swing of his ax, cut off the head of Flumkin. The others went back into the room, and Artok and I stayed behind to finish the night in our alternate forms. In the morning, Phadian came outside, and we buried the body, to make sure nothing else would happen. We went back into the building, collected a very terrified Meepo, and left town.
    On the road back to Fulcrom, I said to Artok, “Something tells me we will be parting ways soon, my friend.”
    “I hope we will meet again, Derom.” He grasped my arm, just as a shimmering disturbance began in the road not ten feet in front of us.
    The small man stood there with a smile on his face. “Well done.” He said. “Very well done. Not exactly the way I'd have done it, but it works.”
    “Thank you, my lord.” Fumblefoot said.
    “Well then, are you ready?” Garl Glittergold asked.
    “Just a moment, if we may.” Fumblefoot replied.
    “I get the feeling we'll meet again.” Fumblefoot said. “Don't ask me how I know, I just do.” He said with confidence.
    We all had that feeling, but none of us could quite explain it. Looking back at Garl, he just smiled.
    We said our goodbyes, and then walked over to the little god who snapped his fingers, and we were back at Bobby's place. Garl stood there and said “One last thing before I leave. I want you to remember this. I want you to remember this, and to write about it. Don't expect people to believe  you, but just do it, okay?”
    Who could argue with that? We nodded, and he shimmered back out, chuckling. I looked at my dice, then at my notebook, and grabbed my notebook and began writing.

    “It was a dark and stormy night...”

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