The Spell 2 (part one)

School the next day seemed to drag on forever. Matt was anxious to get back to the game. His friends should be fine; without him there to run things, nothing could hurt them. But he knew time moved differently there, and he didn’t want them to get bored. Besides, it was fun. Much more fun than school.

When he got home, there was another delay, however. A police squad car was parked on the street, and his mother was waiting for him at the door.

“Matt, a policeman is here. He wants to ask you some questions.” There was a panic on her face and in her voice.

“A policeman?”

“Matt, your friends are missing.”


“Hello, Matt.” A man in a uniform was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. “I’m Officer Barkley. Nice to meet you.” He walked over to Matt and extended a hand. Matt reached out and shook it, trying to make his grip as firm as he could.


“Do you mind if we have a little chat?”

Matt looked up at his mother. She nodded. “Okay.”

They all walked into the kitchen and took seats around the table. There was a half cup of coffee in front of the officer. Matt sat across from him, and his mother sat in the middle.

“So, Matt, you were with your friends last night?”


“That was John Lommen, Kevin Hamill, Jason Davis, and Rob Kaufmann?” He was reading out of a small notebook.

“Rob wasn’t there.”

“But the others were?”

“Yes.” Matt tried not to sound nervous. He didn’t think he was doing a very good job of it.

“When did you see them last?”

“Last night. I left about 8:30 so I could get home before curfew.”

His mom nodded her head. “That’s right. He got home just before 9.”

“And your friends… John, Kevin, and Jason… were still together?”

“Yeah. Kevin and Jason were getting ready to leave, too, but they don’t live as far away.”

“Did anyone say anything about going somewhere?”

“No. Nobody said anything like that.”

“Are you sure, Matt?” His mom interjected.

“Ma’am. Please. The boy can speak for himself.”

“Yes, I’m sure. It was just a normal night. I’m always the first to leave. Unless I’m staying over.”

“So what were you all doing?”

“Playing D&D.”

“What’s that?”

Involuntarily, Matt rolled his eyes. “It’s Dungeons and Dragons. You play fantasy heroes and go on quests, explore dungeons. Stuff like that.”

“Like make-believe? Cops and robbers?”

“Not like that. That’s kid stuff. There are rules and dice. You have spells and swords, and all kinds of things. But it’s in your imagination. Not real.”

“Oh.” Officer Barkley looked at his mother; she just shrugged. “So after you left John’s house, you haven’t seen any of them?”

“No. They weren’t at school today. Did something happen to them?”

“I’m sure they’re fine, but Kevin and Jason never went home last night. And John’s mother said he had left the house, too. She hasn’t heard from him either. We just want to find them and make sure everyone’s okay. You don’t have any ideas where they might be?”

“No, sir.”

Officer Barkely looked at him for several seconds before concluding. “Okay. Well, if you hear from them, or if you think of anything that might help us find them, let me know. Will you do that?”


The officer stood, thanked them both for their time and left the house. When the door closed, his mother began worrying out loud. “What could have happened to those boys? Their poor mothers. Maybe I should drive you around instead of letting you take your bike. I’d never forgive myself if something happened to you.”

“You heard the police, mom. He said they were fine. They’ll find them, and it will be okay.”

She gave him a funny look. “You seem really calm about this. Do you know where they are?”

“No. Like I told him, I haven’t seen them since last night. They’re probably just playing a joke or something.”

“That’s horrible! Making their families worry like this. If that’s what’s going on, I don’t think I want you hanging out with them anymore.”

“Well, you’re right. They wouldn’t want to make their families worry. It’s probably something else then. I’m sure they’re okay, though. The policeman didn’t seem too worried.” He stood up from the table. “I need to do my homework.”

Concern still had a hold over her expression, but she nodded. “You tell me if you go anywhere.”

“I will mom.” He hurried down the hall and closed the door of his room behind him. Once he was sure his mom hadn’t followed him, he reached under his mattress to pull out the folding screen he had found. Usually he used these to hide dice rolls and notes from his players. This one was special, though.

On each of the three panels were displays, like television screens. He pressed the upper right corner and all three turned on. The one of the right showed the necromancer’s throne room. The one of the left stayed dark for now. The middle showed his three friends in the astral plane.

A flashing alert at the bottom caught his attention. “Crap.” Someone had used a healing potion and needed input from him to take effect. He entered in the maximum value using the small keypad on the right. The potion activated. He relaxed and began to listen to what his friends were saying.

Isa – Standstill

One casts runes in the same way one casts dice, with much the same implications. If you believe in Fate, the runes were fated to land where and how they did. Reading them is reading Fate itself, fully aware of all the pitfalls that go along with that.  However, if one does not believe in Fate, but in Luck, then the casting of the runes puts you entirely within Her domain. She may give knowledge and insight, or She may take away hope. The only way to know which is to play.

I lean to the latter view, though maybe talk of Luck takes it too far. Then again, maybe not. There is no reason to anger a divine-like being who might exist. Still, I have never seen any evidence of Fate. Or at least, I have seen no point in believing in It. If Fate exists, our beliefs do not matter. And if It does not exist, why believe at all?

In front of me was a single rune from my casting. A straight vertical line, a rune which cannot be reversed. And yet Isa was always reversed. It represents a freeze in activity, a standstill. It requires letting go of something that prevents progress. It is a lone person, in the cold, trying to drag something too heavy. In order to move forward, in order to get to safety, the burden needs to be released no matter how important it seems.

Unless one enjoys the cold. That is Fate’s problem, It cares not a whit for individuals. It assumes we all want the same things. The cold is my home, and I can move freely in it. Perhaps Luck, if She is real, intended to freeze my pursuers so that I could escape. That is how I chose to understand this casting, at least at that moment.

The Great Tree

It continued to rain all day as he walked, his cloak and hood insulating him from the majority of the downpour. Everything else in the woods had sought shelter hours ago; only he moved, and only the rain made any noise. It was still early in the season, and the chill in the air threatened to turn the rain to snow. So far, it had held off.

This journey was always arduous. It was meant to be; the Great Tree was not supposed to be consulted on a whim. The storm made it especially difficult, however. He pulled his cloak tighter with one hand while the other held his staff tightly.

The path now gave way to a clearing and the rain stopped abruptly. In the middle of the open area stood a large tree. It would take at least six men, arms stretched wide, in order to completely encircle the trunk. The branches stretched out from the trunk, starting about as high up as he was tall. They reached nearly to the edge of the clearing on all sides, and there was not enough room to see the top of the tree. It was called the Great Tree for good reason.

In spite of his usual stoicism, he asked, “Was the rain necessary?”

Though the air was still, branches rustled. They sounded like laughter.

“I see. Well, I am honored to be a source for your entertainment.”

A deep booming voice came from within the branches, “You have your sense of humor still. Things cannot be all that bad. What brings you here, child?”

He stopped himself from objecting to that. The Tree’s answer to any protestation about age was always met with the same response. He could live to see his two hundredth year, and the Tree would still find him young.

“A new sage has been born. I have come to ask you for her staff.”


“As you know, wood that is away from you…”

“Yes. Your staves do not out last you, so they must be replaced every time a new sage arrives.”


“So this means you… that your staff is near its end?”

“The staff is your wood. You already know the answer.”

“It is tiresome. I have lost track of how many have come and gone.”

“I doubt that is true. We are not intended for long lives such as yours.”

“Is this the last visit I should expect from you?”

“No. I will return once more with her, when her training is at its end. And here I will stay.”

The tree remained silent. Something fell to the ground from its canopy. He walked over and picked up a staff, taller than his own. The grain on it was distinct and ornate, swirling in many complex patterns.

“She will be tall, then?”

“Indeed,” the Tree replied. “And wise. If you must end, you will find her a worthy successor.”

“Thank you.”

“Do not hasten your return.”

“It will be a while yet from me. You will think it is a short time, however.”

“You are likely correct. Raise her well, my friend.”

That caught him off guard. The Tree never referred to him other than as ‘child.’ “I will,” he said eventually.

He turned and left. The Tree held back the rain it had been planning on sending after him.

The Statue

A breeze sent waves of ocean air up the path. The night was quiet, and the sky was clear. The further they walked from the small resort they were staying at, the more stars were visible, freed from the noise of the lights.

The path they walked was not the one to the beach usually used by guests of the resort. Indeed, the overgrowth and generally poor condition suggested no one much at all used it. But it’s out-of-the-way location made it that much more appealing. Perhaps it led to a secluded cove that had been relatively untouched.

It was the hope, and a general sense of mystery, that led them through the trees in the dark. Enough of the path remained that the light from the stars let them proceed without losing their way. It was their first night on the island and the beginning of their honeymoon. The thought of adventure was enticing.

Five years they had been married. Five years saving and planning this perfect trip. Without saying anything, they both agreed it had been worth it. They squeezed one another’s hand as they walked.

After nearly half an hour, the trees gave way to the sea, and the winding path ended. Sand stretched the entire length of the tree line, more than a hundred feet in either direction, ending at rocks that marked both ends of the beach. The ocean, itself nearly a hundred feet in front of them, gently washed the shore in the warm summer evening. No one else was present.

For a moment, both just stood there, drinking in the beauty that surrounded them. Then she let go of his hand and ran to the edge of the water. She laughed as her feet sunk a little into the wet sand. He joined her, and they dragged each other into the water, not very far, but far enough that the water was well over her knees when they tipped over. Then they sat on the shallow ocean floor, the water brushing against her chin, and enjoyed each other’s presence.

Later, as they were walking back to the path, he stopped.

“Do you hear that?” he asked.

She cocked her head slightly, but heard nothing except the ocean behind them. “No,” she said finally. “What is it?”

“Music.” The song was faint but familiar. He couldn’t name it, but he knew it from somewhere. Had always known it. It came from the trees.

Without saying another word, he charged into the forest to look for the source of the melody.

She yelped in surprise and called after him, but he had already disappeared. Following the sound of his mad dash, she entered the forest as well. No music guided her, only the fading echoes of her husband’s movements. Moving as quickly as caution allowed, she made her way to where she thought he was.

After a time, the noise disappeared completely. She continued heading toward where she had last heard it, but every time she turned to move around a tree, she became less certain of her direction. Her calls to her husband went unanswered. A sudden flash of orange light appeared and vanished in an instant. It had come from ahead of her, a little off to the left.

She began walking in that direction, even while she was apprehensive about what had caused it. Soon, a small clearing appeared. A statue stood in the middle of it, and smoke hung in the air, but nothing else was present. The smoke suggested this was where she had seen the flash, but there was no apparent source. The statue itself was made of stone. Its gender indeterminate, it had five arms that seemed to be frozen in the middle of some intricate dance. In the moonlight, it was both wonderful and terrifying.

But her husband was not here. And she had no idea where he might be. To make matters worse, she had no idea where she was, either. She wanted to go back to the resort; surely he would find his way back there. But her sense of direction had failed her walking amongst the trees. She could head back to the ocean, find the path they had taken. But the sounds of water were absent, and the salt air came from everywhere.

She decided it would be better to stay put, at least until morning, when she could use the sun to guide her way. The statue, upon further consideration, did not seem menacing. Perhaps it would even keep watch over her. She sat down on its base and leaned her head against its legs. The stone was surprisingly warm, which was welcome in the sudden chill of the night. In the warmth and safety of the statue, she drifted off.

When the sun rose, the statue faced it, soaking up the light and heat. It was alone in its little clearing; its six arms still caught up in the dance it forever performed while it hummed a song it had been taught long ago.


“You’re staring off into space again.”

“Sorry. Just thinking.”

“Never a good sign.”

“Shut up.”

“Okay. What were you thinking about?”

“It’s silly.”

“So? Tell me anyway.”

“I was just wondering if winter was the end of the year, or the beginning?”

“The end contains the beginning.”

“Is that deep?”

“I don’t know, is it? But it is true.”

“So it’s both?”

“Sure. We use lines to represent history and events, but that ignores all the circle imagery we use in keeping track of time. Sun dials. Analogue clocks. The rotation of the earth. The orbit around the sun. And the cycle of the seasons. Time flows, but not straight ahead. It always takes us back to the beginning.”

“I can’t decide if I should be impressed by that, or just irritated by your tendency to take all the fun out of idle mind wandering.”

“As you like.”

“So have we met before? Destined – or doomed, perhaps – to become friends over and over again?”

“Why not?”

“Hmm… There are worse fates.”


The Spell (part five)

“Okay, remember, we don’t have to beat him. Our goal is the portal. If we can get to that, we go through it. No need to take out the necromancer if we don’t have to.” John looked at the others to make sure they understood. Jason nodded.

“What if he comes through the portal after us?” Kevin asked.

“He might not. And if he does, at least we don’t have to fight him in his home.”


Jason spoke next. “What about our ‘rolls’? Why can’t we always say high numbers?”

“I might have an idea about that,” Matt said. “I think there is a set total of numbers that can be used in an encounter. Like with the fireball. There must have been a total of forty-five. Both John and Kevin said twenty, so that left just five for Jason. At least, that’s the idea.”

“So we have to be careful about how high we go? Leave some for everyone else?”

“That’s my best guess, Kevin.”

The three boys looked at each other for a long moment. “Okay,” John said finally, “We all have to think about our charts, try to use only what you think you need to in order to succeed. Matt, any idea how quickly the numbers come back?”

“No clue. I’m not even sure they do, and I’m just trying to explain what is happening. I don’t know that I’m right.”

“Well, at least it’s something.”

Jason was getting antsy. “The sun’s up. We’re as ready as we can be. Let’s get going. We’ve already been here too long.”

John and Kevin nodded their agreement. They all checked their equipment one last time. Kevin had his spells memorized. Jason was back in his armor. John had his cloak on. There was nothing else to do.

They stepped out of the room and made their way down the hall. John walked a bit ahead of them, his hood drawn up, effectively invisible. Jason brought up the rear, in case there was an attack from behind. They hoped that a necromancer’s castle would be quiet during the day, but they still expected an attack from around every corner.

Luck was with them, however, as they made it all the way back to the necromancer’s throne room without running into any monsters. The room itself was also empty. Just a few torches lit it up, leaving many pools of shadow all around.

“Matt? Where is he?” Kevin tried to whisper, but it still sounded too loud in the silence that surrounded them.

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe he isn’t here?” Jason’s voice was hopeful.

From up ahead, they heard John call back. “Come on guys. The portal should be back here. We seem to be alone.”

Kevin and Jason began running for the throne, eager to be free from this place at last. As they got within twenty feet of the throne, though, a voice stopped them cold.

“You have returned.” It sounded eerily like Matt’s. “Shall we resume our engagement from yesterday?” The necromancer stepped out from a shadow just behind the throne. Dressed all in black, he looked a bit like Dracula from the Saturday monster movie. Next to him were two skeleton guards, each carrying a sword.

The guards began advancing on them. Jason raised his sword, but Kevin stopped him. “Get the necromancer. I’ve got these two.”

Jason nodded and started moving forward. As he got near the skeletons, he heard Kevin mutter a few words behind him. Several glowing beams of energy streaked past him, striking the skeletons. Each of them was hit by three beams, and a seventh struck the necromancer. While he appeared to shrug off the attack, the skeletons both crumpled to the floor.

Jason swung his sword as he reached the necromancer. He was ready for Matt’s prompt.

“Roll to hit.”

“I roll a ten!” The blade bit into the black-robed wizard and caused him to yell out in pain.

Seemingly from nowhere, John’s voice rang out. “I roll a 14!” The necromancer cried out again. As he stumbled forward, John kept hold of his dagger sliding out of the enemy’s back.

The necromancer spun away from his attackers. The sound of wings drew their attention. The bone dragon was there, glaring at them with its empty eye sockets.

“Run!” yelled Kevin. He had already started to move, but the other two were caught by the dragon’s breath attack. Frosty air came at them.

“Saving throws.”

“Go first, Jason,” John said.

“I don’t remember my save against breath weapons.”

“Say something!”

“I roll a… nine!” Jason dodged to the side, avoiding the full force of the damaging cold.

John was silent for a few more beats, running through numbers, finally yelling out, “Eleven!” The cold hit him directly, knocking him to the ground.

Jason ran to him to help him up. He was unconscious. Breathing, but cold and blue.

“Grab him and let’s go!”

Jason picked up his friend and began hurrying toward Kevin behind the throne. Kevin had pulled aside a curtain to reveal a glowing doorway.

“Take him through. I’m right behind you.”

Jason hesitated, but only for a moment, and then stepped through the portal. Kevin turned back to the dragon and raised his staff. A short command sent a small burst of flame streaking toward the monster. Kevin dove through the portal before the fireball exploded.

On the other side, Jason had put John down, if that word had meaning any longer. Mists swirled all around them. The vague shadows that might be people or monsters moved in nearly every direction. Thankfully, there didn’t appear to be many of them, and none were nearby.

“I gave him a healing potion, but it doesn’t seem to be having any effect.”

“Is he still alive?”

“Yes. Just not awake. And very cold.”

“Matt? Any help here?” Kevin waited for a response, but none came. “Matt? Are you there?” Still nothing.

Kevin looked back at Jason. “We should move a bit away from the portal in case we’re followed. We can try to warm up John while we wait for Matt to show up.”

“What if Matt’s stuck in that world?”

Kevin chewed his lip, not wanting to think about that possibility. “I don’t think he is. This plane is connected to that one. Let’s try to get John up before we worry about this too much.”

“Okay. I hope Matt shows up soon.”

“Me too.”

*     *     *

As soon as he stepped inside his house, Matt tried to go straight to his bedroom. But his mom called to him from the living room where she was knitting.

“Matt? Is that you?”

“Yes, mom.”

“Did you have fun with your friends?”

“Yeah. It was a good session. Kinda tired though. And I have school tomorrow.”

“Well, get some sleep. You can tell me all about it tomorrow. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, mom.” Relieved to have avoided a long conversation, Matt went to his bedroom and closed the door behind him.

The end. For now.

The Spell (part four)

Kevin knew he needed to sleep to get his spells back, but it was hard to do when every sound made him jump. It seemed like John had been gone forever. He felt guilty letting him go alone, but he knew that John was stubborn. He better come back, and soon. Who knew what might be wandering the halls of this place.

Well, Matt should. He had made this place. John was probably okay as long as Matt was helping him. That thought reminded him…


“Can’t sleep?”

“No. But I was wondering… Right after you got hit with the fireball, you said you couldn’t say anything higher than a five for your saving throw. What did you mean?”

“Just that. I tried saying twenty, like the two of you had, but something stopped me. My mouth wouldn’t say the words. Same thing happened when I tried to say nineteen. And over and over again until I got to five.”

“You don’t know what stopped you?”

“No clue. Maybe it was a spell or something.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Kevin wasn’t convinced. What spell could stop someone from saying certain things? There were probably some he didn’t know, but when would it have been cast? And by whom? That was the first saving throw any of them had made, wasn’t it?

“Jason, did you make a saving throw before the fireball?”

“No. I was as confused as you when Matt told us to do it.”



“I’m not sure. Maybe Matt can tell us something.”

They let the silence fall back and waited for John to return. The boxes and table they had pushed against the door after he had left did not feel secure. There were no weapons. The only way out was the window. Kevin went over the spells he had left. That was the only thing they could fall back on. It wouldn’t be enough.

When the door started to move, they both jumped up, ready to spring for the exit. John’s voice reassured them that it was okay to resume breathing.

“Hey, guys, it’s me. Let me in.”

Kevin and Jason immediately began pulling things back from the entrance. They worked quickly, and before long, John stood inside and pushed a table back against the door.

“Did you find anything?” Kevin asked, anxious to have some means of protection.

“Yes.” John had a big smile on his face.

“Where is it?” Jason looked at John’s empty hands.

“Right here.” He pulled out a large cloth sack that appeared to be rather empty.

“That’s it?” Disappointment was evidence in Jason’s voice.

“Ah! I see you don’t recognize this. This is mine.”

At first, Kevin was just as confused as Jason looked, but realization suddenly came over him. “You mean that’s…”

“Yep. It’s my bag of holding. Good thing, too, or I’d never be able to bring all this stuff back.”

John pulled out a full suit of armor and a sword. “I believe these are your, Jason.”

Next was a staff and a book. “I think these belong to you, Kevin. I have my daggers and cloak.” He also brought out several vials and flasks. “Rob’s stuff was there, but I didn’t think we needed it. I did grab his holy water.” He passed two vials to each of the others. “And he had a few healing potions.” They each got a flask.

“It’s not everything we might want, but this should help.”

“This is excellent, John. Good job,” Kevin said. “I can’t believe you found our stuff.”

“Yeah, thanks, John.” Jason was already putting on pieces of his armor. “Do you think we can take the necromancer now?”

John shrugged. “I don’t know. But we have a better chance than now.”

“What do you think, Matt?” Kevin asked.

“Oh he doesn’t know. Almost got me killed by a couple of skeletons.”

“That’s not true, John. I already explained.”

“Oh yeah. Matt says he still has to play by the rules. He can’t fudge anything to help us.”

“Hmm… That true, Matt?”

“Yeah, Kevin. It’s weird. I couldn’t warn him about a pair of skeletons. I don’t understand why.”

“That’s what happened to me with the saving throw.”

Kevin nodded. “Yeah. There is something weird going on. I mean, besides being trapped in a D&D game. Like we’re playing somebody’s game, but there are rules we don’t know. Like how dice rolls really work. Or even you finding our exact equipment, John. It doesn’t seem like Matt’s in charge. Even though it’s supposed to be his game world.”

A puzzled look on his face, John asked, “So you’re saying someone else is running all of this?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Well, that sounds bad. Matt, what do you think?”

“Makes as much sense as anything else.”

“But who would do this?” Jason chimed in.

The three boys looked at each other, but no one had any idea how to answer the question.

John spoke. “Well, we have to get past that necromancer anyway. You two sleep. Jason, I’ll wake you up in four hours for your watch.”

Kevin and Jason both nodded and headed back to the makeshift mats they had made out of cloth they had found in one of the boxes. Sleep didn’t come easy, but eventually it did come.