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.

Friends

“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.”

“Indeed.”

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.”

“Okay.”

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…

“Jason?”

“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.”

“Hmm…”

“What?”

“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.