“It’s a demon!” Kevin tried to whisper and yell at the same time.
Jason drew his sword.
“You guys don’t want to talk to him first?” Matt asked, uncertainty running through his voice.
“We don’t talk with demons,” Jason said.
The figure hadn’t moved. It simply continued to stare and grin, making them feel more unsettled with each passing moment.
“Who are you?” John asked loudly.
“What are you doing?” Jason whispered.
“It hasn’t attacked us. Maybe it can help.”
“We don’t know that. Kevin was just guessing.”
“If you are done bickering amongst yourselves, I would be happy to answer the question.” The voice was the sound of an arid desert wind. It wasn’t frightening, not exactly, but it spoke of death.
John waved angrily at Jason to keep him quiet. “Apologies. My friends and I had not expected to meet anyone here. Please go ahead.”
It was impossible, but the smile got bigger, as though the bone of the skull itself changed shape. “Your friend is not correct. I am a daemon, not a demon. Your kind often ignores these distinctions. You can tell the difference because I am not currently chewing on your bones. I can offer you travel around the planes. For a price.”
“What’s the price?”
“What do you have?”
John turned back to his friends. “Do you guys have anything?”
Kevin and Jason both just looked at him, shock on their faces.
Kevin answered. “You are acting like this is normal. How do we know we can trust… it. A daemon? What is that even?”
“Look, I don’t know if we can trust it, but if it can get us closer to home, isn’t it worth trying? We’re stuck, with only a vague sense of where we’re going. This is the first help we’ve come across. I’m willing to give it a shot. Now what do we have?”
“We’ve got Rob’s ring.” Jason glared at John.
“What? That’s mine. I found it.”
“Well unless you found some pricey gems, too, that’s what we’ve got. We didn’t arrive here with any of our characters’ money. The only other things of value we have are our weapons, which we need in order to have any hope of surviving this nightmare. The ring is the only thing we can spare.”
“Jason’s right, John. We’ve got nothing else. You want to see if it can take us home? Your ring is the price we can afford.”
John looked from Kevin to Jason and then back at Kevin. “Matt, any help here?”
“I don’t know, John. I can’t think of anything else you could use.”
The creature spoke again. “If you are not interested in my offer, I will take my leave. Good luck.”
John quickly turned back to him. “Wait! I have a ring of protection. Will it be enough to take all three of us?”
“Show me the ring.”
John took several steps forward as he held out the ring. Nearing the daemon, he noticed that the fog on the ground had almost completely hid a river. The creature stood on a flat craft floating on the surface. Faster than John could see, it snatched the ring from his hand and studied it carefully.
“Very well,” it said upon concluding its inspection. “All three of you. Get on the boat.”
Kevin and Jason hesitated but finally followed John in getting on the craft.
“Where do you want to go?”
Jason spoke up. “We’re headed to our native prime material plane. Can you take us there?”
“What?” John sounded incredulous. “But I gave you the ring.”
“Indeed. But finding the correct plane for you would take too much of my time. The ring is not sufficient. Unless you have something else…”
John shook his head.
“Then get off my boat.”
Jason spoke again. “We paid you. Take us to the Astral Plane. That should be simple enough.”
The daemon looked at him for a long moment. “Oh very well. I can take you that far.”
Using the pole, it pushed the craft toward the middle of the river, and the current moved them swiftly along. No one spoke, though both Kevin and John kept giving Jason questioning looks. Jason ignored them and watched the boatman as well as where they were headed. The boatman was focused on steering his craft and paid no attention to any of them.
“What’s that?” Jason asked after they had traveled for a while. His friends looked ahead and could only make out an indistinct darker area some distance off.
“That is the entrance to the Astral Plane, as you requested.”
“It doesn’t look much like an entrance.” Jason squinted to see more detail.
“Few things appear as they are here.”
“It’s a tornado!” Jason exclaimed.
“A cyclone. But that is what I said. It is the entrance we seek.”
“You’re going to kill us!”
“Do not be ridiculous. It is not my place to kill. I simply deliver people where they need to go.”
“Cyclones. They are more expedient than the curtains or other gates.”
They had gotten much closer to the violently swirling column of mist. Kevin and John had both sat down to make themselves more stable. Jason tried to judge how far the river bank was and whether they could make it.
“I would not leave the boat. If you do, I cannot say what might happen to you.”
Jason looked for anything he might hang on to, but there was nothing. He sat down next to his friends and put his head between his knees. The boatman began to laugh. They entered the cyclone, and the world turned upside down.