Negotiations (part one)

Four people were waiting for me when I walked into the meeting room. The man at the head of the table was also easily the oldest person present. Howard Massey had become ridiculously wealthy selling weapons to anyone who could pay. To his right sat the twins, Tess and Tucker van Auk. They had made their billions in the tech sector, though no one quite understood how. I’m not even certain they knew. Finally, across from them was Leslie Switt. Her financial firm had its hand in nearly every market.

I sat down next to Leslie. I was there because I had inherited control of so many patents, money was always pouring in. Also, I had something everyone else in the room lacked, charisma. I was our spokesperson.

Howard spoke up first. “How are the negotiations going?”

“They have agreed to our terms,” I said. I paused long enough to let everyone relax and begin planning their own celebrations. “But there is a complication.”

The scowl on Howard’s face was priceless. “You just said they accepted our offer.” He didn’t try to hide his disdain for me. Every chance he got, he made clear that only he had ever made anything to earn his money. It was a wonder to me that the others never objected or crossed him in any way. I, on the other hand, was constantly on the lookout for such opportunities.

“They did, but they want proof that the population is docile, that it is as easy to control as we’ve represented it to be.”

Howard began to rise to his feet in order to launch into one of his tirades when Leslie put her hand on his arm. She was the only one he showed even the slightest bit of respect to. She turned back to me. “What did you tell them?”

“I asked them what sort of proof they wanted.”

“And what did they say?” I had seen Leslie be abrasive on countless occasions, but she was only ever pleasant toward me.

“That’s why I called this meeting. I needed your input and agreement. They want us to arrange a mass suicide. At least a hundred people.”

“How the hell do they expect us to do that?” Howard screamed.

“They said it was up to us. If they are as easily controlled as we’ve said, it shouldn’t be a difficult feat.”

“Still,” Leslie spoke again, “that is a rather brutish approach.”

Tucker nodded with more energy than I think I’d ever seen from him.

Tess, who was almost always the one to speak for them both, sounded rather matter-of-fact. “And if we do this, we have a deal?”

I nodded. “Yes. Passage to another planet that meets all of our requirements as well as the resources to live as comfortably as possible.”

“And access to the bio tech they showed us?” Howard had calmed down as soon as he was reminded of what we stood to gain.

I nodded again. “In exchange for Earth, we will have everything we ever wanted. We just need to to prove the malleability of the people. So what do you all think?”

Tucker gave his sister a worried look, but she avoided turning his way. Leslie was chewing the inside of her lip, which she always did when she was weighing out risks and rewards. And Howard, uncharacteristically, was lost in thought.

“I can tell them no. See if there is some other way forward,” I offered.

Howard shook his head. “We would look weak, not in control. They came to us; if we started showing hesitation, they might think we weren’t the people they should be dealing with.”

Leslie indicated her agreement. “No sense getting squeamish now. The planet is doomed. We ought to see this through.”

Tess had to push Tucker off of her arm. “We, too, support going ahead.” Tucker seemed about to speak, but a look from his sister stopped him.

“Okay, so how do we proceed?” I stared at Howard, knowing he would have an idea.

“I will arrange it,” he said on cue. “Tell them to pay attention to this location,” he wrote down a place in China, “Wednesday, 4:00 pm local time. That gives me a little over 24 hours to set everything up through my contacts. Will that satisfy them?”

“It should. I’ll make sure of it.”

“Fine. I have work to do.” Howard stood and left the room without another word.

Everyone else sat quietly for a few moments until Tucker finally found his voice. “I can’t believe you’re all okay with this.”

Leslie sighed as Tess looked him in the eye. “Do you want to stay here? When they take over?”

“Well, no, but…”

“No buts. This is what we have to do, Tucker. This is how we survive.”

Tucker’s courage gave out, and he slumped back into silence.

“Well, as much fun as this has been,” I said, standing up, “I should go update the other side.” I looked at Tucker. “This will all be over soon.” I didn’t bother looking at anyone else as I left.

The Spell 2 (part five)

John woke first. He seemed to be floating in mid-air, a bright grey nothingness spread in every direction around him. His two friends floated nearby and had also begun to stir. There didn’t appear to be any ground under them and no landmarks to orient himself to. The boatman stood nearby.

“You are not used to the Astral Plane.”

“No, I guess I’m not,” John replied. 

“Well, you are delivered. My job is done.”

“Wait! Can you give us any advice? How do we find our way around?”

“Your companion asked to come here. I assume he knows how to get on. In any event, I did what I was paid to do. Good luck.” With that, the boatman stepped through a disk of swirling white and disappeared.

Jason and Kevin were now fully alert and looking around. Jason slowly stopped turning as he floated and settled into a standing position.

“How did you do that?” John asked, with more than a little surprise.

“Don’t you remember our last visit here?”

“No. What am I supposed to remember?”

By this time, Kevin had also righted himself. “Movement here is best accomplished by concentration. Just think yourself standing. When we move, just think about moving. Takes a little focus, but it’s not hard.”

“Says the mage,” Jason muttered.

John thought about standing upright and his body reoriented itself to match his friends. Feeling less out of sorts, he looked around again. It felt like he could see forever, but there was nothing to look at. “Why did you want to come here, Jason?”

“Because we should be able to find a way back home from here. Unlike the Ethereal Plane, there is only one Astral Plane. All the various Prime Material Planes link to here. We just have to find the doorway to ours.”

“How do we do that? There’s nothing around.”

“Do you see that?”

John followed Jason’s finger as he pointed. For a moment, he didn’t see anything, but then he caught a glimpse of a blue circle. It nearly blended in with the emptiness around it. “What is that?”

“It’s a portal. Those are going to be all around. We just have to find the right one to take us home.”

“Could that be the one?”

“No. That goes to… I can’t remember. But we’re looking for metallic colors. Our home should be behind one of them.”

“Well, let’s get started,” Kevin said.

The three began exploring, looking for color disks. They found several, unevenly spaced and appearing at odd angles. It took finding many different colors before stumbling upon a silvery one.

“This could be it!” Kevin shouted.

But Jason shook his head. “No. Silver represents the plane we came from. It would be the necromancer’s world. We’re looking for a different one.”

“Are you sure?” John asked while staring at the circle.

“Yeah. I remember that much. Silver is always the players’ home plane. That’s the necromancer’s plane.”

“That’s the home plane for our characters,” John said. “But it isn’t our home plane. Look.”

Jason stared at the circle until it cleared. On the other side appeared their school building. Before he could react, John was already through the portal. Kevin stopped before following suit.

“Come on, Jason. We’re finally home.”

He wasn’t sure he believed this was all over, but he went through the portal after his friends. They stood in front of their school in the late afternoon sun. Everything seemed back to normal, except…

“Wait!” Jason yelled. “Where’s Matt?”

The other two looked around, each of their faces betraying guilt for having forgotten about their friend.

“Did we leave him behind?” Kevin asked fearfully.

“When was the last time we heard him?” John added.

“Just before we left the Ethereal Plane,” Jason said.

“We have to go back for him.”

John gestured helplessly. “How do we do that, Kevin? I don’t see the portal anymore.”

“No. They’re usually one way,” Jason said.

Just then a police car pulled up and an officer got out of the driver’s side. “John? Kevin? Jason?”

“Yes, sir,” John answered.

“You’re parents have been worried sick. Where have you three been?”

“We…” John tried to think of an answer that might make sense. “We don’t know. We just woke up here.”

The officer gave them a skeptical look. “You don’t know where you’ve been?”

“No, sir.”

“You’re friend Matt said that you were together after playing a game, but that he didn’t know where you would go.”

“Matt? Matt’s here? Where?” Kevin asked.

“At his house, I assume. But we need to know where you were.”

“We told you, we don’t remember. But we need to go check on Matt.”

“Matt is fine. He didn’t disappear. You three did.”

The three friends looked at each other, confused.

“Matt didn’t disappear?” John finally asked.

“No. Now come with me to the station. We’ll call your parents from there.”

The end. For now.

The Spell 2 (part four)

“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.”

“A demon?”

“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.”

“Using tornadoes?”

“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.

The Spell 2 (part three)

“Kevin, have you seen this ring before?” Jason was pointing at John’s right hand. On his ring finger was a plain silver band, glowing with a faint bluish light.

“No. I don’t think I have.”

“Me either.”

Just then, John began to move. He coughed once, and then again, before his eyes fluttered open.

Jason leaned over him. “Are you okay?”

“I… I think so. Where are we?”

Jason sat back and looked around as though he were trying to figure out how to answer. John sat up and followed his gaze, looking for clues.

“The Ethereal Plane,” Kevin finally answered. “You got hit with the dragon’s breath attack. You’ve been out of it for awhile.”

“Matt, why didn’t you do anything?”

“Matt’s not there,” Jason replied. “We haven’t heard from him since we went through the portal.”

John looked at Kevin who nodded. “So what do we do now?”

Jason shrugged. “We were trying to find our way to a portal, but we haven’t gotten anywhere.”

“We have to go back.”

“I said we were trying, but we can’t find an exit.”

“No, we have to go back to the necromancer’s castle. We have to find Matt.”

“Are you crazy?” Jason’s voice began to rise toward hysteria. “We just barely go out alive. You especially.”

“I think John might be right, Jason.”

“Not you too! I thought you wanted to get out of here as much as I did.”

“I do. But I don’t feel right leaving Matt behind.”

“You’re leaving me behind?”

“Matt!” Jason shouted. “Thank God. These two wanted to go back to the necromancer.”

“Matt, where were you?” Kevin asked.

“I… I guess I got a little lost. It’s harder to get around here. But you all seem to be okay.”

“I’m just glad you’re back,” Jason said. “Now you can help us find the entrance to the Plane of Air.”

“Air?” John sounded confused.

“Yeah, we probably wouldn’t survive the other inner planes,” Jason explained. “We can get through Air and find our own Ethereal Plane from there.”

“Oh. Yeah. I guess I forgot how this was supposed to work.”

“Well, you were out for a while,” Kevin reminded him.

“So what are you guys doing?” Matt asked. “How are you going to get to Air?”

“Well, we’re at a curtain, but we can’t tell what… color…” Jason trailed off.

“Turquoise,” Kevin said with surprise. “I swear we couldn’t tell what color it was just a minute ago.”

“Well it’s got a color now.” John looked at the curtain for the first time. “What’s it mean?”

Neither Kevin nor Jason answered. Matt finally spoke up. “On the other side is the Prime Material Plane you just came from. The necromancer.”

“So what color are we looking for?”

“Blue. Air should be blue.”

“Well, let’s get going then.” Kevin and Jason were still staring at the curtain. “What’s wrong with you two?”

Slowly, Jason turned away. “That color wasn’t there before.”


“So how did it change? Why did it change?” Kevin had turned around as well.

“Guys. We’re in a different plane. The rules aren’t the same here. Tell them, Matt.”

“He’s right.”

“Thank you. It’s always weird here. We’re just not used to seeing it first hand. It’s been Matt’s description before.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Jason conceded.

“Of course I am. Now, which direction do we go?”

“We don’t know,” Kevin said. “We were hoping Matt could tell us if he showed up.”


“I don’t know. I didn’t map out the plane. I just figured the necromancer might use it.”

“Okay… I guess we just start walking and look for blue.”

John started following the curtain. Jason and Kevin fell in behind him. Kevin kept looking at the curtain to make sure they were actually moving. They were. John’s explanation made some sense, but Kevin wasn’t sure. It wasn’t just a change from one weird thing to another. It was like everything had been in stasis, and now it was alive. There had to be some kind of explanation for it, but he couldn’t think of anything.

They traveled without talking for what seemed like hours before Jason broke the silence.


“Yeah? Why can’t we find any blue?”

“It’s a big place. What’s that ring on your finger?”

“What? What ring?”

“On your right hand.”

Kevin stopped puzzling over his mystery to listen to his friends’ conversation.

“Oh that? It’s just my ring of protection. You remember. I got it a couple of adventures ago.”

“Oh yeah…” Jason was trying to think back.

Kevin remembered right away. “No, you didn’t. Rob got the ring.”

“No. Rob got a dagger.”

“Wait. Kevin’s right. Rob is a cleric; he can’t use a dagger. You got the dagger because you said you needed it for backstabbing. It is Rob’s ring.”

“Uh, guys.” Matt’s warning went unnoticed.

“I’m telling you, it’s mine.”

“And I’m saying you stole it from Rob.” Jason sounded angry.

“I didn’t steal it from Rob.”


“Okay, fine, it’s Rob’s, but I didn’t steal it. I picked it up when I found our stuff…”

“GUYS!” Matt’s yell finally got their attention.

Standing about twenty feet away was a dark robed figure. The hood on the robe was up, and only the lower part of the face could be seen. The figure held a long pole in a hand that was little more than skin stretched tightly over bone. The face, too, was gaunt and skeletal. It wore the terrifying smile of a skull as it stared at them.

The Spell 2 (part two)

Kevin looked around. They had moved deeper into the Ethereal Plane away from the portal. Now they were near several very large sheets hanging from above. They seemed to stretch off in either direction as far as he could see, billowing in a wind he couldn’t feel. Colors and lights moved in the sheets, though he couldn’t detect a pattern to it.

“Are we safe here?”

Jason looked up at the sheets, too. “Yeah, we’re deep into the plane now. The necromancer shouldn’t be able to find us, at least not easily. Those curtains mark the boundary between this plane and the inner planes.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I read the books.” Jason’s voice took on a superior tone.

“I read them,” Kevin said, defensively.

“You’re mom won’t even let you have them. Anyway, they put out a book last year on all the plane stuff. It’s why Matt ran that adventure.”

“I guess it’s a good thing you read them. So where do we go now?”

“Shouldn’t we wait for Matt? John’s still not awake.”

“Is he still breathing?”

Jason put his hand near John’s face. “Yeah.”

“Well, maybe we should wait.”

They sat in silence for what seemed like hours, hoping to hear Matt’s voice. John never stirred the entire time. The fog around them swirled according to its own rhythms, but no other creature came near them.

“Jason, aren’t there inhabitants of the Ethereal Plane?”

“Yeah. And other creatures use it to travel to other planes.”

“So why haven’t we seen any?”

“I… don’t know…”

They looked around, but there was nothing other than the fog and the curtains. “This place is giving me the creeps,” Jason finally concluded.

“Yeah. But you said we should wait for Matt.”

“Well where is he?”

Kevin shrugged. “Maybe he’s stuck back where we came from. He created that world. Maybe he can’t leave it.”

“We can’t stay here forever. If we get out, we’ll try to find Matt, but I think we’ve waited long enough.”

“What about John? He still hasn’t woken up.”

Jason picked up their friend easily. “Everything is really light, like it doesn’t have any weight. I can carry him.”

Kevin stood. “Okay, let’s go. Which direction?”

Jason looked at the curtain. “I’m not sure, but we want to find a stretch of blue. That should be an entrance to the Plane of Air. The other 3 elemental planes would kill us almost immediately.”

“Plane of Air it is.” Kevin started walking alongside the curtain. It was an odd feeling. He was moving, but his feet weren’t actually touching anything. He’d never felt anything like this before. As they went, though, he felt more and more disconcerted. Several minutes passed before he realized why. No matter how much they moved, the curtain never changed.

“Is this supposed to happen?”

“What?” Jason replied from behind him.

“The color on the curtain, the lights, they never seem to change. We don’t seem to be going anywhere.”

“No. That isn’t supposed to happen.”

Kevin stopped moving. “What are we doing wrong?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. What I remember, we should just follow the curtain. It can take awhile, but we should get somewhere.”

“Maybe the color doesn’t change for awhile?”

“That’s possible. I’m really not sure.”

Kevin nodded and began moving again, determined to find some difference. Maybe this color went on for miles, but it had to change eventually. He looked closely at the curtain and stopped abruptly. What color was it? It had a color, certainly, but he couldn’t make it out.

“Jason, what color is this?”

“Seriously? It’s obviously… Huh? I can’t tell.”

“Me either.”

“But we were just talking about it.”

“Yeah, that’s what made me think about it. We never said what the color was. You said we were looking for blue, but I can’t even say what color it is now.”

“We really are stuck, aren’t we?”

“It looks like it.”

“And John’s still out. Matt’s still gone.”


“Kevin, I’m scared.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

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.

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.