Beyond the Screen Chapter 5

Beyond the Screen Chapter 5
By Dr. Bender

The party finally arrives in what passes for civilization in the fantasy world, lulled into a false sense of security. Worse yet, they need Vanad back but someone seems to have their foot in the revolving door of the afterlife.

By the way, a Lich is a type of undead wizard that looks like a zombie. Not that there's anything wrong with that if you're into zombies...

Beyond the Screen
By Dr. Bender

Chapter 5

My first thought when I came two was a wish that I’d been able to come up with a better plan; one that didn’t involve getting cracked over the head. Worse yet, it had taken Kendra’s sweet little love-stricken heart three goes to put me down.

Like all good plans, I kept it simple. I gave Kendra a letter for her father after making her swear a most solemn oath not to open it and give it straight to her father as soon as she was able to find him. Just to be sure, I laid my Lesser Geas on her, giving her orders to that effect. She was angry at me but the love spell kept her docile and agreeable. The letter read as follows:

Dear Lornel Gallo,

It is with no regret that I must apologize for not allowing you to kill me. I do, however, regret the state that your daughter is currently in, despite the fact that I charmed her in self defence with the potion that she tried to give me first. I’ve sent her back to you so that you can break the enchantment and she can live out the rest of her life outside a jail cell if left to the devices of my paladin companion or six feet underground in an unmarked grave if the man who stabbed you has his way.

Do not mistake this kindness for weakness. If you come for me, I will do everything in my power to destroy you, your pet cat, your daughter, the Circle and anything else that you hold sacred. I am patient. I was here on this world before you were conceived and I will be here centuries after you depart your mortal shell. Come against me at your own peril.

Yours Sincerely,
Al’ressia Na Korechillic.

You might have noticed that I’d left out part of my full name. I’d been named by my father’s blood in the elvish way, taking five names that represented both my being and the bloodline of my ancestors. The first name was my elvish use-name unique to me, the second the short, humanized, version that the less developed civilizations could pronounce with greater ease (which is kind of insulting, practical and arrogant at the same time, which characterizes my father’s people fairly well). The third name was my secret name, composed by my mother who would hold on to it until I came of age and she gave it to me in a secret ceremony, upon which she immediately forgets it forever. And I mean that literally, the ritual of naming is recognized and enforced by the elvish deities (and in the event that a mother dies before passing on the name, the same deities hold it in secret until a new ‘mother’ is appointed by the child in question). My fourth name, ‘Na’, is my mother’s family name, which naturally isn’t elvish in my case. Last but not least, I possessed my father’s family name.

But back to more pertinent facts, the bruises made me wish in all honesty that half-elves weren’t immune to sleep spells. I hoped that Kendra had the good sense to fly to her father in bird form like I’d suggested rather than hanging around to see if I was all right. The last thing I wanted was for Zenis to catch her again.

My last act before being brained was to cast two spells that would help me deal with my companions once they were able to wake me up. The first, Glibness, enhanced my ability to lie to truly preternatural levels. The second, lower level, spell enhanced my ability to appear completely blameless and innocent of any and all suspicion. Together with my natural ability to lie like a devil with a forked snake for a tongue covered in honey, I probably could have sold ice to fire elementals.

I felt bad when my companions fell for it hook, line and sinker but I have to admit, fooling them was also kind of thrilling.

“Don’t blame yourself,” Altek consoled me as we continued walking down the trade road, “she fooled all of us with that act. I seriously thought she really was enchanted.”

“I had my suspicions,” Zenis lied, “but at least now she can’t go ratting us out. All due respect, Altek, I strenuously recommend omitting that particular detail next time you talk to your superiors. Not that I’d ever consider asking you to lie for us but things they don’t know can’t come back and bite them. You ask me, they get one extra paladin out there fighting the good fight, that’s gotta be worth something.”

Altek nodded slowly in reluctant agreement.

I mentally bumped Zenis’ threat rating up in my head from yellow to orange. His ability to lie and wheedle was almost as good as mine. Fortunately, he was abrasive and unpleasant most of the time and lacked breasts.

Speaking of which, there’s nothing like miles of hiking as a girl to make you appreciate the humble brassiere. I think it’s to my credit that after a day in a girl’s body I was starting to get more comfortable with it. It helped, of course, that I had a lifetime of memories as Ressia to guide me in the details of feminine hygiene and was wearing a magical item that eliminated the need to bathe and thus examine myself without clothes on (an inevitable confrontation that still made me nervous, so I wasn’t completely enlightened) but the important revelation that came to me was that despite the change I was still me. Lots of things were different, some more than others, but I retained my sense of identity. I was both James and Ressia and, to be honest, I was starting to enjoy being Ressia.

Our main problem was the seventy pound elephant in the room. An elephant that stank to high heaven, was covered in flies and oozed and indescribably fluid. Naturally, I’m talking about the sack that held the remains of our late, lamented, companion Vanad. You might be wondering why we hadn’t brought him back from the dead yet. The truth is, Celton was a powerful cleric who did indeed have the power to bring the dead back to life. He just wasn’t powerful enough to do it when the body had been eviscerated and partially eaten. When the body is that badly damaged, only the highest levels of spells will do the job without leaving the person in question horribly maimed.

So it was that Altek approached the gate guards of the next waystation, another fortified inn named The Rampant Stag, with the unenviable task of having to explain why he was carrying human body parts in a sack. Fortunately, respect for the Order of the Golden Rose and prior reports of the battle at The Nymph’s Pool got us past questions of foul play once Altek proved his paladinhood by spontaneously healing a few minor cuts and scratches (another benefit of being a paladin). Unfortunately, such respect didn’t extend to the smell Vanad was exuding and we were refused entry (the boys also reeked to high heaven due to not having had a bath for two days but eu de rotting corpse covers a multitude of stenches). As a concession, I managed to convince the guards to bring the stable manager out to trade with us and we managed to ride away from the establishment on the backs of four fine horses. I will say if there’s a positive side to no longer having testicles, it’s that riding a horse is infinitely more enjoyable, if the swearing of my companions was any indication. Personally, I found my first horseback ride quite bracing.

As we were setting up camp a cavalry column flying the king’s colours thundered past without giving us a second glance. “They’re from the garrison at Venifar,” Altek confirmed, “I doubt the knights from the chapterhouse will be far behind.”

“Awesome,” Zenis commented, “maybe they’ll take out those Circle goons for us.”

“No,” Altek and I both said in unison. We looked at each other. “You want to take this one?” I asked. “Ladies first,” he rejoined. I poked my tongue out at him before taking up the explanation. “Until we get to Venifar and the Kingdom of Anarhod proper, this is still the wilds. Heck, inside the kingdom isn’t that safe, it’s just better patrolled. Out here, the law lasts as far as the reach of your sword arm. Goblinoids, Orcs and Kobalds infest the mountains, the Fey, Druids and Elves rule the forests and occasionally there are pockets of real, eldritch, evil. The bad guys have their own gods who work to ensure that the good guys never get too much of an upper hand. In fact, the bad guys win most of the battles; they just can’t put the slam dunk on the war. Getting revenge on the Circle of Falling Leaves isn’t the priority for Anarhod, it’s making sure good dwarven steel gets down this road from Caer Dur.”

“Anarhod’s besieged from all sides, you’ve also got the underwater kingdoms off the coast, the Empire of Saquasim to the south and a bunch of assorted human kingdoms in the west as well and none of them really get along… you really don’t know any of that, Zenis?”

The elf shrugged. “First time I’ve ever been to Anarhod; never really cared much for politics outside the guilds.”

We set watches like good little party members but I was happy that my elven heritage allowed me to enter a trance state in which I was aware rather than truly sleeping. Altek and Celton slept like babies but then I doubt they even remotely suspected that Zenis was an Assassin. I knew Altek didn’t at least or they might have tried to kill each other already… unless I was wrong. Or I was right and Zenis had magical items that could fool a paladin’s ability to detect evil. Or Altek was a total fool and hadn’t bothered to give all of us a once over with the morality scanner. So I was paranoid and ‘slept’ with one eye open.

We continued on at night after we got our eight hours, eating iron rations as we rode and over the course of the next few days we fell into a routine. We rode, striking a good balance between keeping the horses healthy and maintaining our speed, we avoided the waystations and moved at night, interrupted only by the occasional caravan and highway patrol. When I finally couldn’t stand the stench any longer, I went and found a fresh water stream and ordered the boys to bathe before we continued and further. I was quite happy to keep watch and risk death at a discreet distance to preserve their modesty as long as the unbearable smell was somewhat abated. I even forced us to stop at the next waystation we came across to purchase a small barrel as a temporary home for Vanad and his detestable odor. So it was that we arrived at the fortified city of Vanifar in a somewhat presentable fashion without the worry of having to explain why we were carrying a four day old corpse to the guards at the gate. If there was a bright side to the whole ordeal, it would be that we were all too tired to snark at each other or think about Vanad’s death and the danger we were in. Even Zenis was subdued, unable to work up the energy for so much as the smallest of chauvinistic comments.

I remembered more impressive cities thanks to Ressia’s memories but the sight of thirty foot high stone walls was imposing to say the least. Vanifar performs several functions for the Kingdom of Anarhod, the first and foremost being the defence of the realm against the northern wilds. The second is as a trade hub between human farmers and dwarven smiths.

The dwarves and humans had formed an uneasy alliance long ago when the kingdoms of man were founded. Dwarves pride themselves on their abilities as miners and smiths without peer as well as their self sufficiency. Unfortunately, living most of their lives underground, food production is not one of their talents. While they are able to grow edible fungi and herd underground animals for some meat, the state of semi-constant siege that the dwarves find themselves under against the Drow produces great demand for food, necessitating trade with the surface to sustain their way of life. Conversely, kings all over the world rely on solid dwarven steel to arm against the evils that infest the world and retain their grip on civilization, a symbiotic relationship that has kept the peace for centuries. Thus, Vanifar was one of the most important cities in the realm, with fortifications designed and engineered by dwarven siege experts, some of whom were on loan to the Duke as advisors.

The last function Vanifar serves, and the function we were most interested in, is as a safe haven for adventurers intent of pillaging the wilds. The deal between adventurers and the Kingdom is simple. Adventurers keep themselves out of the Kingdom’s hair and in return, we get to keep any loot that we come across no questions asked. This created a profession composed of what amounted to highly trained mercenary special forces who traded life expectancy for potential riches. Riches, of course, have to be spent and adventurers need a place to rest and recuperate between missions. Vanifar, being the last city many adventurers would likely ever see, catered for such stalwart heroes. On the flip side, however, you really can’t call anywhere ‘pro-adventurer’. It’s not that adventurers don’t often earn the ire of the citizenry but they also provoke envy and spite.

Consider a regular citizen’s point of view. An adventurer waltzed into town with a sack full of gold, festooned with magical items that could be traded for enough food for a whole family for years. While they’re busting their humps for a copper piece a day (one hundred copper pieces being worth a single gold piece) and eeking out a living, adventurers live like royalty, seducing their sons and daughters both into their beds and out of the family business for the prospect of living fast and dying young. They don’t get to face the eldritch evils that plague the world or drag their friend’s carcasses around for days so that they can get resurrected after being reduced to a pile of Dire Tiger snacks.

If you’ve ever worked in the movie industry, you know how this phenomenon works. Whenever a camera crew waltzes into a town back on Earth, the price of everything mysteriously jumps upward within a twenty mile radius. Similarly, adventurers are forced to deal with the ‘adventurer’s tax’ that combines an increase in prices with the need to bribe every official you encounter just so that they won’t make needless trouble on the flimsiest of excuses. Unfortunately, Altek didn’t grasp why the guard at the gate was being so difficult as the man’s hints went completely over the paladin’s head.

“Pardon me,” I interrupted when Altek was on the verge of drawing his sword, “I just remembered; I’ve forgotten my donation to the town guard’s retirement fund. Would you gentlemen be so kind as to deposit my twenty gold pieces for me? I’d be ever so grateful.”

We were let through in short order to a chorus of apologies for the misunderstanding and we got our first glimpse of a proper human city in our new world. It’s a curious thing living in a land of magic. For starters, the level of technology is rather random, with steel and glass being available yet hardly used in construction. The densely packed streets were cobbled and the buildings were built of stone and mortar with slate rooves with practical dwarven influences painfully evident in even the smallest of architectural features. The genius of elven architecture is that it looks elegant and lasts forever. The dwarves had yet to master the first part. It was surprisingly clean, however, a testament to the effectiveness of the city’s public works.

Despite the somewhat austere nature of the city, it still held sights and wonders to behold. Divided into segments by high walls with cross streets that radiated from major landmarks, the city could be locked down in segments enabling the guard to fall back to better defensive positions with ease while forcing an enemy to fight for the city inch by inch while providing ease of navigation. Each enclosed district had its own park, square or market around which businesses of various types could flourish, with each district specializing in a certain industry, profession or in some cases race. I found the Halfling and Gnome quarter’s tiny homes to be quite cute and intriguing as we passed by.

Altek, however, was fuming as we rode through the streets and wasn’t in the mood for sight seeing. “I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be bribing a police officer just to get through a gate,” he growled, existentially enraged.

“You payed highway tolls back home didn’t you?” I quipped.

“That’s not the same,” he protested, “tolls are lawfully sanctioned and go into a treasury, or to the private company that built the road to pay them back for their initial investment. What they just did was extortion.”

“If you hadn’t made such a fuss, I could have gotten away with ten,” I countered, “on the bright side; we probably just paid off the city guard’s bar tab.”

“I’m not lugging around my friend’s corpse just so we can earn enough money to pay for anyone’s drunken revels,” he said through clenched teeth. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to calm down. “Forget it. We turn right at the next street and follow it straight to the Temple of Anar. If I put in a good word they won’t gouge us for the resurrection.”

The Temple of Anar the Sun God had pride of place in the temple district as the patron god of Anarhod. It was less of a building and more a cathedral with towers that loomed high over the city walled and rivalled the height of the Duke’s castle that lay at the centre of the city like a spider at the centre of its web. The temple was covered with depictions of Anar wrestling with the dark, inhuman, form of Nesti, God of Death and Disaster along with various demon lords and other alien beings that shrank from his light as they prostrated themselves at his feet. The most amazing feature, however, were the giant double doors of solid gold that stood open to allow admission with militant clerics standing guard in a constant silent vigil.

Celton made his apologies and broke away from the rest of the group when he spotted the Temple of Phastroma, Goddess of Beauty and Art as well as being Celton’s patron goddess. I was kicking myself when I finally recognized the design of his holy symbol, wondering if I’d just had a complete brain fart or if I’d just experienced my first natural one on the twenty sided dice of fate. Her temple was much smaller but more elegant, surrounded by lush gardens and decorated with the most exquisite sculpture.

I was surprised to discover that Ressia didn’t acknowledge Phastroma as her patron goddess, nor did she acknowledge any one god or goddess as her patron. Unusual for adventurers for the same reason that there aren’t any atheists in foxholes; though it’s hard being an atheist in the DnD multiverse when clerics can demonstrate the power of their deities by healing the wounded and crippled, curing sickness with a mere touch and creating food and water out of thin air. Not that Ressia was an atheist, she prayed often to a variety of gods and goddesses in different situations, such as the traditional prayers that actors make to Pharistoma before the curtain goes up. I just didn’t have a single god or goddess that I could point to and say ‘yes, I have faith in them’.

We were so caught up in the journey that we didn’t notice that Zenis had disappeared until we dismounted on the steps of the Temple of Anar and had to hitch up the horses. “Don’t worry,” Altek advised when I voiced my concern, grunting as he hauled the barrel with Vanad’s remains off his horse, “he’s a big boy and you’re not his mother.” I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t so much worried about Zenis as what the elf was doing while we weren’t looking over his shoulder.

As we ascended the long flight of steps that led inside, I couldn’t help but wonder if Anar had a confidence problem. Take the temple’s entrance, a fifteen foot wide, twenty five foot high set of double doors that weren’t even half as tall as the entire building. The sanctuary inside was festooned with gold, from sculptures to gold leaf holy symbols. The altar was a complex series of sun-disks cast from solid gold, each at an angle to spread the light that streamed down from the skylight high above evenly throughout the room.

We were stopped by a votary with a book and a box with the word ‘alms’ embossed in the rich wood with gold lettering. “Welcome to the temple, most holy knight,” he greeted, bowing in respect, “may I inquire as to the purpose of your visit.”

“Foremost I require prayer in a consecrated place, brother,” Altek replied, obviously relieved to be in his element again, “however I regret that I must prevail upon the high priest to return my companion who fell in noble battle back to life.”

The votary lapped up the paladin’s formality like a cat laps up milk. “Of course, sir, if you would follow me I shall deliver you to him post haste.”

The opulence of the temple didn’t stop at the altar room. The corridors were lined with rugs of the finest make, some hailing from far away lands that would have cost a veritable fortune. The floors were clad in thick red carpet, soft enough that I was tempted to take off my boots to scrunch my toes in it. Finally we came to a heavy hardwood door bound in iron at which the votary knocked politely before entering, bidding us to wait a moment while he announced our presence.

We waited for half an hour before we were called inside, long enough to let us know that we weren’t that important but short enough to show a measure of respect to Altek’s paladinhood. The High Priest wasn’t the ultimate leader of the Church of Anar but I was loathe to consider what the chamber of the supreme authority would look like. His office moved beyond lavish into the realm of decadence, all he required to tip the balance was a hookah and a bevy of courtesans. It occurred to me that they might be kept in his bedroom. The High Priest himself wore a robe of white silk embroidered with a pattern that repeated his god’s holy symbol rendered in gold thread. He wasn’t as handsome as Altek but he made up for the lack with confidence that lesser men didn’t possess.

“Altek,” the High Priest greeted warmly, clasping the paladin’s hand in a firm shake and patting him on the shoulder, “it’s been too long, brother.”

“Indeed, High Priest Brevor,” Altek agreed, returning the shake. “Allow me to introduce Lady Ressia, a bard of some repute.”

“I am delighted to make the acquaintance of such a rare and exotic beauty,” Brevor said, lifting my hand to his lips for a brief kiss, “am I to understand that you are good Sir Altek’s betrothed?”

Altek spluttered a bit but I kept my cool and returned his smile, though mine held a bit less mirth and a lot more impending danger. “Don’t make me hurt you, High Priest, it’s a waste of useful magic.”

He laughed, slapping Altek on the shoulder rather hard. “Yes, she’s a keeper all right Altek. Now, I understand that you need a companion of yours resurrected. You do understand that such a service can’t be provided for free, Anar frowns upon it.”

“How much?” Altek asked, suppressing a wince.

#

“Thirty thousand gold pieces.”

Celton spat his ale back into his tankard.

We were sitting in a tavern called The Smiling Goddess in the temple district, a nice establishment with a strangely pious atmosphere that was remarkably clean and quiet for such a venue. Clerics love a good tipple as much as the next person, I can tell you, but they’re not the most boisterous crowd (with some exceptions) even when they’re in their cups.

“So then we went looking for a Resurrection scroll,” Altek continued, muttering darkly into his cup. “Guess how much they are around here.”

“Thirty thousand?” Celton guessed.

“Thirty one thousand,” Altek corrected, “they tack on double the cost of materials. And the prices on healing spells are fixed, everyone charges the same.”

Our cleric muttered some very impious oaths. “I can cover twenty thousand with the spell components for Raise Dead and Lesser Restoration,” he offered, the components for said spells being diamonds and diamond dust respectively.

“No,” I disagreed, “we need those spells in reserve. If the Dire Tiger hadn’t made a mess of things we wouldn’t be bothering with this. We need a third option.”

“You have an idea?” Altek asked hopefully.

I nodded. “Vanad might not like it but it’s the most practical option and it has to be done soon before the time limit expires. Reincarnation is a lower level spell and should be much cheaper.”

“But we can’t approach any druids for fear they’ll rat us out to the Circle,” Altek pointed out.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t scrolls floating about,” I countered. “It’s not a bard spell but I can cast it from a scroll given about an hour. Only problem is, we’re running the risk of him coming back as something without hands.”

“How likely is that?” Celton inquired.

I shrugged. “Flip a coin and take your chances. Honestly, I don’t think we have any other options. He’s been dead four days, nearly five, and the window for Reincarnation only lasts a week.”

Of course, Zenis chose that moment to suddenly appear, throwing a heavy scroll onto the table before sliding into his seat. Looking smug, he leaned back and put his hands behind his head before propping his feet up on a spare chair. “There’s your Resurrection scroll,” he declared pompously, “do try not to fuck up casting it.”

There was a long pause as we stared at the thief until Celton snatched up the scroll to have a look at it. Blinking several times, he gulped. “Uh, it’s a Resurrection scroll all right. Where the heck did you get one of these?”

Altek glared at the rogue. “I will not be party to thievery.”

“Woah, woah, woah there, big man,” Zenis said, attempting to placate the paladin’s righteous wrath, “you’ve got entirely the wrong end of the stick. I went to see a guy who knows a guy, savvy, and happened to mention our little predicament with our poor departed friend. As an upstanding citizen, he introduced me to a philanthropist who just happened to have a spare Resurrection scroll he was willing to donate to a just cause.”

“Mind if I take a closer look at it Celton?” I asked, holding out my hand. “I’d like to examine it thoroughly to see if it’s cursed.

He handed it over, shrugging. “You’ll have to cast it anyway; I can’t use scrolls of that level.”

To explain, in the game there’s a skill called ‘use magic device’ that lets people with it use scrolls and other magical items without being wizards or clerics. The major advantage being that if you have a high enough skill level, you can use magical items that even wizards or clerics can’t. In the reality of the DnD world, Ressia was well versed in the construction of magical items to the point where she could divine the nature of such items and how to activate them as well as decipher magical script thanks to her elven upbringing. It can seem a little weird that bards and rogues are best at this ability compared to wizards and clerics, the difference being that bards and rogues cheat to get their magical power where wizards and clerics come by it though honest study and discipline.

I concentrated on studying the scroll while the other three bickered, Altek and Celton highly suspicious of the sudden fortuitous appearance of exactly what we needed for free. Both of the religious types seemed certain that Zenis had stolen it but, unless the rogue had an ungodly ability to bluff or I was out of my skull, as incredulous as it seems, his words rang true. Of course, if Zenis wasn’t playing us then whoever had given him the scroll was playing us, which was why I asked to examine the scroll more closely.

My suspicions were all but confirmed the moment I touched the scroll. I wasn’t surprised that neither Zenis nor Celton had either noticed or remarked on it since magical scrolls can come on a remarkable variety of exotic hides. There is, however, no mistaking the texture of treated human skin once you know what to look for. One of the little foibles of the alignment system is that it tends to colour the magic you use. Evil people make evil magical items with evil ingredients, the biggest difference being that such spellcasters can generate power through the pain and degradation of others, defraying both the monetary and personal costs of creating magical items. After all, why waste perfectly good diamonds on resurrection scrolls when the heart of an angel or the powdered wings of tortured pixies would do just as well?

After examining the scroll carefully with the aid of an aura sight spell, I rolled it back up and placed it on the table. I wasn’t expecting the other three to be watching me so intently when my attention returned to reality and, startled, I took a deep breath to collect my wits. “It’s a resurrection scroll all right,” I informed them, deciding to omit certain facts for the greater good, “there’s a minor curse on it, though, which is probably why the original owner didn’t mind parting with it.”

“How minor are we talking here?” Altek inquired.

“It’s the old ‘grow an inch of hair per hour’ deal on the user,” I explained, “annoying but I’d rather have Vanad back.” No I wasn’t about to tell the paladin that the scroll was evil. If I had, he wouldn’t have let me use it and being all noble and pure wasn’t going to bring Vanad back. “Besides,” I continued, “that curse usually only activates once on spell completion items. I think this one will last a bit longer than that but it won’t last forever. Even if it does, Remove Curse is a lot easier to cast than Resurrection.”

Altek frowned and for a moment I thought he might object to using the scroll anyway. After a few moments, however, he looked me in the eyes and nodded. “Do it.”

It wasn’t as easy as that, of course. First I spent most of the night deciphering the scroll in my room, going over it several times and triple checking everything just to be thorough, though I admit I overdid it a bit. It was my first time, after all, even if Ressia was confident James still had nagging doubts. The worst part was when Altek opened the barrel in my room, even though we opened the windows first. Celton had to purify the whole room just so we could breathe and I had to wait for the tears and gagging to stop so I could cast the spell without mishap. Then, after all that, I had to muster the courage to touch the body. Call it girly if you like but the idea of touching dead things makes my skin crawl, I even leave looting corpses to less squeamish adventurers. Fortunately I discovered that the spell only requires a light tap with the tip of my finger, so I was spared too many of the grizzly details.

Watching a pile of body parts metamorphose into a healthy, living, human being is a sight you won’t soon forget but wish you could. Everything kind of liquefies and blobs together in a disgusting, opaque, fleshy, sack that starts growing eyeballs and hair everywhere before the bones solidify and appendages push their way out of the mass; even worse when the end result is a naked emaciated wizard in desperate need of a woman to take care of him. Not that I was about to volunteer for the job with both my personalities recoiling in horror at the idea for completely different reasons.

Both of them managed to shut up, however, when Vanad woke up and started screaming. It’s another little detail that the game glosses over so none of us ever even considered what it’d be like to wake up alive after being torn up and eaten by a tiger the size of a bus. Unfortunately we were idiots and Vanad suffered the full mnemonic backlash because of our carelessness.

Watching Vanad utterly break down into a gibbering mess broke down a wall inside me that I hadn’t realized existed. Another of those strange urges propelled me forward and the next thing I knew, I found myself cradling him in my arms as he cried into my shoulder, whispering comforting platitudes into his ear. After a few moments, I noticed the boys fidgeting uncomfortably around us and, for a reason I didn’t quite fathom at the time, their inactivity irritated me.

“Celton,” I snapped, surprised at how natural it felt to be ordering them about, “don’t gawk, boy, get a blanket for him. Altek, wipe the blood off his things. Zenis… just turn around and wipe that smirk off your face or we’ll see how you faire coming back after being skinned alive.”

I must have been quite scary at the time because all three of them went pale and did exactly what I asked without question. I can’t help but smile wryly when I look back on that moment but at the time their awkwardness and insensitivity was just so damn frustrating it made me want to gouge their eyes out.

Vanad wasn’t ever the same. I comforted him until he calmed with Celton’s help, wrapping the wizard in a warm blanket to preserve his modesty (not that he had much to be modest about; I’d think about that, players, the next time you make charisma a dump stat). The innkeeper came up to see what all the noise was and we had to buy him off with even more gold not to kick us out onto the street, much to Altek’s disgust, then had to rent another room for the distressed wizard on top of that.

I used a sleep spell to force him to rest and we tucked him into bed. Altek and Celton vowed to take turns watching over him during the night. Zenis offered to watch over me all night so I bruised his shin. Just to be safe, I cast a simple Alarm spell on my door and window before flopping onto my bed, still fully dressed. I don’t remember actually hitting the pillow.

Looking back, if I’d known what was going to happen next, I would have jumped out the window and run for the relative safety of the wilds, never to return. After all, when I woke up the next morning, I was going to have one of the greatest trials of my entire life, worse than a flight of dragons ridden by an army of devils; worse than fending off the romantic attentions of a lich; worse even than being forced to watch both Dungeons and Dragons movies back to back.

Yes, my dear audience, in the morning I was finally going to bathe.

May the deities have mercy.



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