Back to Chapter Three – More Than A Game
Lorelei fumed as they walked through this idyllic forest on the mountainside. It was just so fucking perfect. The whole forest looked like something you’d see in a next-gen video game or a CGI rendering of some fucking elf forest from some big-budget releases-on-Boxing-Day blockbuster movie.
And here she was wearing nothing but a scrap of fabric that Charlie fixed, without a weapon to her name, and no way to defend herself.
To add insult to injury, she literally had to look up to the rest of her friends. Even though Damo was short, he was still a foot taller than Lorelei in her diminutive halfling frame.
Lorelei thought she was funny when she came up with the idea of playing as a dragon getting stuck in a halfling’s body, but it wasn’t so funny now that it was her reality.
Nobody had any answers about just what the fuck was going on, either. They were all stuck here as the stupid characters they rolled, but the rest of her friends were buying into it.
She watched Jason brood as though he actually was some grizzled warrior. She felt sick every time she caught Charlie copping a feel of his voluptuous chest. The way that guy talked about the women he’d been with turned Lorelei’s stomach as it was, but at least he was keeping his hands to himself. And Damo, the dwarf edgelord-cum-necromancer? He was having a grand old time and acted like they weren’t trapped in some crazy alternate reality!
“I just found a dead bird, and I want to try something!” Damo said.
Lorelei sighed, and the other two made no argument to stop him. Damo headed over to the base of a nearby tree. The tree was quite impressive. It was double the width of Damo, and his dwarven frame was almost as wide as it was tall. There was a section of grass near the base of the tree discoloured from vivid green to sickly yellow.
Despite her annoyance, Lorelei walked over to see what Damo hovered his hands above.
There was a dead bird there, and its decay had soured the earth around it. In life, it would have been a galah or something similar. The pink and grey feathers, along with the large curved beak, made it pretty obvious. Lorelei had no idea whether Chris planned on using Australian flora and fauna in his campaign, or whether they were fantasy-flavoured versions of the familiar.
But that looked like a fucking galah. Except for the side of its face that lay against the discoloured grass had been eaten away by bugs and worms. The feathers that still clung to the rotten flesh stuck to its bones moved gently in the wind.
“That’s a galah,” Lorelei said, pointing out the obvious.
“Aye, so it is.”
“Are you’re going to try and bring it back from the dead?”
“I surely am.”
“It won’t be able to fly if you bring it back.”
“What do you know?” Damo snapped. “Have you been here before? Are you a necromancer with more experience than me?”
“Well, no, but there are no feathers on one of its wings — no ligaments, tendons, or sinew. There’s no way it’ll fly. It lacks the fundamental structure to support flight. I should know, I used to be a dragon.”
“Those who say something can’t be done shouldn’t waste their energy trying to interrupt those who are doing it,” Damo said. “I can’t remember who said that, and I’m probably paraphrasing, but my main message is this: fuck off and let me do my thing!”
Not one to back down from being told to fuck off, Lorelei balled her hands into fists and readied a verbal barrage for launch. Instead, a soft hand gently slid across her mouth. The hand smelled like fresh roses.
Charlie’s voice slid into Lorelei’s ear. “I know you’re angry right now, but Dvarg’s just trying to figure stuff out. We can’t make this harder than it already is.”
Lorelei’s shoulders sagged. She took a few steps backwards, and Charlie removed his hand from her mouth. Charlie knelt next to her so he could look at her eye to eye.
God damn it, how was that lothario Charlie hotter than she was? Lorelei could get lost in those forest-green eyes, but Auros, her dragon-souled player character felt a surge of indignity at being hauled away from conflict by the lowly druid.
How dare the Elf look fairer than she? Auros was beauty and strength incarnate, and yet here she was, stuck in the body of this tiny Halfling!
It was strange to feel someone else’s anger flaring up inside of her. It was both obviously hers, and absolutely distant. She struggled with it, and ultimately tamed the fire burning in her heart by focusing on Damo as he explored his abilities.
Plumes of energy which looked a little like curling smoke flowed from the palms of Damo’s hand and down towards the site of the galah’s slow decay. The magic sunk into the bird’s dead form, ruffling the pink and grey feathers.
Then the galah’s dead body twitched. It was hard to tell whether it moved by itself or whether the magic moved it, but there was no denying it was working when the bird’s cloudy, shrivelled eye jerked about in its socket.
Then the bird lifted itself onto its feet. It was unsteady at first, then quickly gained confidence and started looking around. Damo whooped in triumph.
There was no way this should have worked. Lorelei watched on in amazement as the galah opened its wings and flapped them. One of the wings was nothing but hollow bones and clumps of dead flesh. It shouldn’t have caught the air, and yet it did. The dead bird launched into the air and circled them before coming to land on Damo’s shoulder.
He lifted a finger towards the undead galah’s beak, and the little feathery bastard gently nipped Damo on the finger.
Lorelei made a note to herself: the rules of the real world didn’t work the same here. That skeletal wing shouldn’t have caught the air to give the undead galah enough lift to get airborne, and yet it did. Lorelei shook her head at herself. Why was she so hung up on aerodynamics when she’d just watched Damo revive a dead thing?
“Whoa, that’s freaking cool!” Jason said. “Can you revive whatever you want like that?”
“No,” Damo said. “There are limitations to my powers. The stronger I grow, the bigger monsters I’ll be able to raise from the dead. It takes up a spell slot, so I can only do it twice a day, and I’ll only have this galah for half an hour.”
“Well let’s make use of it,” Lorelei said. “Send it up and help us figure out where the fuck we are!”
Jason laughed. “How can it tell you? Don’t tell me the parrot can talk.”
“No,” Damo said as a grin broke over his face. “But it doesn’t need to. I’ll see through Alf’s eyes!”
“Eye,” Lorelei corrected him. “Wait, Alf?”
“Aye. His name’s Alf Stewart,” Damo said.
Jason and Charlie laughed.
“Because he-” Damo began, but Lorelei interrupted him.
“Yeah, because he always called people flamin’ galahs. I get it,” Lorelei said as she facepalmed.
Damo grinned. “Whatever. It’s funny! Protect me while I’m flying,” Damo said. “That’s the downside of Deadsight. I’m left vulnerable.”
“Don’t worry,” Jason said as he drew his sword from his sheath. “We’ll protect you.”
Damo’s eyes went completely white as the bird took flight. It reached the canopy, expertly wove between boughs, then disappeared.
Lorelei looked up at Charlie and Jason. “While Da-I mean Dvarg – is doing his thing, let’s strategize. Do any of you feel a pull in any particular direction? Jon, you mentioned something about knowing who the big bad is, right?”
“I only have a clue. Knights in black armour murdered my family, and when I killed the last of them, he said something about an eternal night. So I bet there’s some dark lord out there trying to bring about an everlasting darkness or something.”
“A literal dark lord?” Charlie giggled. “Oh, how cliché.”
Jason shrugged. “I don’t know for sure. All I know is that I need to find another deity to swear an oath to. Otherwise, I’m going to be pretty useless as a Paladin. Renouncing my oath to Alinar was a bad move.”
“We’re all probably re-thinking our choices at this point,” Lorelei said. Why on earth hadn’t she chosen to play as a massive, strong character like a barbarian or a warrior? And those unlucky rolls… Those dice would be thrown into dice prison when Lorelei got back to the real world.
Charlie made an obscene noise and felt himself up. “Oh I don’t have any regrets at all.”
Lorelei made a face. “That’s so gross.”
“Loving yourself is the cornerstone of being a happy, fulfilled human being.”
“You’re not a human, and neither am I!” Lorelei snapped.
Jason raised his hand. “I am.”
“Do you love yourself?” Charlie cooed.
“Um, not really, no.”
“There’s no better time to start,” Charlie said. “Anyway, I think we have something to do here in the forest before we leave. Dvarg will back me up on this when he returns if he manages to see what I’ve seen.”
“What have you seen?” Lorelei asked.
“I have an affinity with the natural world, and forests doubly so,” Charlie said. He knelt and held one of his palms open over a blank patch of ground. A plant grew from the earth, then bloomed into a beautiful orange flower. “The trees talk, and I listen. They speak of men with axes and fire, men who would destroy the forest to make their homes.”
“Oh, so this is an industrialism-gone-bad type scenario?” Jason asked.
“It’s worse than that,” Charlie continued. He moved his hand to the side, and the flower turned to face his palm. That was a cute trick, Lorelei thought. “The elements in the forest were once in harmony, but they have fallen out of balance. Then men have brought the spirit of something here from elsewhere, and it is poisoning everything.”
“They brought a ghost here?” Jason asked.
“Not a ghost, a spirit. The Eternal Dream is the realm in which spirits reside. If we can find one, I can speak to it and find out just what the problem is.”
“How the hell are you going to do that?” Lorelei asked.
“Dreamspeech. I can speak the language of the spirits,” Charlie said.
Something screeched overhead as the galah came screaming back down towards them. It landed on Damo’s shoulder, and his eyes suddenly regained their colour. “Something is coming from the east. Something big, and it looks hungry!”
“Which way is east?” Lorelei asked, and Damo pointed towards the sloping side of the mountains.
“That way,” the dwarf said. “Can ye hear it?”
Jason shook his head. Human hearing was notoriously bad compared to other races, so no surprise there. Charlie’s eyes were wide, and she had her staff held in both hands, ready for a fight. At first, Lorelei couldn’t hear jack shit, but soon she started to as the thing entered her range of hearing.
Lorelei heard snapping branches and something massive thundering along the forest floor. Birds flew from their perches as the thing barrelled towards them.
“Everybody get ready for battle!” Damo yelled.
“I have no fucking weapons!” Lorelei yelled.
“What about spells or abilities? Have you got anything you can use?” Jason called out. He held his sword in one hand, and his shield in the other.
“I’ve got nothing! Absolutely nothing! The only thing I can use right now is my hide ability, but that’s not going to help me fight!” Lorelei shouted.
“We don’t need you to help fight,” Damo said. “You’ve got no weapons, and barely any armour. You’re a liability, so go and hide until all this is over!”
Lorelei wanted to argue, but she couldn’t. Damo was right. She was a soft target, and she might wind up making things worse for the other three.
“Go, now!” Damo called out. “It’s coming!”
Lorelei turned and ran. She found a thicket of undergrowth between two trees that grew close together. She heard the massive beast thump into the clearing behind her as she dove into the bush. She turned and tried to get a view of the gigantic beast. She felt the colour drain out of her face as she saw it.
Two big bushy ears, a curved rectangular nose that ended at the open mouth full of fangs, and two murderous black eyes that looked down on her three friends. Thick grey fur covered the beast’s body, with darker stripes running laterally across its back. Its forelegs were all muscles under the thinner coat. The monster’s hands looked familiar. They had four fingers on one side, and dual thumbs on the opposite side.
Only one Australian creature had hands like that. Koalas.
“Thylarktos plummetus!” Charlie called out from in front of the creature.
“In Common, please!” Damo called.
“It’s a Drop Bear, and it’s angry!”
Damo pointed at the monster, and Alf Stewart flew right at it. “Go for the eyes, Alfie!” The galah flew directly at the beast’s face, but Alf was no match for the Thylarktos. It swiped the parrot away, and it was dead in an instant.
The Thylarktos roared in fury, then lunged for Lorelei’s friends.