Back to Chapter Two – Rollin’ the Bones
Jason opened his eyes a moment after the lightning struck, but the sight before him was impossible.
The table, filled with notebooks, rulebooks, dice and snacks was gone. His friends as he recognized them were nowhere to be found.
The group gathered in front of him looked like strangers. One was a gorgeous elf with flowing green hair, pointy ears and a cleavage pressed together in the centre of a boob window.
Then there was the dwarf standing next to her. His skin was grave-tanned, a baleful pallor that matched the ashen tail of his hair. His beard was braided into a single tail, bound by a thick iron ring. His eyes glinted in the sunlight, like the reflection of a cat’s eyes under torch light.
Between them both was a gawping naked halfling, with hair as red as flame, and a look of bewildered rage on her rounded face. Her pointed ears trembled with shock and anger.
Jason looked down at his own gloved hands. Rings of chain mail covered his arms.
“Oh, you have got to be shitting me,” he said aloud. His voice was deeper than he expected it to be and carried a note of authority Jason so rarely managed to inflect.
The gloves Jason stared at were the ones his character – the paladin Jon Vanduin – should have been wearing in-game. Yet here they were on his hands. That voice that issued forth so alien from his own lips also belonged to the paladin he’d invented only an hour before.
“What the actual fuck is going on?” asked the halfling as her hands flew to cover her bits.
“This is fuckin’ wild,” the dwarf said. The word fuckin’ came out fookin’. “Ach, why do all dwarves sound Scottish? That’s bloody racist, that is!”
“Holy crow, I’m gorgeous!” said the elf as she ran a hand along her exposed thigh, along her side and over the swell of her breast. “Oh my!”
“Lorelei, is that you? It’s me, Jason!” A jolt of pain rushed through him, kind of like how he imagined a shock collar would feel to a dog. The jolt was accompanied by a strange floating message that appeared in front of his eyes.
You’ve received a penalty for speaking out of character. Your name isn’t Jason – it’s Jon Vanduin.
Penalty: 1HP Damage
Further roleplaying contrary to your chosen character will result in harsher penalties.
Out-of-character discussion may only occur during periods of rest, and in places of sanctuary.
Jason’s eyes widened with realisation. It looked like this world was bound by the game rules of Beasts & Bastions, including Chris’s constant rule of always role-playing in character. The impossibility that his mind could barely entertain as anything less than a joke only moment before had been cemented as reality.
Something had happened around that table. Something impossible, terrifying, but really fucking cool.
He’d watched movies and read books about people being transported into fantasy worlds his whole life. He’d loved Jumanji as a kid, and he’d grown up reading the Chronicles of Narnia where the kids stumbled through a portal in the back of a wardrobe.
Was it really possible that something similar was happening to him?
Or had that lightning strike fried his brain, put him in a coma, and made him live out the impending Beasts & Bastions campaign as his own private purgatory?
The others were here too, but were they really here? Lorelei, the naked halfling, Damien the walking dwarf stereotype, and Charlie that gorgeous Wood Elf. They were his friends, they had to be. If he had ended up in this place, then surely, they had too.
Jason realised then that he needed to figure out a way to tell the rest of his friends to remain in character, or they’d have to face the consequences too. Knowing Chris, he would be throwing them into a surprise combat encounter right off the bat. He always did that.
They couldn’t afford a hit point disadvantage if there was some kind of battle waiting for them.
“Hail, friends! It is I, Jon Vanduin. I’m about to spout some expository backstory in an attempt to save you from harm!”
“Jason? Is that you?” the dwarf asked, then he stood bolt upright. The eyeshine disappeared as his eyes rolled back in his head. “What the fuck,” – fook – “was that?”
“You saw the message from the Gods, right?” Jason asked.
Gods? Well, that was one way to describe Chris, the Bastion Master. Chris was nowhere to be found, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t in the game here with them. The Bastion Master usually sat apart from the players, behind the Bastion Master screen. They rolled against the players, role-played as all of the various characters the players came across, and drove the campaign along some kind of story-driven narrative arc.
If Jason and the other player characters were transformed into their invented characters, then what did that mean for Chris?
What did it mean for the Bastion Master?
“Aye, I did,” Damien said. “T’was the words of a cunt, I’ll tell ye that right now.”
“What are you two dickheads talking about?” the naked halfling asked. “I need clothes! Now! I thought the naked penalty would be a walk in the park, but I never expected this! This is highly undignified!”
“Is this really happening?” Charlie asked. His hand reached down and cupped his crotch. “Oh god, where’s my dick?”
“You’re a female wood elf,” Jason said, trying really hard not to speak in terms that might be considered meta-gaming, or talking out-of-character. “You don’t have one.”
“Oh no,” Charlie said. “Oh god damn, now I have to sit down to pee. What the fuck?”
“I would commiserate with you,” said Lorelei. “But could you help me out with some fucking clothes, please?”
“Oh, right!” Jason said. He frantically looked about himself for any scraps of fabric he might be able to pull off his own gear to hand over to Lorelei. But he couldn’t call her that, could he? That would incur another penalty for not roleplaying.
“Halfling, what’s your name?” Jason asked. “Your name here in this world, I mean. There’s a grim warning for those who try to pretend they’re not who they are.”
“Oh come on, my name is Lorelei, damn it!”
Jason winced as he watched the halfling go rigid. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she almost fell over onto the green grass at her feet. Luckily Charlie’s wood elf, Sylvi-something, was there to catch Lorelei.
“Heed the warning written by the Gods!” Jason said Lorelei came back to herself. “We can only discuss things freely in places of sanctuary. Until then, what is your name, halfling?”
Sylviana – that’s what Charlie’s wood elf was called – tore a thick strip from the bottom of her cloth dress and draped it over the halfling’s body.
“Thank you,” the halfling said. “My name is Auros, Destroyer of Ogdenvale, the Golden Queen of Mount Heisa, the Baleful Calamity. Or something like that.”
“Let’s just go with Auros,” Damien said. “So, if I got this right, I’m Dvarg, you’re Jon, you’re Auros, and you’re Sylvianus or something?”
“Sylviana Bloodpetal,” the wood elf replied with a rueful smile.
“Ah right. Well this is a dilly of a pickle, isn’t it?” Damien said as his hand flew to his chest and touched the braided tail of beard that stretched down to the centre of his chest. He recoiled and screamed at the touch of his beard. He closed his eyes and a shiver ran through him.
“You’re afraid of beards, aren’t you?” Jason asked.
“Aye, but it’s the source of my power. This is my necromantic focus,” Damien said, pointing at the brass ring that held the braids together.
Charlie knelt next to Lorelei and fashioned the torn strip of robe into a knee-length dress for the halfling. “Okay, now turn around. I’ve got an idea.”
With his hand at the back of the makeshift dress, Charlie closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he grinned. Jon looked on in confusion. From his vantage point, it didn’t look like anything had happened.
Charlie clapped his delicate, feminine hands together. “It worked! Yes! Turn around for me, would you?”
Lorelei did, and Jason was surprised to see that the tear at the back of the halfling’s dress was gone.
“Oh, that’s cool!” Charlie said. “Mend actually worked!”
“That’s a minor spell, right?” Damien asked.
“It is! I guess we have access to pretty much all of the abilities we chose, right?”
“If only we could see our-” Jason thought about his adventurer sheet, and stumbled back when it appeared right in front of his eyes. “Whoa, what the hell?”
It floated in the air right in front of him, so he reached out and grabbed it. It felt like old parchment paper, and smelled like Chris’s office, full of old epic fantasy paperbacks. The stats Jason rolled and allocated to his core attributes were on display, along with his proficiencies, talents and languages. He turned the page to see his own backstory and personality profiles, then turned them again to see a list of his spells.
“Guys, think about your adventurer sheet and see what happens,” Jason said as he familiarised himself with all the tools he had at his disposal.
Jason flicked back to the first page. He had 15 of his 16 hit points remaining, and with an armour rating of 18 he could stand up to some punishment even at level 1. That was good news. Whatever scenario Chris was going to drop them into would escalate quickly – he’d played through enough of Chris’s campaigns to know that.
There were two spells available to Jason.
You can activate Sense Divinity to detect the presence of good and evil. You can detect the general direction the good or evil is coming from, unless it is shrouded by other means.
Using the strength of your oath to your chosen deity, you may restore up to 5HP when you place your hands on another creature. The creature can choose not to accept this. You can also use a charge to cure a disease or pure the creature of poison. Healing Hands regenerates when you take a long rest.
“Okay, I’ve can sense divinity and heal up to 5HP each encounter before a long rest. That’s better than nothing,” Jason said. “I get spellcasting at level 2, which means I’ll be able to choose a healing spell.”
As he read on though, Jason’s stomach began to sink. There was a single trait displayed, and it changed everything.
You have broken your oath to Alinar, the God of Justice. As a result, you cannot use any spells that require divine magic, as yours has been renounced. You may choose to change your class to Warrior at any time, but if you do this, the path of the Paladin will be lost to you.
“Oh you have got to be fucking kidding me,” Jason said.
If he had no oath, and no deity to draw power from, healing hands was completely useless. He wouldn’t be able to heal shit.
“Why the fuck did I renounce my oath? That was so stupid!” Jason said.
Memories flooded into his mind’s eye. Memories that didn’t belong to him. They belonged to Jon Vanduin.
Jon knelt before a statue of Alinar. The God of Justice wore a heavy suit of armour and held a longsword in one hand. The blade was covered in wave-like patterns. In his other hand, he held a pair of scales.
Nice one, Chris. A God of Justice who holds a pair of scales? Real fucking original.
A light shone down from the sky in a beam that infused Jon with light. When he opened his eyes again, they shone with an otherworldly glow. The palms of his hands shone brightly too, and when Jon peered back up at the statue, the stone face smiled down on him.
The memory then cut to sometime in the future. Jon returned to his homestead after months in service to Highlord Willard Onastazia to find his homestead occupied by men in armour he did not recognise. The steel of the armour was dark, and the knights all wore thin black tabards. His wife and their two children were impaled on pikes, and terrible occult symbols were carved in the exposed skin of their chests.
The details that he retained in his memory about what happened after he saw their corpses are hazy, blood-soaked, and coloured by fury. As the corpses of the evil knights piled up, Jon left one of these knights alive and tortured him for information.
Why had they done this? Where had they come from? Which lord did they serve?
The knight’s broken teeth were covered in his own blood. His breath wheezed out of the hole Jon put through his chest. Before the knight succumbed to his wounds he laughed and uttered a string of words that chilled Jon to the core.
“No light shall pierce the eternal night.”
After that, Jon took his family down and laid them to rest. With every shovel of dirt that he covered them with, his faith was replaced with fury. Where was the justice in this? Jon devoted his life to the light, to his King, and he was repaid like this?
Alinar’s light tried to reach out to Jon to comfort him. Jon felt the light even as he pushed it away. The force of his fury was stronger than the warm caress of the light. Eventually the light no longer pressed against him, and a darkness radiated out from the shattered pieces inside of him.
Jason was pulled out of Jon’s memories and back into the moment. That whole process reminded him of other times when he’d asked Chris about his character, or the world, and as Bastion Master Chris had given him the necessary exposition. It seemed like Jason could call on Jon’s memories in a similar kind of way.
“Are you okay?” Damien asked. The look of concern in his dwarvish face was oddly comforting.
Jason shook his head to clear to old ghosts, then quickly nodded. “I’m fine. I just had a whole memory infodump flood back into my mind.”
“What was it about?” Charlie asked.
“My family,” Jason said. He felt the tightness of the fury that Jon held in his heart. “I just remembered what happened to them. I think I’ve got an idea about who our big bad might be. A clue, at the very least.”
“Good,” Lorelei said. “But you’ll need to properly clothe me first. I’m covered, sure, but I’d like some underwear.”
“We need to find some civilization,” Jason said. “Once we find a town or something, we can start asking around. We need to find some clues about what the fuck we’re supposed to do here. We have to try and find the Bastion Master. If we’re all here, in this fucking game, then he will be too.”
“He might be in castle somewhere,” Charlie offered. “You know, a bastion is a castle, right?”
“Please don’t let this be some Mario brothers ‘your princess is in another castle’ bullshit,” Damien said.
“All we can do is keep moving,” Jason said. “But that’s a good first step. Let’s find a town and start asking around. Let’s get out of these mountains!”