This story is a gift for a twelve year old boy that likes roleplaying games. I am posting it here for kids at heart. It's by no means professional just a gift of love. This is the first chapter.
Salzherz Diamant-Sohn Königsstahlhammer des unsterblichen Eisernen Garde slipped quietly along the stone corridor his bare feet making no more noise than a hunting wolf. Salzherz was short and blocky with a physique constructed of flesh, gristle, and bone carved out of solid stone. The scars, calluses and muscle were the result of lifelong training and armor implanted under the skin by surgery and magic. Salzherz was a living weapon and needed no other than his own carefully constructed and trained body. His clenched fist looked like a battered wooden maul. It was more than a visual resemblance as Salzherz could strike with force of a maul wielded by a stone giant.
Salzherz had been born with a different name Malmir. Son of surface dwarves his father was a woodworker and his mother and grandparents ran the family farm. Then one day when Malmir was helping his father in the workshop the Mountain King's selectors had come seeking boys of proper intelligence, strength, and stature. Being part of the Iron Guard made a dwarf boy a slave until his twenty years of training and twenty years of service were over. The Iron Guard took the recruits' name and issued them a number until they graduated from training. At the end of his twenty years, Malmir who had been MCXXIV became Salzherz or 'Salt Heart'.
The Iron Guard were selected as young Zwerg boys by the dwarven king's own inspectors. Carefully chosen, tested, and trained the Iron Guard were the elite of the Dwarven kingdom's warriors and the King's own bodyguard. Trained in arts of warfare in the great caverns and mines beneath the ground as well as fighting on the surface an Iron Guardsman could move silently through the stone and earthen caverns. So silently that a whole 'fist' of guardsmen could walk through a bat rookery without disturbing the mothers or their tiny pups.
Salherz was searching for any sign of his party's scout, Dodge 'the Unlucky'. He was sneaking through a twisting tunnel carved by great stone wurms that could swallow a horse and rider whole.
Salzherz hoped he wasn't going to wind up in a trolls' larder following the party's lost scout. Unlike those other unfortunate dwarves Salzherz had probably the two best silent trackers in the world with him as back up and they were no pushovers in a fight either. Connor was a ranger. Connor's ancestors were actual Angels although Connor appeared human. Mostly human Like all Tuathe De Connor was undeniably handsome with the physique of a marble statue. Connor had been captain of the Queen's own Guides, unmatched wilderness guides, trackers, and archers. Connor could follow a ghost's shadow over bare stone. Connor had his companion and tracking partner Dog with him as well. Dog was a big white hunting dog that looked like a great wolf and could and did take great delight in scaring the loincloth off Salzherz whenever he could sneak up behind him. Connor and Dog could communicate even if no one else could understand Dog half the time. The dog didn't talk, it was all noise and pantomime as far as Salzherz could tell, but he had a sneaking suspicion that both Connor and the dog enjoyed watching him jump. Salzherz also trusted both of them with his life. The rest of the party Nashira the Paladin, Thalia Elfspark the Ranger, Kantrus the Wizard and Branwen the Berserker were waiting back further in the tunnels. The more people following the trail the more likely they were to be discovered by who or whatever had taken Dodge and Minda. Neither Dodge nor Minda were easy to spot nor were they pushovers in a fight, but they had not returned from their scouting mission.
“Salty,” Connor said softly, “Dodge's trail just ends here. No struggle, scuffs, nothing.”
“Why not ask 'Chewie' there?” Salzherz lifted his scarred and square chin towards the big dog.
“You know he doesn't like being called that,” Connor said. “You'll hurt his feelings.”
“Hurt his feelings?” Salzherz said incredulously, “He's a dog, a smart dog I'll grant you but a dog. And how is he supposed to get a Star Wars reference? There's no Star Warsin this universe.”
“He's not just a dog, he's one of the Cŵn Annwn, a hellhound. So he might have watched Star Wars, who knows? He likes movies.” Don, Connor's player, reached down to scratch the ears of Oso his own short-legged German Shepherd mix.
“Hold it! That's enough of that,” a woman's voice came over the computer's speakers, “You are talking out of character here.”
Sally, the game master, lived five hours away so she participated via computer teleconference. The players could see and hear her in real time and vice versa. She was a computer programmer and actually worked on the same system that Scott, Salzherz's player worked. That's how Sally and Scott met. They had never met in person there was never enough time. Scott and his wife Shandra had become good friends with Sally. Sally shared their love of roleplaying games and soon joined their group as game master. None of the other players had a complaint as most liked to play and Sally was a good game master but she was really, really strict about "in character" when they were playing the game and "out of character" when they were discussing everything else.
Sally reluctantly allowed the other characters to refer to Dog as "Chewie". As the dog did chew anything unimportant left lying around like a torch handle, old leather strap, or sometimes even an entire sandwich of dwarven hard tack and salted beef with cheese. However, Sally always jumped in when someone made an out of character comment. It could be annoying as hell Scott thought but it kept the game moving and everyone focused on the game. It made it feel much more real when Sally was gming.
Sally worked hard on the scenarios for the game and appeared to have no other social life that Scott could discern. Plus, she really was a great GM. Turning to the camera mounted above the computer screen Scott apologized.
“Sorry, Sally,” Scott noticed that Sally had a paisley print sheet pinned to rope strung behind her. The rope was a sure sign she had not cleaned up her apartment before the game started. “We'll try to keep the OOC for snack breaks.”
“Speak for yourself,” Andy replied. Andy was Dodge the Unlucky's player. The Thief Dodge was tall, lithe, with the build of a professional rock climber or parkour artist with a roguish air and a disarmingly charming smile. Andy was a twelve-year-old boy who loved demo derby, television "wrestling", and football, “I don't want to stop for snacks. I've been caught by the damn,” Don gave the twelve-year-old Andy a stern look, “darn Spider Queen and she's looking hungry.”
Usually Dodge wasn't quite that unlucky but this had been a rough campaign for him from the beginning. Ghouls had nearly yanked his arm off, requiring the party's paladin Nashira to quickly lay on hands of healing. A kelpie had lured him onto its back nearly drowning Dodge. To keep him above the surface of the river Dog had to leap into the water and hold the creature near the surface until it could be killed by fire. The worst was when several guardian apes at the Temple of Chitia had pelted him with feces and not any old feces but cursed feces. It took the party's cleric Brother Imhotep to remove the curse and a good scrubbing to remove the stinky monkey poo.
Imhotep's player Sean wasn't here tonight so nobody wanted to get badly wounded or killed. Only Nashira or Imhotep could resurrect anyone and it usually required a difficult and or lengthy ritual to achieve. The details of the ritual were up to the GM so it might be hand waved away or she might require them to spend the whole game session resurrecting someone killed. The players never knew what she would require.
All in all, Andy had been having a blast but Dodge had lived up to his eke-name in a way he hadn't in months.
Dodge was the thief, the “Professional Adventurer”par excellence and had picked pockets, opened locks and disarmed traps from Deepening Sea to the deserts of the Djinn. He had even slipped by Shadow Knights and Unseen Wardens, to infiltrate the throne room of the Black Elven Queen herself. Today he was having trouble with an over-sized spider with a human head and body grafted to the front of the cephalothorax. Hanging upside down waiting to ripen, while the spider woman watched with impatient hunger wasn't a situation that lent itself to patience especially in a twelve-year-old boy.
“We'll get you out of there buddy,” Scott laughed. Scott was a short balding computer technician who spent a tour of duty programming computers in the Navy. After that he was lucky enough to land a great civilian job working on much more complex computers with better benefits, much better hours and best of all no sea time.
“Get him out of where?” Allan asked. Allan was a lifelong friend of Don and his wife Michelle. Allan had been noodling on a drafting program and was just visiting. He had played roleplaying games with Don and Michelle when they were all in high school but hadn't kept up.
“We're in the worm's labyrinth looking for some missing party members,” Don explained, “We sent our thief and bard -”
“Not 'bard',” a young woman corrected from the kitchen where she was getting a soda and snacks. She saw no point in worrying about her character's fate while other characters were "on stage." "Mystical Balladeer, if you please.” Katie was Scott's teenage sister and had joined the group a year or so ago. Katie was a dark haired teenager with glasses and bangs.
“She uses her music, singing, and dance to -” interrupted a young boy's piping voice.
“She's my character,” Katie told Don and Michelle's adopted son, Justin. “As I was saying before I was interrupted, Minda is an elven 'mystical balladeer' she learned to play an ocarina almost before she could walk. She learned all the songs and tales of the people she has visited. She has traveled through faery, visited several different halfling type people, different human groups and even spent a year with dwarven chanters learning their songs and stories. She also picked up the magical ability to use her music to help her friends or hinder her foes. Later, she fell in with a bad crowd and learned the skills of a thief or professional adventurer.”
“A bard. The character sheet says, 'bard' right at the top,” Justin said, sotto voce. Katie chose to ignore the comment.
“What do you play?” Allan asked Justin.
“I'm Kantrus the Wizard,” Justin replied, “And an elf from another realm like Faery but different than the elves of this world like Minda. I have a little dragon as a familiar -”
“And will tell you all about it all night if you let him,” Katie interrupted from the kitchen.
Justin stuck out his tongue but Katie couldn't see him from where she was getting a can of soda.
“Sound's interesting,” Allan commented.
“Do you want to play?” Sally asked over the computer screen.
“Come on! it'll be fun!” Don added. “It's been too long since you've played. Adventure World is a simple game. You only need to learn a page and a half of rules to play. You can learn as you play. It takes fifteen minutes to make a character.”
“Aren't all you guys higher level?” Allan said dubiously.
“Yeah and there are already two Rangers,” Angel interjected, “So you can't be one.” She laughed taking the sting out of her declaration. She was a pretty woman with long, dark hair, and an infectious smile.
“True, we've got a surfeit of rangers. I had changed classes to a 'prestige' class, the 'Shadow Warden', leaving room for another Ranger. Although Thalia and Connor are really not all that different,” Don paused thinking, “We have some characters that have been abandoned by other players or a couple of NPCs you could use.”
“No,” Scott said from the kitchen where he was heating up the oven for some pizza snacks. He had given into the general move towards the snack break, “NPCs just aren't what they are in other games. What about Snowflake?”
“Snowflake?” Allan laughed, “Yeah, Snowflake the Great and Terrible, Snowflake the Whitest Guy in Compton. He's the anti-Shaft!”
Angel led the general laughter at Allan's joking.
“Snowflake was a white ape baby Nashira rescued,” Shandra explained, “You know, those six armed apes like from Mars? All carnivorous and stuff. Mom was raising him for a while then genius over there,” she tilted her head towards Justin, “decided that it would be cool if Snowflake could talk.”
“Four arms and two legs,” Justin corrected.
“Anyway,” Shandra interrupted Justin, “Genius decided to wish Snowflake could talk like a human then--Poof!--he was a human. A big four-armed baby with white-blond hair and blue eyes. Can you imagine wasting a wish on a talking monkey? A wish, no one ever gets wishes. Anyway, the ape became a boy before you could say 'swing'. The brothers and sisters at the Chapterhouse helped raise the cute little tyke and taught him all kinds of useful fighting and magical stuff. Whenever anyone wanted to do a solo adventure they'd use Snowflake as an NPC. He grew fast and big and strong. He's got his own set of moves and he's unique. He's equal to any of the characters. Kind of a Tarzan crossed with Sir Hugh of Taranto and Galahad.”
“Okay,” Allan laughed, “Sounds different anyway. Is he with the party?”
“Yup, that's why I suggested him,”
“So you want to be Snowflake?” Sally asked with what Scott thought was a hint of urgency.
“Sure,” Allan replied, “Sound's okay.”
Allan took the character sheet for Snowflake, “Says here his real name is 'Frost' and he goes by 'Brother Frost'.”
“Yeah, that's what Ray decided to name him,” Shandra replied.
“Ray's five,” Allan stated, “I got named by a five-year-old.”
“You like 'Snowflake' better?” Shandra asked.
“Nope,” Allan replied quickly, “Brother Frost is fine.”
After the break, the game resumed where they left off, Minda had spider silk covering her mouth so she couldn't use her music or play her ocarina. Dodge was equally covered in the sticky steel strong webbing.
Sally described the scene, “You move quietly into a large stone chamber. It's dimly lit by a wan yellowish indirect light being reflected into the chamber through hidden openings. The chamber is big perhaps the ancient nesting place of the stone wurms. The walls and ceiling are covered in new and old cobwebs some very large and some very old and hanging like old tattered sheets caught in a tree.”
“I'll have Dog scout the chamber, Dog,” Don said relaying his instructions to the beast.
“Dog quickly and quietly disappears from your sight, Salzherz,” Sally said in response to Don's decision. “Connor, you'll need to make a search check.”
Don rolled two six sided dice, “That's an eight with my wisdom bonus of plus three and adding Dog's cunning of three that's fourteen.”
“Well you can't get better than twelve,” Sally replied, “So you aced that one. Dog has caught your attention and 'pointed' to two silk wrapped cocoons that are vaguely Dodge and Minda shaped. They're hanging about twenty feet in the air fifty feet or so away from you. What do you do?”
“I'll nock an arrow and nod towards the cocoons so that Salty can see them. Dwarves can see that well underground or in the dark can't they?”
“Sure,” Sally replied, “Salzherz can see them better than you can once you point them out. The cocoons kind of blended in with all the webbing.”
“I don't like this,” Don said to Scott, “I will scan for any movement or anything out of place.”
“I'll stay on guard and watch our backs while you look for whatever has Dodge and Minda wrapped up like mummies,” Scott replied.
“Okay, that sounds like a discern realities for both of you,” Sally replied. In response both men rolled two six sided dice.
“Ten,” Scott said triumphantly.
“A natural two,” Don said with a sigh and drew a hash mark on his character sheet under experience.
“Good thing you were looking out,” Sally said, “What questions do you want to ask?”
“What here is not as it seems?” Scott began but was interrupted by the dog.
Oso began barking with a frenzied intensity and began bouncing off the back door. When Justin rose to let him out the dog jumped up grabbing his sleeve and dragged the boy to the door. The dog was short but stocky with the build of his German shepherd ancestors and a maniacal strength he had never shown before.
Sally looked off screen for a moment then said, “There's an earthquake/tsunami warning on TV right now!”
At that moment the ground began a slow tremble and Scott saw the light fixture on a chain in the kitchen begin to sway.
Then something snapped as if the universe were made of glass and God had cracked it in half. Everything slowed to a liquid crawl and that's the last he remembered for an eternity.