Author: Lady Razorsharp PM
Each passing season in the Realm brings changes for Dungeon Master's pupils.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Drama - Chapters: 2 - Words: 5,905 - Reviews: 4 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 10-19-11 - Published: 09-28-11 - id: 7419383
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: Dungeons and Dragons and all related characters belong to Marvel, TSR, and the late Gary Gygax. I'm just borrowing them for a bit.
By The Lady Razorsharp
The road before them stretched away to the horizon, carving a neat path between a green meadow on the right and a lush green conifer forest on the left. A group of four-legged animals that looked like a cross between dragons and goats cropped the grass in the meadow, and birds sang and called from the forest. A deer-like animal with a soft rose-colored coat peeked out of the brush and then shyly bounded away. Overhead, small puffy clouds sailed the azure sky. The light of the suns was warm, and set a stream running through the meadow to sparkling.
"Ahh," sighed Diana, stretching her arms above her head. "If every day in the Realm was as nice as this, I'd never leave!"
Hank grinned. "Never?"
The Acrobat gave him a wry smile. "Well…almost never."
Sheila smiled and leaned down to pluck a bright orange daisy from the roadside. "It IS nice," she agreed. "It's too bad it's not all like this."
"Myahh," agreed Uni from her place beside Bobby.
The Barbarian shrugged and shifted his club to his opposite shoulder. "Eh, it's okay," he remarked. Uni gave an indignant chuff, and he patted her on the head. "Sorry, Uni. I didn't mean it like that."
Her friendship with Bobby restored, the little unicorn bleated happily and ducked her head under his free arm.
"A perfect day for some golf," said Eric with an appraising glance at the sky. "Too bad no one in this place has ever heard of it."
Presto made a face. "Golf is boring. All you do is chase around a little white ball—and that's if it doesn't get lost in a water hazard or land in a sand trap."
Eric rounded on the Wizard. "What would a goof like you know about golf, Presto?" He drew himself up and pointed his nose in the air. "It's the sport of kings!"
"Yeah," countered Presto, unfazed. "Bored kings."
The kids laughed, and Hank threw a smile over his shoulder at the Cavalier. "Have you ever played golf, Eric?"
"Yeah," Eric said, a smidge too quickly. "Well, sort of. I've been my dad's caddy since I was ten."
"See? Bo-ring," countered Presto.
Eric shrugged. "Yeah, actually it is pretty boring. All my dad's friends do is stand around and talk about business and stuff." He frowned. "Come to think of it, I'm not really sure why they think it's so great."
"I'd rather play video games!" Bobby crowed. "Some Pac-Man and some Donkey Kong—man, I'm gonna spend all day at the arcade when I get home!"
"I'm gonna watch TV for a week," Presto chimed in. "And sit through the double-feature at the movies. Twice!"
"I'm gonna take a really long bubble bath," sighed Shelia. "What about you, Diana?"
The Acrobat smiled. "I dunno—right now, just doing normal stuff sounds wonderful." Her smile turned wistful. "Going to school, talking with my folks, visiting my grandma—and not having to run from bogbeasts or Tiamat or Venger—it all sounds pretty good to me."
"What about you, Hank?" Presto asked. "What do you wanna do when you get home?"
The Ranger roused himself with a shake from wordless contemplation of the path ahead. "Hmm? Oh, uh, I dunno." He shrugged. "Right now, it's kind of hard to even think about, you know?"
Eric spoke up from his position at the rear of the column. "Good answer, Hank. No use in jinxing it. Who knows if we'll ever get home, anyway?"
The pessimistic pronouncement brought on a round of groans and a smattering of gripes directed at the Cavalier. Hank turned to look over his shoulder at the annoyed group to make sure that no one had taken Eric's grousing any more seriously than usual, and turned back to the path with a wry smile. It was always the same; any hopeful discussion would always bring out the crass naysayer in Eric, but Hank knew that the Cavalier's sharp-tongued criticism was a defense mechanism. It wasn't the best way to deal with failure, Hank mused, but he supposed it worked somehow for Eric.
However, Presto's question lingered in Hank's mind as they made their way along the road. What would he do when he got home? He glanced to his right, where Sheila and Diana had moved into the meadow to gather handfuls of the neon-bright flowers. The slight breeze carried their words away, but Hank could hear the quiet hum of their conversation as they walked. He'd known Diana since his sophomore year, when she was cheering on the JV squad at his underclassman football games. She was athletic, had a winning smile, and knew how to have fun in most any situation, but he'd never considered her more than a good friend. The redhead to her left, though…
Hank felt a smile come on as he watched Sheila walk beside Diana, her Thief's cloak brushing the long blades of grass. One slender hand reached up to tuck her copper hair behind a delicate shell of an ear, exposing one freckled cheek to the sunlight. He couldn't see her eyes, but he knew they were as green as the grass she walked through. She was kind and gentle, and tended to mother everyone when they were hurt or sad, but he had seen steel underneath the softness. He had seen her emerald eyes flash with anger at the mistreatment of her friends, or darken with sorrow as the way home slipped out of reach yet again.
Hank's fist tightened around the grip of his bow. He had also seen the leer in Venger's eyes when the evil wizard's gaze landed on the pretty Thief. That look had made Hank's skin crawl and his blood boil. He knew that if Venger ever hurt Sheila, he'd—well, he really didn't want to think about what he'd do. He just knew he would keep doing it until the mage couldn't ever hurt anyone again.
You still haven't answered the question, said a voice in the back of his mind.
In irritation, Hank forced himself to look away from Sheila and turn his attention back to the path ahead. It was entirely too dangerous to think about anything except the here and now. He could think about what he would do when he got home when it finally happened, and right now his job was to make sure it did happen.
It was late afternoon by the time they reached the small town of Glixel, which lay nestled in a snug hollow at the foot of the spiny ridge of the Dragon's Backbone. The tallest of the mountain range, Swordspont, towered over the thatched roofs and log buildings of Glixel, its snow-capped peak reaching up to pierce the sky.
"Dungeon Master said that the mayor of Glixel knows a way through the mountains to get to the Castle of Time over on the other side," Hank reminded his footsore troops. "Let's find him and introduce ourselves."
As they walked through the town, the group couldn't help but notice the activity of the townspeople, who bustled here and there busily. Long colorful streamers fluttered from the eaves of the houses, and a group of women sat in a circle by the village well, plaiting crowns of fragrant white flowers. A man in a long white apron stood in an open-air kitchen, basting a huge chunk of meat roasting on a spit, while his assistants chopped and stirred at the tables behind him.
"Looks like they're getting ready for a party!" said Bobby excitedly.
Diana laughed. "Yeah, maybe we'll actually get to have some fun for a change."
Presto raised his nose so high in the air that it looked as if his feet would leave the ground at any moment. "I dunno what that is, but it sure smells good!"
"Look at all the colors," said Sheila. "I wonder what's going on?"
"It's simple," retorted Eric. "They obviously knew I was coming, so they threw a party!"
The remark ensured that they were all laughing as they walked into the village. The townspeople, who had been eyeing the group of youngsters with suspicion, seemed to relax a fraction. Hank stepped up to the group of ladies by the pump and gave them a friendly smile. "Excuse me," he asked, "can anyone tell me where I might find the mayor?"
"She's right over there," said one of the elderly ladies, pointing with the flower in her hand toward a tall figure in a dark purple dress across the square. "Drisha is her name."
"Thank you." Hank sketched what he hoped was a polite bow—something he felt a little funny doing, but it seemed to please the women—and turned to seek out the mayor. His comrades, who were lingering hungrily near the open-air kitchen, fell in behind him as he passed.
Drisha was talking to a sturdy man in worn leathers who sported a short red beard and long bead-tipped braids that fell down his back. The mayor was pointing at an item on an unrolled scroll that she held for the man to see, and then gestured to the remaining undecorated buildings in the square. The man caught sight of Hank first, and nudged the mayor's elbow. Drisha glanced over her shoulder, and then turned to face the group.
"Yes?" she asked, her voice strong but pleasant. She was half a head taller than Hank, with great swirling waves of black hair that fell around her shoulders and a streak of pure white that tumbled over her forehead. Her eyes were olive green, and she had a wide, full mouth over a strong chin. Her nose was slightly crooked, as if it had been broken and ill-set in the past. She swept her gaze over Hank's group, but where so many others had regarded them with fear and suspicion, Drisha looked merely curious as to why they had come to her village.
Hank dipped his head briefly in respect. "Good afternoon. My name's Hank, and these are my friends." He gestured to the others, who gave her friendly smiles and, in Sheila's case, a shy wave. "We were told by Dungeon Master that you might know a pass through the Dragon's Backbone to the Castle of Time."
Drisha's eyebrows rose and she exchanged a glance with the red-bearded man. "Dungeon Master? Now there's a name I haven't heard in a long time." She let the paper roll back on itself and handed it to her companion. "I think we're done here, Zenner. Finish hanging the decorations like we discussed, and everything will be set in time for the festival."
Zenner nodded. "I will see you later, then," he said, his voice gravelly and deep. He nodded politely to the group, and walked past them back into the village.
"Now," said Drisha. "What can I do for you children? You look as if you have come a long way just to ask about the pass."
"We have," said Diana. "Our last stop was four days from here, at the Well of Twilight."
Drisha's eyebrows rose again. "The Well of Twilight is a forbidding place, full of evil magic—not a place for children such as yourselves."
"Well, it was," chimed Presto, scuffing one toe along the ground. "It's, uh, not there anymore."
The mayor of Glixel stared at them, openmouthed. "What do you mean, it's not there anymore?"
"Venger destroyed it," said Bobby, an echo of the pitched battle they had fought with the dark mage in his voice. "He was trying to stop us from getting home."
The name of their nemesis made Drisha's eyes narrow and her expression darken. "So you're Dungeon Master's pupils," she breathed, almost as if to herself. "Bards have brought us tales of your deeds. I thought them exaggerations, embellished as the tales of old…but now..." She trailed off, clearly troubled by the thought of the young people before her pitted against Venger.
"Trust us, Mrs. Mayor," said Hank. "We're real, and we've fought against him more times than we care to remember." He shrugged. "We just wanna go back to our world, and Dungeon Master said you might know the way. That's why we've come—to ask for your help."
Drisha gave herself a little shake, and her smile returned. "Of course I'll help you, my young friends. The journey to the Castle of Time is not long, but it is treacherous, and I cannot let you travel at night." She gestured to her town, which was taking on the jewel hues of sunset in addition to the festive decorations. "Stay with us tonight, and celebrate the Spring Feast. Then tomorrow you shall go home, with happy memories of this world to carry you through."
Hank hesitated, undecided. They had all faced dangers that would haunt their dreams for the rest of their lives; what was one more? How bad could it be?
Then again, they were all tired, and if the way to the Castle was dangerous, he didn't want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt. Maybe a good night's sleep and some decent food—and yes, maybe a little fun—were just what they needed. It's only one night, he told himself, as he turned to face the longing eyes and eager expressions of his friends.
"All right," he said finally. "We appreciate your hospitality, Mrs. Mayor. Thank you for helping us."
Amid a chorus of cheers from the group, Drisha laughed. "It's my pleasure, young ones. Come with me and we will prepare for the feast."
"May we have a bath, Mrs. Mayor?" asked Sheila hopefully. Bobby scowled and Uni blew a raspberry, but Diana's eyes brightened.
"There is a lovely hot spring that flows right under our village," said Drisha. "We have bath houses for men and women right over there." She pointed to a log house where steam drifted lazily from the roof. As they watched, a couple approached the house and then parted to enter doors on either side of the hut.
"Okay, everyone," said Hank, "we'll clean up and then be ready for dinner in an hour." He laid a hand on Bobby's shoulder. "You too, Barbarian."
"Aw, Hank!" Bobby threw a pleading glance at his sister. "Sheila, do I hafta?"
"Go on, young man," she said, her tone nearly like one Hank had heard her mother use on the boy. "March!"
An hour later, Hank stepped out of the bath house, feeling the wind blow through his slightly damp hair. It was good to be clean, and the hot water had soothed away the aches from the battle and the long journey to Glixel. Now Hank stood and surveyed the village, which had gone into full party mode with the setting of the suns. Lights glittered from every window, music floated on the air, and the smell of food was making his stomach tighten.
The other boys followed him out the door, all three well-scrubbed and presentable. "Wow," said Bobby, giving the air an appreciative sniff. "That smells awesome!"
"I agree," said Hank. "Let's find the girls and—"
A feminine voice cut him off. "Here we are!" called Diana, and as one the boys turned to see the girls walking toward them. Both girls were clad in long dresses, and as they drew near, Hank could tell that they were taking care not to trip on the unfamiliar hems.
Diana picked up her flowing orange skirt and whirled for everyone's inspection. "Well, whaddya think?"
Hank glanced at Eric, who had suddenly begun to sweat. "Um," the Cavalier gulped, as Diana went past.
Presto grinned. "You guys look good! Where'd you get the threads?"
Sheila picked up her deep green skirt as Diana had, and Hank noticed with a quiet gulp of his own that her shoulders were bare. "Drisha lent them to us," Sheila replied. "It was really nice of her to let us borrow them for the festival."
Eric cleared his throat, and stepped bravely up to Diana. "May I escort you to the festival, my lady?" He crooked an arm for her to take, and to his credit didn't flinch when Diana threaded her arm through his.
"Why, thank you, Eric," said Diana, her voice edged with gentle teasing. "I guess you really do live up to your name."
"Hey, when ya got it, ya got it," was his breezy reply, but Diana just laughed.
Hank smiled, watching his friends walk away. It was only after a few seconds of silence that he realized Sheila was still standing at his elbow, watching the Cavalier and Acrobat as well.
"They look happy," she sighed. "I never pegged them for each other, but stranger things have happened."
"Yeah," agreed Hank. He glanced down at the redhead, and it seemed natural to offer his own arm for her to take. "Shall we go?"
The moonlight made it hard to tell, but Hank thought that Sheila's freckles began to run together on her cheeks. "Oh! Sure!" She linked her slender arm with his, her left hand still holding on to her skirt.
Hank took a step, but Sheila held him back. "Wait," she breathed, and then turned to Presto, who was walking beside Bobby and Uni. "Hey, Presto, why don't you come up here?" She wiggled her left arm in his direction.
Presto's golden-brown eyes had been full of sadness, but he blinked it away until all Hank could see was a sort of wistfulness in his friend's expression. "Thanks, Sheila, but I'm okay." He reached out and rapped his knuckles on Bobby's helmet. "Gotta keep an eye on Short Stuff here."
Bobby scowled up at Presto. "Who ya callin' Short Stuff?" he growled.
"Myahh!" bleated Uni. "Myoo ya myallng norrt snuh?" She blew a raspberry at the wizard.
Sheila gave Presto a worried look. "Well, if you're sure," she said, then turned back to walk with Hank. "He misses Varla so much," she said, low.
It tore at Hank to hear the sadness in her voice. "I know," he agreed. "I wonder how that's going to turn out." With a sudden shock, he realized that part of him was glad that he didn't have to be in Presto's position. He wouldn't have to leave the girl he liked behind, but Presto might never see Varla again. Hank glanced over his shoulder at Presto, who was walking with his head down and arms crossed. Every few steps, the wizard would take off his glasses and wipe his eyes with his sleeve, then replace the wire frames.
"I don't want to leave Presto here," Sheila was saying. "Do you think Dungeon Master could make it so Varla could come with us?"
"We could ask him—that is, if we see him before tomorrow." The little wizard could literally pop up at any moment, and Hank didn't put it past him to make an appearance.
Sheila sighed and leaned against Hank's arm, unaware of how it made the blood thump in his ears. "Tomorrow," she repeated. "We could be home tomorrow."
The thought made hope bubble up in Hank's chest, and this time, he didn't make an effort to quell it as he had so many times before. Instead, he put his arm around Sheila and drew her closer. He felt her lay her arm against the small of his back, and so they continued toward the bright lights and music of the festival.
Hank didn't ask what they were eating, but he agreed with his comrades that it tasted better than anything they'd eaten in a long time. The fizzy drink the villagers passed around smelled like cinnamon, and Hank realized in short order that when drank too quickly, the spicy beverage would bring on a round of coughing. Hank noticed that Sheila didn't allow Bobby to have any, but saw to it that her brother's mug was filled with what looked like apple cider instead. So it was when the dancing began—a ring dance that looked like a more complex version of the Hokey Pokey—Hank goodnaturedly let himself be pulled along with the others.
The strange wailing noise of a flute-like instrument along with the thumps of a hand drum set the dancers into motion, and it looked to Hank that enthusiasm was much more important than knowing the steps. Men and women flashed past the fire, their faces crimson and gold and amber, skirts twirling and limbs bending. Voices shouted and sang, calling and answering each other above the music. On and on it went, until finally the musicians gave an ending flourish, and all the dancers stopped to applaud them with yelps and cheers.
Hank stood grinning at the sight, applauding and giving sharp whistles between his teeth. He couldn't remember having this much fun in a long, long time—especially not since they'd come to the Realm. He realized someone was speaking to him—and turned to see Sheila, her fiery hair crowned with translucent blossoms and her cheeks pink from the drink and dancing.
"Everyone's leaving," she said, and Hank looked up to see that she was right; couples were walking away arm in arm to disappear into the hills. A few couples were still seated around the fire, their eyes only for each other, some sharing mugs of the cinnamon drink. One couple was passionately kissing, exploring each other with mouths and tongues and hands, heedless of who might be watching. Although, Hank had to admit, no one else seemed to be watching…
"Hank," said Sheila, her voice low. "Come on."
With effort, Hank tore his gaze away from the passionate couple. "Right," he breathed, and let Sheila lead him away from the fire and into the cool moonlight.
He found to his chagrin that being away from the fire did nothing to cool his thoughts toward the redhead walking next to him. The drink hadn't helped either; his head felt light and his skin prickled where he could feel Sheila's warmth through the sleeve of his tunic. He realized that they had quickly left the village behind, and the fire was little more than a gleaming dot in the distance.
Hank stopped walking, and Sheila followed suit, turning toward him in wordless inquiry. He stood looking at her upturned face, her skin as pale as the flowers in her hair, her eyes silver-green in the light. "Sheila," he whispered, trailing a finger against her cheek.
She closed her eyes and rested her hand against his. "Hank. Oh, Hank, I love you."
His heart stuttered in his chest. "I—I know," he said.
She smiled, eyes still closed. "You do?"
"I've known for a long time," he heard himself say. He cupped her face in his hands. "I love you too, Sheila." He lowered his face to hers and kissed her.
Instantly, she responded with a kiss of her own, slipping her arms around his neck and pulling her to him. He teased her tongue with his, and she sighed into his mouth.
He threaded his fingers through her hair, making the white blooms rain down around their feet. His blood was on fire, singing through his veins and pounding in his head. Sheila gasped against his cheek and arched her body against his, sending a wave of agonizing ecstasy through him.
"Hank," she whispered. "I want…I want you to…"
Through the mad ringing in his body, Hank forced himself to pull away far enough to look down into her face once more. "Sheila…there's nothing I want more right now than to be with you, but—" He sighed. "I won't do that to you. Not here, not like this."
Tears sprang to her eyes. "But—it's okay! I want you to." She laid her head against his chest. "I want my first time to be with you."
"I know," he said, his words ending in a groan. "I want my first time to be with you too, but it's not okay. I won't do that to you. Only when it's right." He kissed her forehead. "Okay?"
Sheila bit her lip, obviously trying to rein in her own emotions. "I know you're right. I just—I just love you so much." Her words ended in a sob, and she collapsed against his chest.
"Don't cry, Sheila," he murmured into her hair. "Listen, you were right, we could be home tomorrow. But if we're not—will you promise to be my girl when we DO get home?"
The Thief raised her tearstained face to his. "I can't be your girl now?"
He shook his head. "This isn't where we belong. We belong together in our world, not in this one."
Her tears threatened to fall again. "So—you don't love me?"
He smiled, even though his heart ached to see her even contemplate such a thing. "I do, Sheila. More than anything. I just know that there are people who would hurt you if they knew how much we love each other. So I want you to save your love for me until we get home."
She wiped her eyes. "That's a tall order, Ranger," she said, with a little laugh. "It's not like a faucet I can just turn off."
Hank grinned. "It's the same for me. Every time I look at you, I'm reminded of how much I love you." He ducked his head and brushed his lips against hers, feeling the hot stirrings just below the surface, all too ready to catch fire once again. "I'm going to try and do it, though, because I want you to be safe."
"All right." Sheila smiled up at him. "It's a promise."
They made their way back to the village in the dewy dawn, arm in arm in companionable silence. As they came up to the square where the embers of the fire smoldered, they saw their comrades sleeping amongst the discarded tankards and crushed blossoms. Diana, a wilting crown of blooms resting on her dark head, cradled Eric's head in her lap. Both were heavily asleep, unaware of Presto leaning against a post of the open-air kitchen, glasses still on his nose and his arms crossed over his chest. Bobby lay curled on a thick blanket near the fire. Uni lay close beside him, still wearing a wreath of blooms around her neck.
Hank felt a surge of determination as he looked at his friends sleeping peacefully. He would get them home—and maybe, he thought, as he let Sheila go to wake them—maybe it would happen today.