Dungeons & Dragons : Breaking the Ties that Bind
Disclaimer: This story was begun in 1997, and even then it was inspired by an initial premise developed by a fanfiction writer named Sorka who posted the starting scenario and some of the beginning scenes about the Red Blades on her web page. Her writing was wonderful, and, though I've modified heavily over the years, I owe her a bundle for allowing me to wander off with her story and take it places she never meant for it to go. All her work here is used with permission. This work is a piece of fan fiction based on the animated series Dungeons and Dragons, originally owned by TSR and now a product of Marvel Productions. Other referred to media resources belong to their respective companies. Victoria Bishop provided last names for the kids. I'd also like to thank Zakiyah for trading me the video tapes so long ago, my beta readers, and Especially my husband for listening to me talk about this story for hours and hours and editing it unmercifully. Thank you. This story is very dark in places. Rated PG13 for mature themes, language, hinted-at drug use and sex, and violence. Any feedback received most gratefully.
Chapter 1: Breaking the Ties
Nearly four years of fruitless searching and once again, they were almost home. Deep in the heart of the Dragon Spine Mountains, buried at the center of a maze of tunnels, and fiercely protected by the Gray Dwarves, lay a rift that Dungeonmaster told them would lead them home. However, the rift's protectors were well armed, seasoned dwarven warriors, outnumbering them five to one. The attack came full force just as they reached the rift. The six of them fought fiercely to keep from being captured.
The cave thundered with the sound of golden arrows ricocheting off the walls as Hank released volley after volley. Diana's staff spun, but her opponents easily evaded her attacks. Sheila, stealing behind a dwarf to trip him, yelped as the dwarf turned and bumped into her, knocking back her hood. He wrapped his arms around her, quickly joined by three others who held her fast. Bobby, her younger brother, had fought his way to the very edge of the rift when he heard her cry for help. He turned to see her being dragged towards a small cavern by the four dwarves. He acted. With all his strength, he hurled his club at the entrance to the small cavern. The mouth of the cave collapsed under the impact. Cracks from the blow spread outward, racing along cavern walls already weakened by the primal forces of the rift.
The entire cave system began to collapse. The dwarves bolted through the other passages leading away from the rift. The six young ones scrambled to reach a way out as the roof began to collapse.
Bobby stumbled as he tried to get towards the others. Sheila darted forward to grab her brother as the cave roof began to fall in giant chunks of stone. Diana and Hank desperately tried to knock boulders out of the way to help her while Eric, with a wail of "This is stupid!", leaped forward to shield her.
Bobby was only five steps away when the entire back half of the cavern collapsed on top of him. He disappeared under a wall of broken stone and dust. Sheila screamed and ran forward, clawing at the rock.
Trying to shield her, Eric looked down and saw the floor beginning to crack. "This whole place is coming apart!" he yelled over the din of falling rocks. "We have to get out of here before we all get killed." He glanced over his shoulder to see Hank, Presto, and Diana trying to make it over to him. "No! Get out of here! We'll be right behind you!" When he saw them hesitate, he screamed, "I said GO!!!"
Hank nodded his head, turned and started to run, as best he could, toward the remaining unblocked passage. Presto and Diana scrambled to follow. Eric waited only long enough to see Hank turn, then turned back to Sheila. In the few moments that he had looked away, she managed to claw her fingers bloody in her effort to get to her brother. He grabbed her arm in an attempt to pull her away, but she wrenched herself free of his grasp, screaming Bobby's name. Cursing with frustration as they slipped on a floor that was breaking away beneath their feet, he hit her on the back of the head with his shield, then dragged her out of the cave seconds before the roof fell in.
The cave collapsed completely in a roar of stone, rock, and billowing dust. Then, for a moment, everything was still.
Seeing Sheila's prone form in Eric's arms, the others ran to help. They carried her down the slope that lead to the cave and laid her under a small group of trees.
"What happened in there?" Hank asked as he checked the bump on her head.
Eric sank to his knees in exhaustion. "She wouldn't come. I hope I didn't hurt her too bad. . . but if I hadn't hit her we'd both be dead now." The strain in his voice told them how he regretted what he had had to do.
"Where's Bobby?" Presto asked nervously, looking around for the boy who would should never be far from his sister's side if she was hurt.
Eric was quiet for a full minute trying to find some way to say it. He took a deep breath, and a tear crept down his cheek as he fought to keep the control he displayed in the cave.
"He didn't make it," he said. "The cave just. . . fell on top of him..." Finally, he let himself cry angry tears. His fists pounded the ground. "If I'd just gotten to him sooner!"
Diana, her eyes beginning to well her own tears, knelt down beside Eric and wrapped her arms around him. "It's not your fault," she whispered. He let her hold him. They wept together as night fell around them.
Sheila regained consciousness after nightfall,. At first it was gray; she couldn't remember what had happened. But when she saw her hands, now cleaned and bandaged, she knew. On raw instinct, she began to run straight back towards the cave where Bobby still lay, but she didn't get far. Hank tackled her before she escaped the campfire's light.
"Damn you, Hank! Let me go! I said, let me go!" Sheila fought, pounding his chest with her bandaged hands.
"It's too dark to go back in there," Hank said, ignoring her fists. "I want to find him alive as much as you do. But you're in no shape to go back there now, and the whole mountaintop is still rumbling. We'll go back in the morning."
"He could be dead by morning!" she pleaded. "Please....let me go find him."
"I'm sorry, Sheila." His voice was firmer than he felt. "I'm not going to let you go in there tonight. You can hate me if you want, but I can't lose you too."
The grief in his voice made her pause. She saw in his face a mirror of her own pain; he seemed to have aged years in a few hours. The tenseness in her body slowly released. Reluctantly she agreed not to leave the camp until morning. Hank helped her back to her feet and led her back to the fire. It was well after midnight before the last of them fell into a fitful sleep.
The next morning, the five remaining young ones returned to the cave. They found the entire back of the cave where Bobby and the rift had been collapsed in on itself. A huge pit gaped where the floor had been, but beyond that, nothing. For three days, they searched for any trace of the boy. In the end they found only his horned helmet, smashed flat under the weight of a ton of rubble. There was no choice. They had to admit he was gone.
Sheila held back her tears until then. Now she broke down, weeping uncontrollably. No matter what her friends did, they knew it would be a hollow comfort. They let her cry herself out, watching her carefully, and nursed their own sorrow.
As the last sun set, Presto saw a change, a hint of something that the others had not noticed. Sheila's tears had gone from soft sobs to hysterical weeping to exhaustion, but as darkness fell, the sobbing stopped. As he watched, Sheila's features froze into a grim anger that chilled the very air around her. Her eyes seemed cold now, as if all the laughter and joy of life that had been a part of her personality were locked away for good. She picked up her cloak and walked a few steps away from them before she lay down to sleep. When Presto saw that, he wrapped his arms around his knees, bowed his head, and shuddered in the cold by the fire. He knew Sheila would survive, but deep in his heart, he now silently mourned the loss of two of his best friends.
"I don't want to say this now, but we have to leave this place, Sheila." Diana said, first sun lighting the sky with a pastel glow. She held out her hand to help the other girl up.
"The hat's not given us anything useful," Eric said, looking at anywhere but Presto. "And I haven't seen any edible plants anywhere nearby." There was no choice. Bitterly, they made their way down the mountain.
When Bobby saw the cave above him begin to collapse, he tried to get to Sheila and one of the passages out of the cave. Before he could get there, a falling rock knocked off his helmet and sent him stumbling to the ground. He saw his sister run towards him and realized with growing panic that she would not reach him before the cave fell in. As he got up to his feet, a slab of rock slammed down directly in front of him. He jumped backward to avoid getting crushed, catching himself on the edge of the rift. As more boulders crashed down around him, he tumbled backwards into the abyss.
He hung in the place between worlds for what seemed like hours. It was a void with neither light nor sound. Just when he thought that he would be trapped there forever, light exploded around him, and he felt himself being pulled up. The light was so bright he had to shut his eyes,. The feeling of falling replaced the pulling sensation.
Bobby must have passed out, for the next thing he knew he was lying face down on a carpet of cut grass. The sounds of people laughing and having fun filled his ears, but nearby he heard many voices murmuring. He opened his eyes and saw a loose ring of people standing around him looking concerned. A man stepped forward tentatively, dressed in a police officer's uniform. It had been so long since Bobby had seen one that it took him a moment to remember what it was.
"Are you all right, son?" the cop asked.
"I'm not sure." Bobby said, looking around him. "I think so...." The cop helped the boy stand up. Bobby didn't notice the cop's thoughtful stare.
"Hey, you're a mess," the cop said, indicating the cuts and bruises that covered his arms and legs. "Come on. I'll get you cleaned up. By the way, I'm Officer Phil Granger. What your name?"
"Bobby," he answered.
Bobby let himself be led to a police car, where the officer took out his first aid kit and started to clean his cuts. When he was done, Granger went into his car and pulled out a list of missing children. He often checked them when dealing with a kid he didn't know. Whatever he had been expecting, it certainly wasn't what he found.
At the top of the list of missing children was a poster of six kids that had disappeared over three and a half years ago. The case was left open, but at the time there was nothing to go on. It had been a very unusual case. No motive, no witnesses, no evidence. At the same time, the same day in fact, another boy had disappeared from his room. He hadn't run away or been kidnapped. He was just gone. But, unlike the first case, the young boy suddenly reappeared in his bedroom a month later. He had thought that he just had a very vivid dream, and that no time had passed. It took some time to convince the boy that he really had been missing. When he realized the truth, he told everyone he could that the six others were alive but lost on another world. None of the people involved believed a word of it. After hearing his parents wanted to put him into therapy, he stopped talking about it.
Now looking at the flyer and Bobby sitting on the hood of his car, Granger wished he listened to the other boy more closely.
Perhaps if Dungeonmaster had reappeared the day of the cave in, or even during the days that they searched, he would have been a welcome sight. Perhaps. When he did finally show himself, the reception he received was less than amiable. His charming smile and warm words stood in contrast to the long faces around him. He faltered at this, but began to tell them of another portal to their home. His students, surprisingly, held their peace as he spoke, but it was a dead silence that hung between his words.
When he finished, they looked at him. Sheila stood, walked over to him, and dropped her cloak at his feet. The others followed suit, dropping their weapons, their only means of defense, in front of him. His eyes were filled with confusion, a look they had never seen in him before.
"What is the meaning of this, Young Ones?" His eyes went to each of them, searching for answers. It was a moment before he noticed what was missing. It had been too long since he had looked in on them. "Where is the young barbarian?"
The Dungeonmaster felt a wave of dark rage flow from his little Thief. Her eyes sparkled with so many emotions that the light in them almost seemed mad. Yet it was the Ranger that spoke, his voice heavy with grief.
"Bobby's gone ... he's dead." His voice cracked with emotion as he described what had happened. When the Ranger was done, he locked eyes with him. Those eyes seemed to accuse him of the tragedy.
"I grieve with you in this time of sorrow." His heart did ache when he stretched out his senses to find his Barbarian gone. His visions had shown them captured by the dwarves, their eventual escape, and the resulting political uprising that would overthrow the current Thane. They had revealed nothing like this.
"Yet, we can not let ourselves be overwhelmed by grief." Dungeonmaster seized upon a solution to their pain, a distraction from it. Even in spite of the sorrow, he could perhaps hold them just a little longer. "The portal I spoke of could be your way home."
". . . home. . . ." The Thief whispered the word, though he barely heard it.
"Yes, home ... where you can put this great loss behind you." He didn't want to lose them, not like this. They had accomplished so much! Dungeonmaster earnestly hoped they would jump at the chance to get home. As they always had. He continued describing the path they should take. After all, they had hoped for so long. . . . What he missed was the spark of white hot anger that flared between them.
A scream that seemed to have been torn from the depths of her soul erupted from the Thief. Like a wounded animal, she whirled on him. He was so startled that he retreated a step, yet she stopped short of touching him.
"How dare you!!!" she screamed at him. "How could you think we could go home now? My brother is DEAD!! How can I face my parents knowing I couldn't protect him?"
"But you can not say that you're giving up," Dungeonmaster protested. He felt the threads slipping though his fingers, the waves of her anger. "Not after all this time."
"Yes, after all this time," his Magician said softly. His hands were clenched and his slender body shook with barely-contained rage. "After all this time as your 'pupils', you've hardly taught me enough control to get us a warm meal from that stupid hat when we can't find food. How can you call yourself a teacher when you're with us only a few minutes in a week's time?"
The Acrobat struck a defiant pose. Even without the staff, she made an imposing figure. Dungeonmaster had thought that she would be the first one to be swayed by his words, but he had forgotten she still felt the pain of losing the Child of the Stargazer. Now she was as steady as a rock against him.
"Even if you could send us back home at this moment," the Cavalier said, a cold edge to his voice, "We would still refuse. The price has been too high already."
The Dungeonmaster bowed his head and folded his hands. "What will you do now, Young Ones?" he asked with resignation. He realized that this was to be their way of saying goodbye.
The Ranger hesitated a moment and said, "What ever we do. Where ever we go. It's no longer your concern."
One by one they turned their backs on the Dungeonmaster, walking down the trail. He watched them go until the last of them was out of site. Not one of them looked back. With a sigh, he gathered up the weapons at his feet and vanished.
The trail led the five worn travelers to Standwell, a small town on the edge of the wilderness. Like most border towns this one had a stockade fence surrounding it. When trouble came the gates could be closed to give those inside enough time to organize a defense. Farmers living outside the town would have to reach the walls before the gates closed or they would have to fend for themselves.
Yet, the Realm had changed. Venger and his orcish armies, weakened by many battles and many failures, had disappeared over a year ago, and all hoped this would be the last time. Most had heard some rumor of his death.
Free of his evil, the land slowly recovered. Cities and villages flourished in the waste. Kings and queens, for good or ill, carved new kingdoms out of Venger's empire, and settlements had sprung up where they would have once been crushed under his cruel hand. Isolated villages came out of hiding and began to establish routes of trade. Monsters and demons, undead, and the rare dragon still roamed the Realm, but the lack of a tyrannical overlord gave the settlements of humans time to blossom. It was a dangerous place, and in Venger's wake, other would-be rulers considered claiming his throne, but the men and women of the world were beginning to get their faith back, beginning to believe again that stout walls and strong hearts could keep out the darkness and bring security and peace.
To the relief of the five companions, there was no sign of trouble when they reached the town. As usual, they were carefully watched as they passed the walls into the town proper, but no one tried to stop them. It was a relief not to have to be randomly attacked for once, a relief to be around other people. Exhausted and dirty, they stumbled to the little inn in the center of town.
The Dragon Spit was a tavern built around a single common room with a dozen tables. A set of stairs lead to the sleeping area, which consisted of one large sleeping barracks with bunks and one or two small private rooms. As the five travelers arranged themselves around one of the round tables, a young girl came from the back room. She took a look at them, and went back into the kitchen to reemerge with five large tankards. She set one down in front of each of them with a smile.
"This is just water," she said warmly. "You look like you could use it." They mumbled their thanks and sipped the cool water gratefully.
Hank had been watching his friends closely all day. He was worried. Not since Uni had been hurt, and they had left her in the care of her kind in the Valley of the Unicorns, had their eyes held so much anger or pain. But this time they had no way to release it, no cure. Well, they could have kept following Dungeonmaster, perhaps even let him show them the way home once again. 'No! No more!' His thoughts held an edge to them that he didn't like. He pushed it down.
The fact that they made it to the town without a fight was a testament to how much danger was inherent in being Dungeonmaster's students. If they encountered an enemy without their weapons, they could be in big trouble. 'But if it comes,' he thought, blue eyes turning to steel, 'It will be on our terms. Not his.'
His eyes rested on Sheila for an instant. He had hoped, somehow, they could help her with her grief. But already he could hear the silence between them. In fact, she had barely said two sentences in as many days. All their efforts only served to make her retreat further. She would need to be watched.
For himself, Hank felt inadequate in this new situation. Leading his friends in this world had been relatively easy with someone else telling them where to go. Now they were adrift, without direction or purpose, and he was too tired, too empty, to find the path forward. Sooner or later they would have to decide what they would do. For now, he sipped his water, keeping his thoughts to himself.
Eric looked at Presto out of the corner of his eye. He knew there was something going on with his long-time friend, but he couldn't place it. It seemed as though the air around him was charged with static electricity, but Presto was too distracted to even notice. However, Eric felt it every time he got close to the ex-magician. It didn't help that Presto wasn't taking that loss of his hat very well. Eric had noticed him trying to work a spell the night before, but, naturally, nothing happened. Even though Presto's hat was erratic at best, he had, with much effort, gained some control. Eric supposed that he was disappointed that he never mastered it.
Privately, Eric was amazed that he wasn't panicking. His weapon had never been offensive. In some ways, that may have hurt him more than having no weapon at all. While he could protect himself and his friends, he couldn't fight back. Not the way Hank could. Oh, but he wanted to though, and that need began to burn brighter with every fight, with every desperate race through some murky swamp or lava plain. He was sick of running. Now all he wanted was a sword and someone to learn from. 'From now on, they can just run from me for a change!'
Presto knew there was something wrong. He felt it. He also knew that Eric knew; not that there was anything he could do about it. It had started the moment they gave up their weapons, when he gave the hat back to Dungeonmaster. The wrongness had grown as the days passed; it was getting worse. He couldn't afford to be sick, not now. But in truth, Presto felt like he was burning up inside. His skin tingled, his head ached, and he was seeing things. At first it had just been a soft outline on everything around him, but now it was a glow that included colors. He didn't dare tell anyone. What could they do? They all had enough problems as it was.
Maybe if he tried, he could twiddle himself up some new glasses or a healing potion or something. . . except he couldn't twiddle anything any more. He'd given it a shot last night, and a few times since. It only made his head hurt even worse, and nothing happened anyway. He figured the best he could do was try to rest for a few days. Then he would wait and see. He rested his chin in his hands and watched with mild interest as a woman who glowed soft green discussed some mercenary company to the south with a golden man at the next table. Well, being sick in the Realm was never boring.
Diana had lost so much since they had come here. Her soulmate, found and lost in less than a week. Her heart still ached a little, but not the way it had. The Child of the Stargazer prophecy had been fulfilled. The people were saved. But the price? His mortal existence. Her journey home. He returned to his home, to the realm of the spirit. She knew that somehow she'd see him there when her time came, but that knowledge was little comfort. For now, she was alive. She could continue to live, to fight, to laugh.
Since that time, she had lost her desire to go home. She never told any of her friends. There was no way they could understand. Now, though, with the loss of Bobby, they knew it all too well. The decision to stay wasn't her idea. It was Eric's. Of all of them, she didn't expect it to come from him. But the vote was taken. Never again would they try to return to the planet of their birth. Still, it hurt to know that she would never see her parents again. By now, home would be nearly as alien as this world was when they first arrived. She couldn't go back.
Sheila wanted to die. Her heart felt so heavy that it might stop on its own if she willed it. But no matter how hard she tried it kept on beating. She was still alive. She walked with her friends because they wouldn't leave her behind. But they didn't realize the burning pain they caused her with words that were meant to comfort. If Hank would not let her escape, she could still retreat into herself. So she pulled away from them, farther and farther, searching for silence and cool shadows. She knew that if the others ignored her for a moment, she would leave them. She wasn't sure what she'd do once she was alone but that really didn't matter. All that mattered was that she had lost her brother, and she felt totally alone.