DISCLAIMER: Mine? The characters? I wish!
STORY: Set after the events in the episode 'Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn.'
Trust in Friendship.
High above the Realm in a towering, steel-grey castle, the Warlock stood alone, waiting in the top chamber in its tallest tower.
It was a dark room; the only illumination was from the window in the east wall that let cold sunlight pour in. Heavy, black velvet drapes covered the walls, mopping up any stray light, except for the north wall, which was just bare rock.
In the very centre, beside a long altar stood the Warlock. In the centre of the altar, nestled in its own special hollow in the wood, was a deep purple crystal that glowed faintly as the man watched. The Warlock smiled as he watched the magic light pulsate at it centre. How fortunate that he had found such a powerful weapon, before Dungeonmaster or Venger had given thought to what it could do.
The Dragon was freshly dead, the weapon of power still glowing with the magic of it's birth. The Conduit of Transference, straight from the Dragon's Graveyard, capable of channelling any magic, and it was his! His chance was finally here! He had brooded for a long time before finally deciding how best to use it.
There was a quiet cough from the doorway.
The Warlock turned, his long, sky blue robes swishing quietly over the stone floor.
A Minion entered, not one of those incompetent Orcs that Venger used, but a Dark Elf, tall and thin, clad in the classic green hunting garb. It bowed, bright eyes never blinking.
'The Dungeonmaster has found the portal, Master,' it said, 'He will be at the village soon.'
The Warlock nodded. 'And the diversion?'
'The Southern Lands are preparing for the eruption, Master. The mountain will not stand for long. Already the Dungeonmaster is unable to contain its power. He will have no time to trouble you.'
The Warlock nodded once more, and frowned as he asked:
'And the Imp?'
The Minion's eyes seemed to gleam with a malicious pleasure.
'We have disposed of the Imp as you instructed Master. No one in the Realm would be foolish enough to free it.'
'Let it be known to all what punishment waits those who would wish to betray me.' The Warlock gave a wide smile that showed the points of his teeth. 'Now, leave me to prepare,' he ordered.
The Minion bowed low once more and left quietly.
Turning back to his Crystal, The Warlock again watched the flames in it centre pulsate, and his heart beat fast at the thought of so much power, just waiting for him to grab. His patience would be rewarded soon. The balance would shift. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. All he needed was the Bow.
'Trust you to get caught, Eric!' said Diana the Acrobat as she dipped the mop once more into the bucket. 'Couldn't you have been a bit more careful?'
'Yeah, you should have watched what you were doing, Er-ic,' agreed Bobby the Barbarian from a far corner of the basement, where he and the baby unicorn were pushing boxes. 'We all managed to get in without being caught!'
Eric the Cavalier scowled. The perfect retort formed in his mind but he didn't reply, mainly because the box he was lifting took all his breath and energy.
'C'mon guys,' said Sheila the Theif, 'Is this really so bad? I mean just yesterday we were complaining there was nothing to do.'
Eric let the box slip to the ground and said breathlessly:
'Heavy manual labour was not what I had in mind. Watching TV or eating pizza would be much better, while we wait for his Royal Shortness to arrive.'
The conversation paused at the mention of the Dungeonmaster, and Eric mumbled something despondently under his breath. OK, so their current workload was his fault, and they might be entitled to a little griping, but it's not as if they had never tried it. So he got caught. So what? Was it his fault that the Chief decided to check that day, at that hour? Wasn't that always his luck? And besides, if Dungeonmaster hadn't been late, they wouldn't have been here to get into trouble in the first place.
He looked at his friends as he rested against the box he had been carrying, all hard at work sweeping and mopping and lifting, casting annoyed looks in his direction and every so often. He had scowled back the first few times, but now he just ignored the glances. Even Presto the Magician was sulking at him.
Eric gave a short sigh. Since the trip to the Underworld of the Realm, nothing was going right for him. They called it bad luck, but it wasn't that. He sighed once again, but couldn't suppress a shiver of fear. Yes, he knew what it was.
It was that stupid Box. His curiosity had almost killed them all. The Box of Balefire had summoned Venger's Master, a creature with No Name; a force so powerful and evil that even Dungeonmaster had not been able to stop it. And there was also…
There was a sudden, loud crashing noise from the stairwell, disrupting his train of thought. Presto and Sheila had dropped the box they were carrying near the top of the stairs, and it tumbled awkwardly back down and threatening to knock a whole row of boxes over and spill their contents all over the mostly clean floor.
Hank the Ranger was there in a second, leaping over the piles of rubbish and just managing to stop the runaway box in time. The others cheered.
'Wow, great catch Hank!' said Diana approvingly. 'We would have been back to square one if those boxes had gone.'
'Euw, more slime and rubbish,' said Presto with a shudder.
Eric scowled more deeply, caught between gratitude and, what? Jealousy? It was hard not to be envious of the Ranger, such a natural leader; confident, good-looking, intelligent. If it had been he, Eric the Cavalier, that had betrayed the Cloud Bears to Venger, would the others have forgiven him as easily as they had forgiven Hank? That thought did nothing to help his mood.
The baby unicorn scampered happily up to the Ranger, giving him a bray of congratulations and Eric's scowl faded. It was easy to blame Hank for being perfect, for being the one everyone looked up to, but that wasn't the problem. He just wanted to go home. How often now had he wished he'd never seen that amusement park, or that he had decided not to go on that stupid ride? How often had he wished things had been different?
Suddenly, a new voice was there.
'Greetings, my pupils.'
'Dungeonmaster!' said Bobby in surprise.
'Finally,' muttered Eric. 'He arrives!'
'I must apologises for my lateness,' said the old man. 'There are many things in this Realm that need my attention.'
He gave Eric a keen look and added:
'But I am glad you have found a way to keep busy.'
Diana gave a huff.
'Eric's so good at that.'
Eric glared at her, but didn't reply.
The Dungeonmaster looked between them and asked:
'Is there something wrong, my children?'
'The only thing that's wrong, Your Shortness, is that we're stuck here and not back home!' snapped Eric.
The Dungeonmaster smiled in acknowledgement and looked to Hank.
'I came with news of a portal.'
'Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like all the other portals, I suppose,' said Eric, 'guarded by dragons or Orcs or Vengers or…'
'No,' interrupted Dungeonmaster. 'It is just a portal. It is on a little-used road that may be difficult to follow, but you should be able to reach it before it closes.'
The others looked round at each other in surprise, as Bobby cheered. Eric scowled at the miniature humanoid in front of him.
'But…' prompted Eric.
Dungeonmaster had the grace to look guilty.
'You are correct, Cavalier. There is a "but".'
'I knew it! You never get anything easily in this place.'
'You never get anything easily, anywhere, Cavalier,' said Dungeonmaster, his tone sad. 'That is life.'
Eric snorted as Sheila asked:
'What is the problem, Dungeonmaster?'
'I do not know.'
'Don't you know everything, Dungeonmaster?' said Bobby.
'Yeah, eeeveeeing,' mimicked the unicorn by Bobby's side.
The Dungeonmaster smiled and reached over to stroke Uni's mane.
'I do not know exactly where the portal has been opened, or what its purpose is, just that it is there and unguarded. I caution you to be wary.'
'But it is a way home?' asked Diana.
The Dungeonmaster nodded, but in such a sombre way that Eric shivered. Midget-Man not knowing what was going on couldn't be a good sign.
'Tell us what you know, Dungeonmaster,' said Hank.
'Perhaps a day's journey, due south of this town is the Lightning Forest, and somewhere within its boundaries is the Circle of Stones. The portal is there.'
The little man started to pace around.
'Tomorrow morning you must go. Find the portal, if you can, and go home.'
'What, no riddles?' asked Eric sarcastically.
'I have no other help for you, my pupils. I am sorry. But be careful. Trust in friendship and in yourselves. That is the only advice I can give.'
Distracted for a second, the kids glanced at each other and by the time they looked back, their guide had gone.
'He's gone!' said Hank, looking round.
'What a surprise,' said Eric. 'Just drops by to dangle another way home in front of our noses, but can't stick around to give us a hand.'
'There are other people in this realm too, Eric,' scolded Diana. 'He's told us of a way home, what more do we need?'
The Magician looked around the dark basement and said:
'How about an industrial-sized vacuum cleaner?'
'Couldn't you try again with your Hat?' asked Bobby eagerly.
Presto looked to the ground, blushing, and didn't reply.
'We had better keep clearing,' said Sheila with a sigh.
The next morning was clear and crisp, and the suns were still low in the skies as the kids prepared to leave the village. Hank looked around the group for the tenth time. There was no need for a head count, as the lack of whining noises told him that Eric still hadn't appeared. For someone who claimed to be desperate to go home, the Cavalier was dragging his feet.
Presto must have noticed the look Hank cast in the direction of their rooms as he asked:
'You want me and the Hat to give him a wake-up call?'
The Ranger couldn't stop a small smile. The Hat's wake-up calls were usually very funny, and he was sorely tempted to let Presto loose to do his worst, or was that best? But good sense prevailed, in spite of the imploring look Bobby was giving him.
'No. He won't be too long.'
'I'm getting sick of this, Hank,' said Diana, not usually the one who voiced her complaints against the Cavalier behind his back. 'Can't you do something about him?'
Hank shrugged. The Cavalier's attitude was starting to cause serious problems. He was getting pretty sick of Eric too; sick of the constant griping, the erratic mood swings, the petty sarcasm, and above all, the nagging feeling that something was seriously wrong with their Cavalier.
'Trust Eric to miss the packing again,' said Bobby loudly. 'Do we have to wait for him? Can't we just go and he can catch us up?'
Exactly on cue, there was a muffled scuffling noise from the door, and their Cavalier appeared, looking paler than usual, with definite violet tinges under his eyes. His usual confident swagger was gone too.
'What happened to you?' asked Sheila. 'Didn't you sleep?'
Eric scowled at her.
'Hank's snoring is enough to give anyone within a mile radius sleep deprivation,' he said, shifting his Shield awkwardly to his left arm.
Presto smirked half-heartedly but Hank just ignored the insult. He had been given the room next to Eric's, and every night of their stay, without fail, he had heard the Cavalier moving around until late into the night. More often than not, Eric would call out fearfully in his sleep too, and last night had been no exception. The only time he had broached the subject, Eric given a brusque denial of any problem. So very like their Cavalier to be closed mouthed about the important things.
Hank turned to the sudden sound of footsteps behind him. The Chief of the village was approaching.
'Good morning,' called Chief Kalesh. 'I have come to wish you safe travel on your journey south.' Hank stepped forward to shake the Chief's outstretched hand.
'Thank you,' he replied, ignoring the almost inaudible grumble from Eric. 'And for our new supplies.'
He turned back to the others and said:
'We should go.'
'Good luck with your quest, young ones,' said the Chief, 'And be careful in the Southlands. Not everything you might meet out there is friendly.'
'Story of my life,' muttered Eric.
Hank watched them pass; the Cavalier first, Diana and Presto behind, Sheila, then Bobby and his unicorn. Sheila paused by the gate as Hank caught up and walked beside him on the way out of the village.
They walked all morning, with Eric in the lead, but he didn't say much, not even to tease Presto when he tripped up or to gripe at the noisy unicorn who gambolled around getting in everyone's way. No one was bothered by the Cavalier's resolute silence, and Hank had to admit the quiet was a welcome change.
They walked through a green and red valley, flowers and tall, wide-topped fungi that smelled of warm plastic and reminded him of chemistry class. Presto and Diana were talking about home, the people they missed, and the things they wanted to do. Bobby mooched along, obviously keen on getting home, but the long, sad glances in Uni's direction hinted and the mix of emotions that the young Barbarian was feeling.
Sheila walked quietly beside the Ranger, comfortable with the silence. He looked at her and smiled. What would he do without her? They called him the leader, but Sheila kept them all as a group far more than he did. If it wasn't for Eric and his moods, life would be perfect, even in this strange land so far from home.
He glanced to the Cavalier, a good distance ahead, and wondered what was up with him this time. In the weeks since their run in with the big, bad No Name and their escape from the Underworld, Eric had been prone to major swings in mood. He was the one member of the group that was in constant flux. He could be callous, arrogant and deeply annoying, but there was a compassionate streak in him that could never be properly hidden, no matter how hard the Cavalier tried. But these days all he seemed to do was sulk or argue. Something had to be done.
Sheila noticed his glance.
'He's behaving oddly, even for a Cavalier,' she observed with a rueful smile. 'But the silence today makes a nice change.'
Hank smiled too. 'But something's wrong, and he won't talk to me.'
Sheila nodded, her red hair glittering in the sunshine.
'Should I try?' she asked.
Hank didn't reply immediately, but pursed his lips. Eric's mood could lift within a few hours, and he might be easier to talk to if he wasn't sulking.
'Wait for a while, see what he's like later.'
But as the day drew on, and the mushrooms grew taller and wider, no one got any happier. Heavy, dark clouds drifted in from the horizon and as soon as they found a good mushroom to shelter under for lunch, the rain started.
By the time they had stopped eating, the rain was coming down thick and hard, and they would have been soaked the instant they stepped out from the protection of the mushroom.
So they waited while Presto tried to get something waterproof out of his Hat. Eric seemed a little better, and only offered the Magician his constructive criticism twice. But after an hour of trying, and having exhausted all the rhymes for 'dry' he could think of, all they had were three umbrellas of varying colours, two raincoats (one only big enough for Bobby) and a pair of giant galoshes that looked more like big, black clown shoes, as well as the usual pile of unusable junk that the Hat seemed to delight in producing for its master.
That turned out to be the simple part of the morning. Diving the spoils took another half hour of wrangling and diplomacy until everyone was ready to leave with at least some parts protected from the ferocious rain. By now, the Cavalier sulking even more as he sloped off under his Shield, having refused to wear the giant galoshes.
Hank sighed. It was going to be a very long day.
Eric gave a long, painful yawn, aware of the squelching footsteps behind him. He held his shield on top of his head, but the rain seemed to trickle over it, down to his hand and arm, and he could feel cold water seeping through his mail shirt.
'I'm probably going to rust,' he said to himself, and yawned again, making his eyes water. 'I hate this stupid place.'
He walked past sodden mushroom after sodden mushroom in a haze, wishing that he had slept better. What he wouldn't give for a lovely, long, uninterrupted sleep and peaceful dreams. It didn't even have to be in a bed, just a good rest would be perfect. Even the Realm could be pleasant after a good sleep. What he wouldn't give for that wonderful four-poster bed in his Father's mansion. Heaven.
'What are you thinking about to make you smile like that?' asked a voice beside him, making him jump.
'Oh! Hi Sheila,' he said.
The Thief looked up at him expectantly. He had to reply.
'Well, home, naturally. A warm bed, a decent raincoat and boots, followed by TV, popcorn and burgers.'
He looked at her lovely green eyes, and red hair that seemed to glow even in the rain, and glanced back to Hank, who was watching them from afar. They might try to hide it, but those two were almost inseparable. And, judging by the expression on his face, Hank had obviously put her up to this.
'What's wrong, Eric?' She said it so gently, that he couldn't bring himself to snap back at her, but he didn't reply. 'Is it something about No Name?'
He looked at her in surprise. She'd guessed! How?
Sheila gave him a sad smile, and said:
'I know you feel really bad, about opening the box in the first place. But no one blames you Eric.'
He shrugged, secretly relieved. She had no idea.
'That is what's bothering you? Isn't it?'
What could he say? He couldn't bring himself to tell anyone the truth, least of all her, the one they all depended on to have hope and strength for the future. How could he explain anyway? How could he explain the fear? How could he share the knowledge that he was trapped here forever, that he was stuck in this Realm of the rest of his life, no matter what he did? She would just tell him that he needs to keep his hopes up, but she was wrong.
Venger's Master knows. And No-Name showed him.
He didn't know why he did it, he couldn't stop himself in spite of the Dungeonmaster's warning. A memory came back of that day.
He was sitting next to Dungeonmaster, in full view of the oncoming storm, that towering pillar of fire that had followed them relentlessly over the realm, destroying everything it passed.
'Listen carefully my children,' said Dungeonmaster, having to shout to make himself heard. ' The instant before he strikes he will reveal his face. No matter what happens, you must not look at it.'
Eric hadn't closed his eyes like the rest of them. For some reason he kept watching the fire approach. He heard Presto ask:
'What's that thing waiting for?'
Before he could stop himself, the retort had slipped out.
'Yeah, what is he, chicken?' He realised what he had said. They were facing possibly the final few moments of their lives, and what did he do? Quip!
'Sorry just kidding, just…'
The tower shuddered to a halt and, instead of letting his eyes close as his brain had wanted them to, he glanced up to look into those deep yellow eyes just for a second, just for the tiniest part of a second.
That was all it took.
Dungeonmaster had warned them, but he couldn't help it. It was a compulsion he couldn't resist, even though he had tried. Time had stopped and the thoughts of Venger's evil Master filled his mind in agonising detail. He shivered at the memory of that terrible voice:
- You caused this to happen. You alone summoned me here. Your friends are cursed to remain in this Realm as long as you stay with them. -
-They don't need you. You hold them back. Together you will never get home. Eventually, they will leave you here, trapped forever. It is their only way home. –
-YOU ARE MINE. –
Sheila wouldn't understand. It would be easier to let her think something else, anything else, was the problem. He gave a half-hearted smile, but before he could speak, there was a sudden shout from behind. They both turned.
Four giant black spiders, each ridden by a thin Dark Elf, were charging at the others. The Elves armed with slingshots and the spiders spat thick web in all directions. Web had already pinned Uni to the ground, and she was whinnying plaintively.
The lead Elf seemed to notice the Cavalier and the Thief and urged his spider towards them, rising in the saddle to get a clear shot.
Before Sheila could reach her Cloak, or Eric had even thought about beginning to react, the approaching spider aimed web straight at the Thief, catching her arm and pinning her to a nearby mushroom. The Elf howled in triumph, and aimed his slingshot. Eric stood stupidly, just watching, when a bolt of golden light suddenly knocked the Elf forward. Another flew past, melting the web around Sheila.
The ground around him shook as Bobby sent a wave of earth towards the Elf that threatened his sister and both spider and rider were knocked off balance. Sheila took only a few seconds to recover, before running forward to help the terrified unicorn.
Eric blinked slowly, unable to understand what was wrong. Everything was moving except him. Hank was firing arrows at the spiders while Bobby was sending mushrooms flying with his Club. Diana had knocked one of the Elf riders off his mount and was chasing the spider, probably with the intention of riding it herself.
The Cavalier glanced to Presto, crouching on the ground under a mushroom, waving his fingers over the Hat.
'Don't worry about those riders -
We need something to get rid of the spiders!'
So intently was he working on his spell that he didn't seem notice another rider heading directly for him. The Hat didn't even twitch, and the Elf was within striking distance of Presto, slingshot at the ready.
Eric sprinted forward, holding his Shield up as the Elf fired then dived forward through the mud, desperately hoping that he was close enough. He slid past a surprised-looking Presto in a shower of dank water, and heard the dull clunk as the shot bounced off his Shield.
With a smile he turned to Presto, expecting congratulations, but the Magician was struggling with his Hat, which was suddenly bulging along the seams. His hands were shaking from the effort.
There was a loud ripping sound and two giant sparrows, each the size of an elephant, exploded from the Hat and soared into the air towards the spiders.
Hank fired at the Elves, as their panicking steeds bolted for cover, trying to avoid the birds and the mushrooms Bobby was hitting at them.
It only took a minute before they had been driven off completely. The sparrows circled round once, then flew off, still following the spiders.
'Say, those guys weren't friendly,' said Eric casually, as the group gathered round Presto.
The Cavalier stood up slowly, muddy water dripping off him. 'What did you think of that slide. Kinda cool, huh?' He looked to Diana, then Hank, but saw only frowns of disapproval.
'What'd I say?' he said.
Hank stood beside Sheila, holding her protectively round the shoulders, and glared at him.
'What were you thinking of, Eric?' he demanded. 'Why didn't you help her?'
'Well, I, sorta did, in a way. I mean, I helped Presto.'
'Eventually,' put in the Acrobat, 'We all saw you standing there, watching with your mouth open like you were at the Superbowl. Thank goodness for Hank!'
Eric gave a surly humph.
'Yeah, well, I had everything under control until Mr Golden-Arrows over there showed up. She was in no danger.'
'That's easy for you to say, you weren't the one under attack.'
'Hey, I saved Presto!'
Presto opened his mouth to say something, but Hank interrupted.
'There should have been no need for that, if you had been watching out, like the rest of us. You have a job to do. Everyone has problems, Eric, but we still pull our weight, and look out for our friends. You should have been paying attention, I can't do everything.'
'Ok, I made a mistake, sorr-ee for being human.' He looked away, unable to meet Hanks gaze.
'But we are all ok,' said Sheila, 'There's no damage done. Let's go before they come back.'
But Hank didn't give up. He was still glaring at the Cavalier.
'What's got into you recently?' demanded the Ranger.
'We all want to get home, but we have to stick together.'
Eric flinched as if Hank had struck him. All he could hear were the words Venger's Master had spoken. – They don't need you. Eventually, they will leave you here, trapped forever. It is their only way home. -
Hank seemed to realise he'd said something wrong, but before he could speak again Eric cut in.
'I would do just fine without you! I could get home without your help! Easy!'
Bobby gave a snort, followed a second later another from Uni.
'You wouldn't last five minutes on your own,' he said.
It was too much to ignore. He wasn't going to take this, not today.
'Fine,' he snapped at the Barbarian. 'Maybe I'll see you later, if you can keep up.'
He turned, and stomped off, not looking behind him and hoping they hadn't heard the shake in his voice.
Naturally, under the circumstances, he should have been more a lot more careful. It was just a silly mistake, a little error that anyone could have made: left fork, not right fork. When the others did eventually find him, four hours later, in the midst of all those mushrooms, he was arguing with a pale green Imp that was locked in the centre of a crystal.
The Imp saw them first. It broke off what it was saying, let out an ear splitting eeep, and started to jump up and down.
Eric looked round, feeling a mixture of surprise, relief and annoyance. They had taken long enough.
'Hey, Eric, there you are at last!' called Diana, 'What have you found?'
The Cavalier gave a scowl. He just knew that Imp was going to be trouble.
The Imp fluttered its wings pathetically, unable to stretch them out in the cramped interior of the crystal. It was small, about the same height as Uni, with iridescent double-wings and thick, velvety, green fur.
'Oh brother,' muttered the Cavalier. 'This is all I need.'
'It's lovely!' Sheila, running up to the crystal. 'What is it? Who are you?' The Imp waved frantically at her, gesturing at the crystal. 'We should let it out.'
'No!' snapped Eric. 'You weren't here earlier. It wasn't like this.' He did a short impression of the Imp, dancing around with a sickly sweet expression on his face, hands fluttering at his shoulders. 'It's dangerous.' He turned to Sheila. 'You shouldn't encourage it.'
Bobby stepped forward, swinging his club.
'I can take care of this,' he said proudly. And before Eric could stop him, the Barbarian hit the crystal low on the left side, shattering it in a cloud of glittering lights.
The Imp soared up into the air, emitting a cascade of eeeps in joyful celebration of its freedom. They all watched it flutter around, before it finally settled on the ground close to Sheila and Bobby.
Eric gave it a surly frown, his heart sinking.
'Ok, so you're free. Now go away!'
There was a disgruntled bleah from the little unicorn, and she sidled up to Bobby protectively.
'Don't be jealous, Uni. He's just an Imp. He's ok.'
But the unicorn still looked at the Imp suspiciously. Eric gave a slight smile. It had been a long time since he and Uni had agreed on anything.
'I told you not to free it,' he said, 'It'll only cause trouble.'
It hissed at him, and scampered off to hide behind Hank's legs for protection. The others gathered round and it rubbed affectionately into Diana's hand as she bent down to pet it.
Eric looked on, with a faint sneer and said:
'Oh, please. That's just embarrassing!'
'I didn't see you trying to help it,' said Diana loudly.
'Quit bugging me about it!' said Eric. 'And what are you doing here anyway?'
'We came to find you. You missed the sign. You're headed back to the village.'
Inside, Eric cringed. Back to the village? How? He had been so careful.
'And now we are late,' added Hank. 'The suns will be down soon, we'll have to camp out tonight.'
Eric was about to snap back, something about not needing help, when he saw the Imp smirk at him.
'Master found me!' it squeaked. 'Master brought his friends to free me! One Wish is yours, as thanks for my freedom.'
The others looked at Eric expectantly, sudden hope kindled in their hearts. But Eric wasn't really listening.
'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' he drawled sarcastically, 'I wish things had been different, but...'
He didn't get a chance to finish. There was a high-pitched giggle from the Imp and it clapped its hands once before disappearing in a thick cloud of purple smoke. The smoke didn't dissipate, but engulfed them all, and Eric heard muffled coughs close by. He couldn't even see his hand in front of his face.
Suddenly, there was a wet gurgling, like a semi-blocked plughole drawing down water, and the smoke vanished. Eric looked around.
The scenery was the same, they were in the same positions as before but something was very different. The person that caught his attention first was Hank, with his Viking helmet and furry shorts that showed off his muscular legs. Very Conan. In his left hand he held the Barbarian's Club.
Bobby was Barbarian no longer. Dressed from head to foot in flowing green robes with the Magician's Hat flopping into his eyes, he looked ridiculous. But not as ridiculous as Presto, resplendent in his new and entirely unflattering Acrobat attire, complete with golden armbands and collar, and fluffy brown swimming trunks that made him look even paler and gawkier than usual.
Eric glanced to Diana, with her new lilac dress, long boots and Thief's Cloak. Sheila stepped forward, looking around at the others, stunned too. Eric glared at her. She was holding his Shield, HIS Shield, and wearing the close-fitting uniform of a Cavalier.
He looked down to the weapon in his hand, the heavy Bow that was carried by the Ranger. No chainmail, no Shield, no red cloak.
He stared at the Bow for a number of seconds then looked up, a sarcastic comment already forming. But he didn't speak. No one had said anything as they looked at each other, but they were all looking at him identical expressions of disappointment and fury on their faces.
'This is your fault, Eric.'