Reads: 106

Once upon a time, I became best friends with Neil Ferris. We were in the same pre-school, and went on many adventures long before we found ourselves in this one. We would build castles and try to dig our way to other worlds in the sandbox. We would pretend we were warriors and wizards. He was always funny without meaning to, and always had the best one-liners. Then along came Stephanie Abraham. 

Stephanie moved to Burrow, Maine in the third grade. Her and Neil’s parents worked together, and through him I saw her a lot. We, too, eventually became friends. She was strong-willed yet sweet, and always knew the right thing to say. Her friendship made me better. She was my first kiss. We ended up going to college together, and eventually got married in her backyard. Now we all live in Granger. Steph’s in law school. I’m an assistant coach at my old high school. 

Hugh and I met freshman year on the soccer team. He would join us for game nights where we tried out all sorts of role playing games. Dungeons and Dragons was his favorite. Sometimes others would sometimes join us. Not all of them were as into it as we were. Rachel Monroe, one of Hugh’s previous relationships, famously said we were “childish”. We didn’t see Hugh for a while after that, not until after we returned to Maine a few years after college. 

Neil, on the other hand, always stayed in touch the entire time. We would share our summers together, spending it in our humble laketown. It felt like that was long ago, when we would go to the beach and skip rocks. He now works at The Granger News as a writer. He always loved writing. He was good at it too.

One fateful night we all went out for drinks to celebrate Steph’s and my engagement. Hugh and his girlfriend Rachel happened to be there. After exchanging pleasantries and congratulations, we began to reminisce. Neil then told us he was building a game. It was only a hobby right now, but we couldn’t help but be intrigued. 

Then he told us about the fictional worlds he and I built together when we were kids. We had never told anyone before. But he wanted to make a game out of it. He wanted to make it as real as possible. That was enough for Hugh to join us for game nights again, with Rachel who had never role played before. Neil promised it would be easy for beginners.. 

We helped Neil with his project on the side. Together, Hugh and I created a system by which the game would run. It was mostly free roam, but had main and side quests like Dungeons & Dragons. We made stats and statuses, and little details to really immerse the player. If only I had known how immersive it would be. 

Now, here we were, in the fantasy world that we built. I confess I have forgotten much of the worlds Neil and I created when we were young. Now I needed to remember. Our lives might depend on it.

I was happy to have the bow. I learned archery at summer camps. I was a good shot, but Steph was even better. She refused to take it though. She said she liked what she had. Her sword was a saber, and her pistol a musketeer’s wheellock. The bandolier contained more gunpowder and bullets.

We reached Brighton hungry and tired. It was early afternoon. To our astonishment, the gates were guarded by two anthropomorphic mice in soldier’s clothing. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing at first. As we entered the city, a mouse wearing  a jerkin of red and blue with a matching hat and nothing else turned the corner of the street. Upon seeing us, he broke into a run right at us. We stood our ground. He was large for a mouse, but only stood four feet tall and had fur the color of desert sand. 

He slowed down as he reached us, and if bursting into runs was normal, started a conversation.

“Greetings, adventurers! I am Langrius Fluffle, steward of Lord Roman. His Lordship is delighted that you have come all this way for a town as modest as ours, and wishes to invite you to his banquet tonight.”

We still had not yet gotten over the shock of seeing an oversized mouse running on its hind legs. Once again, we all looked at Steph. 

“Greetings steward,” she began. “We would be delighted to dine with his lordship tonight. Would you be so kind as to lead the way?

Satisfied with her answer, Langrius nodded fiercely, causing his whiskers to bounce up and down. 

“Follow me, brave adventurers. We make way for Lord Roman’s keep.” He turned and started off, leaving us to follow. 

Neil warned us in advance what we would be up against. But he seemed just as surprised as the mice people. 

According to Neil, Brighton had a bit of a zombie problem. Every night, the dead would rise from their graves to return in the morning. Those who crossed their path met unfortunate consequences. They were all under the control of some necromancer, who we would need to defeat to free the town. He was located somewhere in a crypt below the sewers.

But first we had to meet the lord of this land, who resided in his keep, safe from the troubles of the undead.

But Langrius began to exposition what we already knew. A cursed city. A frightful enemy. A need for a hero. I was trying not to listen and get attached to any characters. The memory of what happened to the last one was still fresh in my mind.

The town outside the keep was made for the mouse people in size and scale. Houses of stone and wood lined the streets framed by gutters. My stomach churned at the thought of wading through that stinking water.

We made our way through a marketplace, crowded with mice. It was a bazaar, with many tents set up selling all sorts of items and trinkets. I made a mental note to visit it later.

The steward was done talking by the time we reached the keep. Although it was built for mouse people, the main gate was tall enough that I barely had to duck my head. The moment I stepped inside I recognized it. It was the box fortress that Neil and I built when we were seven. It took us forever to assemble it. Here it was, only larger and made of stone walls instead of cardboard.

Servants and guards stood to the side, staring at us with black, intelligent eyes. They too, were mice, and roamed the courtyard busily. Steward Fluffle took us to a tower with a balcony, and upon realizing we were not tall enough to fit inside, whispered “wait here” and scarpered off. 

We could hear him running up the steps and into a chamber. The windows were wide open and we could hear everything going on inside. 

“My lord,” said Langrius, “Adventurers have arrived. They seem eager to help us with our problem.”

“About bloody time!” said a gruff voice who we presumed to be Lord Roman. “Alright, send them in.”

“I cannot, Lord Roman. They are simply too large. May I suggest meeting them on the balcony?”

“Too bloody large? The insolence! Making me.... Very well, tell them I’ll be right there.”

Footsteps pattered down the stairs as the steward made his way back to us. Sweat glistened on his furry brow as he emerged from the tower. 

“Lord Rowan will meet you on the balcony,” he said and flourished his arm upwards.

No joke, this mouse had a beard. A wavy, silky beard. He was also extremely fat. He wore fine clothes that had been attempted to be tailored to a mouse of his size, yet bulged at the seams. All in all, he was the ugliest mouse I had ever seen. 

“Oh sod, they are large. And what peculiar clothes they wear.” Lord Rowan said audibly under his breath.

“Ahem,” he started anew. “Greetings adventurers. I am Lord Jupiter Roman, third of his name. It is fortunate that you should arrive at this time.”

“Yeah,” said Hugh, “we heard about your ‘problem.’”

Lord Roman continued as if he was not interrupted, but his voice got a little bit louder. “It is fortunate that you should arrive at this time of day, for our enemy stalks the night. It would be wise for you to attack it at its source while it is at its weakest. You may want to hurry though. The sun will set in a few hours.

“Thank you for your advice, my liege,” I said. “Where may we find the entrance to the sewers?”

“How do you- nevermind. The steward shall deliver you to the entrance.”

“That will do,” said Steph. “We thank you again for your help.”

“Atta boys and girls,” he yawned. “I shall see you again upon your successful return.” He waved and backed into his chambers, closing the door behind him.

“Come,” said Langrius. “There is an entrance not far from here.”

He led us out of the keep, and back through the town. He led us down streets until we reached a tall thin door. “This will lead you down into the sewers. I am afraid I have no idea where to go from there. Best of luck, adventurers. We are counting on you.

“One final thing- the crypt requires a key. I happen to have it. Here adventurers, it should be yours.” From his jerkin he pulled an iron key. He turned and departed quickly to engage in his next task. No pressure, then.

“Our first dungeon.” Neil said. Part of me wondered if he was enjoying this. Part of me wondered if I was.

As I predicted, the sewers smelled awful. However there was a walkway above the river of filth. Light and sound crept in from the grates above us, illuminating the corridors. We were about to begin navigating the maze of tunnels when Stephanie said “wait”. She picked up a rock and used it to mark the wall with an arrow, indicating which way the exit was. 

“There,” she said. “I for one don’t want to get lost down here.”

We searched the tunnels, scratching directions into the walls. After what felt like half an hour we found a gate with an iron lock that matched the key. The hinges were pristine but the bars around the gate were rusted. Hugh was just about to unlock it when all hell broke loose. 

Two skeletal rodents burst out of the sewer water behind us, screeching loudly. We all jumped and spun around. They charged at us, giving me no time to nock an arrow. At the last moment Stephanie stepped between us and swung her sword. The first skeletal rodent shattered on the impact. The other one jumped back. I took the opportunity to shoot it, causing it to shatter too.  A warmth went through my hand. A similar warmth that I felt when I shot the Beast.

“We need to be more on guard,” commented Neil. “Random battles are bound to happen in dungeons.”

 

A light came from around the corner. Stephanie went first, discovering the entrance to the crypt. We found two torches in sconces, already lit. 

Neil and Hugh took them. Steph was elected to go first, with her shield at the ready. We descended into the darkness. 

The dungeon was made of three layers. According to Neil, the first layer was traps to fend off tomb raiders like ourselves. We made our way through the first floor pretty easily. Neil pointed out all the trip wires and pressure plates. He confessed he made this an easy dungeon because he didn’t want us to get discouraged too early. I knew that implied things were going to get a lot harder.

We reached the end of the first layer. Neil thought he heard something. We waited but it was silent.

A pack of undead mice waited for us. There was one for each of us. Each was of similar size to the mice we saw above ground. If this were a video game, I thought, there would have been battle music.

The fighting started. Steph and the others circled around to give me a clear shot. I planted my feet, nocked an arrow, drew the bow and breathed.

I released the arrow. It disappeared into the dark. One of the skeletal rodents broke away from the pack and began stalking its way over to me. I should have panicked. I was in a fantasy world, with a large skeleton coming my way. There was no way this should have made sense. But instead I felt a strange, calm anticipation.

The creature was almost on top of me when I shot again, point blank. The arrow burrowed into the skull, shattering it. The rest of the skeleton collapsed. My hand warmed again.

I readied another arrow. Rachel cowered behind Hugh. Clearly she still had no idea how to use her wand. I shot another skeleton in the ribs. Neil finished it off and Steph cut down the last one. We stood there panting.

“Why, in the living fuck, did I not choose the battlemage?” asked Hugh. He always loved playing magic users, like Rachel. They were the Hogwarts duo. “This cape is supposed to be able to do anything! But it doesn’t even have pockets.

“It doesn’t need pockets.” Neil said. He remembered something. “Try putting your torch into your cape.”

Hugh was skeptical. He carefully raised his cape and slowly brought the torch to it. To our amazement, the torch disappeared into thin air.

“Now try pulling it out again.”

Hugh grasped at the air where the torch disappeared, and sure enough, the torch reappeared in his hand.

“Okay,” he grinned. “That is cool.”

“What about my wand? Do you have to be born a witch or something?” asked Rachel.

“I admit, I don’t know too much about catalysts,” claimed Neil. “I only wrote a little bit of lore to them. We’re just going to have to figure that out as we go along.”

We stood at the top of the stairs to the next level. A sickly green mist crept up towards us.

“We need to get ready,” said Neil. “The necromancer is supposed to be harder than the Beast. He’s going to keep resurrecting minions so we should focus on him.”

We were in dead man’s land. Steph took a breath and made her way downstairs. We followed.

The necromancer stood at the end of the chamber with his back to us.The green mist covered the floor. 

Steph took a step forward. I readied my bow.

“Foolish.” said the necromancer in a familiar high pitch voice. “You should have left Brighton alone. Prepare to join my army in service to the dark lord!” He turned around. Under the black hood a sandy snout protruded.

“Steward Fluffle?” I said. “Is that you?”

“Yes! I haved lived under the tyranny of Lord Roman for far too long. The dark lord promised me a lordship if I could depose him. Behold my power!”

He raised a paw and on either side of him more skeletal mice began to form.

I fired. The arrow struck a magic barrier and bounced away. Neil was right. This was going to be a pain. These minions were larger than the other undead we fought. They were also wearing armor and carrying spears. 

“He’s immune to ranged attacks?” I cried. “Neil, why didn’t you mention this?”

“I didn’t know! Some bosses must have random modifiers! I thought you designed boss fights!”

Langrius stayed where he was. Steph and Neil raised their weapons and started forward. I began shooting. The sound of clanging weapons filled the air. One of the minions fell. Langrius waved his hands and the minion rose again. We were getting nowhere. 

Things weren’t looking good. On one side we had Langrius’ impenetrable barrier and a small army of undead. On the other you had us. Five millennial adults who had little to no clue what they were doing.

Think. I had to think. Every enemy had a weak point. There was no way Neil would design a boss that couldn’t be defeated.

I shot another arrow. It ricocheted off the barrier again. I remembered the rule about magic barriers.

“We have to get up close!” I yelled. “Maybe it can’t block melee attacks!”

It was worth a shot. Steph charged forwards and knocked into the skeletons, causing them to fall over. She got up and ran at Langrius. He pointed at her and a dart of green fire hit her in the chest, knocking her down. 

Then Neil was there, swinging the axe. He kept hacking at the necromancer but a skeletal warrior got in between them. More minions started to go for him. I distracted them with a few well placed arrows. 

The undead warrior got the upper hand. It disarmed Neil and with another stroke, drew blood from his arm. Neil yelled in pain and backed away.

Meanwhile, Rachel snuck by the minions as Hugh and I kept them distracted with arrows and thrown rocks. While the necromancer’s back was turned she drove her wand into Langrius’ back like a dagger. Sparks shot out of the end and ignited his robe. We all tumbled back as he instantly went up in an inferno. He gave out an almost comical shriek as he burned. The fire illuminated and warmed the room, along with the smell of burnt flesh.

The minions collapsed and we coughed in the smoke, knowing that it was over.


Submitted: February 01, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Jon Nathaniel. All rights reserved.

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