Days of High Adventurebybashfullyshameless©
Warning: This story contains graphic violence, graphic pre-marital sex, violation of college housing regulations, graphic geekery, multiple dismemberments, impalings, bad language, nudity, drug references, consumption of alcohol, destruction of private property, paganism, theft, arson, slavery, reptile-on-human violence, improper placement of hazardous materials, money laundering, illegal immigration, tax evasion, poor workplace standards, unwed cohabitating couples, kidnapping, assault under color of authority, bearers of false witness, human sacrifice, desecration of religious sites, unsafe work standards and repeated, uncredited film references and/or quotes.
Based on the works of Robert E. Howard and certain roleplaying games falsely accused of Satanic influence. There may be dungeons and/or dragons.
"Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of..."
Amanda read the first lines of Jason's email with an intrigued grin. The thread had already gone on for a few exchanges before she'd gotten to it. She was fairly conscientious about reading personal email at work, even if there was frequently nothing to do at the reception desk.
"As promised," the email went on, "I will be ready to run game on Thursday night. My summer class load is pretty light so I think this campaign can go the distance on my end. Because this campaign is set in Hyboria, there are several character creation restrictions..."
Hearing the office door open, Amanda fought the urge to close her email. This was her scheduled break, though. The one that she was supposed to be able to take away from her desk. She'd have been glad to leave the desk, if Mark would ever actually cover for her like he was supposed to.
It wasn't Mark this time, though. It was Karen and Linda, both striding out in heels and flattering skirts. Amanda spared a fleeting moment to wish she could make business casual look that good on herself. She looked up at them and offered a friendly smile.
"Hey, Sarah," Karen said, "you haven't had any calls for me, have you?"
"No, not today. Um," ventured the young receptionist, "it's Amanda."
"Oh. Sorry," Karen frowned, rolling her eyes. "Amanda. I knew that. Anyway, did he call? Anyone call for me?"
"Nope" Amanda repeated, returning to her bright smile. "It's been quiet today."
"Do we have anyone using the main conference room before lunch?"
"No," Amanda shook her head. "Not until one."
"Okay, well I'm gonna need you to set up the main conference room for a meeting right away," Karen said. "Mr. Nichols might be coming in, and we really need to make a good impression on him, okay? And try not to talk to him much when he comes in. Just smile and offer him a seat and let me know immediately, okay?"
"You've got it," Amanda said. Being told not to talk to clients was galling (really, what was she going to say that would offend them?), but she ignored it. "Anything else I can do?"
"Oh, I doubt it," Linda smirked.
"Anyway. We're going downstairs for just a few minutes," Karen went on. "But we'll be right back."
"I'm on it," Amanda nodded again, already picking up the phone to summon her boss.
"Thanks, Sarah," Karen finished as she and Linda turned to walk down the hallway to the elevators. Amanda winced but let it go. Sooner or later Karen--and a few of the other "wealth managers"--would doubtlessly remember her name.
She'd only been working there for five months.
Her break would have to wait. She closed up her email while she relayed the situation to her boss. "I'll be out to cover in just a minute," Mark told her gruffly. "Go ahead and get started."
She was quick about her task. She ignored the beautiful view of Elliott Bay from the conference room window, focusing instead on straightening up the room; apparently the cleaning crew had taken the night off. The table had to be wiped down, and yet the spray cleaner was missing. Amanda quickly headed for the supply cabinet in the women's restroom.
"...almost wish Mark would still be out there on reception when Nichols gets here," she heard as she opened the door. "Seriously, couldn't we hire a prettier receptionist?"
"Clients don't come here to oggle the receptionist, Karen," Linda replied dryly. Amanda froze. They were right around the corner, doubtlessly at the mirror. The last thing she wanted was to be caught eavesdropping, but she needed the stupid bottle of 409. "Anyway, it's not like she's ugly."
"No, but don't you think she could take care of herself better?" Karen frowned audibly. "I'd be in the gym six hours a day if I had a figure like that. And where'd she get her clothes? Penny's? Does she understand who she's working for?"
Amanda winced. She wanted to scream. Instead, she forced herself to open the closet--thankfully right next to the door--and retrieve what she needed as stealthily as she could.
"She's a college student," Linda said. "How much money do you think she's going to spend on clothes for a part time job?"
"Maybe that's the problem. Maybe we need a real professional. Someone should talk to Mark."
"Why don't you talk to Mark?"
"Mark stares at my tits every time I talk to him."
"Maybe you shouldn't put them on display like that all the time."
"And maybe I'll keep more of my clients if I do."
Linda grunted something dismissive. If anything, the conversation was just idle banter for her. "Masters in Finance from Duke and it still comes down to wearing a bra one size smaller than you need, huh?"
"Oh, like you're one to talk."
Slipping back out again, Amanda hurried to the conference room. The table was soon shining once again, clear enough for Amanda to see her reflection.
She wasn't fat. No supermodel, but certainly not fat. Nor was the face looking back at her from under very plain black hair an ugly face.
Nor could she remember the last time anyone had asked her out.
Amanda returned to the reception desk. Mark vacated her seat, saying only, "Let me know when it's time for your lunch," before he left.
Amanda thought less about lunch and more about hitting the UW gym again. She thought about rearranging her schedule so she could work out five days a week instead of three, and then thought about how much she hated herself for thinking about it. As Karen and Linda passed by the reception desk back to their offices, Amanda forced herself to return their fake smiles and hated herself even more for that, too.
With nothing to be done about it at the moment, she returned to Jason's email.
"Humans only. No dwarves, no elves, no exceptions." That was bound to raise arguments from Robbie, but what came next was an even bigger catch. "No Arcane, Divine or Psionic classes. Magic in Hyboria is typically for bad guys, and this is more or less a good guy campaign. Martial characters and Barbarians are fine, though. Bards are negotiable. In this world, 'civilized' and 'sophisticated' usually just means untrustworthy and evil."
Glancing down the hallway to the offices beyond, Amanda sighed to herself. "Ain't that the truth."
"Does an 18 hit?"
"FAILURE!!" bellowed Eric. His tone was both triumphant and accusatory, as if the tower guard's inability to strike Eric's character somehow shamefully invalidated its entire existence. As if in agreement, Jason buried his face in his hands and then sank behind the dungeon master's screen at the end of the dining room table.
"Guard misses the fighter. Alex," Jason went on, rolling another twenty-sided die, "does a 22 hit your character's Armor Class?"
"FAILURE!" Alex declared.
"You sound like a man now. I'm so proud, grasshopper," Eric grinned smugly. Barely old enough to drink himself, Eric was the true veteran of the gaming group. He had been happy to hand off the Dungeon Master's seat to Jason when he graduated high school, though, as he generally had more time to put interesting games together than Eric did anymore.
Alex rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks, Dad."
"How'd you get your AC so high, though?" Eric asked. "Seriously, mine sucks."
"I got some help on an online forum," Alex shrugged. "Besides, you get Unarmored Agility for free in this campaign."
"That only helps if I don't have any armor," Eric said.
"You're wearing armor?" blinked Robbie. "What the hell for? This is Hyboria. The less armor you wear, the safer you are."
"That makes no sense," Eric protested.
"We went over this already," Jason sighed. "You don't see Conan wearing armor, do you?"
"He does it all the time in the actual books," Alex noted.
"I'm wearing armor," Amanda piped up.
"Yeah," said Carrie. "My rogue is wearing armor, too."
"That's different," Robbie shook his head. "You're chicks. Armor for you in Hyboria is like bikinis. Chain mail lingerie and whatever."
Glancing at one another for only a moment, Amanda and Carrie pelted Robbie with dice. "Jason!" Robbie snickered, "tell 'em I'm not wrong!"
"Yeah, Jason," Carrie goaded him, "go right ahead. Say I'm wearing chain mail lingerie. Say it and I'll cut you."
"That's it for the bad guys," Jason moved on, not wanting to test Carrie's threat. He looked up at the others in the dining room, knowing full well where the next round would lead. There were five miniature adventurers on the map of the sorcerer's tower in front of the DM's screen. The minis stood amid a half-dozen Skittles to represent "ordinary" guardsmen, two Hershey's Kisses that marked the sorcerer's remaining lieutenants and the mini-Reese's peanut butter cup that stood in for the sorcerer Bel-Danab himself. "Amanda, you're up," Jason noted.
"Um," Amanda stammered, looking from the map to her character sheet. "Sorry. Um. Okay, I move here," she said, shifting her warrior maiden closer to the Skittles, "aaand I go for Sweeping Blow." She rolled her dice and groaned. "Ugh. No way."
"That was my only multiple-target attack, too. We really can't play wizards?" Amanda sighed. "I'm good with wizards!"
"Only if you want to be evil," Jason shrugged. He leaned forward, grinning at her with a sinister glint in his eye. "Do you wish to journey to Zamora? Vendhya? To demon-haunted Stygia? To read the iron-bound books of Skelos, and talk with unseen creatures in deep wells? Be my guest. You may not like the changes that such experiences make in you."
"Good paraphrasing Howard," Alex mumbled. "But you're totally glossing over things. Hyboria has white magic, too. The alien-elephant guy in 'Tower of the Elephant' said so."
"Oh God, Alex, you read one friggin' book and you think you know everything. And put away my Monster Manual! That's not for you."
Alex shrugged, handing back the book. "I was just checking out the pictures of the ridiculous demon chicks."
"So you're saying there are no good wizards in Hyboria at all? Isn't that a little discriminatory?" Amanda frowned.
"Sounds racist to me," Robbie said.
"Yeah, well, Jason's got a history of racial insensitivity," Alex noted.
"I do not!" Jason protested. "Wizards aren't a race! They're a class and you know it!"
"Oh, so it's class warfare?" Eric pressed. "You're a communist? Is that it?"
"Don't you have a class or something tomorrow?" Jason frowned. "It's your turn now."
"Nag, nag, nag," Eric sighed. He moved his mini into position. "Bait and Switch on Bel-Danab, and...crit," he declared with a grin as the die came up with a natural 20. "Oooh, and I have combat advantage. So that's max weapon damage plus max sneak attack...32 points."
"Dead," Jason said. "Feast upon your kill." As Eric greedily scooped up the mini peanut butter cup, Jason narrated the action. "It's as if everyone on the field knew when to look to their master to see his neck opened up right under his chin. He clutches at the mortal wound, falling backward onto the tiled floor. Yet his blood has only barely stained the dirty ground beneath him before the mystic masque falls from his face. This is not the evil sorcerer Bel-Danab at all! It must have been some minor apprentice!"
"That's not Bel-Danab?" Eric blinked.
"Shh!" Alex hissed, smirking. "Don't say his name! You'll summon him!"
"Oh Jesus," Robbie grumbled, "he's not fucking Volde--"
Amanda cut him off. "Bel-Danab! Bel-Danab! Bel-Danab!" she called out, waving her hands in the air. "What?" she asked, looking at the others. "We're here to kill him, anyway."
"You were that girl in preschool who really did call for Bloody Mary in the bathroom mirror with the lights turned out, weren't you?" Jason asked.
"She totally did," nodded Carrie. "Amanda, that trick only works if you're trying to summon Hastur."
"Anyway," Jason said, trying to get things back on track, "The lieutenants look at one another, seeing that the dead man is not truly their master. They call out, almost as if they know we meant to wrap up an hour ago, 'Retreat! Fall back!'"
"Wow," Eric snorted. "Those are some accommodating guards."
"Aren't they?" Jason smirked. "The other guards are clearly going to obey; do you wish to pursue?" His gaze was met with shaking heads. "Okay," Jason finished, "it's already pretty late. We should wrap it there."
"Seriously," Robbie grinned. "You people need to get the hell out of our apartment. Carrie and I need to go to bed."
Alex was already packing up. "I'm goin', I'm goin'," he said, scooping up his motorcycle helmet and leather jacket.
"Boo," Amanda pouted. "I wanted to kill Bel-Danab."
"Keep saying that name," Alex smirked, "maybe he'll show up in your bedroom tonight and you can have it out with him there."
"Ooooh," she giggled. "If he's cute, maybe we'll have something else out. Jason, is he cute?"
"Huh? What? Um, I guess so?" Jason shrugged as he put manuals and dice in his backpack.
"Bel-Danab! Bel-Danab! Oh, take me, Bel-Danab!" Amanda said, fanning herself while she swooned to one side. Strangely, she felt herself shiver.
"Don't hold back," Eric chuckled. "Let him know how you really feel."
"Out, people," Carrie said. "I need to get to bed. Shoo."
"Thanks for giving me a ride, Eric," Amanda said, looking out the window of his small, beat-up but entirely functional car. "I really appreciate it."
"Not a big deal. It's not like it's out of my way or anything." It was true enough; both lived in UW's adult student housing. "I just need to get some sleep. I've still got a final in the morning."
"Yeah. Sorry for that, too...I mean dragging things out earlier. I know people wanted to go. I just get having a good time with you all and I don't want to go home. Work was crappy today and I'm not looking forward to going back. It's nice to have an escape for a little while."
"I know what you mean. I'll be shocked if I can get any sleep tonight anyway. My roommates are all in party mode for the end of the semester already. All they want to do is get drunk."
Amanda snorted. "Mine just get wasted, too. Kinda sucks. I was happy to get away from my crazy foster parents, and so instead now I get to live with stoners."
"What happened at work?" Eric asked curiously as he parked outside her building.
"Oh, just...I got called sloppy and fat behind my back by women who are prettier and more successful than I'll ever be. Got treated like I don't know how to do my job, too."
"Damn. Amanda, you know that's not true, right?"
She shrugged. "Still. Sucks to hear people talk like that."
"It does, and it's bullshit. I think you're awesome and I know you better than they do. Look, some people just never grow out of high school, you know?"
"Yeah. Well. Here we are still playing the same games, right?"
"No, here we are still hanging out with friends doing whatever we think is fun."
"I guess. Anyway, I didn't mean to dump on you. It's nothing new. I'm not gonna let it get me down. Not long, anyway. Thanks for the ride," she said, getting out.
Eric followed. "Hey, let me walk you to your room, okay?"
The offer stopped her. "Um. Pretty sure I'm safe."
"I know, just..." he shrugged again. "Are you telling me to go away?"
"No," Amanda smiled. The prospect of her roommates seeing a guy walk her to her room made her blush. That would be kind of funny. By now, they'd probably have beer goggles or the stoner equivalent. "Okay. Come on."
Eric walked with her, wondering whether he should hold out his arm or not. He opted not to make it weird. Hearing about her treatment at work made him bristle, but there was nothing to be done about those people now. He could at least remind her that she had friends.
The foyer was littered with beer cans, discarded notebooks and the remnants of a piñata. The elevator was occupied by a couple sitting in one corner, lips locked and clothing disheveled. Amanda and Eric glanced at one another with slightly embarrassed grins, but said nothing until they left the pair once more.
"Two more years of the greatest time of my life," Amanda chuckled ruefully.
"What?" Eric asked. "You don't want to spend Friday night in a pile of foreplay in the elevator?"
"Actually, I wouldn't mind," she admitted. "Anyway. Thanks for giving me a lift. I'll see you next week. We'll get that dirty Bel-Danab yet."
"I thought you wanted to be gotten?"
She laughed. "Oh. Right." She threw her arms in front of her still-closed door. "Bel-Danab, Bel-Danab, take me, baby, Bel-Danab."
Again, Amanda shivered, but other than that nothing much happened. She noticed, though, that there was a green light coming from under the door, along with a strange smell. "Ugh. Yup. Stonerville, WA, once again."
"You could maybe crash at my place...?" Eric thought aloud.
"No, I'm good. Thanks," Amanda said. She pulled out her key and opened her door.
Emerald light and thick smoke greeted her, swirling from a vortex in the center of the living room. Amanda and Eric both looked on in awe. They had but a moment to register that it couldn't have been anything natural.
Then the tentacle, green and thick and covered in warts and boils, burst with lightning quickness from the center of the vortex. It wrapped itself around Amanda's waist. Eric immediately grabbed at it, trying instinctively to wrestle it free even as Amanda herself tried to pry the thing off of her.
It jerked backward with Amanda still firmly in its grip. Eric refused to let go; he, too, was pulled into the vortex. The smoke quickly disappeared. The emerald light faded away. All was quiet.
Poking her head out from her room, one of Amanda's roommates looked around with bleary, bloodshot eyes. She didn't bother to put down the joint in her hand. Kimberly simply strode across the living room to shut the hallway door once more.
Flung roughly to a stone floor, Eric found himself instantly winded and disoriented. Some awful, smoking smell filled his breath. He heard shouting, chanting and bubbling, all from different directions. Flickering lights in red, green and orange fought with dark shadows for space throughout the chamber.
He had just pushed himself up to his hands and knees when someone grabbed his shoulders. Eric was heaved upright to his second horrifying sight of the night: a tall, broad-shouldered, muscular man whose very flesh was boiling and burning away even as he moved. Wide grey eyes that could not close stared at Eric in seeming desperation. A mouth that no longer had lips tried to tell him something in a language he couldn't understand. An eerie green mist poured from his mouth, filling the air that Eric breathed.
Eric screamed in shock. The dying man shook him, trying to convey something but succeeding only in bleeding and melting all over him. Then a blade erupted from his chest, splattering blood all over the frightened young man.
The tentacles came into Eric's view again. This time, they grabbed the charred man and his apparent killer, who was himself dressed in chain mail. Both were jerked high into the air, held aloft with the armored man screaming until the life was squeezed from him.