A FANTASY LAND
June 18, 2013
A pungent miasma circulated the basement; a stench that told a story of Ruffles, Coke, Twizzlers, and sweat. The source of the odor came from a round table in the center of the basement, and around it sat four champions of good and their dungeon master; in the center of the table sat a dozen rulebooks for Dungeons and Dragons. The clatter of dice resounded through the room as the game passed through day and night, and eventually passing over a seven hour game session. These champions of good, called Tim, Hayden, Kyle, and Xavier had delved into the deepest dungeons, had slain many vile beasts and other nefarious enemies, all of which set forth by Dean the Dungeon Master. In normal life, the five boys were ostracized to a lesser degree in Middle School due to their hobbies and pursuits, such as Lord of the Rings or Star Trek; anything along such lines received repugnance from the majority of the school. It was only Dean’s parents that had tolerated this hobby of theirs, so it was in Dean’s basement that they played in every Saturday.
Despite this repugnance, the boys continued delving into Dean’s world and playing the adventures he created or the modules they bought, ever attracted by the glint of gold and sanctuary from society. However, the boys did not enter this world of fantasy as themselves. Tim became Timotaíne, a human wizard who coveted power and was followed by his raven familiar. Hayden became Haldr, a strong-built human warrior of Nordic descent who wielded a magical blade and shield. Kyle had named his agile elven ranger after a character in the Lord of the Rings: Celeborn. Xavier changed to the dwarf skald Adrik, who acted as the group’s leader. Their character sheets were worn from years of play; graffiti, creases, and stains were scattered about each like Dean’s own dice… of which he had dozens.
Dean returned from the bright world above, a fresh bag of Ruffles in each hand. “Champions! This night we feast,” he exclaimed. His bounty was welcomed with hardy cheers from the boys sitting around the worn wooden table. “Those were some good encounters before, really sucked me into your game, Dean. God, I needed an escape like that; my parents really haven’t been all that great recently,” announced Tim to the party, “But hopefully I can get some better roles this turn… I’ve had rotten luck!” he added. All felt Tim’s anguish; each of the boys were kicked around at school, but to have difficulties with parents was just the cherry on top of the sundae. Tim’s statement rang true for all of them and their hardships: this was a healthy escape.
Dean took his seat and raised the Dungeon Master screen, which blocked the prying eyes of the players, and resumed their place after a vicious orc ambush. Now their break had ended, their rations of Ruffles refreshed, and they saluted Dean’s American banner hanging on the west wall before playing again.
The chilling winds of the North bit the four companions as they trudged up the path thick with years of snow. The blood that had lined Haldr’s blade had long since frozen from the ambush not an hour ago. The mountain peak continued to tower above, making their quarry seem utterly hopeless no matter how far they trekked. Adrik’s gravelly voice sounded over the shrieking winds “The thoughts of treasure will keep you warm, gentlemen. The distance between us and him grows minimal.” Celeborn, whose light feet slid effortlessly over the snow, responded “Ha, I will carve myself a new cloak from his icy scales!” This received grunts of approval from the whole company. No birds flew these winds, and no winter hares or deer bounded through the white blankets; it was completely desolate of life, the area being nigh unbearable of sustained existence with the presence of the terror atop the mountain peak.
Celeborn read all of this through his trained tracking eyes as a scholar reads his tomes. The aching limbs and frozen appendages of the companions told a tale of a truly arduous journey, but it was the rumor of golden lakes of treasure and fine gems that drove them onward through blizzard and shield wall alike.
“Timotaíne, can you alleviate this thrice-damned storm?” Haldr howled. Yet with all of his magic, Timotaíne could not give remedy to the situation; he only knew that it was at the hands of an opposing magic-user. “Nay, it is a foul voice that carries the wind along.”
Tim sighed and began drumming his fingers on the table. “Dean, my Wisdom score is 25… that’s insanely good and you know it! Why can’t I block the wind? It’s slowing us down and giving us an Endurance skill check every round, too.”
“Sorry man, but the dice say that the dragon’s Arcana skill given bonus really helps out anything I roll for him attack-wise. You all might just have to deal with it.”
“Great. You know, you’re starting to sound like my folks.”
Xavier intervened before any bad emotions spilt forth. “Hey it’s all good, Tim! Adrik can just use his axe as a shovel and help clear the snow out from ahead like Gandalf did with his staff in the Fellowship, or Haldr can take point and use his shield to block some of the wind.”
“To Kord with it all!” roared Haldr as he braced his shield against the wind as maelstrom waves break upon a lone spire along the shore. Adrik and Celeborn cheered on their companion and marched behind in his wake, free from the wind; it was Timotaíne who would not easily allow himself to be triumphed over by any dragon or companion alike. When the time came, Timotaíne decided that he would be the one to give the killing blow to the dragon.
The violet evening sky and silver studs filled the cloudless sky, the harsh Northern winds had long since dissipated and were now a memory of great effort and chill. The faint outline of a path meandered its way up the side of the peak and into the maw of a cave, its long icicles fangs that looked as if they could chomp down upon any prey that would walk upon its tongue. “If he is anywhere on this peak, I bet a hundred gold coins that the beast made its layer yonder,” said Adrik, pointing a stubby dwarf finger at the cave.
“Celeborn, what do you hear with your elven ears?”
Dean’s dice clattered on the table. “Kyle, what is Celeborn’s Perception skill?”
“You pass the Perception check, and hear—”
Tim’s lip curled in anger, his face turning a slight pink. “Oh but of course when Kyle makes any skill check he passes, huh Dean? Kyle’s parents love him.” A foul and confused expression passed Kyle’s face. Sure, his parents loved him, but did his school crush Cheyenne love him or even acknowledge his existence? Did ‘Butch the Bull’, a notorious bully, ever cease to plague him with mocked questions about hobbits, as well as convincing a number of kids like him to do the same? The answer was no, but Kyle loved his friend as kin and remained silent.
“Tim, his elven racial traits gi—”
“Whatever, just keep rolling your dice…”
Celeborn lifted his head to the sky, his eyes closed, his long golden hair pushed back by the evening breeze. They were silent, only the sound of the desolate mountain ringing in their ears. “His breathing is sporadic, but he dares not move. He lies in ambush. Companions, whatever hope we had in surprising the worm is gone!” Haldr swore to his Norse gods underneath his breath, and Adrik took a long pull of dwarven ale from his ram horn travel-tankard. “We knew it was to be a hard fight… Alright, I’ll go in first, Haldr comes in at my side, with Celeborn and Timotaíne providing a good wall of spells and arrows. Good?” The companions agreed. They unsheathed weapons, readied spellcraft, and notched arrows. They charged the maw of the cave and found themselves in a vast cavern with walls of pure ice, bodies of old champions and trophies of the dragon frozen into them. The cavern was lined with gold, its shine dulled to a dark yellow in the lack of light; but behind the beast is where most of it was piled.
There he stood, fifty feet off the ground and his lithe form tucked behind him, his white scales glimmering like chips from a glacier. Its claws were like blades of ice, its teeth daggers. Malevolent cunning filled its blue eyes. It roared and a freezing blast of winter erupted forth from its mouth in a cone. The companions dodged, and the combat began.
Adrik and Haldr ducked underneath its legs and belly, slashing and weaving with axe and sword, blood spilling freely from tender slits between scales. Arrows ricocheted off his wings and hide, rarely finding a weakness. Timotaíne had a fireball spell set, but he had to get closer to the dragon to ensure a hit! He ran forward, his feet occasionally sliding on the ice. “ADRIK! HALDR! OUT OF THE WAY!” he yelled, and lowered his staff towards the torso of the opponent. They rolled out to the side, and a bright flame began to grow at the end of Timotaíne’s staff. However, the dragon was old and experienced with such heroic types; and he had tasted fire magic, to his displeasure. The dragon, with unperceived agility, reached forward with his jaws and snapped down upon Timotaíne. Only his lower torso remained — his once dark green robes now dyed crimson, and his staff lying in a pool of blood.
The room was silent. Dean stared down at his twenty-sided die, eyes wide with surprise and grief for Timotaíne. The die had been rolled for the dragon’s attack; it was visible to all, and it read ‘20’. The five knew perfectly well of what just happened. “I- I’m dead? Timotaíne… is dead?” his question was answered in silence, and eventually Dean murmured “Sorry, Tim.” It all unraveled for Tim, all the fantasy games he had played, all the adventures through dungeons with his friends… Tears began to flow. None of it was real.
“I had that character for five years. None of this is real.”
“It’s gonna be O—”
“No it won’t! All these games we play, all this about Middle Earth, about Star Trek, not a bit of it is real! It’s all a lie! In reality, this stuff doesn’t just pop up when you’re in school or at work, it still leaves you dealing with drunk bum parents all the time! People are still raped and sold in black markets, people still kill each other because their gods are different, and people still commit suicide! Dungeons and Dragons doesn’t change a single one of those; it can’t stop war! In real life, we don’t just stroll into icy caves and slaughter its inhabitants for the pile of gold behind it! We are still pushed around and mocked all day! Just last week a kid did some geeky accent and yelled “Lighting Bolt!” after he threw a book at me! When we take a reality check on this whole world situation or this fantasy land we created here, we see that all of that sin still happens today, and no matter what way you spin it, it will still be there, just maybe at a different angle.”
“But is it not still an escape from the rest of the world, my friend? That’s why people play, Tim; they know this reality is sick and even more twisted that any world I can generate. We play because of that exact reason; we don’t want to face the real world.”
Tim’s tears dried; he had never quite thought of it such a way. Wounds can be licked and healed, and the harsh nature of reality can be lessened through many means… one of them being to enter a fantasy land. Empathetic friends patted his back; everyone in the room felt his anguish.
This story, written by a good friend of HiLobrow, recently took first place in the Wyoming State Reading Council’s Young Authors Competition, in the 10th Grade Fiction category. We are grateful for permission to publish it here.
MORE ORIGINAL FICTION from HILOBROW: James Parker’s swearing-animal fable The Ballad of Cocky The Fox, later published in limited-edition paperback by HiLoBooks; plus: a newsletter, The Sniffer, by Patrick Cates, and further stories: “The Cockarillion”) | Karinne Keithley Syers’s hollow-earth adventure Linda, later published in limited-edition paperback; plus: ukulele music, and a “Floating Appendix”) | Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention, published by Red Lemonade | Robert Waldron’s high-school campus roman à clef The School on the Fens | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD by Stephen Burt | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | EPIC WINS: GOTHAMIAD by Chad Parmenter | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”