(Loosely) inspired by The Magnificent Quest by Nettie Roe.
"Why are we doing this again? Surely there must be a reason. An extremely good one, I trust." Ezra Standish eyed the piece of paper, lying on the large circular table in front of him, with extreme disfavor.
"Cause it's the kid here's birthday. Twenty four years old and he wants to play Dungeons and Dragons," Buck snorted and reached out to cuff JD Dunne lightly on the back of his head.
"And why we didn't just buy him the latest electronic equivalent remains a mystery," Ezra muttered, trying to peer over Nathan Jackson's shoulder at the sheet of paper which the other man was frowning over thoughtfully. "Oh no you don't." Nathan clutched the piece of paper to his chest, turning to scowl at the southern agent.
"Come on guys. It'll be fun," JD said coaxingly. He looked hopefully in the sharpshooter's direction. "Don't you think so, Vin?"
Vin looked up and grunted sourly in reply. "That ain't exactly what I'd call it, JD." He lowered his head again to peer closely at the sheet of paper which described the character he was to play.
Chris was methodically tearing little strips of paper off of his own character sheet, his face impassive.
"I'm always open to new experiences. Expanding the mind expands the spirit." Josiah reached for a handful of pretzels and stuffed them into his mouth
"Yeah. You keep eating like that and your spirit ain't gonna be the only thing expanding," Nathan remarked. Josiah just grinned in response.
"What do you say we get started? I can't wait to see what Chris here picked out of the hat," Buck snickered and glanced across the table at the man in question. They had spent the past hour arguing amongst themselves about who got to play what until Chris had finally ordered JD to write down the names and descriptions of seven characters on seperate pieces of paper and put them into his Bat Masterson hat. They each picked one and that was who they were to play. No ifs ands or buts.
"Twelfth level human fighter. Special skills are intimidation and leadership. Weapons include the broadsword and mace." Chris didn't bother to look at what was left of his paper as he recited his attributes.
"And what pray tell are we to call you? Mighty Thewed Wulfram the Barbaric One? Fearless Leader?"
"Oh come on, Ez. His name is..."
"Chris. The name is Chris. Ain't that right, JD?" Green eyes bored holes into the young man.
"Uh yeah. That was it. What did you get, Buck?" JD rushed on, eager to avoid any further comment.
"I'm a knight," Buck stated proudly. He stared at JD in confusion as the younger man suddenly doubled up with laughter. "What's wrong with that?" Buck demanded.
"Nothing," JD gasped. "Just keep reading."
"Ok. But if Chris gets to be called Chris then I want to be called Sir Buck. Not Sir Tinhead or whatever this guy's name is supposed to be." He lowered his gaze to the paper and began reading aloud. "Tenth level knight. Weapons are the axe and sword. Skills include charm and some slight gift for storytelling. Has renounced women for the period of one year in order to... Hey, wait a cotton picking minute here! No women? I thought you said this game was supposed to be fun, JD!"
"There ain't no women here in case you hadn't noticed, Buck. Any of them we meet are gonna be imaginary," JD pointed out in exasperation.
"He's got you there, Brother," Josiah agreed.
"Real ain't the point. It's the principle of the thing," Buck replied loftily.
"And you ain't got any principles where women are concerned," Chris intervened. "What do you have, Ezra?" He glanced towards the rather smug looking southerner.
"Well, if one must play such a juvenile game, at least one can do it in style." Ezra waved his paper with a flourish. "Behold, Ezra the Magnificent, ninth level wizard extraordinaire. Specializing in illusion and battlemagics."
"That's too bad you won't live long enough to become tenth level wizard, Ezra. I hear there's some really nice spells on that level," Nathan said solemnly.
"What are you attempting to imply, Mr. Jackson? That my skills are not sufficient to see me to the next level?" Ezra asked huffily.
"I just mean that being such a showy wizard and all, well you'll be attracting a lot of attention your way and I hear dragons are real fond of wizards."
"Fond? How fond?" Ezra asked suspiciously.
"Real fond," Nathan assured him.
"Well, I fail to see the trouble, my friend. A bit inconvenient as a pet, perhaps. But it could be somewhat useful in..." Ezra began.
"Yep," Nathan continued, "Roasted. Baked. Fried. And let's not forget their favorite. Barbeque. And they don't even need charcoal."
"Humorous, Mr. Jackson. Witness me not laughing." Ezra narrowed his eyes as he realized Nathan was teasing. "And why don't you enlighten us as to your character while you're busy doing that?"
Nathan shrugged, still grinning, and began reading obediently from the paper in front of him. "Ninth level healer. Special skills include extensive knowledge of herbs and the ability to throw a knife great distances with remarkable accuracy. Kicked out of the healer's school because they found out he was a member of a foreign tribe and is thus forced to sell his services to adventuring parties. Kind and compassionate overall, but can have a prickly sense of pride at innoportune moments."
"Does anyone else think these characters bear an uncanny resemblance to our own?" Josiah raised his eyebrows and looked around the table.
"Don't even joke about that," Vin replied grimly. "I thought you said you took these out of some book, JD?" the sharpshooter accused.
"I did," JD protested vehemently. "I'll show you." He rose halfway to his feet, but Chris waved him back down.
"Never mind, JD. We believe you. Why don't you tell us what you got?" he suggested.
"I'm a thief." JD's tone suggested that he wasn't altogether pleased by this. "Sixth level. Ran away from home in order to prove himself. Skills include horsemanship and exceptional dexterity with hands. Weapons are two knives, part of a matched set. By turns irritating and engaging, will grow to be a master thief if he lives that long. Don't you dare say a word, Buck!"
"Damn. What kind of book was that, JD? Does it say anything about who'll win next Saturday's game?" Buck chortled, slapping JD on the back. "Don't fret yourself, son. I find it reassuring, myself, to know that some things don't ever change, no matter what game is being played."
"Shut up, Buck."
"That book of yours is surely something, JD. Although at this point I wouldn't care to speculate on what," Josiah said wryly, shaking his head. "Says here I'm a former cleric. Had a falling out with my God and have undertaken this quest as a form of penance. Skills include cooking and some masonry and carpentry. Weapon is a weighted club." He looked up. "Well, they definitely got the penance part right, anyway." He grinned slyly.
"That leaves just Vin." Everyone turned to look at the sharpshooter who sat hunched down in his chair. One hand tugged nervously at an ear while the other clutched the piece of paper tightly.
"Ya'll know this is just a game, don't ya? That book don't know nothin'. Right?" Vin glowered at his friends.
"Whatever you say."
"If it makes you feel any better to think so."
"Just tell us what you picked already."
Vin took a deep breath. "Halfelfrangerwithslenderbuildandpointyearsofhismotherand..."
"Say that again. Slower this time."
"I heard something about pointy ears."
"Yeah, me too."
"I most definitely heard something to that effect."
"You think that's why he wears his hair so long? To cover them ears?"
Six pairs of eyes regarded Vin thoughtfully.
"Have any of you actually ever seen them?" Buck looked around the table.
"Bucklin," Vin said threateningly.
"He likes to bake cookies, too. Just like them Keebler's," Buck continued. One by one the others nodded.
"He's attuned to nature," Ezra contributed.
"Aren't elves supposed to be good with a bow? I've seen him put an arrow into the center of its target nine times out of ten," Chris said musingly.
"Chris!" Vin turned accusing eyes on his best friend, who shrugged and grinned unapologetically.
"I guess there's only one way to find out," Josiah spoke sagely.
"Grab him boys! Let's take a look at those ears!" With a whoop and a holler, the six men descended on their hapless victim.
"Damn you! Let me go! This ain't funny!" Vin howled in outrage, kicking and struggling for all he was worth.
Then abruptly, he was let go. Catching his breath, he rolled over and sat up, glaring at his friends.
"Ya'll satisfied?" he demanded. None of them said anything. Their silence was unnerving and reflexively his hand crept up to his ear. His elegant, slender, pointed ear. Oh God.
"Vin, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," Chris said wryly, indicating the surrounding countryside. The completely unfamiliar, not anywhere in Buck and JD's apartment, countryside. Although as strange as the surroundings were, it was nothing in comparison to his friends' altered appearances. Vin had the sudden fervent hope that this place, wherever it was, didn't have mirrors. He didn't want to know what he looked like. Not one little bit.
"So does that mean we're off to see the wizard?" Trust Josiah to seem almost pleased by the prospect. The man was crazier than a junebug.
"Unnecessary in this case, I believe. You have one, namely me, in your party." Ezra held up a book of some sort, pointing to the words on the cover. "Booke of Spells and Illusions" Vin read aloud. Ok. Ezra was a real live wizard. And he'd thought this couldn't possibly get any worse.
"So, what do we do now? Where should we go?" JD asked, fiddling nervously with one of the ornate daggers in his belt.
The seven men exchanged glances.
"Saloon," they said in unison and began walking down the path towards the village they could see in the distance.
"I think they call them taverns here," JD said.
"Just as long as they serve whisky," Buck replied glumly. He was going to need lots and lots of liquid comfort. There just had to be a way around that no women for a year thing.
"You don't see any dragons about, do you Mr. Jackson?" Ezra drew the hood of his robe up and glanced around a bit nervously as they walked.
On the way to the saloon, tavern, whatever, Chris found himself eyeing Vin speculatively, hoping for another glimpse of those ears. There had been something about them...
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