X Marks the… What? > Smells Like Team Spirit > Doubts & Disturbances

“All right…” Amber said. “Trella, Nuku-Nuku… do you want to stay with me, or split up?”

“Nuku-Nuku will stay with Amber-san,” Nuku-Nuku volunteered.

Trella hesitated.

“I’ll… go with Fifth’s group,” she said finally. “I mean, I can always do Calling if there’re any problems, and it’s not like anyone else knows the Song…”

Amber inclined her head. “All right.”

She tipped her head to one side. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with the boggled look I saw on the Trader’s face a couple of minutes ago, would it?”

Trella ahem-ed. “Don’t know what that was about—I mean, I was just telling him about Mom and her boyfriend, and the poor guy just started to boggle…”

“I see…” Amber said, mouth twitching. “Don’t push things—Carrie and the Trader are very close, and I doubt she’ll take kindly to finding out you’ve been boggling Gray.”

Trella eyed Carrie. “…Okay, boss.”

“And whatever else you do, don’t forget to tell them the Rules,” Amber said. “If you start boggling Gray, Carrie may decide to start boggling you… and I strongly suspect, if she sets her mind to it, she might actually succeed.”

“…Okay, boss,” Trella said.

“I would like to stay with Amber and Nuku-Nuku, too,” said Amy. “I feel the most comfortable among anime-type people.”

“All right,” said Q. “With any luck, we can get away from Spike for a while.”

“I wonder what we’re looking for,” the Writer mused. “Maybe we’ll get to solve a logic puzzle! That would be fun!”

“Okay… so, stick together, or split up?” Imran said.

Allie and Sandra shot worried looks at Dominic.

“…Well, first off, if we split up, I can only jump to Allie or Dad if there’s a problem,” Sandra said.

Imran nodded.

“Plus, this is a fantasy RPG—with undead option,” Sandra continued. “Which means there’s probably going to be some anti-undead magic out there… which means probably a ward against ghosts, or something that’s going to stop me jumping. If we wanted to risk it, we could…”

“And we’ve got more than enough people to stick with,” Allie put in. “Even if something happened, they should be able to do something… as long as we stay together…”

“And the benefits of staying together?” Dominic said quietly. “There is an impressive range of skills among the group…”

Allie, Imran and Sandra looked at each other.

“…Dad,” Sandra said finally, “you’ve barely said anything during this. Just stayed back from the crowd, not got involved.

“This thing with Amber… You need to do something about it—I don’t know what, but something—and you need to do it without us around, because the way things’re going…” She shook her head. “Maybe do it during the quest, maybe when all this is over, but…”

“…I know,” Dominic said quietly. “I know. And I know, up here,”—he tapped his head—“that that makes this place all the more dangerous to me. A place where you can disappear into your own personal reality…”

Allie and Sandra shuddered momentarily.

“Very well. I’ll go with Amber’s group.”

Allie and Sandra breathed a sigh of relief, whilst Imran simply looked relieved.

“And the three of you?” Dominic said.

Allie, Imran and Sandra looked at each other.

“I’ll stick with the Trader,” Imran volunteered.

“So…” Allie said, indicating the forming groups.

Sandra nodded. “Yep.”

“Okay,” Allie said.

“…I hate when they do that…” Gordon muttered.

“Okay, so who’re we joining up with?” Daibhid asked Bob the Muse.

:::I think we should join Seventh’s team. After all, he’s the Doctor you’re most familiar with. And I suppose we should take the Melmacian Hobbits with us. Just as long as they stay away from me personally.:::

Daibhid spun round. “Who said that?”

“Who said what?” asked Lorrill, who was standing where Daibhid had thought the voice was coming from.

:::It’s me, Daibhid. I’m talking in your head.:::

“What… Schroedy?? But how…?”

A telepathic sigh, as Schroedy leapt off Lorrill’s shoulders and, in tones of great forbearance, explained, :::Empathic link between a wizard and his familiar, remember? I thought you played this stupid game?:::

“Yeah, but it’s been a while. Anyway, I didn’t realise you were my familiar.”

:::It’s not something I’m thrilled about. I think if you do something klutzy and break something, I get injured too.:::

“Um, it’s a bit more complicated than that. A permanent drop in my hit points, from something like…”

:::Don’t get into the details. Let’s just get this over with, so I can get back to the buffet, okay?:::

“If the pair a’ yez have quite finished,” rumbled Bob the Muse. “I reckon Schroedy’s right, we should join Seventh’s team.”

“Right,” said Daibhid, trying to sound vaguely authorative. “Well, if we’re all agreed then… Hang on, how did you know what Schroedy said?”

“Schroedy and I have got ways of understanding each other,” explained (if that’s the word) Bob. He grinned, “It’s a cat/Muse thing, ye wouldn’t understand.”

Daibhid gave Bob the Muse a long look. “Bob, how long have you been waiting to use that one?”

“Since before we arrived at the Club.”

“Right. Well, like Schroedy said, let’s get it over with.”

And with that inspiring battlecry ringing over the fields, they did.

[Magnus was looking at the scene with a wry smile.]
Well, Lord, which party do you want to join?
[Magnus pointed a hand at the floor, a brief beam of light scoured a hole.]
I thought so, it is a mixed setting. That ring is a laser one, pure technology. It means that this is a mixed setting.
That means we stay clear of people who think killing orcs is fun.
I thought you had read Grunts? and do not call me Lord.
Oh, Orc Marines, I get the point.
I also think we need to stay out of the party Florestan joins. He is our host, after all, and in his present mood he may give an order which could destroy me, without even realising it.
Does he realise that you have no choice but to obey him?
I sincerely hope not. Now, provided the other conditions are met I think we should join Trader Gray; at least he is likely to talk first. However, I am worried about what we will find: while I am sure X marks the spot, I doubt it will be another castle.
I tend to agree; a castle would be far too simple.

“Why me?” The Trader smote his own head a good ’un with the butt of his DeLameter, persisting with this line of inquiry until Carrie prevented him. “Why me?”

Nest-niece!” With speed and grace that belied his gross appearance, Fastolf bore down on Nyssa and swung her exuberantly about in the air. Candy and, after a brief exchange of significant looks, Carrie and the Trader, followed on. “Was never risk and dare so sweet, as thou and I should abide it together, with wit and might and fulham-dice! For sure thou’rt principal player in this great ungrave adventure; and I thy champion and historian shall win no sorry gree and glory in thy presently beale-inconnue cause…”

“Marry, nuncle,” Nyssa began, in an indulgent vein little more restrained than her quondam-reptilian mentor’s; and if you think we’re going to pursue a piece of dialogue that begins with those two words then egad, sirrah, thee has another ffing y-coming and knowe misstake, with many other woode-bee olde worlde illiteraciees. Besides, outside circumstances here supervened with great fwooargh.

“More tease, Vicar?” Candy demanded of the Fifth Doctor, jiggling cheerfully in her scanty Chick Chainmail. She performed, with a lovely perfection that almost cancelled out its off-all-known-scales vulgarity, a curtsey-analogue specifically illegal in 158 countries, and arguably forbidden from civilian application by some Geneva Convention or other. “Crumpet?”

“Leave him alone!” Tegan snapped ill-advisedly.

Candy looked the leather straps of Tegan’s Traditional Aboriginal Warrior Gear, Yeah, Right, up and down with lascivious insolence. “Yow, babe! Must get pretty hot, Down Under…”

Tegan’s wit was scarcely impaired by the purely physiological reaction that turned her complexion to solid brick, as we may see from her condign riposte: “Do you want a knuckle sandwich?!”

“Not my scene,” Candy admitted, her attention remaining all too unabashedly focused, “but show us the rest of the menu, there’s a good sheil—”

“Basingstoke!” Carrie urged, erm, urgently, before the tabooed word could escape. “Basildon. Lud-in-the-Mist. Little Boring on the Wold!”

“Mornington Cresc—” the Trader contributed by reflex, and was fwapped out of hand.

Fifth hastily interposed himself between his irascible companion and the Muse of debatable associations, evidently feeling that this exchange of views had accomplished about all it was apt to for the immediate present. Tegan, perceiving an Expression upon Turlough’s face, immediately set about removing it. “Ow!” whined the Not-So-Deadly Assassin. “What was that for?”

“Just for being your own sweet self!”

“A word, Mrs Harcourt?” Not to be found wanting in manners, Candy immediately donated one—a rather complimentary one, if one is into that style of talk. “Actually, quite a different word,” the Doctor persisted, with terrible courtesy. “Did I gather that you had a particular purpose in joining us here today?”

“Indeed,” said Candy, wrinkling her surgically-snubbed nose to deplorably cute effect, “but I never could resist a man in uniform… Hey, Big Boy! Can you give us ‘Missionary Man’ on the mood music, molto pronto?”

“Be sure I can,” returned Fastolf, playing a few cool chords to prove his point, “and surer yet I’ll not.” He notted forthwith. “Now, my Nyslet, confess that the form of our new adventure constrains, nowise meanly but with the wholesome discipline of a sonnet, the playing-out of…”

“Candy,” Carrie tried again; but the Doctor put her off with a gesture.

“You won’t get a chance to sneak up behind him this time,” Adric warned her and the Trader, seeing his Time Lordly mentor about to go into that monomaniacally focused wrong-righting mode which, traditionally, seldom failed to achieve its ends except when villainous third parties pursued precisely the abovementioned and all-too-Greyesque strategy.

The Trader afforded Adric a preoccupied nod. Carrie’s eyes never left her sister at all.

The Doctor plunged in where angels fear to dive—

Oh, behave!1

Fastolf’s chords had not, in fact, any connection with ‘Missionary Man’, the great dramaturge being entirely innocent of all knowledge of Mr Dave Stewart and the Lady Lennox, if not of much else. Instead, by a vague association of ideas2, he had committed the intro to a rather righteous trad folk number about Bishop Hatto3.

Biggles perked up his ears and whiskers, and began whiffling eagerly. “I dunno about you,” he remarked to Jonah in Rat, “but I could really murder a curate…”

“You WHAT?”

Jonah had been keeping to the background for some time, stubby fingers pressed uneasily across her belly, and her face betraying a distinct and un-Dwarf-like pallor. Now she looked as flabbergasted as if her battle-axe had leaned down and bitten her. The general effect, above the beard, was far from aesthetically appealing.

“What what?” Candy bounced cheerfully back, looking equally puzzled but entirely unfazed by it.

“Someone said—someone’s pretending—” Jonah bit her lip, scowling up at the pneumatic and athletic vision of mirth beside her. “It’s not FUNNY!”

“No-one said anything,” Candy pointed out, a truth which was nominal at best, due to the fact that assorted Doctors were currently engaged in furious inter-regenerational debate.

“Your rat wiggled his whiskers a bit, that’s all. Trust me, sweetie-pie—” she jiggled slightly in Grey’s and her sister’s direction—”if anyone was whispering secrets round here, I’d know…”

The nape of Carrie’s averted neck had taken on a slightly darker hue of green, but she gave no other apparent sign of having paid any attention to this affectionate sally.

“’Wiggled his whiskers’ indeed.” Biggles huffled. “What does she expect me to do—squeak? She should try running a mile in these paws—then she’d know better than to go squealing round like some pig and bringing a cat down on her every time she wanted to say something…”

“You—” Jonah had leapt several feet to the right in dismay, but since he was still clinging onto her shoulder, this didn’t quite have the instinctive effect she’d intended.

“Yes of course I spoke,” The somewhat tetchy voice in her ear sounded almost exactly like Mr Panil, her class teacher from last year, in one of his miffed moods. “And of course she can’t hear me. I’m your familiar. This is D&D—remember? Even if you weren’t paying attention in that end-of-term DM session Shaun did at Christmas, I was.”

“If you listened all that carefully, then you know perfectly well I only did his stupid gaming session because they were one short, and he was going to take the whole group out to the Odeon afterwards,” Jonah shot back at him, her instinct to argue conquering any remaining suspicion of weirdness. “Come off it. Nobody’s gone in for that stuff since the eighties…”

“Someone has,” Biggles said pointedly, short-sighted black eyes tracking in all directions as his ears swivelled, for all the world like a scientist’s eyepiece being used to home in a radio telescope. “And whoever’s responsible, I wish he’d stop it. You think I like cogitating like this?”

“Where’d you learn all those long words?” Jonah demanded, and the rat on her shoulder sighed.

“My dear Josephine, as your familiar in this setting I am far more intelligent than you are. Standard dwarf fighter—low INT, dodgy WIS, thoroughly over-developed sense of aggression—and underneath it all, an eleven-year-old child, and a semi-delinquent at that. Whereas I am a fully-functioning adult: and may I point out that the proper concerns of an adult male rat consist of food, sleep, and female rats, in that order, and that I do not appreciate in the slightest being forced into rational and literary awareness?”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Jonah muttered, with some feeling.

The Fifth Doctor withdrew a big gold fob-watch from his pocket. Candy rolled her eyes, not to mention her shoulders and features dependent. Sixth, seeing the trend of the encounter, hastily bustled forwards, barging his more willowy4 counterpart officiously aside.

“If I’m going to bathyscaphe into the abysses of the human-type nymphomaniac mind, Mel,” he assured his remonstrating companion loftily, ignoring Fifth’s furiously well-bred evil eye, “it had better be a me with some strength of character, and,” he far too carefully avoided looking at Tegan, “a proper detachment from the coarser human frailties.” He absent-mindedly extracted a McWimpy God-Emperor of Burgers Sesquipounder from his repellent jacket pocket, and swallowed it whole like a python. “So, Mrs Harcourt. I suppose I’d better straighten you out—”

Candy gave him an up-and-down that brought whole new dimensions to the expression “butcher’s hook”. “Yeah, whatever,” she judged derisively, and spun around to attend to some momently more fascinating business between Jonah and Biggles. Fifth and Sixth then engaged in a discussion whose subtler levels exceeded the grasp of mere mortals, although on the earthlier planes of vibration would-be translators were sorely besieged with such false friends as ‘wet vet’ and ‘overweening buffoon’, whose Rassilwickian senses translate but poorly into English.

Peripheral catly activity distracted Sixth for that critical second—he assures us that there is no other way Silly Doc On could otherwise have given any appearance of trouncing him in debate, and we think that he should know! Anyhow, thus bowled, Sixth donned a big dudgeon and left the next round of Candy-pestering to Fifth.

That very chap now cleared his throat in meaningful fashion. “Mrs Harcourt?”

The good lady performed a spectacular pirouette, which ended unconventionally with her leg wrapped tightly around Fifth’s waist. The other gam almost instantly joined it, leaving Muse and Doctor quite literally joined at the hip in a manner exceeding the present author’s knowledge of ballet terminology, not to mention the conventions of stage-decency which bound even that rather over-the-top art-form.5

“!” seethed Tegan. “??” queried Nyssa, who does not always follow the crude stuff. “Hah!” went Sixth, for reasons that would appear more than apparent. Fastolf rumbled something about My Mistris is a Shittle-cock, and was wrongly convicted in everyone’s minds of committing something other than a literal quotation.

The Doctor, heroically poker-faced6, simply swung the watch between them and looked her earnestly in the eyes. “Listen to me, Candy. Listen only to me…”

“Isolde want!” she husked back, in such tones as would have had Mistress Overdone writing a stern letter to the BBC and no mistake. “Put away the silly boy-toy, and give us a big trenchant…

“Ahhhh,” further stated Candy, as the silly boy-toy continued swinging.

“Ouch,” elaborated Trader Grey, as Carrie’s fingers tightened painfully about his wrist.

A fit seemed to fall upon Candy. Her mouth worked, her full lips writhed wormishly, and her eyes became scarily bloodshot. Her face flushed blotchily, suggesting hot passion not so much as cold luncheon meat.

“Tegan!” Nyssa gasped. “Something… evil…”

The Doctor didn’t flinch. The fit passed like a cloud across the sun.

The sun came out.

It is difficult to define the difference between Candy awake and Candy thus entranced. Something hard and hungry in her expression seemed to melt away, and Somehow she looked far more like—not Carrie’s self, perhaps, but certainly Carrie as she might have been in the sadder erotic fantasies of that cyber-Muse’s own adolescent fanboii7. Only her eyes remained utterly un-Carrielike: very wide, now, their irises blushing with the tenderest vernal pink of freshly-sliced Spam.

“Candy, listen carefully. You will enjoy the party. You will throw yourself into our quest just as much as you wish. You will not need to, ah, become physically intimate with any of the guests. You will feel no compulsion to, er, do that thing!”

“I never do,” said Candy ingenuously. “You can take it or leave it, loverboy. I’m easy, either way…”

The stiffening of Fifth’s upper lip was evident to all. Several of the audience winced.

“Candy,” he said, with every ounce of pastoral detachment and authority that any man could possibly exert upon a muscular whip-wielding houri in a chainmail bikini who happens to have her thighs clamped firmly about his hips at the time. “Trust me: this isn’t right. You don’t have to keep offering yourself around like a box of, ah, of—”

“Ferrero Rocher,” supplied the Trader, that soul of sophistication.

The Doctor raised his voice a little. “—chocolates. You shall Basingstoke today, and you can. I know—”

Gazing with soulful guilenessness into his eyes, Candy carolled:

I’ve had a hundred men
Told a hundred times and ten,
And a myriad of mistresses to tame.
Where the hammer of the Devil
Meets the hunger of the anvil,
After twenty thousand knocks, they’re all the same.
Now my love is like a blade
That the old Damascenes made,
Beaten many-fold, and quenchéd with a kill.
Slain in one thrust with my knave,
Him I’ll tumble in our grave,
And I’ve never had a man,
And never will…

And she jumped down from her Compromising Position™, causing Fifth to let out an involuntary sigh of relief. It was no use, Turlough already had the photos. She continued to smile trustingly up at the Doctor.

The awkward silence that greeted this less than wholly revelatory revelation was broken by a sharp, unexpected sniff from Carrie. She and Fifth exchanged a quick glance—and the Doctor, visibly suppressing a sigh, snapped his fingers.

The face that launched a thousand sleazy video sleeves was back with a vengeance and wreathed in a lascivious grin. “Told you you’d never put me under, old cock!” she crowed, reaching up to pinch his cheek. She looked down at her feet then, in brief confusion to find them on the ground, before shaking her fair head impatiently and dismissing the matter from her mind. “But time to have your wicked way later…” She began counting to ten on her fingers, and licked her lips briskly.

“No!” both Doctors, Tegan, and Peri explained.

“Whatever.” Candy bounced on her heels, which though now attached to improbably brass-coloured Amazon buskins had retained their absurd length and their little cichlid tanks. “So, great and thrusting leader—where to now?”

“Yes,” said Fifth, recovering the initiative, “that!” He paused impressively.

“Quite,” added Sixth, puffing himself up to speak.

Trader Grey whispered to Carrie, “Do you suppose he did any good at all?”

“I think so. He brought her down in lyric mode, which is as good as it gets for her. And That can’t reach her, here—”

She broke off, and together they drank in the words of Time Lordly wisdom that now flowed as a mighty fountain from the Doctor’s eloquent gob.

:::Daibhid,::: came the telepathic voice that the apparent abjurer was already getting used to, :::I just had a thought.:::

“Yeah, Schro?”

:::How far does this Empathic Link thing extend?:::

“Um, can’t remember. Quite a distance, anyway. There’s a bit in the book about keeping your familiar at home, so it’s safe while you go out adventuring, so… Why?”

:::Well, I can’t help thinking it would make more sense for me to go with one of the other groups. Then we have a way of communicating with them.:::

“Well, we can know what’s happening with your group. But you can’t talk to anyone except me, remember?”

:::And I’ve been able to communicate with you, more or less, without words for years, so getting a message to someone who actually thinks shouldn’t be too hard!::: came the acerbic reply. Before Daibhid could react, Schroedy continued, :::Besides, if I’m in the same group as Rhiannon or Nuku-Nuku they can translate.:::


:::Don’t see why not. They’re both cats, after all.::: And he trotted off to join another group. Privately, Daibhid reckoned the real reason was that he was, quite understandably, a bit more nervous than he was letting on about the Melmacians.

:::Am not!::: came the voice in his head. Apparently, his thoughts hadn’t been private enough. This was going to take some getting used to.8

“So what do you make of this place?” Doctor Whozonfirst (now a halfling wizard, and still wearing the same outfit as Fourth) was asking his companion.

“I like it,” was the conclusion of Gordon “ALF” Shumway, halfling thief, as he looked out over the countryside. “Shame that cat’s disappeared. We might be here a while.”

“Now, Gord… ALF. As I’ve told you, we must respect alien races for whom cats are not a basic food group, regardless of how weird they are.”9

“Yeah, well, speaking of weird alien races, Doc, what’s happened to us?”

“Have you ever played that game: Doughnuts & Dropscones?

“Yeah, yeah, Doc, we’re in a roleplaying game and it’s turned us into furless freaks. I get that bit. What I’m wondering is how?”

“Well, there are a number of possibilities. I suspect it has something to do with the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter.”

Before ALF could ask any more questions (like how come the last five hundred and twenty-three times he’d asked Whozonfirst for an explanation, he’d been told “something to do with the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter”) the Doctors came bustling up, First looking every inch the archwizard10 and Seventh in a dark, hooded robe that gave no clue as to whether he was a wizard, sorcerer, cleric, monk, or something else. Yep, it’s back to the “mysterious and shadowy Seventh Doctor” stereotype again.

“Ah, there you are, young men, hmm? No time for dawdling, eh?”

“No problemo, other-Doc! Let’s get questing!” ALF paused, an amusing thought occuring to him. “After all, we don’t want to sit here draggin’ our heels.”

And for the first time ever, a D&D-style fantasy universe rang with the words “Ha! I kill me!”

As Gordon, Yokoi, and Igor were comparing costume changes with the Nth Doctor and his companions, a voice behind them said, “Do you mind if we join your group?”

Turning, they beheld a man in a blue cloak and a halfling dressed in green.

“Umm… don’t take this the wrong way,” said Gordon, “but who are you?”

“I,” said the halfling grandiloquently, “am Oliver de Burrows, and this is my companion Luthien Bedwyr.”

Yokoi placed the voice first. “Paul?”

The halfling grinned. “It’s a fair cop, guv.”

Yokoi and Gordon exhibited a skilled display of synchronised gaze-swivelling. “Donald?

“That’s me,” said the man in the blue cloak.

“But…” Gordon stammered, “…you’re human?”

Donald looked affronted. “Are you saying I wasn’t human before? A Doctor Who fan, of all people, should know that fundamental humanity has little to do with outward appearance.”

“Well… you’re… um…” Gordon hurriedly searched for the right word, not noticing the teasing gleam in Donald’s eye.

“A ‘Shoggoth-swiven ape’?” Donald suggested helpfully. He shrugged. “I’m still the same person I was, just a different shape. It’s not as if it makes much difference, except that I can look people in the eye without them getting a crick in the neck. Oh, and I can do this…”

He kicked Paul on the ankle.

“Ow! What was that for?”

That was for all the times you richly deserved a kick on the ankle, and I couldn’t reach it,” said Donald. “So, what happens now?”

“So you and Schroedy are splitting up too?” asked Sandra. Daibhid explained the reasoning behind it.

“Hmm,” she said. “Carrie spoke Cat at this year’s Adrics and I think Amber’s fluent in it too.”

“Thanks for the info. Did you get that, Schro?”

:::Loud and clear. So, since Amber and Nuku Nuku are together, that’s probably the best bet.:::

With this agreed, Daibhid began flicking through his spell book. He wasn’t entirely sure what level he was, or indeed how one actually went about “memorising” spells, but he figured that, since it was a game, it shouldn’t be that difficult.

”Thumbs! Mary, Mother of God, I have thumbs!”

The Fifth and Sixth Doctors turned around to see what was going on. One of the Quadrillers, an unrecognizable human fighter dressed in dark green and purple, was jumping up and down excitedly, wiggling her thumbs in front of her face.

“Um, I think what Rhiannon was trying to say is, ‘Can we join up with your group?’” said a thief dressed in black.

“Rhiannon?” Imran asked, pointing at the warrior woman. “If that’s Rhiannon, then you must be—”

Molly bowed with a flourish. “At your service.”

Rhiannon ran her newly-formed hand through her raven black hair, and felt the hilt of her weapon. “Cool, a sword too!” Rhiannon said like she had had one too many cups of coffee, pulling a broadsword from its sheath on her back. She brandished it like she’d been a master swordsman for ages. “Can you imagine how many squirrels I could catch with this thing? Heh heh, they can’t hide in the trees forever, those taunting little bastards!”

“Just figures that she gets the big sword,” Molly growled. “So, how about it?”

“Why not?” the Fifth Doctor replied. “One never knows when they’ll need a thief.”

Suddenly, Rhiannon shot off and jumped into a tree. “Or a squirrel chaser,” the Sixth Doctor quipped.

Lyss had been eyeing the assembling groups, and the people talking amongst themselves about this quest. Finally, she could stand it no longer, and fingering her knife, turned to John and Harvey. “So.”

“Are we joining them?” Crichton was looking vaguely irritated.

“Maybe.” Shrugging, Lyss tilted her head to the side, her eyes lighting with sudden enthusiasm. “I can think of a greater quest, however. If you gentlemen are up to it.”

“Always, dear lady,” Harvey replied, licking his lips.

“I suggest, gentlemen, that we search for that which is best imbibed in large quantities. To whit, the local drinking establishment. Be it a pub, an inn, or something else.” Shifting, Lyss nodded, “And I suggest we go now before any of them decides we Belong With Them on this stupid quest.”

“Bitter?” John asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Possibly.” She shrugged, “I’ve kind of been there, done that, bought the ticket, made the t-shirt, burned it and then reincarnated myself from the ashes with quests. I prefer drinking.” A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, “It’s less taxing.”

“Besides,” Crichton started down the stairs in front of her, “Didn’t you say this was a ‘Pro-Fun’ party?”

“That I did…”

Now things had officially gotten strange.

The whole intrusion of some vaguely-defined fantasy universe, that took on characteristics of a Dungeons and Dragons game, that Evan could handle. The intrusion of Carrollian elements and giant cats, that made sense too. His total inability to grasp exactly what was going on—well, that was par for the course, really.

But then the Exalted showed up.

To the random passerby they appeared simply as vaguely-anime-looking heroes in exotic costumes, wielding powerful kung-fu and with blazing symbols on their heads. But Evan’s knowledge of roleplaying was just sad enough that he understood they were from a totally different game—and Zoe noted that, even in the future, D&D’s system hadn’t absorbed all competing games.

So there they were, on the sidelines watching four mighty ancestral warriors dispose of a group of hobgoblins with their mighty, Final Fantasy–esque abilities.



Trees caught on fire. Bolts of flashing energy spiraled into the air. Evan and Zoe decided to retreat about 50 yards back, just in case, their Mega-Storage Bag in tow.

“So, what are they doing here?” Evan asked.

“I’m not entirely sure,” said Zoe, grateful for once to be answering those kinds of questions instead of asking them. “However, the door’s always been for them to come, hasn’t it? The reality’s just shifting based on… based on us.”

There was a moment of thoughtful silence, punctuated by a distant “HADOKEN!”

“Wait… this means we can influence it,” said Evan.

“No, that can’t be right—things would be much easier on us if we could. So it’s not us doing it willingly, it’s… wait a minute. Evan, were you… thinking anything before those people showed up?”

“Well, there was my idea of you and Julia Sawalha starring in a remake of As Nature—”

“I mean besides that.”

“Oh, yeah. Well—and this was just to pass the time—I was wondering how pervasive the role-playing business was, and if it was only D&D, and I was thinking…”

Exalted came to mind?”

“Well, actually first it was the Buffy game, but I suppose with Spike already out there that was redundant.” Evan paused. “Wait, this is that Gozer-in-Ghostbusters thing, things that pop into our heads are appearing around us.”

“That must be it.” Zoe sighed. “It’s not all bad, though, is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, those Exalted people, they weren’t harming us. So even if we can’t control what we bring here, they may not be too bad.”

“It depends, I guess.” The sounds of fighting were distant in the background. The two stopped and rested for a bit. Evan chuckled briefly to himself.

“What’s so funny?”

“Oh, I was just thinking—” his eyes widened. “Uh-oh.”

Suddenly the sounds of the battle grew louder—and seemed somehow changed.



Evan got up abruptly, and gestured for Zoe to start following him away from the noise.

“What is it?” Zoe said.

“Nothing, let’s just leave,” Evan replied.

“But I want to—”

“Never mind. Just keep going. And don’t look back.”

1 Carrie wishes it to be known that she had no part in the ‘inspiration’ of this ‘wit’, and has since had stern words with Candy about keeping her afflatus to herself.

2 Fastolf’s mystical sympathy with English Renaissance culture has unaccountably failed to provide him with any detectable comprehension of the human religious impulse in almost any of its manifestations; although his barnstorming performance in his one-reptile show WYRM! or, Paradise Harrow’d is considered perhaps the definitive musical-tragedy interpretation of Milton’s Satan; and Nyssa reports once lending him rather large sums to secure possession of a reliquary containing the genuine cup and sword of Saints Lucrezia & Cesare, whom she understands to be important social and political reformers of the period.

3 Hatto, a mediæval Bishop of Mainz and thus a leviathanly fish in the feudal European pond, is supposed in legend to have dealt with a severe famine by summoning all the local poor to his barn for a nosh-up, and then bolting the doors and igniting the joint. God, Who regrettably does not understand cutting-edge economic efficiency enhancement paradigmation, subsequently visited a rodent or two upon the dear lad. Southey has a really creepy poem upon the subject, which ends:

They have whetted their teeth upon the stones,
And now they are gnawing the Bishop’s bones.
They have gnawed the flesh from every limb,
For they were sent to do judgement upon him!

4 Boo! Crap cricket joke!! Geroff!!!

5 If only in consideration of the poor blokes who have to exhibit themselves in Tights of Obviousness.

6 At least.

7 Not that, with Carrie’s circulation, she is likely to have many. Besides, harbourers of such fantasies are notoriously well-advised to hide their possession from the Merchant of Good Marx, so this Author isn’t likely to know even if they do exist, is he?

8 Actually, Daibhid’s private thoughts had never been that private from Schroedy. The cat already posessed an ability to know what he was thinking that would have been deemed supernatural, were it not for the facts that 1) no-one knew about it and 2) any being with greater natural empathy than a slime mould could do the same thing, Daibhid having all the subtle dissembling ability of Piccadilly Circus.

9 On Melmac, the four basic food groups are “Cats”, “Junk Food”, “More Junk Food” and “whatever else is available”.

10 Having made one, obligatory wizard’s-staff related joke, this author intends to leave any further ventures into the genre to more expert entendrists, such as Mrs Candia Harcourt. Sorry.

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Story copyright © 2003 the original authors; this compilation copyright © 2003–2005 Igenlode Wordsmith and Paul Andinach; HTML modified by Imran Inayat.