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Me, Myself & I

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Playing the Roll – Part 2

Written by HikerAngel :: [Friday, 13 November 2020 22:21] Last updated by :: [Sunday, 15 November 2020 00:09]

Playing the Roll

PART 2: GAMING


Author’s Note: A huge thanks to Rjjt, Thero, Njae, Woodclaw, and Larafan, for their many contributions to this from story ideas to editing to D&D expertise to artwork to character sheets. This story is at least as much a product of their work as mine. :)


“A drow barbarian? Seriously?” Ron exclaimed as Michelle announced her choice.

“Yeah? So?” Michelle replied defensively.

“It’s just a little scary. That’s all.”

“Well, the drows are the best-looking race, right? And I want to be gorgeous even for a drow!” said Michelle, eyes sparking with an odd intensity. “And what’s wrong with wanting to be a barbarian? I think it’ll be fun to be strong enough – and crazy enough – to tear a few limbs off!”

“Hence the scary,” said Ron, crossing his arms emphatically as if his point had just been proven.

“What about my choice?” Beth asked hesitantly.

“Human sorcerer?” I replied. “I think it’s perfect!”

“Is there anything about Beth that you find less than perfect…?” Michelle said with another well-practiced eye roll.

“So we’ve got our fighter-type and our mage-type. That means we need a healer-type and a rogue-type,” Ron mused aloud. “Which means I can play one of my favorite types of characters, the dashing, horn-dog tiefling rogue!”

“Color me completely unsurprised,” said Michelle wryly. “You and your tropey horn-dog ‘types’…”

“What can I say? I know your sexy drow wild thing’ll be all over my nimble-fingered love machine…” Ron laughed, sticking his tongue out and giving it a lascivious wiggle.

“What about you, Jim?” asked Beth as Michelle made a disgusted face at Ron. “What are you going to play?”

“I’m usually the DM. But if you guys are okay with it, I’ll roll a paladin for a little healing and fighting support for the group.”

“Totes,” said Ron. “With Michelle tearing off arms and a newbie slinging fireballs, I’m betting we’ll need some serious healing action. And the noble type always suits you.”

“There you go with your ‘types’ again, Ron,” Michelle said dismissively. “Maybe you should try playing a character that’s not a ‘type’ for once!”

Ignoring my bickering friends, I handed four dice to Beth. “Here. Roll these and add up the top three. Their sum each time will be your starting stats.”

Ron and Michelle ceased their arguing for the moment to watch Beth roll her human sorcerer’s stats.

BETH’S CHARACTER: BREYA

Strength: 10

Dexterity: 14

Constitution: 14

Intelligence: 14

Wisdom: 12

Charisma: 18

Hit Points: 8

“And she rolls an 18 and puts it into charisma!” cried Michelle in dismay. “Figures her character would be just like her…” she added, under her breath, too softly for Beth to hear.

“Isn’t that good?” asked Beth, taken aback by Michelle’s reaction.

“Yeah,” grumbled Michelle curtly. “It’s good.”

Beth smiled, then handed Michelle the dice. “Your turn.”

Michelle’s eyes turned hopeful as she rattled the dice in her hands and threw them to the sand.

MICHELLE’S CHARACTER: MERLARA

Strength: 18

Dexterity: 16

Constitution: 14

Intelligence: 10

Wisdom: 10

Charisma: 14

Hit Points: 14

“Yes!” she shouted, rising to her feet and doing a celebratory dance. “My 18 is going straight to strength, baby!”

“Limbs will definitely be torn from the bodies of thine enemies!” Ron laughed, miming an enthusiastic arm-ripping as Michelle celebrated her good fortune.

Michelle plopped in the sand and scooped up the dice, handing them to Ron.

RON’S CHARACTER: RORIK

Strength: 9

Dexterity: 16

Constitution: 9

Intelligence: 16

Wisdom: 9

Charisma: 14

Hit Points: 7

“Fuck!” Ron said, putting his head in his hands. “No 18s and three 9s!”

I laughed, leaning over to pick up the dice. “At least you’re nimble and smart, buddy. That’s really all you need as a rogue.”

Unable to resist, I added: “And it will be fun for you to try to play someone smart for a change.”

“Har, har,” said Ron. “Let’s just see how imbecilic your goody-two-shoes character turns out before you cast aspersions on my genius rogue.”

“Aspersions?” asked Beth.

“It’s just a lame-ass, fancy way of saying insults,” replied Michelle. “Ronnie here wants us to think that he’s smart by using two of the four SAT vocabulary words he actually learned – imbecilic and aspersions – but we’ve known him for way too long to be fooled.”

“Damn it, ‘Chelle!” Ron objected. “I might have been able to fool Beth! She doesn’t know me that well!”

“Seriously, Ron? By the time you’ve spoken three words, everyone around knows that you’ll never be destined for rocket science. Or a career in medicine. Or, like, literacy.”

“Hey! I’ll have you know I can read almost as well as my niece who’s in kindergarten!” Ron protested with a laugh.

“Impressive…” Michelle nodded with a broad grin.

Beth and I laughed along.

“Okay, Jimmie-boy, your turn, man,” Ron prompted, nodding at the dice in my hands.

I rolled the dice to create my paladin.

JIM’S CHARACTER: JHASSIN

Strength: 16

Dexterity: 10

Constitution: 16

Intelligence: 12

Wisdom: 12

Charisma: 14

Hit Points: 13

Ron glanced around at everyone’s character sheets. “Dude, you sure you don’t want to put one of those 16s in charisma? Maybe Jhassin will have a better chance with the ladies than you do that way…” he winked at Jim, nodding in Beth’s direction.

“Naw, 14 should be more than enough, with my manly half-elf 16-strength muscles,” I said with a grin.

“Yay! We got the highest rolls, Michelle!” said Beth, raising her hand for Michelle to give her a high five. Michelle reluctantly reciprocated the gesture.

Now, everyone, choose your alignments.

“Chaotic Neutral,” announced Ron.

“Crazy,” said Michelle. “Suits you. I’m Chaotic Good.”

“Lawful good for me,” I said, turning to Beth, who simply looked confused.

“Alignments are across two spectra, Beth,” I explained. “Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic describe how your character feels about laws. Good, Neutral, and Evil described how your character feels about morality.”

“So Lawful Good is moral and law-abiding?” Beth probed.

“Yes,” I said, nodding. “And Chaotic Evil has no regard for laws or doing good deeds. Everything else falls somewhere between.”

Beth looked uncertain before venturing hesitantly. “I’ll be Neutral Neutral.”

I smiled reassuringly. “Good choice. Balanced.”

I glanced around the campfire and read off the contents of each party member’s character sheet with a confirming nod.

BETH's Character Sheet

MICHELLE's character sheet

RON's character sheet

JIM's character sheet

“Okay,” said Beth.

“Ready to start?” I asked Beth with a wink.

She smiled, rubbing her hands together. “You bet!”

Immediately following Beth’s statement of confirmation, the campfire exploded outward, enveloping the entire group in bright light. Thankfully, the light was merely warm not flesh-meltingly hot, and it began to fade a few seconds later.

As I blinked away the colorful blobs that lingered from the intense brightness, I heard two horses cantering to my right.

“What the—?” I cried, jumping away from the sound, visions of being trampled to death flashing through my mind. I focused on a hazy, human-shaped figure before me. As my vision returned, it began to transform into a slender, extremely attractive gray-skinned elf clad in revealing leather armor and thigh-high boots. The drow had a fitness model’s body and a fashion model’s face. The combination of the two gave her an absolutely breathtaking appearance. And it didn’t hurt that her armor looked more like lingerie than anything that would actually stop a weapon.

Stunned, I simply stared at the gorgeous elf. She stared back at me, blinking. She looked as confused as I was.

I glanced toward each of the two figures to each side of her. One was a red-skinned, horned tiefling in black leather armor and a cloak. The other was a beautiful brunette in a purple, midriff-baring halter top and a long, flowing skirt. Hip-high slits in either side of her skirt gave tantalizing glimpses of her smooth, sculpted legs as she moved. The ensemble showed off her toned stomach and bare thigh to jaw-dropping effect, sending a shiver of desire through me. Tearing my gaze from her luscious body to her confused expression, I instantly recognized her as Beth.

Gaze returning to the drow, I whispered. “Michelle?”

“Jim?” she replied, wonder in her voice.

“Holy fuckballs!” said the tiefling loudly. “Are we our characters or something?”

The colorful statement made it instantly obvious that the tiefling had to be Ron.

Beth gave me a look of utter terror. “So we’re inside the game?”

“Looks like,” said Michelle, twisting her slim but sumptuously muscled body to get a look at her nicely formed ass. She smiled. “And I look really good.”

That got Ron’s attention. He stared at Michelle’s shapely ass, which filled out her skimpy leather outfit in spectacular fashion, licking his lips.

Beth suddenly looked pale, as if stricken by a terrifying thought.

Ron and Michelle turned toward the beautiful mage in unison, their brows furrowing. When Beth didn’t seem to notice, they turned to me, their eyes questioning.

I shrugged. I didn’t know what was bothering Beth any more than they did.

“You okay?” I asked her.

She looked in my direction but her eyes zeroed in on my chest, avoiding mine. “Yeah.”

I watched her expectantly, thinking she would expand on that response a bit.

She didn’t.

Ron cleared his throat, drawing all eyes to him.

“Who cares about unexplained 4D roleplaying experiences when there’s ale to be drunk?” He stuck out his thumb and swung it toward the tavern behind them. “Besides, the tavern’s where every good adventure starts, right?”

“So you don’t even care that we’re apparently trapped inside a fucking D&D campaign?” I said, incredulous. “This isn’t even the campaign I intended!”

He shrugged. “Sure, I care. I think it’s awesome as hell! Haven’t you ever imagined being your character before?”

“Well, yeah. I guess, but—”

“But what?” Ron cut me off. “Let’s enjoy the ride, dude! Chillax, and let’s have a fucking beer!” With that, he spun on his heel and marched into the tavern.

Michelle’s watched him go, cast a sidelong glance in my direction, then followed after him. I exchanged a look with Beth, then put my arm around her shoulders and guided her inside, opening the door for her.

I expected it to take a moment to grow accustomed to the dim light, but it didn’t. My eyes seemed to instantly adjust to the low light. Puzzled, I turned to Beth, noticing that she was squinting, attempting to see in the darkened room. I smiled as the realization dawned. I was a half-elf – I could see in the dark! Pleased with the character perk I’d never really thought much of before, I searched the room for Ron and Michelle.

It didn’t take long. They were being escorted out by the bartender.

“…the fuck do you think you’re doing? I have rights, dammit!” Ron said loudly, slapping at the bartender’s firm grip on his arm.

Momentarily confused as to what was happening, the answer suddenly dawned on me. They were being thrown out! Racist bastards! I knew that tieflings and drow were frowned upon as inherently “evil” races, despite the fact that not all such people – including Ron and Michelle – were actually evil, but watching such blatant racism in person made it feel so wrong.

“Assault! Assault! Look, people! Assault!” Ron squealed, pointing at the bartender emphatically.

I let out a sharp laugh at Ron’s over-the-top antics, drawing a questioning look from a concerned Beth. Grabbing Beth’s hand and pulling her out of the bartender’s way, I looked at Ron in amusement and called after him. “Meet up where we started in an hour! Beth and I are going to hang for a bit and pick up a quest… and a beer!”

Michelle’s iridescent pink eyes flicked over to Beth, and she scowled. Ron gave me the finger.

The bartender shoved them both out the door, dusting off his hands before walking back to the bar.

I followed him, pulling Beth by the hand behind me.

The bartender took his usual position behind the counter and gave me a questioning look.

“Two ales, please.”

“Aye,” he grunted, pouring our drinks.

Beth looked around the half-empty establishment, awestruck eyes pausing on each of the eclectic collection of dwarves, elves, and humans around the place.

A moment later, the bartender slammed two pints of ale on the bar with an emphatic, liquid-sloshing thud. “Four coppers.”

Shit! I’d forgotten about money. I stuck my hands in my pocket and felt around. Thankfully, my fingers closed around a half dozen coins. Pulling them out, I looked at my palm. There were twelve gold, two silver, and four copper coins. I picked out the four copper coins and shoved the rest in my pocket, setting them on the corner.

The bartender snatched them up, sticking one between his teeth and biting down hard to check its authenticity.

Beth turned to me in disgust and whispered. “Ew! Doesn’t he know how many hands – and germs – have probably touched that money?”

“I don’t think he particularly cares, Beth.” I chuckled, whispering back to her. “I doubt he even understands the concept of germs. If there even are germs in a fictional world like this.”

Beth considered, then nodded. “You’re right. No concern about pandemics in D&D, I suppose.”

“Cheers,” I said, raising my glass. She did likewise, and we clunked the large glass mugs together before taking a long draught.

It was pretty good!

I set the glass on the counter and wiped my mouth with my sleeve. Beth grinned.

“You seem right at home, Jim…” she said, her eyes considering me.

“Well, you know what they say: when in Rome…”

Her smile grew warmer. “Maybe this will be fun.”

I looked around the room at the colorful cast of fantasy characters before returning my gaze to her. I returned her smile. “Yeah. I think it will be.”

She slid her hand across the surface of the bar to where my hand rested and squeezed it.

Then, Beth’s smile faltered. “What do you think happens if we die here?”

My smile faded as I thought about that. “Well, we should definitely try not to let that happen. But at least here there are resurrection spells. At least, there should be, if it actually follows the D&D rules…”

Then I remembered her stricken look of realization shortly after we’d arrived here and gave her a meaningful look. “But it seems like you might know a little more than I do on that front. Do you know what happened to bring us here?”

She frowned, then took another long swig of her beer. When she finished, she didn’t look at me, averting her eyes once again. From her reaction, I was now certain she had some idea of what had happened to us. I wondered if it had something to do with the strange but meaning-filled look she’d shared with her grandmother the previous day.

Just as it looked like she was about to answer, a burly dwarf slammed a huge battle ax on the bar, causing Beth to startle in fright.

“ALE, barkeep!” he bellowed at the proprietor. He looked around, doing a double-take as he noticed Beth and I staring. “What are you two greenhorns staring at?”

“Greenhorns?” Beth whispered to me.

“Newbies,” I replied.

“You’re probably wonderin’ if I’m after that missing mage fellow. Competition or somethin’” the dwarf continued. “Well, I’m NOT! I don’t get mixed up in that magic business. NO WAY!!!”

As he spoke in her direction, Beth drew back, withering under his hot, stinky breath. She wrinkled her nose as she took a position by my side, further from the foul-smelling dwarf.

“What missing mage?” I asked.

The stout man’s bushy brows furrowed. “The one in yonder tower.” He pointed south. “Thought everyone knew ‘bout that poor sap.”

“There some kind of reward for finding him?” I asked hopefully.

“Well, sure!” replied the dwarf. “Mage’s guild’ll probably pay a small fortune for his return.”

The diminutive man glanced at my basic chainmail armor and longsword. “Looks like you could use the coin.”

Giving me a hearty laugh, he turned back to the bartender just as the portly, apron-clad man slammed the dwarf’s ale to the counter and demanded two coppers.

As the dwarf focused on other business, namely drinking, I decided to risk a return to the subject that Beth seemed to be avoiding. “Beth, I don’t mean to pry, but if you know something about what’s going on, you’ll tell us, right?”

Beth let out a breath, then looked me directly in the eye, a lock of dark hair falling over her right eye with the movement. “The thing is, Jim, I don’t know what’s going on. Honestly.”

Her look was so sincere, so imploring, that I couldn’t help but give her the benefit of the doubt. That charisma of hers was something else! Not to mention that face… and that body…

Quickly shutting down that train of thought before my desire for the beautiful girl became entirely too obvious inside my canvas trousers, I decided to let the topic drop and move on to explaining a bit more about the rules of a game that we now seemed to find ourselves in.

“If you do figure something out, though, you’ll tell me, right?” I asked, admiring the depths of her dark irises.

She nodded, shoulders relaxing slightly, relieved that I wasn’t pushing the subject any further.

As we drank our ales, I began to explain the advantages and disadvantages of her character’s stats, how hit points and battles worked, and the benefits of her sorcerer class.

“Come on,” I whispered to Beth as we downed the last of our beers. It was time to meet Ron and Michelle outside. Not to mention that Beth’s eyes had begun to glaze over from an overabundance of information. I nodded toward the exit.

As we rose to leave the tavern, she spoke. “Are we really going to do this missing mage quest?”

“I think so. If I were the DM, getting a quest like that at the beginning of a campaign would almost surely be intended as a hint to the players to bite on it. Besides, the dwarf was right. We really could use the coin. What we have isn’t going to last too long. Especially if we want to upgrade our gear,” I reasoned.

“Well, I’m glad you know how this stuff works,” Beth said, giving me a warm smile as we looked around for the others. Inwardly, I basked at her compliment – and especially her smile, remembering the squeeze she’d given my hand earlier.

“There you are!” came a voice from across the dusty dirt road.

Ron jogged over to us with Michelle in tow. “Can you believe that ridiculous bartender? Racist fuck!”

Michelle pulled out a dagger and twirled the point on her finger. “You chose to be a tiefling, dumbass. I knew what I was getting into when I chose to be a sexy AF drow.”

I caught her stealing a glance at me as she finished her reply.

The thing was: she was right. Michelle had suddenly become every bit Beth’s equal in appearance. She might not quite match Beth’s femininity or sex appeal, but her dark, elfin features and muscled, super-fit body was every bit as appealing in its own way. She looked like a model turned crossfitter.

“Well, I think I found us an opening quest,” I announced as Ron made faces at Michelle.

“Really?” Michelle asked, her violet eyes sparkling.

Beth nodded confirmation but deferred to me to respond.

“There’s a missing mage from the tower somewhere to the south. Apparently there’s a hefty reward for his safe return.”

“Mage? Nothing good ever comes from messing with mages…” grumbled Ron, crossing his arms in irritation.

“Hey!” said Beth, giving Ron a dirty look. “What do you have against mages?”

Ron’s expression softened. “Nothing… at least, not when they look as good as you! Did you imagine that outfit for yourself? Because if you did, my compliments. You look as hot as—”

Michelle smacked him before he could finish his sentence. Unaccustomed to her new strength, however, the light slap on his arm was a little too hard. Ron spun to the ground, a large red “-1 HP” appearing in the air above him for a brief moment before vanishing in a vaporous mist.

“Hey!” cried Ron from the ground. “You cost me a hit point! I think I can already feel the bruise!”

Michelle seemed momentarily shaken. Clearly, she hadn’t meant to hit him that hard. But she quickly recovered to give him a pointed scowl. “You deserved it!”

“What?!” objected Ron, rising to his feet. “I was just saying that Beth looked really hot!”

His eyes roamed the sinuous, defined coils of muscle that flowed over Michelle’s limbs and stomach. “Not that you’re not completely smoking too…”

Michelle tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a smile, her gaze dropping to admire her own sculpted physique.

“You’re only saying that because this damn ‘armor’ barely covers anything!” The words sounded like a complaint, but judging by her tone, it was obvious she was pleased.

“Yeah,” replied Ron, still ogling Michelle’s taut stomach and steely muscles. “Isn’t it great?”

I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t help it. Mostly because Ron was so right – both in his assessment of Michelle’s body and that of her outfit. Michelle looked startled, glancing at me, noticing my admiration of her new body with delighted eyes.

“So let’s get on with this mage-finding quest-thingie,” interjected Beth, refocusing the group on our actual mission. “Maybe if we find him, we can get back to the real world…”

The mention of the real world caused Michelle’s smile to falter. “Yeah,” she said, her voice sounding anything but excited. She ran her fingers along the deep grooves of her abs absently, appearing to mourn the mere notion of losing her gorgeous new body.

We hefted our backpacks and headed south out of town. Not far outside the city limits, however, the road entered a dense forest. As we strode purposefully into the woods, a lone, black-clad figure emerged from behind a tree and bowed theatrically.

“Good afternoon! You look like a fine group of individuals, more than capable of paying the king’s travel tax.”

“Travel tax?” I asked. “I’ve never heard of a travel tax in my Forgotten Realms campaigns?!”

“Forgotten Realms? Campaigns?” he intoned. “This is the Western Heartlands, friend. And there is most definitely a tax whether you campaign against it or not.”

“Fuck that,” Ron said. “We’re not about to pay some random dude dressed in black any sort of tax. Get out of our way or you’ll find a dagger coming out the other side of your chest before you can blink!”

The man looked amused, then put a finger into each corner of his mouth and gave a sharp whistle. Twenty men emerged from behind trees, surrounding us.

“Shit!” I muttered under my breath, surveying the circle of men. I spoke to the rest of the party in a hushed tone. “We’re level 1. There’s no way we can beat this many of them, even if each thief’s challenge rating is low!”

Beth looked thoughtful for a second, then whispered back. “You said I should be able to persuade people with my high charisma, right?”

“Yes, but I’m not sure that—” But before I had even finished my objection, Beth was marching forward, a determined look on her beautiful face.

The men surrounding us tensed as she advanced, but, seeing that she had drawn no weapon and kept her hands at her sides, precluding the use of any offensive magic, allowed her to continue her approach until she reached the man who had first appeared, apparently the group’s leader.

Beth’s expressive eyes met the man’s gaze as she leaned forward to give him a good view of alluring cleavage. “What was your name again?”

“I don’t believe I gave it,” said the man.

“Ooooo, playing coy, I see,” Beth said, reaching a hand out to drift a slender finger down the outside of his arm. “I like men who play hard to get.”

The black-clad leader swallowed, clearly affected by Beth’s words – and particularly by her touch. But his voice remained confident, his chest puffing with pride. “Trust me, miss. I’m very hard to get. I’m the leader of the local thief guild.”

“Thief guild? I’m surprised that the king trusts you to collect his tax!” said Beth innocently, giving him a coquettish flutter of her long lashes.

“Well, I, um…” the man didn’t want to confess his lie to Beth, though he had to know that no one was buying his ‘tax’ justification for the robbery.

“But someone with your… expertise… should be more than able to use a little subterfuge to keep one little tiny exception from the king, shouldn’t he?” Beth’s voice was sweet as honey, her eyes seeming to mesmerize the thief even as he fought not to let his eyes drop to her breasts.

“Well, I have been known to tell a little white lie from time to time…” he admitted.

Beth gave him an admiring look, clapping her hands together in delight, causing a tremor to ripple through her nubile breasts.

“I knew it!” she said, as the man’s eyes fell, no longer able to keep from drinking in the view of her well-formed chest. She threw her arms around him and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thank you so very much!”

As she released the hug, the thieves’ leader took an unsteady step forward. Beth took the opportunity to look back toward the rest of us and spur us into motion with a curt nod to indicate that we should get moving.

I glanced toward the others to ensure that they’d seen Beth’s signal, and we all began to walk forward, taking care to keep our hands away from our weapons.

Beth, meanwhile, continued to speak to the group’s spellbound leader, cocking her hip so that the fabric of her long skirt shifted away from her long, shapely leg as an additional distraction. “I’ll always be in your debt, sir. If we ever meet again, please let me know how I can repay you…”

Ron, Michelle, and I slipped past the bedazzled man, the surrounding thieves exchanging glances as they watched their quarry walk away.

The man’s hungry eyes flickered. “Why wait? What do you say we cash in that favor right now?”

Fear flashed in Beth’s eyes as she realized she may have gone a little too far in her seduction routine. “I, um, well…”

She couldn’t think of a good response.

“Run!” I called back to her, as the rest of us, now beyond the circle of men, sprang forward into an instant sprint.

To her credit, she didn’t hesitate, slipping past the thief leader and putting several yards between her and the surprised man before he realized what was happening.

“Archers! Attack!!!” he cried, once he realized he’d been duped.

A moment later, arrows whizzed past us, thunking into the surrounding trees as we ran for our lives.

We continued running for a good mile before my darting, half-elven eyes spotted the mouth of a cave a short distance into the forest.

“This way!” I cried breathlessly to the others, pointing in the direction of the cave’s entrance.

The party complied, and in a moment, we had all rushed into the large, dark space. Slipping into the shadows not a moment too soon, the telltale tromp of running feet sounded as the group of black-clad thieves came into view, running past us on the road.

When none of them broke off to approach the cave, I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.

Turning to Beth, I touched her shoulder and told her, “Nice work, Beth!”

“Yeah – that was freaking brilliant!” Ron agreed.

Even Michelle gave her a grudging nod of appreciation.

“Thanks, guys,” said Beth, blushing with the compliments. “I know I’m not experienced, but I thought I could help get us through that one.”

“And you absolutely did!” I said, feeling Michelle’s disapproving eyes on me. Evidently, she felt we’d heaped enough praise on Beth for the time being.

Then, a series of scuffing sounds came from the depths of the cave. All of us turned to peer into the darkness. My excellent night vision picked out a profile that didn’t look human.

“Oh, shit!” I cried, taking a step back.

Michelle drew her large sword from behind her back as we began to retreat, holding it before her, the muscles in her arms twitching with tension as she prepared to fight.

“What do I do?” Beth asked, her voice shaking slightly as she glanced at me.

“Get a spell ready?” I offered, my eyes trained on a short, stout goblin as it left the shadows, entering the light at the mouth of the cave.

“Right,” she said, turning to watch another goblin emerge from the cave as she clenched her fingers tightly at her sides. Then, her eyes went wide in panic. “Wait! How do I do that?!”

Before I could answer, ten goblins came running from the mouth of the cave, brandishing wicked-looking blades and issuing a nerve-rattling battle cry.

Michelle tightened her grip on her sword and swung the moment the first of them came within range. Three goblins were cleaved in half with the powerful swing. Unfortunately, Michelle wasn’t yet accustomed to her new strength, and the overly strong swing sent her staggering to the side, her long blade embedding itself deeply into the trunk of a nearby tree.

As she struggled to free her massive sword, planting a leather-clad foot on the trunk and pulling, I charged forward to protect her back from a goblin that was charging toward her with a lowered spear.

Leaping forward, determined to protect Michelle’s flank, I skewered the beast from the side. He turned to me in disbelief as he fell. I felt nauseous for a moment, not having killed anything larger than a spider before. The goblin fell, tearing my sword from my trembling fingers, most of its blade still embedded in its body.

Hearing another raspy cry from my left, I turned, eyes widening as another goblin attacked me.

Knowing that it would be difficult to extricate my sword from the fallen goblin’s body, I fumbled for my mace, knowing I’d placed it handle-upward in my backpack when we’d left town, but unable to locate it as I reached back to feel around my upper back.

The goblin neared, opening its mouth to issue another blood-curdling scream as it pulled back its sword to strike. Just as it came within reach, my fingers curled around the handle of my mace. But it was a split second too late. My eyes widened as the goblin’s sword whistled through the air toward me, knowing that I wouldn’t get my weapon in position to block the blow in time.

Suddenly an arrow appeared in its chest! The goblin dropped its blade in mid-swing, and the flat side of its blade slapped the side of my calf without inflicting any damage.

I turned in the direction that the arrow had come from. Ron gave me a curt nod, quickly dropping his bow and pulling out two daggers to engage another incoming attacker at close range. I returned the nod, grateful for my friend’s timely intervention, but he was too busy to notice the gesture.

By the time I turned back to the arrow-downed goblin, however, another goblin was nearly to me. This time, however, I was ready. I brought up my mace, rotating it into a defensive position to counter the imminent attack.

The goblin swung its ax, and I parried with the shaft of my mace. It swung again, and again I blocked its fast, aggressive attack. Pulling back my weapon, I counterattacked, swinging the heavy mace with all my might. But my clumsy, telegraphed swing missed, sending me stumbling forward. I felt the goblin smash its ax into my side.

It hurt, but thankfully my chainmail took the brunt of the blow. The glancing assault, however, knocked me off balance, causing me to land hard on my side. I felt my second weapon slip from my fingers, rolling away from my clutching grip I turned to lie on my back as the goblin, looming over me, raised its ax over its head.

A bolt landed in the center of his forehead with a soft *thwack*, and the goblin fell backward, instantly dead. I quickly scrambled to my feet and recovered my mace as Beth came running up behind me.

“I couldn’t figure out how to cast a spell, but I did manage to load the ol’ crossbow.” She patted its wooden surface, eyes shining happily.

Caught up in the heat of the moment, thankful to the girl I’d always admired for saving my life, adrenaline still buzzing in my veins, I wrapped my arm around her slender waist, drew her toward me, and kissed her.

Her eyes widened in surprise, and she shoved me away.

“What the hell, Jim!” she said angrily, tasting her lips. “We’re in the middle of a fucking battle here!”

What was I doing? I stood there stunned for a moment, unable to comprehend my own actions.

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said, shaking my head in shame. “Sorry. I don’t know what came over me!”

Then, Michelle burst past us, her thickly muscled shoulder catching mine, sending me crashing to the ground a second time. I propped myself up to watch her engage the last remaining enemy.

This was no goblin, looking larger and stronger than the others. I recognized it as a bugbear – far tougher to kill than a normal goblin.

Michelle, however, was unintimidated, her gorgeous features twisting into a vicious snarl. She swung her large blade as soon as she reached the goblin leader. It blocked the incoming attack, but Michelle’s blow was so powerful that it knocked the blade from its hands, sending the creature reeling.

Michelle’s momentum carried her past the bugbear, but she jumped up gracefully, twisting her powerful abs and extending her long arms to bring around her long blade for a second strike. This one razed the beast’s head at the neck, sending it spinning through the air to land several yards away in a pile of leaves.

“Holy shit, ‘Chelle!” called Ron. “That was so badass!”

Michelle, chest rising and falling as she caught her breath from her spectacular attack, smiled back at him.

“Well, someone had to take care of the boss,” she said, turning to me with a pointed look. “And Jim here was too busy making out with Beth to be bothered with such things…”

I felt my cheeks turn crimson. Why had I done that?! It wasn’t like me at all. I had just been so  pumped up from the action and excitement of my near-death experience. And Beth had just been right there, and had just saved me, and she just looked sooo incredibly gorgeous, and…

I looked at Beth, noticing that her cheeks were flushed as scarlet as my own. I tried to attract her gaze, but she steadfastly avoided my eyes, quickly distancing herself from me as I took a step toward her.

Ron came up behind me and slapped me on the back. “Jimmie, you dog!”

“Shut up, Ron! I didn’t mean to do it! It just sort of happened!”

“Suuuure,” said Ron with a wink before walking to each of the women and giving them a high five to celebrate our victory.

“Okay, so now that the cave is cleared, I say we hole up and get some rest.” I suggested, attempting to change the topic of conversation to something other than my mid-battle stupidity. “Pretty sure we’ll each pick up a level or two after taking down that many goblins and getting past those thieves back there. Besides, I don’t want to run into those thieves a second time on the road. Better to give them some time to get back to their other ambush spot.”

“Agreed, said Michelle, cleaning the blood and tree sap from her blade.

As we sat down in the cave, I noticed that Beth took the farthest possible place away from me, touching her lips with a finger as she stared into space. I frowned, knowing that my little stunt during the battle had probably cost me even the slim shot I’d had with her.

Mentally kicking myself for the dozenth time, I pulled some food from my pack and began to eat. Michelle sat down beside me, tucking her long, well-sinewed legs under her shapely ass and pulling a meal of her own from her bag.

Catching me looking in her direction, then casting a sidelong glance toward Beth, Michelle took a large bite out of her loaf of bread, chewing it emphatically as she gave me a cryptic smile.

***

The next morning, I awoke to the feel of a warm body pressed to mine. The sensation provided a stark contrast to the cool morning air that swirled over my cheeks. My eyes still closed, I focused my attention on the source of the heat. The form felt incredibly firm, ridges of muscle touching my backside and legs. Yet there was a softness too. A pleasant press of feminine flesh to my upper back. As my eyes blinked open, I realized I knew the sensation, though I’d only previously experienced it from the front during hugs. That pillowy softness was from someone’s breasts! But whose?

I gently pulled away from the sleeping woman in an attempt to avoid disturbing her sleep. Twisting after I put a few inches between us, I turned my head to see who it was.

Michelle lay beside me, apparently having cuddled up against me during the night. Her beautiful face looked peaceful in slumber, the sinuous swells of muscle along her body relaxed but still quite defined. Even in sleep, she looked wickedly strong.

Had she done that intentionally? And if she had, was it simply to share body heat? Or had she done it with a different purpose in mind?

Gazing at her ultra-fit body and cover-model face, I considered her. I had never really been attracted to my lifelong friend before, but the gray-skinned beauty before me was gorgeous in a dangerous, powerful way that appealed to me. I thought of the way she had gracefully swept that sleek, lean body of hers through the air to dispatch the strongest enemy we had faced in the battle of the previous day. She had made the difficult maneuver look graceful. Elegant. Easy.  I shuddered with the memory, tingles of desire rippling over my skin.

I glanced at Beth, who lay sleeping in similar, peaceful fashion on the far side of the cave, and frowned. I’d always been so sure of my attraction to her. And it was still there. Just as strong. But I’d made things so much more complicated between us yesterday with my ill-timed kiss. Like I needed any more complication to cripple my already nonexistent love life!

My nascent attraction to Michelle, on the other hand, held no such complexities. I was fairly sure she would be accepting of any advance I chose to make. Her close company last night might well be her attempt to initiate exactly that!

But my eyes could help a return to gaze at Beth, the graceful swells of her chest rising and falling with her quiet breathing, thick raven tresses half-covering her delicate features. She was curled under her blanket for warmth, the sight making me long to walk over and hug her lush body to mine.

Still conflicted, my attention finally turned to something else that, in my adoration of the two beautiful women in my life, I hadn’t previously noticed. A large, semi-transparent “+2” floated before me. How on earth had I missed that?!

Unlike the number that had floated over Ron’s head when Michelle had struck him, this one didn’t fade. Curious, I reached for it. When my hand touched the glowing number, I felt suddenly stronger. A glowing character sheet unfurled before me, looking like some sort of scroll.

After I selected my spells and skills, the scroll rolled back up and disappeared from my vision. Pulling out my sword, I took a few practice swings to see if I noticed any difference. I did. My sword felt lighter in my hand, more comfortable. I sliced through the air, my strikes far more fluid and graceful than they had been yesterday. Wryly, I hoped that now I would manage to keep a better grip on my weapons during the fight!

I slid my sword into its sheath with a soft, metallic clank. The sound, however, was enough to wake the others. Michelle leapt to her feet in a catlike motion, her massive sword instantly in hand. Ron and Beth awoke more gradually, blinking and rubbing their eyes as they slowly rose to their feet.

Michelle cocked her head, staring at the air in front of her. “What’s this number?”

“It’s a level up. I guess that getting past the thieves and winning our battle yesterday was good enough for a couple of levels.”

“Sweet!” said Ron, eagerly making hand motions as he selected character upgrades on his invisible-to-everyone-else character sheet. When he finished, he crossed his arms, looking smug. “Goblins will be no match for me now!”

Michelle finished next. She drew her sword as I had, testing her new facility with the blade. The whirling flashes of her blade mesmerized me as she snapped through the air in front of her. Her powerful, fluid movements made mine look amateurish by comparison. She must have selected some additional expertise with her weapon or something.

Beth’s focused eyes looked intent on her choices, invisible to the others. Finally, she reached out, pointing a finger twice, then smiled.

“What did you choose, Beth?” asked Michelle.

“Two spells! Burning hands and dragon’s breath,” she said. “I want to be able to throw around some serious fire in the next battle!”

“The girl’s hot in every sense!” laughed Ron.

“I just wish I knew how to cast these damn spells!” said Beth, expression transitioning from pleased to frustrated.

“Just don’t think about it,” offered Ron helpfully. “Just will it to happen…”

Beth flung out an arm, an odd language issuing from her lips, and a bolt of fire launched from her palm into Ron’s chest. She gaped at the spot on Ron’s black armor as a red “-2” floated over Ron’s head. Ron’s gaze dropped to the small wisp of smoke rising from his leather armor.

“Geez! Why is everyone always attacking me and dropping my hit points!” he whined.

“I-I’m sorry. It’s just… you said…!” Beth stammered apologetically.

Michelle burst out into belly laugh, laughing harder and harder until she doubled over and began slapping her hand on her knee. Her mirthful guffaws proving contagious, I joined in. The others quickly followed suit.

“Okay, well, now that Beth has mastered the art of casting spells, let’s head out!” I suggested, once our laughter had died down.

Beth gave me a hesitant look, then nodded. The others packed their backpacks and hefted them to their shoulders. Michelle nudged my shoulder with hers, casting a furtive smile in my direction as she walked out of the cave.

We walked quickly but without much conversation until I saw a tall stone tower rising well above the surrounding trees. Shrugging our thumbs under the shoulder straps of our packs, gazing at the cylindrical stone structure, we wandered into the grassy clearing that surrounded it. Eyes descending its gray, well-maintained walls, I spotted a sturdy-looking wooden door in the tower’s curved base.

Marching toward it, I raised my hand to knock, when Ron’s hand suddenly flashed up to catch my wrist.

“It’s warded,” he whispered in a warning tone. “Let me have a look before you touch the door.”

Ron stepped forward, and I stepped back, curiously watching my friend use his trap disarming skills for the first time. His hands hovered over the door, moving diagonally down its length. Giving a soft “hmmm” of satisfied victory, Ron took several steps back, crouched down to fish a small twig from the ground and threw it at the door.

The twig instantly incinerated in a blinding flash of purple light as it contacted the heavy door.

Ron let out a delighted laugh, and marched up to open the door. Beth cringed, half-expecting the same to happen to Ron as he gripped the door knob and gave it a twist.

“That’s it?” Michelle asked incredulously.

“Yep,” Ron said simply, ushering the party into the tower.

“I could have done that,” Michelle grumbled.

“But you didn’t!” Ron snapped back gleefully. “I did.”

“He’s got a point…” I said to Michelle with a grin as the party slowly entered the mage’s tower.

As I walked inside, I looked around the ground level of the tower. Storage cabinets lined the walls, most of them opened, their contents strewn all over the floor.

“What a mess!” said Beth, kicking aside boxes and supplies to make a path in which to step.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I wonder what happened in here.”

“A struggle?” mused Michelle, following Beth and I to the center of the room where a spiral staircase wound tightly around a stone column, providing access to the upper floors.

“Naw,” said Ron. “Pretty sure it was someone searching for something. Look at the boxes and cabinets. Almost everything’s been removed from them. That’s not from a struggle. Too meticulous.”

“Look at the big brain on Ronnie boy!” laughed Michelle.

Ron bowed theatrically. “Hey, I didn’t roll genius-level intelligence for nothing!”

“16 is hardly genius-level, Ron,” I scoffed, moving to follow Beth as she peered upward from the base of the steps. “But you are smarter than the rest of us, I think.”

I put a hand on Beth’s shoulder. “Let’s let Michelle go first. She has the most hit points. You should be in the middle where you’re protected from attack and can lob fire from a safe distance.

Beth looked tense, considering my words as she glanced into my eyes, but nodded her acquiescence.

Michelle took the lead, and I followed her with Beth right behind and Ron taking the rear. We crept up the stairs to the second level, where the bookshelves that lined the room looked much the same as the previous level had, aside from the fact that it was books and papers scattered across the floor rather than food and other provisions.

Beth walked over to the desk across the room and opened a leather-bound book with the word “Journal” branded into its cover.

Flipping through the pages, she squinted, sounding out an unfamiliar word. “Necromancy?” she intoned questioningly.

“What?! Necromancy?! Let me see that!” Ron hurried over to take a look at the book Beth was holding. “I’ll be damned. She’s right! Looks like our lost mageling was a closet necromancer.”

“Necromancer, eh?” Michelle smirked. “That’s pretty cool. I get to bust some bleached white heads! Won’t even have to wipe the blood from my sword…”

Giving Beth an encouraging nod, I chimed in. “If the mage was into dealings with some shady characters, that could definitely explain why he went missing. We just need to figure out which shady character kidnapped him.”

“Says here he was dealing with some person that he thought could give him ‘immense power’,” said Beth, looking up from the book.

“Does it say who he was dealing with? Whoever it was might be the person who took him?” Ron suggested.

Beth looked down, eyes scanning the pages. “It doesn’t say. He seems to avoid actually mentioning the person by name.”

“It’s probably a more powerful necromancer,” I said. “If he’s really powerful, there’s a chance that someone in town will have a guess as to his identity.”

“Could be a lich…” Michelle said, tapping her lips with a finger thoughtfully.

“Pfft,” Ron scoffed. “Like a low-level party would be given a lich as a villain right off the bat. Come on, Michelle!”

“Well, it’s not like this is one of Jim’s lame by-the-book campaigns! Who knows what could happen!”

“Hey!” I objected. “Lame? By-the-book? I’ll have you know that I put at least five minutes of preparation into my DMing!”

Michelle smiled sardonically, blinking her eyelashes . “And that level of preparation always shows…”

We both laughed.

“Okay, so we go to town and ask about powerful necromancers in the area, then?” Beth confirmed, gaze dropping to read further into the journal.

“Well, we should probably finish looking for clues in the tower too. Maybe there’s something more concrete to go on,” suggested Ron.

“True,” I agreed. “We’ll definitely check out the top floor before we go.”

“Guys? What’s an artifact?” asked Beth, continuing to read, a puzzled expression gracing her beautiful features.

“They’re rare and usually powerful items. Why?” I responded, intrigued.

“Well, it says here that the mage had an artifact that he was going to use in some kind of ceremony to make himself more powerful.”

“Does it say which artifact?”

Beth frowned, eyes scanning the lines of the final entry in the journal. “No. He always just says ‘the artifact’.”

“Cryptic fucker, wasn’t he?” Ron offered, shaking a small bag that he had discovered behind one of the few books that remained on the shelf. He smiled as he heard the telltale jingle of coins and jammed it into his pocket.

“Careful, anyway,” I said.

“So the dude goes and gets himself kidnapped just before he can power up. Shitty luck. Poor guy,” said Ron, though he didn’t look particularly sympathetic.

“It looks like he enlisted the help of his three apprentices – Sylvia, Syra, and Serena – to help him with the ceremony.” Beth looked up. “Maybe one of them kidnapped him?”

“It would make sense,” said Michelle, nodding. “Female mages are always power-hungry bitches.”

“Hey!” Beth protested, her dark eyes sparkling. “Watch it, Michelle! Remember that I can breathe fire now!”

“See?!” Michelle said, pointing at Beth and looking at Ron and me. “I rest my case.”

“Really, anyone could be after that artifact, depending on what it is,” I reasoned. “The apprentices might not have anything to do with the kidnapping. Or they could have been kidnapped as well.”

Beth sighed. “Look, mage stereotypes aside, the apprentices are our best lead right now, right? At least, besides the necromancer – who sounds like he’s not really track-downable unless we can come up with a name from the locals.”

“I guess so,” admitted Michelle.

“Yeah,” I agreed, conceding her point.

“Sweet!” said Ron, closing his eyes and putting his fingers to each temple in a stance designed to make it clear he was attempting to read the future. “With my ultra-superbrain, I sense three über-hot mage-babes making an appearance in our near future.”

Michelle rolled her eyes. “Do you ever imagine average-looking women, Ron?”

“Nope!” Ron replied, popping open one eye as he grinned broadly. “Never.”

“Guys? Shouldn’t we check out the top floor?” ventured Beth. “You know, just in case there’s another clue up there?”

“Yes, you’re totally right,” I agreed.

Before I could set foot on the winding steps, however, Ron nimbly darted ahead of me, perhaps eager for an über-hot mage-babe sighting. As he reached the next floor, however, I heard a brief scuffle and a short, startled scream, followed by a black-cloaked tiefling tumbling right back down the stairs to land at my feet.

“What happened, Ron?” I asked, my voice urgent, stepping back from him and offering a hand.

“D-dragon!” he said breathlessly, taking my hand and rising unsteadily to his feet, looking disoriented.

“No fucking way,” Michelle dismissed the idea out of hand. “This tower is not big enough to fit a damned dragon.”

“He’s little!” Ron said. “But he flew right into me and knocked me over. I think he stung me with his tail too!” Ron lifted his arm to inspect a small hole in his tunic.

“Little? Like a baby dragon?” Beth asked, her frightened expression melting into hopefulness.

“Something like that. I forget the name of those things,” said Ron, his speech slightly slurred.

“Pseudodragon?” I ventured.

Ron snapped his fingers and pointed at me in slothlike fashion. “That’s it!”

“Is that like a baby dragon?” asked Beth again, edging toward the steps, clearly wanting to see the miniature dragon.

“Kind of,” I said.

“Guys, I don’t feel so good.” Ron staggered backward, then toppled over, landing on the floor.

“The fuck?” said Michelle in surprise, kneeling down beside him and poking him with her finger. She looked up. “He’s stiff!”

Ron’s eyes remained open, but he lay, unmoving, on the floor, body tense. A soft sound came from his unmoving lips. “Hmm, Hmm Hmm-Hmm-Hmm.”

“What now?” asked Michelle, turning her head so that her ear hovered above his mouth.

“Hmm, Hmm Hmm-Hmm-Hmm,” Ron said a second time.

“Hmm, Hmm Hmm-Hmm-Hmm?” repeated Michelle. “How on earth am I supposed to know what that shit means, Ron?”

I sounded the cadence of the syllables in my head, attempting to connect them to what I knew of pseudodragons.

Suddenly, I realized what Ron was saying. “He’s saying: Jim, I’m paralyzed!”

 Michelle slapped her forehead. “From the pseudodragon's stinger! Of course!”

I looked around, concerned about what Beth might think of all this. But I didn’t see her. Suddenly frantic, I cast about for her. She was gone!

“Beth?!” I cried, walking over to the desk where she’d been. I looked around, scratching my head. “Where the hell…?”

Then I realized where she must have disappeared to and sprinted for the stairs. Ascending as quickly as I could, rounding the final bend of the spiral staircase, I leapt into the top room of the tower, sword held at the ready.

There sat Beth on the mage’s bed, a tiny red pseudodragon in her lap, head bowed as it gave a rasping purr.

I lowered my sword. “Beth?”

She looked at me and smiled. “Isn’t he adorable?” she said as she petted the small creature’s head.

“Um, yeah. Sure,” I said, miffed that she had come up here without me or Michelle to protect her. “As long as he’s not paralyzing you with his stinger. Ron down there might have a different opinion.”

“That’s nice.” From her nonsensical response, I was pretty sure she wasn’t paying attention to my words, too focused on her new pet.

Cocking my head, I examined the little critter. He really did look like a miniature dragon, tiny red scales covering his winged, serpentine form.

Then, Beth suddenly jerked back, eyes snapping to mine.

“What?!” she asked.

“What?!” I stammered back, taken aback by her unexpectedly aggressive questioning.

“What did you say?” she clarified, a hint of annoyance in her tone this time.

“I didn’t say anything!” What was she talking about? There hadn’t even been a sound beyond the soft purr of the miniature dragon.

Her look of annoyance faded, and she simply looked thoughtful for a moment. Eyes widening, she looked down at the pseudodragon. After a moment of concentrating on her new friend, her gaze once again met mine.

“He’s hungry!” she exclaimed forcefully.

“Okaaaaay…” I replied, slightly alarmed at her odd behavior.

“He can project thoughts to me!” she said excitedly. “Telepathically! I can sense his feelings!”

Of course! Pseudodragons were telepaths! I should have realized what was going on… but they only connected with people when they were bonded as…

…my jaw dropped even as I uttered my awestruck words. “He’s your familiar!”

“No, he’s not familiar, silly. I just met him!” Beth corrected.

“No, I mean, he’s bonded with you. He wants to be your familiar? Like your wizardly companion!”

Beth cocked an eyebrow at me. “You mean – he’s like my pet?”

The small dragon gave a disgruntled snort, evidently not liking the term pet.

“Basically, yeah. He’ll do your bidding, try to protect you… that kind of thing.”

Beth placed a hand under her familiar’s chin and lifted it until his face hovered just before hers. “You’re so sweet, aren’t you, Draggleton!”

“Draggleton?”

“It’s his name.”

“Riiiight…”

I heard footsteps coming from the stairwell behind me until Michelle’s inquisitive face emerged from below. “You guys okay up here?”

“Fine,” I replied. “Beth just found a familiar.”

Michelle gaped at the sight of Beth with the scaled little creature in her lap.

“Holy shit!” she said, surprised. Then, seeing that Beth had the small pseudodragon completely under control, she laughed. “Ugly little guy, isn’t he?”

“What?!” Beth looked stricken. “No! He’s cute!!” Beth objected emphatically.

The tiny dragon’s head whipped around and he hissed in Michelle’s direction. I doubted he could understand Michelle’s words. I wagered he was probably reacting to Beth’s outraged thoughts.

I chuckled. “Come on, guys. We’ve got some necromancer apprentices and master to track down.” I said. “And Ron to carry until he can walk again,” I added with a crooked smile. “I could heal him, but since this paralysis should wear off before long, I’d rather save my healing spell for an emergency.”

“Where do you think the apprentices might be?” Beth asked, tickling the underside of her familiar’s tiny snout.

I shrugged. “I’m thinking we head back to town and start asking around. We could use some new gear, especially now that we’ve leveled up, before we tackle a mage, apprentice or not.”

“Sounds like a plan!” replied Michelle, and the two of us descended the stairs. We circled to opposite ends of our paralyzed friend. I picked up Ron’s ankles and Michelle lifted his head and shoulders. We began to slowly descend the stairs, angling Ron’s stiff body, careful to avoid hitting his head or scraping his ankles until reached the bottom floor.

I looked up the spiral stairs, noticing that Beth wasn’t behind us, gently setting down Ron’s legs.

“I’ll be right back,” I told Michelle, then bounded back upstairs to the top room. As I arrived, I saw Beth leaning over a recently rotated nightstand, placing something that I couldn’t quite see in the pocket of her robes.

“Beth?” I intoned.

She whirled to face me, cheeks flushed, hand rising to cover her heart. “Jim!”

“Yeah! But we’re leaving now, right?” I asked her. “You coming?”

“Oh yes! Right!”

I arched a brow as she hustled past me and began to descend the steps. Following her down, I lifted Ron’s feet once again, and we exited the mage’s abode to find a lone woman in a black, hooded robe halfway across the clearing at the base of the tower.

The woman didn’t speak, didn’t hesitate, simply acted. Her hand extended and a harsh word in a foreign tongue lashed outward from her lips. A mass of writhing electricity flashed from her fingers, lancing into Michelle before she could lower Ron. The spidery jags of energy curled around the athletic drow’s form sending her reeling into the stone wall of the tower with a sharp yelp of pain.

I lowered Ron’s feet, but by the time I did, I was met with a spray of acid that sizzled against my armor and burned at the skin of my neck. I fell back, instinctively raising my arms to protect my face from the worst of the corrosive liquid.

Beth, however, unencumbered by the load that Michelle and I were bearing, leapt forward, and opened her mouth wide, screaming another unfamiliar word. A cone-like torrent of flame burst from her pursed lips to envelope the opposing mage, who promptly snuffed out of existence, apparently incinerated by Beth’s magical flames.

Sealing her lips to put an end to her flickering gout of fire, Beth looked pleased at her spell’s effectiveness. “Got her!” she said, turning to me with a wink.

But the mage reappeared not far from where she’d been standing seconds before, hurling a ball of fire directly at us like a baseball pitcher.

Instinctively, I dropped to the ground, allowing the fireball to sail overhead, covering the back of my head with my hands protectively as the air above me spontaneously erupted into a raging inferno.

Feeling a hot wind ripple my cloak for long seconds, I desperately hoped that the others had been able to avoid the worst of the damage.

When I felt the fire dissipate, I jumped to my feet, whipping off my singed, still-smoldering cloak and cast about for our attacker, drawing my sword from its sheath. But I couldn’t see any sign of her. Deciding to risk turning my back toward the enemy mage’s previous position, I surveyed the damage she’d done to my party.

Ron looked unhurt, his resting place thankfully below the blast radius, just as I was. Michelle held a blanket that she had removed from her pack and had evidently used to shield herself from the worst of the blast. Beth was dusting herself off, evidently having ducked the flames as I had.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I whirled to glare at the black-clad woman, still unable to see her face under the dark hood.

“Best way to deal with magic,” I said, lunging forward into an all-out sprint toward the woman. “Is to slice the wielder in half before she has a chance to use it!”

“Good plan!” Michelle agreed, running after me.

As I neared the dark mage, she flung off her cloak, a blade of magical energy materializing in her hand.

I gaped. Ron had been right! She really was an über-hot mage-babe!

Under the cloak, the fit, curvy blonde was dressed in a form-fitting black number that left nothing to the imagination. Even the nipples that crowned her full breasts were visible through the taut, thin fabric. Her hair was pulled into a tight bun, her beautiful face adorned by a thin, silver chain that emerged from her shimmering hair to her forehead. At the center of her pale forehead, held in place by the chain, rested a creepy-looking red skull. The symbol seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite remember where I’d seen it before.

I hesitated, unable to bring myself to slice the gorgeous woman before me in half as I’d planned. Michelle, however, had no such inhibitions, leaping from behind me, white hair trailing behind her, to bring her massive blade down on the sexy necromancer.

The blonde blocked her attack with ease, however, even able to deliver a swift counter strike that sent Michelle tumbling to the ground, a nasty slash in her right leather boot, blood welling in the smooth flesh beneath.

The mage smiled cruelly, bringing her blade around in a maneuver designed to cut me in half. I raised my shield, but stumbled back from the force of the blow.

Before she could move to finish me, however, a flaming bolt flew into her stomach, igniting the center of her black costume.

As the evil woman patted out the flames, a patch of smooth, creamy skin now bare, I shot Beth a grateful look. As I turned back to my enemy, I swung my sword as hard as I could. The mage raised a slender arm, and my strike glanced off a metal cuff on her wrist, knocking it free to land in the grass a short distance away. It gleamed with red energy as it hit the ground.

The metallic bracer must be a magical item! I couldn’t wait to see one of the girls try it on and see what sort of boost it might give them!

But I shouldn’t have let myself be distracted by the shiny goodie because the necromancer had recovered and was shouting a particularly evil-sounding word as her hand flashed toward me.

I felt every muscle in my body clench as electricity tore through my body. I saw a red number flash above me, but my brain was too scrambled in the agonizing moment to see what it read.

When the intense pain subsided, I dropped to the ground panting, muscles still twitching from the massive burst of energy the mage had struck me with. I was glad for the level-up back at the cave. If it hadn’t been for that, I would almost certainly be dead.

Looking up, I saw Beth launch another attack on the voluptuous mage, but the woman blocked it with her magical blade. As she did, however, another gout of flame from Beth rolled over the black-clad woman. This time, a shield of magical energy appeared before her to thwart the attack.

Geez! This woman was tough!

As I rose to my feet, I watched the mage twist to evade another strike, then stab Michelle through the stomach. Less than a second later, her left arm flew outward to hurl another fireball at Beth and Ron. This time, it struck the ground just before them, sending a dome of searing flames rolling over them both.

When the orange flickers winked out of existence, I could see wisps of smoke rising from the two prone bodies left in its wake.

“No!” I cried in anguish.

I saw a “-26” appear above Ron and a “-18” above Beth. I knew that meant that Ron was out of commission for the rest of the battle, unconscious at zero hit points – assuming any of us were left alive to revive him when this battle was over. Beth, however, twitched, the skin of her leg reddened and beginning to blister.

I let out a relieved breath. Beth was alive, at least, though in serious need of healing.

But so was Michelle! I turned to see her writhing in agony, bleeding out on the ground beside the mage, who was now waving her hands in a graceful motion, a manic look in her eyes as they began to glow red. I watched in terror as skeletal fingers rose from the earth before her, bones clattering as skeletal warriors pulled themselves from the ground.

I knew I didn’t have much time before these skeletons attacked. My eyes darted back and forth between Michelle and Beth, my heart fluttering with adrenaline as I attempted to decide which of them to help.

I had a healing hands ability, but I needed to decide which one of them to use it on – and fast!

Who should I heal?

Who Does Jim Heal?
Who Receive the Magic Bracelet?

The battle with the necromancer apprentice has given the group another level. This one comes with two attribute points to add. Decide where to add them (assuming our adventurers survive this encounter ;)

Michelle's Attribute Points (+2)
Beth's Attribute Points (+2)

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