Illustration by Shigeru1313.

A Fair Fight

by Cori Falls


"Evil, that is, has every advantage but one -- it is inferior in imagination."

-- W.H. Auden


Part 2 -- Comeuppance

After finishing their lunch and discussing their plans awhile longer, the seven friends returned to the stadium for the second round of the fire pokemon tournament. Now, Emanuela and Cairdea were coming onto the field.

"Our fifth match of the afternoon is Emanuela D'Andrea and her Flareon, Fiamma, versus Cairdea Underhill and her Vulpix, Sionna!" the announcer's voice blared over the loudspeakers. "In round one, Fiamma's combination of speed and dazzling fire attacks defeated an extremely well-defended Magcargo. Underhill's Vulpix hasn't seen any action yet today, but if the way her Rapidash performed in the first round is any indication, this is going to be one tough match!"

The two women shook hands and withdrew to their respective trainer's boxes.

"Ready...BEGIN!!!" the referee shouted, waving a green flag.

As Cairdea and Emanuela threw their poke balls, Sionna and Fiamma emerged and stood nose to nose.

"Sionna! Use your Confuse Ray!" Cairdea commanded, beginning the battle.

"Quick Attack, Fiamma!" Emanuela retorted.

While the fox pokemon began preparing for her attack, Fiamma charged forth and became a blur of red and gold as she slammed into her. When Sionna regained her balance, her eyes began to glow with an eerie red light. Unable to defend herself from the mental assault, Fiamma became confused and was sent reeling.

"Shake it off, Fiamma!" Emanuela cried.

"Now use your Quick Attack, Sionna!" Cairdea said, taking advantage of her opponent's vulnerable state.

For the next several minutes, Sionna tackled the confused Fiamma over and over again. When Fiamma finally regained use of her faculties, she fought back by blinding her assailant with a Smog attack.

Cairdea bit her lip and thought for a second. "Sionna! Use your ears instead of your eyes! Once you know where Fiamma is, hit her with your Flamethrower!"

Sionna closed her eyes and concentrated. After a moment, she opened her eyes again and exhaled a jet of fire. The flames ignited the cloud of poisonous vapors, and the explosion knocked Fiamma backwards.

"Use your Fire Spin!" Emanuela commanded once Fiamma was back on her feet.

Cairdea remained calm as the spiral of flame that Fiamma emitted closed in on her pokemon. Then, she uttered a single word: "Rage!"

When Sionna became engulfed by the Fire Spin, unable to move as she took round after round of damage, her vulpine eyes started to glow again, and sparks began to fly from her red fur. Each attack she took was increasing her strength. When she finally broke free from the Fire Spin, Sionna charged Fiamma and tackled her again, knocking her out for the count.

"Fiamma is unable to continue! Sionna is the winner!" the referee announced. He waved a red flag, bringing the match to an end.

"Good try, Fiamma," Emanuela said, returning her unconscious pokemon to her poke ball.

"Excellent work, Sionna! I'm proud of you!" Cairdea cheered as she called back her own pokemon.

As the two women left the arena, they exchanged smiles and draped their arms around each others' shoulders.

"That was a terrific match, Manu," Cairdea told her. "You and Fiamma did great!"

Emanuela's smile grew even wider. "You and Sionna did better, though. Congratulations, Cair."

"Thanks," she replied.

When Cairdea and Emanuela returned to the bleachers and took their seats next to Meowth and Mondo, Jessie and Gary marched onto the field.

"Match six of the afternoon pits Gary Oak and his Arcanine, Blaze, against Rachael Morgan and her Vulpix!" said the announcer. "In round one, Oak's Charizard, Smaug, roasted his opponent's Magmar. A similarly-trained Arcanine will be just as formidable...but Morgan's Vulpix has proven that she's one tough customer too! Which of these pokemon will take the victory today? Only time will tell!"

Jessie and Gary smiled at each other and shook hands.

"Good luck, Jess!" Gary told her.

"You too, Gary," Jessie replied.

Once the two of them got to their trainer's boxes, the referee waved his green flag, and they released their pokemon.

A drop of sweat formed on Jessie's temple as Vulpix and Blaze emerged. Her little fox was dwarfed by the enormous Arcanine. Blaze has the advantage in both speed and strength, she said to herself. I need to find a way for Vulpix to use size to her advantage....

As she tried to form a strategy, Gary initiated the battle. "Blaze! Use your Extreme Speed!" he commanded.

The sound of his voice brought Jessie to attention, and she reacted quickly. "Vulpix! Protect yourself with Safeguard!"

"Arrccc!!!" Blaze howled. As he began to charge towards Vulpix, she closed her eyes and began to glow with a golden forcefield. When he tackled her, she was sent reeling, but the damage she took was minimal.

"Good work, Vulpix!" Jessie cheered. "Now use your Fire Spin!"

"Vuuulll!" Vulpix cried, shaking off the blow she'd just been dealt.

"Blaze! Bite attack!" Gary shouted.

As Blaze charged in again and clamped his jaws down on the fox's six fluffy tails, she exhaled a coiling jet of fire and ensnared him in it. Blaze yelped in surprise and quickly released her. The attack wasn't doing much damage to the fire-dog, but it had him immobilized, which gave Jessie enough time to plan her next move.

"Hang in there, Blaze!" Gary encouraged his pokemon. "When Vulpix's attack ends, prepare to use Take Down on her!"

Jessie smiled. If it worked for Cairdea and Sionna, then it can work for me, too! "Vulpix! Call off your Fire Spin and hit him with Confuse Ray!" she commanded.

When Vulpix broke off the attack, Blaze wasted no time in tackling her again. The force of the blow sent both pokemon reeling backwards, but Vulpix quickly shook it off, and her eyes began to glow red.

Before Gary could issue another command, Blaze yelped again and started staggering backwards. "Snap out of it, boy!" he cried.

Now that Blaze was incapacitated for the time being, Jessie took full advantage of it. "Use Tail Whip, Vulpix!"

While Gary called to Blaze in an attempt to bring him back to his senses, Vulpix buffetted him with a series of tail-lashes that lowered his defense. And when Jessie saw the lucid expression beginning to return to the Arcanine's eyes, she reacted swiftly. "Now hit him with Quick Attack!" she shouted.

But Gary had taken note of his pokemon's condition as well. "Use your Flame Wheel, Blaze!"

As Vulpix charged in to strike, Blaze began powering up for his attack. The fox slammed into the now-vulnerable dog at the exact moment that he exhaled a ball of flame at her. The attacks struck home simultaneously, and both pokemon were blasted halfway across the arena. Blaze recovered within moments, but Vulpix was having trouble getting back to her feet. The Flame Wheel attack had burned her, and it would continue to do damage each round until Vulpix was unconscious.

Gary grinned. "She's on the ropes, Blaze! Finish her off with your Fire Blast!"

Jessie covered her mouth with her hand to hide her smile. It looked as if the match was over, but she had one last trick up her sleeve. Annie, Oakley, and Mondo had given her a Dig TM for her eighteenth birthday the previous December, and she'd used it to teach the attack to Vulpix.

"Dodge it, Vulpix! Go underground!" she shouted as Blaze prepared to unleash his ultimate attack.

Once Blaze finished powering up, he exhaled a blast of flame at his opponent. As the wall of fire raced towards Vulpix, she evaded the attack by digging a hole and tunneling underground. While Blaze was recovering from his attack and trying to determine where Vulpix had gone, she resurfaced beneath him and tackled his vulnerable underbelly. Since the Tail Whips she'd used earlier had already lowered his defenses, and Vulpix had scored a critical hit with her surprise attack, Blaze collapsed to the ground.

When ten seconds passed and Blaze still didn't get up, the referee waved his red flag and pointed to Jessie and Vulpix. "Blaze is unable to battle! Rachael Morgan and her Vulpix are the winners!"

Gary ran a hand through his spiky auburn hair and called back his fallen pokemon. "You gave it your best shot, Blaze -- I'm proud of you," he said. Then, he smiled at Jessie and gave her a thumbs-up. "I'm proud of you too, Jess!"

Jessie returned her young friend's smile. And as the realization that she was one of the winners of the tournament registered with her, she collapsed to her knees and placed a hand over her racing heart. "We...we did it! Vulpix and I won!" Her lips curved into another smile as she got back to her feet and returned Vulpix to her poke ball. "Take a rest, Vulpix -- you've earned it!"

As Jessie and Gary rejoined and began making their way off of the field, they shook hands again.

"You did a great job, Jessie. I'm so happy that you won a Fire Stone!" Gary told her.

Jessie smiled at him again. "It feels good to be a winner, for a change," she said. "You and Blaze didn't make it easy for us, though -- if I hadn't taught Dig to Vulpix with the TM I got for my birthday last year, you would've creamed us! And if you'd used Smaug...forget it!"

Gary winked at her. "Don't sell yourself short, Jess -- you and Vulpix won because you make a great team, and you used a great strategy. You deserved your victory."

"I'm just sorry you couldn't win, too," she remarked.

"Ah, that's okay," he said. "I didn't come here to win any Fire Stones -- I just wanted to get in some extra training with my fire pokemon before heading to Mahogany Town...and that I did, thanks to you." He then changed the subject. "Oh, I noticed that Vulpix got burned when Blaze used his Flame Wheel. I have some medicine that'll make her feel better. I know it's gonna be another hour or so before you can get her to the pokemon center since we can't miss James's match and need to be here anyway for the closing ceremonies. I don't want her to be in pain in the meantime, and I know you don't either."

"You're right -- I don't," Jessie replied. "Thank you, Gary."

When the two of them reached the hallway that led from the arena to the stands, they saw James and Ash standing there.

James grinned and shook hands with Gary. Then, he swept Jessie into an embrace and touched his lips to hers. "That was an incredible battle! I'm so proud of you, honey!"

Jessie blushed and returned his kiss. "Thanks, sweetie. Good luck in your match."

"He's gonna need it!" Ash said as he watched the exchange. "My Cyndaquil beat an Arcanine in round one -- your Growlithe doesn't stand a chance!"

Jessie and James broke from their embrace and frowned at him.

Gary frowned, too. "Hey, Ash, there's this concept called good sportsmanship -- you should look into it sometime."

"GARY!!!" Ash screamed when he finally noticed his presence. "What are YOU doing here?!"

"Competing in the fire pokemon tournament! What does it look like?!" he replied sarcastically.

"You'd better be glad you weren't competing against me!" Ash sneered, sticking his finger in Gary's face. "I saw the way your Arcanine got beaten by that little Vulpix -- my Cyndaquil would've beaten you a lot worse than that!"

Gary rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Whatever."

"I said it before, but I'll say it again -- kick that twerp's ass for us, James," Jessie whispered into his ear.

"It'll be my pleasure," James whispered back.

After giving James another kiss, Jessie nodded to Gary, and the two of them began heading for the stands so that they could join Meowth, Mondo, Cairdea, and Emanuela. Once they were out of sight, James marched onto the field and took his place in his trainer's box. Ash, meanwhile, didn't even notice that everybody had left -- he was still busy gloating about his impending victory.

"Our seventh match of the afternoon pits Eric Morgan and his Growlithe, Growly, against Ash Ketchum and his Cyndaquil...if Ash Ketchum is even here," said the announcer.

"AUGH!" Ash cried when he brought himself from his reverie and saw that the match was ready to begin. He charged onto the field and grinned sheepishly as he went to his trainer's box.

"Both Growly and Cyndaquil scored impressive dark horse victories in round one this morning, when Growly defeated a Houndoom and Cyndaquil defeated an Arcanine," the announcer continued. "Which pokemon has the advantage in this battle is difficult to say -- it could go either way!"

When the referee waved his green flag and started the match, James and Ash released their pokemon. Growly assumed a fighting stance as Cyndaquil appeared before him.

James smiled. Like Jessie, Annie, Oakley, and Mondo had given him a TM for his eighteenth birthday in January, and he'd used it on Growly. Now it was time to see his pokemon's new attack in action. "Growly! Return!" he shouted.

Ash began to laugh. "You can't call back your pokemon now, you coward!" he jeered. "Not unless you want to surrender already!"

James smirked. "I'm not calling Growly back, kid -- Return is the name of an attack!"

Now Ash looked confused. "It is?"

"Yes. When a pokemon uses Return, its attack power increases. The stronger the bond the pokemon has with its trainer, the greater its power becomes...and my Growly is extremely loyal to me!" James explained.

"You don't scare me!" Ash snapped. "Cyndaquil! Hit it with your Tackle attack!"

"Dodge it, Growly! Use your Agility!" James countered.

As Cyndaquil began his charge, Growly became a blur of orange and gold and evaded the incoming attack. When the fire-mouse stopped in his tracks and tried to locate his opponent, James took advantage of the moment.

"Now use your Take Down attack!"

Positoning himself behind Cyndaquil, Growly slowed his pace enough to become visible again. Then, he went right into another charge and slammed his opponent from behind.

"AUGH!!! That was a cheap shot!" Ash wailed as his pokemon was blasted across the arena. "Cyndaquil! Hit that Growlithe with your Flamethrower!"

Once Cyndaquil got his bearings again, he exhaled a jet of fire at Growly. Luckily, the fire attack wasn't effective against another fire-type that was at a higher level, and the damage Growly took was negligible.

James snickered and brandished a red rose. "Let's show him how it's done, Growly -- use your Flamethrower!"

"Grooowww-lithe!" Growly barked.

As the fire-dog unleashed his attack, Cyndaquil was engulfed by a swirling mass of fire. Since his love for James was so great, the Return technique that Growly had used at the beginning of the battle had increased his strength tenfold. And as a result, his Flamethrower attack had the power of three rapid-succession Fire Blasts. The force of the assault was so great, it caused an explosion that sent Cyndaquil rocketing several feet into the air. When he fell back to the ground in a shower of sparks and embers, he was out cold.

Once the smoke from the explosion had cleared and the referee saw that Ash's pokemon hadn't gotten back to his feet, he waved his red flag. "Cyndaquil is unable to continue! Eric Morgan and Growly are the winners!"

"Yeah!" James cheered. He jumped down from his trainer's box and swept Growly into an embrace. "We did it, Growly! You're the best!"

Growly barked happily and wagged his fluffy tail as he licked James's cheek.

Ash scowled as he stomped onto the field and called back his own pokemon. "Cyndaquil, return," he grumbled.

James extended his hand. "Nice match, kid."

Ash snorted at him and turned away. "Yeah, right. How could a Growlithe beat my Cyndaquil? It's not fair!"

James smirked as he watched Ash stomping off of the field in a huff. You'd better get used to humiliating defeats, twerp...because you're going to be suffering another one in a couple of hours!


When James got to the stands and joined his six friends, they all congratulated him for fighting such a great battle and defeating Ash. Then, they all watched the remaining five matches of the second round together.

After all the battles had been fought, Jessie, James, and Cairdea returned to the field for the victory ceremony. Meowth, Mondo, Gary, and Emanuela cheered and applauded when their friends were declared winners and presented with Fire Stones.

"I'm so happy that Jessie and James entered the tournament," Gary remarked as he watched the closing ceremonies.

"Yeah," Meowth agreed. "Dey really deserve dose Fire Stones...and it was so cool ta hook up with the rest of youse guys, too!"

"And don't forget the best part!" Mondo chimed in.

"Oh, yeah! The Dungeons & Dragons game!" Emanuela giggled.

Once the ceremonies were over, Jessie, James, and Cairdea rejoined Meowth, Mondo, Gary, and Emanuela, and the seven of them returned to the pokemon center so that they could prepare for Ash's arrival.

While Nurse Joy was attending to their pokemon, Mondo called Annie and Oakley and told them about the D & D game. When they heard the plan, they were all too happy to send their Dungeon Master's Guide, a Monster Manual, a few Player's Handbooks, some sets of polyhedral dice, and even some pencils and paper so that everybody could make character sheets, and Cairdea could draw maps and choreograph battles.

"Here you go!" Mondo said as he took the D & D supplies from the transporter and handed them to Cairdea. "We're ready for action!"

"Not quite," she corrected him. "We still have to wait for our guest of honor to show up."

Emanuela looked at Jessie, James, and Gary. "Shouldn't you put on disguises before Ash gets here?" she asked. "He may not want to play if he sees that you're in on it."

"Au, contraire," Gary said. "If Ash sees the three of us here, it'll make him all the more eager to play. He's always had a bug up his butt about competing with me, and he'll doubtless want a grudge-match of sorts with Eric Morgan since Growly massacred his Cyndaquil at the tournament. This'll be perfect!"

"I should prolly put on a disguise, though," Meowth remarked. "Even if he don't recognize Jess and Jim while dey're wearin' regular clothes, a talkin' cat will give the whole thing away."

"Which is why I took the liberty of bringing some clothes along for you!" Jessie said. With that, she produced a cat-sized green t-shirt and pair of jeans and handed them to Meowth. "You can be Eric and Rachael's son!"

"What should we name him, honey?" James chuckled.

"How about Parker?" Jessie suggested.

"Hmmm...Parker Morgan," Meowth said, trying the new name out. "Has a nice ring to it. Just don't call me Pookie!"

Jessie winked at him. "I'm not making any promises!"

While Meowth was putting his clothes on, a Chansey approached the group and held out a tray of poke balls. "Chan-sey!"

"She sez yer pokemon have all been treated, and dey're as good as new," Meowth translated.

"Thank you," Jessie, James, Gary, Cairdea, and Emanuela said as they took the poke balls from her.

Chansey nodded to them and took her leave. Once she was gone, Cairdea grinned and released Sionna. Then, she brought out the Fire Stone she'd won.

Sionna cocked her head to the side. "Vuuulll?"

Cairdea knealt down and placed her hand atop the fox's head. "This is it, Sionna. Are you ready to evolve?"

Sionna's brown eyes sparkled. "Vul-pix!" she exclaimed.

Meowth nodded. "She sez, Hell, yeah!"

"I figured!" Cairdea laughed. She smiled again and held the Fire Stone out to her pokemon. As the clear stone touched Sionna, the red and gold tongues of flame inside of it began to glow like a warm campfire on a dark night. After a moment, Sionna was engulfed by the light that radiated from the stone. When the light faded away, the fox began to grow larger, and her red fur became the color of platinum. Her large brown eyes became more angular and turned crimson, and three more long, luxurious tails sprouted next to the six she already had.

"Niiine!" Sionna said when the transformation was complete.

Emanuela became starry-eyed. "How beautiful!" she cried.

"I just adore Ninetales!" Jessie sighed.

Mondo looked up at Jessie and James. "Are you going to use your Fire Stones now?" he asked eagerly.

James shook his head. "Jessie and I would like to work with Vulpix and Growly a little more first. I don't think they're ready to evolve just yet."

"That's probably for the best," Gary told them.

Caridea stroked Sionna's long, golden mane and scratched behind her ears before returning her to the poke ball. "Yeah. You'll definitely know when the time is right -- I know I did."

As the seven of them continued their discussion, Ash, Misty, and Brock entered the pokemon center, and Ash gave Cyndaquil's poke ball to Nurse Joy. Then, he turned around and saw Cairdea.

"Hey! Are you ready to play D & D, Ash?" she asked. "We've all been waiting for you!"

His grim expression brightened. "Yeah! Let's get started! If this game is anything like pokemon battles, it should be easy!"

"Said the twerp who just got his ass kicked in a pokemon battle," Meowth muttered to Jessie and James.

The two of them snickered.

Gary stepped from behind Cairdea. "Are you sure you're up to the challenge, Ash? D & D can get pretty tough, you know."

Ash frowned again. "GRRR!!! What are YOU doing here?!" he demanded.

"Gary is my friend. I invited him to play," Cairdea replied. She stepped aside and held her arm out in a sweeping gesture, revealing her five other companions. "This is Emanuela D'Andrea, Mondo Cole, Eric and Rachael Morgan, and their son, Parker. We're all going to be playing Dungeons & Dragons tonight. And I'm Cairdea Underhill -- I'll be the Dungeon Master."

"Hey, I know you!" Ash snapped when he saw James. "You're the guy with the Growlithe that I battled at the tournament!"

Jessie and James exchanged looks. Jessie was wearing a green tank top and a black mini-skirt, and James was wearing a black t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans -- it wasn't likely that Ash would figure out who they really were.

Turning his attention back to Ash, James folded his arms across his chest and smirked. "Small world, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Ash said gruffly.

"So, are you going to answer Gary's question, or not?" James continued. "Are you up to the challenge?"

"Of course I am!" Ash shouted. He leveled an accusing finger at Gary and James. "You guys may have beaten me the last time we battled, but you won't beat me now! I'm gonna win!!!"

We'll just see about that, twerpo...we'll just see, Cairdea said to herself as she and the others watched Ash storming across the lobby to the lounge area. Then, to Brock and Misty, "You guys want to come with...or is a game of wits and imagination too geeky for cool kids like you?"

The two of them sweatdropped when they realized that Cairdea had heard their insulting remarks earlier. "Uh...we'll just sit this one out," Misty said lamely.

"Yeah...thanks anyway," Brock added.

Cairdea nodded. Then, she turned to her six companions and grinned. "It's showtime!"


Five minutes later, the eight players were seated around a large table in the pokemon center lounge.

A confused look crossed Ash's face as Mondo began handing Player's Handbooks, pencils, and paper to everybody, and Cairdea arranged her Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual. "What's going on here?" he queried. "I thought we were gonna play a game, not do homework! Jeez, if I wanted to do homework, I would've stayed in school."

"We're getting the game set up, Ash," Gary told him. "Have a bit of patience!"

"What kind of game is this, anyway? Doesn't it have any pieces, or a board, or a spinner, or something?"

"No, Ash," Gary sighed.

He frowned. "Well, how am I supposed to know what's going on if there's no board or game pieces?"

"Yer supposed ta use yer imagination, dip-shit!" Meowth snapped.

"So, if this isn't a board game, it must be a card game!" Ash concluded. "Are you gonna deal me any cards?"

"No, Ash. That's Magic: The Gathering," Cairdea corrected him.

"The what?"

Cairdea clutched her head in her hands. I'm gonna need some Tylenol before the night is over -- this twerp's idiocy is giving me a migraine! Then, aloud, "Look, I'll explain everything once we get started. Just stop asking questions, okay?"

Ash nodded. But when Emanuela handed him a set of polyhedral dice, the confused expression returned to his face. "What the?! What the heck are these things?!" he asked as he brought the brightly-colored dice from their pouch.

"They're dice, Ash," Gary replied. "You need them for the game."

"You are such a liar, Gary!" Ash shouted. "Everybody knows that dice are little squares! These things are diamonds and triangles and round ball thingies with flat sides!"

"Only six-sided dice are cubes," Cairdea told him in a voice barely restraining rage. "Those triangles are four-sided dice, the diamonds are eight- and ten-sided dice, and the round ones are twelve- and twenty-sided dice."

"They look like candy," Ash remarked as he popped his red twenty-sided die into his mouth. He quickly spit it out. "They don't taste like candy, though...."

Mondo winced and made a mental note to sanitize the dice set Ash was using before returning it to Annie and Oakley.

"Alright, enough fooling around!" Cairdea said. She swatted Ash's hand and made him drop the four-sided dice that he was getting ready to stick up his nose. "Let's get started. The first thing you have to do is roll up some characters. I've always been partial to method five of character creation, myself, so roll 4d6, drop the lowest, and you can arrange your stats to taste. I'll also be generous and let you reroll your lowest stat."

Jessie, James, Meowth, Gary, Mondo, and Emanuela all nodded and began rolling their dice.

Ash, however, looked more confused than ever. "Uh...can you explain that again?" he asked. "I didn't understand a word you just said. What's 4d6? What are stats?"

"4d6 is short for four six-sided dice," Cairdea explained.

"And stats are your ability scores: strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, and charisma," Gary chimed in.

"You're insulting me, aren't you, Gary?!" Ash said defensively.

"I'd say the twerp is doing a fine job of that himself," Jessie muttered to James.

For the next few minutes, everybody rolled their stats (though Cairdea ended up having to roll Ash's stats for him after at least ten unsuccessful attempts to explain the character creation process to him). Nearly all of the dice rolls resulted in average stats, but there were also more than a few good scores. And Ash, with his usual dumb luck, managed to get more exceptional scores than all of the other players...and this, in turn, only convinced him further that he was going to win.

Once everybody had arranged their ability scores, they decided on names, races, and classes for their characters. Jessie was Eowyn Firebrand -- a human ranger. James was Severus Blackthorn -- a human wizard. Meowth was Peregrin Fastfinger -- a halfling thief. Gary was Alcavar Oakenstaff -- an elven wizard. Mondo was Alaric of Mystra -- a human cleric. And Emanuela was Nami Zoro -- a human fighter.

Cairdea nodded approvingly when she heard the names. "I see you named your character after Professor Snape from Harry Potter, James."

James smiled. "Of course! Snape is one of my favorite characters!"

"Mine, too," Cairdea agreed. Then, to Jessie and Meowth, "And I like the Tolkien names for your characters. The warrior woman and the plucky hobbit from Lord of the Rings are good namesakes."

"I kinda got my name from Tolkien, too," Gary told her. "I found a great Middle Earth website that has all sorts of language generators and stuff. While I was playing around with it, I found out that my grandpa's name in Elvish is Alcavar. I thought it was cool, so I decided to use it for my character."

"That is cool!" Cairdea remarked.

"And you know where my name came from, don't you?" Emanuela chuckled.

"Of course! You named her after Rolonoah Zoro and Nami from One Piece," she replied. "I suppose that means your fighter is a pirate with weapon specialization in swords?"

Emanuela nodded. "Yeah. I was thinking her father was a pirate, too...."

Cairdea grinned. "Thinking up a character background already? Good work, Manu! And you were afraid you wouldn't be good at role-playing!"

She smiled sheepishly.

"Uh...what's going on here? Why are you using all those weird names?" Ash asked. He looked more confused than ever.

"Dey're names for the characters we're creatin'! Where have you been?" Meowth snapped.

"I don't understand!" Ash whined. "Why do we have to use fake names while we're playing this game?!"

Cairdea rubbed her throbbing temples. "Because we're not playing as ourselves -- we're role-playing as the characters we're creating! That's why it's called a role-playing game!" she said through clenched teeth.

"Hey, I've got an idea for a name for yer character, kiddo!" Meowth piped up. "Howzabout Jack Ash?"

There was a collective snicker from his six human companions.

"Or Ash Hole?" Jessie suggested.

"How about Ash Wipe?" James offered.

"Or, you could name your guy something like Jock Strap," said Gary.

"Or I.P. Freely!" Mondo snickered.

"Or Seymour Butts!" Emanuela laughed.

Now Ash was smiling. "Whoa! Those names are COOL!!!"

"He would think that," Cairdea grumbled.

"I like all those ideas," Ash continued. "But I think I'm gonna name my guy...Noober!"

Jessie, James, Meowth, Gary, Mondo, Cairdea, and Emanuela burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?" Ash demanded. "Noober is my middle name! It's the coolest!"

This only made them laugh even harder.

"Y-your...middle!" Jessie said between chuckles.

"What kind of name is that?!" James snickered.

"Stop laughing! My mom named me after her uncle Noober!" Ash said proudly. "He must've been a great man if she named me after him!"

"Yeah, ol' Noober was great, alright -- a great, big moron!" Gary whispered to Jessie, James, Meowth, Mondo, Cairdea, and Emanuela as Ash continued to brag about how proud he was of his great-uncle.

"Uh, oh. I feel another horror-story comin' on," Meowth remarked.

Gary nodded. "Oh, yeah. Noober was the Pallet Town village idiot back when my grandpa was about our age...and from what I hear, Noober was exactly like Ash! Spent his childhood tearing up flower beds, knocking over garbage cans, stealing stuff out of tool sheds, pissing in bird baths, and blaming it on other folks when he got caught. Grandpa also said that when Noober was a teenager, he got it in his head that he was going to be a pokemon master. But he didn't get very far -- he just ended up wandering around in his backyard for a few weeks, thinking he was traveling all over Kanto, and the only pokemon he managed to catch were a few twigs and rocks. Noober died when my dad was a little boy, so I never saw him myself, but grandpa and dad told me all about him. A lot of other people still remember him, too. Believe me, if you want Noober horror-stories, just talk to anybody who lived in Pallet back in the 40s and 50s -- you'll hear some outrageous stuff."

"So, the dumbass gene runs in Ash's family?" Jessie ventured.

"Yep," Gary replied. "All his relatives that I've heard about were like that -- I think his mom is the only normal one of the bunch...and that's not saying much!"

James shook his head and sighed. "That's sad...and disturbing. It sure does explain a lot, though."

"Ya got dat right, Jimbo!" Meowth agreed. He snickered again. "Noober. Aw, man, dat's just too funny!"

Everybody turned their attention back to Ash, who was still boasting about his great-uncle's greatness.

"Well, you've got us convinced! That name suits you perfectly, Ash!" Jessie told him.

"Yeah! You're a real Noober, alright!" James added.

"Ya even look like a Noober!" Meowth exclaimed. "Ya got Noober written all over ya!"

"That name is Noober-ific!" Gary told him.

Ash grinned. "And don't you forget it!"

"Oh, we won't!" Mondo snickered. "Believe me, we won't!"

"Noober it is, then!" Cairdea said once she was able to bring her laughter under control. "So, what kind of character do you want to be...Noober?"

There was another collective snicker from the seven of them.

Now Ash looked confused again.

After another several minutes of explaining the different character classes to Ash, he finally decided to be a paladin since it had more benefits than any other class. Cairdea warned him that being a paladin required adhering to an extremely strict moral code and that Noober's lawful good alignment would probably conflict with Eowyn, Severus, and Peregrin, who were chaotic good, and Alcavar, Alaric, and Nami, who were neutral good, but Ash refused to listen. All he cared about was getting the most bonuses for his character so that he could beat everybody else and win the game.

The rest of the character creation process went in a similar fashion. Jessie, James, Meowth, Gary, Mondo, and Emanuela had no trouble buying their equipment, deciding on their proficiencies, and writing down all of their class- and race-related abilities. Meanwhile, after Ash spent all of his funds buying a water clock and had no money left over for food or survival gear, Cairdea decided to spare herself another headache and finished making his character for him.

Once all of the characters had been created (including a non-player character that the Dungeon Master was going to control), Cairdea started the game.

"The story begins in the city of Baldur's Gate on the Sword Coast," she began. "Nami, you're a pirate who's been sailing the Sea of Swords since childhood. Your captain, Luffy, has given you a few weeks of shore leave, so you've come to a tavern in Baldur's Gate to unwind for awhile. Eowyn, you're a ranger who lives in the forest outside of the city, and you've come to restock on a few supplies."

"Oh, Severus is Eowyn's husband, so they go everywhere together," James told Cairdea.

Jessie smiled at James and took his hand in hers.

Cairdea nodded. "Alright, then. Both Eowyn and Severus are in town to do a little shopping. Alcavar is an elf who also lives in the forest, and he's one of your friends, so he's traveling with you. Peregrin is your hobbit friend who lives in town -- you promised to meet him at the tavern today, so you've all hooked up there. And Alaric is a priest from the local temple of Mystra. He's at the tavern for a drink, too."

"What about me?!" Ash demanded.

Cairdea thought for a moment. "Noober, your knightly order in Waterdeep has commanded you to seek out and destroy evil in the wilderness of the Sword Coast, so you're out wandering the land, and your journies have brought you to Baldur's Gate." Then, whispering to the other six players, "Translation -- his order couldn't deal with his idiocy, so they sent him on a little quest to get him out of their hair!"

They all chuckled.

"So, this is kinda like a pokemon journey?" Ash asked.

"Yeah...kind of."

Ash grinned again. "Cool! I think I'm gonna like this game! The first thing I'm doing when I get to the city is finding the gym and winning a new badge! I'm gonna use Pikachu, Chikorita, and Noctowl...."

"Ash, there's no pokemon gym in Baldur's Gate!" Cairdea snapped.

"Then why am I here?!" he demanded. "I'm a pokemon master! I'm not gonna waste my time in a city that doesn't even have a gym! I'm going somewhere else!"

Cairdea ran her hands through her hair and sighed. "Going to another city won't accomplish anything, Ash -- there aren't any gyms, or badges, or pokemon in Dungeons & Dragons!"

"There aren't?!" Ash gasped. "What kind of stupid game is this?!"

"The kind of game you're going to LOSE if you don't shut the hell up and do what I say!" Cairdea threatened, holding her fist up to Ash's face.

This got Ash's attention. "AUGH! I don't wanna lose!" he whined.

"Then forget about pokemon," she told him. "Right now, you're at the tavern in Baldur's Gate, along with the six other characters."

"Fine...." he muttered.

"Okay, Eowyn, Severus, Alcavar, and Peregrin are all sitting together at a table. And since Alaric has seen you around and likes you, he joins your group, too," Cairdea said, continuing to set up the scenario. "You're all sitting around, chatting and drinking...what are you drinking?"

The five of them exchanged looks and thought for a moment.

"Severus and I are having mead," Jessie replied.

"I'll have a pint of ale!" said Meowth.

"Wine for me," Gary told her.

"I'm having wine, too," Mondo added.

Cairdea nodded and went on. "After you get your drinks, you see a girl who's dressed like a pirate come into the tavern. Nami, what are you going to do?"

"I'm gonna have a seat at the bar and order a beer," Emanuela said.

"Alright, while Nami is having her beer and the rest of you are enjoying your drinks at your table, yet another adventurer strays into the tavern...."

"This is me, isn't it?!" Ash exclaimed.

"Yes, Ash, it's Noober," she replied.

"All right!" he cheered. "One time, when I was little, I was playing knight, and I used one of my mom's pie plates for armor and wore her spaghetti strainer on my head for a helmet! It was so cool!"

"Is that what Noober looks like?" Cairdea chuckled.

"Yeah!!!" Ash cried.

"Okay, then! Noober is garbed in the mighty Plate Mail of Keebler and the amazing Helm of Colander!" she laughed.

Ash grinned proudly.

As everybody else began to laugh, James got out another sheet of paper and did a quick doodle of Ash wearing a pie plate and a spaghetti strainer. He was holding a poke ball and shouting, "I am Ash Noober Ketchum from the Town of Pallet! I'm the world's greatest pokemon master and paladin extraordinaire!"

When James showed the drawing to his friends, they nearly fell out of their seats laughing.

Meowth took the paper from him and smirked. "Dis drawin' is highly inaccurate, Jimmy-boy! Ash don't know any big words like extraordinaire!"

"You're right -- I give him far too much credit," James admitted.

When Cairdea finally regained her composure, she continued the story. "Okay, Noober struts into the tavern in his pie plate mail and has a seat at the bar. Nami, you notice that he looks like he hasn't bathed in weeks and has a most foul stench about him."

"I wrinkle my nose in disgust and find another seat," Emanuela replied.

"As luck would have it, the tavern is so crowded today that the only other vacant seat is at Eowyn's table," Cairdea told her.

Emanuela looked at Jessie and James. "Excuse me, madam, sir. Do you mind if I join you? The man at the bar stinks!"

Jessie smiled at her. "Of course not! Have a seat!"

For the next couple of minutes, Cairdea sat back and let the characters introduce each other and exchange pleasantries. Once they'd formed into a harmonious party, she decided to get the action started.

"While you're all sitting around and talking, a panicked villager races into the tavern," she told them. Then, in a deeper, more masculine voice, "Help! We need a cleric out here! It's an emergency!"

Taking the cue, Mondo spoke next. "I'm a cleric. What's the matter?"

"An injured woman just collapsed in the street!" she replied.

"I get up from the table and go to the villager's side," Mondo said. "We'll get her to the temple and heal her right away."

Jessie, James, and Gary exchanged smiles -- they knew that this was going to be the starting point of the campaign. "We'll go with him," Gary announced.

Cairdea nodded. "What about the rest of you?"

"Yeah, I'm goin' too," said Meowth.

"Count me in!" Emanuela replied, following her more experienced friends' lead.

"But I didn't get my drink yet!" Ash whined.

"Forget your drink!" Cairdea snapped. "When somebody needs help, a paladin is supposed to hop to immediately! If you can't role-play your character correctly, then you're going to lose!"

The threat of losing the game brought Ash back in line. "Okay, okay, I'll follow the rest of them."

"When you get outside, you see a woman lying in the street. She's dressed in rags, and she's covered with cuts and bruises," Cairdea told them. "The six of you also notice that the smelly man from the tavern is following you. He has the symbol of Tyr -- the god of justice -- etched on his pie plate just below the Keebler logo, so you can tell that he's a paladin...albeit a lame one."

"Well, if he's a paladin, then he can help us heal her," said Mondo. "We'll overlook his rotting stench and let him come with us."

"Alright," said Cairdea. "The seven of you take the woman to the temple of Mystra. What do you do now?"

"Paladins can heal people, just by touching them, right?" Jessie asked.

"Yeah," Cairdea replied. "Two hit points per level of experience. And since all of you are at fifth level, that'd be ten."

"Then, that's what we'll do," said James. Then, to Ash, "Will you please use your abilities to heal her?"

"No way!" Ash cried. "I may need to heal myself -- I'm not gonna waste it on somebody else!"

"Selfishness isn't a lawful good trait, Ash," Cairdea warned him. "Keep this up, and you'll be losing your paladin status."

"Fine, I'll heal her," he grumbled.

"Good. Noober uses his healing abilities and gives her ten hit points back. Meanwhile, Alaric and the other priests of Mystra cast some curative spells on her," Cairdea went on. She looked at Mondo. "Do you have a religion proficiency?"

"Of course!" he said. "I wouldn't be much of a cleric if I didn't!"

She nodded approvingly. "That's what I was counting on. While you're casting your cure spells, you notice that the cuts on the woman's right arm look like they were carved into her flesh with a knife. They're in the formation of a hand that has a gaping mouth in the palm. You recognize it as the holy symbol of Moander."

"I've got a player to DM question," Mondo said. "Who's Moander?"

Cairdea brought out a book about the myths and deities of the Forgotten Realms D & D setting and opened it to the page on Moander. She then handed the book to Mondo and let him read the passage. "Are you going to share this information with the rest of the party?" she inquired.

"Yeah!" Mondo replied. He turned his attention to his five companions and Noober. "These cuts on the woman's right arm form the holy symbol of Moander," he told them. "Moander -- also known as the Darkbringer or Old Moldy -- is a god who's been dead for many ages. When he was alive, he had dominion over garbage and filth. It's widely believed that Moander is no longer worshipped, but I fear that the mark on this woman's arm proves that belief wrong. There may be a cult of priests still loyal to the dead god in the area."

Jessie raised an eyebrow. "But why worship a dead god?"

"Usually, the only reason priests continue to worship a fallen god is when they're trying to revive him. Though I'm not sure why followers of the Darkbringer would be this far west -- Moander's stronghold was in the ruined city of Yulash, near Zhentil Keep," Mondo explained.

"Maybe the cultists came to the Sword Coast to avoid suspicion while reviving their god," James speculated. "If they tried anything like that in Yulash, Elminster of Shadowdale, Fzoul Chembryl, and the Cyricists of Zhentil Keep would all gang up and squash them!"

"That makes sense," Mondo replied. "But if that's the case, we're in a lot of trouble -- if Moander ever returns to life, his avatar would bury the land in a mountain of refuse!"

"That's disgusting," Gary remarked. "We need to find out what happened to this woman when she wakes up. If you're right, and there's a cult trying to revive Moander, they need to be stopped."

Mondo nodded. "I agree."

"He, he. Moander," Ash chuckled. "That's a cool name, too."

Meowth smirked. "The so-called paladin looks scruffy enough ta be his high priest!"

"Indeed," said Gary. "And he appeared on the scene about the same time that the girl did."

"He was also very reluctant to heal her," James pointed out. "That doesn't strike me as the manner in which a true follower of Tyr would conduct himself."

Emanuela grinned. "I draw my swords and hold them to Noober's throat," she announced. "Then perhaps the enemy is among us as we speak!"

Cairdea cleared her throat. "You notice that the priests of Mystra are all casting warning looks at you, Nami."

"The Lady of Magic abhors the use of violence within her hallowed halls," Mondo informed her.

"Alright, I can take a hint -- I put my swords away," she said.

"I agree with Nami, though," Jessie remarked. "I do not trust this so-called paladin."

"Nor I," James concurred. "Only Old Moldy himself surpasses him in foulness of countenance. We would be wise to remain on guard around him."

"While you're discussing this issue, you notice the woman beginning to stir," Cairdea told them. "She...."

"So, is the object of this game to get rid of the Moander priests?" Ash interrupted.

Knowing that a detailed explanation of the nature of Dungeons & Dragons campaigns would go over his head, Cairdea decided to keep her reply simple. "Yes, Ash. If you defeat the evil priests, you win."

"All right!" he cheered. "Noober grabs the woman by the arms and shakes her. Wake up, lady! Tell us where the priests of Moander are!"

"Roll a dexterity check," she said.

Ash's brow furrowed. "Roll a what, now?"

"Just roll your twenty-sided die and tell her what you get," Gary clarified.

"Shut up, Gary! You can't tell me what to do!" Ash snapped.

Jessie reached over and smacked Ash on the back of the head. "He was only trying to help, you stupid twerp!"

Ash frowned at her. "Jeez, you're even meaner than Team Rocket."

Cairdea pounded her fist on the table. "Look, just roll the damn die, okay?!"

"Fine," Ash muttered. He rolled the die and got an eighteen. "Is that good?"

Cairdea laughed. "Nope! Noober's dexterity is only fourteen -- you failed the check."

"What does that mean?" Ash asked.

"It means when you grab the woman and start shaking her, she pushes you away, and you get knocked on your ass," came her reply.

"Augh!" Ash cried.

"I go to the woman's side and try to calm her down," said Mondo. "It's okay, miss. You're in a temple of Mystra -- the Lady of Magic. No harm will come to you here."

"She relaxes when you say this," Cairdea told him.

"Please tell us what happened to you," Emanuela prompted.

"And pay no mind to the paladin -- his manners are as foul as his odor!" Meowth chimed in.

Cairdea snickered but quickly became serious again. "We...we were on our way from Cormyr...."

"We?" Gary interjected. "There were others with you?"

"The woman nods," Cairdea replied. "I was part of a small troupe of traveling entertainers. We'd been performing in Cormyr all spring, and we were on our way to Waterdeep, but before we reached Baldur's Gate, we were attacked by a group of people wearing green robes."

Mondo bit his lip and nodded. "I knew it. Priests of Moander. The Darkbringer's followers are often robed in green. What did they want with you?"

"Not rightly sure," she said. "The priests in green cast some kind of spell that made the forest come alive, and the next thing we knew, all of our wagons were entangled in vines and tree branches. They took what looked like some kind of abandoned village. Carved a hideous mouthed hand into all of our arms and sounded like they were chanting in tongues. Then they started killing us one by one. Luckily for me, I learned a bit of magic here and there in my travels -- when the priests came for me, I temporarily blinded them with a Light spell. Then, I cast Knock and loosened my shackles so that I could slip my bonds and escape. I ran all day and all night until I finally got to Baldur's Gate...."

Mondo's expression became grim. "Human sacrifices. Souls to feed and revive their fallen god. This is more serious than I thought. Miss...."

"Ravensong. My name is Morrigan Ravensong," Cairdea told him.

"Morrigan, do you remember where this abandoned village is?" he inquired.

She frowned. "I hope you're not expecting me to escort you there. I'd rather take a stick in the eye than face those creatures again."

"We understand," Gary told her. "But you have to tell us how to find this place."

"Yeah! We're going to kick their asses!" said Emanuela.

"How do we know she's not lying?! This could be a trick!" Ash cried. He levelled a finger at Cairdea. "I don't trust you! I'm using my Detect Evil ability on you!"

Cairdea responded by slapping Ash across the face and knocking him out of his seat.

"AUGH!!! What was that for?!" Ash whined as he rubbed his burning cheek and climbed back into his chair.

"That's what Morrigan did to Noober for being so tactless and rude," came her reply.

"But it could've been a trap!" he protested.

"Yes, and maintaining a healthy level of skepticism in situations like these is often wise...but flat-out accusing somebody of deception or evil without any proof is uncalled for."

Ash gave her a confused look.

"In other words, be cautious, but don't be an asshole about it," she said. "If Morrigan were evil or had evil intent, I'd have pulled you to the side and told you that Noober could sense something was wrong."


She rolled her eyes and continued. "I promise you, I'm telling the truth."

"And we believe you," said Jessie. "Just tell us where we can find these priests. By Mielikki, the Lady of the Forest, I swear we're not going to let them bring Moander back to life."

After a long pause, Cairdea spoke again. "It was all a blur to me -- I'm not sure if I can recall exact directions. I'd know if I could retrace the route myself, but...."

"It's okay. If you take us there, then we'll protect you," James assured her. "We'll be damned if we allow this to continue."

"Eowyn and Severus are right -- we can't let Moander's priests kill more innocent people, and we can't let them revive the Darkbringer," Mondo agreed. "Morrigan, we understand your reluctance to return to the place where you were held captive, but if evil is allowed to succeed, then nowhere will be safe."

"I see your point," she admitted. "Very well. I will help you. Just don't expect much from me -- I'm but a wandering minstrel."

"A wanderin' minstrel who just so happens ta know magic!" Meowth pointed out.

She smiled. "The hobbit is right. Perhaps I can be more useful than I know." Then, as the Dungeon Master again, "You notice that the hour is late. What are you going to do?"

"It wouldn't be wise to journey in the dark," Jessie replied. "When the sun goes down, orcs and gnolls and other foul things come out."

"And the only ones among us who can find their way at night are Peregrin and Alcavar," said James.

"Besides, Morrigan needs more time to rest and recover," Mondo added.

"Then we won't leave until morning," Gary concluded.

"A smart decision," Cairdea told them. "Okay, so you all spend the night preparing for your journey. Wizards, study your spells; Alaric, pray for your spells; everybody else can just take it easy."

Once James, Gary, and Mondo had written down all of the spells they wanted to memorize, and Jessie, Meowth, and Emanuela had purchased more supplies, Cairdea skipped ahead to the next morning, when the adventurers set out on their quest.

"So, which way is this village where the priests of Moander took you, Morrigan?" Jessie inquired as the party left Baldur's Gate.

"It was south of here," came her reply. "Towards the land of Amn."

"Den south we shall go!" Meowth cheered. "Let's go kick dere asses!"

Cairdea nodded. "You follow the road south for about an hour." She paused for a moment and rolled a pair of ten-sided dice. Then, she gave the players a mischievous look.

"Uh, oh. Looks like it's time for a random encounter," Gary chuckled.

"A what?" Meowth asked.

James smirked. "You didn't think the priests of Moander were going to be the only things we fought in this game, did you?"

A light twinkled in the cat's midnight-blue eyes.

"Alcavar and Severus are right," Cairdea chuckled once she was finished consulting her Monster Manual and rolling hit points for the monsters she'd selected. "As soon as you cross the bridge over the River Chionthar, you hear a loud thudding noise...feel the ground shaking beneath your feet. Suddenly, the light of the sun is blocked out, like an eclipse. Looking up, you see...."

"It's a Tyranitar!" Ash shouted, cutting her off. "I'm gonna battle it with my Chikorita and capture it!" He jumped to his feet and grabbed a poke ball from his belt.

Cairdea grabbed him by the sleeve of his shirt and yanked him back into his seat. "Excuse me, I'm the DM here -- I decide what you find...or what finds you!"

Ash frowned. "Alright then, what kind of pokemon is it?"

"It's not a pokemon -- it's a hill giant," Cairdea corrected him. She flashed everybody a wicked grin. "He overheard Noober's remark about wanting to capture him...and since the paladin has taken the initiative and started the battle, that's who the giant is attacking!" Then, she spoke in a much deeper voice:

I smell someone really dumb!
I'll swing my club and make him dead,
Then grind his bones to make my bread!

Ash gave Cairdea a blank look. "Uhh...what does that mean?"

Cairdea rolled her twenty-sided die again and laughed. "It means you're about to get killed!"

Jessie, James, Gary, and Mondo laughed too when they saw that she got a twenty on her attack roll.

"The hill giant twirls his big, wooden club around a couple of times, and then...WHACK!" Cairdea announced. She got a seventeen when she rolled two six-sided dice and added seven. Then, she multiplied by two. "He scores a critical hit when he brings the club down on Noober's head for thirty-four points of damage."

Ash looked at his character sheet. Noober had exactly thirty-four hit points, and the giant's attack had brought him down to zero. "Uh, what happens when I don't have any of these HP things left?"

Cairdea smirked. "You're knocked unconscious, kid. You're out of the battle."

"AUGH!!!" Ash wailed.

She laughed again and turned her attention back to the rest of the party. "What are you guys going to do?"

"I'm going to cast Bless on everybody," Mondo told her.

Cairdea nodded approvingly. "Good idea. You sprinkle some holy water on your fellow party members and say a prayer to Mystra. Everybody feels their morale boosted -- that means you all get plus one on your attack rolls and saving throws for the next six rounds."

"How far away is the giant?" Jessie asked.

"Well, since Noober ran out in front when you first saw the giant, he's still a good ten feet away," Cairdea said after thinking for a moment. "He'll be on you in the next round, though."

Jessie nodded. "Okay, then. I'm not going to rush in like the twerp did -- I think I'll hang back and shoot him with my bow and arrows."

"Same here," Meowth agreed. "I'm just gonna shoot at it with my crossbow."

"And I'll cast a Magic Missile spell," James announced.

"So will I," said Gary.

Emanuela smiled. "No standing back for me! I unsheath my swords and charge in at full-tilt!"

"Alright, Eowyn and Peregrin. Make your attack rolls. Severus and Alcavar, roll 3d4 for spell damage and add three. Nami, it's going to take you one round to reach the giant, so you'll have to make your attack rolls on the next turn."

Jessie rolled her twenty-sided die and got a fourteen. And when she added her character's strength and dexterity bonuses and the bonus from the Bless spell, she ended up with seventeen. "A modified seventeen," she announced.

"That's a hit!" Cairdea told her. "Now roll for damage."

Jessie rolled a six-sided die and got five, which was boosted to seven by her strength bonus. Meanwhile, James and Gary rolled their three four-sided dice and got eleven and twelve, respectively. Unfortunately, Meowth got a six on his attack roll, which, even with his dexterity and Bless modifiers, was a miss.

Cairdea then made an attack roll for Morrigan and missed as well. She whistled. "Wow! Eowyn nocks an arrow in her bow, pulls it back, and lets it go. It sinks in right under the giant's collar bone. At that same instant, the two wizards start chanting, and six Magic Missiles slam into him and knock him backwards. And as he staggers back, two bolts from Peregrin and Morrigan's crossbows whiz past his head and miss by mere inches. He's still alive, but you've got him on the ropes already!" Her expression became grim. "But now I've got some bad news. The giant is on you now, and he's getting ready to attack again...and since Nami is the one charging him, that's who he's going for. And as the giant prepares for another strike with his club, you hear a growling noise and see an enormous grizzly bear emerging from the forest."

"It's an Ursaring!" Ash cheered. "I'm gonna capture it!!!"

"Yer unconscious, dumbass -- ya can't do anything!" Meowth snapped.

"Oh, that reminds me," Cairdea said. "Noober takes one point of damage since nobody bandaged him last round. Now he's at negative one."

"What does that mean?" Ash asked.

"It means that you got hurt again," she told him. "If you get down to negative ten hit points, you die."

"AUGH!!! Somebody heal me! Quick!" he cried.

"Well, you'll just have to wait -- we're kinda busy here," Jessie replied.

Cairdea rolled for the giant's second attack and got a twenty again. Luckily, when she rolled for damage, she got ones on both six-sided dice, but when she added seven and multiplied the damage by two, she ended up with eighteen -- more than half of Nami's hit points. She cringed as she narrated the next part. "The giant brings his club down and crushes Nami for eighteen points of damage. You're shaken, but still on your feet. Meanwhile, the grizzly is still approaching -- he won't be on you for another round yet."

"Is it my turn to attack?" Emanuela wanted to know.

Cairdea nodded. "Yep. And since you're specialized with long swords, you get three attacks this round."

Emanuela rolled her twenty-sided die three times and got an eighteen, a two, and a three.

"Even without the modifiers, that's a hit and two misses," Cairdea remarked. "Roll a d12 for damage since it's a large opponent."

When Emanuela rolled her twelve-sided die, she got a ten. And her strength and weapon specialization bonuses brought the total up to fourteen.

"That'll do it!" said Cairdea. "Nami makes a quick recovery from the giant's crushing blow and brings up one of her swords. You slash him right across the stomach and eviscerate him -- he goes down with a jarring crash."

Emanuela grinned proudly. "Just like Zoro -- he keeps on fighting, even when he's half-dead!"

Cairdea chuckled but became serious again. "Now, what are the rest of you gonna do about that bear?"

"I'm going to use my bow and arrows again," Jessie announced.

"Me-owth, too," said the cat.

"I'm gonna cast another Magic Missile," Gary replied.

"I'm gonna cast Cure Light Wounds on Nami," said Mondo.

"And I'm going to cast Tenser's Floating Disc," James announced.

Cairdea raised an eyebrow. "Tenser's Floating Disc? What are you going to use that for?"

"Yeah. I thought that spell was for carrying heavy objects so that the spellcaster won't be encumbered," Gary remarked.

"Indeed it is...but I have a more creative use for it in this situation," James replied. His smile became a grin. "Check this out. I'm going to get the disc to carry Noober's body over to the grizzly bear -- if it's busy eating him, it'll forget all about attacking us!"

"That's a brilliant idea, Severus!" Jessie exclaimed.

James smiled at her. "Of course it is, my dear Eowyn -- I thought of it!"

"No it's not!" Ash whined. "It's a stupid idea!"

"Ah, don't get yer knickers in a knot, twerpo!" Meowth laughed. "Yer a paladin -- dat means it's in yer nature ta take one for the team! Now shut up and let the grizzly eat ya!"

"Hmmmph. I don't think I like this game anymore," Ash grumbled.

Cairdea consulted the Player's Handbook and smiled. "Well, there's nothing in here that says Tenser's Floating Disc can't be used that way. I say go for it, Severus!"

James grinned again.

As the second round continued, Jessie, Meowth, and Cairdea all made their attack rolls and did a total of thirteen damage points with their arrow and crossbow bolts. Then, Gary did another ten points of damage with his Magic Missile spell. Meanwhile, Mondo cast a curative spell on Nami and restored eight of her hit points, bringing her back up to twenty-two. Then, James cast Tenser's Floating Disc and used it to position Noober's body in front of the grizzly bear.

Cairdea laughed. "As predicted, the grizzly forgets all about you for the moment and starts clawing through Noober's armor. You've just bought yourself one more round before he's on you."

"Then, I say we keep on hitting him with long range attacks," Jessie suggested.

"Dat's for damn sure!" Meowth agreed.

All of the characters with missile weapons made their attack rolls. Jessie, James and Meowth hit for a total of nine damage points, but Mondo, Gary, and Cairdea missed.

"You see the grizzly slowing down, but he's stopped clawing at Noober, and he's coming for you again," Cairdea told them.

"I send my falcon to fly overhead and distract him," said James.

"And I send my black cat to distract him even more," Gary added.

"Hey! That's no fair!" Ash shouted. "How come Gary and that other guy get pokemon in this game, and I don't?!"

Gary rolled his eyes. "Dammit, Ash, they're not pokemon -- they're familiars!"

Ash blinked. "They're what, now?"

"Familiars. Wizards' animal helpers," James told him.

"Well, I wanna familiar, too!" Ash whined.

"Too bad! Only magic users can cast the Find Familiar spell, and you're not a magic user!" said Cairdea. "Paladins can get a war horse at fourth level, but you don't have one yet...."

"Then that's what I'm gonna do! I'm gonna go and catch a Ponyta!" Ash announced. "Heeeeere, Ponyta! Where are you, Ponyta?!"

Jessie pounded her fist on the table. "Hey, twerp, you're still unconscious -- you can't do anything yet!"

"And you just took four more points of damage -- you're at negative five now because of the grizzly attack and because nobody bandaged you yet," Cairdea added.

"AUGH!!!!!" Ash wailed.

"Okay, Severus's falcon swoops in, and Alcavar's black cat scurries around. They get the grizzly confused for a moment," Cairdea said, bringing her attention back to the other players. "You still have this round to attack with missile weapons."

"That's what I'm doing!" Jessie said. When she made her attack roll, she got a modified sixteen and hit the bear for seven points of damage.

"It's dead," Cairdea announced. "Eowyn fires another arrow and hits it right between the eyes. The grizzly goes down like a ton of bricks. Everybody except Noober gets two hundred experience points, and I'm awarding Severus an extra one hundred for that brilliant new use for Tenser's Floating Disc!"

James grinned again.

"Hey!" Ash snapped.

"Oh, that reminds me. I guess we'd better bandage Noober," Mondo remarked.

"About time," Ash grumbled.

"I also cast another Cure Light Wounds spell and bring him up to one hit point," he continued.

"Alright, Noober is awake again," said Cairdea. "What's everybody going to do?"

"I'm gonna search the giant and see if he was carryin' anything useful," Meowth replied.

Cairdea rolled a die and consulted her Dungeon Master's Guide. "You find a potion, thirty copper coins, and some unidentifiable food crumbs in the giant's pocket," she told him.

Meowth grinned. "Cool! I'm takin' the potion and the coins!"

"No fair!" Ash whined. "He didn't kill anything! How come he gets the treasure?!"

"Cuz I'm the one who thought ta look for it! Dat's why!" Meowth shot back.

"Well, I'm going to scout around and see if there's any place where we can rest for awhile," Jessie said, changing the subject. "Nami needs time to recover from her injuries, and Severus, Alcavar, and Alaric need to memorize their spells again."

"Good idea," Cairdea told her. "And I'll entertain everybody with a brief musical interlude in honor of the brilliant wizard and his floating disc. Morrigan brings out her little harp and starts to sing...."

Misty morning, clouds in the sky,
Without warning, a wizard walks by.
Casting his shadow, weaving his spell,
Funny clothes, tinkling bell.

Never talking,
Just keeps walking,
Spreading his magic.

Evil power disappears,
Demons worry when the wizard is near.
He turns tears into joy,
Everyone's happy when the wizard walks by.

Never talking,
Just keeps walking,
Spreading his magic.

Sun is shining, clouds have gone by,
All the people give a happy sigh.
He has passed by, giving his sign,
Left all the people feeling so fine.

Never talking,
Just keeps walking,
Spreading his magic....

"Thank you, Ozzy!" James snickered when Cairdea finished reciting the lyrics to the song.

Jessie laughed, too. "The Wizard is one of my favorite Black Sabbath songs. You're a pretty good bard, Morrigan!"

Cairdea grinned and rolled her dice again. "After scouting around for awhile, Eowyn finds a cave in the hills a couple miles east of the road," she said, getting back to the game.

"How big is the cave?" Jessie asked.

"Big enough that it looks like a hill giant could fit into it," Cairdea replied. She rolled the dice again. "You also see some stuff piled in the back corner of the cave."

She raised an eyebrow. "Stuff? Like treasure?"

"Could be."

"I'm going back to get everybody else and let them know I found a place where we can rest...and possibly the giant's hoard."

"Are you going to go with her?" Cairdea asked the other six.

They all nodded.

Cairdea rolled her dice a few more times and consulted her Dungeon Master's Guide again. "Eowyn returns and tells you about the cave, and you all follow her back there. When you get inside, you find a pile of goodies buried beneath some rags and bones -- a couple of weapons, some jewelry, a few bottles, some coins, and some barrels."

"I'm gonna cast a Detect Magic spell and see how much of this stuff, if any, is enchanted," said Gary.

"Okay, I'm gonna tell you up front," Cairdea announced. "If this were a multi-session adventure, I'd be more judicious with the treasure. But since this is just a one-time deal, and you all need to get real strong real fast, I'm making it a Monty Haul campaign, of sorts."

"Monty Hall? What does dat guy from Let's Make a Deal hafta do with dis?" Meowth asked.

"It just means we're getting a disproportionately large amount of treasure for the monsters we just defeated," James explained.

The cat grinned and rubbed his paws together. "I can live with lotsa treasure!"

"And that's exactly what you're getting," Cairdea continued. "When Alcavar casts his spell, he sees that two swords, two rings, and three bottles are glowing."

"I separate those items from everything else and let the others know that they're enchanted," Gary replied.

"And as for the non-magical items, you find four hundred gold pieces, two bottles of beer, and some kind of cured meat in the barrels," Cairdea told them.

"I say we divide the gold evenly and each take fifty pieces," Mondo suggested. "That way, it's fair."

"And what about the magical items?" Cairdea asked.

"I'm taking one of the swords and one of the bottles!" Ash piped up before anybody else could reply.

"Now hold it right there, Noober!" Jessie snapped. "I think we should get one of the wizards to identify this stuff before we start using it. And once we know what everything is, we can decide who gets what!"

"I'm not falling for that trick -- you just wanna cheat and take my treasure away from me!" Ash shot back.

"We do not, you greedy boy! Now do what Eowyn says and put the stuff back!" Emanuela said to him.

Ash ignored her and added a sword and a potion to the item list on his character sheet.

James shook his head and sighed. "Like talking to a brick wall...."

"Don't worry, guys," Cairdea whispered to them. "Lady Luck Tymora frowns on greedy Noobers -- I have a feeling he won't be very happy with the items he took."

The six of them snickered.

"Ah, I already got a potion when I searched the giant's body," Meowth said. "I just won't take any a dis other magic stuff."

"And technically, my character isn't even playing, so I won't take anything either," Cairdea chimed in. "So, I guess the rest of you should divide the stuff up now before Noober decides to take any more of it."

"Is the remaining sword a long sword?" Emanuela asked.

Cairdea nodded.

"Then that's what I'm taking!"

"And I'll take one of the potions," said Gary.

"I'll take a ring!" Jessie exclaimed.

"And I'll take the other ring!" James chimed in.

"Then I'll take the last potion," said Mondo.

"Alrighty, then! Now, do either of the wizards have an Identify spell memorized?" Cairdea queried.

"I do," James replied. "I'll cast it now."

Cairdea winked at him. "As luck would have it, your spell allows you to identify only six items at any given time. Which items are you going to choose?"

Catching on to the Dungeon Master's plan, James grinned. "I'm going to identify my ring, Eowyn's ring, the potions that Peregrin, Alcavar, and Alaric are carrying, and Nami's sword."

"Hey, what about my stuff?!" Ash demanded.

"You heard the DM -- I can only do six items at a time...and I have only one Identify spell," James told him.

"But can't you memorize another one?" he whined.

James smirked. "I could...but it'd cost you five hundred gold pieces."

"WHAT?!" Ash screamed. "WHY?!"

"The material components for this spell are expensive!" James informed him. "You think hundred GP pearls and luckstones grow on trees? Besides, the spell is physically taxing, too -- I need to spend eight hours purifying the items before I cast the spell, and I'll need to rest and recover for eight hours before I can study and memorize another one."

"Speaking of recovery, I'm going to cast my last Cure Light Wounds spell on Nami," Mondo broke in. He rolled his eight-sided die. "She gets another six hit points back."

"Thank you, Alaric," Emanuela said.

"Hey, how come you didn't use it on me?!" Ash demanded. "I need those hit point things more than she does!"

"It's quite simple. Nami is a valuable member of this party, she doesn't scream at everybody or try to boss them around, and she doesn't hog all the treasure," Mondo explained. "I chose to cure her because I like her more than I like you."

"And that's also why I'm using my one and only Identify spell free of charge for everybody except you, Noober," James added.

"AUGH!!! This isn't fair!" Ash whined.

"And takin' the greatest portion a treasure when ya didn't do anything ta earn it is?" said Meowth.

Ash screwed up his face and pouted for a moment. "I...I'm a paladin!" he shouted. "I've got the highest charisma, so that means I'm the leader! And I've got eighteen/eighty-two strength! If you don't wanna help me, then I challenge you to a battle!" He stuck his finger in James's face. "You may have beaten me in that pokemon battle this afternoon, but I can beat you in a sword fight in this game!"

"I've still got a Magic Missile spell memorized, twerp. If you even touch me, I'll blast you to kingdom come," James warned him.

"Yeah! If you harm my husband in any way, you'll be feeling the wrath of my sword as well, Noober!" Jessie added.

Meowth unsheathed his claws. "And ya just may be gettin' a knife in yer back, too!"

"And a round of Magic Missiles from me," Gary chimed in.

"You may think you're a good swordsman, Noober, but I'll cut you to ribbons!" said Emanuela.

"And I'll see to it personally that the Lady of Magic strikes you down if you hurt any of my friends!" Mondo said.

Ash tugged on Cairdea's arm. "Dungeon Master, they're picking on me! Make them stooop!" he whimpered.

"I'll do no such thing," Cairdea replied, pulling herself free from his grasp. "You pissed them off, now you have to deal with the consequences."

"Hmmmph. They're just jealous because I'm winning," Ash snorted.

"Yeah. Sure, Noober," Gary muttered.

"You ARE jealous, Gary!" Ash insisted. "You know that I'm a better pokemon trainer than you, and now you're angry cause I'm better at this game than you are!"

"Alright, I've had enough of this!" James snapped. "I'm casting an Irritation spell on Noober."

"You're casting what, now?" Ash asked.

Cairdea grinned. "The temporary itch effect, or the debilitating rash effect?"

Now James was grinning, too. "The debilitating rash, definitely!"

"You heard him, Noober. Roll a saving throw versus spell," Cairdea chuckled.


"Roll your d20, and tell me what you get."

Ash rolled his twenty-sided die. "I got a twelve. What does that mean?"

Cairdea consulted the saving throw table in the Player's Handbook and chuckled again. "It means you didn't make it. You hear Severus recite a little chant, and a few minutes later, your skin starts breaking out in welts and boils. You can't do anything except scratch now, Noober!"

"AUGH!!!" Ash wailed again. "How long does this thing last?!"

"Until a Dispel Magic or Cure Disease spell is cast on it," Cairdea said. "And as long as the rash lasts, you lose one charisma point per day for four days and one dexterity point per week."

Ash looked hopefully at Mondo and Gary. They both turned away from him.

"Shouldn't we remind him that paladins have an innate ability to cure diseases?" Emanuela whispered to Cairdea.

She shook her head. "Nah. Let's see how long it takes the twerp to figure it out. Something tells me that by the time he does, if at all, it'll be too late for him to use that ability -- when he loses one charisma point in twenty-four hours, his stats won't be good enough for him to be a paladin anymore."

Emanuela covered her mouth with her hands and giggled.

"Now, where was I?" James said, getting back to the task at hand. "Ah, yes. I was getting ready to cast an Identify spell for my friends."

"Okay, Severus spends the next eight hours purifying the items," said Cairdea. "What are the rest of you going to do during that time?"

"I think we're all going to have something to eat and drink," Jessie replied, scratching one of the field rations off of her item list.

"And I'm going to pray for more spells," Mondo added.

Gary nodded. "I'm going to study some more spells, too."

"I want something to eat, too!" Ash said.

"Well, that's not going to happen unless somebody wants to share. You spent all your money on a water clock and didn't buy any food, remember?" Cairdea reminded him. "And I don't recommend trying the cured meat from the giant's larder -- no telling what it may be."

"I'm not talking about the game -- I'm talking about myself! I'm huuuuungry!" Ash whined. "I thought you said we were gonna have pizza!"

Meowth looked up at the clock on the wall. "Wow! Is it seven thirty, already? Maybe we should take a break and call for pizza."

"I can do that," Emanuela volunteered. She reached into her purse and brought out a flyer and her cell-phone. "I have a coupon for a place called Paisano's Pizzeria -- three extra large two-topping pizzas and a twelve pack of soda for $25."

"Sounds good," Cairdea told her. "What toppings do we want? And what kind of soda?"

After a few minutes, everybody decided on pepperoni and green peppers, ham and mushrooms, and sausage and onions for the pizzas and cherry cola to drink. Then, Emanuela called the restaurant and placed the order. "It'll be here in about thirty minutes," she said as she turned off her phone and put it back in her purse. "And don't worry about the bill -- this'll be my treat!"

"Nonsense!" Jessie and James protested. "Manu, we...."

"I said don't worry about it," she insisted. "I'm having so much fun tonight, playing this new game. Consider dinner my way of saying thanks."

"Thank you, Manu," said Meowth.

"Yeah! That's really nice of you," Cairdea agreed. "We would've been glad to chip in, though."

Emanuela smiled.

"Alright, back to the game," Cairdea said. She consulted her Dungeon Master's Guide again and rolled her dice a couple of times. Then, she wrote a few things down on a blank sheet of paper and handed it to James. "The eight hours of purification pass without incident. Alaric and Alcavar have memorized more spells, Nami is back at full hit points, and everybody has eaten and rested...except for Noober, who's still busy scratching away at his rash! Now Severus can perform his spell."

"I bring out my material components and cast the spell," James announced, scratching a pearl, a luckstone, an owl feather, and a bottle of wine from his item list. He read the piece of paper Cairdea had handed to him and turned his attention to his five friends. "Nami, your sword is a +5 Defender -- a very rare and valuable find, indeed."

"That means when you equip the sword, you get five bonus points that you can use to improve your armor class or your attack and damage rolls," Cairdea explained. "You can distribute the points any way you like, and you can change the way they're distributed each round. Since your armor class isn't very good, and you already have lots of strength and specialization bonuses, I suggest you use most of the bonus points on defense."

"Sounds like a good idea," Emanuela agreed. "How does three on defense and two on attack sound? That'd lower my armor class to two and raise my attack and damage bonuses to four and six."

She nodded approvingly. "Sounds good!"

James cleared his throat and continued. "Peregrin and Alcavar, you both have Potions of Healing. Alaric, yours is a Potion of Plant Control." His emerald eyes twinkled as he looked at Jessie and smiled. "Eowyn, my love, we made good choices -- yours is a Ring of Regeneration, and mine is a +4 Ring of Protection."

"Take a rest now, Severus -- you've earned it," Cairdea said to James as he temporarily marked eight constitution points off of his character sheet, and everybody else added their new magic items to their equipment lists and tallied up all of the bonuses and experience points their characters had gained.

"So, are you gonna do my items next?" Ash asked.

"Only if you've got five hundred gold pieces," James replied.

"Forget it!" Ash snapped. "I'm not paying you anything after the way you almost fed me to that bear!"

James shrugged. "Fine. Just don't expect me to perform any spells for you if you're not going to compensate me for them."

Ash frowned. "I don't need your stupid spells! I'll just find out what these items are myself! I get out my potion...."

"When you open the bottle, you notice that your potion is a type of oil," Cairdea told him. "That means you rub it on your body instead of drinking it."

"Alright, then. I use my oil and rub it all over myself. What kind of abilities do I gain?"

"You don't know yet -- you'll have to wait and see," came Cairdea's reply. "You're pretty sure it's a useful oil, though."

Ash stuck his tongue out at James. "Ha, ha! I got some really cool oil! I got a cool sword, too!"

"Good for you," James said nonchalantly.

Cairdea snickered and rolled her dice again. "The next eight hours pass without incident as well. Severus has recovered all of the constitution points he lost after casting the spell, but now it's night again."

"Then I guess we'll stay here until morning," James decided. "I need to study more spells, anyway."

"Good idea," Jessie told him. "I'll take first watch and keep you company...."

The rest of the night passed uneventfully for the characters, and when morning arrived, they resumed their journey to the south.

"Does anybody have direction sense as a proficiency?" Cairdea inquired.

Emanuela raised her hand. "I do."

"Good. Nami notices that the party is starting to head more east than south," she told her. "This doesn't jive with what Morrigan said about the abandoned village being south of Baldur's Gate."

"Morrigan, are you sure this is the right way?" Emanuela asked. "I thought you said the village was south of here, and we're starting to go east."

"You see Morrigan stop for a moment to try and retrace her steps," Cairdea announced. "We were heading west from Cormyr...and then we turned northwest when we hit Calimshan and kept the northwest course through Tethyr...we turned straight north when we reached the coast at Amn, and the priests of Moander attacked us shortly after that. You're right, Nami -- we're off course. I have no memory of this place."

"Den let's start headin' south again!" Meowth suggested.

Cairdea nodded and rolled an eight-sided die. "As Nami points everybody south, Noober notices that there's a town a few miles straight to the east."

Ash said nothing. He was busy trying to stick the four-sided dice up his nose again.


He dropped the dice and looked back at Cairdea. "Is that pizza gonna be here soon?" he asked.

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, it'll be here in a few minutes. In the meantime, concentrate on the game. Noober sees a town in the distance."

"Uh, huh."

"So, are you going to tell the other members of the party what you see?"

"Why should I?"

"Because if you go to the town, you might be able to find a cleric who can get rid of your debilitating rash, or a wizard who can identify your two magic items, that's why!" Cairdea said through clenched teeth. She quickly smiled again. "Oh, that reminds me -- since it's been twenty-four hours since Severus cast the Irritation spell on you, you've lost one charisma point...and now that your charisma is at sixteen, you're not a paladin anymore."

This got Ash's attention. "What?! Why?!"

"I explained this when you were deciding on your class -- the minimum charisma score required for a paladin is seventeen, and now that it's not seventeen anymore, you no longer qualify for that character class. Now you're just a regular fighter, but you don't get weapon specialization bonuses since you didn't choose to be a fighter at the beginning of the game," Cairdea informed him. "However, if you get the rash healed, all of your stats will return to normal, and you can be a paladin again."

"Then what are we waiting for?!" Ash cried. "I see a town over there! Let's go!!! I start running up the road!"

"Are you gonna follow him?" Cairdea asked the others. She flashed them a wicked grin.

Knowing that the Dungeon Master had something planned, Jessie, James, Meowth, Gary, Mondo, and Emanuela all agreed to follow Noober.

"You all run up the road and arrive at the town," Cairdea told them. "Who has a reading and writing proficiency?"

Everybody except Ash raised their hands.

She nodded. "Everyone except Noober notices a sign posted at the edge of town. The sign reads: No mages, clerics, magical items, or spellcasting of any sort beyond this point, by decree of Lord Silvik, mayor of North Park. Anybody in violation of the anti-magic ordinance will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

"Well, forget this," James said. "It's probably just an outdated law left over from the Time of Troubles, but I'm sure as hell not going in there to find out."

"Me either," Gary agreed.

"Or me," Mondo chimed in.

Jessie frowned. "If my husband and friends can't go in, then I'm not going in either!"

"Yeah! Screw dis place!" said Meowth.

Emanuela shook her head. "I'm not giving them my patronage either."

"Well forget you!" Ash snapped. "I need to find somebody who can get rid of my rash and identify my magic sword! I'm going in!"

Now Emanuela was frowning, too. "You stupid boy! The DM just said...."

Cairdea held up a hand and silenced her. "So, Noober is going into town alone?" she ventured.

Ash nodded. "Yeah! I don't need those cowards!"

"Are you going to wait for him?" she asked the others.

"Hell no!" Jessie and James replied in unison.

"We don't wanna be around when the shit hits the fan," Meowth added.

Gary winked. "That's right! We don't know him."

"So, you're just going to continue the journey south, and Noober can catch up when he's good and ready?"

They all nodded.

"Alright," she said. "Nami points you south, and everybody continues on their way without Noober." Then, to Ash, "Noober, what are you going to do?"

"I go into town and try to find Officer Jenny or the pokemon center!" came his reply.

"Ash, there aren't any Officer Jennies or pokemon centers in Dungeons & Dragons...just like there aren't any gyms, badges, or pokemon!"

"This game isn't any fun," Ash grumbled.

Cairdea rolled her eyes and continued. "As you enter the town, you see a bunch of villagers walking through the streets, and you see a couple members of The Flaming Fist -- they're the law enforcement organization in this part of the Realms...kinda like Officer Jenny."

"I go up to the Flaming Fist guys!" Ash announced.

"They look at you and smile when they see the symbol of Tyr on your armor," she told him. "Well met, paladin."


"Is there anything we can do to help you?"

"Yeah!" he replied. "Where's the magic shop?"

"The Flaming Fist officers aren't amused," Cairdea snickered. "Surely you speak in jest."

Ash blinked. "Speak in what, now? I'm talking English, and I need to know where I can find a cleric to heal this magic rash I have, and a wizard that can identify my magic sword and this magic oil I rubbed on myself!"

"The officers draw their swords," Cairdea told him. "By order of Lord Silvik, you are under arrest! Surrender your enchanted sword immediately and come with us!"

"AUGH!!! No way!" Ash cried. "This is MY sword -- I won it when I beat a giant and a bear! You can't have it!"

"Resisting arrest? Silvik will not look kindly upon this. Surrender now, or prepare to...."

"Hey, you sound like Team Rocket!" Ash interjected. "I bet these guys ARE Team Rocket! I get out my sword and attack them!"

"Roll 2d10," said Cairdea.

"Why?" Ash asked.

"Because you're about to find out what that magic oil you rubbed on yourself is."

This made him smile again. "Oh, okay!" He brought out two ten-sided dice and rolled them. "I got a six and a zero. What does that mean?"

"It means you failed the check," she laughed. "When you bring out your sword, it slips out of your hand and falls to the ground."

"Augh! Why did that happen?!" Ash whined.

"Because the magic oil you rubbed on yourself is the Oil of Fumbling," she told him. "When you're in combat, the oil makes your hands so slick that you have a fifty percent chance of dropping your weapon each round. The only way to get rid of it is by taking a thourough bath."

"NOOO!!!" Ash wailed. "I don't wanna take a bath! You can't make me!"

"Then you have to keep rolling checks each round you're in combat, to see if you drop your sword or not."

Ash scowled. "Hmmmph. I bet Misty put them up to this -- she's always yelling at me to take a bath...." he muttered under his breath.

"Now the Flaming Fist officers are attacking you," Cairdea went on. She rolled her twenty-sided die twice and got four both times. "Unfortunately, they both missed."

"I'm attacking again!" Ash announced.

"When you reach to pick up your sword, it magically reappears in your hand," she told him.

"Ha, ha!" Ash laughed. "My magic sword is cool! Now I'm gonna beat them!"

"Roll 2d10 again and see if you drop it this round," she reminded him.

Ash's expression darkened once more as he rolled the ten-sided dice. This time, however, he got a fifteen and didn't drop the sword.

"Now make your attack roll."

Ash rolled his twenty-sided die and got a fourteen.

Cairdea closed her eyes and thought for a moment. "Hmmm...their AC is zero, and Noober's THAC0 is sixteen...that's a miss."

"But what about my strength bonus, and my magic sword bonus?!" Ash demanded.

She snickered. "Yeah, about that magic's a -2 Cursed Sword. That means the penalties you get from using it cancel out your strength bonus on attack rolls and reduce your damage roll bonus from four to two."

"Augh! I throw the sword away!" Ash cried.

"And it immediately reappears in your hand," Cairdea quickly told him. "Once you equip a cursed item, you can only get rid of it by magical means."

"If you'd been nicer to us, we would've identified your items for you, and you wouldn't be in this mess now," Gary said smugly.

"Shut up, Gary!" Ash shouted. "I'm attacking you next!"

"Alcavar and the others didn't come to town with you -- they're long gone," Cairdea reminded him. "And now the Flaming Fists are attacking you again." She rolled her die and got a ten and a nineteen. Then, she rolled an eight-sided die for damage. "The first one misses, but the second one hits for two points of damage. You feel his sword stab through a gap in your armor and nick you."

"This isn't faaaaiiiirrrr!!! I'm running!!!" Ash whined.

"Roll a dexterity check to see if you can break away from combat."

Ash rolled a seven on his twenty-sided die.

"Alright, you did it," she said. "You're making a run for it. Where are you gonna go?"

"I wanna leave town!" he replied.

"As you're heading for the gates, you see a couple of villagers standing in your way -- they don't want you to escape," she informed him.

Ash rolled his ten-sided dice and got a thirty-nine. "Then I'll fight them, too!" He rolled his twenty-sided die again and got a twelve.

Cairdea gritted her teeth. "That's a hit. Roll a d8 for damage."

Ash rolled his eight-sided die and got a six.

Now Cairdea was frowning. "Even with your reduced bonus, you did eight points of damage -- you killed one of the villagers. Your sword goes right through him, and when the other villager sees his friend go down, he jumps out of the way."

"Then, I keep running!" Ash said.

"Okay, you make it out of town," Cairdea told him.

"All right!" Ash cheered.

"But now I have some bad news," she continued. "For breaking North Park's anti-magic ordinance and killing an innocent person while resisting arrest, you're now a wanted criminal. The Flaming Fist will be after you. Furthermore, even if you get that rash healed and get your charisma points back, your paladin status has been revoked because you broke the law and committed acts of evil."

Jessie wrinkled her nose. "And we sure as hell don't want Noober back in the party now -- we don't need the Flaming Fist coming after us just because he's an idiot!"

"His taint of evil would work to our disadvantage as well," James pointed out.

Meowth dismissively waved his paw. "Ah, he was a jerk, anyway! Good riddance, I say!"

Gary, Mondo, and Emanuela nodded.

"And it seems you've been abandoned by the rest of the group," Cairdea went on. "You're in quite a pickle, Noober."

"Does this mean I lost?! No fair!" Ash wailed. "I wanna start over!"

"We're not starting over," said Cairdea. "But you haven't lost yet. There's still hope."

"What do I do, then?" he asked.

"First, you have to seek out a lawful good cleric of at least seventh level and confess your sins," she replied.

"But I didn't do anything wrong -- those people attacked me, and I was protecting myself!" Ash insisted.

"Do you want to be a paladin again, or not?"

"Of course I do! I won't be able to win if I play as a fighter and don't get any cool bonuses!"

"Then you have to find a cleric and confess your sins," she said. "You'll also have to do the penance the cleric prescribes...which will undoubtedly be a very difficult, very dangerous mystic quest that requires you to assuage your guilt and prove your worth as a holy knight once again."

"Okay, I'll do it!" he exclaimed. "If I go on a dangerous mystic quest all by myself, everybody will see what a great hero I am!" He pointed at all of the other players. "Then you'll all be sorry for not treating me with the respect I deserve!"

"Yeah. Sure," Meowth snorted.

"Just one question," Ash continued. "Where do I find a cleric?"

"Well, you definitely won't find one in the town you just left," Cairdea replied. "I suggest you follow the road further east. There's bound to be a temple of a lawful good deity in another that has a priest that's at a high enough level to absolve you of your sins. But right now, let's all take a break and have dinner."

When she said this, everybody looked up and saw a teenage boy holding three boxes of pizza and a twelve-pack of cherry cola. "Is this the D'Andrea party?" he inquired.

"It sure is," Emanuela told him. She reached into her purse and brought out $28 for the food and the tip.

"Thanks, miss," the delivery boy said as he set the pizzas and sodas down on the table and pocketed the money. "Enjoy your dinner."

"You're welcome!" Emanuela replied as he took his leave.

"All right!!! Pizza!!!" Ash cried. He tore open the top box and grabbed two pieces of sausage and onion pizza for himself.

"Now hold on just a minute!" Jessie snapped, closing the box and pulling it out of Ash's reach. "We need plates and napkins so that we don't get the books and dice dirty!"

"I'll get those," Mondo said, hopping out of his seat and heading for the cafeteria.

"Besides, it's rude to dive right in and take two pieces like that before anybody else has a chance to serve themselves!" James reproached him.

Ash shrugged and shoved one of the pieces of pizza into his mouth. "Hey, I'm going on a dangerous mystic quest, here! I need to build up all the strength I can!" he replied with his mouth full of food.

Everybody winced.

When Mondo returned from the cafeteria a few minutes later, he handed out paper plates and napkins. As everybody began serving themselves, Ash grabbed the box with the sausage and onion pizza in it again and took two more pieces for himself. And when Gary took a slice from the sausage and onion pizza and put it on his plate, Ash started whining about how it was his pizza and demanded that everybody stop stealing food from him. Knowing that trying to argue with him would be useless, the others decided to let him have that pizza (minus one slice) to himself.

"That's okay -- we're not all that crazy about sausage and onions anyway," James remarked as he, Jessie, and Meowth got two pieces of pepperoni and green pepper and one piece of ham and mushroom for themselves.

"Yeah, but it's the principle of the thing," Emanuela muttered as she, Cairdea, and Mondo took two pieces of ham and mushroom and one piece of pepperoni and green pepper for themselves.

Gary nodded and put the remaining slices of pepperoni and green pepper and ham and mushroom on his plate. "Yeah. Manu paid for the pizzas, and Ash is being a pig."

"Don't worry," Cairdea whispered to them. "The jig will be up for Noober soon enough -- you just know he won't do any better on a mystic quest than he did on the regular one."

The seven friends snickered.

Once everybody had three pieces of pizza and a soda, Cairdea resumed the game. "Okay, Noober. Since you're the one on the mystic quest, you're the one we're gonna focus on for now. What are you gonna do first?"

"Uh, I guess I'm gonna go to another town and find a cleric," he said.

"Are you going to follow the road or cut through the forest?" she asked. "It'd probably be wise to stick to the forest and wilderness since the Flaming Fist is after you, ya know."

"Oh, yeah, I forgot about that," he groaned. "I guess you're right -- I'll stay in the forest."

She nodded and rolled her dice a couple of times. "As you make your way east, taking care to remain hidden in the forest, you cross paths with a stranger. He's dressed as a woodsman, and he's wearing a unicorn pendant -- the holy symbol of Mielikki -- which is a telltale sign that he's a ranger. You can also tell from his pointy ears that he's an elf...."

"I run up and ask him if I can have something to eat!" Ash announced.

"Dammit, Ash!" Gary snapped. "Just because you're wearing a Keebler pie plate doesn't mean you know how to deal with elves!"

"Why not?!" Ash demanded. "Aren't elves those little guys who live in trees and bake cookies?"

Jessie, James, Meowth, Gary, Mondo, Cairdea, and Emanuela fell out of their seats, anime-style.

Cairdea sat up again and ran a hand through her auburn hair. "Upon closer inspection, you notice that this particular elf doesn't look like any elf you've ever seen before," she said to Ash.

"Well, what does he look like?" he asked.

"He has skin as black as jet, and his long hair is as white as snow -- he's a drow," Cairdea told him.

Now Ash looked confused again. "A drow? I thought you said he was an elf!"

"A drow is a dark elf," she explained. "They're a race of elves who live in the Underdark and worship Lloth the Spider Queen. They have black skin and white hair, and most of them are evil, but...."

"If it's evil, then I'm gonna battle it!" Ash shouted, cutting her off.

"Now hold on, Ash! It's never a good idea to just charge in and attack a drow -- they're very dangerous opponents," Cairdea warned him. "And even though they're an evil race, there are a few good ones, like the wizard, Liriel Baenre, and the ranger...."

Jessie, James, Meowth, and Gary grinned when she said this. They knew which drow Noober had encountered.

"Does this particular drow have amethyst eyes, by any chance?" Jessie queried.

"Why, yes! Yes, he does," came Cairdea's reply. "Purple eyes are a rarity among drow -- most of them have red eyes, or amber eyes."

"And are his weapons of choice two scimitars?" James inquired.

Cairdea nodded. "Yes, indeed. Twinkle and Icingdeath are their names."

"And is he carryin' an onix figurine of a panther with him?" Meowth asked.

"Yes, he has Guenhwyvar with him as well," Cairdea told him. "And now, the drow is speaking." She paused for a moment and cleared her throat. "Well met, follower of Tyr. I'm afraid I only have a few wafers of waybread with me at the moment, but if you're in need of sustenance, I'll be happy to...."

"Don't you well met me!" Ash interjected. "I know you're evil! I challenge you to a battle!!!"

"The drow's amethyst eyes narrow to slits, and he places a hand on the hilt of one of his scimitars," Cairdea announced. "You know not what you're saying, paladin. I do not wish to battle you, but I will defend myself if necessary."

"You're a coward if you won't battle me -- you know I'm gonna win!" Ash shouted.

"Your manners are as foul as your stench. This conversation is over," she retorted. "The drow continues on his way."

"That's right, run away! Go back underground and worship your spider goddess!" Ash shouted.

"The drow whirls around to face you again, a fire burning in his eyes," Cairdea snickered. "How dare you compare the Lady of the Forest to a foul being such as Lloth?! Drizzt Do'Urden does not bow to the Spider Queen!"

Jessie shook her head and smiled. "Oh, he's done it now...."

"Game over, Noober," James chuckled.

Meowth laughed. "Wish we could say it was nice knowin' ya, but...."

"Stop laughing! I'm not gonna let some dumb old elf beat me!" Ash whined. "I draw my sword and attack!"

"Roll 2d10 -- you're still covered with the Oil of Fumbling, Noober," Cairdea reminded him.

Ash grumbled and rolled his dice. "A nine and a six...."

Now Cairdea was laughing, too. "Horrible! As you pull out your sword, it flies from your hand and lands several feet away. And before it can reappear in your hand, Drizzt draws his own swords and begins spinning like a corkscrew. He's moving so quickly that you can't even see him, but you can feel his scimitars slicing into your flesh for...." She paused for a moment, rolled two eight-sided dice, and calculated all of the bonuses in with the result. "....Eighteen points of damage."

"Hey, you didn't even do an attack roll! That's cheating!" Ash whined.

"No, it's Drizzt Do'Urden," Cairdea corrected him. "He's only one of the greatest warriors in all the Realms. You'd better thank your lucky stars he wasn't trying to kill you, and eighteen damage points is all he inflicted!"

Ash scowled again.

"When Drizzt calls off his attack, he wipes his scimitars clean and sheaths them once more," Cairdea continued. "There is a priest of Tyr in a town five miles east of here who can heal your superficial injuries, but I fear no magic can cure your insolence and rudeness. Seek him out, and do not pester me again."

"You get back here!" Ash shouted.

"Drizzt ignores you," Cairdea went on. "And as he takes his leave, you notice your clothes and armor falling away in ribbons -- all you've got left is your underwear."

"AUGH!!!" Ash cried.

"On the bright side, Drizzt gave you directions," she said. "He told you there's a high level lawful good priest in a town five miles to the east. Are you gonna go there?"

The sour expression returned to Ash's face. "Yeah, I guess...."

Cairdea rolled her dice. "You continue on your way through the forest. No Flaming Fists or monsters find you during that time, and by sunset you find yourself on the outskirts of another town. You haven't eaten anything...since the game began, so you notice that you're really hungry and thirsty."

"I'm gonna find a place where I can get something to eat!" he said.

She smirked. "None of the restaurants in town will let you in."

"Why not?!" he demanded.

"Think about it, kid -- you're covered with welts, boils, scratches, and cursed oil, you haven't bathed in weeks, and all you're wearing is a pair of crusty underoos. You'd ruin peoples' appetites if they let you in looking like that!"

"Hmmmph!" Ash snorted.

"However, there's a few seedy dives on the bad side of town that don't care what their clientele looks...or smells like," she continued.

"Then I'll go there," he decided.

"After a few minutes of searching, you find a dilapidated bar in the middle of the slums," she told him. "Everybody inside smells just as bad as you, so you blend right in. The barkeep flashes you a toothless grin. What can I get ya ta drink, son?"

"What have you got?" Ash asked.

"Whiskey and dragon's brew," she replied.

"Uh...alright. I'll have a large dragon's brew!"

"You sure you can handle a large?"

"Yeah! Now gimmie a large!"

"Alright, sonny!" Then, in her regular voice again, "The barkeep hands you an enormous tankard. It's full of a pungent-smelling beverage that has pepper floating in it."

"I drink it!"

"Roll a constitution check."

"How come?"

"Dragon's brew is a strong drink, and you just chugged one on an empty stomach. You need to see if you can handle it," she explained.

"Fine," he said. He rolled his twenty-sided die and got a fifteen.

Cairdea shook her head. "Just barely. It's not enough to knock you out completely, but you're seriously drunk." She paused for a moment and rolled her dice again. Then, she snickered.

"Can I have something to eat now?" Ash asked.

"Sure, son. But first ya gotta pay for the drink -- it's ten silver pieces."

"I get out my money and pay him."

She smirked again. "Unfortunately, all of your money is gone."


"While you were drinking, you didn't even notice the thief sneak up and steal your coin purse."

"AUGH!!!" Ash cried. "Someone stole my money!!!"

"The barkeep looks pissed," Cairdea told him. "What?! You order my most expensive drink, and ya don't even have the money ta pay for it! Git out!"


"Before you can protest, the barkeep's employees grab you by the arms and chuck you into the street," she said, cutting him off. "As you land face-first in a pile of horse manure, you see a halfling holding your coin purse and laughing."

"Augh! I chase after him!" Ash cried.

"The halfling runs for it. Roll a dexterity check and a constitution check."

Ash rolled a ten and a twelve. Meanwhile, Cairdea rolled her own twenty-sided die and got a thirteen.

"You chase after him and manage to stay on your feet, but the halfling is moving faster than you are. He gets out of town and vanishes into the forest."

"I keep chasing him!"

"Roll your checks again."

When Ash rolled his twenty-sided die this time, he got a sixteen and a twenty. "Is that good or bad?"

"Bad, for you," came her reply. "As you follow the halfling into the forest, you trip on your own foot and get knocked out cold when you hit the ground."

"Aw, man!" Ash groaned.

Cairdea rolled her dice once more. "And you're about to have another random encounter!"

"Not again!" he whined.

She brought out the Monster Manual. "Oh, yeah. After you lose consciousness, a horde of kobolds comes along."

"A what of whats?"

"Kobolds. They're kinda like goblins, only smaller. And they sound like yapping chihuahuas when they speak."

"They don't sound so tough!" Ash snorted. "I can take 'em!"

"Not while you're unconscious, you can't," she countered. "When the kobolds find you, they start jumping around and yapping. Come here, kids -- looks like a stupid human got drunk and wandered out of town! It'll make great target practice for you!"

"Hey, this isn't fair!" Ash protested.

"When the parents call for them, about twenty baby kobolds emerge from the forest. They're all holding rocks in their little clawed hands," Cairdea went on. "And since you have no armor and are lying prone on the ground, they score automatic hits each time!" She began rolling her four-sided die. "The first one does four points of damage, the second one does two, the third one does another two, the fourth one does three...."

Before Cairdea got even halfway through the kobold attacks, Noober was reduced to zero hit points. And since the kobolds continued to attack him, and nobody was there to heal his injuries....

"Uh, how many HP things does a character have when they die?" Ash asked as he looked at his character sheet.

"A character dies when they reach negative ten hit points," Cairdea reminded him.

"And how many do I have?"

Cairdea paused for a moment and tallied up all of the damage. "Let's see...Noober started out with thirty-four HP, Drizzt did eighteen points of damage, and the baby kobolds just did forty-eight. You're at negative thirty-two, Noober -- you're dead!"

"Game over!" Jessie cheered.

"Thanks for playing!" said James.

"Don't come back again!" Meowth chimed in.

"AUGH!!!" Ash wailed. "This isn't fair!!! Attacking me when I can't fight back is cheating!!!"

"Oh, really?" she said. "Well, you're always attacking people who can't or won't fight back. What's the matter, Ash? You can dish it out, but you can't take it?"

Ash frowned. "What are you talking about?!"

Cairdea raised an eyebrow. "I've heard horror-stories about you, kid. Many of my closest friends have told me how you have no qualms about pulling every dirty trick in the book when you battle them...and I've been on the receiving end of it myself. Yet you're the first to cry foul when things don't go your way, even when it's a perfectly fair fight, and you're only getting what you deserve -- a humiliating defeat!"

"I bet Gary put you up to this, didn't he?!" Ash yelled. He stuck his finger in Gary's face again. "You set me up and made me lose this game because you're jealous that I'm a better trainer than you are! This is all your fault!"

Cairdea slapped Ash across the face again and knocked him out of his seat. "He did no such thing! Making you lose this game was my doing entirely!"

Ash looked up at her. "But...why?"

"Because you've caused a great deal of pain to some of my dearest friends...and a great deal of pain to me as well. I suppose you don't remember much about the Team Rocket agents you attacked that fateful day aboard the St. Anne...but I remember it all in vivid detail -- my friends and I almost died because of you!" she explained. "I hate you, Ash Ketchum...and you'd better be damned thankful that humiliating you in a game and killing a fictional character that you were playing as is all I did to get even with you!"

"So, you're Team Rocket!" Ash sneered, jumping to his feet and assuming a fighting stance. "No wonder you're so evil!"

"Indeed, I was once a Team Rocket agent," she admitted. "But if you want to see evil, I suggest you look into a mirror. There's a reason your paladin fell from grace, boy. It's because you weren't role-playing as a paladin -- you were just being yourself. Your true self is no humble, chivalrous crusader for virtue and right. The truth is, you're a selfish, arrogant, confrontational, back-stabbing, whiny spoiled brat who only cares about getting ahead -- much closer to a neutral evil alignment than the lawful good you believe yourself to be."

"I have no idea what you're talking about, but if you're Team Rocket, that means you must be trying to steal pokemon, and I'm not gonna let you get away with it, you loser!!!" Ash screamed. He grabbed a poke ball from his belt and lobbed it at Cairdea. "Chikorita, get her with your Vine Whip!!!"

Jessie, James, Meowth, Gary, Mondo, and Emanuela jumped to their feet as well.

Cairdea held up a hand. "It's alright -- I can handle this." She smiled and tossed one of her own poke balls. "Go, Sionna! Use your Flamethrower!"

As Chikorita sent forth her vines in an attempt to strangle the ex-Rocket, Sionna intercepted her and exhaled a jet of flame, burning the grass pokemon to a crisp.

"Chikorita, no!!!" Ash cried as his pokemon fell unconscious.

Cairdea folded her arms across her chest and smirked. "Now get out of here, twerp...before I find another way to humiliate you!"

As if to illustrate the point, Sionna bared her teeth, and her platinum fur bristled. "Niiine," she growled.

Ash sweatdropped and began backing away. Then, he turned tail and ran. "This isn't faaaiiirrr!!!" he whined. "I'll make you pay for this!!!"

"Uh, huh. Sure," Cairdea snickered as she returned Sionna to her poke ball.

Once Ash was gone, Jessie, James, Meowth, Gary, Mondo, and Emanuela began to applaud.

"Well played, Cair!" Jessie exclaimed.

"Brava!" James cheered.

"Dat kicked ass!" said Meowth.

Cairdea smiled sheepishly at her friends and took her seat again. Her smile grew even wider than it already was as she ran her hands through her hair and took a deep breath. "Damn, that felt good!"

"I'll bet!" Gary chuckled.

"I've been wanting to get even with Ash for ages," she continued. "And I can't imagine a better way to do it than showing him what an idiotic loser he really is."

"Yeah! It was fun!" Emanuela agreed. "I just wish that shitty boy would've learned something from it."

"We all do," Mondo told her. "But he's a hopeless case -- we'll just have to settle for the humiliation we dealt him today."

"Dat's fine by Me-owth!" the cat exclaimed. "Speakin' a which, what happens ta our characters, Cair? We gonna defeat dose evil priests, or what?"

She smiled again. "Oh, yeah! We still have a game to finish! Now, where were we?"


For the next couple of hours, the seven friends continued their Dungeons & Dragons adventure. The heroes battled orcs, trolls, wild animals, more hill giants, and even a few verbeeg on their way to the abandoned village, and they also obtained more treasures. Alcavar Oakenstaff found a Cloak of Displacement, Alaric of Mystra found a Book of Exalted Deeds which he studied to gain a point of wisdom, Nami Zoro found a suit of elven chain mail, Eowyn Firebrand found a +1 bow and a quiver full of +3 Arrows of Cleric Slaying, Severus Blackthorn found a Wand of Defoliation, and Peregrin Fastfinger found a +3 Crossbow of Accuracy. By the time they reached their goal, they'd all gone up at least one level, and they were a force to be reckoned with.

"Alright, guys -- this is it," Cairdea said when the party arrived at the abandoned village. "You ready for the big battle?"

"Bring it on!" Meowth replied.

She nodded. "Morrigan leads you to a building that looks like it used to be the town hall. Are you going to sneak in or make a grand entrance?"

"It would probably be best to sneak in and assess the situation," Jessie remarked.

"Yeah. We need to know what we're up against and plan a strategy," James agreed.

"Good idea," Cairdea told them.

"I know! I'm gonna use some of my stealth ta go in dere and find out what's goin' on," Meowth volunteered.

"Okay. Roll your checks for moving silently and hiding in shadows."

"Red is tens and blue is ones," Meowth announced as he rolled his two ten-sided dice. He got an eighty on his move silently ability and a one on his hide in shadows ability.

Cairdea's brow furrowed when she saw the results. "You successfully vanish into the shadows, but everybody can still hear your leather armor squeaking every time you move."

"Den I'll just be real careful," the cat replied.

Cairdea smiled. "Okay, Peregrin. You slip into the building, and when you get to the main hall, you see that the entire room is covered with vines -- they're climbing up the walls, twisted across the floor like a green shag carpet...everywhere. At the far end of the room, you see a group of nine priests wearing green robes." She paused for a moment and rolled an eighty-seven on two of her own ten-sided dice. "Luckily, they're all chanting and can't hear your squeaking armor when you sneak into the room. But now for the bad news -- they've got three prisoners with them, and they look like they're getting ready for more human sacrifices."

"Shit," Meowth muttered. "I go back and tell everybody what I see. We gotta stop dose guys before dey kill anybody!"

"Alright, you run back and tell the others what I just told you. What are you going to do now?"

"I'm going to try and use my own stealth abilities to sneak in," came Jessie's reply. "Hopefully, I can use my magic arrows to take out at least one of the priests." She rolled her two ten-sided dice and got a twenty-seven and a thirty-seven, which were both successful ability checks.

Cairdea consulted the Player's Handbook for a moment. "Since you're trying for a sneak attack, I'm going to apply the backstab rules of the thief class," she told Jessie. "You get a plus four bonus to hit, in addition to the magical arrow's plus three bonus and your strength and dexterity bonuses. And since your arrows are intended for use against clerics, any hit you make is an automatic kill."

Jessie smiled.

"When you sneak into the room, you see that one of the priests is holding a knife and getting ready to stab the first prisoner," Cairdea continued. "The other eight are still chanting."

"I'm aiming for the one with the knife," she said. With that, she rolled her twenty-sided die. Her smile became a grin when the result was a fourteen.

"That's a hit!" Cairdea exclaimed. "The arrow flies swift and true for its mark, piercing right through the priest of Moander's heart. He drops dead before any harm can come to the prisoner. And since nobody saw you make your move, you're still hidden. But now, the priests have stopped chanting, and they're starting to search the room -- you can attack again before they find you, but you'll have to hurry."

"Then that's what I'll do!" Jessie announced. She rolled her twenty-sided die again and got a twelve.

"Another hit. A second priest goes down, but the remaining seven can all see you now."

James, Meowth, Gary, Mondo, and Emanuela all spoke amongst themselves for a moment.

"We're all going in to help Eowyn now," James said.

"But I'm gonna use my stealth again and see if I can't free dose prisoners while all the posturin' and fightin' is goin' on," Meowth added.

Cairdea brought out a sheet of paper and made a quick sketch of the layout of the room and the position of the priests and the prisoners. "It'll take you three rounds to maneuver across the room without being seen."

Meowth took a deep breath. "Sounds good. I just hope I make both my checks dis time...." When he rolled the dice, he got a twenty-seven and a ninety-one.

"This time it's the exact opposite -- you figured out how to move around without making any noise, but you're spending so much time concentrating on moving silently that you're not doing a very good job of staying out of sight," Cairdea told him. "As you follow everybody into the room, you start making your way along the wall, hoping that your friends will keep the priests distracted and that you'll go unnoticed." She turned her attention back to the other five. "Meanwhile, the priests approach you, and two of them step forward. Fools! How dare you defile this place?!"

"I'd say you're doing a pretty good job of that yourselves," Gary snorted.

"The first priest scowls at you," Cairdea told him. "Silence! I am Lion, and this is my sister, Zanna. We are the high priestesses of Moander, and you will address us with the proper respect."

"We don't respect anybody who kills innocent people and worships garbage!" James retorted. "Why don't you join your dead god in the abyss?"

"Lion and Zanna laugh and rejoin the other five priests," said Cairdea. "Zanna begins chanting, and Lion addresses you again. I'm afraid it's the six of you who will be going to the abyss -- you will be the newest sacrifices for our lord. Behold the power of Moander the Darkbringer!" Cairdea brought the dialogue to a halt and jotted a few more things down on the map of the room. "When Lion says this, Zanna finishes her chant, and the vines that cover the floor and walls start coming to life and taking shape -- after a moment, you find yourselves surrounded by ten shambling mounds. Roll for initiative."

Jessie rolled her ten-sided die and got a seven. Then, Cairdea rolled hers and got a nine.

"We go first," said Jessie. "Can I shoot at one of the priests?"

Cairdea nodded. "Yeah, they're all still in your line of vision."

Jessie grinned. "Then, I'm going for Lion!" When she rolled her twenty-sided die, she got a nine. "A modified fifteen," she announced once she added in all of her bonuses.

Cairdea whistled. "You barely made it, but that's a hit! The arrow finds its way through all of the shambling mounds and other priests and plunges into Lion's breast, killing her instantly!"

James smiled. "Now I'm going to use my Wand of Defoliation on the shambling mounds."

Cairdea marked a charge off of his wand. "Roll 6d6, and count all ones as twos."

James rolled the dice and got twenty-one.

Cairdea then rolled her twenty-sided die a few times and shook her head. "None of them made their saving throws for half damage. You aim the wand, and a little sphere of green light shoots forth. When it reaches the shambling mounds, it bursts into an enormous ball of what looks like green faerie fire and engulfs the six that are in the middle. You didn't kill any of them, but you sure did make a dent!"

His smile became a grin.

"If I cast a Fireball spell at the priests, will the blast radius hit Peregrin, the prisoners, or any of my other teammates?" Gary asked.

Cairdea studied the battle layout for a moment. "If you target the center priest in the front row, you'll hit all of them and three of the shambling mounds -- though the shamblers won't take any damage because they're immune to fire -- but none of your friends will get hurt."

"Good deal! That's what I'm doing, then!"

"Roll 6d6."

When Gary rolled for damage, he got twenty-five, and when Cairdea rolled saving throws, two of the priests made theirs. Once she adjusted all of the hit points, she smiled. "You cast a Fireball right into the fray and hit all of the priests. It doesn't kill any of them, but they were all getting ready to cast spells, and the damage they took from the Fireball broke their concentration."

"Yes!" Gary cheered.

"What does the battle look like now?" Emanuela asked.

"There's still the ten shambling mounds left -- two on you, two on Eowyn, one on Alaric, and five in the back row. And behind them are Zanna and the other five priests," Cairdea told her.

"I'm attacking one of the shambling mounds that's on me," Emanuela announced. She rolled her die three times and got a thirteen, a nineteen, and a fifteen.

Cairdea grinned. "That's three hits. Roll a d12 for damage."

When Emanuela rolled her dice and added in her bonuses, she did a total of forty-three points of damage.

"You give it three wicked slashes and sever most of its vines, but it's still coming after you," Cairdea informed her.

Emanuela frowned. "Damn, these things are strong."

"Not to worry!" Mondo told her. "I'm gonna use my Potion of Plant Control!"

Cairdea's eyes widened. "Good thinking, kiddo! Alright, you drink your potion, and suddenly, all of the shambling mounds stop what they're doing and turn their attention to you." She paused for a moment, rolled some four-sided dice to see how long the effects of the potion would last, and smiled. "They're all yours."

"I command them to stop attaking us," he said.

"And that they do," she replied. "Now, it's Morrigan's turn, and she's casting a Magic Missile spell at one of the priests." She rolled two four-sided dice and added two for a total of six damage points. "It's not enough to put a serious hurting on him, but it's better than nothing. And now, it's the enemies' turn to attack. Since the shambling mounds are all under Alaric's control, and he commanded them to stop, they're not going to be fighting this round...and since the priests were standing pretty far away and now have to resort to meelee combat, they won't be on you until the next round. Zanna's still hanging back, though -- she's sending the other five to do her dirty work."

"So, is dis the second round of combat now?" Meowth wanted to know.

"Yeah. It's time for another initiative roll."

When Jessie and Cairdea rolled their ten-sided dice again, Jessie got a three, and Cairdea got a four.

"You go first again," Cairdea said. Then, to Meowth. "And you've reached the prisoners this round."

"I'm gonna try ta free 'em now," he announced.

She nodded. "Roll a check for your open locks ability."

Meowth rolled his two ten-sided dice and got a thirty-five. Since his open locks ability was fifty-five percent, his check was successful.

"Alright, you pick the locks, and the three prisoners are free," Cairdea told him. "You and your friends saved us! Thank you!"

"Don't thank us yet -- the battle still ain't over," Meowth replied. "Ya may wanna stand back til things cool off."

"The prisoners take your advice and huddle in the corner. They look like they're praying," she said. "Now, what are the rest of you going to do?"

"I'm shooting at Zanna," Jessie replied. She rolled her twenty-sided die and got another nine.

"That's another hit," Cairdea told her. "Just like with Lion, the arrow finds its way through all of the shambling mounds and other priests and hits Zanna. She's dead before she even hits the floor."

Gary examined the new layout of the battle. "Can I cast another Fireball spell at the priests without hitting any of my allies?" he inquired.

Cairdea thought for a moment. "Yes, but this'll be the last round they're far enough away that you can safely cast the spell."

"Just as well -- it's my last Fireball anyway," Gary replied. With that, he rolled six six-sided dice again and got a twenty-six.

Unfortunately, when Cairdea rolled saving throws for the priests, four of the five made theirs and took half damage. "The one that didn't make his saving throw was killed, but the other four are still alive."

"Shit," Gary muttered.

"On the bright side, they won't be casting any spells this round, since the second Fireball broke any concentration they might've had," she added.

"Well, at least that's something. These priests are obviously at a high level...which means that they know lots of dangerous spells," James remarked. Then, getting back to the battle, "I'm going to use my Wand of Defoliation on the shambling mounds again. Even if they are under Alaric's control, that potion is going to wear off eventually."

Cairdea nodded. "Good thinking."

When James rolled for damage, he got an eighteen. But when Cairdea rolled saving throws again, four of the six shambling mounds made theirs.

"You didn't kill any of them," she said, marking another charge off of James's wand. "But they're getting there."

James ran a hand through his hair and sighed.

"Now, I'm going to attack one of the shambling mounds again -- the same one I did last time!" Emanuela announced. When she made her attack rolls, she got a nine and a twenty.

"That's two hits...and the twenty is a critical hit!"

Emanuela grinned and rolled her twelve-sided die for damage. "Yeah!" she exclaimed when the results were a two and a twelve. After adding in the six bonus points from her magic sword for the first attack and the four bonus points from her regular sword and the critical hit multiplier for the second attack, the damage was boosted to forty.

Now Cairdea was grinning, too. "That does it! When you slash the shambling mound, it falls to pieces and collapses into a lifeless heap of rotting vegetation."

"Heh. One down, nine to go," Mondo chuckled.

"I know. These things take forever to kill," Cairdea sighed. "Speaking of which, what are you doing this round, Alaric?"

"Can I command the shambling mounds to attack the priests?" he asked.

"You can make them do whatever you want, as long as it's not a self-destructive action," she told him.

"Cool! I'm sending them after the priests, then!" Mondo said.

Cairdea nodded and made attack rolls for the first four shambling mounds. The results were two sixteens, a twenty, a nineteen and a fifteen, and a nine and a thirteen. She shook her head and snickered. "You'd better be glad these things are on your side for the moment -- those are all hits...and the one that scored a critical hit instantly killed the priest it was attacking!" She paused for a moment to make damage rolls for the other three and got thirty-one, twenty-nine, and thirty-two. "And the rest of them were instantly killed, too -- the shamblers ripped them all limb from limb and suffocated them in the slime and muck that covers their bodies!"

The six players sweatdropped. They knew that the shambling mounds were going to be dangerous opponents if Alaric's control over them wore off before the battle was over.

"Morrigan is casting another Magic Missile at one of the shambling mounds that hasn't taken any damage yet...." Cairdea continued. She rolled a seven with two four-sided dice. "....For nine points of damage. And now, you all have a free round to attack since the shamblers still can't fight back."

James rolled his six-sided dice again and got a twenty-five. "You know what I'm doing!"

Cairdea marked another charge off of his wand. "Indeed, I do." With that, she rolled saving throws and tallied up the damage. "You zapped three of them right out of existence! The other three you hit are looking kind of wilty, but they made their saves, and they're still alive."

"Jeez, these things just won't die!" Jessie remarked. She rolled her twenty-sided die and got a nineteen.

"Yeah, that's definitely a hit," Cairdea confirmed. "Which shambling mound are you attacking?"

"I'm using my sword on the one that's closest to me." With that, Jessie rolled her twelve-sided die for damage and got an eight, which was brought up to ten by her strength bonus.

"That'd be the one Morrigan cast her Magic Missile on last round," Cairdea replied. "Needless to say, even though you give it a vicious slash, it still doesn't go down."

"Now I'm gonna shoot at one of the ones Severus has been usin' dat wand on! Hopefully, I can kill it!" said Meowth. He rolled his twenty-sided die and scored a critical hit with a twenty. And when he rolled his four-sided die for damage, he got a three, which became six.

Cairdea smiled at him. "Morrigan brings out her harp and sings a quick refrain. Another one bites the dust!"

"Yeah!" Meowth cheered.

Gary smiled, too. "I think I'll cast Melf's Acid Arrow at one that hasn't been attacked yet," he decided.

"Good idea," Cairdea replied. "Acid is one of the things that'll actually do damage to shambling mounds. And since you're at level six, the spell will inflict damage for three rounds."

"That's what I was counting on!" Gary said. With that, he rolled two four-sided dice and got a seven.

"Is it my turn now?" Emanuela asked, picking up her twenty-sided die.

"It sure is," Cairdea told her.

"Then, I'm going for the one Eowyn attacked, too," she said. When she made her attack rolls, the results were a three, a four, and a twenty.

"The three and four are misses, but the twenty is definitely a hit," Cairdea muttered after calculating in Emanuela's THAC0 and bonuses and the monster's armor class.

Emanuela nodded and rolled a nine on her twelve-sided die. "All right! And this attack was made with my magic sword, so I get six bonus points instead of four!"

"And that brings the total up fifteen...which becomes thirty because of your critical hit!" said Cairdea. "You put a serious hurting on it...though it's not enough to actually kill it."

"I think I'm going to attack the one that Alcavar cast his spell at," Mondo decided.

Cairdea smiled. "Go for it."

When he made his attack roll, he got a thirteen.

"That's a hit! Roll 1d6 for damage."

Mondo rolled his six-sided die and got a four. "Better than nothing," he said.

"Indeed it is," Cairdea agreed. "You give it a solid bash with your mace, and Morrigan is casting Melf's Acid Arrow at another one." She then rolled two four-sided dice for damage and got a five. Suddenly, however, her expression darkened. "Now I have some bad news -- Alaric's potion wore off this round, so the shambling mounds are attacking. Roll for initiative."

Jessie and Cairdea rolled their ten-sided dice again. But this time, the heroes weren't so lucky -- Jessie got a five, and Cairdea got a one.

Cairdea sweatdropped as she picked up her twenty-sided die. "The five remaining shambling mounds are attacking Eowyn, Alaric, and Nami, since they're in the front row," she announced. When she rolled her die, she got a twenty, a three and a one, a twelve and a one, a thirteen and a seven, and a nineteen and a one. She winced. "The first shambling mound automatically entangles Eowyn for sixteen points of damage -- it's got her trapped, and it'll continue to do damage until either it's killed, she's killed, or she successfully escapes. And the other four get in one hit on Alaric and two hits on Nami for...." Cairdea winced again as she made the damage rolls. "....Fifteen and thirty-one, respectively."

Jessie, Mondo, and Emanuela winced too as they marked down the damage they'd taken.

James scowled. "I'm using my wand again...and I'm aiming for the one that's got Eowyn!" He rolled his six six-sided dice and did thirty-one points of damage.

Cairdea marked another charge off of James's wand and rolled saving throws for the five shambling mounds. "Three of the shamblers made their saves...but the one that had Eowyn isn't one of 'em!" she said. "When you use the wand, the shambling mound you were aiming for and one that was on Nami both burst into greenish-white flames and disintegrate, and Eowyn drops safely to the floor. You saved your wife, Severus!"

Jessie smiled at James and took his hand in hers. "Thank you, sweetie," she whispered, planting a kiss on his cheek.

James blushed. "My pleasure, honey," he replied, kissing back.

As Jessie and James rubbed noses and gazed into each other's eyes, Cairdea rolled for acid damage on two of the three remaining shambling mounds and got a six for the one Morrigan had attacked and a three for the one Alcavar had attacked.

"The acid damage didn't kill either one, but I'll be genuinely shocked if you don't finish them off this round," she remarked.

"Then finish them off we shall!" Jessie exclaimed. She picked up her twenty-sided die. "I'm getting my bow and arrows out again and shooting at one that's on Alaric, since he's still getting ganged up on." When she made her attack roll, she got a twenty. And when she rolled her six-sided die for damage, she got a six...which became an eighteen once she added all of her bonuses and multiplied by two for getting a critical hit.

Cairdea's eyes widened as she marked another enemy down for the count. "Whoa! You tear one of the shambling mounds asunder with a deadly accurate shot, and it falls down dead!"

"Now it's my turn to attack!" said Emanuela. She got a sixteen and a six for her attack rolls. Knowing that the sixteen was a hit, she rolled for damage and got a modified fourteen.

"And that one is dead, too!" Cairdea told her. "When you slash the other shambling mound that was attacking you, it splits open like an overripe melon!"

"So, dere's only one left?" Meowth ventured.

Cairdea nodded.

"I think we can handle it now," Mondo remarked. When he made an attack roll, however, he got an eight. And since he didn't have the strength bonuses or lower THAC0s of the warrior-characters, that was a miss.

"Don't worry, kiddo -- I'll finish it off!" Meowth told him. "I get out my crossbow again and shoot at the last shamblin' mound." He rolled for damage and got a seventeen.

"And finish it off, you did -- it only had one hit point left!" Cairdea cheered. "As you fire your crossbow, the bolt pierces through the final shambling mound's body, and it crashes to the floor in a swirling mass of slime and muck. This battle is over...and since I don't have any more battles or scenarios planned, I think it's pretty safe to say this game session is just about over, too!"

"So, dat's it? We defeated the Moander cult?" Meowth asked.

Cairdea nodded again. "I know it wasn't much of an epic adventure and that all those magic items I gave you probably made it too easy, but...."

"But you kinda had to do this quick and dirty," Gary finished for her.

"And I'd say you did pretty well for your first time as a DM," Jessie told her.

"Next time, you'll do even better," James chimed in. "Hopefully we'll get the chance to play again someday soon -- I had a lot of fun!"

"Me, too!" Mondo agreed. "Especially during all the parts where we humiliated Noober! That was priceless!"

Now Cairdea was smiling again. "Thanks, guys."

"Don't mention it," Emanuela told her. "Now let's wrap things up, shall we?"

"Of course!" she said. "Once all of the priests and shambling mounds are defeated, you see the vines that covered the room withering and withdrawing. Then, the three prisoners come from their hiding place and address you. Our thanks are no longer premature -- you have our etenal gratitude for saving our lives and ridding the region of the followers of the Darkbringer."

"It was our pleasure," Mondo replied.

"Yeah! We couldn't allow them to hurt innocent people or cover the land in filth," Jessie added.

"Neither could we. When we received word that a small group of priests still loyal to the Darkbringer was in the area, the leader of our order sent us and a few others to investigate and stamp out the evil before it became a threat," Cairdea explained. "Nine of us set out from the temple of Tyr in Waterdeep, but only we three acolytes survive -- on the way here, one of the paladins in our group went astray and abandoned us in the city of Baldur's Gate, and the other five paladins were slain in battle when we were taken prisoner by Moander's priests."

"This one that went astray. His name wouldn't happen to be Noober, by any chance, would it?" James inquired.

She nodded. "Indeed, it would. He wished for the strength and blessings of the Lord of Justice, but he was unwilling to adhere to the principles that made him worthy of those blessings. Tell us, how do you know of Noober?"

"We ran afoul of him ourselves," said Meowth. "We've seen firsthand what an asshole he is."

"You have our sympathies," Cairdea snickered. "Before we leave this place, we must say a prayer for all who've been slain and cleanse the area of the Darkbringer's corruption. When we finish, please return with us to Waterdeep. Though you are not among Tyr's faithful, you are still heroes, brave and true. Our lord will be most elated to hear of the role you've played in driving back the followers of Moander, and a celebration will be held in your honor. All the Sword Coast will soon know of your heroic deeds!" She smiled again. "And they all lived happily ever after...except Noober, of course!"

When Cairdea finished her narrative, Jessie, James, Meowth, Gary, Mondo, and Emanuela applauded again.

"And that concludes today's adventure!" she said. "I'm glad you all enjoyed it."

"Oh, we definitely enjoyed it! Dungeons & Dragons kicks ass!" Meowth exclaimed.

"It certainly does," Emanuela agreed. "I'm becoming more enamored of fantasy every day!"

Gary nodded. "It was nice to play D & D again. Brought back a lot of happy memories."

"Same here," said Jessie and James.

"And I kinda enjoyed being the DM," Cairdea admitted. "I think you're right -- I'll do better next time...and there will be a next time!"

Meowth winked. "We're gonna hold you ta dat promise, Cairdea Underhill!"

"And I intend to keep it!"


Once everybody had thrown out the garbage, picked up all of the paper, and gathered all of the books, dice, and pencils (and sanitized the dice that Ash had stuck in his mouth and up his nose), Mondo called Annie and Oakley again and returned their supplies to them. They were both overjoyed to hear that the game session had gone well and that Ash had run off in disgrace after his character was defeated. Jessie and James also got Annie and Oakley to put the Fire Stones they'd won in storage until they were ready for Vulpix and Growly to evolve. However, Jessie and James were reluctant to send their auxiliary pokemon back to headquarters after only one day, so they decided to keep Vulpix, Growly, Lickitung, and Sunflora with them awhile longer.

Now, the seven friends were on their way back to the trainer inn to enjoy a well-earned rest.

"So, whadda we gonna do tomorrow?" Meowth asked.

"Well, Manu is spending the week with me and my parents at our farm in Alderbrook. We're probably going to head back in the morning," came Cairdea's reply. "The rest of you are welcome to come with us, if you like -- it's only twenty miles from here. I know my parents will be happy to meet you all...and we've got lots of guest rooms!"

"We'd love to join you, Cair -- it'll be nice to spend a couple of days with you and Manu," said Jessie.

"We'd love to meet your parents as well," James added. "From what you've told us, they sound very nice."

Cairdea smiled. "They sure are! And you haven't lived til you've tasted home-cooking, made from all the fresh fruits and vegetables grown on Finnegan and Brigit Underhill's farm!"

Gary licked his lips. "That sounds great! Alderbrook is a little further west than the road I was taking to Mahogany Town, but you can count me in...if that's okay, of course."

"I already said you're all welcome to come with me and Manu," she repeated. "The more the merrier!"

"Den dis'll be one merry party -- we're all dere!" Meowth told her.

Cairdea's smile became a grin. "Wonderful! We'll set out after breakfast tomorrow!"

"Sounds like a plan to me!" Mondo said.

As they continued on their way, Jessie, James, and Meowth smiled at Gary again.

Taking note of their expressions, Gary smiled back. "What is it?"

"We just wanted to thank you again for talking us into coming here," Jessie told him.

James nodded. "Yesterday evening, Jess and I never would've imagined that we'd win the Fire Stones we wanted or cross paths with so many old friends."

"Well, like Jessie says, some things in life are just meant to be," Gary replied. "I think everything that happened yesterday and today sure was."

"I think yer right," Meowth agreed.

"It's like Bilbo Baggins told Frodo in Lord of the Rings," he continued. "There's only one road; it's like a great river: its springs are at every doorstep, and every path is its tributary."

James smiled again. "When the road brings so many friends, both old and new, together, it's definitely meant to be. And for that, I'll always be grateful."

Jessie's sapphire eyes sparkled. "I remember something else from Lord of the Rings, too -- the song that Frodo sang when he and the other hobbits set out on their great adventure. James and I sang that song on the day we left Pokemon Tech and set out on our own journey together. Every day, it seems there's more and more truth to that song."

"I remember that song as well," James said, wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her closer. With that, he cleared his throat and began to sing.

And when Jessie, Gary, Cairdea, and Mondo heard his voice, they began to sing along as well. Meowth and Emanuela didn't know the words themselves, but they felt the song in their hearts too, and they hummed along:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can.
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

When the song came to an end, the seven friends exchanged smiles and continued on their way. They were all thankful that the road had brought them together on this day, and they knew in their hearts that after they parted ways, the road would soon bring them back to each other. And as Jessie and James joined hands and gazed into each other's eyes, they knew that no matter where the road led them, they'd enjoy the journey because it was a journey they'd make together, now and always.

The End

Author's Notes

Where do I even begin?

First, all of the Dungeons & Dragons stuff in this story is based on actual gaming experiences I've had and actual history and geography from the Forgotten Realms D & D setting. For example, the Time of Troubles was an era in Forgotten Realms history where the gods were cast from the heavens and magic was unstable (thus, the reason a town where magic was forbidden existed). All of the gods mentioned in this story -- Mystra, Mielikki, Tyr, Tymora, Lloth, and Moander -- are from the Forgotten Realms pantheons as well. Drizzt Do'Urden is also a real character from Forgotten Realms (one of my favorite characters, in case ya haven't noticed -- I couldn't resist giving him a cameo). His life and adventures are chronicled in a kick-ass series of books by R.A. Salvatore -- highly recommended reading for anybody who loves fantasy. ^_^ The name Noober also comes from Forgotten Realms...a computer game called "Baldur's Gate," to be precise. (In the game, Noober is an annoying village idiot who follows your party around, insults them, asks stupid questions, and makes a general nuisance of himself...much like a certain twerp we all know and hate. It seemed a fitting name for Ash's character, so I adopted it for my own timeline! >D)

Speaking of names, there's a lot of these to explain, too. Mondo's last name, Cole, comes from Cole Younger, who was a leader of the James gang along with Frank and Jesse. Fiamma (a name that Charlene came up with for her character's Flareon) is the Italian word for "flame." Sionna is short for sionnach, which is the Irish word for "fox," Cairdea is short for cairdeas, which is the Irish word for "friendship," and Underhill is a hobbit name. Dirty Sanchez is a slang term for...well, an explanation of what it's slang for isn't really suitable for printing -- let's just say it's something disgusting and leave it at that. (The fact that its meaning is so vile makes it the perfect name for that sleazy Magikarp salesman! >D) And finally, the two high priestesses of Moander, Lion and Zanna, were named after a pair of evil Team Rocket agents in the fifth Pokemon movie.

Now, back to the subject of Dungeons & Dragons. Since I wasn't able to find my Monster Manual when I wrote this story, I had to do all of the monster stats (AC, hit dice, THAC0, damage rolls, experience points, etc.) from memory. And none of the online Monster Manual info that I managed to find for my research purposes was very consistent -- no two entries on the same monster were exactly alike. So, I pretty much had to wing it and come up with my own monster stats for the battle sequences. As a consequence, there may be some minor details in the battles that don't jive with what's found in the official books, but I was doing the best I could with what resources I had, and I did make an effort to keep everything as authentic and true to the game as possible.

Next, I've gotta give a special thanks to my friends, Charlene and Shigeru1313. Emanuela D'Andrea and Simone Prata are characters that Charlene created (named after J & J's Italian VAs -- Emanuela Pacotto and Simone D'Andrea), and I want to thank her for letting me use them in my story. The scene where Drizzt battles Noober was also inspired by a hilarious scene in her story, Uniti in Amore, where Simone battles Ash in a similar fashion.

And like me, Shigeru loves D & D, and the conversations (both nostalgic and Ash-bashing) we had were really inspirational to me while I was writing this. I'd also like to thank her for letting me incorporate the timeline she came up with for Gary into my own writing. And, of course, for the awesome illustrations of Jessie, James, Meowth, Mondo, Gary, Cair, and Manu in their Dungeons & Dragons outfits, and the hilarious illustration of Noober about to get attacked by a kobold! ^__^ Charlene and Shigeru, this story is for you! Thanks for helping me make this crazy thing possible! *hugs*


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