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Fantasy Fiction Funny

“Thank you all for being here tonight,” I say, smiling over the tips of my steepled fingers. “You are in for a special treat.”

Outside of our table, nestled in a dark corner, the tavern is doing a brisk business, crowded with an eclectic collection of beings, all of them intent on making as merry as they can. Coin and drink flow freely, laughter and curses ring out in equal measure, and the smell of strong ale and roasting meat permeates the air.

“What are we doing here, Maziroth?” asks Arakon, the heavily built human warrior shifting his weight in his chair, eliciting a chorus of metallic creaks, groans, squeals, and rattles from his thick plate armor and the many and varied weapons strapped to it. “Have you divined a new quest for us? Something exciting, dangerous, and noble?”

“And something that pays well?” interjects Dart, the short, slender thief looking up from her task of cleaning her nails with a dagger. “With stuff worth stealing?”

“Trust me, my friends,” I say. “Tonight, we’ll have adventures aplenty, ones that will take us far, far from this drab, mundane place. Tales that you’ll retell a thousand times over.”

“I’ll be fine so long as they take us out of this miserable city, wizard.” Across the table, sitting nearest the door of the tavern, Qrinn glances around the room with evident discomfort. The elven ranger never likes spending time in a place with walls. “Seriously, wizard, couldn’t you tell us about our quest in a better place, like that lovely glade where we made camp two nights ago.”

“Weren’t no proper ale in that place.” A round of heavy tankards thud onto the scarred tabletop, slopping thick liquid over their rims. The bearded, red nosed face of Lorum, our resident dwarf, looms over them. “Can’t possibly discuss adventures without a proper mugful. Or five.”

“Show me a proper mug of good ale, and I’ll tell you,” Qrinn replies, sniffing at the tankard Lorum thrusts toward him before pushing it back.

I sigh. It’s hard enough keeping this band of misfits together, much less getting them to do anything that doesn’t involve slaying monsters or plundering ruins. “Come now, friends. We have common adventures every day. No, tonight, we are doing something special.” I let my smile widen, a gleam of the mystic and mysterious in my eyes. “Tonight, we are going to play a game.”

“A game?” Arakon repeats, his heavy brows lowering in suspicion. “What kind of game?”

I tilt my head toward him, glad that someone asked that question, instead of all of them groaning and storming off. They’re probably only still here because I promised to pay for their drinks, but, oh well. “A most fascinating game, my friends. A game of possibilities, of strange places and odd peoples. A game where unusual things will happen and sights will be seen that you cannot imagine.” With a flourish, I produce a handful of quills and several rolls of parchment and begin distributing them among my companions, all of whom now bear looks of befuddlement and annoyance.

“Wait a trice,” Dart says, glaring at me. “Does this have anything to do with all that time you’ve been spending around your crystal ball, up to you elbows in scrolls and doing all that writing?”

“It does indeed,” I say with an eager nod. “For I have pierced the veils that separate the many planes of reality, peered into places and times far beyond our own. What I have there seen has inspired me, goaded me to create a way we can experience things we never have before. With my careful work, and a little imagination—and patience,” I add, seeing her roll her eyes, “we will have a most unconventional and enjoyable time this evening.” I spread my arms wide. “Playing Offices and Employers.”

“What?” the entire group choruses back at me.

“Awww,” Arakon grumbles. “I thought you had a new quest for us.”

“If this is some sort of game, can I wager on it?” Dark asks.

“I still don’t see why we couldn’t do this at a charming little campsite, maybe one beside a babbling brook,” Qrinn gripes.

“I’ll give it a go,” Lorum says, taking a long pull from his tankard. “So long as the ale keeps flowing.” He hiccups.

Not exactly the universal enthrallment I was hoping for, but I’ll take it. “Come now, the first thing we must do is create our characters.”

“Characters?” Arakon says, squinting at his parchment. “What’s a character?”

“It’s your representative in the world of the game,” I explain. “Your avatar.”

“Avatar.” He perks up. “Remember that time we went up against the avatar of the dark god Olashi? Now that was an adventure. Why, if I hadn’t been there with my good sword—”

“Put a plate over it, Clanky,” says Dart. “No one wants to hear that one again. Let’s just get this over with. Now, how do we… generate or whatever?”

“You’ll need to pick a name and your appearance,” I say. “And then roll dice to determine your statistics, traits, and skills.”

“Dice?” her eyes light up. “Can we use mine?” Her hand opens, revealing her gaming dice like it’s a magic trick.

“No, Dart. We’ll use mine.”

“What? Why yours?”

“Because your dice are loaded. Now, roll.”

“Hey, can I be an orc?” asks Arakon.

“Why would you want to be an orc?” Lorum says, bushy eyebrows drawing together in confusion.

Arakon shrugs. “Tusks. Why else?”

“No, you can’t be an orc,” I say. “There are no orcs in this game.”

“What? No orcs?”

“What about elves?” Qrinn asks, narrowing his eyes.

“No. There are only humans in the world of this game,” I explain.

Qrinn shudders. “How awful. What a miserable place it must be.”

Arakon fixes a silent glare on him.

“What are… statistics?” Dart asks, holding up a sheet of parchment as she peers at it.

“They determine your base abilities. What you can do.”

“Oh, so things like intelligence and dexterity would be good for, say, picking locks and disarming traps?”

“Well, I suppose,” I say, trying to find a gentle way to break this to her. “But you don’t really do things like that in this world.”

Her eyes get so big they nearly fall out of her head. “You what? No stealing! What kind of fouled up world is this? What skills are we supposed to have?”

“Well, you don’t really need any skills in an Office. You just, sort of, have to do what you’re told.”

“What’s this ‘appearance’ section?” Lorum asks.

“It’s where you describe what your character looks like. Hair and eye color and clothing and such.”

“Oh. Well, I’ll just look like myself. Only I want my robes to be snowy white all the time, and my chain mail to shine like polished silver.”

“Um, you don’t actually wear robes or armor, Lorum. Offices have what’s called a dress code. Everyone wears the same thing.”

“Really? What do they wear?”

“Well, shirts that button up the front. And ties.”

“Ties? They bind themselves up?”

“No, they’re…” I search for words, my hands making helpless gestures. “They’re like scarves, only thin. They go around the neck.”

“Ah. Then they’re supposed to keep you warm.”

“No.”

“Then they’re really comfortable?”

“Uh, no, not really. Quite the opposite, actually.”

“Then what’s the point of them?”

“It’s… it’s like a uniform, all right?”

“Ah.” Lorum doesn’t look happy, but he turns back to his tankard, giving me a moment’s respite.

“Hey, look,” Dart says with a grin. “I got straight eighteens across all my statistics. Wondrous, eh?”

“Dart, I said we’re not using your dice.”

Her grin slips into a scowl.

“So, let me just see if I understand this,” Arakon says, his face screwed up in a confused grimace. Like every time he tries to think. “We’re supposed to roll for our statistics, but we don’t really have any—what are they called—skills. And we can pick our appearance, but we all have to look pretty much the same.” He drops his character sheet onto the table. “So why do any of that?”

I sigh, pinch the bridge of my nose. “All right, you’re all just humans, you all look the same, and you have the same statistics.”

“What about you?”

“I’m the Office Manager,” I say, drawing myself up.

“What’s that mean?”

“It means I don’t actually go along with the rest of you. I just sort of tell you what to do, interfere in how you do your work, and then take credit for all your accomplishments.”

My friends exchange pointed looks across the tabletop.

“So, pretty much like what you do in real life?” Qrinn says with a perfectly straight face.

My jaw sets, teeth grinding together. “Let’s just try playing a scenario, shall we?’

“Right then,” Lorum says, peering blearily at the parchments in front of him. “What do we do next?”

“It’s time to hurl ourselves across the unknown, to enter a new world, full of new possibilities.” Despite the difficulties so far, I still feel a little tingle of excitement. I draw a deep breath and start to read from the story I’ve prepared. “Ahem, you are all new employees at the Office of Goodes Business Supplies, where you have been hired to Entry Level Positions. You’ll be expected to carry out your assigned work, follow Company Guidelines, and be professional and courteous in your interpersonal interactions with other employees.” I look up from my parchment to meet a lot of blank stares.

“Eh, what was that?” Arakon asks.

I close my eyes and inhale through my nose, striving for patience. “Arakon, your first job is to take Documents to the Copier and make Copies of them.”

“Right. How do I do that?”

A little smile plays about my lips. Truth be told, this is how Arakon does everything that doesn’t involve hitting things. “First you need to find the Copier. Roll for an Intelligence Check to try to follow the posted signs.”

“Intelligence Check?” Dart repeats, a sly gleam in her eyes. “Arakon? This’ll be rich.”

“Shut up.” Arakon grabs the dice, shakes them in his meaty fist, and tosses them onto the table with more force than required.

“All right,” I say. “Lorum, fish that one out of your drink and hand it here. Oh, not good. Sorry, Arakon. You get lost and end up in the Bathroom.”

“Bathroom? Like, where I take a bath?” His eyes widen and he grins. “Are there any girls there?”

“No, it’s not like that. This is just a place where you go to relieve yourself.”

“Oh, a privy. Right then, I shove those Documents I’m carrying down the hole.”

Before I can address that bit of improper employee behavior, Dart pipes up.

“Hey, where am I? What task am I supposed to be doing? Does it involve picking locks? Stealing something?”

“No, Dart. You’re in a place called a ‘Cubicle.’ It’s where you work, answering things called Emails on something called a Computer.”

She blinks. “Come again?”

Once more, I struggle for words. “It’s like a box that glows with words. You read the words, and then answer them.”

“Uh-huh. And am I all alone in this place, this Cubible?”

“It’s a Cubicle, and your is just one of dozens, all crammed together, with hardly room to move among them.”

She purses her lips, a shrewd expression on her face. “And do they all have doors? Locks? Traps?”

“Well, no. They’re all open.”

“With people in them?”

“Um, well, most of the time, the people that are supposed to be working in them are somewhere else. They go to the Break Room to get Coffee, the Cafeteria to get something to eat, or the Water Cooler to speak with other Employees. They spend quite a lot of time doing these things. They don’t actually spend much time doing their jobs.”

“Yeah, all right,” Dart says. “So, I want my character to sneak around, going into other people’s Cubibles and stealing their stuff.”

“Dart,” I say sharply. “Could you please get into the spirit of the game.”

“I am. And I want to steal stuff.”

“And just what is my character supposed to be doing while Dart plunders the place?” Qrinn is lounging back in his chair, staring at the thin haze of smoke drifting just below the ceiling, giving every indication of wanting to be anywhere but here and doing anything but this.

“Oh, you have a very important task,” I say, shuffling more papers. What kind of task could get a stuck-up, nature-loving elf ranger interested in the game? “Um, you need to get Coffee… for… the Manager…?” I trail off as Qrinn fixes me with a glare.

“What is this Coffee?” he asks.

“It’s a drink, like tea.”

“Perfect,” Arakon says, as he idly draws small, severed heads with X’s for eyes on his parchment. “Poison it, and we can all escape the Office.”

Everyone laughs. Except me. “Come on, can’t we just—”

Lorum interrupts me with a loud belch. “And my character; what am I up to?”

“Glad you asked. See, you’re a nurse, and you work at the Office First Aid Station.”

“Ah,” Lorum grunts, his brow furrowed in confusion. “What do I do there?”

“Well, mostly you Take Inventory, or Fill Out Supply Forms.” I see his eyes start to glaze, and hurriedly try to recapture his interest. “But if someone does get hurt, it’s your job to heal them.”

“Of course,” Lorum says, nodding. “I’m a cleric, after all. I can call down the healing power of over a dozen deities. So, do I need to close gaping wounds? Restore mangled limbs?”

“Um, no. You need to put Band-Aids on paper cuts and give people Tylenols.”

“Uh-huh. What about visiting holy wrath on the disciples of the Dark Powers? Do I get to smite anyone who follows evil gods?”

“Not exactly. But you can File a Formal Complaint against Human Resources for working Employees too hard. That’s sort of the same thing.”

Lorum gives another grunt, looking thoroughly dissatisfied.

“So, um, what’s the point of this game?” Arakon asks, his gaze drifting away from the table. “How do we win?”

I blink. “Um, well, you see… you don’t. Not really, anyway. You just complete one task after another, until your Shift is over. Then you get to Go Home, watch Reality Shows while you eat your dinner and drink wine, go to bed, and then get up and do it all over again.” I give my companions a weak smile. “Rather novel, don’t you think? It’s a great escape from what we do for a living, right?”

Four blank stares meet my gaze.

“So, there’s no enemies to slay?” Arakon asks.

“There’s no treasure to steal?” Dart asks.

“There’s no wilderness to explore?” Qrinn asks.

“There’s no evil to smite?” Lorum asks.

“Um… no. But we do that stuff all the time. This is something new and… and… different…”

“And boring as milking goats,” Dart finishes for me.

“Hey, look over there,” Arakon says. “Someone’s started a barfight. I’m gonna crack some heads. Back in a bit.” He heaves himself out of his chair before I can say a word, pushing his way through the crowd toward the sound of shouted curses and smashing furniture.

Qrinn stands up as well. “This was a terrible idea. I’m going to go climb the nearest tree and try to forget this experience.” He moves off, trying to avoid touching any of the other bar patrons as he heads for the door.

“Not the nearest tree,” Lorum calls after him. “I’ve been to that one, and trust me, you don’t want anything to do with it after what it’s been through.” He clambers unsteadily to his feet. “And in reference to that, I’m gonna go get another tankard. Or five.”

I can see the whole evening slipping away in front of me, all my brilliant plans, days of poring over a crystal ball and scribbling down ideas going down in ale and recreational violence. “Hey… don’t… come one…”

“Oh, give it up,” Dart says, hopping off her stool. “Just admit it was a bad idea, and go do what you’re good at. Find us another quest. Preferably one that involves stealing something. In the meantime, I’m gonna find a game where I can use my dice. And thanks for the buy-in.”

I give her a distracted, confused glance, unsure what that last bit meant, until I realize that my coin pouch is missing. By that time, she’s disappeared into the crowd. I’m left alone, staring at scattered parchments and dice, all that’s left of my wonderful idea for a quill and scroll role-playing game.

With a sigh, I gather up the papers. It seemed like a good idea. A way to get away from the dangerous, exciting lives we live as adventurers in a world of swords and sorcery. But I guess none of us are really ready for such… mundane experiences. With a breath and a whisper of magic, I burn the scrolls to ash and left it drift down to the tabletop. I suppose I’ll just go scare up another quest for my party. Maybe hunting trolls in a fetid swamp. Or raiding a dragon-guarded castle.

But first, I think I’ll have an ale. Or five.

June 09, 2022 15:14

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4 comments

Graham Kinross
06:11 Jun 19, 2022

I’d want a drink after that as well.

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Cydney Rose
01:45 Jun 14, 2022

Hi Ian, my favorite part of this story was how imaginative and authentic the dialogue was. When writing a fantasy piece, one that seems to be set in the past, it always seems difficult to make their dialect realistic without sounding corny. I think you perfected that.

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Ashley Paige
20:14 Jun 13, 2022

Loved it, very Stranger Things meet LOTR. You're great with dialogue.

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Celtic Bard
05:17 Jun 11, 2022

Gah! Even in a fantasy world it's hard to get a gaming group started.

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