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Modernist Sarcophagi

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"You die, Clovis. You're dead. Doomed. Deceased. Off the mortal coil, asitwere. Game over." The last of our group raised his head to the heavens and screamed a mighty warcry as the Baronial soldiers divvied up his loot. Our mighty group had fallen, and only the gods could say when we would meet next.

Clovis - real name, Shen Lott - had been playing a barbarian, the kind that lasts forever even with my druid having long since eaten several truesteel javelins through the face. Shen wasn't the sort of guy who put a lot of stock into winning or losing, but he was a pretty good player, and usually tried to flesh out his characters. I'm not quite as interested in the plot, I just want to get power, at any and all costs - together, we kind of kept each other in check. One of us alone would probably be a bit too much to handle...

Miles was already haggling for another game - he'd really wanted to play something about crusading knights and the Baltic coastline, and it sounded pretty good, but our storyteller (or DM, or whatever system you're familiar with) was dead set on another high-fantasy hackfest. Not that any of us minded - really, just playing a good game was enough, and we were lucky enough to have a near limitless supply of snacks and drinks. And if you've got enough geeks in one room, there will be gaming, right? We had plenty of time to kill - like this, I imagined we might stretch the session on another month.

Our storyteller was staring at the line of DVD's on the wall aimlessly, obviously wanting to bring up a terrifying comprehensive knowledge of cinema history and slot one in - but that wasn't going to happen, given the circumstances. There were games to be played, and our team was still fired up. Shen was poking me and asking why I'd gone and died so early. I responded that he was a tool, trying to catch the eye of the storyteller.

Though I don't remember what I was going to ask, come to think of it. Maybe it was when Violet or Ray might join the group again, maybe not.

With a snap of the fingers that instantly quieted us - except for the sound of Miles sipping a lukewarm soda through a curly straw - the Storytelling Screen went up, and we braced ourselves. Another round of exciting adventures was upon us, and my fingers itched with excitement. Amaranth the Druid would be avenged! All hail Amaretto the Demidruid!..

"... You have awakened in a dark room. The faint sound of water dripping from the ceiling brings to mind only that the three of you are alone, possibly abandoned. The cell holding you has long since seen the bars rot away, yet none of you can remember how long you have been here."

"I'm gonna play a DARK ELF."

Instanty, the quiet reverie created by the fledgling narration of our storyteller shattered with a wrinkled brow and a look of connsternation as Miles smiled smugly. Sputtering a rebuke, the storyteller spoke.

"No, dude, you are not. Dark elves are stupid charactitures, so stupid I don't even know what of. Who the hell thought they were a good idea?"

"Psh, dark elves aren't any more any a charactiture than your standard fantasy cultures. With finely crafted elvish thinblades in hand, dark elves are the apex predators of the subterrane structure! And they're tragic."

"Absolu- NO! They are *not*! There are like two kinds of dark elf, the creepy ones that like to get whipped or do the whipping and sound like the mix of a really bad cavedwellers idea of what a cavedweller is like, and the ones that have tragic backstories. Tragically stupid, I mean. Absolutely not. You're playing a dwarf or an elf. Or an a orc. Why doesn't anyone ever play an orc? I - "

"I'll play an orc. Orcish expert, even."

I interjected, hoping to cut the conversation short. Miles made a face as I suggested a suboptimal class but shrugged.

"Whatever, I'll be an elf... With a tragic past. I also have really big - "

"Yeah, fine, Miles. Shen, what are you in for?"

"... I was going to be an orc. Crud, guess I'll be a human paladin. It's weird for you to take such a weak class, though - something on your mind?" The comment was directed at me - I put on my best enigmatic smile. Little is it known that you can easily minmax skills if you play an expert, and I planned to have all the useful ones.

We got down to brass tacks and soon were back in the cool, moldering air of the dungeon. Shen - Abbey, Paladin of Laima - was standing to my right, lost in prayer while Miles - some sort of complicated elvish name entirely unworthy of remembering, 'Battlemage' (see errata) - was trying to figure out what was up with the other cells around us.

It was pretty weird - none of them showed any signs of inhabitation, yet all the rot and decay present in the hallway outside vanished in the cell interior. The cells - even the ones we'd 'woken' up in - seemed clean, almost habitually so. The hallway up ahead only went down a flight of narrow stairs, and there was no obvious exit - so it seemed likely that we must have gotten here on our own.

Miles' elvish mage concentrated, and a hovering sphere of pale light swam into being around us, dancing to and fro. "Well, are you guys going to stand around all day, or we going to get going? There's clearly nothing around here!" Shen cringed as the roleplayer in him took another beating, but personally, I agreed with Miles and begun to walk down the stairwell.

The next room was completely empty save for the stench of overripe fruit.

Despite the vastness of the interior cavern chamber, which seemed to be carved out of a marble that was cool and pleasant to the touch, seeming to coil around your fingers if you pressed it too long - there was no furniture or any sign of life, just like before. More of the spongy marble stretched in every direction - ceiling, floor, walls...

We continued for perhaps several more chambers, just like this, and the jokes began to grow quiet, less frequent.

Finally, Shen coughed.

"You feeling all right? If you want, I could take over for a bit - I'd be glad to - "


The storyteller interrupted monotonously.

"You are jumped by several monsters."

We waited, and I nervously scratched the back of my neck, wondering if I should say anything. I took a risk, and did so anyway.

"Well... What do they look like?"

"Like every other monster you've ever encountered."

Miles made some comment that was supposed to be funny, but I didn't hear it; Shen was rocking back and forth a little, and all of us could see that behind the screen the storyteller used to hide their actions, something was happening.

"C'mon, don't - If it's just that Shen is a tool, I'll take over for a little, all right? You can go - read a book or something. Relax!"

My words fell on deaf ears as the storyteller stood up, smiling a little - for the first time since the incident. The clatter of shoes on white-tiled floor seemed to echo much louder then it was as they passed the boarded-up windows and approached the door.

"No - no, don't - please..." Miles whispered, plaintively. "You don't have to..."

"Beyond the monsters, you see a door."

We went silent as the door swung slowly open.

"The door is open. Beyond..."

Now we were all quiet as the heavy, painfully scractchy air intruded into the small apartment, growing more intrenched in our lungs then it already was. My eyes began to water, not from tears but from pain; my stomach began to knot and unknot, feeling as if a tiny sawblade was cutting through from inside of me.

"I'd rather die on my own then be with the rest of you until we starve. Who knows? Maybe I'll even meet Ray somewhere out here."

Maybe it was a sneer, maybe it was self-loathing, maybe it was the hundredth failed attempt to make someone, anyone laugh. The air only grew more and more toxic as everyone struggled not to respond, and then - without any more words - the storyteller left.

... It took me awhile to realize that Miles had started puking and Shen was trying to administer first aid while helping him with an inhaler at the same time. I'd been caught up in the sight of the storyteller, walking barefoot through the ruined city - then crawling, then... it was, oddly - beautiful.

Shutting the door, I waited for the fit to subside, then helped mop up the mess. Miles muttered a sincere thanks, then got a salty beverage from the icebox - hopefully it'd help settle, for awhile at least. Silently, Shen moved behind the screen, his eyes closed.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity - our new storyteller spoke.

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