Just-in-time Happy Birthday to trepkos; hope you find your cameo appearance in the fic below acceptable.
A few days ago I asked for volunteers to appear in a ficlet crossing LiveJournal with the ‘Tabula Avatar’ universe. I said that it would be 500 to 1,000 words. Hah. The tale grew in the telling, as they do, and in fact it came out as 3,000. Each of the three sections is exactly 1,000 words; I can be rather obsessive compulsive about things like that.
This is several years after the current ‘Tabula Avatar’ chapter; round about now, in fact, although the date is not specified. It contains some mild spoilers but there is nothing there that gives a resolution to the current cliff-hanger. I’m afraid that you’ll have to sweat over that one for a while longer!
I couldn’t fit in all the people who volunteered, I’m afraid, but I have found roles for most of you. I hope that you all approve. Rating PG.
Short Term Data Storage
“It’s a demon called Moloch the Corruptor,” Willow explained. “We fought it back when we were in High School. I read about it in my old diaries. It got into the Internet somehow, and then it made itself a robot body and came out, and Buffy kicked its ass and we all thought that she’d killed it. Hey, apparently it even tried to date me, would you believe?” she digressed. “Anyway, I guess it was just, like, mostly dead,” she went on. “Kinda hibernating or something. It woke up a little while back and started up with the badness again.”
“So there’s a demon in the Net?” Warren’s eyebrows rose. “I guess that explains a few things.” His eyebrows descended and his eyes narrowed. “It’s not messing with the online game, is it?”
“No need to worry,” Willow assured him. “We caught it.” She held up a USB pen-drive. “Me with my cyber-skills and Tara with her magic. It’s trapped in here. The Net is safe again.”
“Cool.” Warren let out a sigh of relief. “So, how come you need my help? You can just, like, smash the flash drive to pieces. That should kill the demon, right?”
“That’s exactly what we’re gonna do,” Willow told him, “Only, we have a problem.”
“It was hiding out in LiveJournal,” Tara took up the story. “It tricked people into Friending it and then stole their personalities. It was going to make them into its slaves. When we trapped the demon we got those people too.”
“So, what, the people are stuck inside the drive as well? Without their bodies?”
“That’s right,” Willow confirmed.
“That can’t be good,” Warren commented. “Are they walking around like zombies? Or have they turned into whole new set of people, the way you guys did?”
“I don’t think so,” Tara said. “My best guess is that they’ll be running on automatic. Their families and friends will just think that they’re being real boring. Maybe that they have a touch of the flu or something.”
“Or that they’re turning into accountants,” said Willow.
“And I guess that if you smash the drive while they are in it then they just stay that way? That sucks.”
“Yep,” said Willow. “So our hands are kinda tied for the moment.”
Tara chewed on her lower lip. “We can put the people back into their bodies, and fix everything, but it will take a little time. We have to track them down first.”
“I can do it,” Willow stated, “but it’ll take a few days. There are twelve of them and all I have to go on is their LiveJournal names. And in the meantime they’re still in Moloch’s power. We have to stash them somewhere else. Once we get them out of here,” she brandished the flash drive again, “we can smash it to bits and then Moloch is history.”
“Stash them somewhere else? You mean in one of the game worlds? I get it. That’s why you want my help?”
“That’s the plan,” Willow said. “I could put them on an empty drive but I’m not totally sure that time isn’t passing for them. If it is, then that would be like, hey, one of those sensory deprivation chambers. A whole lot of no fun.”
“Yeah, Pirates and Plunder or Baldur’s Gate would be way better,” Warren agreed. “BG, I think. The Pirate game isn’t hyper-detailed the same way and it might be kinda creepy for them. More Tron than The Matrix. Okay, I’ll grab Jonathan and we’ll get on it.” His mouth twitched from side to side and he closed one eye. “I’ll have to create characters for them. What do we know about these people? Are they gonna be, like, totally weirded out when they find themselves in a Fantasy world?”
“I don’t think so,” Willow replied. “They all have Interests lists full of SF and Fantasy stuff. I even saw ‘Baldur’s Gate’ down on one or two of the profiles.”
“Moloch was targeting creative and interesting people,” Tara said. “Maybe they, uh, taste better or something”
“Moloch has a point,” Warren remarked, grinning slightly. “Anyway, that makes it easier for me. I’ll write out a note of explanation, and put it in their Inventories so that they find it when they wake up, but I’m not gonna have to make it, like, novel length.”
“Good thinking,” Willow praised. “Like, a ‘Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Realms’?”
“Kind of,” said Warren, “Only saying a bit more than ‘mostly harmless’. Anyway, let me take a look at these LiveJournal profiles and I’ll put together some characters to match.”
“Does it matter what the characters are like?” Tara asked. “As long as they don’t get, uh, killed or anything.”
“It might not be much fun for them if they get put into bodies that are the wrong sex,” Willow pointed out. “And being a peasant would suck too.”
“Right,” said Warren. “And hey, I’m a craftsman. I don’t do generic. I’ll do the best I can for them. Now, where should we put them? The party has split up right now. Buffy and Dawn are at Crossroads Keep and that’s looking to be getting pretty dangerous, what with the King of Shadows due to attack soon, so maybe not there.”
“What about us?” Tara asked. “The other Willow and Tara, that is.”
“They’re in Athkatla,” Warren told her. “Giles is doing a benefit gig to raise money for the people who lost their homes when Trademeet was wrecked by the Sythillisian invasion. The other versions of you two are with him there. Together with Minsc, of course.”
“Sounds cool,” said Willow. “Put them in there, okay?” She handed him a sheet of paper. “Here’s a list of their LiveJournal user names.”
Warren scanned the list. “Lucky you spotted the demon early. If there had been hundreds of victims I’d have had to cut corners. Hey, there are some interesting names here. I’m getting ideas already. Yeah. This could be kinda fun.”
“Stone the crows,” Hezzabeth wailed, “I’m a bloody hobbit! Unless you lot are all basketball players.” The initial outcry, and the hubbub of everyone talking or shouting at once, had died down now and everyone heard her complaint.
“You have hairy feet,” Basilio the Cat pointed out. “You are a hobbit, I think.” Her own feet were concealed within knee-length black boots, matching her dark breeches and soft leather body armor, and a rapier rode at her hip.
Hezzabeth looked down and her eyebrows rocketed upwards. “Gah! Those aren’t my feet! I want my real feet back!”
“My feet don’t seem to be hairy,” Gillo observed. “I am equally vertically challenged but it appears that I am something other than a hobbit. Am I a dwarf?” She turned over the piece of paper in her hand, so that the big friendly letters spelling out ‘Don’t Panic’ faced the other members of the ill-assorted group, and began to read the section headed ‘Character Sheet’.
“A gnome, perhaps,” Arkeus suggested. “Or a dwarf, but I think that you’re a gnome.”
“Don’t gnomes have…” Gillo’s eyes widened and one hand shot towards her chin, “beards? Whew. No beard. I’m three foot three but at least I don’t have a beard.”
“Unlike the bloke in the dress,” Hezzabeth said. “That’s a beard and a half if ever there was one.”
“It’s not a dress,” Arkeus protested. “It’s a robe. Apparently I’m a wizard. I have a staff.”
“With a knob on the end,” Trepkos noted, looking up from examining her scimitar. “Terry Pratchett would be proud.”
“You certainly have the beard for a wizard,” Redwulf agreed. “You make Gandalf look like a beginner.”
“Top marks for observation to the sheila in the chain mail and the bloke in the loincloth,” said Hezzabeth. “What are you then? Conan the Barbarian?”
“That’s what it says on this note,” Redwulf replied. “Well, not the Conan bit. Whoever wrote it suggests that I use my LiveJournal name. Redwulf50.” His forehead creased. “I suppose that, to be in character as a barbarian, I should drop the numbers. Or else call myself Redwulf Five Hands.”
“Either your grasp of mathematics is somewhat shaky,” Gillo remarked, “or else your anatomy is rather different from that of a normal human.”
“I mean Ten Hands,” Redwulf corrected himself hastily. “It was a slip of the tongue because I was thinking of Base Ten.” He shook his head. “I’ll just stick to Redwulf.”
Hezzabeth glared at the sheet of paper in her hand. “I’m a barbarian too, according to this,” she said, “but I’m a midget barbarian with hairy feet. Give a girl a fair go, why don’t you, sport?” A grin suddenly spread across her face. “Still, it’s pretty funny when you think about it, right? No dramas.”
Rahirah had spent longer reading her briefing notes than had most of the others. “Warren Meers,” she mused. “Isn’t he the guy who created ‘Pirates and Plunder’?”
“That’s right,” Weyrwolfen chimed in. “If anyone could produce a computer game this realistic then it would be Warren Meers.” She raised her eyes to stare at the ceiling. “Although I’m still inclined to believe that I’m just dreaming this. Being sucked into the computer by a malevolent cat macro, and then finding myself in a fantasy computer game, is just too outlandish to be real.”
“Indeed so,” Gillo agreed, “but I don’t recall any of my dreams achieving this level of internal consistency.”
“You had the cat macro too?” asked Audela, who had at last managed to extract her head from a fully enclosed helmet and could now talk freely. Weyrwolfen nodded.
“Me too,” said Rahirah. “A cute little kitten lying on a keyboard, chewing a slipper, captioned ‘IM IN UR INTERNET EATING UR SOLE’. I didn’t realize that it was a typo, or a pun, until it was too late.”
“That was a demon called Moloch the Corruptor,” Weyrwolfen said, “or at least so Warren Meers claims. He says that he and his friends are going to destroy the demon.”
“And then we can get back to the real world?” Basilio the Cat sat up very straight in her chair. “I hope it is soon. My mother will be worried.”
“If you look like that in real life your mother is probably worried every time you leave the house,” Hezzabeth muttered. “Huh. I’m stuck with being Red Sonja the She-Hobbit and some people get to dress up like Kate Beckinsale in ‘Underworld’, only smarter. Typical.”
“This can’t be a dream,” Trepkos stated. “Apart from anything else, I’m getting hungry.”
“Me too,” put in Avalon, a sorceress in flowing silk robes.
“I vote that we go and get something to eat,” Rahirah suggested. “It seems that we are amply supplied with money. And then, perhaps, we might take a look around this town. It seems somehow wrong to just hide away in this inn when someone has gone to all this trouble.”
There was a general chorus of agreement. “Good idea from the elf there,” Trepkos said.
“The elf?” Rahirah put her hands to her head and ran her fingers over her long, pointed, ears. “Good grief. I really am an elf. I suppose that explains the sylph-like figure. Warren Meers must have read my profile.”
Hezzabeth pouted. “There’s nothing on mine about being a hobbit.”
“I suppose the inn does serve food?” Gillo looked around for a waiter and discovered that her diminutive stature gave her a very limited view. “Would one of the taller members of our group please do something about getting us served?”
“Perhaps it should be me,” said Arkeus. “Wizards tend to command respect. Ah. Perhaps not. The note says that this is Athkatla and that’s one city where wizards are frowned upon. The lady in the plate armor, perhaps, or our barbarian friend.”
“I’ll get the food,” said Redwulf. “Roast boar all round suit everybody? After lunch I think I’ll tread the jeweled thrones of the world under my sandaled feet.”
On Earth every head would have turned to stare as the group of people walked along the street. In the world of Faerûn no-one even batted an eyelid.
“So, you’re a vertebrate paleontologist?” Rahirah raised an eyebrow at Weyrwolfen.
“That’s right,” Weyrwolfen confirmed. “I specialize in crocodilians.”
“I suppose that would make you a dragonslayer,” Rahirah mused, “but you’re hardly dressed for the job. That leather and fur would be rather inflammable. Unless Warren Meers went by the name.” Her eyes narrowed. “In which case, should we be looking for silver arrows?”
“Hey, I’m one of the good guys,” Weyrwolfen protested, raising her hands protectively in front of her chest. “I’m a druid.”
Rahirah relaxed. “And I’m an elf ranger, so that makes us allies,” she said.
“Hey,” Hezzabeth’s voice piped up from waist level, “what’s this on your character sheet about ‘Shapechanger’ and ‘Lycanthrope’?”
“Damn hobbit,” Weyrwolfen growled. Hezzabeth jumped away in alarm as she swung an arm in her direction. “It’s not like that,” Weyrwolfen explained, as a dozen pairs of eyes turned towards her in alarm and as Trepkos drew her scimitar in a disturbingly smooth and proficient move. “I’m a special kind of druid. Apparently we allow ourselves to be infected by lycanthropy to give us extra powers. But it’s all completely under our control. I really am one of the good guys.”
“Even a man who is pure in heart,” Rahirah quoted, “and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the full moon’s shining bright.”
“Yeah, well, it’s the middle of the day,” Weyrwolfen pointed out, “and I assure you that I don’t remotely feel like becoming a wolf. It wouldn’t exactly fit the rationale behind putting us here for safety, would it, assuming that Warren Meers is telling the truth?”
“You’re right,” Rahirah agreed, and everyone relaxed. At least on the surface. Several members of the party were still wondering which of the shops that they were passing would keep silver daggers in stock.
Hezzabeth had scampered well out of Weyrwolfen’s reach and her evasion brought her into proximity with a male hobbit on the sidewalk. The rest of the group didn’t hear the conversation that ensued but could tell that it had ended somewhat acrimoniously. Hezzabeth rolled her eyes as she rejoined the party. “Why can’t I go anywhere without blokes trying to pick me up?” she wondered. “I would have thought I’d be safe as a hobbit, but no, blokes are all the same even when they’re three feet tall. Would you believe that his name was Tubby Thistletoes? You couldn’t make it up.”
“It’s not a very High Fantasy name,” Audela commented.
“Not even Discworld,” said Trepkos. “Speaking of which, does anyone else find it odd that everybody here speaks English?”
“English?” echoed Basilio the Cat. “They are speaking in Estonian.” Her brow creased. “As are you, which is even stranger.”
“I hear you in English,” said Avalon, “but the locals I hear in Spanish.”
The remarkable ramifications of this development might have led to a long discussion but it was interrupted when Arkeus the Mage, walking at the head of the party, came to a halt so abruptly that everyone had to follow suit to avoid collisions. “Wow,” said Arkeus, staring at a tall figure who had just emerged from an inn immediately ahead of the group. “I recognize that guy. It’s Minsc.”
“Minsc? The heroic, but somewhat dim, ranger?” Rahirah stared at the man in question. He was taller even than Redwulf the Barbarian, mightily muscled, and clad in full plate and packing steel in the form of a massive two-handed sword. His head was shaven bald and a tattoo in the shape of a ring was emblazoned across his forehead and half of his face. “You’re right. That really is Minsc.”
“I have read of him in stories,” Basilio the Cat put in. “He has a pet miniature giant space hamster.”
“Miniature giant space hamster? That should be worth seeing,” said Hezzabeth.
“He is very nice in the stories,” Basilio the Cat went on. “Do you think we could speak to him?”
“Perhaps someone else should do the talking,” suggested Trepkos. “In that black leather gear you’ve got ‘thief’ written all over you.”
“I am a good girl,” Basilio the Cat insisted. “I would not steal. I would just like to see his famous hamster.”
“Is rat,” said Trepkos.
“Is no rat, is hamster,” Gillo riffed.
The mighty figure had noticed the attention being paid to him. Rather than being suspicious he gave an open, beaming, smile and called out cheerfully. “Greetings, and well met, adventurers. A glorious day for smiting Evil, is it not?”
“It is,” agreed Redwulf.
“As I’m a paladin I suppose that I have to say ‘yes’ to that,” said Audela. “I gather it’s in my job description.”
“You are Minsc, are you not?” asked Arkeus. “The great ranger?”
“Ah, you have heard of me,” Minsc smiled. “My deeds are known far and wide, for I have planted many a boot in the backside of Evil.”
“Is it right that you have a miniature giant space hamster?” said Hezzabeth.
“Yes, indeed, and Boo’s deeds are as famous as are mine,” Minsc confirmed. “Although he does not wear boots upon his tiny feet. He has little claws, and they can be surprisingly sharp when he is scampering around under my armor.”
“May we see Boo?” asked Basilio the Cat.
“Of course, beautiful lady,” Misc said. He reached into a pouch and pulled out a little furry figure. Basilio the Cat, and most of the other womenfolk, gave voice to cries of ‘Aah’ at the extreme cuteness.
“You can look,” Minsc told them, “but you can not touch. Boo is acting rather strange today, not like his usual self.” The rodent uttered several high-pitched squeaks and Minsc frowned. “He says that you are not to call him ‘Boo’,” the ranger translated. “You are instead to address him as ‘Squeaker-to-Customers’.”