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Chapter 40b: The Unicorn in the Room

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I looked down at the parchment from behind the privileged screen of a dungeon master.

“Felicia,” I said as I looked back up. “Are you sure?”

It was Halloween night, with some candles and scary props as scene-setting. The session was a Call of Cthulhu one-shot, so the zombie arms and comically small skeletons weren’t a good fit, but the group seemed to enjoy them, so whatever.

“To clarify,” I continued. Reimer was giving me the stink eye, the asshole. He knew where this was going. “Dave and Henderson are on the ground floor, going through the cultists’ bodies. Bela is slowly making it down the hallway of the first floor, obsessively avoiding reflective surfacesI can’t believe you’re committing to the bit, by the way.”

“Thank you,” said Craig, and turned to face her sister. “Maddie, just wait until we’re all there. Don’t split the party. That’s the games’ unofficial motto, besides all the boring ones.”

Sometimes, I thought I was the only one who took things seriously, especially with Arthur gone for the day.

It was Maddie’s second game, and while we had effectively babysat her through her first, we’d all silently agreed to let her handle this one herself. It wasn’t quite working out.

“But Craig is taking so long,” said Maddie, a moue on her face, ignoring her brother’s words, focusing on me. “You told me about that time with the meteors.”

“Wait, is that where ‘Rocks fall, everyone dies’ comes from?” asked Tom.

Reimer dragged his hand across his face. “Oh my god, Tom, just let Joon kill her already.”

“Hey, you don’t know

“Yes, Joon, I do,” insisted Reimer, “you only ask that when one of us is about to fuck up.”

“I’ll make sure to let you fuck up next time, Reimer. Felicia, technically it was an asteroid, and it happened because the party ignored five prophecies, eight NPCs and about four hundred hints,” I said. “It was supposed to be a cautionary tale about avoiding the main quest for too long, not a sign to start rushing every event without preparation.”

Reimer slammed his hand on the table, “Looting bodies is a time-honored tradition of tabletop roleplaying, goddammit! Henderson says that, by the way.” He smiled.

“I pretend I didn’t hear it,” Tom said. “Um, do I take sanity damage from this?”

Maddie had the determined look of someone who had no idea what was in store for her. I almost felt bad. “Felicia is tired of waiting, and she has body armor on. I grab the cord and open the trapdoor.”

I sighed. “The trapdoor opens and a ladder falls down, Simpsons style.”

“I think about confronting Felicia about the folly of her ways, but I’m considering whether these frames are shiny enough to count as reflective, and she’s a big girl.” said Craig, throwing her sister to the metaphorical wolves. “Also, no one gets what you mean by ‘Simpsons style’. Like, the cartoon?”

“Come on,” I said, “Like in that one episode with Bart’s evil twin.”

“If you have to explain it, it’s a bad description.” said Reimer.

“I’ve never watched The Simpsons,” said Maddie.

I’d had enough of this. “The ladder falls down without fanfare. Felicia, roll the percentage dice for Spot Hidden. You need a hard success.”

Maddie rolled a 81. This would have been a good thing in D&D, but alas.

“You only see darkness ahead of you.” I blew out the nearest candle for effect. Still got it. ”Do you go into the attic?”

“Yes,” said Maddie, “I climb a few steps and peek my head up to look around.”

I knew Maddie’s character sheet well enough. I rolled the dice. Even Reimer seemed to tense up.

“…You fall down the ladder with a gush of blood, missing a head.” I said.

“I knew it,” said Reimer.

“Really?” Maddie seemed crushed, like she didn’t expect it. Hadn’t she listened?

I looked around the table, and everyone seemed pissed off, which took me by surprise. “Yes, really. This isn’t D&D, so decapitation means you have to roll a new character. I can run you through

“Come on, Joon, just have her make a CON save. I think… yeah, I have the First Aid skill,” said Tom.

“She knew the risks,” I joked, but it didn’t land. Maddie seemed on the verge of crying, actually.

I really wished Arthur had been able to come, but his brother had chosen the worst time to return home. Arthur had a gift for making everyone treat the game less than a, well, a game, and more like real, engaging, life-or-death situations. It didn’t help that everyone had made joke characters. This wasn’t meant to be a long campaign, but I couldn’t just ignore the rules.

“Can I choose not to open the attic trapdoor? Please, Joon. I don’t want to make a new character,” said Maddie.

“You can’t just take back a decision you made at the table. The compact between dungeon master and player can’t be broken, or everything falls apart,” I said. “If we just pressed the reset button to avoid consequences every time you made a reckless choice, not only would we waste a lot of time, but the good choices wouldn’t feel good.”

“Don’t be a dick, Juniper,” said Craig.

In the end, she rolled a new character with Reimer’s help, a professor that helped fill a niche the party desperately needed, and she took the game seriously. We all learned an important lesson that day. We became closer as a group, and dare I say it, as friends, practically brothers in arms.

And then everyone clapped.

What really followed was the entire group mutinying and refusing to play, even Reimer, arms crossed, unless I gave Maddie another chance.

We ended up pretending nothing had happened. Felicia waited for everyone to make it to the trapdoor, and Tom’s character preemptively threw a flash grenade (which was somehow part of the cultist loot tables) into the attic.

But we knew. A cloud of something hung over the group until the session was over, and I certainly hadn’t earned any points with them even after taking it back. As I was rolling around in my bed that night, I thought about reset buttons, and consequences that didn’t go away.


 

“No, no, I never felt this good, this is the unicorn juice talking, but FENN, do you want to go for a naked run through the woods with me, because I’m not going to die anymore and it’s probably a good idea to try to burn off some of the unicorn blood inside me so that I can get my head on straight and Juniper I’m sorry I kissed you but I knew you’d been wanting me to --”

“Well now I kind of want to try it,” had said Fenn. “But we’re going to need at least two people with their heads screwed on straight. Joon, you’re up.”

(Continued from Chapter 41: The Feminine Mystique )

 


It felt like my brain had been fogged up my entire life. At last, I truly saw. There was one inescapable conclusion that my lifeEarth and Aerb alikehad been leading up to.

“Holy fuck, I’m so full of myself,” I said, wiping my mouth. Ew, unicorn blood.

Grak nodded. The dwarf looked like he had been bracing himself to catch me if I ran, though Fenn was still straddling my chest.

“Someone should snatch the princess before she gets too far away,” said Fenn, grinning. It did interesting things to the freckles adorning her face. That, or I was tripping. “Though my legs are longer than yours, if you want a switch.”

Amaryllis had run into the woods. As far as we knew, there was nobody around but us, which was both good and bad. Aon Adharc Glen had never been a popular tourist location even before unicorns started kidnapping little girls.

“There’s still room in the crotch area,” I helpfully added. “Though maybe there won’t be.”

“There is no need. I will find Amaryllis. You handle the human,” said Grak, sharing a look with Fenn. He turned and started walking away, taking his hair-adorned axe with him after a second of hesitation.

The half-elf seemed to find this hilarious. I stared at her laughing face, and thought about my own situation… I really needed to brush my teeth. I had also been worrying about something else, right before drinking the blood, but I couldn’t remember exactly what was so important.

Grak looked back at us one last time, his expression unreadable, as he delved into the woods. Fenn flashed him a thumbs up.

We were now alone, Fenn and I. I felt like I was thinking more clearly than ever, but that sounded exactly like what a very high person would say.

It came to me in a flash. I found myself speaking in a rush, like I’d been holding back for a long time. “Before this goes any further, I need to tell you something. The Fel Seed incident

“Do you think I’m pretty?” Fenn interrupted.

“What?” I said, nonplussed.

Fenn placed her hand on her chin with a mock-thinking expression. “You mentioned you and your friend Arthur used to rate girls. Am I one of the next door girls? Do I rate way-foo status?”

“Fenn, I’m not joking around, it’s important,” I tried to say. I appreciated her levity, I really did, but one had to worry if it would get us killed someday.

“Oh please, what could be more important than this?” Fenn batted her eyelashes at me. She wasn’t taking me seriously.

“Oh, alright,” I could play along until Grak came back. Fel Seed’s weakness was obvious anyway. “Do I start from the top or the bottom?”

“What a pervert!” Said Fenn, her mouth the shape of an ‘o’ for an instant. “Sure, the bottom.”

I thought hard (not literally) about it. Did I really want to talk about this while Fenn was on top of me? The unicorn fluids in my system said yes.

“I’ve never really been a feet guy, but they’re fine I suppose. Amaryllis’ are better, of course.” I paused. Fenn’s face was doing things.

“Please, go on. What about my legs?” Fenn asked.

“Can I see them?” They were folded away from me, with her knees touching the ground, which wasn’t the best posture for a close analysis.

She crossed her legs in front of my face and lifted the bottom of her army fatigues so I could get a good look. She seemed amused, which was a good sign, I guessed.

“They’re really… muscly, I guess. And why don’t they have scars? Wouldn’t you need that to jump really high? Actually, are all elves this muscular?” There was an increasingly smaller small part of my brain screaming at me to shut up.

“No, the muscles are a half-elf bonus,” said Fenn. “I earned them by running a lot, you see.”

Her eyes were begging me to change the subject, even though she had forced a smile on.

“Oookay. I’ll skip the next part until we’re together.” I moved on. “Your belly looks pretty cute, and the six-pack used to make me feel self conscious

“Wait just a second, hooman.” Fenn held a hand up. “Aren’t we together, here in this place free of judgement?” Fenn said. “I demand full disclosure regarding this ‘next part’.”

“I don’t think it’d be appropriate,” I said.

“Why?” She asked.

“Well, I haven’t really seen it up close yet.”

Loyalty Increased: Fenn lvl 11!

“Oh. My. God!” Fenn looked like her birthday had come early. “You should drink unicorn blood more often. Just give me your initial impressions.”

“I thought it looked normal. Human, I mean,” I said, preempting Fenn’s response. “I remember being glad you weren’t inspired by some of my more terrible ideas. Though I guess you could still be, on the inside?” Hm, that didn’t come out right.

Fenn looked like she had opened her birthday present, and it was bees. “Well, thank you. Terrible ideas?”

I considered the full breadth of my campaigns. Thankfully, none of my players had ever crossed the line into graphic sexuality during the games, though Arthur had asked for a couple fade-to-blacks he swore were vital for Uther’s storyline. That didn’t stop any musings in my private time, however.

“I designed a lot of things that didn’t make it into the games. Besides flesh.txt, I’ve put some thought into how to spice up, uh, procreation,” I said. “There was this race, the chelloni… do they exist in Aerb?”

“Yes, they do. And though the Chelloni Defense League might disagree with me, I beg you to finish that thought. But don’t think I’ve forgotten about whatever flesh dot tee ex tee is!”

Searching my memories, I had definitely seen one back in Cranberry Bay. “Long story short, they had the ability of genital shapeshifting. I was thinking of peacocks when I designed them, their artistic efforts to attract a mate. I thought female chellonis shapeshifting their equipment into elaborate, aesthetically pleasing forms to attract males would be neat.” I trailed off, not sure why words were still coming out of my mouth. This conversation felt like it had gotten away from me.

“But surely that’s just one example of the many genitals you’ve granted us mortals. Any more ‘neat’ ideas?” Fenn prompted. Was I missing something?

“Let me think… Yentrins literally merged with their mates through the crotch. There’s also the meat dimension, though I can’t remember the specific race, portals that would “capture” male genitals into an internal pocket dimension, with the biomass eventually turning into offspring. The penises grew back, obviously.”

“Obviously,” agreed Fenn. “Did you read the Book of Blood?”

“Only the section on dwarves. You told me not to read the section on elves, so I’m just brainstorming here.” I defended myself.

“Well, I’m, genuinely happy to confirm it isn’t any of those,” said Fenn.

“I want to stress it’s not a deal breaker, whichever it is,” I said. “Realistically, since you’re half human, that takes a lot of possibilities off the table. Actually, can we move on? How can Grak possibly take this long?” Save me, Grak!

“But we’re having so much fun,” said Fenn, pouting in a way that seemed insincere.

Focusing on Fenn’s lips made me remember: I’d kissed Amaryllis. Or she had kissed me, anyway, and I’d kind of hated it. But could that be what brought all of this on? Fenn didn’t seem the jealous type, but I had long suspected there was a deep insecurity behind her ‘comic relief’ facade.

Was I being taken advantage of? Wasn’t this technically an interrogation? Fenn was kindly waiting while I freaked out. I wondered if my neurotic personality was preventing me from fully losing myself like Amaryllis had.

In the end, I decided it was fine. Fenn knew where the line was, and she was consciously centering the conversation on herself.

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” I finally said. “I’ve thought about it, and I’m pretty sure you don’t like when I imply you’re one of my game characters.”

Fenn shifted uneasingly, which, considering her position, made me even more uncomfortable. She was usually better at hiding her emotions than this, but I guessed this had been a draining conversation, so far. “I think it’s all in your head,” she finally said.

“Isn’t that the problem?” I joked unsuccessfully with a forced chuckle. I carried on. “Fenn, I have literally prayed about this.”

“What?” Her confusion was evident.

“I spoke to the Dungeon Master. Not literally,” I said, seeing her expression. “But I’m sure he can hear me.” I looked up. “Can you hear this, you asshole?!” I yelled.

Fenn had a look of worry in her eyes, waiting for me to continue.

The words rushed out of me like a torrent. “I prayed, and begged for all this to be real. I told him to go fuck himself, and I told him you and Arthur better be real, or none of it would be worth it. I know you probably hate it more than I do, but the loyalty notifications -this game shit- it’s all driving me insane. You deserve to be real, and not just like me because I’m the main character. I want you to be Fenn Greenglass, a thinking person who kind of likes me as much as I kind of like her, not a character in this world I made.”

Loyalty Increased: Fenn lvl 12!

The notification made me as angry as I had ever felt in my entire life, only there wasn’t someone to punch. Instead, I sort of stared at the sky angrily. Fenn seemed to catch on to what was going on. She shook my shoulders until I looked back at her.

“Joon, stop! Look, I’m happy!” She pointed to her face, and I had to admit the evidence agreed with her claim.

“You… are happy.” I didn’t understand why. “I’m pretty embarrassed.”

“Oh, you got a boner like three times throughout our conversation,” said Fenn. “I don’t think an understandable rant against the gods in defense of a real, beautiful maiden is embarrassing compared to that.”

I silently vowed to remove this event from any eventual memoirs.

“What?” She said.

Shit, did I audibly vow that?

“You did,” She nodded.

I grimaced. “Look, Fenn, I’m so—”

Fenn put a hand over my mouth.

“You don’t need to worry. You’re not really capital-J Juniper at the moment. You’ve done worse sober, anyway.” She abruptly made an offended face. “Did you, did you just lick my hand? Okay, maybe not worse.” She took her hand back, giggling.

“I just don’t want to make things weird, between us,” I said.

“Mary is weird. I’m weird. Grak is weird,” said Fenn. “The fact you’re a secret pervert and a white knight doesn’t change anything. If anything, you make more sense like this. We can just forget about it.”

I kind of wanted to talk about that, actually. But Fenn spoke before I could bring up the subject.

“Let’s just get back to something light. What about my ears? I see you staring at them even more often than you stare at other parts,” Fenn said with forced nonchalance in her voice.

What did I think about her ears? Something made me think the topic wasn’t light at all. I went along with it anyway.

“Well… if I could choose, then I would still ask what you want to have. Maybe you’d want to pass as human. But if you really had no preference, which I think is unlikely… maybe, I’d be just a bit more comfortable with human ones? I’m not into ears in the first place, they do nothing for me- I’m screwing this up, aren’t I?” I said.

Loyalty Increased: Fenn lvl 13!

Loyalty Increased: Fenn lvl 14!

“No, you’re fine,” said Fenn. She was smiling, but for the life of me I could not figure out the cause.

“There’s a distinction, I don’t dislike elf ears, I just don’t like them. It’s not worth talking about,”about I added, worriedly, “I just want to make it clear that regardless of what I said I have no problem with your body, because it’s your body.”

“Oh? You have been sending mixed signals on that front,” said Fenn. She had leaned slightly forward during our discussion, but was still sticking me to the ground.

I took a deep breath and looked into her eyes, heart hammering in my chest. “In fact, I would say I want- when did Amaryllis get here?” She was sitting next to Grak, only a few yards away. Grak looked embarrassed. Amaryllis had a shit-eating grin, which wasn’t an expression I ever though I’d see on her face. She waved.

I looked back at Fenn. She had quickly stood up, and her eyes had a strange shine to them, but I couldn’t tell if they were happy or sad, especially after the game notifications.

Grak blissfully ignored me. “How is Juniper?”

“Hey, I’m high, not unconscious. Hand’s still fucked,” I said, waggling the hand a bit. “Ow.”

“This one threw a tantrum,” said Grak. He pointed at Amaryllis, which I now noticed was wearing handcuffs. I hadn’t noticed Fenn taking them out of Sable at any point. I wondered what that said about my state of mind, then decided I did not care.

An awkward silence ensued. Fenn cleared her throat.

“As much as I wish we could all continue these not-at-all emotionally draining heart to hearts, I guess some of us have a job to do. Dwarf, fetch the unicorn carving tools.” Fenn ordered in a mocking tone.

“I want to help.” Amaryllis piped up. “I really fucking hate that horse.”

“I am unsure you can provide any help,” replied Grak. “Maybe Fenn could entertain you while—”

“I have a vast array of experience with this kind of work,” interrupted Amaryllis. “Not for fun,” she added, looking at my horrified face.

The discussion went on for a while. Amaryllis managed to make several good points even hooked up on unicorn blood, and walked off with Grak, who seemed incredibly annoyed.

“Ten obols he’s going to put a ward around her so she can’t run off,” Fenn said in stage whispers.


Two hours in, I was taken over by narrative-induced mania. At one point, I had freed all my snakes—if I don’t have them, I can’t be set up to cruelly sacrifice them in order to get out of a pickle later, that was my logic—and now Amaryllis was my victim.

“… and if this is at all based on Dungeons & Dragons, a candle of invocation will show up at some point. It makes sense narratively, I even said something candle-related once, dramatically too! If we light it and destroy it, we can open a portal to a plane of our choosing and summon someone. It’s my new top plan for getting Arthur back, if he’s lost in one of the planes.”

Fenn (who had extracted a promise from me to behave) and Grak were close by, getting the horse parts inside Sable as fast as possible. Some of the parts had a really short shelf life, apparently.

“There is no such thing as a candle of invocation. If there was, the world would look very different,” said Amaryllis. “The field of star magic alone—”

I ignored her. “And that’s discounting the possibility of summoning Pazuzu and getting infinite wishes, with which we could do a variety of things, including fixing my hand, and, er, the problem of human suffering. Though I suppose I am a suffering human, and everyone besides me is a potential p-zombie…”

“Pazuzu also isn’t a thing, and wishes are excluded,” said Amaryllis. “I don’t care about this. Will you shut up if I kiss you again?”

“The candle is extremely important,” Actually, I still had stuff to say.

“Grak! He won’t shut up!”


Grak had eventually solved the problem by putting up a two-way sound ward around Amaryllis.

“I think we should talk about disclosure, once they wake,” said Grak.

“Why do you even care about this? Not that I disagree,” said Fenn.

“The matter of continuity,” said Grak.

A long argument had started between the two. It turned out dwarves, especially traditionalist ones, had a complex view of the thread of consciousness, and obsessively avoided snipping it. I somewhat agreed, but couldn’t care less at the moment. I kind of regretted not talking to Grak more, but at the same time, I had to admit to myself our current personalities would have clashed even more than they normally did.

While they vented their frustrations, I played Rock Paper Scissors with Amaryllis, the main cause of them, since she was still behind a muffling ward. She was on her twentieth consecutive win when Fenn tapped me on the shoulder.

It was time to go back.


Somehow I ended up in bed with Fenn back at Weik Handum. Amaryllis had fallen asleep at one point, Grak struggling to support her as he carried her towards her room.

I probably didn’t have long.

“Look, we need to talk.” I said.

“I’m listening,” said Fenn, though she sounded like she desperately wanted to sleep instead.

“I think you should lie to me when I wake up.” I said.

Fenn looked skeptical. “You want to play a prank on your future self?”

“No. I think you should tell him you and Grak went ahead with the pact of silence.”

“But he already convinced me it’d be funnier to share everything with the group,” Fenn said, in a shameless misrepresentation of events.

“Yes. I think…” I paused for a second, not sure I was on the right path, but I decided to press on. I knew myself. “I think we said too much, too fast. If you shared everything to my sober self, he’d freak out and backtrack, I know it. But, I don’t want to press the reset button. In fact, I think I want for us to be, you know, together. I’m just too much of a coward to say it.”

Loyalty Increased: Fenn lvl 15!

Loyalty Increased: Fenn lvl 16!

I cringed as I finished my spiel, but Fenn looked amazed. I continued before she could say anything.

“We need to set up my future self so he has no choice but to admit our—my—feelings,” I concluded. “Do you know where I’m going with this?”

“A man after my own heart,” said Fenn, suddenly grinning. “I have ideas, some of them new, and the idea of a conspiracy to mess with your future self is just too funny to pass.”

We got to work. Clothing was discarded, excuses were crafted.

Future self, please don’t fuck this up.


(Continued in Chapter 41: Truth and Reconciliation )