Not too long ago, John Scalzi posted a fiction contest. He commissioned a picture to be made by artist Jeff Zugale. This picture to be precise. Don’t worry, you can have a moment or to take that all in.
A thing of beauty, isn’t it?
John’s contest was to create a story behind this picture. It sounded like fun so I jumped right in. Blazed right through the word count and finished the story. Then I realized John wanted stories around 2000 words, and I turned out 3700 words.
That was a lot of editing. Took out some huge sections, condensed some others. Then sent that bad boy off. I hope John and Wil enjoy the story. Who knows, maybe it will even win. But if not, I had fun anyway.
John’s just a cool guy though, and he said to go ahead and post your stories online. So here I am posting part one of the story that I wrote. The longer version. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The Battle of Tragon Keep, Part 1
John’s Tesla Roadster screeched to a halt outside his house in rural Ohio, dust kicking up from the wheels. The sun overhead. It would have been a nice day to lounge on the porch but a writing deadline would keep him in his office most of the day. A hunched figure banged on his front door.
“Hello?” John called out. “No one is home.”
The figure turned, a wild glint in his eye. It took John a few moments to realize behind the unshaven face was his buddy Wil Wheaton.
“Wil? How did you get here?” John asked. “Does your wife know you’re here?”
“It doesn’t matter John,” Wil said, his voice rough from lack of use. “I had to show you this.”
For the first time John noticed the package clutched under Wil’s arm. He held a large manila envelope that looked like it was an inch think.
“What is it?”
Wil glanced back over his shoulder, his eyes darting left and right.
“Not here,” Wil whispered. “Inside.”
“Uh… Sure Wil,” John said. He stepped up to the door, slid the key into the lock and pushed the door open. “Come on in.”
Wil nearly ran into the house. John took another look at the area around his house. He could only see open fields. Nothing that could have Wil on edge. He closed the door and locked it behind him just in case.
“So what is the big deal?” John asked. “Are you hiding from some crazed Trekkie?”
Wil looked through the blinds. He closed them abruptly before he turned back to John.
“Look,” Wil said. “This is awesome. More awesome than bacon.”
“Man, I stick bacon to a cat one time and I never get to stop hearing about it,” John muttered.
“What?” Wil asked. He was struggling to untie the strings that held the envelope closed.
“Nothing,” John said. “So what is so special in there?”
“The best module ever created,” Wil said reverently. “Look, it says so right there on the cover.”
Wil handed over a hard cover book. A volcano filled the background and in the midst of a rock strewn valley orcs and dwarves battled. It was title ‘The Battle for Tragon Keep’. Just as Wil pointed out, Gary Gygax was quoted as saying ‘Best module ever created’. The art looked fresh, current with today’s standards.
“Are you sure about this Wil?” John asked. “It looks pretty old. Gygax passed away over two years ago.”
“I started reading a little,” Wil said. “I didn’t want to ruin it though. It is definitely awesome.”
“Cool,” John said. “What do you plan to do with it?”
“I’m going to run it for you of course,” Wil grinned. “why else would I come all this way? I had to share the awesome.”
“Where did you get this thing anyway?” John asked.
“Some guy handed it to me at the last con.”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah, a tall guy in a black wizard robes. Gray scraggly beard, bloodshot eyes, gnarled hands,” Wil said. “It was an amazing costume.”
“I don’t know Wil,” John started. “I have deadlines to meet.”
“It will just be a few hours,” Wil said. “Everyone needs to take a break some time.”
It sounded like a nice break. He did a few calculations in his head. No more breaks for the rest of the week and he could still finish his writing projects.
“O.k. let me go tell the Internet I won’t be around today. They can be jealous I’m hanging out with you.”
John headed to his office while Wil went to the dining room table. Wil pushed aside a few papers and bills to make room for the game and began to methodically set up the supplies from his backpack. Dice bag. DM screen. Extra paper. Everything was set when John came back in the room.
“Want a Coke Zero?” John asked.
“Coffee is great if you have it,” Wil said without looking up.
“Sure,” John said as he walked into the adjoining kitchen. After a few minutes he returned with their drinks.
“What now?” John asked as he sat down at the table. “It has been years since I played one of these games.”
“I just need you to roll a character real quick before we get started.”
John reached our for Wil’s dice bag. Wil snapped his hand down before John could touch them.
“Hey man,” Wil said. “Get your own dice.”
John stared at Wil for a moment. Wil’s eyes sank promptly back down to the page he was reading. John thought Wil seemed off today so he decided to ignore the response.
“Uh, sure, let me see if I can find my old dice somewhere.”
John left the table. If Wil heard the rummaging through boxes, he didn’t notice. After a few minutes John returned with small bag in his hands.
“We can’t go too long,” John said as he sat back down. “I have to pick my daughter up from school later.”
Wil nodded his head once in acknowledgment and then walked John through character creation. Wil started the adventure, describing what sounded like a fairly cliché war between the ancient rival clans of dwarves and orcs. John tried to keep focused and give his friend his attention in the hopes that this module reached the really awesome part soon.
“Roll a D20,” Wil called out.
John snapped out of the fog when Wil addressed him directly. He picked through his dice until he found a matte blue D20 that looked it’s age. He rolled the dice, not even bothering to check his roll. Wil continued on with the adventure. Weariness snuck up on John like a stalking kitten. He reached out for his can of Coke Zero. Sleep took him into the black depths of unconsciousness.
Here is Part 2!