“You’ve done well to get this far,” intoned Chad the Dungeon Master, “but you’ve outlived your usefulness.”
accent, Percy decided, was the second worst part about this D&D
campaign. Chad tried, bless his heart. He was way more into role-playing
than roll-playing, and tried to encourage that mentality in his
players. Percy could respect that.
problem, the second-deepest pit in Hell, was Chad’s voice. He only had
one stock voice, which he used for every evil character. It sounded like
a French cartoon character talking in an Italo-German accent. It ate.
It ate so bad. Percy knew that most people who played D&D weren’t
professional actors. They were in it for the love of the game. It was
okay if they didn’t have the acting range of Mel Blanc.
it wasn’t okay. Percy and the other players laughed about this awful,
mincing voice behind Chad’s back. They told mean jokes at his expense so
they wouldn’t do it to his face. Chad’s group genuinely liked him. They
accepted his terrible voice acting untalent as the price of doing
business, or they used to.
“All right, initiative time,” Chad said, dropping into his normal baritone. Thank fuck.
rolled high. “Drawing my mace of disruption,” he said, lengthening the
‘i’ into an ‘e.’ "Dumping all my attacks on the wight, Great Cleaves on
the skeletons around it when it drops."
knew what he was doing. He played his berserker with the subtlety of a
rocket-propelled bus, but he had a sense of where he could splash into
an encounter to break it up into manageable bits for the other party
rogue ran in right behind. Helio broke the line, and Ben took out the
high-value targets. They were like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, if the
Mouser wore hornrim glasses and Fafhrd were an overweight Dominican.
They almost didn’t need the rest of the party. Percy’s role, more often
than not, was to dole out magical heavy support when Helio and Ben
over-committed. They got to be the showstealers, and Percy got the
comfortable, smug knowledge that his interference-running made their
just now, for instance. Percy cast Lightning Bolt on one wight, using
the wall behind it to bounce the arc into a second wight in the corner
of the room. The second wight died outright - Percy’s dice were hot -
but the first one survived to come at him. Whatever, Percy thought. He
could off-tank the undead monster with Bigby’s Interposing Hand until
the two-man wrecking crew chewed their way through the traitorous
merchant and his reanimated bodyguard. Then they’d clean up the dregs,
shake down the bodies for treasure, and hock it back in town to add to
their castle fund.
“Crystal, you’re up,” Chad said.
“Okay,” Crystal said. “Umm...” she picked up a stapled printout. It was her priest’s entire spell list.
was it. This was the worst fucking part of the whole night, of every
game night. Watching Crystal fumble through her spell list carried the
existential horror of watching a frail old lady dip trembling, arthritic
fingers into her purse to fish out, and carefully write, a check for
“Okay,” she said again, pursing her lips.
could see Ben clenching a handful of his pant leg under the table.
Helio’s smile dropped into a bland poker mask. Percy fought the urge to
snap his mechanical pencil in half. It was like clockwork. Every turn,
Crystal would forget everything her character could do. She needed her
spells, and basic game mechanics, explained to her every round of combat
in every fucking session. They hoped Crystal would leave the game after
she broke up with Chad, but that train left the station a long time
there she was, looking at her spell list, like she did every time,
wasting all their time. She was a fucking succubus from hell, the
Dungeon Master’s Girlfriend, and she was ruining their campaign.
“This is bullshit,” Percy blurted. Ben and Helio snapped their eyes toward him. Chad just looked startled.
“Dude,” Chad said. “Dude, chill, it’s just a game.”
“Yeah, Percy, it’s just a game,” Crystal said, tucking her blond hair around one of her glossy, black horns.
“So how was it?” Crystal asked Percy, on the phone, later.
my God,” Percy said, “It was 20 minutes of fun packed into four hours.
It dragged so much ass.” His shoulders hunched and his feet ate up
ground with swift strides. Percy lived within walking distance of Chad’s
house, and a nighttime stroll helped him burn off frustration.
“Was I seriously that bad?” Crystal said, laughing.
don’t want to be mean, but yes. Yes you were,” Percy said. “Like okay, I
get now that this wasn’t really your thing. But it bogged everything
I’m sorry about that,” Crystal said. Percy could hear her blow out a
sigh. “But Chad insisted. He took it really seriously, and I wanted to
do things together with him. I’m sorry it stank up the game for you
Percy said, still peevish. He walked past rows of chewy-looking houses
and duplexes, crowded on a hill in front of a narrow side street and
rented out to college students. He stopped to stretch his back and
loosen the angry knot forming between his shoulder blades.
“Why’d you break up with him, anyway?” Percy said.
was over a book,” Crystal said, rueful. “Like this Joseph Campbell
book. The Hero With A Thousand Faces. It had a bunch of, like, Greek
guys on the front cover, and that Star Wars guy.”
“Luke Skywalker,” Percy said. “Jeez, you really put in an effort, didn’t you?”
“What do you mean?” she said.
“We are so not your people,” Percy said. Crystal laughed, but it sounded melancholy to both of them. Dead air filled the line.
“Yeah,” she said, “I guess you aren’t.”
he wanted me to read this book, and learn about the monomyth and all of
this. And I didn’t want to, Percy! It was like a fucking homework
assignment. It’s exactly what it was. He wanted me to appreciate his
fucking Dungeons and Dragons game, and then he smarted off at me, like
he was somehow better than me because he reads all this high-concept
stuff and I don’t.” Crystal sighed again. “So then we really got into
it. Then he called me, and I quote, a ‘vapid cunt.’ And that’s where I
“Wow,” was all Percy could manage.
I know. He comes off so sweet, but he has this superiority complex all
the way down to his bones. That’s when we started screaming and crying
at each other. It was a mess,” she said.
Percy switched ears with his phone. “That’s rough,” he said.
“It was,” she said. He walked through another pause.
“You’re the only one who still talks to me, you know?” Crystal said. “I appreciate that.”
“Yeah,” he said, not really willing to risk saying more.
“Hey,” she said. “What’re your games like without me?”
“You really don’t want to know,” Percy said.
It took them a month, but Ben found out what had happened.
“Here’s our problem,” Ben said to Percy and Helio, flipping a book out of his backpack onto a table at the student center.
Book of Extremely Vile Darkness leered up at them. Done up in the same
faux-tome style as the “official” 3.5 edition product line, with a
central image of winged demons locked in an act of explicit congress.
“Fucking Open Gaming License,” Helio swore.
Percy frowned. “What the hell, man? I haven’t even heard of this before now.”
“That took some doing,” Ben said. “You remember the Book of Erotic Fantasy?”
“I wish I didn’t,” Percy said.
Well, after the blow-up with that, and Wizards revoking their license,
some of the creators decided to go even more extreme. They went to a
vanity publisher and put out the nastiest, stereotypiest D&D
supplement conceived by man,” Ben said.
cracked it open. The book had no typesetting. The copy was written, in
longhand, around illustrations that looked like they’d been pulled from
“This is... mediocre,” Helio said. “Look at it.”
“The original Monster Manual had better tits in it,” Percy said, wrinkling his nose.
“Yeah, but if you sit down and read it, it’s all this labyrinthian shit about summoning things from the lower planes,” Ben said.
“So?” Percy said.
Ben took off his glasses and leveled a stare at his friends.
“So it works,” he said.
three brand-new occultists stared at their handiwork in Percy’s walk-in
closet. The pentagram and warding circle glistened on the bottom of an
empty Little Caesar’s Hot ‘n’ Ready box.
Ironically, the pizza was Sicilian.
a source of blood took the longest part of the ritual setup. They
bandied around ideas like buying feeder mice and thawing them (too
gross) or getting a lot of very rare steaks (too expensive), until Helio
slashed his forearm with a cracked CD jewel case in a fit of
“Akkad adua, tefer beyu,” they chanted. Hesitant, not looking at each other, feeling silly.
“Akkad adua, tefer beyu. Akkad adua, tefer beyu...”
chanted the invocation 13 times 13 times, with Percy keeping score on a
steno pad. They stopped, and looked at each other. Helio’s arm was
opened his mouth to speak, then the pizza box crumpled. It sucked in on
itself, as though a hand had grasped it from below and yanked, or if it
were crushed by benthic pressure. The pentacle and circle remained,
glistening, over a shivering black pit that had taken the pizza box’s
yourselves,” came a voice, a harsh, septic gurgle from the pit. Percy’s
first thought was that Chad would kill to have a bad-guy voice so
“We are seekers of truth,” Ben said, reading from the script he’d prepared. “We-”
“Are you a new or returning user?” the voice said.
“What?” Ben said.
“Have you forgotten your password? Please enter your goetic grammaton for a reminder,” it said.
Percy said, his voice shaking. “Look, all right? This devil bitch is
fucking up our campaign and we need to know what she is so we can get
“It’s a name you want? Quid pro quo,” said the pit. “Give me yours first.”
Ben shook his head violently.
“She’s got blonde hair,” Percy pressed on, “which is the fucked up thing because Crystal’s a ginger. And black horns.”
The pit waited in silence for a long moment.
“Horns like a ram’s?” it said.
“No, they’re short and pointed, like the ends of pencils,” Percy said.
she gives you this look like she doesn’t know she’s getting under your
skin, but she totally is, and knows it,” Helio chimed in.
“She has a tail,” Ben added.
They heard whispers from the pit. A conference, or one voice muttering to itself in many tongues. They couldn’t be sure.
“All right,” it said, at length.
“All right what?” Ben said.
giving you this one,” the pit said. “The devil Meretrice, called Leanan
Sidhe, called Vepar, has your friend in her toil. The human Chad Rose
did enter into a pact with Meretrice, granting her half his lifespan so
that she would join him in the waking world and render to him his
Percy and Helio looked horrified at the idea of this creature cutting their friend’s life expectancy in half.
“Wait,” Ben said. “You’re volunteering this information? What’s the catch?”
catch is she’s a huge bitch,” the pit said. “She’s never stopped
bragging about taking John Keats. She’s been coasting on cake
assignments like your friend Chad, while the rest of us working stiffs
have to do grunt work.”
The three young men stared at each other.
you have any idea how hard John Edwards was? Like... any idea? Not
difficult-hard. Being around the man, around the politics. It was utter
shit. Every time someone called him a ‘kingmaker’ it was like knives.
And our guy didn’t even come close,” the pit said.
“Who...” Percy started.
Gravel,” the pit snapped. “I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway,
you’ll be doing me a major personal solid by tripping up Meretrice.”
“But how do we do it?” Ben said.
don’t,” the voice said. “Chad has to. He’s still in his 90-day trial
period, so he can revoke the contract without penalty. Make him see what
he’s dealing with. It shouldn’t be hard.”
“Aren’t you shooting yourselves in the feet with a trial period?” Helio said.
it’s courtesy. We’re not ogres,” the voice said. “Second, I don’t come
up there and tell you how to play a stupid game for children, so don’t
tell me how to do my job. Third, fuck you.”
pit closed in on itself. The air pressure in the walk-in closet shifted
violently, blowing out the blood pentacle into a fine spray all over
the three young men and much of Percy’s wardrobe.
“Crystal, you’re up,” Chad said, the soul of patience.
umm, I’m going to go to the bathroom. I won’t be long, guys,” Crystal
said, eyes too-wide and earnest. She stood from her folding chair and
went for the stairs. Helio pulled from his backpack a prayer candle
printed with the image of St. Jude. He threw it, like a football, into
the small of Crystal’s back. She fell over, ass over teakettle.
“Avaunt, demon!” Ben cried out.
“Guys, what the fuck?” Chad said. “Leave Crystal alone!”
“That fucking isn’t Crystal, Chad,” Percy said. “Look at her!”
Crystal stood up facing them, rubbing the small of her back. She wrinkled her nose at Percy.
“Look who decided to grow a spine,” she said.
calling game,” Chad said. “We need to deal with this. You guys have
been passive aggressive with my girlfriend for weeks now, and I’m
getting sick of it. What is the deal here?”
deal is she has horns, Chad!” Ben said, stabbing a finger at Crystal.
Her hair, dishevelled from her fall, tangled around her horns. She
folded her arms.
“She has horns and a tail. And Crystal’s not blonde! That’s not even slightly Crystal, Chad! She’s not even trying!” Ben said.
moved over to Crystal in a show of solidarity. She let him put his
hands on her shoulders. Her tail coiled, like a constrictor, around one
of his legs.
“People don’t have horns, Chad,” Helio said. “You summoned a demon to stand in for your ex. That is literally what you did.”
“She’s not my ex,” Chad said. “We fight, but everyone fights.”
“You know what else everyone does? Not have fucking horns,” Percy said, pointing at them.
“I think you three need to leave,” Crystal said, snaring Chad’s waist with one arm.
“This isn’t your house, you evil bitch!” Percy said.
Chad scowled. “She’s right. Get out. Get your shit and get out. I’m done with this game.”
surged forward, knocking over his chair, the card table, and thirty
dice. Character sheets and Sour Patch Kids flew like rice at a wedding.
The physical outburst startled them all, startled them long enough for
Helio to grab Chad’s wrists and force his hands to cup Crystal’s horns.
“Horns!” he yelled.
“She likes cosplay,” Chad stammered.
“Horns!” they chorused. Crystal pushed Helio and Chad away, baring her teeth, bright and pointed.
name is Meretrice. You summoned her,” Ben said. “She’s life-draining
you to stay here and fuck with our game. She’s making us all miserable.”
Chad stared at Metetrice, who made even less effort than usual to hide her bestial aspect.
“I know,” he said, finally. She looked thunderstruck.
“But I need her. I don’t have anyone else. I fucked up with Crystal, real bad. She was perfect. I need this,” Chad said.
Meretrice floated back to his side, eyes bright and triumphant.
“You need this,” she said in his ear.
“I need you,” he said, crumpling in on himself.
“Good boy,” she purred. “Mine.”
Percy felt sick to his stomach.
“But they’re right,” Chad said.
“Hmm?” Meretrice nuzzled Chad’s throat.
“You’re really... bad at D&D,” Chad said.
She looked up from savoring him. “You wanted Crystal,” she said. “I will be anything you need. I’m everything you need.”
“Okay, well... well, what I need right now is a girlfriend who isn’t shitting up my campaign,” Chad said.
opened her mouth. Said nothing, closed it with a click. Chad’s three
friends stood silent, utterly out of their league.
going to be lucky to live past 40 because of our contract,” Chad said.
“I... I appreciate what you’re doing, but the least you can do is learn
how to play.”
“It’s boring,” Meretrice whined.
“Learn to play or I revoke the contract,” Chad said.
“Meretrice? You’re up.”
“Flame strike on the vampire,” the demon said. “Helio can hang on another round without heals.”
took Helio the longest to adjust to the situation with Chad’s
girlfriend. His lapsed Catholic upbringing couldn’t reconcile playing
D&D with an actual demon, who he was allowing to suck away at his
friend’s life force. Ben seemed more fascinated by her, and after a
frosty couple of weeks, started to engage her in conversations about the
felt strange, because he had started dating Crystal. The real Crystal.
Also, he thought it was fucked up that Meretrice played the party’s
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Carrie challenged me with "write a story where a false memory features prominently" and I challenged Satu Gustafson with "Write about an outsider looking in. It can be depressing shoegazer fiction or an upbeat fish out of water story. Whatever!"