The arrow loosed by Alyrus the Elven Archer missed so narrowly, its wake ruffled the greasy hairs on the orc’s head. With a roar, the even-more-furious creature hefted and heaved a jagged stone mace at its attackers.

Venn the Cleric was a man of peace. He shunned battle, preferring instead to tend to the wounded. But, on this day, he saw this beast’s weapon about to crush the band of mercenaries he’d come to love, and his fate became clear. He scooped up his only armament and threw himself before the orc. A normal wooden shield would have splintered beneath the solid granite of that mace, but the Blessed Shield of Virtue took the full force of the blow without even bending.

The cleric’s actions provided just the opening needed for Jeran the Darkly Learned to step forth and bellow, “Gorvis, O God of All That Is Chaotic and Good, I summon from you a fireball with which to smite–“

“That won’t work,” declared Rjallin the Dwarven Warrior of Exceptional Skill and Moderate Physical Strength and Charisma. “You might as well be casting poetry–and dreadful poetry at that.”

Jeran the Darkly Learned, known to most as Jarrod the Computer Sciences Major, slammed his dice onto the table. “For fuck’s sake, Gina! Stop doing that!”

“Do you expect me to sit here and allow you to butcher the magic you profess to practice?” asked Gina the Dwarven Warrior of Exceptional Skill and Moderate Physical Strength and Charisma. “Alyrus is down to seven hit points and three arrows. Venn’s shield won’t take much more of this onslaught, and Sqilp is a useless Halfling with a miniscule dagger who can hardly be expected to damage a level-nine orc!”

“Hey!” yelped Alex the Halfling Thief.

“She’s right,” snickered his roommate, the Elven Archer whose name was also Alex. “That is a tiny dagger.”

“That leaves you and me,” Gina added, “and if you continue to deploy ridiculous, impossible spells, I’ll be forced to carry the weight of this entire conflict–and I can’t, with certainty, guarantee victory.”

“Gerard,” Jarrod whined, “can we just get on with it?”

“Gina,” sighed Gerard the Game Master.

“I accept your authority,” she huffed, “but under protest.”

“Actually,” said one of the Alexes, “I’m kind of intrigued.”

“I see,” Gerard noted. “What do you think, Alex?”

The other Alex took a break from gazing at Gina’s décolletage to reply, reluctantly, “Look, Jeran is leveled-up enough to cast a small fireball, so just let him.”

“Victor?” asked Gerard.

Victor the Cleric shrugged and nodded. For him, this was loquacious.

“The ayes have it,” Gerard announced.

“Who the fuck is this guy anyway?” snarled Jarrod. “First we let her play–no offense, Gina–and now we get this guy? Shouldn’t he be baling hay or something?”

For a split second, Gina was overrun with the image of Victor panting with effort, his bare torso gleaming under a Midwestern sun, his back flexing, his torn jeans straining against his taut legs… She shook this off and focused on the more pressing question–what was he doing here? He’d only recently joined the campaign, and it was clear from his performance that he hadn’t the slightest experience with tabletop gaming.

“Watch it!” Gerard snapped. “That’s my brother-in-law you’re insulting.”

Victor grinned that grin. “Let’s not be hasty.”

“That’s my sister’s boyfriend.”

This, of course, explained how Victor learned of their quest to find and destroy the Black Chalice of Stepfeun the Mad, but it did not explain why. He and Susan were normally inseparable, but she was nowhere to be found tonight.

Jarrod folded his arms and sat back in his chair. “Fine. Enlighten us, O Regina the Wise, on why a spell that has appeared consistently in the manual since the second fucking edition is ‘ridiculous’ and ‘impossible.’ We’re all dying to know. Except Alex.”

Alex muttered, “I’m actually kind of curious now.”

“Basic science,” she replied. “That’s all.”

Jarrod snorted, “What the fuck does ‘basic science’ have to do with an imaginary fantasy world?”

“Your question is ignorant, so I’ll assume it was rhetorical.”

“Fuck you!” Jarrod sputtered. “That was a perfectly legitimate question!”

“Very well then.” She held up the meticulously painted pewter figurine that represented Rjallin the Dwarven Warrior of Exceptional Skill and Moderate Physical Strength and Charisma. “Each swing of my Mighty Battle Ax Panstrogm requires force, leverage, gravity, and momentum to puncture the hide of an orc. Likewise, Alyrus’s arrows are useless without Newtonian laws of action/reaction, combined with aerodynamics, and again, momentum. If his shot fails, we can always blame operator error–unlikely in this case, though, given Alex’s experience points–or atmospheric conditions left entirely to chance, hence the die roll. When it is my turn to strike, chance will similarly determine the random environmental factors that will aid or hinder me. In conclusion, what you’re asking is to violate the natural order to which the rest of us are beholden, and to that I call bullshit.”

“Come on!” Jarrod turned to Gerard and the two Alexes for moral support, but found none, so he returned to Gina. “Your girlfriend’s boyfriend gets to use magic!”

His implication of a sexual relationship between Susan and herself wasn’t a new one; in fact, it was understandable. The level of affection displayed between the two could easily have been mistaken for romantic. That came to an end, of course, with the arrival of Victor.

“I assume you’re not referring to his healing abilities,” she said, “because the herbs, potions, and powders he uses to accelerate tissue regeneration are chemical and biological agents.”

“The Shield of Virtue is a magical artifact,” he reminded her.

“Magic is a combination of metaphor, willpower, and most importantly, science,” she replied. “The spell cast on the shield greatly strengthens the elasticity and molecular bonds of the wood–physics augmented only subtly by the supernatural.

“On the other hand, fire is a chemical reaction in which molecules are rearranged violently, releasing heat, light, and other byproducts. If your mage possesses the knowledge and focus to ignite such a chemical reaction, there is still the question of the fuel required to maintain it. In an atmosphere such as ours, he could create a small flame, but it would die quickly.

“Even if I were to grant you an oxygen-richer environment containing non-poisonous quantities of an accelerant such as methane, a fireball would not even so much as scorch the clothing our opponent wore, unless it was polyester, and that is a separate lecture altogether.”

Jarrod digested her words and grumbled, “Okay, fine. Can I at least cast lightning?”

“That would be acceptable,” she replied.

“All right, guys,” Gerard said, “time to pack it up. It’s getting late.”

“This…” Jarrod pointed at her. “This is why this fucking campaign is taking fucking forever.”

“Totally worth it,” swooned one of the Alexes.

On their way out the door, Victor tapped Gina on the shoulder. “So, um, you’re really into this whole magic thing, aren’t you?”

“I take this silly game far too seriously,” she confessed.

“It’s all real, though,” he prodded.

“Nonsense,” she replied. “As I just told you, it’s make-believe.”

“Don’t nonsense me. I seen you scare off those monsters.”

“Those were aggressive adolescent boys,” she said. “They’d been behaving as monsters, but the idea they were literally so is ludicrous.”

“They were scary, black-eyed monster children, and you stood up to them!”

“Victor,” she said calmly, “perhaps role-playing isn’t for you. You can’t seem to separate–“

“Susan told me everything.”

She grunted.

“I want to learn how to do what you do,” he told her.

Gina drummed her fingers against her thigh. Before running away from home, she’d excelled at her studies at the school in the cavern. But she was only eighteen, and hardly trained to instruct. And yet this request tickled her ego so thoroughly, and his goofy earnestness made him irresistible.

“Very well,” she sighed. “Find me tomorrow afternoon.”

He grinned that grin again.



Having crossed the length of her college campus with a sedated sorority girl draped over her shoulder, Regina felt her strength and compassion waning. Julie’s posture resembled that of a fifty-kilo sack of sand, making the trip to this dormitory and up its staircases an exceptional challenge. Somehow she persevered and knocked on the door she sought.

A gangly man answered, looking exactly like the picture she’d seen in the school’s database. He even wore the same arrogant sneer.

“Are you Gerard Young?” she asked.

Through bulky glasses, the twenty-year-old boy who had been violated by puberty glared at the woman who’d been dearly caressed by it. With surprising nonchalance, he replied, “What do you want?”

“I seek your assistance.”

“What?” he asked. “Why?”

“According to the records I reviewed this evening–utilizing means of questionable legality, I confess–you’re the most capable pre-med student on campus.”

“True.” Self-satisfaction inflated his voice as he held the door open. “Set her down on the lower bunk. I’ll see what I can do.”

Regina smiled. “Thank you.”

“What do you know about her condition?”

She passed the prescription bottle to him. “My family never had much use for medicine, so I don’t understand what this is.”

He shook his head again. “Lucky you. This is Rohypnol.”

“That word had no meaning to me.”

“Roofies?” he clarified.

She still didn’t understand.

“It’s a date-rape drug.”

“Are you telling me that a pharmaceutical company manufactures a medicine for the purpose of violating someone?”

“That’s not its only purpose,” he told her. “It was originally invented as a sort-of tranquilizer for the treatment of severe insomnia. It’s illegal in the US, probably because of the rape thing, but the frat rats always seem to get it from somewhere.”

“Is there an antidote?”

“A good night’s sleep,” he replied. “And a lot of aspirin.”

She closed her eyes and sat beside Julie, exhausted. “Was this subterfuge necessary?”

“All those guys ever think about is getting laid.”

She deduced quickly that getting laid was one of many euphemisms for engaging in intercourse. “Why could they not just ask?”

“Beats me.” He shrugged. “I guess they think they get anything they want anyway, so they shouldn’t have to ask.”

“Are women in this society merely warm objects?”

“Don’t you watch TV?” he snorted.

“No,” she replied.

“If anyone ever did something like that to my sister, I’d…” His shoulders fell. “I wouldn’t do anything. I’m kind of pathetic. She’d end them, though. Don’t tell her I said so, but she’s kind of awesome.”

Regina asked, “Has no one ever advised them that equality only enhances the experience?”

“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never done it.”

“You should,” she told him. “It’s delightful.”

He let loose a shrill guffaw. “You are weird!”

Judging by what she had seen so far of what passed for normal, she found this to be complimentary. “Thank you.”

“So,” Gerard asked after an awkward pause, “she your roommate?”




“Then why did you help her if you don’t know her?”

“Well,” she replied, “you don’t know me, and yet you helped.”

“You asked for help. I gave it. That’s what people are supposed to do.”

“You answered your own question.”

He grinned. “I guess I did.”

Relieved to see humanity in the soul of at least one person, she hoisted Julie onto her shoulder.

Gerard scrambled to his feet to give her a hand. This wasn’t particularly useful, as Regina’s physical condition was more pristine than his. “What are you going to do?” he panted.

“I’m going to return her to her dorm room, and then I am going to my own bed to sleep for eight hours.”

“Need help?”

She shook her head. “I require no assistance to sleep.”

“I meant with her.”

She considered this. “That won’t be necessary. I thank you for the offer, but I feel you’ve done enough.”

After he opened the door and she stumbled out, he blurted out, “I don’t even know your name.”

“Regina De Costa.”

“Can I call you Gina?”

She smiled with unexpected affection. “I’ll allow it.”

After Regina awoke the next morning, she showered, cleaned her teeth, brushed her hair, dressed, and proceeded to the student union for a protein-rich breakfast to increase her alertness. The presentation of her meal left much to be desired. The fragrance left even more.

The sudden guffaw that punctured her disgust was easily recognizable, so she followed it and made out three distinct voices. The first belonged to Gerard Young. “I swear to you, it’s true!”

“Nobody’s that weird!” said the second voice.

The third said, “Maybe she’s from another planet!”

“Not this one, for sure!” Gerard laughed, but he stopped as soon as he realized that all three of his friends were staring directly behind him with terror.

“Good morning, Gerard,” Regina said when he turned around. “I trust you slept well.”

He recoiled. “What are you doing here?”

“Is it not customary to dine while engaging in light conversation?”

“Fine.” He pointed to one of the empty chairs beside him.

“Who the hell is this?” asked the owner of the first voice.

Regina replied, “Someone who doesn’t appreciate being referred to in the third person.”

“Fellas,” Gerard announced, “this is Regina De Costa. She prefers Gina.”

“I assure you, I do not.”

Gerard pointed to one of the silent ones and said, “Alex.” Then he pointed to the young man beside him. “This is his roommate, Alex.” Finally, he indicated the rude one. “And this is my roommate, Glen.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you all,” Regina said.

Glen snickered. “You talk like an elf.”

“Glen…” Gerard warned.

“That is the most absurd thing I have heard lately,” Regina replied. “Even if an elf were inclined to speak aloud, it wouldn’t deign to speak English. They find it far too vulgar.”

Glen snorted. “Shows what you know.”

Gerard’s tone became more of a growl. “Glen…”

After taking a huge bite of food, Glen continued to talk while chewing, “Have you ever played the game Swords of Sorcery?”

“I’m not familiar with it,” she replied.

“Then maybe you shouldn’t talk about something you don’t know anything about.”

“Don’t be an ass, Glen,” murmured Gerard.

Regina asked, “Have you ever met an elf?”

Glen swallowed. “No?”

“Then perhaps you should not profess knowledge of subjects of which you know little.”

Glen stammered, “There’s no such thing as elves!”

Regina was surprised by this admission. “If this is your belief, how can you proclaim your expertise?”

Glen didn’t respond. He just shoveled more food into his mouth.

Alex and Alex looked at each other, impressed.

Gerard laughed too hard to say anything.

Regina took a dainty bite of her meal.

Gerard stopped laughing when his eyes focused on something behind her. “Don’t you have other friends to sit with?” he asked.

Regina turned to the person to whom he spoke with such impatience. She shared the height and build of Gerard, as well his facial features and the dark shade of his skin. There were several differences, gender being the most obvious. Her own lankiness could be attributed more to athleticism than malnourishment. As a result of this, her posture was straighter, while being more relaxed and self-assured.

She tossed a half-full tray of food into the empty space on the table next to Regina and swung herself into the seat. She told her brother, “Yeah, but I’m more interested in the fact that a supermodel is sitting with you.”

Regina frowned.

Glen cupped his palms around his mouth and stage-whispered, “She hates it when you talk about her in the third person.”

The new visitor held out her hand. “You are?”

When Regina shook it, she was startled by the most masculine of grips. She said, “Regina.”

The young woman smirked. “Susan.”

And that’s how Gina met her best friend.