Roll for Initiative
It was raining.
It was a crisp Storing evening in Altador, and it was raining, and Dark_breed_Hyren was doing his best not to catch a cold.
The blue Grundo hated rain. But it was a little more tolerable when one was curled up on a plush couch in one's family's library, wrapped in a down comforter, enjoying the blazing heat of the fireplace, and sipping a mug of steaming borovan while reading the Neopian Times.
The rain could patter on the tile roof of their villa and stream down the tall windows as much as it liked, but it could never get to Hyren in here, and that made him feel superior and snug.
"Oh Peadackles, where's my dice?" His sister, Blynn679, scrambled around a table nearby. Her Disco Zafara tail waved in the air as she lifted up papers and binders that lay strewn on the oaken surface, and then ducked beneath it to search the floor. She poked her head above the table and giggled. "Wait, never mind, they're on my chair."
Their owner, Terra, walked in with a bowl of popcorn and set it down on the table. "I just put the garlic toast in the oven," she said, flipping her long brown braid back over her shoulder. "Remind me to check on it in about ten minutes." The sleeves of her trademark plaid flannel shirt were rolled up, a sure sign that she'd been hard at work in the kitchen.
"You should use the hourglass," Hyren said, not looking up from the paper. "Then you won't have to ask us to remind you." The savoury aroma of buttered popcorn filled the air and made his mouth water.
The blue-eyed young woman chuckled and pushed her glasses up her nose. "Yeah, but the act of me telling you to remind me helps me to remember." She glanced up at the clock on the wall. "Okay, so if it's 6:02 now, check it at 6:12..."
Blynn plopped the bag of dice on the table and sat herself down. "Thanks for making the snacks for our session, Terra!" Lacking Hyren's self-discipline, she plunged a paw into the popcorn and stuffed a pawful into her mouth. "Thith ith gonna be greah!"
Terra grinned, leaning over the table and scanning the papers. "Yeah, I'm excited! What's this campaign going to be about?"
"Spoilers!" The Zafara reached for the popcorn again. "What else are you making for us?"
Terra's eyes narrowed mischievously. "Spoilers."
Blynn's face fell. "You're not making Shrimp Cupcakes, are you?!"
The girl laughed, although it came out as more of a maniacal cackle. "You'll just have to wait and see," she said in a sing-song tone.
"Terra!" Blynn threw a kernel of popcorn at her.
It bounced off of her face and onto the table, and Terra popped it in her mouth with a grin. "Nah, I'm not that cruel. C'mon, I'm eating this stuff, too." She eyed the table again. "Actually, if you want a teaser, I got us some Gummy Dice Salad. Y'know, 'cause it fits the theme."
The Zafara grinned. "Awesome! What a great idea!"
Hyren smirked. "Clever." He took another sip of borovan.
"Thanks," Terra said over her shoulder as she turned to leave. "Be back."
Blynn had been introduced to Neoquest during a stay in Brightvale earlier that year, and took to it like a Mallard to water. She'd found a Neoquest group here in Altador, and after a few months of playing and learning the ropes, she began to Quest Master her own campaigns.
Hyren was looking forward to tonight. He wasn't a sociable sort, but he had more than enough camaraderie with his sister and owner to make playing Neoquest with them an enjoyable experience, instead of an exercise in patience and stress management. Terra felt much the same way. The three had just finished a month-long campaign that had gone quite well, and there was no reason to think this one would go any differently.
Terra came back in with a tall pitcher of Chokatoade and a stack of glasses. "I hope this is okay for a beverage. I'd make some borovan or cocoa but I don't want it to get cold by the time we start. I figure I can make that on demand."
"Sounds good," Blynn said, pouring herself a glass.
Terra frowned. "What are you doing?"
"Taste-testing. Somebody's gotta do it."
The girl snorted. "Fair enough."
"Yep, this passes the grade." Blynn gave her a thumbs-up.
From far off, the bell at the front door jingled merrily. "Oh—" Terra began to say, but then her eyes caught the clock. "Ah! I forgot about the garlic toast! Could somebody else get that?" she asked as she rushed back to the kitchen.
"I got it." Hyren put down the paper and his mug, and pushed himself off the couch.
"You sure, chief?" Blynn asked before taking another swig of Chokatoade.
"Yeah. We're starting soon anyway, right? Can't relax on that couch all night, as much as I'd like to." He moved to the hallway, already missing the fire's warmth.
Granted, it never got very cold in Altador compared to places like Terror Mountain or even Neopia Central—snow was a rare occurrence here. But winters did have the propensity to be chilly and rainy, and something about wet cold just froze Hyren to the bone and made him miserable.
Pawsteps sounded on the marble behind him. "Wait up!" Blynn scampered over to his side. "That might be the last person for our campaign."
Hyren's antennae perked. "What? Someone else is playing? It's not that super annoying Kacheek with the laugh like a Snorkle's, is it?"
Blynn laughed. "No way!"
They crossed the long hallway and descended the stairs into the main entry hall. The floor was decorated with a mosaic depicting Minitheuses and Garfirs cavorting in a pastoral landscape, and the ceiling was supported with pillars. Doors at one end of the hall led to a courtyard that overlooked the sea. The wild Altalaphuses that often visited the villa gardens were probably splashing about in the reflecting pool as it swelled with rainwater.
It wasn't that Hyren's family tried to be affluent. They'd simply accrued enough through their adventures over the years to be able to live comfortably in a pleasant and classy setting. Hyren did vastly prefer to this to the somewhat shabby bamboo Neohome where they'd lived on Mystery Island when Terra was a teenager. As an adult, she'd finally decided to make her dream home a reality, and now here they were in Altador.
The bell rang again. "Coming, hold on!" Blynn shouted.
"Okay, you've stumped me," Hyren said as they approached the large double front doors. "I have no idea who this could be. It's not like we know a whole lot of people—"
Blynn pulled the door open. Hyren's heart skipped a beat as he found himself looking up – way up – at a familiar pair of crimson eyes, and gleaming fangs that caught the glow of the home's Faerie-dust-powered lighting.
"Surprise," said the sopping-wet Werelupe King.
Hyren staggered back in shock "What—"
"Apologies for my tardiness," Isengrim said as he sauntered inside. "It is sometimes difficult to find punctual transportation from the Werelupe Woods."
"Did you get a ride from pirates?" Blynn asked excitedly as she shut the door behind him.
The hulking Werelupe smirked. "Aye, and I gave the poor cabin boy quite a scare." He lowered himself to all fours and shook himself.
Water flew everywhere, including all over Hyren. The Grundo's antennae flattened against his head. "You can't be serious."
He and the Werelupe King had a bit of a history. It was long and complicated, but suffice to say they at least weren't trying to kill each other any more.
"Isengrim!" Terra stood at the door to the kitchen, an oven mitt still on one hand and a huge grin on her face. "I'm so glad you made it okay!" She ran to the three.
"Terra!" Isengrim caught her up in a tight hug. "Ah, I missed you so much! It is good to see you well!" He looked at the other two. "The same goes for you both."
"Likewise," Blynn said.
Hyren shrugged. "Yeah." They did have a begrudging respect for each other. Isengrim was the best sparring partner Hyren had found yet, at any rate.
The Werelupe kept an arm around Terra as he looked around the hall. "You did not tell me you lived in such a palace! It rivals even the Burrows!"
"It's not nearly so big," Terra chuckled. "Will the pack be okay while you're away?"
He nodded. "Suhel is taking care of them. She does an excellent job in my absence."
"Wait," Hyren said, "how long are you staying?"
Isengrim's ears perked. "A fortnight."
"It won't be that bad," Terra said at the look on Hyren's face. "C'mon, we have like, a bajillion guest rooms!" She paused. "Okay, it's more like three guest rooms. But still."
"Just as long as he doesn't try to paint the walls," Hyren muttered. The Burrows were decorated with cave art courtesy of Isengrim and his pack, something that would look terribly out of place in an Altadorian villa.
Isengrim snickered and studied the mosaic. "It seems as though someone has already done the decorating here." His crimson eyes lifted. "Where is the runt—err, Pharazon?"
"He's in town with Celice," Blynn said. The white Lupe scholar was their Faerie Draik brother's best friend. They didn't get to see each other often because Celice lived in Brightvale, conducting diplomatic negotiations between the Werelupe Woods and the rest of Neopia.
Terra motioned for them to follow her. "She just got here this morning. Apparently there's a new exhibit in the Altadorian Archives on the history of perfectly flat rocks, and they just couldn't pass up the opportunity to check it out."
Isengrim snorted. "Sounds like them." As they moved into the hallway that led to the kitchen, he leaned over his owner's shoulder and sniffed the air. His pink tongue lolled out between his fangs. "What is that delicious smell?"
Terra drew herself up proudly. "Garlic toast."
"Ah, you spoil me!" His tail wagged.
"Well, you're going to have to earn it—I could use all of your help bringing up the rest of the snacks."
Blynn saluted. "We're on it!"
The kitchen was spacious and homey, with dried herbs hanging from the rafters and cruses of olive oil on the counters. A large, open brick oven sat in one wall, flames still dancing inside. On a cooling rack sat thick slices of garlic toast topped with bubbling cheese.
"What a feast you have prepared!" Isengrim said as Terra handed him a bowl of almonds and a platter of chocolate-frosted Faerie cakes.
"Well, y'know." She picked up a plate of cinnamon and sugar scones. "Gotta have game food."
"Why was I the only one who didn't know he was coming to visit," Hyren muttered to Blynn while Terra piled the toast on a plate and then handed it to him.
The Zafara giggled behind a paw. "'Cause Terra and I knew you'd freak out if you knew beforehand. And I wanted to see the look on your face when he came to the door."
Isengrim's smile fell a bit as he looked around the kitchen. "Ah... my apologies, but you would not happen to have any meat, would you?"
Terra grimaced. "Oops, I'm sorry. I forgot. I should have picked some up for you at the marketplace earlier."
He held out a paw. "No, do not worry about it. I can go for a hunt later to supplement."
An awkward silence followed.
Isengrim grinned in embarrassment and scratched the back of his head. "Or not. I will be fine, really."
"Well, I'll pick up some meat for you at market tomorrow," Terra said as she led them to the spiral staircase in the corner. "It's no biggie."
The stairs led to the second-storey hallway, which made it much more convenient to reach the kitchen from upstairs. That was especially important for Terra, who liked to read while she ate, so the library often served as her meal room.
As they ascended, Isengrim's ears pricked and his attention snapped to the corner of the stairwell. "What is that?"
Hyren watched a little dust ball roll across the wall and slip into a crack in the plaster. "That was a Dust Mote. We have a population living here."
Blynn stepped out onto the second floor. "Yep. They just move around and eat dust all day. Really makes cleaning house a lot easier."
"Heh, we certainly do not have that in the Burrows," Isengrim said. "Staying in a building should be an interesting experience."
"I hope you enjoy it." Terra set her plates down on the table in the library. "I'd really love for you to come visit more often."
"I am enjoying it very much already, thank you. You and your family will have to stay in the Burrows again sometime. Suhel misses you all as well."
"Maybe for Giving Day!" Terra said, clapping her hands. "That would be fun! I really like Giving Day in Meridell, there's something rather nostalgic about it."
Isengrim smiled. "Giving Day it is, then."
They took their seats at the table and he grabbed a piece of toast. "I am most curious about how this Neoquest thing works. Terra and Blynn tell me it is like storytelling."
Terra handed him a set of dice. "Right. But there's also an element of chance involved, which is where the dice rolls come in. It helps add randomness and makes the story more interesting."
The Werelupe King nodded. "I see, I see. Fascinating." Taking a bite of the toast, he closed his eyes, his ears tilting back. His tail wagged so much it looked like someone was shaking a feather duster. "Terra, this is amazing! Will you make garlic toast every day, please?"
She laughed. "Of course!"
Blynn straightened the papers in front of her and opened up the thick, hardbound books lying beside them. "Okay, character creation time. This campaign is going to take place during the War of the Circle of Twelve. You're going to be adventurers from the Kal Panning area, so keep that in mind."
"Gotcha," Terra said, studying her blank character sheet.
Isengrim poked his with a claw. "What does all of this mean?"
His owner leaned over to him. "Here, I'll help you."
While she explained the items on the sheet, Hyren glanced down at his own. "Blynn, you gave me a blank one. Where's Aetius Darksbane?"
She smirked. "Three hundred years in the future. You can't use him this time around."
Hyren frowned. "But he's level thirteen! Can't we say he was transported back to the War by a temporal mage or a dimensional rift?"
"Nope." Blynn shook her head. "Everybody's starting at level one. Sorry."
"Fine, fine." Hyren hated the idea of having to start from scratch. How could he keep his party members safe if he was just as weak as they were? But what the QM said, went.
"Okay, I'm going to be a JubJub," Terra said.
Blynn raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yeah. I get bonus skill points for lack of arms, right? I want to make her a mage, so she won't need much in the physical department anyway. I could use the extra skill points to give her a power boost."
As Blynn began to thumb through one of the books, Hyren looked over at their owner. "You're min-maxing?"
"Hey, it's a legitimate character generation strategy! Besides, nobody ever plays as a JubJub. I wanted to give it a spin."
Blynn gave Terra the open book. "Here's all the JubJub stats."
"Thanks!" Terra began to write down the relevant information.
"What kind of mage are you going to be?"
Hyren snickered. "Well, at least that hasn't changed. You're always either a life mage or a paladin."
"That's not true!" Terra stuck out her tongue. "Last campaign I was a cleric."
"Yes, which has essentially the same skill set as a life mage."
"But clerics use staves and can Mesmerize."
Isengrim looked up from his paper. "I want to be a Werelupe."
"How original," Hyren coughed under his breath.
Blynn raised an eyebrow. "Uh... sorry, but I don't have the Quest Guide that includes stats for Werelupes as playable characters. Could you just be a regular Lupe?"
Isengrim ducked his head and frowned. "But I want to be a Werelupe..."
"Okay, okay. I'll improvise. Terra?" Blynn's owner handed her the book back, and the Zafara flipped through a few pages. "Okay... use most of the stats for normal Lupes here, but go ahead and give yourself a... let's say, plus three to Strength and Stamina."
The Werelupe King scowled. "That's it? What about these other stats? Are Werelupes not intelligent and charismatic?"
"I think that's fair," Terra said. "Sheesh, what is it with you guys and wanting overpowered characters?" She shot an accusing look at Hyren, who sunk into his seat a little.
Isengrim tucked his chin, his ears pinning back. "Sorry."
Terra patted his shoulder. "It's okay. I'm sure your character will be awesome. Now let's pick out a class for you."
As she showed the Werelupe the different job classes available, Hyren reached for a handful of almonds. Outside, the rain still fell steadily, making the room feel all the more cozy. He wondered if the cypresses and olive trees outside were enjoying the extra water. It certainly made up for how hot and sunny that summer had been.
Isengrim cleared his throat. "I'm going to be a warrior."
Hyren frowned in the middle of biting into his Faerie cake. "But I was going to be a warrior."
Terra sighed and rested her face in her hand. "You can both be warriors."
"But that would mess up the party dynamic!" Hyren said. "We'll be unbalanced!"
Blynn groaned. "So specialise in something else!"
Hyren ground his teeth. "Fine, fine." He tapped his pencil on the paper. This would require a slight change of plans. "I'm going to use some of my skill points to make my character Tyrannian."
"Huh, interesting choice." Terra gave him the Quest Guide and he flipped to the chapter on painted pets.
"Thought I'd mix it up a little."
"Which species?" Terra asked.
"Hissi. They have good Acuity and Mobility, right? I'm going to need that to be a ranger."
Blynn looked up from her notes. "A ranger? That's new territory for you."
"It seems like the next best thing after a warrior. I guess I could expand my horizons a little and see what else I like. Might be useful to cross-class one of these days." He scanned the page, which described the various bonuses and disadvantages for the different types of non-basic-painted pets. "Whoa, a Defence bonus? Sweet."
"Yeah, 'cause you got that cool armoured skin," Blynn said, pouring herself more Chokatoade.
"But I get a minus to Intellect... meh. I can make up for that with a good stat roll."
Once they had all gotten their characters figured out and organised, and Terra had made them all hot cocoa, Blynn drew herself up with the air of a storyteller, a skill she had learned from Hyren. Her natural propensity for theatrics always made her enjoyable to watch.
"These are dark days for Neopia," she intoned. "The Circle of Twelve has gone mad, and nations have begun to fall under their conquest. The great city of Kal Panning seems poised to be the last bastion of the light, but storm clouds gather on the horizon..."
Just as she trailed off, thunder rumbled nearby, and everyone jumped a little.
Terra laughed. "Nice timing."
"Oof." Hyren looked over his shoulder out the window. The rain was coming down harder. "Sure glad we're inside with a fireplace."
Isengrim tapped the floor with his hind paw. "It is good that you live in a house of sturdy stone. I would worry about you, otherwise."
"Anyway." Blynn scanned over the notes she had written for the campaign. "The three of you are not unaware of the trouble brewing to the west. Already, strange monsters and dark forces have begun to pop up in the woods, and you have a sinking feeling it is only a matter of time before something even more sinister comes out of the Two Rings Valley."
She reached for her dice rather ominously. "We begin in an innocent-seeming meadow outside of Kal Panning, on a beautiful sunny day. Your characters have stumbled upon each other by chance. Terra is looking for materials to craft her first wand. Hyren has been scouting these woods to learn all he can about the growing darkness. Isengrim is out on a hunt."
Terra nodded silently, nibbling on a scone as she leaned over the table, drawn into the story. When Blynn said nothing more, the human turned to Isengrim. "Okay, here's the part where we act out our characters a little." She raised her eyebrows in mock surprise. "Oh! A Werelupe! I, uh, wasn't expecting to see one of those here..." She was a terrible actor and was obviously embarrassed to be doing it, but trying to be a good sport.
Isengrim smiled. "And I was not expecting to see a little fuzzball." He reached over and patted her head, and she chuckled.
Hyren sat up. "I slither out of the trees. 'Be on your guard! A shadow walks these woods today!'"
"But you gotta say it like a Hissi," Blynn insisted.
He looked over at her and narrowed his eyes. "No."
"I'm not going to say all of my in-character dialogue like a real Hissi, that would get super annoying."
"Just this once?"
"Okay, okay." Hyren's cheeks turned a shade of purple, which was what it looked like when his blue skin blushed. "'Be on your guard, a ssshadow walksss thessse woodsss today.' Happy?"
Blynn clapped her paws. "Yes." She looked back to her notes and her eyes lit up. Hyren knew that look. He didn't like that look. "Buuuut you were too loud! Suddenly, three Plains Lupes burst out of the trees, and they look hungry!"
"What's a Plains Lupe?" Isengrim asked.
"They're like Lupes, but, uh..." Blynn tapped her chin. "Bigger... and... strong... er..." She trailed off as she looked up at the bigger, stronger Lupe sitting at the table.
Isengrim frowned. "So they are essentially Werelupes? And they are enemies?"
"Hey, I didn't write the Quest Guide!"
"How stereotypical! Why not a Plains Poogle, or a Plains Shoyru? No, it's always Werelupes, isn't it!" His fur bristled.
"Isengrim." Terra grabbed the Quest Guide from Blynn and showed him the illustration. "This is a Plains Lupe. Look, it's walking on four legs and it doesn't talk."
"Oh." The Werelupe calmed down, his fur flattening again. "Well, that is acceptable. Please continue."
Blynn snickered. "I'm glad I didn't set this in the Haunted Woods, or else we'd have a problem..."
Thunder boomed near the house again, and Hyren glared out the window smugly. The storm could rage all it wanted, but it would never reach him in here. He was going to spend his evening ignoring the rain and enjoying the company of his eclectic little family.
"Encounter time!" Blynn announced. "Roll for initiative!"
Three dice clacked on the wood. "I got a 20," Isengrim said. "Is that good?"
"Added to your speed rating..." Terra looked over at his character sheet. "Nice one! Looks like you're going first, unless any of those Plains Lupes got higher."
Blynn finished rolling for their enemies. "Nope, he's going first!"
Isengrim's tail wagged. "I am enjoying this immensely!"
Hyren grinned. "Me too." So things weren't always the way he liked them—that was par for the course. He had his family, his family had him, and life was good.