Deus Ex Video

by Ironhorse

Jenda the thief felt a sense of wonder as her hand twisted into a claw and her nails growing into sharp talons in the greenish glare from the Vec' Chalice's mystical ether. Truly it was the artifact that she and her party had sought for so long. The Chalice's magical powers could easily grant them dominion over any of the Free Cities, or even conjure a new land to fit their wildest dreams. So great was it's power that just thinking of her beloved pet wolfhound Marduk had caused her hand to become like his paw. No doubt if Jenda remained in the glow she would be remade in Marduk's form; a tempting fate, but one she could not indulge in just yet. Jenda removed her hand from the Chalice's glow and watched as it slowly returned too normal. So enraptured with her discovery, She failed to notice the large, reptilian eyes blink open in the darkness behind her, nor the large maw stretch in a silent yawn as the Chalice's final guardian awakened.

The Creators themselves had charged Nasrudel, an ancient black dragon, old when the world was new, with protecting the cup. He had been diligent in it's defense, wresting a mountain into the sky, filling it with traps and lesser monsters, but every so often someone would get past his traps and monstrous guards and disturb the great dragon himself. Now as he looked upon the hapless human gleefully fondling his treasure, he grew very, very angry. Attuned to his lair, he did not need to use his great magic to sense where Jenda's friends were. He could feel the centaur and the wemic on the level above, unable to pass the small door to the main treasure room. Two humans, a wizard and cleric, Nasrudel reckoned by their energies, stood by the secret entrance above, holding the rope that the thief had used to descend into his most secret sanctum. They would all die in a moment, but first, Nasrudel would take care of the most annoying interloper.

His great claw, easily twice Jendas size, silently rose above her. She hesitated, sensing something amiss, but only had time to look up and scream as the giant claw came crushing down upon her in a massive thwack! Ages of dust billowed up, and Nasrudel flexed his wings to clear it away and see the small splat that the thief had surely become. What he saw caused him to nearly choke on his own dragon fire. Jenda stood stock still, frozen with her hands shielding her head, just as she did the second before Nasrudel's claw should have crushed her. Instead, his claw had passed right through her. He swiped at her again, and again, but every time his claw passed harmlessly through the girl, who all the while stood frozen, not moving in the least. Then, abruptly, Jenda disappeared, only to reappear next to the crumbling stone walls, walking in place, as if she were out for a stroll. Confused, Nasrudel cold only watch as black cubes appeared around Jenda, then swallowed her up. Unsure what to do next, he sat and watched the last place she had been.

"Dang it!" Ron cursed. "Right when I had the stupid cup frickken stupid Quest for the Dungeons of Everwinter Nights has to freeze up!" Ron banged the side of his aging Gateway. "Stupid cow-puter, why don't you ever work when I need you too?" He hit the restart button, but instead of the normal boot chime a horrible grinding noise came from his hard drive.
Helpless, Ron could only stare as the infamous blue screen of death leered at him. His telephone rang, interrupting his tirade. He angrily grabbed the receiver and yelled "What!"
"Yo Ron, what happened?" The caller demanded.
"Sorry Yeng, my machine just died."
"Can't you just reboot?"
"No, I have a total hard drive failure."
"Dude, we only have one more day till the Pegasi Lord respawns and we have to do the whole thing over again."
"I know!" Ron said irritably, "Are you sure I can't use Mao's machine?"
"I told you man, he took it to the Con. But listen, I've got a friend over at the Army labs, you know, the one with the supercomputers. Maybe he can sneak you in to use his machine."
"Do it man, tell him we'll deal him in on the lifetime subscription if we win or whatever, just as long as we're the first to get the Chalice and win the contest."

True to his word, less then five hours later Ron, Yeng and Yeng's friend Ryan were in Ron's beat up minivan headed for Fort Custer Army base. A big fan of QDEN, Ryan had quickly agreed to help.
"I can't believe you guys are in the floating mountain. That's so fricken awesome, I didn't think anyone could even make it past the Pegasi Lord and those stupid flying monkeys." Ryan exclaimed.
"Yeah, I always thought some obsessive compulsive Japanese kids would be the first to win the game and claim the prize."
"Hey! I'm not obsessive!" Yeng retorted. "I just like to solve my problems by turning offenders into sheep. Is that too much to ask?"
"You think you can portal me in too? I've got a level 43 paladin that's itching to kick some butt."
"Level 43! Man, you must have no life".
Yeng guffawed at that. The group did spend an awful amount of time online to get this far, but they didn't start out with that as a goal. They had just sort of plugged along having fun until they realized that they were at the top of the heap.

They pulled up to the gate and after Ryan flashed his badge, they got in.
"Hey, just for reference is this legal?" Yeng asked.
"Well, I can have visitors, just don't touch anything ok." Ryan replied.
"Yeah Yeng, you don't want to be caught in some funky government experiment gone awry." Ron joked.
Ryan led them to a small building near the center of the base, where after a retina scan they all piled inside. The building had one big open room, with a dozen cubicles at one end. Ryan lead them over to the cubes, where he had several large computers with even larger flat screens set up. "So these are my tax dollars at work." Ron laughed.
"Hey, I do need them for things other then QDEN, I'm a respected scientist!"
They all laughed at that. Ryan logged Ron and Yeng in, then all three booted up QDEN's custom chat feature. Their teammates, Wotan the centaur, Minx the wemic and Summer the elven cleric were already waiting in the chatroom. "R U going 2 Crsh again?" Summer sent. "Nah, Minion334" Ron indicated Ryan's character, "Is letting us use his systems. So we are letting him tag along."
"Cool" Minx sent.
"Let's bust some skulls." said Wotan.
"Ok" Ron pressed the start icon. QDEN began loading the group's last save at the floating mountain's Temple of Infinity.
Ryan's machines loaded blazingly fast, and for the first time Ron had to wait for Wotan, who normally had the best machine in the group. Just as the load finished, a blue glow spilled out from one of the cubes behind where the guys were sitting. Ryan only had time to mutter "Shit!" before it engulfed them all in a blinding light.

Ron groaned, his head hurt. He rolled over and immediately noticed something wrong. In fact he noticed two things wrong. Pushing himself to his knees he looked down at two anomalous breasts barely covered by a thin green scrap of cloth. With horror it dawned on him exactly where he last saw someone dress like that, Jenda. Shocked, Ron slowly checked the beltpouch on his hip, finding Bonehinge just where Jenda kept it.

"My ears are huge!" Summer, aka Linda said, feeling her long pointed elf ears. She looked at her reflection in the limpet pool of time. "And my eyes are huge. No wonder elves can see in the dark. At least I picked a better outfit then you Ron. Feel any drafts?"
"Very funny." Ron retorted as she self-consciously tugged her top over her new endowments. "We'll see what happens when you try to run wearing those long robes and high heeled boots."
"Perhaps my magic can fix your wardrobe worries." Yeng offered in his guise as Nu Wa, the suave wizard of the coast. Nu Wa was probably the only wizard who learned polymorph spells, since you didn't gain experience points from turning your opponents into harmless farm animals, but Yeng loved to "sheepify" an opponent or two.
"I'd rather not add fur to my list of worries right now Yeng."
"Hey!" Minx protested. "Fur is beautiful." She gave a mock turn to show of her lionesque body, then tripped when her hind legs didn't move with the front.
"So much for feline dexterity bonuses." Yeng muttered.
In the corner of the stately temple, Wotan flexed in front of one of the mirrored columns that flanked the statue of Urd, goddess of continues. "Wow, I feel massive. This is amazing. I'm going to have to include this in my thesis."
"What thesis? You told us you were still in high school." Ron asked, still trying to keep her tiny top down.
Wotan looked sheepish, "Oops. Well, I might as well tell you. I'm a psychology major at ESU. I've been studying people who play different genders in online games."
"Ron, you're being studied." Yeng laughed.
"Yeah, well tell Ryan to quit it."
"I was just counting polygons. I think you out do all the girls on DOA Beach Volleyball."
"So are you really a guy then?" Linda asked Wotan.
"No, my names Marie. I chose the centaur stallion form so I would be accepted as one of the guys. It's how I test my theories on language uses and gender identity. According to my instructor, I shouldn't feel so accepting of our situation, and of being changed into a guy. I should be reacting with horror and shock, that's what any female with my personality type would do."
"What do you mean?" Ryan asked.
Marie smiled. "It's just so weird being truly a guy. If I was my old self I would be hysterical about now, but instead I don't feel scared at all. I feel strong, powerful."
Yeng laughed. "I believe its called "Macho"."
Suddenly concerned, Ryan turned to Minx.
"Hey Minx, uh, you aren't really a guy by any chance are you?"
"Are you kidding?" She tapped a claw on her pink trimmed Zena Warrior Princess style armor. "No guy in his right mind would ever wear something like this, even if playing as a girl."

After some lengthy experimentation with their new bodies and abilities, in which Ryan's wandering eyes earned him a slap more then once, and Marie and Minx agreed on a strict no riders policy, the group started to get down to business. Everyone wanted to know how this happened, and Ryan revealed that an ancient artifact in his lab was probably the culprit.
The revelation stunned Marie, who had to contain himself, lest he rear up and hit his head on the tile ceiling again. "You had a unknown, ancient and mysterious artifact just sitting on your desk, out in the open, where anyone could steal it?"
"Well, I had intended to get some work done after the game was over. Besides, it never did anything before. One of my predecessors used it as a paperweight for years. How was I supposed to know it would rewrite reality into our game? That never happens in real life."
"Yeah, and governments never secretly research ancient technology. I don't suppose there is anything about UFO's you would like to tell us Ryan." Ron scoffed.
Yeng tried to keep the discussion on track. "Easy everyone. We need to figure out how to fix this, not point fingers."
"Well, perhaps if we beat the game, it will end and we will all revert to our real bodies." Marie suggested.
Ryan nodded. "Sounds like a plan, and if not, we could use the power of the Chalice to change everything back."
"Uh, before we do that, I think we need a new plan. Nasrudel keeps killing me in his sanctum, and I really don't want to chance it this time." Ron said.

"Well, we could always attack him." Minx offered.
Linda shook her head. "We tried that once already, remember. He only comes out when someone touches the Chalice, but we can't get everyone into the sanctum. So whom ever picks it up gets killed."
Ryan shrugged, "So what are our options?"
"Steal it?"
"Didn't work."
"Pre-emptive strike?"
"Only if we lure him outside. My horse butt is too big to fit through the door."
A light went on in Ron's head. "Hey, what if you kneel down on Yeng's cape, and we push you through the door."
"Can we do that?"
A slow smile spread over Ron's face. "Why not. We aren't limited by the game anymore. We can all move in ways that aren't part of our movement animations. I'll bet that there are a host of things we can do now that the game prevented before."
With that, the group sat down for a serious planning session.

"Heave!" Ron shouted. She, Yeng, and Ryan threw themselves against Marie's rump, slowly pushing her through the small entryway into Nasrudel's upper chamber. Inside the chamber, Minx and Linda each pulled one of Marie's hands. Slowly, Marie's horse bulk slid along aided by a liberal use of the otherwise worthless "grease" spell and Yeng's wizard cloak.
"I'll miss you, oh magic cloak of normalness." He said, shedding a mock tear.
So far the group's plan had worked. Using their foreknowledge of the paths, and their newfound abilities to climb over, dig under and swim through what had before been impassible obstacles they had made it through the gauntlet of monsters and traps in record time.

"Grr, this sucks. Why didn't they make this opening big enough for the optional races? You would think this is something playtesting would catch?" Marie griped as she struggled through the doorway.
"I think it was a glitch in Nasrudel's programming." Linda offered. "He's supposed to teleport into the big stadium sized chamber before this with the throne of skulls and the river of lava, you know, for the typical flashy bad guy entrance. But we never got him to show up there in the game. Microsoft support says they will fix it in a patch later."
"Figures." Marie grumbled as the final push got him into the room. He stood and wiped the grease from his flanks. "Now for the risky part." Trotting over to the large dark hole in the center of the room, Marie removed a large horn from his saddlebag, and blew a low, trumpeting note. "Nasrudel, we seek an audience with thee." He yelled.

For the longest time only echoes replied to Marie's summons. Then something enormous began sliding along the stone, upward towards the group. Nasrudel's massive fanged head burst into the torchlight, towering above the pitifully small centaur. His keen eyes glowed in the dim light of the stone chamber as he sized up the players below.
"In all my years here, none have ever come to see me, let alone tried to converse. Do you think to talk me out of my Chalice? Hmm? Perhaps I should just swallow you up for disturbing my sleep, yes?"
Marie stepped back slightly. "I don't think that would be polite, great dragon. Besides, we have a very pressing problem and you might be the only one who knows the solution, since you are the oldest and wisest creature on Oriana. Surely a creature as powerful as you would lend us your ear for a moment, since it is such a minuscule fraction of your infinite life, and the riddle we present may be of interest you."
"Indeed" Nasrudel cocked his head. "Well I do like riddles, if your story interests me I may just spare your lives after all. Go on."

Marie proceeded to lay out their story. Nasrudel listened carefully, his early threats seemingly forgotten. Nasrudel openly guffawed when he learned how they had fit the burly centaur and wemic through the small door.
"This explains much." He said. "I have often wondered why after so many years of solitude that now so many would come seeking the Chalice, and why the goddess of continues keeps granting them the boon of life. I had thought I had somehow earned her disfavor."
He lowered his head to next to Ron. "And it explains how you escaped me last time. That riddle cost me much rest."
"Uh, sorry."
"It is no matter human. Not even the god of madness could have conceived such a story. I have decided to grant you what you seek. If this is truly a game, then my existence is pointless and I would have it end. I dislike being merely a "boss enemy" meant to be slaughtered by legions of overweight, greasy human children." He sneered.
He waved his claw, and the Chalice materialized in front of them. "All of you hold it up, and it's magic shall seek to right this wrong." They all crowded around each touching a part of the golden cup, and the room filled with it's greenish light.

Ron blinked. In front of him, credits rolled up the computer scene, followed by the message, "Congratulations, you are victorious Jenda the thief!" Ron did a brief check, Yes! Little Ron had returned. He stood and let out a whoop of joy! Yeng and Ryan also celebrated, jumping up and down. "I'd better take care of this." Ryan said, picking up a crystal skull and putting it into a large metal safe in the back of the building.
"Yeah, I don't want to be a girl again."
"Sure, I'll bet you enjoyed it. I saw how you kept tugging at your outfit." Yeng teased.
"I think I'll add a bit to Jenda's outfit before I play again. Just in case."
Suddenly, his watch beeped. The display read 7:30 AM. Ron looked up at a nearby wall clock, which matched. "Woah, we've been here all night! I need to get to work." He and Yeng waved goodbye to Ryan, got into the van and drove home.

Rushing to work, Ron barely made it to his cube and logged into his computer before his boss Mr. Stevenson called on the phone and asked Ron to come to his office.
"Dodged a bullet there. Didn't you." Ronda, one of his coworkers said as Ron hurried by. "Yeah, don't tell him I was late and theirs a donut in it for you."
"Crème or plain?"
"It's a deal."

Confident, Ron knocked on Stevenson's door. "Come in! Ah, Ron, please have a seat." Ron noticed Stevenson had a new desk, a bit taller then before, but before he could comment Mr. Stevenson continued.
"I've got a minor quest for you, as one of our best acquisition specialists."
That comment confused Ron, he was a salesman, not an "acquisition specialist", whatever that was, but he knew better then to interrupt his boss midstream. He decided to chalk it up to the weirdness last night. Besides, Mr. Stevenson had just started a very familiar pep talk he always gave right before he dumped a new task on Ron. Sure enough, he reached into his desk and pulled out a file folder stuffed with papers.
"All the details are in this portfolio." Mr. Stevenson stood and handed the folder to Ron. Ron's jaw dropped. From the waist down Mr. Stevenson had a shiny black horse's body. He was a centaur. Ron bolted from the office running full tilt. Even as he ran he saw co-workers who now sported long pointed ears, four legs or horns.

Nonplussed by Ron's flight, Mr. Stevenson called his secretary. "Janice, schedule some time for Ron to visit the company cleric."
"Should we send someone after him sir?" the naga replied.
"No, sooner or later he will return. Main characters always do."



Final Score: 44.5 out of 50

Raven's Comments:

This story was, for me, the most out-and-out fun of any of them. As a
gamer and DM myself, I am all too familiar with "metagame thinking", and
the idea of the PCs not only engaging in such behavior but actually
roping the NPCs into it along with them is just too much fun for words.

The "stuck in the game" idea, of course, is a very old one that goes back
at least as far as Lewis Carroll, but it was nicely executed here and
very entertaining. Yeah, the skull is a blatant plot device, but you
pretty much warned us of that from the beginning with the title, didn't
you? :) (And the idea of someone using the legendary Crystal Skull as a
paperweight is sick and wrong and very giggle-worthy.) The little nods to
gaming culture (the game locking up, as seen from the dragon's POV; the
abbreviated chat-speak; "feline dexterity bonuses", "the Goddess of
Continues") are great, and the line "I was just counting polygons" is
just plain hilarious. The twist at the end is the perfect way to end it,
too -- given that it's coming from a world of drama and adventure, of
course the chalice isn't going to put the Real World back together in
quite the same way we remember it. :) (And now the koan of the hour: Did
the chalice actually change the world, or are they still living in a game
that's almost like the world they used to live in...?)

There were more technical flaws here than in some of the other stories
(my favorite being "limpet" in place of "limpid" -- the former is a kind
of predatory mollusk :), and I would have liked to see you dwell a little
more on the strangeness of the fact that they aren't freaking out over
being sucked into the game -- rather than just having one character blame
it on being male, I would rather see it being explained more generally as
a mental effect the game-world was having on all of them. It might have
been nice to see Ron dealing a bit more with the complications of his
sex-swap, too; I assume he's been playing female characters for a reason,
but that could be because of a curiosity about being female, an active
fantasy about being female, or a subconscious desire to guide and control
the actions of a female -- and those three motives would lead to very
different reactions to being stuck in his character's body. This is only
a minor complaint, though, since this is a light-hearted story that is
more focused on humor and adventure than on the consequences of being
transformed into something different.

Anyway, thanks for a very amusing and entertaining story, Ironhorse. I
definitely want to hold on to this one. :)


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