Chapter 9:

Off Track, On Target


October 1, 2022 AD. Sunview University, California, USA, Earth

Cam finished narrating the scene by saying “and so, you all are captured by the guards and taken to the prison where you—”

“Wait.” Dinah’s voice was small. Yet it somehow cut through Cam’s Dungeon Master monologue. She raised her hand as if they were in school.

Briefly, Cam debated plowing through, but he dispelled that idea. “What is it?” he asked.

Dinah explained. “I know and have prepared a spell called Smoke Cloud that creates a cloud of smoke. I want to cast it in the room before the guards get us.”

“Ooh, a diversion! That’s a great idea!” said Ella excitedly. “After Descartes does that, I’ll knock down enough of the guards to open a pathway. Annette, Appraiser is good at sneaking, right? Scout ahead and find us the nearest path to the exit.”

Annette replied, “already on it.” She rolled some dice to make a stealth check. She rolled a high number, meaning she had a strong chance of avoiding detection.

Bekah chimed in “I will help Cyton to his feet so we can escape.” She put her hand into the air, then brought it down with a swift motion. “Sunviewers, go!” she said. The others cheered a little with her.

Cam witnessed this planning with dismay. Of course, their capture wasn’t going to be the end of the story. He had written over ten thousand words of notes on what happened next. First, they would be put on trial. They would be convicted and sentenced to execution, but in the nick of time a hero would swoop in to save them. The hero was a suave, handsome, and extremely competent swordsman named Caam. This hero would lead the girls in the Sunviewers on an epic journey to restore their names and save the world from war. He had had it all planned out. And, of course, all of his hard work was totally useless if the four were not captured here in the first place. That’s not going to work, he decided.

In response to the girls’ attempts, Cam narrated how all their efforts failed dismally. “The guards brush past the smoke cloud, block Erenata’s attempts to knock them over, catch Appraiser, and grab Rachel and Cyton. They drag you off to prison to await your trial. And that’s where we’ll end tonight’s session.” Cam stood up and stretched. Crisis averted. Everything is back on track now. “Man, that was a fun session, huh?” he asked the girls.

Surprisingly, they were silent. In contrast to Cam’s grinning face, all four of them seemed surprisingly down. They silently began packing up their things. Cam regarded their coolness with surprise. Sure, he expected silence from the painfully shy Dinah maybe, but certainly not from the snarky Annette, chipper Ella, or open Bekah. As the four filed out, none of them had anything to say. None of them even met his eyes other than Bekah, who gave him a small smile as she passed.

When all four had left, Cam needed to relieve himself. As he stepped out of the dorm room into the hallway that lead to the communal bathroom, he almost ran face-first into Jordan, who was standing outside with his arms crossed. Cam said “geez, look out. Why were you standing there, anyway?”

“I got done with work early, so I listened to the last part of your game.”

“Dude, that’s creepy. You can just come in, you know.”

“That was some ending you gave those girls, huh?” Jordan said, looking Cam straight in the eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“Man, it sounded intense. Their group—the Sunviewers, right?—failed to protect the king. Even worse, they were framed for his murder. How will they get out of this one? Based on what they said, it sounded like they came up with a pretty good plan to escape this situation.”

“It clearly wasn’t a very good plan, right? They still got caught.”

Jordan slammed his arm against the bathroom door. “Listen to yourself! The only reason it failed was because you shut it down before they even got a chance. It’s like you took a cool puzzle and turned into an unskippable cutscene. I don’t play D&M, but I can guess how frustrating that would be. Why would you even do that?”

“Because the story calls for it, all right? In order to use what I’ve written they have to go to prison for killing the king.”

“Just write something else.”

Cam couldn’t honestly answer that. Silently, he turned around and walked back to his dorm room. Jordan followed. “Why are you following me to my room?” Cam asked half-heartedly.

“Because this is my room too, obviously.” Jordan sat down on his bed. He put in earbuds and absorbed himself with something on his phone. Cam used the opportunity to look at all the notes for the future story that he had written. On a second read-through, the plot wasn’t quite the Lord of the Rings-level of epic that he had anticipated. Actually, this is really stupid, he thought. I mean, Caam? How much more of a self-insert could that possibly be?

He made up his mind in a flash of determination. He tore the piece of notepaper holding his notes for the future campaign in half. He then sprinted out the door in pursuit of the girls. “I have to fix this,” he panted.

Of course, Cam was still not an athlete. He was retching, wheezing, and coughing after mere moments. His exhaustion after the run with Ella earlier in the day didn’t help things. Still, the girls didn’t have much of a headstart. Plus, they were walking together across the college campus; they weren’t trying to move quickly. He soon caught up to them. He leaned on his legs, panting heavily.

The four spun around. “Cam, what’s wrong?” asked Bekah anxiously. Wordlessly, Annette guided him to a nearby bench. As he caught his breath, the four girls crowded around him. When he finally recovered enough to speak, he said “I made a mistake. Let’s fix it together.”

Ella cocked her head quizzically. “What do you mean?”

Cam sat up. He took a deep breath. In his DM-voice that was always more confident than he really felt, he said “Erenata. You want to knock down enough guards under cover of Descartes’ smoke cloud to allow everyone to escape, right?” Ella nodded slowly. Next, Cam pointed at Dinah. “Your smoke cloud magic works even better than you expected. The room is totally obscured.” Now addressing all of them, he said “you hear cries of confusion from the guards as your friend the half-elf warrior Erenata barrels through them, knocking them down like bowling pins. However, as you all flee through the hallway of the castle, you are confronted by an armored knight who came from a room Appraiser did not scout. What will you do?”

Simultaneously, Bekah said “I use my magic to paralyze him” and Annette said “Appraiser trips him.” The two paused, then laughed, again in sync. Their perfect synchronization drew laughter from Ella and Dinah, too. As Annette described cartoonishly stuffing the paralyzed guard into a cupboard, creating more laughter, Cam smiled to himself. Yeah, this is better than Caam the sword hero, he decided.

He ended the quickly since it was quite cold outside and he had not brought a jacket. Cam narrated how, through trickery, clever use of their powers, and some very good luck, the Sunviewers escaped the castle to hide in the city outside. Ella let out a whoop of victory, saying “Thus begineth the legend of Sunviewers proper!” which elicited even more laughter and smiles. Bekah stuck her fist into the center of the circle formed by the four girls. One by one, they all put their hands together in consolidation, much like a sports team preparing to do a team cheer.

After a moment, Bekah used her other hand to grab one of Cam’s. Her hand was warm in the cool night air. Cam was struck by how small her hand was and how soft it felt grasping his. “You’re part of this too,” she said with a smile, placing his hand into the circle as well. With all five together, Bekah said “The Sunviewers vow: we will escort Cyton back to Solomon Magocracy or whatever it’s called. We will stop the war from happening!” The rest of the girls agreed. Bekah then smiled. “We were thinking about getting a bite to eat together. Want to join us?” she asked Cam.

“I’d love to,” he responded gratefully.