The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 164: Sol 273-274

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[08:05] WATNEY: Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned, and come short of the grace of DM.

[08:32] JPL: Good morning, Mark. What did you do? I don’t think we included Tomb of Horrors in your adventure packs.

[09:03] WATNEY: I gave them the gazebo.

[09:32] JPL: I see. Maybe we did include Tomb of Horrors. You’d better email me a full report. For sociological studies, you understand.

(the night before)

“The courtyard is covered with green grass- the only live, growing thing you’ve seen so far since you entered. The walls enclose a square area about a hundred yards on a side, with nothing but a walkway from the gate to the building and a lone gazebo which stands about, oh, ten yards off the main walkway.”

There, thought Mark, let’s see what happens next.

“What is a gazebo?” three voices asked at once, Fireball’s the first and loudest.

“Wait a moment.” Starlight switched her computer over to dictionary mode and said, “G-A-Z-E-B-O,” typing the letters with her hooves as she did so. “Ah, here we are. Even has a picture. See?” She turned the screen so the others could see it. “An outdoor structure, usually in a lawn or garden, used for shade, shelter and rest.”

Darn, Mark thought.

And then he thought, Darn? I’ve been around these ponies too long.

“Uh-huh,” Fireball rumbled. “What does it look like, Mark?”

“Well,” Mark said, pretending to scroll through the adventure notes on his own computer, “considering the décor you’ve seen so far, it’s surprisingly ordinary. It appears to be made of wood. Hexagonal layout with steps up on the side facing the walkway and the opposite side. It’s painted mostly white, with brown wooden shingles on the roof, green handrails around the sides, and a bit of yellow trim up near the eaves. The shade underneath looks particularly attractive.”

“Uh-huh,” the dragon repeated. “And no skulls?”

“No skulls anywhere,” Mark agreed.

“Okay,” Fireball rumbled. “Schmaug asks Slash Magnus does he still has that firewood we got last camp.”

“What?” Cherry Berry, whose barbarian had been renamed ‘Slash Magnus’, asked. “What do you want that for?”

“Too much… describe,” Fireball finally said. “Too many little things. Mark had this ready. It’s a… a… it’s a trap,” Fireball finished in Equestrian, unable to find the right English word.

Starlight, of course, had the word. “A trap?” she asked. “It’s a pretty shed with open sides. It’s an inanimate object- it’s a thing! Just a thing! How could it be a trap?”

“Don’t know,” Fireball said, “and not gonna find out.” He looked back at Cherry. “Firewood.”

“This is a waste of time,” Cherry Berry groaned.

“I’m with Fire… um, with Schmaug,” Spitfire said. “I check for traps.”

“Okay, roll Thievery,” Mark said.

Spitfire clicked the appropriate button on her computer. “Twelve.”

“Plus your bonus!!” Starlight hissed in warning.

“Oh, right,” Spitfire said. “Um… twenty-one.”

“Okay,” Mark said. “You don’t see any traps, because it’s a gazebo.”

“Yep, trap for sure,” Fireball said. “I take the firewood, pile it up next to ga-zee-bo thing.”

“I haven’t gave you the firewood yet!” Cherry insisted.

“Did too,” Fireball said. “And I pour lamp oil on wood. Empty bottle. Maybe splash on gazebo too.” He leaned his head forward over his computer, stretching his long neck to smirk at Mark. “What does it think of that?”

“Roll for Perception,” Mark said.

Fireball looked back at his computer and frowned. “Where… where.”

“Per-kep-tee-on,” Starlight muttered.

“Oh, that,” Fireball said. “Why can’t you humans say words right?” He clicked a button and laughed. “Nineteen! Plus two is twenty-one!”

“Well,” Mark said, doing his best to sound judicious, “a person could say the gazebo looks a little apprehensive… if it wasn’t a building!”

“There, see?” Fireball gloated. Then, a moment later, he asked, “What is appre-what he said?”

“Apprehensive,” Starlight sighed. “It means the gazebo can see what’s coming and is afraid of it. Or would be, if-“

“I knew it!” Fireball’s head whipped back to face Mark. “Schmaug runs back out of… out of… runs to safe place and casts Scorching Burst on the firewood.”

Mark raised his eyebrows. “Just to be clear,” he said, “you are initiating combat- starting a fight- against a building.” Now came the words of doom, the words he’d heard in high school and college way too many times, the words that told you it was already far too late: “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Fireball didn’t flinch. “I cast Scorching Burst on the firewood.”

“Okay, then,” Mark said. “Roll your attack. You get first advantage; everyone else roll.”

Fireball clicked the button. “Ha! Natural 20!” He rolled again. “And seven! Thirty-two!”

“Roll damage!”

Click, different button. “Seven!”

“Okay, and since you’re targeting oil-soaked flammable materials, I’m ruling it does double damage.” Mark clicked his die-roll app a couple of times. “The good news is, you have successfully set the gazebo on fire. It’ll take fourteen points of damage every round. The bad news is, you have enraged it. The dread gazebo jumps from its foundations, lands next to Schmaug, and swallows him whole. The bite does…” Click. “Well, eighteen points of damage, so you’re not dead, but you are very definitely bloodied.” Mark could no longer keep the grin off his face as he added, “Oh, and all non-bite attacks the gazebo makes? Add fire damage to that.”

“OH, COME ON!” Starlight Glimmer shouted.

“I make Vengeful Attack,” Cherry said.

“Yep, you can do that,” Mark agreed. “Roll it.”

Cherry clicked the button, and groaned. “Twelve.”

“Add your bonus,” Starlight urged.

“I did.” She turned the computer to show the 3 on the dice app display.

“Yeah, that’s a miss,” Mark said. “Your greatsword bounces off the gazebo’s wooden hide leaving barely a nick.”

“Um… did you say it eat me?” Fireball asked. “Crunch crunch crunch?”

“More like crunch, gulp,” Mark said. “Also, don’t do that.”

“But it open, yeah? How it hold me?”

“Support beams in roof grabbing you,” Mark said.

“I try to get out.” Fireball made snake-wriggle motions with his claws.

“Not your turn,” Mark said. “The gazebo used its action point for the reaction attack, so next up is Pickflower.”

That was Spitfire’s thief. “I stab gazebo in back,” she said.

“Okay, you waste the round figuring out that the gazebo doesn’t have a back,” Mark said. “Cherry Berry is next.”

“I take sword and chop gazebo,” Cherry said. “Let my friend go!” She clicked the button, and this time she groaned even louder. “One.”

“Ooooh, yeah,” Mark said. “Slash Magnus tries to impale the gazebo with his greatsword. The sword goes in and gets stuck, and the gazebo spins around, yanking the sword out of Slash’s hands. I’ll rule that the sword did half damage, but now you have the gazebo’s-“

“Is it my turn now?” Starlight Glimmer interrupted.

Mark paused. “Um, in just a moment,” he said.

“I dump my water bottle on the flames and try to put them out!”

Everyone froze. “Um… okaaaaaaay…” He clicked a button, and his eyebrows rose from honest surprise this time. “The unexpected action stuns the gazebo with surprise…” He clicked again. “And since the gazebo jumped away from the firewood, you’re able to douse the flames enough that you can use your cape to swat out the remaining flames.”

“Okay,” Starlight continued. “I then apologize to the gazebo and ask it to release my ignorant friend. Talking’s a free action, right?”

“Um…” Mark looked at his notes. “This gazebo is a magically animated brute. It doesn’t think. You can’t parley with it.”

“Oh, yes I can,” Starlight insisted. “You said it was apprehensive when it saw Schmaug piling up firewood and dousing it with oil. That means it can think and anticipate the future. Only intelligent creatures can do that. And if it’s intelligent, that means I can parley with it.”

Damn, Mark thought, and also, Shit, and furthermore, Fuck.

I can’t argue with that.

“Fine,” he surrendered. “But the gazebo is really angry and not all that intelligent, and you only have a plus-one bonus for Diplomacy-“

“But this is a monster, right?” Starlight continued. “That means I use Dungeoneering, and I have a plus-nine for that!”

Okay, Mark thought. I should have known Starlight would be the rules lawyer. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Schmaug set a wooden creature on fire. For the gazebo, that’s glue-factory nightmare territory. Your target number to succeed is thirty, so nothing less than a natural twenty is going to succeed.”

“But it is possible, right?” Starlight asked.

Mark sighed. “Yes,” he admitted. “Just barely. Roll it.”

“So,” Spitfire said in Equestrian, “we need Daub Cake to roll twenty or we all die? Daub ‘Can’t Roll Don’t Make Me’ Cake? We’re doomed.”

Starlight looked at her computer, then looked at the dice she’d carved (which hadn’t been removed from the worktable since their first use), then at her computer. Then, taking a deep breath, she pushed the computer aside and reached for the red twenty-sided crystal. She balanced it carefully on the underside of her forehoof, tilted it to let it roll in a little circle around her frog, and then gently released it to tumble on the table.

The die rattled, rolled, and stopped.



[15:18] JPL: Just finished reading your report. I can’t believe you let them charm the Dread Gazebo.

[15:39] WATNEY: I know. Thanks to their new friend they’re all up to level 4 already and preparing to go back into the dungeon tonight to finish off the lich king.

[16:11] JPL: But bribing the gazebo by giving it a granite flagstone floor??

[16:40] WATNEY: The dice backed Starlight up. And I checked- they’re not loaded or imbalanced. I think it just shows that, however much Mars hates the ponies, it hates me more.

[17:11] JPL: I think it shows it’s time you handed off your GM screen to Starlight. Don’t take it too hard. Some people just weren’t born to handle such responsibility.

[17:43] WATNEY: I’m not allowed to say what I’m thinking because you’re my boss, Venkat, but I’m thinking it as loud as I can.

Author's Notes:

Today is a day of rest, so one chapter is it, but being at home, in perfect quiet aside from the A/C, with no urgent need to do anything besides laundry, makes it so much easier to write.

Still, since today is a day of rest, I'm not doing more than this for writing today. In fact, in a little while I'm driving down to Beaumont to treat myself to the theatrical showing of Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks. That's to help make up for the fun I didn't have last weekend, or to be honest at any convention so far this year.

Anyhow, this scenario was preordained in almost all its details from the moment I decided our heroes were really going to get some material for easy filler chapters time playing RPGs. I mean, D&D plus language difficulties? It's practically obligatory that they get the gazebo.

Next Chapter: Sol 276 Estimated time remaining: 13 Hours, 13 Minutes
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