Jake's head was pounding when he awoke, and the next sensation to penetrate his senses was smell. This was characterized by the rancid stench of rotting flesh filled with the inevitable propagating mold and bacteria. The unbidden picture of an enormous bog filled with thousands of putrid corpses arose in his mind.
He quickly realized that he was not prepared for some other sensations; a breeze blowing over him that seemed to whisper a song of violence, and the subtle, but unmistakable crunch of grass beneath him. The coldness that permeated his bones had nothing to do with the weather and he felt an icy mist that seemed to coat his face. Opening his eyes slowly, he tried to stand up, but stumbled slightly as he realized that something was binding his knees and legs together. Looking down at his clothes, he saw a pattern of an impressive design which made up intricate shapes of blue and gray. He was wearing a very fancy robe, which he immediately (and amazingly) recognized.
Where the hell am I?Jake thought, letting loose a toneless sigh, considering possibilities. Can't be a dream, too real . . . unless it's a lucid one . . .
He glanced around slowly, trying to stifle the hundreds of questions going through his head while attempting to take in his surroundings. Well let's test that theory.
He yelled, "Well where the hell are all of the beautiful naked-"
Stopping abruptly, he grabbed at his throat. His voice was lacking the low rumbling tone that would normally match the voice in his head. He tried clearing his throat with no luck; his voice sounded like a cranky, grumbling, congested female.
"Oh, you gotta be kidding me," the voice from his throat grated as his eyes went wide with realization.
He knew what had happened at that moment, even though his mind refused to believe it. Taking another look at his peculiar setting (the color of the soil, the shapes of the terrain, the menacing faces on all of the bent, broken and rotting trees), this was the Eastern Plaguelands within the World of Warcraft. It seemed so strange though, as everything wasn't being viewed through polygons and pixels, but an uncomfortably realistic setting. He caught a glimpse of his right hand and immediately turned his attention to the fact that he had hideous small banana-sized claws jutting out from where his fingers should be.
A rush of clarity and recognition began to rise, and Jake began to panic. He was Gasbag, Jake's undead female mage character. Looking up again, he shook his head.
"This figures, The Eastern Plaguelands, how lucky am I?" He growled sarcastically.
Reconsidering the possibility that he was dreaming, Jake spotted a blur of movement in the corner of his eye, and the screech caused him to whirl around and set his eyes on one of the most horrible sights he had ever seen. A familiar denizen of that forsaken land, a gargoyle, had spotted what it thought to be easy prey, and a look of satisfaction could be seen on its ghastly features.
"Oh, that's how lucky I am."
Instinct took over, and Jake turned and ran from the flapping horror bearing down on him with murderous intent. He took only a few steps before stumbling and falling flat on his face, not at all used to the petite boney legs he had received gift-wrapped in this constricting fabric.
Wait a minute he thought. He was Gasbag, a rather powerful and experienced mage, capable of dishing out magics that could turn fearsome creatures into frostbitten corpses. Turning around to face the gargoyle, he saw its expression change to a serious predatory scowl as it approached its kill.
Making a quick estimation in his head, Jake thought Ok, Eastern Plaguelands normally has creatures around level fifty-five to sixty, with something like three thousand hit points and weak offensive attacks. He scoffed and shook his head. I could probably do that much damage in a few shots! No longer worried, Jake raised his hand to cast a frost bolt with a grin. He chuckled when his eyes locked with the predator's. Man, is he gonna be surprised.
There was no frostbolt, no charge up of energies, no release, nothing, and now the gargoyle was within range to attack. The panic and chaos overrode any semblance of reason, but luckily for Jake, instinct took over.
He closed his eyes frantically in an attempt to make the whole situation simply vanish. Then he heard the snap of bone and jaw meeting in a twisted matrimony, and Jake screamed.
The pain was agonizing. The monster's jaws had locked onto the hand that he had outstretcheded to cast his fictional frostbolt. The sensation was unlike any other pain Jake had experienced; his vision blurred and his breath escaped him in ragged gasps. It seemed so unreal. Helplessly trying to free his hand from the gargoyle's maw, Jake wildly looked around and saw his familiar staff on the ground beside him. Grabbing it, he struck the monster in the nose with as much force as he could muster. It seemed weak and pitiful to Jake, but it was enough to free himself as the creature howled at the attack, letting go and backing off a few feet. He turned around yet again, scrambling for his footing, and ran. Running seemed the only thing he could do for the moment, and each footfall, jarring his injured hand to new heights of anguish, reminded him that the pain was real; this was no dream, and indeed it was not a matter of numbers and gaming strategies. He would have to figure out something quick, and he knew it. If there was no mistaking his five senses, and he was in the game within this highly dangerous area, he better find out how to access his abilities or he wouldn't last long.
Not long at all.
"Uden ver Majis."
This was the first sound that Joe heard after the humming, and for some reason the incoherent babble sounded familiar, like he should know it.
At the same moment, a thunderous bellowing commenced in the distance, but Joe could not place his recognition for the throaty, yet distant cries that followed.
. His eyes snapped open, and he was surrounded by armor clad humans with swords and shields and other various medieval armaments, all looking off toward the sound anxiously. Overwhelmed by the visual and auditory hallucinations he had to be suffering, he scrambled backwards in a crab walk until he collided roughly with the trunk of a tree. Quickly scooting around behind it, Joe did his best to remain as unnoticed as possible. Two of the 'knights' looked back to where he had been laying and pointed at the spot on the ground, shouting to the others. An argument broke out between two of them, and it looked as if it would come to blows before a third knight intervened and yelled at the both of them, obviously chastising them for their behavior. Pointing out in a general direction, the one who had rebuked the two soldiers seemed to be ordering them to go out and search the area.
Joe began to panic, and even though he had never hallucinated before, he was pretty sure that they could not possibly be this real. He sat back down with his back against the tree and tried to calm down to assess his situation. He looked at his surroundings, in an attempt to get his bearings, and started to notice little things that seemed familiar. The slope of a hill in the distance, the fences by the road near where the soldiers had found him, some of the wildlife he saw grazing nearby. He rubbed his palms into his eyes, trying to massage away this nightmare, when he realized that his hands felt wrong. Pulling them away, he started to think of an impossible possibility and opened his eyes slowly.
Claws, talon like, with black severe looking nails were attached to black-clad boney arms. A glow by his side brought his attention to the blade hanging from his belt; the familiar sickly black radiance emanating from it sealed any doubts about what was going on.
The unmistakable clink of mail to his left snapped his attention back to the present situation, and a scowl crossed his lips as he gripped the pommel of his weapon. Around the tree came one of the knights, sword and shield in hand, his eyes flittering back and forth with steely determination. Joe could feel the underlying fear and see the sweat rolling off his brow from where he crouched. The armor-clad human stopped as his gaze swung toward the spot where Joe squatted. He was close enough that Joe could see a few strands of blond hair peeking out from under his helmet, and he thought he could smell the garlic on his breath. Back and forth the eyes went searching, looking like they could almost make something out… And on he went like he had never seen him.
Holy crap! He looked down to make sure he was still there. Although those words accurately encompassed everything in Joe's mind, they were more specifically directed at the realization that he must have somehow used his innate ability to fade from the sight of others. He frequently used the skill as the character Radamantis in World of Warcraft.
Damnit Shmee!It was a common statement that could be heard nightly, and it conjured up the image of the big blue troll, who was always getting himself killed. Rad wished he were here now, and he smiled slightly at the thought.
I could use a laugh right about now too. With an inward sigh, he watched the human move further away. Watching the clanking soldier attempt to make his way up another hill, eyes narrowed in recognition at the markings of the crest on the cloth draped over the armor, and his eyes went wide as he realized that he was smack in the middle of allied territory.
Goldshire! I'm in Goldshire, what the hell!?
Suddenly, a rhythmic pounding behind him that caused a tremor in the ground beneath his feet. Less fearful of being seen now, Radamantis stood and looked around the tree. Past the assemblage of silver-plated humans, Joe saw a pair of shiny black horns crest the ridge in front of them. The rest of the half ton creature followed, arms and legs pumping, and Joe could see the wild look in its eyes and hear the huff of each breath. The Tauren carried what appeared to be a huge shotgun; a large scope adorned the top of the double barreled monstrosity. Somewhere behind the half bovine, he heard the shriek of some predator that somehow sounded familiar. Then it hit him.
Nutter? Wait a minute… That's Harley!
Then the huge humanoid bull immediately stopped short once he saw the collection of armed humans. Fearfully looking behind him, at something Radamantis could not see. He looked back at the crowd and seemed to freeze in place.
Joe knew then that they were in trouble.
The snuffling and wet breath on his face was the first thing Harley felt as be began the climb from unconsciousness.
I fell asleep at the keyboard again, damnit. Swinging his arm at what he assumed to be his pet, he groaned, "Gimme a second, willya, dog?" Harley went to rub his face and immediately realized there was something horribly wrong when he grabbed a long furry snout. His eyes snapped open, and he was staring into the face of terror itself. Looking at Harley from a mere two inches away was the face of a black horned raptor, its breath causing him to cringe. Its needle-like teeth protruded from black gums, making it look like the creature was almost smiling at him.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Harley bellowed in a voice so loud and full of bass that he knew it could not be his. This caused the raptor to leap back with a scream, looking impossibly confused.
Harley scrambled to his feet, gripping the gun at his side tightly.
He brought the impractically huge weapon up to his face and, with it, his three-fingered hand. Looking down at himself, he took a hasty inventory of what he saw. Red gloves, red cloth thing on his chest with some symbol on it, huge green shoulders, blue scaled pants, and hooves. He definitely was not feeling himself at all.
"GAHHHHHHHH!" he screamed again, almost dropping the firearm and causing the raptor to bark loudly, swishing its tail in agitation. He looked at the raptor, then at the surrounding area, and just couldn't assimilate what he was seeing. So he did what any sane human would do – he ran.
Choosing a course away from the terrifying creature, he pounded up a nearby hill and heard a screech as the raptor gave chase. He skirted around a few trees, hooves spraying clods of grass and dirt, and found his huge frame to be more agile than he would have guessed. Up over another rise, he came face to face with a group of armored humans and skidded to a halt. Pin wheeling his arms for balance, he almost toppled over forward, while his breath sounding like a bellows in his ears. The group stood there looking at him with frightened, but ominous looks of menace. He snapped a look over his shoulder, back at the raptor moving his way with all speed, and then back at the humans who had started to boldly but slowly move toward him.
Time seemed to stop for the moment as his brain went into overdrive in an attempt to keep his shattering psyche from completely flying apart. It formed a list.
Humans in armor,
Ok pal, one part of him said, them there is the facts, you know what they all add up to, no matter how impossible it might seem.
But this is ridiculous, he quarreled. There's just no way it's possible!
Trust me, he argued back with himself, those swords look very real and very painful, and as for the thing coming up behind you, well, if all this is what it seems, he's probably gonna get himself killed trying to save your big cow ass.
Time regained its momentum, and, in frustration, Harley raised his fists while subsequently raising his gun with a renewed roar.
"This sucks. What the hell is going on?"
At the outburst, the crowd stopped short, clearly confused at the theatrics and intimidated at the sight of this lone, but enraged Tauren. At that moment, the raptor flew past Harley, talons throwing clumps of dirt high in the air behind it, strait for the collection of people with a roar. Its tail swished back and forth with the snapping whistle of displaced wind. Losing their nerve and faced with three hundred pounds of scaled ravenous fury and snapping teeth, most of them scattered and ran hastily in the opposite direction. Deciding he would rather not see the raptor's natural defenses first hand, Harley took advantage of the momentary confusion and called his pet back to him.
"Oreo, get back here!"
That's its name? He wondered how he had remembered the raptor's name as it turned around immediately, running back toward him.
"I still can't believe you named him that," said a ghostly voice beside him.
"Jesus Christ!" Harley swore as the small figure of a bent and sickly looking creature materialized out of nowhere right next to him.
"Well not really, but I do hope if were killed, we can rez like in the game," said Joe with a rotten tooth-filled grin. "But for right now, let's get the hell out of here and figure out what's going on when were a bit less noticeable."
"Joe?" Harley asked, snorting involuntarily at the slight, but inescapable smell of decayed flesh. The sound caused him to grimace slightly.
"Yeah… Well more or less." The animated cadaver gave a helpless shrug. "Let's discuss it later, shall we?"
The bipedal bull squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose between his oversized thumb and forefinger. He sighed, "Ok, which way."
Joe looked back at the small band of guards left and then in direction the others were running.
"Well, I'd bet a hundred gold that they," he pointed at the receding guards, "are headed to Stormwind, so let's go the other way."
"Stormwind? You mean were in Goldshire!?" Harley looked around incredulously.
"Not for long if we're lucky. Now move before they get their courage back."
Harley gave a shrill whistle to the now all too familiar reptile, calling him to follow, and putting hoof to ground rapidly while Joe's clawed and boney feet puffed up little dust clouds beside him.
As they started to run, a lone, female Night Elf, who stood amidst the small band, was left looking very confused. Her amber-glowing eyes widened in sudden recognition at the receding pair; she uttered one word.
Oh my God, this is the worst headache I have ever had.Shelly furrowed her eyebrows in pain as she started to come around. I hope it isn't a tumor or something like that; gonna have to set up a doctor's appointment… She stopped mid thought as sound – lots of sound – started to register in her brain. The first she recognized was the sound of wolves , howling wolves. An array of noise indicating the hustle and bustle of a large city was next… a city with no cars. She heard no engines or horns, but a lot of talking and something that sounded like construction assaulted her ears. A closer conversation came into her auditory focus, very near in fact – a conversation from odd and equally upsetting voices.
"She be ded?" a female voice asked, sounding like a metal rake being dragged over crystal rocks with a Rastafarian twang.
"Well that's a relative question now isn't it?" answered a hollow voice; the pitch and tone much lower than the first.
"Dat be verr funnah," said the first with a slight chuckle. "You knowin what I and I be sayin."
"Yes, and no she is not dead. In fact, I'd say she is awake now."
Realizing that she could no longer feign sleep she opened her eyes and felt the need to scream but found she could not find the breath to do so.
There were two very different looking people standing over her with looks of interest on their horrific and very dissimilar faces. The female, her mouth distended over small protruding tusks, looked to be a lost member of the blue man group with her entire body showing cerulean skin. A peculiar looking hairstyle sprouted from between two long pointed ears jutting just to the top of her skull. At least Shelly assumed it was female, as it had breasts filling out the very eccentric looking robe she wore, but she had never met a troll in person before. A large intricate staff peaked out from over her shoulder that seemed to pulse with an inner light.
The other was obviously male with an exposed chest showing a few ribs – and not starvation ribs; there were actual holes in his body through the grey, mottled flesh. He wore loose fitting black pants, and she noticed that his feet were encased in what seemed to be steel boots of some kind. The deep sockets that served to hold his eyes had green glowing orbs in their place.
"Wat she be doin'?" the female asked, crossing her arms while tilting her head to one side and swinging her hip to the other. The look of calm curiosity on her face was unnerving. I believe she is trying to scream." He shrugged, looking back at the fantastical creature. "Perhaps she lost something in the shifting of magics she was attempting to perform." He turned back to Shelly.
"Do you know where you are?" he asked in his gravelly voice.
In horrid fascination, she realized that the right side of his face had no skin on the jaw whatsoever. She could actually see his tongue flap and juggle itself around the hollow blackness that was his mouth. Shelly could only shake her head at first as she tried desperately to wrap her head around what she was seeing. She reached up to rub her face with her hand and stopped short as she saw that her hands looked hideously similar to the hands of the corpse-like being addressing her. Blackened and shriveled, her fingers stuck out from fingerless gloves that had designs weaved within the dark cloth. She looked them over in a slow almost dreamlike state, her mind starting to slowly put things together. The walking corpse cleared its throat, a wet and chaotic sound, and Shelly looked up to see her surroundings for the first time.
The room she was in looked similar to those huts she would see on the Discovery channel programs about natives in far off lands. Huge beams, looking like trees shorn of their bark, seemed to make up the framework, and she realized that the light in the room came from torches in sconces on the wall. The constructive material had an orange hue and seemed to consist of mud and dried grass, pressed and formed into shape by hand. She could almost see the clawed hand prints of whatever had created them. She saw a set of intricately carved and worked armor sitting below one of the torches on the wall that visibly matched the boots on the male's feet. Resting nonchalantly next to the suit (its open appearance and placement as casual as a set of car keys) was a massive sword that looked to be made of green, softly glowing crystal.
Another throat clearing brought her attention back to her hosts.
"Any luck yet?" asked the troll, her red eyes seeming to emit a light of their own.
"N – Not sure." her voice grated out, and she clapped a hand over her mouth at the sound.
Pulling up a stool, the male corpse slid near the cot that Shelly was spread out on and clasped his hands while leaning on his knees. His raspy voice took on a sympathetic tone as he began to speak.
"You are Masharret, a very powerful undead warlock. A few hours ago, you were attempting to change your disciplines from one path of magic to another. In the course of this, you lost consciousness, and not without a fight, I might add. You have been comatose until a few moments ago, which in and of itself is strange as we undead are not prone to comatose states. Speaking of 'we,' I am Morticide, and this is Safia." He waved his hand, indicating the nodding female behind him. "We have been waiting for you here, this being the Drag in Orgrimmar, since your episode."
The names took a few seconds to register as Shelly pulled herself into a sitting position. Taking a second look at the two who stood before her, she started to realize that even though the clothing was what it should be and the facial features were exactly as they should be, she had not recognized the familiar characters from the game that she knew by those names. Without the pixilated graphics and background music, it was just too real at first for her to see.
"Morty?" Her voice crackled out the nickname she and others of the guild had for the formidable warrior.
He stood, a distasteful grimace crossing his features, and even Safia seemed a bit taken aback.
"Not a name I relish, but one I have been called, although not by you in some time."
It was then that the full magnitude of the situation of what had happened finally settled in the pit of what was left of Shelly's stomach. She was not just in the game of World of Warcraft; she was in a completely different realm. Although tailored to the one she knew and populated by characters familiar to her, these were not the players she was acquainted with. These were the actual denizens of this world. And if I want to get anywhere, I'm going to have to pretend like I am no different… Well, I always did want to see what it would be like to be an actress.
Gathering her courage and swinging her legs over the side of the cot, Shelly… no, Masharret now, gathered her wits about her and stood. The others watched her quizzically as she looked them over one more time, trying to quickly gain some sense of what they would expect of her, and then she spoke.
"My apologies Morticide, It seems that I will have to be more careful in the future when dealing with such magics." She took a few moments more, smoothing her hands over the fabric of her garment and continued. "Now I seem to still have some readjusting to do, as this effect I suffer from has not fully worn off, and would greatly appreciate your assistance in showing me around a bit to refresh my memory – such as it is." She smiled as disarmingly as she could, given her current appearance, which seemed enough as both of them seemed to relax immediately at her change of attitude.
"Of course," Morticide answered, turning to gather his armaments. "We would be delighted to, and if your initial reaction is any indication, we should probably reacquaint you with some of your colleagues as well."
That last statement caused her to stumble slightly, which she quickly covered by angrily tugging at her robes and muttering about needing a tailor, but the immediate thought that had caused the stagger had been much more.
Colleagues – the others – what happened to the others?!