My name is Aaron Gates. I love the fantasy genre, and I would go to Text Bubble Comics five times a week to play tabletop role-playing games with my friends and the people who worked there. I was well known at Text Bubble, and whenever a brand new game, or the latest edition of an older one was released, I was one of the first people to know. I would write an autobiography of every character I’ve ever created, and I would always draw illustrations of them.

My characters ranged from a variety of classes depending on the game, and they were fully detailed. My first question before playing a new game was always: “Is there a stealth-based class?” Most of the time there would be, but only on the rarest of occasions would I play a game that doesn’t feature a “Stealth Class” so to speak. Sometimes, it just depended on what skills you wanted your character to have, so you essentially build your own class. Although this limited some of my favorite abilities, I felt closer to characters that I struggled with the most. I fought hard to keep them alive, and other players commended me for putting so much thought into finding ways out of certain situations.

Depending on the game master, my creative arts of escape would sometimes work for players that didn’t even have the same skills, or at least skills that were as developed as mine. I took a lot of pride in making my stealth characters the very best at what they did, and my favorite character of all time was a female dark elf that I named “Tora Locustvale.” Her name sounded more like a wood elf, but that was because she was secretly raised by wood elves during a civil war.

The campaign we played was called “The Enemy Within.” Pay attention, because if you want to use this campaign, this is how the story went, so don’t screw anything up.

A dwarven city called Chazog’toth was pillaged by a guild of thieves that was actually formed by evil mages instead of assassins or rogues. The guild of mage thieves was called “Crimson Black,” and if you’re familiar with the various mage types, than you probably know that it was obviously red mages leading Crimson Black. Red mages are significantly different compared to a common mage. Naturally, dwarves have a lot of pride, but they desperately needed assistance.

The dwarven elders of Chazog’toth let their pride go, as they pleaded for help from the surrounding forces. Stonemire, which was a human army, wasn’t brave enough to challenge Crimson Black. One of the kingdoms they were protecting had already fallen at the hands of the mighty mages. The orcs weren’t prepared to battle Crimson Black for the second time. They had challenged them once, and even though they endured much more than Stonemire, they lost many warriors. As for the elves… Well, you don’t really have to play RPGs to know how elves and dwarves get along.

The humans, the orcs, the elves, and the dwarves were the most formidable armies in all of the land, but even if all four armies stood together, Crimson Black woud feed on the conflict using a power called “Bloodrend.” This is what made them so powerful to begin with, and Bloodrend can’t be taught or even learned. Only the most powerful mages can acquire it, and the quest to gain such power is nearly impossible without dying. But one dwarf named Galdorn Beasthelm had a plan; driven by rage, Galdorn decided to send spies into every province, and gather intelligence to expose those who reigned supreme. Not only were diplomatic kings targeted, but religious priests as well.

Within exactly seven days, the darkest secrets came to light. Loyalty became extinct, as the curse of distrust ravaged the land like a sinister plague. People turned against the ground they had called home, and despite claiming to have faith all their lives, that faith collapsed with the very buildings they worshipped in. Justice took the form of a waning moon- nothing was wrong, and nothing was right.

The reason why Galdorn executed this plan was to create conflict, and draw out Crimson Black. Galdorn knew that civil unrest would devour the hearts and minds of the noble, and with just enough pressure, with just enough hatred, every able-bodied man, woman, and even child would take up the sword, and bring the fight directly to Crimson Black. And so, a new enemy emerged; a traitor to his own people, a slanderer to the nations of peace, and a blasphemer to the gods.

Galdorn was the one behind it all- he was the darkness that swallowed the light, and the epitaph writer for myriads of graves. But the ashes left in his wake danced to the rhythm of hope. Hiding in the shadows of war was a lone dark elf, with a name that commanded the winds to sing. With her companions by her side, Tora Locustvale would end the tyranny of Galdorn Beasthelm, and the conquest of the dark mage syndicate, Crimson Black.

Of course, I exaggerated this description to make it seem like Tora was the main protagonist, but everyone was the main protagonist. The story itself was epic. I mean- epic. Phillip, the game master who ran the campaign was really good at making things feel dark and gritty, which I really appreciated because this was a very gritty storyline. Well done, Phillip. It took us a week and a half to finish the campaign, but it was well worth it.

I was especially happy that Tora Locustvale survived through the whole thing. My friends, Oliver and Martha had to make new character sheets halfway through. They both got killed by Basilisks. Oliver’s character died first, and Martha’s character died trying to save him. It was pretty messed up, but we were all laughing at how it all happened. I think we all completely forgot that there was a basilisk right above Oliver, so it just dropped down and crushed Martha when she ran over to save him. That definitely could’ve been avoided.

After we finished, we couldn’t wait for the next campaign. I packed up my stuff, left Text Bubble, and got on the bus to go back home. But here’s where things get weird. While I was on the bus, I decided to read over my character sheet for Tora Locustvale. I was definitely planning on using her for other campaigns. But as I was putting the sheet back into my backpack, I noticed another sheet. It was a fully developed character sheet, but I didn’t recognize the design of the paper. The edges of the page was embellished with a golden trim, and the layout of the sections were vertical instead of horizontal. The character’s name was “Scratcher,” and my immediate thought was to throw it away.

I remember Scratcher. He was the main villain from a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I played a long time ago. Scratcher was a Kenku, which was an anthropomorphic crow or raven. Not only are they incapable of normal speech, but they’re also unable to fly due to a terrible curse, and they spend a lot of their time trying to regain that ability. Despite those limitations, the Kenku are able to mimic the sounds of other creatures, as well as the sounds of life in general. This particular Kenku gained knowledge about obtaining its long-lost gift. It was a murderer- a straight up murderer. It was deceived into thinking that taking lives would put in on the path to regaining its wings, and it was using every noise possible to claim its next victim.

If I remember correctly, everyone in our group had to make another character multiple times, including me. Our game master at the time was Keith. Keith used to work at Text Bubble, but he apparently quit soon after we played the Scratcher campaign. Whenever a player died, Keith would somehow kill them in the strangest ways. One time, Oliver tripped on a stone while he was running from goblins, and even though it wasn’t a critical fail, Keith had him fall on his head, and Oliver’s character died from blunt force trauma. We were all pretty upset by this, and Keith knew he kind of went overboard. Keith didn’t allow Oliver to make another character; instead, he found a way to bring Oliver’s character back to life. He made my other friend, George, carry Oliver’s character out of the cave, where he apparently heard someone calling out to him.

Martha’s character decided to investigate, and my character watched Martha from a distance. Keith had Martha encounter a Kenku, but the Kenku didn’t attack her. Instead, it revealed a secret path to an alchemist shack in the woods, where it held the ingredients to bring back Oliver’s character. Of course, there was a price; The Kenku would reveal the path, but only if we allowed it to follow us through the rest of our journey. We didn’t know why Keith wanted this to happen, but if it meant bringing back Oliver’s character, we didn’t have much of a choice.

We went to the alchemist shack, and made a potion that brought back Oliver. We were all really happy that everyone was alive and well, but we were kind of creeped out by the Kenku following us wherever we went. Keith never really mentioned the Kenku after we encountered it, so we just figured that it wasn’t really a big deal. But now I realize something; We didn’t actually defeat Scratcher- it just kind of vanished after it was exposed to the lands. Keith made it really mysterious, and we all appreciated how vague the ending was, but we never put the two together. Although it was a different campaign, Keith never said that the Kenku stopped following us, nor did he say that it was a different Kenku altogether.

This particular character sheet was the exact same sheet that Keith was using for the Kenku that joined us. It was Scratcher the whole time, and none of us even knew. Somehow, Scratcher’s character was in my bag, and of course, I have no recollection of ever putting him there. That was when I got a call from George. He was really freaked out. He told me that he found Scratcher’s character sheet in his car, but he wasn’t even there for that campaign. I told him about how I found that same sheet in my backpack, but I could’ve sworn that Keith took all of his papers with him.

That was when we decided to call Oliver and Martha. I called Oliver, while George called Martha. Martha didn’t find the Scratcher sheet, but George told her to keep a lookout for it. Oliver never answered the phone. I literally just saw him in the comic shop, and I left while he was still packing up. I called a second time, but it went straight to his voice mail again. I told George and Martha that Oliver never picked up the phone, and George decided to turn the car around, and head back to the store.

Martha immediately called us when she got home. She found a black envelope outside her front door. Inside was Scratcher’s character sheet. I practically had a heart attack while I was on the bus. What in the world was happening? I was relieved to get a call from George saying that Oliver forgot to charge his phone while he was playing. So that was good news. However, Oliver also found Scratcher’s character sheet in the chain of his bicycle. Eventually, we all agreed that it was just someone joking around with us. One of the workers must’ve heard about Scratcher, and decided to build on Keith’s legend. Maybe it was Keith himself, trying to throw us off our game.

As soon as I got in, I announced to my grandmother that I was home.

“Hey, Granny! I’m home now!” I proclaimed.

“Okay, honey!” I heard her voice coming from the laundry room. I put my backpack next to the door; I knew I was just gonna take it again the next day. Looking for something tasty, I opened the fridge while asking grandma if we still had any chocolate cake left. She answered:

“Okay, honey!” I know my grandmother is old, but she hasn’t reached the point of repeating herself. My eyes narrowed. The funny thing about tabletop RPGs is how your mind processes things after excessive playing. In my head, I saw my investigation skill. I always had at least 2 points in it, but that was because I relied more on my sneak skill to put me where I needed to be. I could be right behind the enemy, and they would never know.

I also saw my dexterity. Since I was mostly a rogue of some kind, I normally had at least one dagger by my side. I slowly opened the kitchen drawer, pulling out the same knife granny uses to cut pineapples. Last but not least, I saw my sneak skill. This was by far my greatest strength in any RPG I played, whether it was a tabletop like DND, or a video game like Skyrim. I crouched down, inching my way to the corner of the kitchen. I peeked half of my head around the wall, allowing me to gaze into the living room, as well as the beginning of the hallway.

The hallway led to the laundry room, which was at the end of the hall, next to the garage. Granny’s room was also in the hallway, and its door was right next to the bathroom. My room was upstairs, along with another bathroom. By now, it was around 8:20 P.M, and the most of the house was dark. I opened the kitchen next to me, and grabbed the small flashlight that we keep with the batteries. I reversed the knife, positioning the blade on the outside of my hand, while I held the flashlight in the other. I crept across the wood floor, listening out for anything that could confirm that my grandmother was actually here.

“Granny?” I called down the hallway.

“Aaron?” She answered. That was when I saw my logic skill in my head. An enemy can say your name to instill trust in them. I used that tactic before, so this didn’t fool my conviction. I peeked into the bathroom, starting with the crack of the open door. In the illumination of the flashlight, I didn’t see anything behind it. Thank goodness the shower curtain was open as well.

I moved on to granny’s room, shining the flashlight into the darkness. Everything was still. I didn’t feel like checking the closet just yet. Next up was the laundry room, and this is when I saw my agility. What would happen if it actually was someone else? Could I respond fast enough, without freezing from shock? I was about to find out if my next question wasn’t answered correctly.

“Granny? Why is the door closed?” This was the moment I feared the most. If this voice said something absurd, I was gonna have to fight or get out of the house as fast I could. But the voice said exactly what I needed to hear.

“Oh, the door was taking up too much room, so I had to close it.”

Thank god- this was definitely my granny.

“Oh. Okay, no problem. I was just wondering.” I said relieved. I was about to open the door, preparing to explain to her why I was holding a knife and a flashlight. But just I reached for the handle, I stopped dead in my tracks. There was no way the laundry door could take up room, because it opens outward, not in.

I backed up slowly, and out of pure coincidence, my cell phone vibrated. I received a text message that stated:

“Had to go to the store. Taking an Uber home. Love you!”

It was from my grandmother.

“Aaron? What’s wrong, Aaron?” The voice said from behind the door.

I ran down the hallway, turned the corner of the living room, and bolted out the front door. I closed it, and ran to the front of the yard. I dialed 911, and as it was ringing, I heard heavy scraping sounds coming from the other side of the door. I don’t know why it took so long, but I didn’t get in touch with the police before I heard one of the front windows shatter into pieces. Finally, someone picked up.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Please help, there’s someone in my house! They’re coming after me! They want to kill me!” I yelled.

Don’t ask me how, because I have no idea how. On the other line, an all too familiar voice quoted:

“Aaron? Who are you calling?” It was my grandmother’s voice. I dialed 911, and this thing picked up the phone. I ran down the suburban street as fast as I could. And that was when I saw my endurance. Since I never really carry heavy objects, my endurance is relatively low. That was something I had a tendency to overlook on my character sheet. But this was real, and I found myself daydreaming as I sprinted down the road.

I saw myself in a dark forest, holding a dagger and a torch. I was on a dirt path that kicked up sticks and stones every step I took. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew that there was a lurking threat, and it was watching me. From where, I had no clue, but I could feel its eyes burning in the timberland. That was when I snapped out of it, and realized that it was true. I must’ve blacked out from adrenaline, and my mind immediately placed me in one of the scariest campaigns I ever played: The Scratcher campaign. Due to my daydream, I didn’t even notice that I ran straight into the woods behind my community. The kitchen knife was in my hand, and the flashlight was the only thing I had to guide me through the branches. And yes- the lurking threat was there as well. I turned around, not knowing how far I actually ran through the woods. But I had to get home, and fast.

I tried to call granny, but the trees were messing up the reception. I couldn’t call anyone, and I had only one idea as to what that thing is: It was the Kenku, and it was in my house waiting for to come in. I don’t know where it went, but the fact that it found its way to a police station meant that there were more of them. I had to get home and fast. If my granny got home before I did, I would never forgive myself for not being there.

At this point, I saw a tabletop RPG in full detail.

My quest was to escape the woods, and go back home. The final boss was Scratcher- a murderous Kenku who was targeting me and my grandmother. The time frame to complete the quest was fifteen minutes at most. Death resulted in failure, as well as my grandmother reaching the house before I did. My only weapon is a chef’s knife, which dealt minimal damage, but my dexterity and strength was high enough to wield it skillfully. But I had to be careful; it was already confirmed that there was more than one Kenku, and they could very well be hiding in the woods. I took a deep breath, and embarked on my quest.

George, Martha, and Oliver stared at their best friend.

“I always told him to look before crossing the street.” George quivered. “He was always so excited get to the comic book store.”

“Yeah, I noticed.” Oliver agreed. “I mean, he was literally right there. Just a few more moments, and he would’ve been safe.”

“I can’t believe this.” Martha chimed in. “I practically saw it happen from across the street. I was setting up my character, and then I heard the tires.”

The nurse entered the room, and gazed at the young group. She explained:

“His condition is stable. He’ll be okay, we just have to give him some time.”

On February 17, 2018. Aaron Gates was struck by a car on his way to the comic book store, Text Bubble Comics. He was in a coma, but just yesterday, he awoke and was ready to be discharged. In his belongings that were recovered at the scene of the accident, was a variety of gaming dice, blank sheets of paper, and a fully detailed illustration of a Kenku named “Scratcher.”