Thursday, January 24, 2008

Facing the Reaper

"You get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime." ~ Death, THE SANDMAN, "The Sound of Her Wings" by Neil Gaiman.

I faced my mortality in a new way last night. The character I role played in our Dungeons and Dragons game died.

I turned 60 last October. I have a slightly enlarged heart, which is not life-threatening but does cause high blood pressure. Roulette has me on a low sodium diet because sodium causes water retention which exacerbates HBP. I need to exercise more, as fat shoving against organs and heart also raises blood pressure. That diagnosis didn't affect me much. Even the passing of Luta's brother didn't hit home as far as my own mortality was concerned. It took the death of an imaginary character to do that.

You have to understand, the way most RPGers play it's search the dungeon, kill the monster, find the treasure, repeat. Our amazingly talented and inventive DM (1) Orryn calls that a dungeon crawl, or Orc-and-pie (2), and when we role play, we role play. We create backstories and personalities for our characters. I played Taryn Darkeyes, girl thief (3) and tomb raider.

Here's Taryn's story:

"Mellisande Flesk was born to a wealthy family of Alchemists, a bright, blonde and black-eyed child. As is so often the case, prosperity was no guarantee of happiness. Mellisande's mother was narcissistic, self-absorbed and more concerned with her rank, social standing and money than with her three children. Her father disappeared when she was eight. Her older brother had become reclusive and secretive.

"Mellisande despised her father and her brother as weaklings. The only person she cared anything for was her little sister Kylie, although even they were never close. At age 15 she pilfered some of her brother's necromantic artifacts and scrolls and sold them to a sorcerers' guild. She stashed most of her profits in a cave known only to her.

"When Mellisande was 17, Kylie was struck with a wasting illness. She half suspected it was brought on by neglect and depression, but she returned to her cave, took some of her loot and bought rare medicines for Kylie. These she presented to her mother, who at the time was planning to attend a gala festival in a distant kingdom, and was intent on debuting her coming-of-age daughter there. Mellisande wanted nothing to do with it. She hid out in her cave. After one month, she returned home. She found that her younger sister had died. Her mother, absorbed by her plans for the festival, had never given Kylie the medications.

"Mellisande knew she could not stay there another minute. She helped herself to a few sacksful of the family riches and left for good.

"No sooner had she reached the nearest city than she was set upon by a local gang, beaten and robbed of all but the profits she had stashed in her cave. She limped back to the cave to heal. She lived two years in the wood, leaving her cave only for occasional forays for supplies. She picked up a few wilderness skills and learned to be self sufficient. Finally she went to the city to live as a street thief. After several run-ins with the law, she apprenticed herself to a local thief. In her spare time she learned to appraise magical relics for their resale value, and changed her name and looks.

"Mellisande was now Taryn Darkeyes, and she used one of her father's potions to permanently dye her yellow hair black. By age 25 she has travelled far from her erstwhile home. Taryn specializes in stealing and reselling magical artifacts. She carries several weapons she uses to intimidate bigger, stronger foes -- not to say that she isn't good at using them as well. She is resolved to be tougher than anyone she knew and to survive at all costs.

"She has no use for laws, loyalties or morals. Taryn worships no gods. The only ones she has any respect for are gods who represent nature and travel."

I gave her a pretty miserable life.She started the game as a bitter and lonely person, joined the adventurers' party in hopes of earning enough money and finding enough salable magic items to retire away from the world. My eventual plans were to retire her after the adventure as a druid, at peace in the forest.

She died in a battle suddenly and unexpectedly, taking cold damage from monsters called frostshades, fell unconscious and failed the final dice throw. She never even got to say any sarcastic last words.

We have a board at Prismatic Tsunami where we post in character. I wrote down her imaginary last words. I didn't expect to publish another fiction piece so soon after last week's but I'll let you read it. Remember Taryn is as much an atheist as you can be in a world where the gods are real.
So, I'm dead. Didn't see that coming.

Where am I? It looks like an endless plane of ash, flat, no mountain, hill or crevice as far as I can see. No stars in the sky. Nothing moving; nothing here to move. Is this where you go when you've abandoned all the gods, the ones who punish and those who comfort?

All I ever wanted out of death was rest.

What am I? A shade, an immortal soul, the last sparks of thought in a dying brain?

Don't know how the gang's gonna make it without me. Ah, who am I kidding? Ji will get them through. He's the only one who believes in something besides himself, er, herself. Arathorn, despite his delusion that he's the boss of us, is a survivor. Arathorn. We never liked each other,yet it was Arathorn who carried my body out and did his best to revive me. Ulfgar can blunder through anything and Aust will never get close enough to peril to be in real danger.

They'd better miss me, though.

Hell, I'll miss me.

I hope they can use my magic stash. Well of course they will. That bunch'll loot my body before it's cold.

Cold. That's odd. I died of cold but I don't feel cold now. I don't feel anything.

What's that over there?

Is that -


Farewell, Taryn.

It wasn't till I composed that piece that it hit me how close to being me Taryn was. I went to bed last night, started to compose Taryn's post, and could not sleep for tears.

When I fail my final dice roll, it'll probably be like hers - never knowing what hit me. It occurs to me that if I don't get any last words in I'd better let my friends and family know now how much I love and respect them, and that I'm happy with my life here and now.

It's not silly to me mourning a make believe character, because I don't think she's the only one I'm mourning.

What did Taryn see?

Could have been anything, an eddy in the ash, a tear in her eye, oblivion roaring in, a god, a soul-devouring monster, or Kylie. I'm not telling because I don't know. God or an afterlife may be in doubt, but I believe there is always Mystery.

As Heinlein said in THE NOTEBOOKS OF LAZARUS LONG: "Soon enough you will know."

(1) Dungeon Master, the person who runs the game.
(2) Monster and reward.
(3) A thief in D&D is the character who uses stealth, opens locks and disarms traps.

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