Kickaha gets his turn to play a cursed game in tonight’s tale.
Meanwhile at the Lair of Dr. Callyco
Dr. Callyco slid open the castle door, a red wagon full of board games dragging behind him. The orange kitten in a lab coat had a manic grin as he dumped all the games onto the floor.
“And what is all this?” Dr. Cutie Pup asked. The grey wolf watched the kitten with cautious but curious interest.
“Cursed game night.” Dr. Callyco explained. “I’ve been running to garage sales all over town picking up board games! Tradition dictates one of them would be cursed and good for spooky fun.”
“Yeah, I don’t think it actually works like that in real-“ Dr. Cutie Pup started to object… But Callyco gestured to Cutie Pup’s own tiny wolf pup body. “Okay point taken. But garage sales?”
“They’re cheaper than old dust covered shops run by mysterious benefactors.” The kitten shrugged. “Sadly, not every garage sale game is cursed. Only like 80% of them. It’s really annoying. You get a normal one and your money is completely wasted.”
“And should you really be looking for a cursed game?” Dr. Cutie Pup asked as he slung an arm around the kitten affectionately.
“Of course! Curses are more fun!” The kitten beamed. “Even tonight’s guest knows that! Kickaha of the Art, he’s a foxyote from-“
“We’ve met.” Dr. Cutie Pup interrupted.
“Oh… Well… I guess you have.” The kitten smiled. “In tonight’s tale Kickaha was just trying to set up for a fun game night with friends…. But well the problem with cursed board games is sometimes they don’t know what they’re getting into.”
“So Kickaha is in over his head again huh?” The wolf smirked.
“Well the board game is at least.” The kitten squeaked happily.
“Yeah, that checks out.” The wolf rolled his eyes
“And so, I bring you our sixth tale. The Tale of a 100% Normal Cursed Board Game With No Strings Attached.” Callyco chattered happily.
“Bit of a mouthful huh…” Dr. Cutie Pup muttered.
Thirteen Tales From Dr. Callyco
The Tale of the 100% Normal Cursed Board Game With No Strings Attached
The rust colored foxote stood among the dust covered shelves of the dimly lit Shop That Wasn’t There Yesterday; his sole garment, a green cloak standing out as the only brightly colored and clean item in sight. Kickaha’s tail wagged back and forth eagerly as he realized he found the right section at last! The board game section! There was one in every store like this! Really, there was always an entire section devoted to what you were looking for in stores like this. Tradition just dictated you explore several cobweb filled aisles with strange artifacts, skulls and medals before finding it. The shelves were stocked full of ancient looking wooden boxes with intricate carvings and symbols running throughout them. Kickaha never really got that… If these were supposed to be passed off as normal board games he would have assumed they should have been in normal cheap cardboard boxes… Instead everything about them screamed spooky cursed game!
Well at least it made it easier to find what he wanted! He quickly grabbed a game off the shelf and headed up to the store front. Sitting on a stool behind the register was a perfectly normal human being who was not at all a feral coyote. And Kickaha could tell this human was definitely a real human and not a coyote on account of the fact he was wearing a moustache that was obviously not fake. Any other appearances were simply happenstance.
“This please!” Kickaha tossed the game box on top of the counter.
“Yap!” The most definitely human shopkeeper wagged his tail and bopped at the register with his forepaws.
“So just between you and me… How cursed is this game?” Kickaha asked. “I’m not going to get home and find out it was only a thousand year curse that wears off next Tuesday am I?”
“Yap!” The human storekeeper tilted his head and let his tongue hang out.
“That’s a really generous return policy.” Kickaha grinned. “Guess I’ve got no worries then.” With that he paid for his purchase then strode out of the store, confident he would never see that place again. At least not until he needed to make another dubious and ill-advised purchase.
After completing his shopping, Kickaha returned to his burrow in the forest and threw the game onto his kitchen table. Despite being what was essentially a hole in the ground and having a dirt floor, said kitchen was nearly spotless. The two vacuum cleaners sitting in the corner of the room had earned their keep. Kickaha wasn’t exactly a neat freak… But he was a professional. What he was a professional of was up for debate, but a professional nonetheless. And since part of that included occasionally entertaining guests of various shapes and sizes it meant things had to be presentable.
The foxyote’s tail wagged in anticipation. Everything was ready for him to set up the next game night now! He just needed to make sure the game actually worked right before inviting anyone over. He slowly removed the box’s lid. Inside was the game board and an ancient looking scroll. The writing on it seemed to shift twist, the letters constantly changing. Kickaha squinted at it for a few seconds and the letters all shifted into a language he could recognize. He started to read it out loud.
“Those who seek eternal glory heed this warning of your folly. The treasure you seek is within your reach but danger and- eh.” The foxyote crumbled up the scroll and tossed it over his shoulder. “Even in ancient times no one actually read the end user agreement. Why break with tradition?” He pulled the board out of the box and unfolded it onto the table. The board itself had a painting of a jungle covering most of it and a golden pyramid at the end of the board. There was a large shiny blue crystal in the very center of the board, but literally nothing else. There were no dice, no cards, nothing to actually play the game with.
“Oh gee.” Kickaha spoke in an absolutely deadpan voice with no emotion. “Look at that! The game is missing all of its pieces! However am I supposed to play the game now? What a stupid game, I should demand my money back.” After finishing his monotone speech Kickaha glanced around the kitchen as if expecting something then stared at the board. The blue crystal in the middle of it began to shine. “Heh, classic.” He grinned as he suddenly felt an intense pressure as if he was being pulled towards the game. There was a sense of weightlessness as his body began to float off the ground… And then everything went black.
When Kickaha came to he was no longer in his kitchen. He found himself laying face down in tall grass. As he climbed to his paws, he found the grass was taller than his three-foot body and he stumbled blindly through it. After a few seconds he found his escape, emerging into a clearing. Looking around, he appeared to be deep in some kind of primal jungle. There were gigantic trees, overgrown vines, and the sounds of insects and birds echoing through the air. He looked up into the sky, though the area was well lit like as if day, there was no sign of an actual sun. Instead, the entire sky was blotted out by a thick purple mist. That wasn’t the only strange sight. The ground beneath Kickaha’s paws appeared to be in a strange alternating grid pattern. The grid was made of brown and tan rectangles and cut a trail through the forest, much like the spaces on the game board would have.
“Neat.” Kickaha looked around taking in the sights.
“Foolish Mortals!” A booming voice spoke up as thunderclouds began to gather beneath the mist. “In your hubris you have stumbled across the world of Cryptic Tangle. Should you wish to ever leave this place you must wager your lives in a game of fate!” Lightning struck the ground just a few feet in front of Kickaha and in a flash of light a specter appeared. It was a skeletal humanoid figure with a serpent-like skull dressed in tattered dark violet robes. Through the holes in the robes Kickaha could see the entire lower half of his body was missing and the creature floated in the air without legs. “I am the Bonekeeper. I shall be your guide in this land, your judge and if needed your executioner.”
“Okay.” Kickaha replied flatly and continued to look around the area. “Hey quick question, is this the actual game board and I’m tiny or is this like a pocket dimension inside the game?”
“I’m sorry what?” The Bonekeeper’s lower jaw fell open.
“Well… See the purple mist covering the sky makes me think that maybe I shrunk and beyond that mist is my kitchen.” Kickaha rubbed his chin musing. “But the jungle is obviously very real where it was only painted on the actual board. That makes me think pocket dimension. Of course, it could be some kind of combination of the two. You know, you shrink down and land on the board and once you’re on the board itself you’re transported to a real jungle. Am I anywhere in the ballpark?”
“I… I don’t know, why does it matter?” The Bonekeeper asked.
“Oh trust me, there are some people who care very much about these details.” Kickaha crossed his arms and gave the Bonekeeper the stink eye. “Like, people will want to know if they’re tiny. Also, it’s important to know for the purpose of game snacks. If I did shrink, then we might be able to set snack foods on top of the game board… And bam giant snacks! If it’s just a pocket dimension though, we’re going to have to figure out how to properly pack a backpack or something to make sure we have enough tasty treats and-“
“Enough of this foolishness!” The Bonekeeper snapped. “Do you not comprehend the danger you’re in?”
“Oh it’s fine, I’ve done this before.” Kickaha grinned cheekily. “But… Sorry, I suppose I was a little rude. You were doing some kind of introduction thing. I didn’t mean to interrupt. Go on you can finish.”
The Bonekeeper simply stared at Kickaha in silence for a full minute before beginning in a loud booming voice, “You players will be forced to survive in a savage jungle as you work your way to the Golden Temple! Once there you must navigate the ancient traps and find the Heart of Tangle to free you from your fate! But danger lurks around every corner! You may wish to work together… But be warned! For there can be but one winner! And he who holds the Heart of Tangle holds the fate of all of you! Shall you work together? Or shall you betray each other? Can you trust your friends with the Heart and-“ The Bonekeeper stopped abruptly and looked around the clearing. “Where… Are the other players?”
“It’s just me right now.” Kickaha shrugged.
“… But… The entire point of this game is to test multiple people against each other in a savage environment!” The Bonekeeper lost all composure. “Why would you start the game by yourself? It says two to five players right on the box!”
“I just wanted to make sure everything worked there was nothing missing.” Kickaha dug his paw in the dirt sheepishly. “See, last time I threw a game night we wound up missing some vital stuff to finish the campaign. Took me a long time to find the pieces and in the meantime I had to buy a terrarium for the other players. And you wouldn’t think they’d cost that much to keep fed that small, but you know how it goes! So, this time, making sure the game is 100% completable and all the magic is working before I invite friends over.”
“I’m confused… You’re aware the game is cursed?” A small grinding noise came from the Bonekeeper’s skull.
“Personally, I would have been offended were it not.” Kickaha flashed a grin that would have made a car salesman envious. “So anyway, this is just a test run.”
“A test… Run…” The Bonekeeper was despondent. The grinding noise continued as his mind processed exactly what was going on. After a few seconds he seemed to recover his composure a bit as he pointed at Kickaha dramatically. “FOOL! Though you walked into here willingly, you did not understand the true nature of this game! For here, only the jungle is law! And only those who belong in the jungle are allowed! Weep in terror, as your mortal body is torn asunder and a new more fitting form is bestowed upon you.” A green beam of energy shot out from the Bonekeeper’s skeletal finger and struck Kickaha in the chest.
And then the foxyote began to change. He collapsed down onto all fours as his body began to swell in size. His fur began to change… Though he retained his color and the spot on his chest stripes formed along his back. His tail grew longer, but also thinner and more flexible. His hands and feet formed into larger massive paws equipped with ferocious claws. His muzzle shrunk in size and his ears shortened while his whiskers became more pronounced. In size Kickaha had more than doubled now, his green cloak now looking comically small on his intimidating ten-foot-long body.
“Yeah! Bet you didn’t see that coming!” The Bonekeeper crossed his arms. “As long as you’re in the jungle you’re a part of the jungle. All players must take the form of ordinary jungle animals to compete.”
“A tiger huh?” Kickaha sat up on his haunches so he could look down at his body. “Well I know someone who’s going to like this game.”
“Stop… Please…” The Bonekeeper objected. “This is supposed to be a trial. Not a game.”
“But it is a game.” Kickaha pointed out as the tiger dropped back to all fours.
“But not a fun game!” The Bonekeeper threw his arms up in the airs.
“Wait, so you intentionally tried to make a bad game? That’s not a very good marketing plan.” Kickaha chuffed.
“That’s not what I!” The Bonekeeper let out an anguished scream. “Alright, enough! We’re playing the game now! There are no dice, but you will encounter new challenges and threats as you move through different spaces. All you have to do is reach the end and obtain the treasure… Alive.”
“Ah so standard Babylonian Rules.” Kickaha trotted a few steps forward. “A little boring, don’t you think?”
“I know I’m going to regret asking this, but what does that even mean?” The Bonekeeper did his best to glare at Kickaha despite only having eye sockets.
“Oh I see. This game must be a really early printing so you aren’t aware of all the variants. Makes sense. I can explain it though.” The tiger sat back up on his haunches and began to gesture with his forepaws as he talked. “See, there are a lot of these cursed games on the market these days, most are pretty similar, following the basic Babylonian rule set. It gets the job done, but it’s a little well… Dull! These rules are made to be easy to understand for kids, which is rather bothersome since many kids are actually better at these games than adults! Anyway, later the Athens Rules were created… Though these got divided into two subsets, Eastern Athenian Rules and Western. The Eastern Rules are more fun, but divide players into teams so aren’t practical with just one player. Western Athenian is a little more simple, but the movement rules get a little wonky since you can move backwards to move forward faster. It’s a bit math intensive, and some of the shortcuts in movements are a little unintuitive.”
“Why… Why are you like this?” The Bonekeeper whimpered.
“Ok, not a fan of Athens got it.” Kickaha nodded eagerly. “Then maybe you’d prefer to try Shangri-La style! It’s actually quite an interesting take, see you can’t move to an adjacent space, but can go just about anywhere… But you wouldn’t be able to go inside the temple until you’ve been on every space in the jungle, and then have to cover every space in the temple before you can grab the heart! See because some spaces are always negative and some always positive, it’s about figuring out the best time to let yourself be penalized. Gotta keep in mind how other players are playing and what kind of traps or interference they might run. And you know what, that’s a little complicated if you’re not familiar! Oh, I know!” He slammed one paw into the other. “Avalonian Rules! Wait… No… I just remembered… Those involve bone dice and that feels a bit insensitive given the. Well… You know.”
“You’re still talking.” The Bonekeeper began to falter in the air moving closer to the ground.
“Oh wait! I got it! Atlantean Rules!” The tiger slammed both paws onto the ground and chuffed proudly. “They’re perfect! You see they’re easy to play, but it adds a lot of unpredictability to the game. I know some people don’t like games that are too random, but having to adapt to the chaos is part of the fun really when you think about it. Though I suppose it does have some risks… I mean, the there is a non-zero chance that Atlantis only sunk due to attempting to compete a very competitive game by those rules. Still, I think they’re worth a shot if you-“
“NO! That’s it! Shut up! I’m begging you! Have mercy!” The Bonekeeper collapsed against the ground. “You have no right to modify my game! I am the Bonekeeper! I am the master of the game!”
“I’m sorry.” Kickaha’s ears flattened. “It wasn’t my goal to offend you. But technically, I didn’t modify anything. These are all real variants that have existed for centuries for these kinds of-“
“Don’t care! Game over!” The Bonekeeper screeched. Part of his body sunk into the ground to the point only his serpent skull poked out of the earth.
“But we haven’t gotten started yet!” Kickaha explained. “I really wanted to do a full test run before-“
“It’s over! You win! Get out of my game!” The grinding noise became a popping noise as the Bonekeeper sunk completely into the ground. A moment later… Purple mist gathered around Kickaha and everything went black.
And then… He was back in his kitchen, standing on top of the kitchen table on all fours… Still a tiger. Except… There was no way a full grown ten-foot tiger was going to fit atop his kitchen table! That meant…
“I KNEW IT!” Kickaha gave a shout as he realized he was basically a rat sized tiger. “I did shrink when I went into the game! Well, that bodes well! It means we can have giant snack foods after all… But if there’s a pocket dimension too might take some doing. Still, I didn’t get to really play the game.” He glanced over at the crystal that was now larger than him and gave a wistful sigh. “I guess we’ll just have to give it a dry run when we have more players. That guy was pretty upset about me being by myself. I’m sure having a few friends over will make him more agreeable. In fact, I think I know just who to invite.” The next game night was going to be a blast.