The Drive all the way up to the boonies in Guaynabo was always a fun pilgrimage. It wasn’t a routine I was used to, but it was fun either way. This was the house of the Zabala family, of which I went to my friend Orlando’s place of residence. It was hidden away among the hills, behind the OTHER Zabala house, where a cat called Linda eyed the arrivals as they came along, making sure that arrivals were trustworthy. I parked at the other Zabala house, to make sure I could get out of the steep incline. I was the first one to arrive, as I waved at my friend and brother, a robust brown skin man with thick curls and beard. I gave him a high five and a hug.
“Hey brother, long time no see. How you been?”
“Been worse. Got paid a while back so that’s good. How’s Chicago?”
“Cold as fuck, but pretty legit. I got stories to tell you and the group.”
“Awesome. Can’t wait to hear ‘em!”
I said hello to Valeria, or Val. She had a longer version of Orlando’s curls, similar build to her brother but a bit shorter, and wearing a fake flower crown. We spoke for a while about cupcakes and fashion and drag while Orlando took a quick shower. Netflix was on, but we stopped paying attention to it quickly.
“By the way, me and Orlando made food. Barbecue and rice and beans, and he made cookies.”
“Girl, Zabala family cooking for the win. I love your food so much.”
“I felt so bad when you said you missed our cooking that we went all out today”
“Awww. Thanks to both of you. And your folks so much.”
We hugged it out and once Orlando came back we started talking about sociology, leftist political theory, and the nature of the latest episode of Steven Universe. We made a few references and laughed about them. Val passed us Doritos and we munched mindlessly.
“Yoohooo!” The feminine voice came after 30 minutes of waiting. She was April, the short, bespectacled, and busty artist of the group. Emphasis on artist, for she was an amazing graphic artist and a musician. She did drawings of all of our characters, our teams if you will. Behind her, the mastermind of the group, the alpha nerd and master chef, and pretty decent graphic artist himself: Ibrahim. “Sup, guys”. He carried a bag with his equipment, and we were ready to play glorified pretend. I said my hellos, spoke of my adventures in Chicago, dealing with the cold, shit talking about gringos and glorifying the few new friends I made.
Most importantly, I spoke about my failed attempts to DM DND games. These failures led to two failed campaign ideas: one where I taught International Affairs scholars about state-building, the other a story about misfits’ island hopping until they were hunted down by a sexy, man eating witch. But now I was with the real crew, the creators of the realm known as Yvranoer. It was a rip-off of the Forgotten Realms, but better because we had a good storyteller to push the plot along and because Yvranoer was our realm.
We stopped being ourselves and became our respective DND characters. We weren’t some college students anymore, we were members of the Shrouded Mantle, a covert adventurer group dedicated to saving the world from threats. Valeria stopped being a sweet, artsy girl and became Esmeralda: a lust driven matron of a brothel of incredible and unnatural beauty, for she was born of the sea. She was whore first, entertainer second, spellcasting adventurer third, and disciple of the nefarious sea monster Baashma fourth. She was a terrible fighter, but an excellent saboteur against the enemy forces. April stopped being a gentle, shy artist and became Io: a childish demon blooded woman of small stature but brash attitude. A thief by trade with a knack for magical tricks, she struggled with her own immaturity and dealing with a battered life. Orlando wasn’t an average bookworm, he was THE BOOKMONSTER. Okonkwo the Erudite entered the scene: an orc from Huracán Island with a curiosity that could not be tamed. He was an evocation wizard: a fireball spewing glass cannon with an interesting philosophy that featured taking responsibility for death, magic, and eating one’s enemies. Ibrahim was our Dungeon Master, the lord of Ybranoer and who conducted our group to new horizons and tested our gall at every turn, becoming Gorgons, werewolves, to helpful allies such as Theodore the High elf ranger, reluctant nobleman of the elven clans, and single father of one. And who was I? I was Sanzu Arazim, the Gilded: mighty dragonborn paladin of Bahamut and hunter of maleficent creatures of all kinds. Sanzu was the inheritor of the title Gilded, inherited from his father after the majority of his family was slain by brigands after attempting to establish a town a few miles off of Dragonscar. He radiated justice in each step he took; he was a philosopher at heart and accountant in title, had a love for whores, weapons, and smiting evil. He carried with him a purified great sword he named Sterling Avenger and followed his holy oath without flinching.
Sanzu was a far cry from his morally ambiguous counterparts. Esmeralda was ‘good’ at her job but was definitely capable of kicking a newborn down a staircase, as well as initially distrusting Sanzu due to plot contrivances and lack of communication. Io annoyed Sanzu at every turn, reflecting an inner turmoil that associated the holy warrior with dire circumstances in her life. Okonkwo quickly befriended the Dragonborn, yet each held differing opinions on violence, good, and even the gods; the orc was heavily distrustful of divine beings due to their machinations on the mortal realm. However, Sanzu Arazaim, the Gilded, proved to be a worthy ally after being the group’s healer, tank, and consistent damage dealer. Yes, the paladin had warmed his way into the hearts of the motley crew, and he enjoyed his time as member of the Shrouded Mantle.
Details of the session are murky, but memories of laughing, joking, almost dying, Sanzu being inept and uncoordinated due to low dexterity, and other shenanigans remained. We stopped only for the succulent Zabala brand food that was promised and after feasting, we continued. I greeted the elder Zabala members with gratitude and friendliness, for they always graced us with their home as our personal base camp. Among jokes, innuendos, artistic flourishes, bad and good luck, we had fun. And always, we came out with smiles on our faces, never wanting to stop playing. I knew I had to go home, and that after a while I would go back to Chicago to continue studying. I wouldn’t be face to face with my friends, although I could always appear thanks to the power of the internet. But it was not the same, for I’d miss the jokes, the rapport, the food, and the experience of being with my friends. Yet, I was always there as much as I could to spend time with them, and Sanzu was always ready to smite. I bid farewell, got in my car, and drove back home into the mundane, already reminiscing of going back to Yvranoer.