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Title: The Maze of Solitude (The Natural 20 Remix)
Fandom: Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon
Characters: pretty much everybody
Rating: G
Word Count: ~1900
Summary: Sometimes one may accomplish what many cannot.
Original Story: The Maze of Solitude by [ profile] hhertzof
Notes: In a tabletop gaming system that uses 20-sided dice, like Dungeons & Dragons, a "natural 20" is a perfect success, scoring a twenty with one die, without any modifications to the result. It generally means that whatever action was taken will have the best possible outcome, no matter how improbable.


A small man with long white hair and a broad, open face stared out the window of his tower. The sad expression looked out of place on his visage, which was far more given to smiles than frowns. The view from high above the valley was as lovely as always, but the man wasn't seeing much of anything. His focus was strictly internal. It was nearly time for his annual pilgrimage, and he wasn't sure if he would be able to go. His annual journal to try to redeeming the forces of evil was a laudable task, but this year he had additional complications that might not allow him to get away.

Six additional complications, to be precise.

The man turned away from the window and crossed the room to where a large, shallow basin of water sat on a pedestal. He stirred the water with his finger and when it stopped swirling, it resolved into a clear picture of six children making their way across the land.

He still felt a twinge of guilt whenever he saw them. He knew it was unkind to rip them from their home world and set them questing about, but together they possessed qualities that he lacked, and he hoped (oh how he hoped!) that they might one day accomplish what he could not. But in the meantime, they needed frequent help and guidance. He simply couldn't leave them alone while he made his annual pilgrimage. Could he?

He watched the Ranger and the Thief leading the group, talking quietly between themselves. The Acrobat kept a wary eye out, both on the area surrounding the group, and on the Ranger. It seemed she hadn't fully forgiven him for his apparent betrayal during their previous encounter with the cloud bears. The Magician and Barbarian came next, playing some sort of game as they walked, while Uni gamboled about them. Finally, a small distance behind the others, the Cavalier trudged along, kicking a stone.

As he watched the group, the man had a glimmer of an idea. These children couldn't do without his support but perhaps - perhaps that help didn't need to come directly from him. It would be simple enough for him to bequeath a portion of his power to one of them. He could then set them off on a task, confident that they would be able to help themselves until he got back. Yes, that would do nicely.

But to whom should he gift the power? His thoughts went first to the Ranger, and his hand was half way up before he reconsidered. The boy was a natural leader, true, but maybe it would be good to give one of the others a chance. He considered each in turn, but he found drawbacks with all of them.

A small test, then, was needed. A test of character and courage and trust.

A smile wreathed the man's face. He took note of the group's position by a lake and teleported out of his tower to meet them.

"Woah, it's Dungeon Master!" the Magicain shouted.

The man chuckled softly. The boy had the most enchanting way of stating the obvious.

"What do we need to do now, Dungeon Master?" the Ranger asked.

"There are many paths on your journey home, and not all of them will go in straight lines."

"I don't think any of them have gone in straight lines," the Barbarian said with the frankness of youth.

"Bobby!" hissed the Thief and then she threw an apologetic glance towards the man they knew as Dungeon Master.

"Quite true, young Barbarian," he agreed. "Nor will this one. Over yonder is the entrance to the Maze of Solitude." He waved vaguely off to the side, to a crevasse in the rocks that had not been there moments before. "To reach the end of the Maze of Solitude together, you must each travel alone, and in the end, the truth will set you free."

"That doesn't make any sense!" the Acrobat exclaimed.

Dungeon Master used the group's brief distraction to teleport back to his tower. He laughed to himself as he arrived. He would have thought that they'd learn by now - very little that he said to them made sense at first blush. To give them too many answers directly would disrupt the balance of the universe, and that balance was precisely what he was trying to restore.

He pulled a stool over to the basin of water and settled down to watch the group.

The Cavalier was just shouldering his pack and heading off towards the crevasse, when the Ranger called out after him. "Hey, Eric! Where do you think you're going?"

Dungeon Master frowned and waved his hand. A chalk board appeared on the wall. Then a tally mark appeared in the plus column for the Cavalier and one appeared in the minus for the Ranger.

The Cavalier turned back to the group. "You heard DM, we're supposed to travel alone on this one." Then he resumed him progress towards the entrance of the Maze.

"Oh, let him go, Hank," the Thief said. "You know Eric."

Dungeon Master frowned and drew one finger down the middle of the basin. The image then split into two, one side following the Cavalier, the other side staying with the main group.

The Cavalier squared his shoulders at the entrance, took a deep breath, readied his shield, and lightly rested his hand on the left wall. Then he began making his way through the Maze.

"Good boy," Dungeon Master said, and several more tally marks appeared in the plus column for the Cavalier. The boy quickly discovered that the force field generated by his shield would stop the sliding walls, and after that, he encountered nothing more challenging than a few small pits that he could easily jump over.

By the time the Cavalier made it to the center of the Maze, the others had entered and were doing a fine job of getting in each other's way. Tally marks in the minus columns were sprouting up like spring flowers, and Dungeon Master shook his head in disgust. Were these children really so unwilling to think for themselves, to try to go their own way for a time?

Uni, he noticed, had gotten fed up with the group rather quickly and had teleported away, suddenly appearing next to the Cavalier in the center. A single tally mark appeared in the plus column next to the small unicorn's name. At least she had some sense.

Dungeon Master sighed as the Maze threw more and more complex traps at the group of children. Finally - finally! - the Acrobat turned away from the group and noticed that the horrible traps she had just been facing were now simple ones that she and her pole could overcome easily. A positive tally mark appeared in her column. Without a word to the still-bickering group, she set off on her own and a short while later, vaulted into the center.

"You had the right idea, Eric," Dungeon Master heard her say to the Cavalier, who was resting under the apple tree in the center of the Maze. Another positive tally went into her column. Acknowledging when you were wrong was a sign of maturity.

The next to break off from the group was the Magician.

"Are they still arguing?" the Acrobat asked when he appeared in the center of the Maze.

"Nope, but they are still going around in circles," he replied and plopped down on one of the benches that were situated beneath the apple tree. The center of the Maze was designed as a garden, a respite for weary adventurers. "I don't think the Maze will let a group through."

Dungeon Master smiled and added a tally mark. Maybe there was hope for this group yet.

"Sometimes it's good to go your own way," the Cavalier said as he passed the other boy an apple. "Even if it leads you into trouble. Reminds you that you're you and all that."

Well now. Another positive tally mark appeared for the Cavalier. He was clearly in the lead by now.

The young Barbarian finally made his way into the center too. Dungeon Master hadn't really expected him to win. He was several years younger than the others, and still growing up. He was the only true child of the group, no matter how the others acted. Dungeon Master couldn't help but laugh, though, at the boy's declaration that he "got tired of Sheila and Hank arguing so I told them they weren't my parents and ran off."

Finally, the Thief arrived at the center of the Maze. Dungeon Master was perhaps the most disappointed in her. He would have thought she would understand his message, as she often had before.

By morning, the Ranger still hadn't made it through the Maze, and Dungeon Master was nearly fed up with the boy's refusal to understand the situation. He was about to intervene when several of the youngsters suggested that perhaps they could call to their leader and talk him through the rest of the Maze.

Dungeon Master wished he dared to bang his head against the edge of the basin as a flurry of new negative tally marks appeared on the board. Just when he thought they might have gotten the point. At least the Cavalier seemed to understand, for that boy remained silent.

"Come on, guys, we've got a way home," the Ranger said, when he finally made it to the center and the fountain resolved itself into a portal, as though he hadn't spent the night trapped in the Maze; as though he hadn't completely missed the point of the entire exercise. Dungeon Master was pleased to see the Cavalier throw up his hands in exasperation, even as he followed his companions through the portal that would return them to the edge of the lake (and not, as the Ranger thought, home).

Dungeon Master teleported back to the lake as the Cavalier did a neat prat fall into the water, nicely distracting the group from his entrance.

"What are you staring at? Hey, get me out of here," the Cavalier said, splashing around.

"Dungeon Master," the Barbarian yelped, catching sight of the small man.

"I don't understand, Dungeon Master. You said that if we reached the center, we'd be able to get home through the portal," the Ranger said, and Dungeon Master fought not to sigh or roll his eyes. The Cavalier had no such restrictions, but, standing a bit apart, wringing out his clothes, his reaction was missed by the group.

"You didn't solve the maze alone, Ranger, you had help. The portal would only have worked if you'd all got to the center on your own. Following the group is all well and good, but sometimes you have to be true to yourself."

The Ranger continued to look at him with a blank face. Even having it spelled out, the boy didn't understand.

The Cavalier sighed theatrically, drawing the group's attention. "And sometimes you need to find a towel," he said, shaking himself off like a dog.

Dungeon Master smiled and gave the Cavalier a wink as he disappeared. At least one of them had understood. And he knew who was going to get some of his powers while he was on pilgrimage. Now he just had to find a suitable time to do the transfer. That would require careful planning.

With a smile, Dungeon Master sat down in his tower and began to plot.


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