The Practical Joker

Desert, subterranean lake . . .

"What the hell did you guys do with my blankets?" Oz demanded of his fellow hunters.

The three other members in Oz's party looked at one another. Rather than explode into boisterous laughter, like Oz was expecting, they shook their heads. "We didn't have anything to do with your blanket," one of them said.

This was the first time Oz had hunted with these three hunters and he didn't remember their names. All he knew was that ever since they had set out together, he had borne the brunt of their seemingly endless practical jokes. He didn't believe their proclamation of innocence. They still had their blankets after all.

"Damn the three of you!" Oz said.

The lone female of the group spoke up. "Why would we take your dirty, holey blanket anyway?"

"Duh, you three still have blankets," Oz snapped at her. "I'm keeping my eyes on you from now on. Next one of you bastards messing with my stuff is having his hands broken. You can believe that!"

Oz gathered up his few belongings and moved a small distance away from the others. He sat down cross-legged and folded his arms across his chest. He sipped from his hot drink and glared at the other three.

"Dude, just chill out and get some sleep," the dark-haired young man said.

Oz didn't respond. He kept on glaring at them.

The cold woke Oz out of his slumber. Why is it so cold anyway? he thought. He opened his eyes and couldn't see. He was confused for a moment until he realized that the camp fire was out. "Great, those dungberries abandoned me," Oz said out loud.

"No, we dungberries didn't," the female answered from somewhere in the dark.

Oz was glad it was too dark for them to see the embarrassment on his face. "What happened to the fire? Who put it out?"

"It definitely wasn't us," the light-haired man said.

"I know it was one of you idiots," blamed Oz.

"Why would we do that?" asked the woman.

"Duh, you three have blankets and I don't. Trying to make me freeze to death, are ya?" Oz felt in the dark for his Corona. Finding it, he crawled on his hands and knees feeling for the pile of sticks that had been the camp fire. When he reached the spot he gently tapped the pile with his Corona. The sword sparked and hissed but no flame was born.

"What the hell? The sticks are wet, I can't get a fire started. Damnit, I hate you guys!" In a rage, Oz threw is Corona into the dark, hoping to strike at least one of the others. Instead, it landed in some dry brush and sparked a small fire.

"Now you can relight the fire," the dark-haired man said.

"I can't find my Hydra Bite," the woman announced. Well isn't that a crying shame, Oz thought. He smiled to himself. "Your companions have turned on you at last," he said to her.

She turned to the two men. "Come on, guys where's my Hydra Bite?"

"Where did you leave it?" the light-haired man asked.

"I left it right next to me when I was sleeping. When I went to get it there was a stick and a rock in the exact spot I left the sword and shield in. Oz, did you take my sword and shield?"

"No," said Oz, "but now you know how I felt when you replaced my canteen water with sand or put dung all over my barrel bombs or woke up that Diablos when I was carrying that egg. It makes me happy to see you suffer. I hope you never find your stupid weapon."

The next day was much like the day before. The fire had been extinguished and more items were missing. This time it was the light-haired man's pack. Oz figured that they were bored with playing pranks on him and had turned on one another. This time, however, he was determined to catch them in the act.

Oz set up his own camp fire and pretended to sleep. He was ever watchful of the others who never moved while in their slumber. He was wondering how the practical joker would rouse himself from sleep without waking the others.

Oz nodded off, but was awakened by a quiet disturbance in the water. Almost too quiet to hear, a large - a very large shape moved out of the water and onto the ground. Oz's heart knocked in his chest like it was trying to escape. He looked up at the Plesioth looming over him. Oz almost cried out but he was both too frightened and too curious of the plesioth's intentions. The monster reached down and deftly picked up an object in its mouth. It was the dark-haired man's Paladin shield. It sauntered back into the water and slipped quietly in.

It resurfaced moments later with a boulder in its jaws. Oz was impressed that it was extremely quiet despite its size. To Oz's amazement the ples put the boulder in the same spot from which it had stolen the shield. The monster squirt a narrow stream of water from its mouth and put out the fire of the three hunters. It did the same to Oz's fire.

The dark-haired hunter caused quite a stir when he discovered his missing shield. He cursed, threatened, stomped around, huffed, and puffed. Oz blocked it out, for he was quietly contemplating a plan that would allow him to get some measure of payback on the three pranksters. He said nothing of the plesioth in the lake nor anything about what he witnessed last night. Instead he thought of the atrocities they'd committed against him. Scarabs in his armor, mud in his boots, a push into a snake pit, throwing his backpack into a pack of feeding genprey, a wyvern fang placed under his butt while sitting down, and other atrocities.

Like the night before Oz segregated himself from the others. When they were sound asleep, Oz got to work. He lit nearly a dozen camp fires and set out a pot containing frogs and sleep herbs. Then he waited.

The ples came out of the water so quietly that Oz hadn't noticed until he heard the scraping of the pot against the ground. The ples scooped the pot and leaned its enormous head back, swallowing all the frogs and sleep herbs in one gulp. It returned to the water and disappeared with the pot. It returned with another boulder and placed it where the pot was. It then went about the task of extinguishing the fires one by one.

Oz wondered if he'd set enough fires to keep the ples busy long enough to allow the sleep herbs to take effect while the ples was still on land. When there were but four fires remaining the ples slumped down to the ground and was out cold. Even better than Oz could have hoped for, the sleeping ples was within arm’s reach of the three hunters. He gathered up his belongings and left the cave.

Oz remained at the mouth of the cave for the rest of the night. He made plans to eventually return at some future time and find the ples’s den so that he could retrieve his other belongings and whatever else the ples had stolen. He wondered how long that particular animal had been doing it. Months? Decades? Oz considered that the old fairy tales of dragons hording treasure might have had some factual basis.

He watched the sun come up in the most spectacular color display of any sunrise he'd seen in a long time. Shortly thereafter, the sounds of screaming, yelling, and hysteria came from the cave. Oz laughed out loud and headed home.