Balboa wasn't my first character, but he was the first one to survive his initial adventure (his four predecessors having a combined lifespan of about two hours from dice to grave). He turned out to be quite the survivor, being the only character to make it out alive on a few different occasions. This is one of them, reconstructed from memory, and the notes of a certain long-lost thirteen-year-old (yes, I still have Balboa's character sheet), and retold as third-person prose.
Balboa shivered, despite the heat, sweating in his mail and gambeson. The small round shield sung over his back felt as though it were made of stone, and he ached to drop his haversack and leave it behind. Before him lay the long bridge, arcing over the chasm that bisected the cavernous chamber. Although it was a good four paces wide where it met the ledge, it narrowed as it went, so that at its center, it was perhaps a pace across. Just enough for the demon horse that guarded the way. The sooty black animal with smoldering eyes and iron hooves stood at the exact center of the bridge, silent and malevolent. Helea dashed towards it, staff held in both hands, brown hair flowing out behind her. Lithe and fleet in brass-decorated cuir bouilli, the half-Elfin maid raced up the bridge on a sprinter's legs. The demon horse didn't flinch, holding its ground as she closed the distance, just as it had with the others.
There was a sharp, metallic crack as Helea jammed the ferrule of her staff into a gap in the uneven flagstones. The staff bent, but did not break, and a moment later, Thelea was airborne, arcing gracefully through the air.
"That'a girl!" Thorgo crowed, raising his short-hafted great ax. "She's going to make it!"
Balboa thought that the horse smirked at him for a moment, just before it moved. It shook its head, and kicked out with its rear legs as Helea dropped towards the bridge behind it. Briefly, there was the sound of impact, as its hooves slammed into her back, followed by a loud crack, like a small stroke of lightning. And then there was nothing. The sounds echoed to nothingness back and forth from the gray stone walls. The bridge was again empty. Helea was gone; the horse was gone. Just like all the other times.
When they had entered the room, they had been seven - a mixed group of professional adventurers (although Balboa still considered himself an amateur) of many races and professions. But now there were only two of them left, the Halfling Balboa and the Dwarf Thorgo, both of them men-at-arms. They'd fought and snuck and wandered this far, through an underground labyrinth that had promised treasure, but had simply lead them deeper and farther from the entrance. They'd entered this room through a massive door, wood bound with iron, that had swung open to reveal a great chamber as large as an amphitheater, lit by massive bonfires that rested in giant metal bowls that seemed to float effortlessly high above their heads.
The horse had been there then, standing calmly at its post at the center of the bridge, and everyone realized it was trouble. Lacking tack, harness or bridle, it merely stood and observed them through impassive eyes. They looked over the ledge into the chasm, and debated how deep it might be. At first glance however, Balboa knew it to be bottomless. Nothing that black could be anything but a void.
Realizing that the only way to the door on the opposite side of the room was across the bridge, they resolved to cross it - by force if need be. Dramen ventured forth, hoping to lure the animal far enough forward that they could all engage it. Everyone readied themselves, but no one follow him. (Balboa never understood why.) The horse merely stood in place. Dramen was able to get within arm's length without it reacting to him in the slightest. Perhaps thinking it stuffed, an illusion or a well-crafted replica, he reached out to touch it. And, just like that, with a clap of thunder, they were gone, horse and man both. Several seconds passed, and the horse reappeared, alone, at the center of the bridge. Balboa and the others waited, but Dramen was never seen again.
And, one after another, others braved the bridge, and were lost. Once it was down to the three of them, Balboa, Helea and Thorgo, they'd discussed going back, but it had been hard enough getting this far when they had been seven. Going back as three, they decided, would have been suicide.
After several moments, as in all the other times, the horse reappeared, alone. Thorgo suddenly charged the beast, shouting Dwarven obscenities and waving his ax like a madman. His heavy boots pounded out a drumbeat on the bridge that echoed faintly from the distant walls. Almost before he realized what he was doing, Balboa was racing after him, as rapidly as his short legs could carry him, bare feet quiet on the warm stones. Despite the Dwarf's heavier load, Balboa had no hope of catching him, although he closed the gap slightly. The Halfling remembered the naked sword in his hand, and somehow managed to slip it back into its scabbard while running. Ahead of him, Thorgo gave a war cry and lept into the air, swinging his ax with both hands in a vicious arc. The demon horse shifted slightly, its hooves seeming to strike sparks from the stones on which it stood. It leaned forward, and almost gently, head-butted the unrushing Dwarven warrior. Before Thorgo could rebound from the beast's head, Dwarf and animal alike were gone in another echoing peal of thunder.
Balboa fixed his gaze on the door that was now before him, and ran as hard as he could, ignoring Helea's staff where it lay forgotten along the side of the path. Ragged breathing sounded in his ears, but he couldn't spare the thought to recognize it as his own. He didn't even remember tripping and falling until he'd rolled once or twice, and was hastily scrambling back to his leathery feet, looking around wildly.
There was nothing but a broad ledge, paved with broad, uneven gray flagstones. Perhaps twenty yards away stood a giant wooden door, bound in iron. From behind him came a whinny.
He looked back, and there was the horse, back at its post in the center of the bridge. It was facing him, rather than the other way, but it didn't move. Balboa looked at the massive door that lead out of the chamber. His work was going to be cut out for him. But you only live once. He unslung his shield, and drew his short sword. Something made him bring the blade up before him in salute.
The horse nodded, and tapped the bridge with an iron hoof, as the small warrior, alone in the deep, went on his way.
RZ-007lc. Side of Republic.