"Rise from your grave once more, legendary hero! 'Tis not yet your time! Well, okay, so technically it is your time," the booming voice that resonated all around him in the complete darkness sounded a little less dramatic and more hesitant, "I may be cheating a little but it's not like he's never done anything wrong in his life either. In any case, he's not here and I am, so nobody can stop me."
"Um..." began Dem. The skeleton was surprised to hear his own voice, low-pitched, a little hollow and dull from rattling around in an empty skull. He jumped at the sound, suddenly afraid that he was being far too loud, as if he had accidentally sneezed in a library.
"Oh, I do apologise, this must all be rather confusing and maybe a little distressing for you. Do take a moment to get used to being alive again. If you can try and remember something, it'd be terribly useful, but don't push yourself if it's traumatic," said the voice, "We aren't in a hurry. I mean, the world might end soon, but it never pays to go charging in unprepared to save it and getting yourself killed again..."
"I was dead," muttered Dem, trying to look down at his bleached bone hands. As his eyes adjusted, he realised that there wasn't literally no light at all, maybe a few strange dancing motes of flame here and there, and he could just about see the moving outline of his own body. Of his conversation partner, there was no sign.
"Indeed you were. Anything else?"
"I sacrificed myself. To save everyone," the skeleton groaned and cradled his head as he tried to collect the scattered fragments of hazy memories that floated around his mind like the flames.
"Ah, I see he's still in your head, trying to warp the world to his way of thinking. No, Dem, I'm afraid I'm going to have to correct you there," the speaker replied, "You sacrificed yourself and your entire race to save a much larger race that you had no reason to care about and who won't even know you were there. Which would have been terribly noble and heroic of you all, except that you weren't given a choice in the matter."
"Oh yes, that's right..." pain shot through Dem's consciousness, a red-hot blade of light, enough to knock him backwards. He slammed into a jagged stone cave wall. Something dripped down his neck, "The voice asked me whether I really wanted to do it, but... I couldn't say 'no'. I can't remember why, it was just..."
"Impossible," said the voice, "As if the option simply wasn't there. The word 'no' had been taken away."
"How do you know about this?" the skeleton demanded, standing up and drawing his sword. He vaguely remembered being buried with it, and his battle reflexes were good enough that he picked it up without thinking, wielded it with perfect precision even in the darkness.
"It doesn't matter who I am or where I get my information from. I'm the one giving you the second chance. Or, more correctly, giving the true flow of destiny a second chance after a certain other person messed it up with his stupid sentiment," snapped the voice, "When you step out of this cave, you'll find yourself in an unfamiliar world, so you need to be prepared. I've transported you back in time, you see, a long time before any of this ever happened. You can't directly undo what was done to you, I'm afraid - he will still be there and it will only happen again - so I've brought you back to a point where something can actually be done about it. You see, at the current date and time, our Narrator friend - he calls himself the Narrator, by the way - has just made a very dangerous enemy, someone who might actually be powerful enough to track him down and take him out."
"I can defeat the man who did this to me?" repeated Dem.
"He is going to meet a very horrifying fate indeed," said the voice, "For he has angered Great Cthulhu."
"Wait, THE Cthulhu? The Elder God? He exists?"
"He is here right now on this planet, in person," said the voice, "He was awakened early from his sleep, his natural cycle interrupted in a way that drained his powers, but he has now recovered almost to his former glory."
"My enemy is stupid enough to wake up an Elder God early?"
"The awakening itself was not his doing, but he interfered in the end results, attempting to force Great Cthulhu into acting against his own wishes, trapping him on the planet to do the Narrator's own dirty work rather than watching him return to his previous business."
"To be fair on him, Cthulhu's business can't have been good for anyone else."
"But it was destined," snapped the voice, "And the Narrator's obsession with saving humans at all costs, no matter what the damage to the space-time continuum and the repercussions all over the Universe, is starting to annoy everyone. Humans are not that important or even numerous on a cosmic scale."
"Would Cthulhu really see me as an ally and not food?"
"Currently, he still relies a lot on faithful, strong companions. It is partly a result of what was done to him by the Narrator. And you are as strong as any of his other companions," explained the voice, "He will arrive soon and want to explore the cave out of curiosity. Usually there is a more traditional hero sleeping here, who would wake up and challenge Cthulhu to prove his worth. It took me a lot of time and effort to swap you around. It will be hard to resist the urge to simply play this role in his stead, but it's important that you speak to him honestly and persuade him to work together with you to defeat the Narrator. Your strength and his cosmic awareness should be enough between you to both locate his realm and defeat him. Now, go! My time here is growing short... I leave the rest to you…"
The mysterious voice became fainter as though it was receding into the distance, then Dem heard footsteps and saw the bobbing orange glow of torch lights. Sword still in hand, he stood confidently in the centre of the room, leaning back on his gravestone, and waited for the adventurers to step inside.
As the footsteps grew louder, bestial roars and eerie wailing broke the silence, followed by the sound of enormous claws clattering against steel weapons. One of the adventurers bellowed a battle cry in a language that was so far beyond Dem's comprehension that his mind reeled from trying to parse the alien sounds. Their voice came out a gurgle, as though their vocal chord structure wasn't quite humanoid, something that was probably necessary to pronounce any syllables of that language. Someone else with a higher-pitched voice began chanting the words of an eldritch incantation. As the chant reached a fevered crescendo, Dem heard an ominous rumbling from behind him. He was forced to duck behind the tombstone and cling on for dear life as a tidal wave large enough to touch the ceiling rolled in from nowhere, its frothing waters full of tentacles that writhed and grabbed at anything in their path, their origins unknown in the chaotic blackness under the water. Over the din of the crashing tide, Dem also heard a distinct 'meow', punctuated by the whine of a heavy laser gun, the type that Lita used to wield. The memory was so vivid that he suddenly believed, for a moment, that he was back home, with his own adventuring party, and that they were in some kind of danger that he needed to rush in and assist them with, rather than hiding and gawping like an idiot. As he sprung from behind his grave, sword pointed ahead, he realised his mistake. These weren't his old friends standing before him, slightly soggy and covered in blood and ectoplasm and stubborn tentacles. The first of them to approach him was a larger than average cat with fur that was mostly lime green with Bengal-like black stripes and a white underbelly. The feline immediately strode up to Dem, tail waving in confident curiosity. He regarded the skeletal swordsman with wide, pupil-less black eyes, sniffed the air, then blinked and sneezed.
"Be careful, Paws, I think that's the guardian of this cave!" called the blue-haired girl who reminded Dem of Sara. As far as he could work out, she was the powerful magician who had conjured the tidal wave. He could tell by the fact that she was the one who minded all the tentacles the least, even though the green-skinned swordsman seemed to have a face that was mostly made out of tentacles. Dem guessed that the fighter was supposed to be Cthulhu, although he seemed more humanoid and less insanity-inducing in appearance. He must still be low on power, surmised the skeleton, unless the legends of him are overblown.
"It's okay, meow," replied Paws the cat. His voice came out rather robotic-sounding, like the machine Lita had once invented to translate her speech into another language, until she had dismantled it in frustration after realising that everyone she knew spoke the same language. Dem guessed that it worked along the same principles. Without magic or a machine, how could a cat talk at all? It still didn't explain why Dem still said 'meow'.
"This is the sleeping legendary hero I was talking about, meow," explained Paws, "There appear four heroes in every cycle of destiny: the most important Ultharian in the Universe, their sword-wielding personal servant, a powerful magician and a newly awakened sleeping hero of legend. It's the same every time. Although there was the one time that the magician and the sleeping hero were the same thing and it got complicated..."
"But that's an Ultharian legend, and this skeleton doesn't look all too friendly," said the woman, "He's grinning like a madman and his eyes are all vacant."
"Um, that's what skeletons look like. Are you racist against skeletons or something?" asked Dem, "Maybe you're not the brave adventurers I was told to join after all..."
"See? I told you he was supposed to join us! And now you've offended him. Say you're sorry and you promise to let the cat ride on your shoulders as penance from now on!" demanded Paws.
"You're going to join us, huh? Just like that?" asked the green-skinned, betentacled man, walking forwards to join the cat, "Because there's always been a catch up until now. What is it? You wanna fight us so we can prove our worth? Please tell me you don't want me to perform some more selfless acts of heroism to prove our purity of heart, because this crap is really starting to get on my..."
"Oh no, I wouldn't be ridiculous enough to demand such a pointless waste of resources before the endgame of a major destiny-critical campaign," said Dem.
"What? You know about our quest already? Have you been scrying on us?" asked Cthulhu, "You haven't been peeking on us in the shower, have you?"
Dem shuddered to think what the man whose face looked like that had on under his bright red loincloth, "C... certainly not! The cat is right, I merely..."
"Don't call me a cat!" snapped Paws.
"... I merely share a destiny with you."
"In other words, there's something in it for you as well if I finish my quest," said the swordsman, folding his arms, "What is it? Revenge? Money? Some sort of quest endgame fetish? Ah, why should I care. Loot's communal and for adventuring expenses only, XP is shared, no going off and doing your own thing, any betrayals will result in fates worse than death involving cosmic horrors beyond your feeble mortal comprehension. Any questions?"
"Is it true that you're Cthulhu?"
"Yes, of course I am! What do I look like, a faulty Mindflayer?" Cthulhu shook his head in disgust, jostling his tentacles from side to side, "I thought you said you were up to speed on our quest."
"Only the bare bones," said Dem, before realising what an awful pun he had accidentally made.
"So you're saying that it's in your interest for our quest to go well, but then you claim that you don't know anything about our quest? Which one is it? Or is this some sort of hazy divine prophecy that you can't tell me about or it might affect the outcome of fate? Because I hate those as well," Cthulhu added.
"Well, yes and no," said Dem, "It's going to be difficult to explain. And we might want to find somewhere else to discuss the details. We have rather a powerful mutual enemy, I'm afraid, and he probably knows I'm here by now."