Must Love Dice, Part 1Feb 01
‘Meddling fool!” Nicodamion snarled. Limned with arcane lightning, his fingers tracing the sigils of the Infernus Charm in the air before him. “You will not keep the Eye of Thaumastor from me!” Spittle flew from his upper lip, dewing in his scraggly necromancer beard.
Cannick Candlecrown somersaulted clear of the wizard’s fiery blast. He was scuffed, bruised and slightly disoriented, but not seriously harmed. Rex, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well; he was blown into the palace courtyard’s far wall by the explosion, collapsing in a heap of clockwork, broken brick and dust. Though Rex looked like a gnome – mostly – he was an automaton, and his gears whirred and clicked as he attempted to regain his feet.
“CANNICK,” the gnomebot intoned, “REQUEST: AFFECT DEFEAT STRATEGY. SUBJECT: EVIL WIZARD NICODAMION THE NIGHTWISHER.”
Crouched behind a bronze statue of a rampant hippocorn, Cannick assessed the situation. Mere, the warrior, was down. Axel the dwarf was hunched over Mere’s unconscious, armored bulk, trying to get him back on his fumbling feet. Nathalie and Drasus were engaged with the wizard’s bugbear henchmen and Rex…well, Rex was typically useless anyway. It was risky, but there was no other way. Cannick had to defeat the Nightwisher singlehandedly. He hated wizards.
Muttering a quick spell to invoke his own wizardly gifts and smirking at his own hypocrisy, the mage/thief rolled between the hippocorn statue’s legs and sprung forward at the enemy caster. He was counting on winning the opposed Bluff roll, which would give him a tactical advantage that made it easier to hit his intended mark and to also deal bonus damage. The pale blue fire of his enchantment danced up the blades of his twin mastercraft longswords as he drove the +3 weapons, which were gifted to him by the master of his old Thieves’ Guild (an organization that Cannick now opposed in the wake of his alignment change), in for the kill with a wicked SLAM.
STOMP. STOMP. STOMP.
We all looked up from the table.
The noise was the heavy, deliberate tread of someone descending the stairs into Dreiser’s basement. I knew who it was. Looking around the table, I saw that everyone else knew it too. Corey mouthed, “Something wicked this way comes” as we made eye contact. Dreiser made himself busy, scribbling notes behind his Dungeon Master screen. Jennie made herself small, her body trying to will itself into inconspicuousness. Ron just kept looking at Cannick’s character sheet, d20 held firmly in his right hand, ready to throw the die just before the interruption. The tension in the room was half concern for Ron, half concern that the week’s game session had just been ruined. At least, that’s what I was feeling. He just keep looking at Cannick’s sheet, at Dreiser’s hand-drawn maps, at the initiative chart Corey had jotted down for reference. Looking up acknowledged that something was wrong. Looking up gave her the win.
The footsteps stopped. She was here now. Five and a half feet of torment, dressed in Forever 21 and a permanent scowl that could kill the Nightwisher for us. Sam.
Dreiser dared to peek up from behind his screen, proffering a weak wave. “Hi, Samantha.” Sam, thin-lipped, spat out “Martin” as if it were a gypsy curse, then leveled her glare at Ron. “We need to talk. Now.”
“We need to talk,” is the last cigarette of male-female relationships. It always comes about a month too late for actual talking to do any good. It meant, “I’m about to destroy you verbally, but let’s call it a talk so you can save a little face.” I’m married, so maybe I’m not qualified to talk about failed relationships. But they didn’t all work out, right? I know a little something about this maybe.
There’s a pause. The air’s got weight to it. We were all not looking at Samantha so hard that it’s like we were staring straight at her. She cleared her throat.
This is how much of a bitch Sam is. She can’t even wait until this encounter is over before dumping our striker.
Wordless, Ron pushed his chair back, stood and let the die fly onto the table with an air of forced nonchalance, like being called out in the middle of ‘guys’ night out’ by his fiance was not a huge deal. He was already heading up the stairs – the plodding gait that shouted “Dead man walking!”- when the d20 stopped spinning, the ’20’ face up.
A critical hit.
While Sam was outside eviscerating Ron, Cannick Candlecrown was doing the same to the Nightwisher, his enchanted blades driving into the ancient wizard’s gut, the last vestiges of his unnatural life spilling out onto the base of the bright metallic hippocorn in front of him.
Justin, who we all just ignored a lot of the time, let out a whoop. Which might have been the second most awkward moment of the evening. A few minutes passed in silence and a round of anxious glances. Dreiser and Jennie and I were the ones who’d known Ron longest – we’d picked up Justin up in college and Corey less than six months ago when he moved here from Brooklyn. The two of them looked at us for guidance on what to do next. I looked at Dreiser because Martin was Ron’s best friend. Dreiser looked at Jennie because she was the only person in the room smarter than he was and also the only one who might know Ron better than he did.
I was fed up with inaction, so I said, “Axel uses his Axe of Severing to behead the wizard’s corpse.” That thing I said about me knowing things? Disregard that.
Jennie smacked me in the back of the head and stage whispered, “Shut up, Matt.” Dreiser made more notes.
Ron came back fifteen minutes later. Having decided to roll for treasure next week, we were packing up for the night when the basement door opened again. He looked drained, like he’d just fought a ghoul. The opening was there for us to ask him how he was, but we weren’t the kind of friends you talked about your feelings with. We were the guys.
Justin explained the outcome of the fight to Ron, who seemed completely detached from the whole thing. Justin high-fived him and Ron put on a fake smile and doled out the customary hand slaps and respect knuckles that came with the defeat of a major antagonist. We could pretend all was right with the world.