Roommates - Mini #8 (Strongholds and Sapiens)

Jun 5th, 2016
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  1. Roommates has moved! You can now read it at Archive of Our Own: http://archiveofourown.org/works/11250126/navigate
  3. Roommates - Mini #8 (Strongholds and Sapiens): http://i.imgur.com/o3OnWH9.png
  4. Inspired by Weaver's Five Nights at Freddy's Apartment AU: http://i.imgur.com/LnDJVNL.png
  5. Part of an ongoing series written for the /5N@F/ General Discussion Thread at /vg/.
  6. Sincerest thanks to Weaver (http://tgweaver.tumblr.com/) for all of the invaluable assistance in writing, proofreading, and editing this story as well as for illustrating the chapter title cards.
  7. Additionally, thanks to Systemeth (http://pastebin.com/u/Systemeth) for proofreading and editing this chapter.
  8. Questions or comments? Drop me an ask at http://roommatesau.tumblr.com/
  10. ---
  12. "Yoo-hoo, earth to Bonnie," Chica trills, jarring me from my thoughts. "I'm just as excited as you are to play again, but would you mind neatening up the living room while I finish up in the kitchen? Bonbon will be here any minute!"
  14. Looking up from my laptop, I realize I've been so absorbed in session planning that I've lost track of time. "Oh -- yeah, absolutely!" As I begin gathering my notes and books from the living room floor, I only just now notice the smell of cinnamon and sugar permeating the house like a sweet fog.
  16. "Man, Chica, whatever you've got going in the kitchen smells really good!"
  18. "Thank you! I've got two different kinds of cookies blazing in the oven -- snickerdoodle and chocolate chip," she replies, wiping her feathers on her apron. "Say -- are Foxy and Mike back from the store yet?"
  20. "Not yet." I tote my stack of game materials over to the dining room table, plopping it down in my usual chair. "Shit, it's getting late, too. What'd they go out for?"
  22. "Chips and root beer. We were down to two cans and you know that wasn't going to fly the way Bonbon drinks it."
  24. "Ah, yeah," I chuckle as I begin cleaning up the living room. "Soda, her one guilty pleasure. Still, the way she eats, she could probably drink motor oil by the gallon and still be healthier than the rest of us."
  26. "Bonnie, um, you don't think I eat too much, do you?" Chica asks.
  28. "Oh, of course not." Nope, not even going to begin to touch that one. "You're fine. Not an ounce of fat on your, uh, wings."
  30. She grins. "Oh, well, I try to keep a girlish figure," she says as she begins to dusting the table off with her feathers. "Why, I've just been so hungry lately. It's probably just the molting, you know?"
  32. "Sure, that's GOT to be it," I smoothly reply. "Rabbits go through the same thing when our dewlaps come in. It's that biological nesting thing Mother Nature equipped us with, right?"
  34. "Right! Exactly!" Chica cheerfully burbles before disappearing into the kitchen. It's bullshit and I think she knows it -- she can outeat two grown bears whether she's molting or she isn't, and I've even seen her do so. Still, whatever lets her sleep better at night; she certainly stays busy enough to keep the majority of her weight off so I guess it's not a problem.
  36. The door clicks open as I finish gathering the last of the pillows from the floor, returning them to their proper places atop the furniture. Foxy and Mike trot inside, loaded down with cases of soda and two large shopping bags full of chips.
  38. "We're back. I'm gonna go rinse off before we get started," Foxy grunts as he shoves one of the root beer boxes into my hands, sounding more annoyed than usual.
  40. Nodding, Mike kicks the door shut with his foot. "I don't blame you, Rackham." It's only as soon as Foxy walks past that I see he's completely covered in mud from the chest down.
  42. "Shit, what happened to him?" I ask as Mike and I carry the snacks into the kitchen, where Chica is hovering near the oven like an expectant mother.
  44. "It was actually kind of sad. We ran down to the corner store, and on our way back I guess Rackham wandered out a little too close to the road since it was in his blind spot. It rained pretty bad this morning, right?"
  46. "Oh geez." I can already see this one shaping up in my head. "He got sprayed with mud by one of the passing drivers?"
  48. "Worse," Mike replies as he finishes unpacking the chips and drinks onto the counter from the plastic bags. "He got sprayed with mud by Marion TWICE -- first when he whizzed by, then a second time when he backed up to apologize."
  50. Chica raises a wing sharply to her beak, sending more loose feathers fluttering. "Poor Foxy!"
  52. "Only Marion could be THAT oblivious," I sigh.
  54. "Oh, you haven't heard the best of it yet." Mike pinches the bridge of his nose. "Marion got out and insisted on giving us a ride to the convenience store, but he had to pick up some mail that needed a signature or something, so we had to ride all the way down to the post office. Which, of course, is like fifteen or twenty miles from here."
  56. I drag my paw down my face. "Of course. Never mind the fact you could have walked to the corner store, bought everything and still walked back in less time."
  58. "Our sentiments exactly. So on our way over Marion asks what our evening plans are, trying to make small talk -- you know how awkward he is. Rackham lets it slip that we're having a game night with friends."
  60. Realization waylays me. "The fool!" I cry out. "He told Marion? Oh god, no. Please tell me you're putting me on."
  62. "Oh, I wish," Mike replies, cracking open a warm can of root beer and downing it in just a few gulps. "Apparently Marion played D&D back in college. Still has his dice and miniatures and stuff, too."
  64. "D&D? We're playing Strongholds & Sapiens. What's D&D?" I quizzically cock my head, trying to figure out what it is that he's talking about.
  66. "Oh! Um -- a variant? Maybe?" Mike crumples up his can, tossing it in the kitchen wastebasket. "Uh, maybe I misheard him."
  68. "What's so bad about Marion coming over for game night?" Chica asks. "He could probably use the company, since his monthly gatherings at the front office are always so, um, underattended."
  70. Shooting Chica a look, I'm surprised to find out she's actually serious. "There's a REASON nobody goes to his parties," I reply as if I were having to explain basic math to a small child. "Marion's a huge wet blanket. He sucks all the fun out of the room. Besides, isn't there like, some kind of rule about the landlord and the tenants fraternizing or something?"
  72. "Apparently not. He pointedly asked if there was an extra seat at the table, so we couldn't exactly tell him no," Mike says in an almost apologetic tone. "He's headed to his apartment to grab his gear."
  74. "Kill me now," I groan, yanking at my ears in frustration. "I'm not nearly drunk enough for this shit."
  76. Gently gripping my shoulder, Chica spins me around to look at her. "Now Bonnie," she says in a reprimanding tone. "You're not supposed to drink at all, remember? Alcohol doesn't play nice with your pills!"
  78. "Yes, mom." Rolling my eyes, I slip free of Chica's grasp before turning to Mike. "So, uh, Mike! Don't you need a character sheet?"
  80. His eyes light up as he begins following me. "Yeah, absolutely. You'll have to hold my hand until I get the hang of it, since I'm all kinds of rusty."
  82. I grab his wrist and drag him over to the dining room table enthusiastically. "Well then, let's get started! That way we don't hold everyone up once they get here."
  84. "I meant the hand-holding thing figuratively," Mike jokes as we each take a seat. "By the way, I'm sorry in advance for being a total newbie without my own dice and stuff -- I'll pick up a set next time we're at the mall if you don't mind me borrowing some tonight."
  86. "Oh, please," I scoff. "I'll GIVE you dice. I keep the damn things in bulk thanks to Foxy always losing the ones I loan him. You got a favorite color?"
  88. "Well, I'm partial to green. At least let me pay you for them, though."
  90. "Mike, why do you gotta say thanks with your wallet every time someone does something nice for you?" I raise an eyebrow at him. "I could bring you a soda from the fridge and I swear you'd try to buy it off of me."
  92. He blushes, clearly flustered. "I don't like taking advantage of other people, Beanie. I make my own way in life."
  94. "That's noble, but you were kind of a hobo until just recently, right?" I argue. "Nobody's going to think poorly of you for not having a set of dice."
  96. Embarrassed, Mike focuses his attention on his character sheet. At a loss for words, I decide to drop it for now; I certainly don't want to make him feel like shit.
  98. "Uh, alright, so a lot's changed for fifth edition, Mike, but the core fundamentals are the same. Do you remember the basics, at least?"
  100. He squints as he turns the paper over in his hands. "I haven't ever played this specific system, but I know basically how roleplaying works. Are the others going to roll characters tonight too, or is it just me?"
  102. "No, it'll be everyone as well since we're starting a fresh campaign. With the exception of maybe Marion they're all familiar with 5E so it won't take as long for them," I answer. "We'll start with your class first. What do you usually play?"
  104. "Paladin."
  106. "Boy, that's you to a tee, isn't it," I comment as I crack the manual open, skimming to the appropriate section on paladins. "How about race? Wait, what am I asking? You've got to be a human."
  108. "I was actually thinking I might try something unusual!" Mike twirls his pencil around with enthusiasm. "What are my options?"
  110. "Mike, dude. Live a little. The whole point of a roleplaying game is to indulge in fantasy. Besides, you've even got the face for it -- well, sort of," I grin, poking one of his cheeks.
  112. "Oh, wow. Thanks."
  114. "Awww. I didn't hurt your feelings, did I?" I smooth his ruffled headfur a bit as he reluctantly pencils Human in for his race. "Aaaaand there you go. I'm telling you, you'll thank me later. Now, how about weapon proficiency?"
  118. "Thank you all so much for the invitation," Marion timidly offers as he skitters towards his seat, the last to arrive by a considerable margin. I resist the urge to groan out loud to his face -- not out of any kind of respect for him, but because I don't want a tongue-lashing from Chica and Fred for being disrespectful later.
  120. "No problem," I manage to reply with a forced smile. "Great of you to join us."
  122. He nestles his scarecrow-like body into his chair as he drops a large trunk onto the table. Considering his wiry, fragile arms, I'm surprised he was able to lug something so heavy-looking in without collapsing -- maybe that's what took him so damn long to get here.
  124. "I took the liberty of pre-preparing my character sheets before I arrived -- except the rolls of course. I wouldn't want to waste everyone's time creating something from scratch," Marion says. Then why the hell did you show up?
  126. "It's a little embarrassing to admit this, but on slow days at the office I've written up characters with the hopes of someday getting to play them with others," he continues as he opens up his case. "If I'd known there was a group meeting regularly right here in my very own apartment complex, ohhhh! You wouldn't have been able to keep me away!"
  128. How is that any different from us having problems keeping you away now? I shoot Foxy a glare to let him know of my displeasure, and to my slight satisfaction he wilts on the spot.
  130. Examining the marbled green dice I spotted him, Mike pipes up. "I can't say I'm surprised to hear you're the type, Marion. What sort of character do you play?"
  132. "All kinds," Marion boasts. "I can be whatever the party needs. You know, roleplaying is particularly interesting for me -- my people have a curious culture, and we see the wearing of masks as something sacred. To wear another's 'mask' is to become them, in a way. I suppose it's kind of difficult to explain, but that's part of the reason as to why I don't have a family name, for instance. Of course, there's--"
  134. "Yeah, yeah," Bonbon interrupts between mouthfuls of corn chips. "So can you play S&S without offending your tribal frog deity thing or not? Pretending to be something you aren't isn't like, wearing their mask?"
  136. "There's nowhere in our culture that says we can't wear the masks we ourselves make." Marion pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose(?) with one of his slender fingers. "Regardless, I have in my briefcase dozens of character sheets for each possible class. Whatever our team needs, I can provide with utmost proficiency."
  138. "That's a pretty big claim!" Foxy reaches for a snickerdoodle cookie off of one of the snack plates in front of us, which seems to serve as a signal for everyone else to do the same. "I should warn you though, house rules -- buccaneer is a totally valid class choice, and I've got exclusive dibs."
  140. "How fascinating! Does your group simply reflavor another class, or is it a custom addition entirely?" Marion asks as he nibbles at his own cookie like a squirrel eating an acorn.
  142. "The, uh, the first one." Foxy's ears flatten a little. "But I get to use my own miniatures and everything!" He tosses a pawful of his "custom" pirate figures onto the table for effect.
  144. "Charming!" Marion says, bending down to admire Foxy's dubious craftsmanship. "I can see you clearly put a lot of time and effort into painting these."
  146. Beaming at me, Foxy smugly crosses his arms. "Why, thank you! I'm proud of them myself."
  148. "Alright, are we ready to go then?" Chica asks, unzipping the pencil case she keeps her dice in.
  150. "I know I am." Setting his barely-eaten cookie aside, Marion riffles through his briefcase, pulling out folder after folder stuffed with character sheets.
  152. "Wow, you weren't kidding!" Bonbon gasps. "You, uh, you're not going to try to play all of those guys in one night, I hope."
  154. Marion finishes unloading the rest of his folders, fanning them out in front of himself. "I might," he jokingly replies. I hope. I hope he's joking.
  156. "Alright, guys, stat rolling time!" I announce, checking my session notes. "You can all roll as many times as you want, but please be mindful of time constraints. No 'saving' old rolls, no rolling dice individually. All the standard stuff. Any questions before we start?"
  158. Marion's hand shoots up. "Yes, actually; I still need to decide a character before I begin rolling. Mike, I see you're a paladin. And Rackham, you're a rogue?"
  160. "Buccaneer," Foxy corrects. "But yeah, essentially I'm a rogue."
  162. Our landlord discards several of his folders as he begins narrowing down his class choices. "Very well. Bonbon, you are...?"
  164. "Sorcerer," Bonbon says with a snap of her fingers. "I'm all about that crazy human magic, baby!"
  166. "Oh, what a fantastic decision!" Is there no ass this guy won't kiss?! "I do love it when a good magician's in the party -- it's not quite a campaign without one," Marion gushes.
  168. Bonbon gives Marion a slap on the back, sending his glasses flying. "Hell yeah! Now we're talking!"
  170. "I suppose I'll be the cleric," Chica says with a good-natured sigh. "They never let me play anything else."
  172. Frowning, Mike leans across the table to look at her blank sheet. "Wait, seriously? That's bullshit -- play what you want to play, Chichi."
  174. "Yeah, Chica, I had no idea you didn't like playing cleric!" Foxy announces abruptly, leaping to her defense. "What's the point of us doing any of this if you aren't having fun?"
  176. Nodding sympathetically, Bonbon pats her wing. "Same here! Why didn't you ever say anything?" she asks, backing over me with the bus Foxy just tossed me under.
  178. "Well, Bonnie always says the party has to have a healer." Chica casts an accusing look in my direction, and it's now my turn to crumble under her gaze. "It's fine, I'm used to it."
  180. Marion taps one of his folders authoritatively. "That's counter-productive to good spirit of the game." It's all I can do to keep from bouncing my dice bag off of the side of his smarmy head. "I'll make for a more than suitable cleric; I already have several set up. If our stronghold master will allow it, of course."
  182. "Fine by me," I answer as magnanimously as my wounded pride will allow. "Chica, what do you want to be?"
  184. "Barbarian!" Chica feistily declares, balling her wingtips into fists. "I'm totally gonna get in there and crack some skulls!"
  186. I look around the table; Mike and Bonbon are grinning with approval, Marion's amused, and Foxy seems... oh. Ohh. Well, I guess he'll be taking another shower later, though I imagine it'll probably be a cold one.
  188. "If you want, Chichi, please feel free to use one of mine; I don't name any of them," Marion offers, handing Chica a folder labeled "Barbarian".
  190. "Oh, thank you!" she says, thumbing through the stack. Unlike the plain black-and-white photocopies we always use, his character sheets are printed in full color on laminated cardstock -- probably stuff he uses for the complex's official business, if I had to guess. If it didn't mean humbling myself, I'd almost be tempted to ask him to make some for us too.
  192. "Well, Marion, I'm glad you were able to come by and spice things up tonight!" she says after finding one she likes. "It should be a really good game now, Bonnie, don't you think?"
  194. I wince. "The best."
  196. After tucking the remainder of his folders back in his case, Marion thunks an ornate wooden dice box down onto the table. My jaw drops when I notice the brand name etched on the side. I'm very familiar with the set -- it's from a limited edition online-only printing endorsed by the creators of Strongholds & Sapiens. The dice inside must have cost him the equivalent of three months' of my rent. I eye my own recently-purchased polyhedrals with embarrassment and envy, feeling like a day-one novice at my own game.
  198. It's going to be a long night.
  202. I'd initially alloted two hours for the session figuring everyone would be ready to call it quits by that point -- since that's usually about how long they last whenever I'm running a campaign. To my surprise, however, the party has not only ended up blazing through the game with ease, but there even seems to be some kind of enthusiastic energy amongst them. Bonbon's playing well off of Mike (though I can't help but wonder how much of that might be due to his character's race), Chica's having an absolute blast, Foxy's more into it than usual because of Chica, and Marion's playing with such grace and aplomb that I almost wonder if I'm pitching too soft at him.
  204. "You walk into an enormous cathedral," I announce in my patented Stronghold Master Voice. "The walls are covered in gorgeous, handwoven tapestries made of the finest silk in the realm; their surfaces depicting centuries-old tales of valor and legends of fury."
  206. "Avast!" says Foxy, rapping his hook on the table for effect. "Aye, but I wonder if those wouldn't fetch a high price on th' black market. Shame they're twice as tall as even the biggest sails on me ship."
  208. Marion does a dramatic little flourish. "Indeed, but be wary, brother Captain Sir Foxy. Remember the words of the great sage -- 'Greed is a bad creed'," says the guy with the titanium, laser-engraved dice.
  210. I'm not too thrilled about being interrupted in the middle of my big explanation of their surroundings, but at the same time, I'm not about to squelch characterization (even if Foxy's been playing basically the same character since our first ever game).
  212. "The moulding joining the walls to the ceiling is enhanced with shimmering golden trim. You can hear the ambient sounds of running water even as it flows beneath the polished glass floor."
  214. "Chica want touch the water." Gazing at the table as if she's really seeing the environment I'm describing, Chica snorts ferally. It's almost a little creepy how much she's gotten into this role. She presses her beak to the scratched-up surface of our dining room table, rolling her eyes to glare at me without even so much as moving her neck. I clear my throat a little, smiling awkwardly at her.
  216. She doesn't smile back.
  218. "Aaaalrighty then. Your nostrils are filled with the faint and distant smell of ash," I continue, scooting a little further away from her seat. "The cathedral itself is very round and very, very intimidating. Its circumference is dotted with a series of massive support pillars arranged in a hexagonal pattern, their carving perhaps Corinthian in style."
  220. "Keep a sharp eye out for traps," Mike declares somewhat uselessly -- I learned my lesson about over-reliance on traps years ago, and I've since learned a few new tricks to mix things up without having to resort to such amateur tactics. "Beanie, I'm gonna roll for a spot check."
  222. "Alrighty, go for it."
  224. "Oooh! Mike! Be sure to use your human thermal vision," Bonbon excitedly adds as she jabs his forearm. "Remember human race perks stack so I'll be using mine, too."
  226. "Humans don't have thermal vision," Mike replies.
  228. "Actually, they do." I tap one of my resource books for emphasis. "They've had it as a perk since 2E. Mike, everybody knows humans have thermal vision -- how else are they supposed to mate with each other since they're all colorblind?"
  230. "Wha-- what does that have to do with anything?" Mike asks, befuddled as he tumbles a die across the table, nailing his spot check.
  232. "Oh, I can teach you a TON about humans," Bonbon adds with a grin. "You've got so much to learn, Mike. Nice roll, by the way."
  234. "Thanks," he says with a wary grimace. "Uh, what do I see?"
  236. I clear my throat. "In the center of the room, just in front of the throne is a rainbow-colored dragon nearly eight stories tall, slumbering softly. Even one of its iridescent scales is the size of Captain Sir Foxy's buckler."
  238. "Bullshit!" Mike slaps his forehead. "You're kidding. How the hell did we not notice that thing walking in?!"
  240. "Arr, it'd explain th' smell o' ash," Foxy muses, still in his pirate voice. Even Haddock isn't quite as much of a ham; Marion's clearly enabling him.
  242. "Dragon?!" Chica's head jerks up from the table. "Chica HAAAAATE dragon!! Meat raw and not soft, NOT EAT!!"
  244. Reclining back in his chair, Marion clasps his hands across his chest with a snort. I cut my eyes at him as he smiles almost condescendingly.
  246. "Do you have anything to add, Marion?" I ask, my tone perhaps just a little pointed.
  248. "Oh, not at all," he replies. "I just find it to be a little, ah, sudden. I thought for certain you wouldn't go for such a, er, 'reveal' so early on, but I was basing that assumption on your initial pacing. Please, continue by all means."
  250. "You have a problem with my pacing, then?"
  252. "Not in the slightest, Bonita," he remarks patronizingly. "You're doing the best you can."
  254. Closing up my books, I fold down my screen. "You know what, on second thought -- why don't we go ahead and knock off here for the night?" I ask through gritted teeth, twitching the corners of my mouth upwards in the hopes that it'll convey something more akin to a smile than a predatory growl. "It's getting late, and I don't want Fred to get upset if we break curfew."
  256. "Awww," Bonbon whines. "I was having fun! Can't Mike's human and my human kick the dragon's ass before we call it quits?"
  258. "And can we loot its hoard?" asks Foxy. "Dragons always got a hoard, right?"
  260. I cut him a look. "That's racial profiling, Foxy. Anyway, thanks for coming out, everybody!"
  262. Marion begins gathering up his ludicrously expensive S&S shit that I totally don't hate him for into his briefcase. "Oh, by all means," he says, whistling softly. "You've been a most gracious host. What time is next week's session?"
  264. Hopefully never. "Let me get back to you on that," I reply amiably.
  266. "Please do." Marion's making deliberate eye contact with me as he heads for the door. "If I don't hear back from you, I'll just assume the time's the same. Chica, your snickerdoodle cookies were delicious, by the way! I'll be sure to give gifts of my own along for the next session -- perhaps some of my famous seven-layer dip."
  268. "Chica very happy you like," she grunts, slapping her wing at the surface of the table as if she were digging a hole. Marion and Bonbon chuckle as they walk out the front door.
  270. "Game's over, Chica. You can stop now," I mutter as they leave. The second they're outside, I get up from the table and quickly storm off to my room in disgust, not even bothering to take my stuff.
  274. There's a gentle tap-tap at the door to my room -- it's not a muffled thump, so it can't be Chica and Fred's already asleep at this hour.
  276. "Shouldn't you be sniffing Chica's panties or something, Foxy?" I mutter, not even bothering to look up from my laptop screen.
  278. "WOW, Beanie." A chill runs down my spine -- that's not Foxy's voice. I slowly set my computer aside and slink over to the door, cracking it open. Mike's standing outside, a cardboard box in his hands full of game supplies. "Just wanted to return your stuff so that Chichi could make sure the table was cleared off for breakfast in the morning. What, uh, what was that just now about Rackham?"
  280. "Oh, shit. You heard that?" My ears flop back against my head in shame as I open the door for Mike to step inside, a curious look etched across his features. "I, uh -- I'm so sorry, Mike. I guess Marion just got under my skin a little. Please, PLEASE don't repeat what I just said to Foxy or Chica; it'd break both of their hearts."
  282. "Well, your voice was rather muffled -- sounded like you asking Foxy for another of Chica's cookies?" he says with a wink, walking into my room.
  284. I relax slightly. "Hah. Thanks."
  286. "If it's any consolation, apparently you're not the only one Marion aggravates -- why do you think he hasn't been able to find a group?" Mike quips, gently setting the box on my desk as I plop down on my bed.
  288. "Ugh. I know, right? He's a jackass -- him and his stupid fancy dice he's bought with OUR rent money, and his custom embossed sheets and his folders and his smug little glasses and him giving me shit about my narrative style..." I tug at my ears, exhaling in frustration. "I guess it all just kind of stirred up some feelings in me I thought I'd more or less buried."
  290. Mike quietly sits on the bed next to me, prompting me to continue. "Mike, I told you how my first session went a while back, if you remember."
  292. "Sure," he says. "Your home ec teacher stepped in to sort out a spat between you and the others, right? Mr. Carson or something like that?"
  294. "Homeroom, actually, and his name was Mr. Cawthon, but yeah," I sigh. "I guess -- I guess I've got one of those personality types that just, uh -- you know..."
  296. Sitting down on the bed next to me, Mike scratches his head. "Hah, I DO know. And I don't think any less of you for it -- as a game master or as a person. We've all had that one guy that rubs us raw if we let 'em. Hell, I'll let you in on a secret of my own, if you're willing to listen and you PROMISE not take offense."
  298. "Shoot," I reply.
  300. "I hated Bonworth at first," Mike says softly. "Like, absolutely hated him. I thought he was the world's biggest asshole."
  302. I blink. "Wait -- are you serious? Bonworth? As in my brother?!"
  304. "I wasn't used to his personality yet; I thought his hokey-joke cornpone-isms and ridit-dit-da-doo dance stuff was just -- I thought it was all some kind of bizarre, insane facade that he used to lure people in or something. I was convinced he was hiding something sinister behind it all."
  306. "Oh, wow," I reply. "Yeah, no -- less cartoon villain, more lovable goofball."
  308. "I know that now," Mike grins. "Now that we've gotten to know each other, he kind of feels like the cousin I never had."
  310. I take a moment to process this information before responding. "So you're telling me that just like how you saw my brother at first, Marion isn't the ass I'm making him out to be?"
  312. "Hell no," Mike says. "Marion's three times the ass you're making him out to be."
  314. I laugh involuntarily, wiping a tear from my eye. "Oh, wow. THAT took a turn I didn't expect -- here I was prepping for a lecture like my mom used to give me."
  316. "Nah, you're completely justified in not wanting him to come back," Mike says. "He takes the game way too seriously, he calls all the shots -- I felt like the party was following him around to bask in HIS glory and us having fun was just a side effect of it all. But maybe he does have a reason for being an ass. Put yourself in his weird, spindly little shoes for a second."
  318. "I'd rather not if it's all the same."
  320. "Well, I don't blame you there," he chuckles. "But really, think about it this way -- your brother has both you and his friends. Bonbon's bonded well with her own roommates, and my apartment's the same way -- even April's already made herself at home there in my absence. You've got your tight-knit little 'family' here with Fred, Rackham, and Chichi."
  322. "Ahhhh. I see what you mean. Marion, though..."
  324. "Exactly. Where does Marion belong? Like, where does he fit in? He's tucked away in his little box of an office up front, filing paperwork and managing a community that he's not a part of," Mike continues. "Your brother's probably the most company he gets when he's not out in his golf cart driving around to fix busted pipes or lease apartments. Tonight was probably the highlight of his week."
  326. Mike reaches into his pocket and pulls out the fistful of green dice I spotted him, carefully depositing them onto the bed beside me.
  328. "You should have heard how thrilled he sounded earlier when we were in the van with him after he'd shellacked Rackham with mud. When he heard we were roleplaying, he sounded like a kid who'd been invited to his first ever birthday party -- even if he basically invited himself." He idly rolls the d20 back and forth with his index finger. "Beanie, the guy has folders full of characters he's made and never played -- don't you think that's kind of sad?"
  330. I groan theatrically, flopping onto my back against the mattress. Mike's dice scatter like buckshot under the impact, bouncing all over the floor.
  332. "Uuuuuggh. Fine, I'll let him come back and play for another session," I grumble, swinging at the air out of frustration. "He can piss all over my SM style if that makes him feel like the big man."
  334. "Well, I've actually got an idea that'll address that very issue," Mike replies. I cock an eyebrow, interest piqued.
  336. "Do tell."
  338. Mike points over to the box full of supplies. "You said you ran your first game back in high school, right?"
  340. "Yeah," I reply. "What about it?"
  342. "How often do you actually PLAY?" Mike asks. "Chichi said she's always the cleric and I get the feeling that Rackham and Bonbon aren't the type to sit behind a screen while everyone else has fun."
  344. I avert my gaze. He's right -- I haven't played in years. Perhaps sensing that he's hit the nail on the head, he gives me a lopsided smile.
  346. "So here's what you do: ask Marion to run the next session. It'll give you an opportunity to have some fun of your own for once, and it'll give him a taste of his own medicine since you can freely heckle his own storytelling style."
  348. "Ohh!" I gasp. "Ohhh! Mike, that's brilliant -- gahhh, but it'll never work! I'm already the stronghold master for this campaign! If I foist it off on him, he'll know I'm mad at him."
  350. "Beanie, he ALREADY knows you're mad at him," Mike says. "We could all see it after you basically threw him and Bonbon out and stormed off to your room without saying good night."
  352. I cringe a little as I look up at him. "Yikes. Was it that obvious?"
  354. "Um, yeah. Yeah, it was," he replies bluntly. "But I think there's a way around it that'll let you look like a good sport."
  356. "I'm listening."
  358. "Be completely honest with him. Tell him you've been running games for years and you're wondering if he'd be willing to take over so that you could have a chance to play for once. You save face because it's obvious you know what you're doing -- after all, your party still plays with you and his doesn't." Mike leans back next to me. "Plus, with all those fancy sheets and dice I'm sure he's got all kinds of game master stuff he'd love to break out. He'll leap at the chance without even asking why."
  360. "That's just crazy enough it might work," I reply, clapping my paws together.
  362. "There you go. Ooh -- do you think you could roll up some really obnoxious character to grief him with?"
  364. I smile broadly for the first time all night. "One of the few times I played outside my group, my joke warrior 'Painbringer the Deathbun' always got laughs. Mostly from me due to all the loopholes 3rd edition had that I could exploit."
  366. "Bingo," Mike declares. "Bring Painhaver or whatever back as a 'legacy character' and run roughshod on his campaign with it. Either he leaves in a fit of rage or you humble him and actually have fun. Either way you win."
  368. The door to my room creaks open, and Fred pokes his head inside. "Bedtime," he says as he points at my wall clock for emphasis; sure enough, we're WELL past curfew. "If you two're gonna stay up anyway, you'd better leave the door open."
  370. "Oh, so you can listen to us make out? Fred, I didn't figure you for the voyeuristic type," Mike jokes.
  372. Fred cuts Mike a death glare that could wilt a tree, his heavy brow casting dark shadows over his eyes. I've seen that face before -- it's like the look of a wild animal ready to charge. Mike seems to read it well enough.
  374. "On -- on second thought I, um, I think I'd better get going," Mike stammers as he almost leaps off of my bed. "S-see you tomorrow, Beanie!"
  376. "Wise choice," the bear snarls as Mike almost trips over himself to squeeze through the gap between Fred and my doorframe.
  378. "That was so mean, Fred," I softly chuckle. I catch the faintest hint of a smirk playing at his muzzle as he closes the door to my room.
  380. As soon as they're both gone, I get up and head over to my bookcase to dig through my memento box. Painbringer's character sheet is still intact along with all of my other horribly min-maxed characters during my brief stint as a powergamer. I set to work figuring out how I'll convert her over to the new edition -- I might not have all of my old exploits, but I'm positive I can make something work.
  382. Reaching into my pocket, I pull out my cell phone, checking my speed dial numbers.
  384. "Hi, Bonita," Marion asks, picking up after just one ring. "Are we still on for next week?"
  386. "You bet we are." I'm fighting to keep my grin from creeping into my voice. "On that topic, I actually have an offer for you, if you're interested. Do you know anything about running a game as a stronghold master?"
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