Somehow, it’s become a daily thing, going over to Tabby’s. We’ve skipped going to Wayport Games at all, setting up our game in the late afternoon—after our office work, of course, which consists of mucking about at our desks and trying to focus on our paperwork, instead of dwelling on our D&D campaign—and playing into the night.
Time blurs, when we’re sitting on that velvet orange couch, and reality drops away (blessedly, considering that reality includes a velvet orange couch,) and it’s just me and Thymeus and the monsters and allies and dice whirling around us. Tevin. Me and Tevin, and an undercover police investigation. I think, sometimes, that we’re getting a little too deeply undercover, but then my mind seeps back down into that world, and I realize I’ve spend an hour tapping a pencil against my desk, staring blankly into space.
The die spills out of my hand, and my eyes fix on it as it bounces, catching the light. At the beginning, my heart beat to the dice’s bounce, my eyes straining to see whether my strike would land, my defense hold. Now, it no longer thrills me, but it fixes me just as surely.
“Twelve,” I mumble, not needing to check my character sheet anymore. I made the strike. This might be the last strike of the battle.
My eyes move to Tabby’s hand, to the dice she scoops up, shakes loosely in her hand, and tosses to the table. There’s no cheat in it. We’ve seen enough tosses to tell. It’s fair. We grunt our acknowledgement. The Cyclops failed his defense.
I stare down at the little metal figurine she plucks off the table, down at the felled Cyclops at my feet. It seems to me that Tabby used to narrate these things. It seems to me that there used to be a story she told as we played. Spellbinding, that story. But now we just roll and move. Killing things. Getting treasure. Gaining abilities. It was exciting, at first. It isn’t anymore, but I still can’t keep my mind off of it. It plays back everything we’ve done, everything that might happen, in constant loop.
At midnight, we notice the time, dully restate our usual line about work in the morning, rise and gather our things.
Suddenly Tabby’s hand is over mine, wrapping my hand around the small boxed set of dice I was setting back on the table. “Keep them,” she says, and I stare down at the dice, nodding tired acquiescence.
Where are my manners? “Thank you,” I say, pulling my gaze up to meet hers. She smiles, sleepy and dull, but pleased, her fingers going to the rim of her glasses. My mind sharpens for a moment, remembering that I’m looking for something. There is no glint as she straightens them. There is no enticement in her smile, no trap, only a tired fare-well. “You’re welcome,” she says, and then I’m walking out the door, the dice set clutched tight in my hand.
Why was I looking for a trap? I hold out my hand, barring Tevin’s way as he begins to move to the driver’s side of the car. I see a small box clutched in his hand as well. It clicks with shifting dice as he looks at me, tired and surprised. I don’t remember Tabby giving him his dice set. Strange. Seems I should have noticed.
“Ash?” he asks, and I realize my arm is still flung out in front of him.
“I was looking at her glasses,” I say slowly, trying to trace my thought back to its source. My arm falls back to its side.
“We decided a long time ago that that wasn’t a fascination,” Tevin says, moving around the car.
“It wasn’t,” I agree, getting in automatically. “It wasn’t… Tevin. I think we were looking for the wrong trap.”
“What trap weren’t we looking for?”
“The one we didn’t see,” I answer, irritated. What were we looking for? Dazzle and charm. Temptation. Allure. Lust. Yes, mind-blowing lust, sweeping through our bodies. We’ve stood against that, against the racking ache of need. Thirsts and hungers, we’ve stood up to. We’ve stood calm in the face of wrath, we’ve stood together through onslaughts of jealousy, discord, and chaos. “What is this trap?”
“There is no trap. It’s just a game,” he says tiredly, starting the car.
I shake my head. “But it isn’t, anymore. Don’t you see? It was one at first, but it’s… eroding.” Just like our entire mission. Just like my brain as I try to think about it.
“We’ll discuss it after a night’s sleep,” Tevin sighs, and I nod, looking down at the dice. I stare at them, trying to divine the answer. Roll and move forward. If only life were so simple. If my life is a game, its come to rest on a single turn.
Back at home, I can’t sleep, in spite of my exhaustion. I try to think, try to figure out what my next move is, to figure out why we’re stuck. What vice is this? I wonder as I roll the dice over and again, hoping the numbers will tell me something, like they do in the game. Hasn’t the church been long against dicing or some such? I know this isn’t about gambling. We’ve evaded that before. What is it?
I fall asleep and into dreams of sitting at Tabby’s coffee table, making roll after roll, gaining level after level, as the game itself falls to dust, and I realize we’re not playing anymore, just rolling the dice and reading off the numbers.
“There’s our real trouble,” I tell Thymeus, nudging the dice in the dirt with my sword. “Sin without pleasure. We’re deep in it now.”
“What sin?” he asks, bewildered.
I blink. “Fair point,” I say, and nudge the dice again. Everything comes up sixes. I pick up my little pyramidic four-sided die, trying to figure out how it got a six. The dice is too heavy in my hand. The suspicion is too heavy in my head. I drop both with a sigh.
To be continued.