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Snow-manji

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"Tonight will be the most epic of nights," Tycho said, arranging the screen in front of him, finding just the right angle. "A saga hewn into the ageless stone of civilization. A tale to be sung sweetly to wide-eyed babes still swaddled in their first fox furs." There was a way these things had to be done. Prepared. The party seated around the large table looked back at him in anticipation. "Your journey, gentlemen and elves, will take you through the vast Driftfall Mountains to aid King Durmark of the Tundra Halflings, whose kingdom is secreted away in the deep caves that riddle the highest peaks."

Small velvet bags were rustled against the tabletop. Painstakingly detailed figurines were clutched in anxious hands. Sheets of paper were shuffled and reshuffled. The time was opportune. Ripe.

"Limbs will be lost to frostbite. Dire creatures stalk the narrow paths through the range, desperate with insatiable hunger. And the snow spiders will soon be hatching." Tycho's voice boomed through the living room. "Tonight, gentlemen, the bitter wind of the Everwinter will howl in your ears."

Outside the warm house, lit by the garish decorations Gabe insisted on having at this time of year and the glow of the fire in the fireplace that none of them had started on purpose, snow began to fall.

 

"The Winterspawn attacks you, Bijou Spirit-Fingers, with his icicle talons." The die clunked across the table. "That's 25 against your AC."

"Ugh, that's a hit. Fuck you, Tycho. That's the third time in a row," said Gabe, marking his new hit points total on his sheet. It was much lower than when he started.

"He's just developed a taste for your tender elven flesh," Tycho said. The cackle was implied.

A loud screech interrupted Gabe's soon-to-be grousing. Like the sound of a sharp nail being dragged across glass, the sound clawed at their eardrums. The windows were dark and when Keiko got up to look, frost blurred his view. Keiko looked back at the group around the table and shrugged. "Probably just a tree branch. Who needs another drink?"

“Bring those Bagel Bites out here too,” called Gabe after him.

The wind outside groaned and the snow drifts piled higher.

 

“Wait, what’s that talisman do?” Gabe asked, pointing at the Snow Shaman on the map.

Tycho shifted in his chair. “It merely summons the newborn hatchlings of the deadly Driftfall snow spider.” His smile was wicked.

“And these snow spiders can...” Gabe trailed off, prompting for more detail.

“Well, a single bite from an adult snow spider can paralyze a Chidak wild ox, if that helps.”

“Fantastic,” said Gabe. Then behind him, the window shattered. Glass shards flew across the room and the biting wind pushed swirls of snow into the once-warm space. A few unmanly exclamations later, everyone was gathered around the broken window, peering out into the darkness.

“Sure has been snowing a lot,” observed Keiko. “ I should call my girlfriend and tell her I won’t be driving home,” he said, pulling out his phone.

Gabe shivered. “Guess we should cover this up with something. It’s kind of cold to leave this gaping open.”

“I don’t know, I think it’s more authentic this way,” said Tycho. “Also, that’s what she said.”

 

While Tycho arranged the new map - an intertwining maze of halfling caves - everyone else got a reprieve from their brief foray into manual labor. Bathroom breaks, drinks, food, more drinks. They also grabbed a few blankets to bring back to the living room. The boards they had put up over the broken window did little to stop the cold air from seeping in. Gabe went over to the thermostat to crank the heat.

"That should keep things toasty," he said, right before the power flickered out. "Uhh, who has some candles? Also matches. We're going to need matches."

"Don't light the occult candles!" Tycho called from the other room, still meticulously positioning figures on the table by touch alone.

"Why do you still have those?" Gabe asked, rummaging through a kitchen drawer, hoping that he hadn't picked the knife drawer by accident.

"You never know when you're going to need something occult. Or a candle for that matter." Tycho clapped his hands with glee after placing his last creature. "Let's get this game rolling. You don’t need to be able to see to play Dungeons and Dragons."

 

In the dim glow of the occult-free candles, Tycho peered out from behind his screen at the table before him. “The skeletons on the ground appear to be halfling in size and origin and the tattered remains of their garb indicates the same. The few stunted trees that circle the small windbreak have a pungent aroma.”

“Can I roll a nature check to see what the smell is?” asked Fehlauer, hand poised over the table, die in hand.

“Sure.”

The die skittered across the wood. “Eighteen.”

“It’s wolf urine,” Tycho said simply.

“Gross,” said Gabe.

“Oh shit, we’re in a wolf den,” said Fehlauer. “Guys, this is bad.” As Tycho reached for his wolf miniatures, there was a scratching at the boarded-up window. Then a sniffing. Perhaps even a snuffling.

Then, howling.

“Uhh, everyone else heard that right?” Gabe asked, looking around the table. They all nodded.

Some creature, large, by the sound of it, growled and began to throw its body against the wooden boards that covered the former window. Snow fell through the cracks and made a small pile on the floor.

“Are those fucking wolves? What the shit are wolves doing in suburbia?”

“Well, that’s what we get for encroaching on their natural-” Keiko’s rant was mercifully cut short by the sound of breaking wood and two massive wolves lunging through the now-open space and straight for Keiko’s feeble frame.

In the screaming aftermath, Gabe grabbed all the meat he could find in the fridge and hurled it at the wolves. Fehlauer had pulled his épée from somewhere and was prodding at the black, matted fur of the feeding beasts. Tycho stood on a chair and screamed. He also tried throwing some figurines at the wolves. They didn’t seem to notice.

Gabe clambered into the open window, two large steaks dangling from his hands. He whistled and the wolves picked their heads up and turned towards him, entrails still hanging from their jowls.

Gabe hesitated. “I... didn’t think this through.” He waved the steaks around. “Here doggies! Here boys, come eat the nice animal meat. Human meat is yucky. Come and get it!” He turned and ran through the snow and disappeared from view, the dire wolves bounding after him.

The wind was the only sound for several minutes until Gabe returned, cheeks pink with cold and exertion. Also he was bleeding, but only from one arm. “So that was fucked up, huh?” Gabe said as he gingerly sat down at the table once again. His remaining friends joined him. Tycho cleared his throat and rolled his dice.

That's when the snow spider descended from the shadows.

 

"I don't know why this could be happening," Tycho said, removing the chunks of spider carcass from his person. "I mean, sure I'm rolling with dice made from Yeti bones, but I don't know what that has to do with anything."

Gabe's jaw hung open. "You have dice made from the bones of a Yeti?"

"Yeah," Tycho shrugged.

"A Yeti? The Abomindable snowman? Sasquatch? JoBran the Man-Eater? Kang Admi? The Tibetan Meh-teh? You took it's bones and cut them into D&D dice?"

"Well, I didn't do it," Tycho said, looking impressed that Gabe had been able to remember that many names for anything besides his own penis. "I had a guy at the hobby shop make them."

"What the fuck is wrong with you?!" Gabe hollered. He stretched out his arms like he was going to choke Tycho. Then he remembered the wolf bites.

"I wanted to be authentic! And fuck you, I was rolling like a total pimp. Did you see that shit? These dice are baller. Ball-er," Tycho said, shaking the velvet bag at him.

"Those fucking dice summoned a blizzard and monsters, real goddamn monsters to our house." Gabe grabbed the bag from Tycho's hand. "And stop shaking them like that. God knows what they might do next."

Tycho pouted, eyes on the bag with the delicate dice inside. "Well, maybe you should have rolled better. I bet if you had killed that Snow Shaman when you had the chance, our house wouldn't buried under what appears to be countless feet of snow."

"Don't try to turn this around on me. You were the goddamn dungeon master. This is your mess." Gabe gestured around at the devastated living room and the dissected corpse of one of their former friends.

Tycho at least had the presence of mind to look sheepish about that.

"Where did you even get yeti bones?"

Tycho shrugged. "I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a sherpa."

"You're digging us out," ordered Gabe. "And shoveling the driveway." He tried to make his finger-point as menacing as possible.

"There is so much about you that I hate."

"I'm taking the dice too," Gabe said, holding up the bag still in his hand as he walked out of the room. He should probably put on a coat.

"Now you're just rubbing it in."

 

Several hours of backbreaking labor and two broken shovels later, Tycho had managed to dig a small tunnel from the front door to the apparent top of the snowbank. Their neighbor's yard had only a light dusting of snow, as if the blizzard really had been located above their house and theirs alone.

A dire wolf still prowled along where the end of the driveway would have been if it had not been covered in snow. Then, out of nowhere, a giant raven, or perhaps Giant Raven, swooped down from the sky, claws out, and attacked the wolf. The force of the impact sent the two creatures tumbling, but the Raven's beak was sharp and it made quick, bloody work of the wolf's neck.

Tycho looked away from the carnage to see Gabe next to him, the accursed dice in front of them in the snow. "Oh wow, these do roll good."

"See? I told you they were awesome."