The inside of the house somehow looked even larger than the outside. Even with a running jump, I didn’t think I could touch the ceiling of the hallway, and the air was much cooler in here than outside. I wasn’t a stranger to air conditioning, but it had to cost a small fortune to run it for a building this size, with all this space.
“So, you’re one of Domenic’s friends?” Keith didn’t turn to look at me, nor did he hide the distrust in his voice.
Jealous, much? “Uh, more like a friend of Beatrice, I think. It’s a long story, but he made your game night sound like so much fun!” He still refused to look at me, but he cringed as if the feminine sound of my voice was nails on the chalkboard of his mind. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m not very good at video games.” Though I’ll have still to sandbag, so they don’t suspect I have powers. I hate sandbagging.
“Humph,” Keith finally stopped to look at me. I decided that my secret identity would be shy, so I cringed back from being glared at by this tall, decent-looking guy. “We’re not playing video games.”
Ooh, nerve struck. “Oh,” I pretended to be confused. Hope I’m not coming across as too ditzy. “But I thought we were playing games.”
“We’re playing tabletop games.” Keith turned and began walking away from me. “We’re real gamers, using our minds, rather than a machine to do all the work for us.” He stayed silent for a moment, then started up a rant that he must have memorized. “Video games are just a way for stupid people to pretend they’re smart, nothing more. You see it time and time again, the dumber the entertainment, the more people love it. It’s why football’s more popular than chess, and hip-hop more than Mozart.”
What’s Mozart? Oh well, as long as he doesn’t know I don’t know, I’m safe. “Oh. So what are we playing? Domenic said something about dungeons and dragons, and he’s not sure if you’re still doing that campaign?”
“D&D is the first true RPG,” Keith said. “We don’t have time to cover the history, but suffice it to say it’s loosely based off Tolkien’s novels, as well as taking inspiration from most of the world’s ancient mythology, and more than a handful of newer fantasy concepts. I prefer sticking to pure fantasy fiction for D&D, if only because there are much better settings and systems for all your other gaming needs. D&D’s meant for high fantasy, so we play high fantasy.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, and unless everything I knew about this guy was wrong, that was what he wanted. “I wasn’t allowed to read fantasy growing up.” Perhaps the most honest thing I would ever say to this guy.
The conversation was spared more awkwardness by a different sort of awkward coming out of another room.
“Oh!” The new guy was shorter than me, with dirty blond hair. He wasn’t ugly, save for the usual spatter of teen acne, and might even have been a bronze medal for some girl who couldn’t get better. “Uh.” He stared at me, his mouth hanging open just a little, which killed all possible attractiveness.
Keith’s body language made it clear he was expecting something like this to happen. “Oh, this is Roger. Roger, meet Lee. She’s Domenic’s guest.” If words could kill, he’d have wiped out half the city right then. “And to answer your other question? We’re still on Broken Gate campaign. I haven’t party-wiped them. Yet.”
Roger smiled at me, a weird blend of proud and afraid. “I’m the only one whose character hasn’t died, now that Dom’s char got himself Embraced. The streak’s alive!” He looked at me like he expected me to be impressed, but I still had zero clue what either of them were talking about.
“Only because you optimize your characters to the point that they’re practically indestructible.”
“Hey, I’m playing a bard, how do you make a bard overpowered?” I may not have known what they were talking about, but I knew the shit-eating grin on Roger’s face.
“I don’t know, how did you?” Keith’s tone, while annoyed, was far less harsh than what he used with me. “Next game, you’re banned from prestige classes and anything with more than half spell progression. Maybe then it’ll be a balanced game.”
“Hey, not my fault I’m the only one who actually reads the books. At least I finally got Dan to spruce up his fighter.” Roger’s smile faltered when he looked at me. “Uh, I, well, I’m so good at the game that Keith keeps having to come up with new handicaps so I don’t outshine the rest of the party. It’s the best compliment, and a great way to improve my skills.”
Huh, when he puts it that way, it sounds pretty bad ass. I almost respected the guy. Almost. “Umm, I don’t know how to play at all.”
Roger’s smile only got wider. “Oh, that’s okay, you can borrow Melenis! She’s a dark elf rogue and has been in NPC mode ever since Julie left, and that was four levels ago. I’ve been trying to get Keith to let her take some special options, so she’d be less underpowered, but if you take control of the character, you can build anything you want! How do you feel about spider queens?”
Keith cleared his throat. “She’s a guest, there’s no guarantee she’ll be coming back, right?”
“Well, if she doesn’t get a chance to play a character she likes, she’ll never want to come back,” Roger said. “But even if she doesn’t, we’re due a level by the end of the night and all the prereqs are there, already. And everyone loves goth assassins with spider powers, right?”
I have no idea what anybody’s saying, but I can get behind spider-goth assassins. If I’d thought about it, I might even have used that as a theme back before I was captured. “Umm, spiders are pretty cool.”
“Really?!” Roger hopped like someone kicked him in the rear and he liked it. “Come on! I’ve gotta show you my girls!” He grabbed my wrist and started pulling me along. “Don’t worry, it always takes like half an hour to set up the game, they won’t miss us!”
I let myself be pulled along, if only because it annoyed Keith and that was going to be my main source of entertainment for the night. Bonus points if I manage to annoy Dom at the same time. No, that’s a bad idea. I’ll play nice. Somehow, I didn’t think Dom or anyone else would mind too much if I kept annoying Keith.
Our trip didn’t take too long, and we wound up in the sort of bedroom that could only have belonged to a teen boy. A rich teen boy, at that, with a TV as tall as I was in one of the corners of the room. The human odors of dirty clothes were there, but overpowered by a wet, earthy smell from the other corner.
Robert put his hand on that far wall and slid the well hidden closet door open to reveal the glass wall of a huge aquarium. Inside was a couple large branches which looked like driftwood, covered in webbing. On one of the branches, I caught the hint of bright metallic blue.
“Sorry, girls, I know it’s late, but we’ve got a new friend for you to meet.” As he cooed, Roger opened the lid and reached his arm over the edge. As short as he was, he had to stand on his toes to get his arm in, and proved the aquarium was plastic rather than glass by the simple fact that it bent rather than shattered. “Come on out, if you’re good I’ll give you some alone time with your boyfriend. Just promise not to eat this one, okay?”
I waited and watched as best I could as he slowly lifted something out of the cage while cooing at it. When he turned, he held a beautiful metallic blue spider in both of his hands. I’d seen a tarantula or two, so I knew that’s what it was, but I thought they were all browns and grays, not a shimmering blue that would have been at home on a sport’s car. “Lee, meet Charlie. She’s a Poecilotheria metallica, or a pokie as they’re called by enthusiasts.”
I know that as a girl I’m supposed to be terrified of anything creepy-crawly, but screaming my head off over a creature smaller and less dangerous than a damn chihuahua is so beneath me that I’d rather die first. My dignity had suffered enough these last couple months, and I wasn’t going to take more of it here. “She’s gorgeous.”
The look on Roger’s face was downright pathetic, as he smiled and his eyes began watering all at the same time. “Would you like to hold her?”
“Uh, sure, why not?” I held my hands for him to drop the shiny creature in them.
“No sudden movements, okay?” He seemed to be talking more to the spider than to me, as he brought his hands toward mine an inch at a time. “She’s not as skittish as she used to be. Most of them get pretty docile when they’re a few years old, but if she falls she could really hurt herself.”
As he spoke, he tilted his hands, and Charlie half-walked, quarter-fell, and was quarter-pushed into my hands. “She’s soft.” Of all the bugs I’d held, most were hard and crunchy, but Charlie felt a bit like a dog’s fur. The texture was off compared to animal hair, a weird feeling that reminded me of spaghetti noodles fresh from the box. The somewhat sticky sensation of her walking across my skin was about the only part which I expected.
Even after Roger put the spider in my hands, he didn’t take his hands away, which left his fingers brushing mine in a less-than-subtle way. “She’s the best thousand dollars I ever spent. Two thousand if you count all the boys she keeps eating.”
I used my thumb to brush her side, going with the prickly hairs rather than against them. She’d begun to wander around some on my hands, so I entertained myself by creating subtle scents on my skin, and watched where she wandered. The smells in the air, some of which I knew were ‘cricket’, and others must have been ‘tarantula’, helped inspire the chemicals I used. It didn’t take long before she was ‘sniffing’ along the direction I wanted her to go. “I like her already.”
“Really!?” The spider crouched down as Roger forgot himself for a second. “Want one? I uh, well, when I finally get her or her sister to breed I’m going to sell the slings. Even unsexed babies go for a couple hundred bucks, and with my equipment I should have no problem making lots of profit from the babies.”
He still hadn’t pulled his hands away from mine, and at this point it occurred to me that I’d dismembered people for less. It also crossed my mind that if he was willing to blow all this money on spiders, however pretty, he’d do almost anything if I showed him my tits. “Hmm, I’ll think about it later, but for now I can’t.”
His hands drew back a little, but not enough to break contact with me. “Why not?”
“Nowhere to put one,” I said. Something told me Chloe would have been less than happy about a pet tarantula, gorgeous as it was. “And I know nothing about caring for them. It’d be awful if I let one die.” I also got vibes from Roger that he’d feel like I owed him something for the gift.
“I’ll keep it for you!” And there’s the kicker. “I, uh, well I’ve got all the equipment and I can teach you how to care for tarantulas until you can take one home. You can come visit whenever you like.”
Oh, I’m sure I can. I looked up at him, while he kept his eyes either on the spider in my hands, or my chest, I wasn’t quite certain which. “That’s awfully generous of you.”
Now he looked at me, and a brief look of fear crossed his face. For a moment, I worried that I came across a little too harsh. “Uh, well, it’s not entirely generosity. I was going to ask if maybe you’d model the spiders for me?”
“Model. Spiders?” I had to admit, of all the ways guys hit on me, including more than one ‘modeling’ offer, this was a new one.
UncertainDreadSuspicion. And somewhere else, Domenic just found out I went missing. Well, he can’t say I’m doing anything wrong by holding a spider, can he?
“Uh, yeah, modeling,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of girls who like spiders, and having pictures, maybe videos, of a pretty girl handling some of them, it could be a way to go after a whole new customer base. And it works better with a model who actually likes them. People can tell who’s faking it.”
Maybe the shitty fakes. No one can figure me out unless I let them. “Well, I’ll think about it.” I pulled my hands away from Roger, to hold Charlie up near my face. I altered my breath to that peculiar blend of chemicals she seemed to love, though I had no clue what was so special about them. “How about it, Charlie, you wanna model with me?”
The spider acted as I knew she would, and reached out to paw at my lips. Sensing I was safe, and my scalp now had a heavy dose of the smells she liked, the spider began a climb up my face. I had to help push the slow-moving tarantula on her way, but it wasn’t too long before she decided my head was her new favorite place to be. She dug her feet into my hair and nestled in to take a nap. “I think she likes me.”
Roger stared up at me head in awe. “I’ve never seen her do that before.”
“Hey guys, Keith sa-” SurpriseDisbeliefDesire. Domenic stopped cold in the doorway to Roger’s room, his eyes going back and for between my face and Charlie’s resting spot. It was fun watching him stumble over his words and emotions. “Umm, the game’s going to start soon, so, well…”
“No! They’re not!” The other guy, the large one whose name I’d forgotten, started to push his way past Dom. There was hardly enough room for him to fit through the door, so Dom had to stumble into the room. “There’s no way in hell Roger tapped-” He stopped to stare at me. “Are… are you wearing Charlie?”
“I think she thinks I’m a bed.” I had no idea what tarantulas used as beds, but that was okay because I wasn’t supposed to.
“Hold it right there, I’m gonna go get Keith. He won’t believe me if he doesn’t see this for himself.” Without waiting for me to agree, Roger was out the door with far more speed than someone of his bulk seemed capable of. I concentrated on my hearing, taking it to the superhuman level. “You are not going to believe what they were really doing.”
I tilted my head up and smiled at Dom. DiscomfortDesireUncertain. Wow, impressing geeks is easy. All you have to do is be hot and wear a thousand dollar metallic blue tarantula as a hat.