The die skittered across the table and came to a stop just inches from Edwin’s Warlock figurine. He absentmindedly wrapped his hands in a protective cage around it; he’d spent hours painting it himself, and Stevie knew that.

Stevie’s Warlock had fallen over during the last move and hit his head. Lying prone at the feet of the mighty, fearsome Owlbear, he’d need to be quick to react if he was going to properly defend himself. Stevie glanced at the die, grinning. He’d rolled a 19. He could easily get out of this. He piped up “-3 for the fall and a -2 for being dazed. I’ve rolled a 14”.

Not too bad. Not bad at all.

Glaring at his friend, Edwin peered out from behind the makeshift cardboard screen and stuck out his tongue in a fashion unbefitting of a Dungeon Master, but he didn’t care.

“The Owlbear screeches and lurches forward, tearing at your throat with a razor-sharp talon. You grasp at the gaping wound, but it is no use – you bleed to death, drowning in a thick river of your own blood.”

The grin dropped from Stevie’s face like a shot. He stared at Edwin in disbelief. This was the second time he’d killed off his character within 20 minutes of starting a game.

“No fair!” he shouted.

Edwin rolled his eyes. “So sorry, Warlock; maybe you should bulk up on armor next time and leave the potions at home.”

From the other side of the table, Gretta and Jack exchanged looks; they knew better than to get between Edwin and Stevie when they were fighting, especially when Edwin was on a powertrip. Last time Stevie had mouthed off, they’d lost, and badly. Fortunately, their trusty DM seemed to be in high spirits.

The anger was blatant in Stevie’s clenched fists and reddening cheeks, but he recognized and acknowledged his impotence. Finding no refuge of mercy in Edwin’s heavy-hooded gaze, he slumped down in the dirty metal folding chair and blew an errant strand of hair from his eyes, defeated.

Folding his hands under his a pointed chin, Edwin grinned. There was nothing Stevie or anyone else could do; he had the perfect basement, he made the best figurines, he called the shots.

Breaking through the murky haze of the castle’s grey stone walls, a voice – a beautiful siren’s song of a voice – came over the private intercom, “Edwin, sweetheart, dinner!”

Huffing, he reached over, slapped the return button, and called back “alright darling, be up in a minute”.

Pushing away from the table, he leaned back in his chair and admired his handiwork: three perfect, handmade figurines. Their eyes darted back and forth, set deep and gaunt above painted grins. looking for signs, tells, anything. They came up short. A good DM never lets on his next move.
The green dye he’d been injecting just under Jack’s skin was starting to spread more equally to the rest of his body, giving him a more level, Troll-like tone. At first, it’d been rejected, forcing him to use surface paints, and that just been an awful mess. Removing a handful of teeth in random intervals had certainly helped, even if he’d choked on the first wave of fragments from the ball-peen hammer. He was ugly as sin now, but perfect to serve his purpose. Shaving the nose down to a flat stub had really sealed the deal.

Gretta had been more of a challenge; she’d been a real screamer, and he couldn’t have anything ruining his sessions. But he had to have a proper elf – no Party could be truly complete without one. Carefully, meticulously, he’d carved the ears into perfect little pinpoints. That and the blonde dye converting her hideous raven locks into a proper flaxen-gold had salvaged her, making her a proper addition to the guild.

Edwin’s eyes trailed off of her and back over to Stevie; dear, brazen Stevie, his bold and unrepentantly mouthy Warlock. He remained unchanged as of yet; his true form had managed to stay hidden under bold moves and tricky turns. But his time was coming – if the hydrochloric acid bath this weekend didn’t reveal the true nature of his magic, nothing would.

He sighed and got up, walking past his creations. Absently touching the fresh newspaper clippings on the wall, he smiled; he’d accomplished so much in just a few weeks. This new batch was holding up stronger than he ever could’ve dreamed for the last seven. Yes, he thought to himself, I’ve finally found a solid Party.

As the deadbolt slid into place, snuffing the light from the hidden room save for the flickering glow of candles, the brave Party heard a familiar scraping noise and raised their feet from the ground as much as their respective chains would allow. The Owlbear, a foul, wretched beast, was partial to chewing at their ankles when the Master left the room. The barbed splints nailed into its feet and blades slid into it shoulders made it hard to walk, but it managed to drag itself from the shadows for a hopeful treat every now and then.

Gretta’s eyes, wild and wide, flitted to the poster next to the newspaper article reflecting her own name and photo. A black and white portrait of an adorable tabbycat stared back – his name was Pepper. In the heart of the room’s shadows, the Owlbear let out a weak, hungry mewl.