He wasn't happy about it, either. Ellowyne Two had finally achieved in death what she had been unable to manage in life: his undivided, voluntary attention.
Well, somewhat voluntary.
"I can't read her thoughts anymore," he told me, "but..." He looked back over his shoulder at her. She tossed her ghost-hair and batted her eyelashes in a suitably ethereal fashion. "...she's a pretty open book."
In addition to their imaginary tea (Earl Grey does not sit well with either ghosts or vampires), Edward had gotten to work on cleaning up the Berry Happy Home for Wynnie. "It's disgusting," he said to me. "There are two different kinds of dust in there, grey and brown. I don't even know where brown dust comes from. And if you do, don't tell me. Which reminds me, I could use a fresh box of Swiffer cloths, if you've got one."
"Already?" I was doing my best to help by clearing old boxes of books and magazines out of the attic to make room. I was half certain we had a proper tea set in there somewhere, but had resolved to find one on eBay if not; right now, they were using plastic cups donated from Purple Arwen's pantry stash.
"A job worth doing is worth doing well," he said wearily, running a hand through his frazzled hair. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he'd just given himself a grey streak. A grey streak with brown highlights, even.
So you can imagine that he was not in the mood for Anna to renew her torments. She was clever, I'll give her that. She had escalated from taunting (although she was still doing that, too) and petty pranks to waiting until he was deep enough in his Scrubbing Bubbles and his own morbid thoughts to stop paying attention. Otherwise, he would have been able to hear Anna's thoughts, no matter how wily and silent her approach. Inevitably, he would drift away into some gloomy trance, and then POW! she would strike and run, a tiny Fauxmanian guerrilla. But physical suffering wasn't her game anymore--no, she was trying to provoke him into sealing his own fate. His next serious infraction, after all, would mean Go to Box Forever, Do Not Collect $200, Lose an Expensive Doll. I told her to cut that shit out, but I was busy enough with my own Real Human Big Person life (YES, REALLY) without having to babysit her. But I wasn't going to let asshaberdashery reign unchecked, either.
"Look, I am gonna warn you once: if you rile him up so bad he kills you, I will not punish him for it."
"YEAH. You are PROVOKING HIM. Stabbing someone in the head with a trident when they are trying to be good is what PROVOKING MEANS. So LEAVE HIM ALONE."
She threw back her shoulders and stared me defiantly in the eye. "When you lay me in my box to join the spirits of my ancestors, let my epitaph read: I REGRET NOTHING."
"You got it."
With that kind of attitude, she was lucky I happened to be nearby one particular afternoon. Edward had apparently drifted away on the dark currents of his own emo once more while scrubbing the baseboards in the upstairs hall, and by the time I heard his yell and had run up the stairs to intervene, he was choking Anna with one hand and struggling to wrench the trident away from her with the other and then I was yelling at both of them and trying to pull them apart and getting a noseful of florist's fork for my trouble--
"ALL RIGHT, that is IT, I have HAD IT."
Anna stopped panting and Edward stopped snarling long enough to look up at me. I fixed them with a glare so awful that they both realized I meant it this time. Sparklepire and sparklepire hunter alike waited for their punishment.
"We are going to do a team-building exercise," I said, "and we are going to LIKE IT."
"Have you ever run a Dungeons and Dragons game before?"
"Do you even know how to play?"
"I've played TWICE. And I used to really like reading the rule manual as a kid," I said. "Well, not so much the rules as the section on the monsters and the treasure. And I saw that video where the monster wants to know where the Mountain Dew is. I can totally hack this. I saw some generator widget things online--I'll whip us up a map in no time. Besides, it'll take so long to play that we'll have plenty of time to learn."
"I really don't think you can just--"
"Look, it's better than them killing each other, isn't it?" I hissed.
There was no way the entire Shelf could play, so I had to choose which dolls would be the best influence on both Anna and Edward, who were going to learn to get along come hell or high sparkle. And then I realized I'd have to take whoever I could get: Preparing for the Squirrelmageddon was still a favorite occupation, and you couldn't really argue with it after the Battle of Beagle Yard. I did prevail upon Elizabeth to join up, mostly because she was best at keeping Anna under control (and also, because Anna wouldn't ever be able to sit still if she thought Lizzie was off somewhere having fun without her). And of course, Lyra wanted to play, because Lyra always wants to play. On the other end of the spectrum, group activities aren't ever really to White Arwen's taste; she preferred stitching away at her banner and singing softly to herself. And Galadriel--advice to me aside--was still anxiously studying prophecies, unsure whether to worry more about dolls falling in battle or falling prey to each other. But surely there was some other Middle-earthian who had the time...?
Eowyn shifted uneasily. "I'd like to help out, but... I don't know that I should. I get a little claustrophobic... you couldn't have Wide Open Grasslands and Dragons?"
"You realize these are imaginary dungeons, right?"
"As much as I hate to say it, I'd probably be a lot more help in the kitchen. Arwen and Bella have been so busy with the lembas that we don't even get dinner on time anymore, I could get that started, I make a mean stew--"
"NO NO," broke in Helm's Deep Aragorn. "Fair lady, you are far too skilled in battle to be ANYWHERE NEAR A KITCHEN RANGE. You are far worthier of helping us with... war... stuff. Something. Anything other than dinner." He turned back to me. "So we'll all be off preparing for actual war. You civilians have fun."
I looked at Fugagorn. He shuddered. "I've already had my lifetime quota of dungeon experience, thank you."
"DUDE THE MINES OF MORIA WERE LIKE THE BEST PART OF THAT WHOLE TRIP," said Legolas, who pronounced my invitation "TOTALLY AWESOME" before going into a recitation of legendary feats, complete with sound effects.
Faramir Two watched Legolas reenact the WHOOSH WHIFF WHIFF BANG POWWW!! of a cave troll encounter for a good, solid minute. Then he raised his hand: "I could round out the group. I mean, I could stand to brush up on strategy."
Faramir One threw him A Look. "So... you anticipate being thrown into a squirrel dungeon?"
"A soldier of Gondor must always be prepared."
I noticed then that The Littlest Edward was watching from a distance, somewhat wistfully. I wasn't sure if he was lonely because he always felt left out of the battle-minded Shelfians' activities, or if because he was remembering the Cullen family game nights of yore.
"You wanna play?" He hemmed and hawed a little. "I'm sure they'd love for you to play--we can set up near the stable so you can keep an eye on the ponies."
"Enjoy Candyland for Losers," Little Bella grumped. I wasn't sure if she was secretly unhappy not to be invited, or just pissed that Little Edward was going off to do something with people other than her--which made me determined to make sure that he did.
So we ended up with a party of seven players, which seemed large but doable. As for the game itself, there was a such a bewilderment of editions and rules and classes that I decided, to hell with it--whatever the gang wanted to play, even if they made it up, they could play.
"I don't care."
"Edward, if you won't choose anything, I'll have to roll you a character, and you could end up with--"
"I DON'T CARE."
And so that's how we ended up with a gypsy paladin, a pirate rogue, an eladrin archer, a greenwood ranger, a human--
"I wanna be a catwoman!"
--a catfolk ranger--
"And I wanna blow stuff up!"
"But--ranger's your favored class--"
"WE ALREADY GOT A RANGER!"
--a catfolk battle sorcerer--
"Can I play too?"
--a catfolk battle sorcerer with a ferret familiar, a telepathic halfling sparklepire, and a half-orc barbarian.
"Feral Might, Rageblood Vigor, and Illiteracy?"
"Shoulda chosen for yourself, Sparky."
I decided to start them--and me--off with something easy: the very best monster-filled dungeon that web apps set to Level 1 could generate. And even then, I let them go through a "wilderness" first.
Scenes from a campaign:
"All right. I think Edward--Little Edward--should go first, to see if he can stun or turn away any of our enemies first. Then Lyra--"
"My name is Pounce!"
"...Pounce should strike the first blow with her battle magic. Then, the ladies"--he nodded to Anna and Lizzie with a chivalry I really don't think was necessary, but God bless--"and then Legolas and I will clean up."
Legolas's face fell a little. "Yeah, okay... cool. Ladies first."
Faramir smiled. "Well, if you went first, we wouldn't need anyone else."
"What about Edward? The other Edward?"
"Oh! Pardon me, Edward, I'd forgotten--"
"No, I was hoping you had," muttered Edward. He shot a dark look my way.
"All right, Pounce, you're up. Dire Capybara approaches you, snarling."
"What's a capybara?"
So I showed her a picture.
"I don't wanna kill that! Can we keep it?"
"Well, I... I'll let you roll for it. Odd number, it attacks; even, you keep it."
"... Dire Capybara accompanies you."
"Okay, Edward, roll d20. You have a +5 charisma bonus."
Naturally, a Halfling Sparklepire has appropriate skills--
"HURRY UP, PONYBOY, I WANNA KILL THINGS."
"SIMMER DOWN, PRINCESS VALERIA." I consulted my stat sheet: "Okay, looks like Mountain Werelion will save against Dazzle... strangely, Rabid Owlbear does not."
"You are attacked by a monstrous cockroach."
He gave me a look that was too tired to be defiance.
"It's a really big one, too. Like, probably two or three feet long."
"Three-Foot Monstrous Cockroach is gnawing on you."
"Fortunately, since you're half-orc, it... doesn't really do anything. It just... gnaws on you. Like... until you do something about it."
"I don't want to do something about it."
"Is there treasure yet?"
"Well, I mean... you haven't even gotten inside the dungeon yet."
"But--there's some ruins right there, maybe..."
"I'll let you roll for it--odd number, it's a yes."
"Elspeth Shipsail, you find a florin someone dropped in the grass."
"Is it a gold florin?"
"Urrgk, the monstrous cockroach is still gnawing on you."
"Little Bit! You got any more Mountain Dew back there?"
"The bottle's as big as I am, COME AND GET IT YOURSELF!" Bella shouted from her kitchen on the tableshelf. She was really, really not enjoying being a gamer widow, and separation from The Littlest Edward was making her a bit... tense. "Some of us are trying to WORK, you know! YOU were the one who wanted us to bake all those cookies, what do you think I AM, a Keebler elf? YOU'RE an elf, YOU GO KEEBLE!"
"Awright, awright, I was just asking if you had any..."
I was surprised when he brought back a green, stoppered glass bottle of water.
"Well, it's really more like Foothills Dew, with what you got around here."
"I cleave the orc's skull with the Sword of My Ancestors!"
"What orc? There's no orc, we've got nothing but venomous badgers out here--"
"HIM!" Anna cried, pointing triumphantly.
"You can't do that, he's on your side!"
"Oh, let her," said Tonner Edward. "At least if I die, I can stop playing this ridiculous game."
"Princess Valeria, the Sword of Your Ancestors bounces off Urrgk's incredibly thick skull and hits you in the face. Roll for damage."
"OH LOOK YOU TOTALLY JUST ROLLED A NATURAL TWENTY."
"YOU CAN'T EVEN ROLL A TWENTY WITH A D6!"
It wasn't enough to kill her, but it was enough to teach her a lesson, I figured. "All right, who's got the healing powers?"
Everyone--well, most of everyone--looked at each other. I started going through their character sheets to see who ought to have which skills.
"Well, the paladin, obviously," said Faramir, looking over my shoulder.
"I DON'T WANT TO HEAL MYSELF. FUCK YOU."
Everyone looked over at Anna (who was scowling, arms crossed tight). Then they all looked back at me.
"Oh, look!" I said quickly. "Turns out Dire Capybaras can heal!"
"No they can't--let me see that!"
"THEY TOTALLY TOTALLY CAN."
"Dire Capybara licks you in the face for 3d6 HP. Because I said so. Roll."
She threw the die; it bounced under the bed; she stormed off.
The doorbell rang; our half-orc barbarian sighed with relief and made himself scarce as well.
They say that the postman always rings twice. I don't know about that, but I do know that UPS rings once and then drives away. When I heard a truck pulling away before I was even halfway down the stairs, I caught my breath.
(Secret Life read-through; fan community; TV Tropes page)