I’d like to thank my good friend Marshall Tankersley for all his hard work in in making the cover art for my stories, Facebook pages, and Patreon. Without your talent this would be a very bland place to read stories. A special thanks to my Fiction 1 classmates and professor for helping me work on this story and figure out the heart of it. Finally, thank you to my patrons or supporting me, both current and future. Thank you all!
Thomas looked over the Saurus Warrior entry of the Warhammer Lizardmen Army Book and dreamed of how he could conquer other players’ with a mighty host of miniatures; how he could control the battlefield. His phone buzzed, pulling his attention from the book. The text was from Samantha, his best friend, Robby’s, girlfriend. The ribbon read, Hey, I’ve got some bad news, it’s looking like . . . the ribbon ended. The whole moment pulled Thomas out of his emersion in the fictitious worlds he had come to constantly crave. It reminded him of the fact that Robby had been in a bad wreck, a couple weeks ago, breaking a few ribs and had to have his spleen removed. The doctors thought they might have missed something, because Robby continued to grow worse despite their efforts. The text brought him back to the real world, away from his ability to command. He cursed under his breath.
Thomas placed his thumb on his phone’s home button to finish reading the text. Alex’s voice stopped him, “Hey, what’s up?”
Thomas glanced up, putting his phone onto the table, “Not much, just waiting for a game.”
“Warhammer?” Alex said.
“Um, yeah, yeah . . .” Thomas’ voice trailed off. “Just needed to get away from everything, you know?”
Alex chuckled, “Yeah, I get that. You want to play a game? I brought my Empire miniatures, thought I should get some practice with this list before the tournament next month.”
“Man, you’re starting early,” Thomas slowly stood, closing his book and reaching for his miniatures case.
“Nah, never too early to start preparing for war,” Alex chuckled. He took his miniatures case and went to a nearby, unoccupied game table.
Thomas followed a few feet behind, and both players began to unpack their armies placing each unit on the table. Thomas kept thinking about his chosen strategy. He was going to use his main units to hold a center block and use his faster cavalry and skirmishers to corral Alex’s into facing a throng of reptilian death. Basically, take control of the battlefield. “So, how’s Robby holding up? You hear anything?” Alex asked putting together a unit of Imperial Handgunners. To Thomas, they had fired their first volley before the game ever began.
He froze, and then placed the Saurus miniature he held onto the table. He cursed under his breath again. He was sure Alex didn’t hear him; the store was full, as on any Saturday.
“Come again?” Alex’s words caused Thomas’ head to pop up.
“Sorry, I’m honestly not sure. His girlfriend texted me a little bit ago and I never responded. Give me a moment.” Thomas reached into his pocket and grabbed his phone. He opened it. Hey, I’ve got some bad news, it’s looking like he may need surgery again. The doctors are getting desperate. Thomas repeated the message to Alex, only changing the ending to the doctors where hopeful that this would do the trick. He wasn’t sure if that was for Alex’s sake, or his own.
“I hope he gets better soon. We’ve all missed him, and his unorthodox methods,” Alex chuckled.
“You ready?” Thomas pulled out his tape measure.
“Yep. Let’s do this,” Alex rolled a die, followed by Thomas, to see who would put down the first unit.
The dice fell to the table; Alex rolling the higher number.
“Crap!” Thomas exclaimed. “Never can trust a die, can you?”
“Eh, they make things more interesting. And besides, it’s not much of a victory, getting to start the deployment,” Alex scooped up his die and the two began to alternate placing down their units.
This was Thomas’ favorite part of the game. He had to think carefully about where to place everything, or else his whole strategy would fall apart. Everything would work well if he set things up properly, that was if the dice rolled in his favor, but having a good set of stats helps a player’s chances. The raw power and reliability of the Lizardmen drew Thomas to their ranks. How they rarely ran from combat, and how their spell casters always gave a powerful enough boost to give his army extra stopping power. In truth, there wasn’t as much gambling with Lizardmen than with other factions. With these reptilian warriors, Thomas was the master, and the dice bent to his will.
Alex moved his forces first, and cast a spell to help protect his units. Thomas followed by slowly moving his units into position. The same occurred on the second turn. Alex’s forces, however, unleashed volleys of arrows and bullets. They didn’t cause much damage, only taking out a few of Thomas’ Saurus Warriors. The two forces stood within charge range of each other now. Alex had attempted to charge his main force, but the dice didn’t roll well, preventing him.
Thomas grinned to himself. He knew that this would put Alex at a disadvantage by allowing Thomas to charge forward and gain those sweet-sweet leadership points. He declared his charges, rolled, and succeeded allowing his units to close the distance, gaining himself the charge bonus. If his units held, which they would most likely do, the Imperials didn’t stand a chance. But that pesky word “if” kept plaguing him like a thorn. It was never certain.
In the middle of the two players resolving the melee, through many dice rolls, Thomas’ phone buzzed again. The breath was knocked out of him when he felt the vibration. He could not get one second away from the real world. Before the start of the next turn, his phone buzzed again. Several more times, as if the phone itself was frantic. Without thinking, Thomas pulled out his phone and turned on Do Not Disturb. He avoided the text ribbons then closed out his phone. “I’m sorry, my phone was blowing up,” Thomas gave a forced smile.
“It’s all good. Now, prepare yourself to feel the wrath of the Emperor,” Alex laughed.
“I’m not afraid. The stats are stacked in my favor,” Thomas crossed his arms, thinking.
“We’ll see,” Alex smirked.
That next turn set the battlefield ablaze. All of Alex’s spell casters sent flame and death upon Thomas’ miniatures. No matter how often Thomas tried to dispel something, his dice would fail him. Thomas continued to roll poorly into the combat phase. All of his units, except one cavalry unity missed most of their attacks. His dice had gone on strike. Each unit failed their leadership tests and routed, allowing Alex’s forces to pursue. His Imperials caught up with Thomas’ army, utterly destroying it. Understanding that he lost, Thomas took the only way out he knew, concede.
“You sure?” Alex asked, looking up from his spell cards.
“Yeah, there’s no way I can win this. At least this way I choose to lose,” Thomas looked at the corner of the table where he had placed his “dead” miniatures.
“Don’t look at it like that,” Alex leaned back to stretch. “It could be a heroic last stand as my forces go to plunder an ancient Lizardmen temple, or something.”
“Yeah, but still,” Thomas crossed his arms.
“Well, if that’s what you want. Great game,” Alex put out his hand.
“Thanks, you too,” Thomas said, shaking Alex’s hand – sheepishness showing in his grip.
Thomas pulled out his phone to check the messages. They were all from Samantha. The first one repeated what she said earlier, but by the end of the chain they grew more desperate. The last one said that Robby had been taken into emergency surgery. They had discovered some internal bleeding, and it wasn’t looking good.
The implication of what Samantha was saying struck Thomas. He had to let go of his phone – get away. He was like rabbit running from a pack of hungry wolves, needing to escape, needing to take control of what was going on around him. He needed to return to the immersion of his games: a place where the reality of friends and family being slaughtered by life’s sheer randomness were overshadowed by monsters and magic, and men wearing mechanized armor.
Thomas packed up his miniatures and went to a nearby table with a few sheets of paper and the Lizardmen army book. He began constructing an army. Within moments of opening the book he was far from the darkness that clawed its way through his life. Each stroke of his pencil was an angel, taking him to a gentle meadow where he marshaled his forces against extreme uncertainties.
Thomas placed unit after unit, balancing his forces with monsters and characters that he could give buffs and magic items preventing them from failing a single dice roll. The game fueled escape revved faster through Thomas’ hands and into his pencil, until he finally placed his pencil down, completing his army. He turned to see Alex standing with a group of other guys playing Warmachine. “Alex! You want a rematch?”
Alex turned from the game and walked over. “Um, sure. But shouldn’t you go check on Robby?”
“What? He’s doing well,” Thomas lied to himself.
“That’s not what Jack was telling me. He said something about Robby needing some extra surgery,” Alex threw his thumb over his shoulder to point back at the Warmachine game.
“What? Jack doesn’t know anything,” Thomas’ heart pounded, the wolves were closing in. “You all right, Thomas? You seem off,” Alex asked.
“I’m fine, man,” Thomas said.
“Listen, I saw how you were reacting to those dice rolls. I understand that, it lost you the game, but there was something more to it, wasn’t there?” Alex pulled up a seat.
“No! Why would you say that?” Thomas needed to run. He needed to go back to that far off meadow.
Alex leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Your best friend is in the hospital, and not doing too well. You can’t control what’s going on around you, let alone a single dice roll.”
A pit in Thomas’ stomach opened up. Of course, Alex was right, he always had to be right. “Look at this list I made. See, it’s made to where the dice won’t fail,” Thomas lifted up the paper containing the army list.
Alex took the list, looking it over. “It’s impressive, but utterly broken. I mean you can’t run an army like this, it goes against every balance mechanic in the game.” He tossed the list back on the table; its soft scrape echoed in Thomas’ ears.
Thomas’ eyes fell to the paper. The army wasn’t broken, it was a strategic masterpiece. Was it? It had to be. At least it seemed to be. It couldn’t be broken. Could it? Thomas slid the list off to the side.
There was silence between the two of them for a moment. “Does Robby have anything to do with this?” Alex said.
Thomas glared in Alex’s direction, “No.”
Alex defensively threw up his hands, “I’m sorry, I’ll back off.” Thomas glanced down at the army list. His thoughts swirled between the need to escape, and the idea that no such way existed. He pulled the army list off the table and tore it, throwing it into a nearby trash can.
Alex took a deep breath. “I’m glad you did that. I’m going to go back over to that Warmachine game. Let me know if you need anything.” He got up and walked to the other side of the store, leaving Thomas to sit alone.
Thomas reached for his dice set and started rolling them one by one as if he was rolling saving throws during a game. He watched them crash against the table. Only one out of the ten rolled a six, meaning the miniature would live. Thomas rolled again, a few more dice rolled correctly. He rolled them again; none fell on a six.
A thought went through his mind, telling him to turn at least one of the die over to a six. He reached for a die that had rolled a one – an utter failure – his hand trembled. He knew he shouldn’t, but he had to. This was the only way he could save his friend’s life, or perhaps more accurately his own sanity. He had to. Thomas’ fingers made contact with the die. He began to put pressure on the edge that would push it over into a six. Before he could finish the cheated roll, he relieved the pressure and picked up the die, placing it back into its container.