The Game of Chance (Please Don’t Let Me Win)
J considers for a minute. Maybe he should stay in Mt. Ryvi. Myranna is a slave driver, but she’s probably better than going back to the Nest and facing whatever V is complaining to the Magician.
Then again, it may not be a big issue. V complains. Whether it’s the air around the Nest, the request, or the sound of his voice vibrating in his ear. His voice gets shriek-y and more annoying than usual, but that’s his afternoon pitch. He’s probably flinging his arms and stomping. Even if he’s tossed and locked in a room, until he calms down, he lets the entire store know he’s upset. That’s more irritating than, well, his everyday self.
But he can’t handle the mountain cold for long. He’s not used to weather that needs layers of clothes. He missed home. Not the Magician’s tree stump.
He needs to go back. He’s been working as Myranna’s slave for three days and before that, he’d gone outlaw hunting in the III Public. He’s not sure how many days he’s been awake. He can feel his body about to surrender to the fatigue.
He sighed, putting one hand on the door. He’ll have to avoid V. Then he can get the rest he deserves.
“What are you doing, J?” The Magician speaks through the door. “You’re done there. Come back now.”
If he stays quiet and still, he might not notice him.
“I know you can hear me.”
He can’t be sure of that. He doesn’t own his ears—he owns everything about him but not his ears. Just stay still and quiet. He’ll go away and get someone else to handle V.
“Return now, J. Before I make it colder there.”
He walked through the door, feeling more dread than ever. It doesn’t open to the usual hallway, but to the lobby. Walking directly into the scene, he almost turned around and ran.
The Magician flicks a finger, closing the door, and knocks J’s side. He was not listening alone to V’s rant to the high ceiling.
A was there, arms crossed over his chest and glasses on the edge of his nose. He wore an overly large coat, hung low over his knees. His orange hair pointed to the right as if he’d just been dragged out of bed. The calm, irritated, I-will-hit-anyone-who-talks-to-me look on his sleepy face.
N was there too. He’s in the far corner, scribbling inside a dirty and heavy ledger. The ledger matches his clothes and the expression of complete disinterest. He scratches his temple with the pen, trying to remember the last things he saw in the basement.
And K… she wasn’t present.
That lucky muckspout.
“Why am I always the one to go?” V screamed. “I rather be locked up again, than go.”
“I’d volunteer to lock him, but it’ll just make him noisier.” A whispered to J.
“What’s the job?” J asked.
“K is on it.”
“She didn’t want it. So, one of us has to partner up with her and make sure she does the job.”
Oh. She’s much worse than dealing with V. While V only barks, K will bark, scratch, and kick you where it hurts.
“No way, am I doing it.” V tells him.
“It’s a job suited for you.” The Magician said calmly.
“Then you should have given it to me.”
“You were not here.”
“Then you should have waited to give it to me.”
“It was a job suited for her too. She just wasn’t interested.”
“Then why did you make her take it in the first place?!”
The Magician always said; The World is fickle. He tends to describe people around him with his own qualities.
“My lovely J!” His bored eyes grew bright at his favorite. “What took you so long? I missed you.”
“I’m not doing this job.” He tells him.
“You don’t even know what it is.”
“I’ve been awake for—How long have I been gone?” He checked with N.
“You’ve been in the III Public for seven days,” N flipped through the pages of the ledger, “and three in Mt. Ryvi, but you’ve only been gone from the Nest for twelve hours.”
“Twelve hours…the longest I haven’t seen you. I’ve been in agony.”
He wasn’t about to go through a minute of agony with K. A day of work with her, he’s not going to survive it. If she is in-charge, it’ll be terrifying. It wasn’t that she’s bad at her job, she takes more time. She sightsees, eats everything and drink. And she loves a good drink. When she’s taken it all, she’ll start a fight, win and wait for challengers. She’ll beat them all until she becomes a legend.
If it was a job suited for K and V, then it wasn’t a job for him. However, the Magician doesn’t decide by skills. He’ll give anything to whoever he picks out of his hat. Or, give it to his favorite.
Right now, with his gold eyes on J, it’s not looking good for him. He plays with the rolled-up request, sliding it to him.
He shook his head at the Magician. A fury in his eyes intensified under the dark shadows of sleeplessness.
Then the gold eyes go to A. “It can be a job you’d be interested in. You’ll go to—”
“You haven’t even heard the request.”
“K is there. That’s enough for me to lose interest.”
Before he can glance over N’s way, N glares up from the ledger and over his thin glasses. “I have too many things to do. There are a thousand other things I haven’t sorted yet. Three hundred packages to stamp addresses on. There are also a few things in the basement rotting. I have to check which requests didn’t get fulfilled.”
J often neglects the basement rat.
N hasn’t slept since he started working for the Magician. His skin blends into the gray walls, his speech matched whatever he last read, his fingertips dipped in ink; he breathes the life into this stump. Besides, without N, one of them has to attend to the Magician’s snacks and whims. That’s worse.
A and J shared a look. None of them want to volunteer, but both agree N should stay.
“One of you has to go,” the Magician whines. He baits the request in front of them. “It’ll be a good chance. The request is unique. First time I’ve ever received this kind of request.”
V was pacing. All of a sudden, he stops. “Let’s play a game.” He runs to the other room. He rummaged through the stack of boxes and tossed tables over.
“Whatever it is,” A whispers to J, “I’m not doing this job. Nor am I taking care of the Magician.”
The Magician was rolling the request under his finger, while sharing a gaze with J. You know you want it, his eyes blink in code. “J, is there something you’d like to tell me?”
“If you want me to stay in this stump,” he said flatly, “you’re not going to make me work with her.”
“But K likes spending time with you.”
J knows, among them, he’s one of the people K would like to forget. When they meet, she sometimes exclaim; Oh, forgot you exist in my life. Then they’ll go on, not bothering each other. Unless the Magician demands it. Although, there would be a lot of complaining before it happens.
V comes back with the board game, Target and Daggers. He puts it on the glass counter, in front of the Magician. He stands four wax pieces at the end of a long steel board with a labyrinth track. He shakes a jar of clear liquid gel dotted with pink, red and black blobs. He runs his finger on the track, clearing it of dust and debris.
“Pick your target.” V tells J, A and N. “Pick your weapon from the jar. Perch it on one of the rods at the other end of the board, then let luck decide if your target deserves to die. The loser goes with K.”
“I have to go.” N moves to the basement door, not bothering to look at the board. “I think I forgot to label some balls.”
No one bothers to stop him.
“Then, just us three. Pick your targets.” V rubs his pointed chin, contemplating his target.
The four wax targets were the commoner, the soldier, the king, and the Magician’s very own addition, the magician.
J wasted no time. He dug his hand in the jar, picks out a pink dagger, the same design as his own blade, and sets it on the rod. Then he pressed the button at the side of the board. The pink dagger moved slow. The tracks change, following the moving labyrinth. It seemed like he wasn’t going to win this round. But J slammed his fist on the glass counter. It’s locked back on its course, until the dagger pierce purple magician’s chest.
“As expected of my J. You’re amazing as al—”
J was already out of the room. He stomps up the stairs. “I’m dead for two days. Don’t bother to wake me up with a job. If you do, I’ll stab the pink dagger in your eye.”
“He does that.” The Magician giggled like a girl. “He expresses his love for me like that.”
“Our love must be blind.” A said. “My turn.” He dips two fingers in the jar, picking out the black blob at the top. The arrow flies over the tracks before falling over the mini magician’s body.
His target—the king—lets out a belly laugh. The yellow wax toy dances.
V dips one finger in the jar, until he reached the bottom. He picked out a black fork, cursing under his breath in his old language.
His target, the little orange soldier, shoots pellets at him.
He tries anyway. “You won’t be laughing if this hits you. You little pest!” He puts the fork on the rod. The board, giving up V’s chance, threw the fork across the board, hitting the magician instead.
Again, little soldier laughed and shot at the sky.
“Look at how you love me.” The Magician pointed at mini-him. Totally convinced it was love.
A digs into the gel for another weapon. He smiles. He picked a red lance. He sets it up, then pressed the button. It zooms across the board and hits the target.
The king squeals. It holds on to his crown as it falls to his knees.
A shots V a laughing look.
V remains calms. “If I hit this, then it’s a draw.” He pushed his entire hand in the jar. He takes it out but digs back in. “Don’t say anything! I’m not satisfied. Damn it! Why does everything feel shapeless.” He clears the gel off until there’s only a pink stone, smaller than a fingernail, left in his palm. “Don’t laugh,” he screamed when he saw A’s lips curl. “I’m going to hit the orange bastard.”
The little soldier taunts. He aims at V.
V kissed the pink stone, almost swallowing it, and whispering all the luck in the world. He sets it up and wished he doesn’t have to work with K.
The board begins to move. Halfway, the rod bends and throws the rock. It’s off-course, but then someone exhales. The pink stone knocks off the soldier’s head.
“A tie!” The Magician pats both their shoulder. “So, will the two of you go?”
“No!” “No.” The say together. V denying it with all his might, while A felt dead inside.
“Well, we have one target left.” He holds out the jar to them. “Pick your weapons, then go. Whoever hits the blue commoner first, gets the rest and the other has a lucky day with K.”
A takes J’s track. He dipped one finger in the jar. He takes his time, removing his glasses and squinting at the side of the jar for something specific—a red blob. He hides it in his palm as he cleans it. From the look on his face, he didn’t like his chance.
V, noting the sour look on A’s face, smiled. He dipped his entire hand in, swirling and touching everything. His expression changing as he felt the mini weapons. None of them made him happy, until he flinched and smiled. He shows the war hammer, long like his middle finger with a rigid head as wide as his thumb. “This will knock your head off.”
The commoner squared its shoulders. Then it began fighting back. It chucks wax from his arm at V and A.
It hits V in the eye. He accidentally pressed the button and releases the war hammer.
Immediately, A pressed his button. The spoon rushes toward the commoner, but the tracks change. It’s heading for the magician.
The hammers swings as it moves through the board, batting away rocks out of his path and toward V’s face.
A keeps his finger on the button, trying to keep the spoon on its track as it scoops the air.
V laughed, but was dumbfounded when he saw the commoner move from his spot, sharing the hammer’s track.
It ducks as the hammer swings. Then the commoner takes the weapon from the rod and began to smash the board. It squeals in rage. The unfocused eyes seek V. It twirls the hammer over his head, shouting nonsense squeaks.
V just cursed under his breath.
From behind, the spoon slips into the commoner’s back and scoops out his heart.
“Nooooooo!” V’s scream made the glass crack. “That doesn’t make sense. A spoon can’t just do that to someone’s chest. I want a rematch.”
“There are no rematches in life.” A said, disinterested but concealing a smile with a book he pulled out of nowhere. “Accept it as it is. I hope you don’t annoy K much.” He leaves the room, sniggering.
V falls to his knees. He pressed his face against the glass counter. “I don’t want to see K. I don’t want this job.”
“She left completely crossed,” the Magician adds to his despair.
“Then you should have waited.”
“Time was running out. Ghost don’t linger long.”
He got up, still red and puffy. “Ghost?”
He unrolls the request. “A soldier died. You’re supposed to locate his ghost and find out who murdered him.”
“That sounds like something A would be interested in. Doesn’t he know?”
“He heard K and completely declined.”
“Shall I tell him?”
The Magician looked up at the ceiling. “He just left through the IX Public door. Besides, you’ve already lost dear. Now, go on. Find a ghost.”
He puts his hands on both his cheeks, molding his face. “I’ll annoy her as much as I can. When we return, she’ll wake up J, bother N and shout at A.”
“Aren’t you just worsening your suffering instead?”
“As long as I don’t suffer alone, it’s fine.”
He’s complains under his breath as he leaves. “A day with K… A day with K… A day with K… World, help me. The River’s road…I hope you bring a storm my way.”
He’s lost his mind if he’s wishing to his father’s wishes.