12. A Game of Phidus

Chapter 12

A Game of Phidus

            It was very hard for me to muster the courage to get out of bed, because I was worried that Satel could show up at any moment for his hat. But I knew I couldn’t stay like this all day- Cegil would come looking for me and become concerned at spying my ripped clothing. I definitely didn’t want him to see me like this, so I clenched the lace of my nightgown tightly over my chest as I sought for my dress and trousers.

I quickly shed the ruined sleepwear to put on a fresh camisole and thin petticoat. My cheeks heated in embarrassment when I pulled down the underwear I had slept in- my arousal was so strong that even my nose could smell it. For a moment, I was terrified that the other creatures could smell me from far off, but dismissed it that thought quickly. Only falucite possess a sense of smell that keen, so I just had to worry about hiding it from Cegil. Oh Elit…

In a state of panic, I ended up quickly wadding my underwear and nightgown together into a tight ball and stuffing it as far into my travel bag as possible in hopes that it would stifle the odor. I didn’t want to face my guardian and have him inquire about it- nor did I want the other patrons to get any ideas.

When I had all my clothing on, I headed for the water closet with my toiletries so I could clean up and be ready for the day. It seemed that mornings were slow for Lukon, as I didn’t see many people out in the restaurant. When I had passed by the kitchen ‘door’, it seemed that the greater demon servants were, for the most part, sitting around and talking.

The water closet was cramped and it didn’t have a mirror, so I had to go about my business blindly and awkwardly. There weren’t many places where I could put my things and it was hard to bend over the sink without backing into the commode. As soon as I was done, I gathered my things and darted back upstairs to my room.

I was starting to feel a little better now that my body was covered properly. While sitting on the bed, I began to brush my long hair, when I noticed that the über hat was still sitting on the table, next to the little knife. I suppose it was too much to hope that Satel would’ve retrieved it while I was away.

I wondered when he would come back for it- or if he even realized that he left it behind. If I knew if he was still in town, I would’ve tossed it out and let the magicks return it. …Come to think of it, did it even matter if he was in the same town? Or would it just keep flying until it reached him? I was briefly amused at the image of the hat soaring over the ocean. I certainly didn’t know that much about their magicks, so I decided not to risk it.

Something told me that he hadn’t intended for this to happen- that stunned look on his face before he left had said it all. I still wasn’t quite sure what had set him off and caused him to act like that, but I felt that it wouldn’t be repeated so long as we didn’t end up in that compromising position again.

I shook my head after that thought. Sure, I could believe that for a while, but I knew I would react if or when I saw him again. My breast still tingled from his actions and every now and then, I felt a slight ache. No man had ever touched me before, let alone seen me exposed like that. I didn’t know how to deal with what had happened or what I would say to Satel when I next saw him.

I returned to brushing out the last of the tangles and then I put down the grooming tool on the bed and sighed. Where was Cegil anyway? Well, I knew he had to have been talking to the elder dragons, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take. If he had left early morning, as I’m sure he did, then shouldn’t he be back by now.

And what was I going to tell him? Of course, I had to inform him that his brother was here, but… Did I have the courage to discuss that encounter we’d had? Some part of me knew I should tell my guardian, but another was a little nervous at the idea. What would Cegil think about it? Would he get angry at Satel for violating me? Or would he be upset with me for not preventing it? Of course, I doubted he would think I would deliberately try to get into that kind of situation.

Though I could simply discredit everything as an accident and not mention anything at all. I think I could even forgive Satel for it so long as it doesn’t happen again. I felt that that was the best choice for the time being since the blonde had backed off easily enough. But should he lose control like that a second time… I didn’t want to think about it. I couldn’t decide if the thought scared or excited me.

I sighed in boredom. Unless Cegil returned and let me come with him on a trip around town, I was pretty much stuck in the room with nothing do to. My eyes drifted back to the über hat, then to the floor before I finally decided to go and get the black accessory. Since its owner had abandoned it, someone should take care of it. The fact that I’ve always liked the hat had no bearing on my decision whatsoever.

I placed it on my head and noticed that it fit better when my hair was down- the thick waves filled out what my skull couldn’t. It was still too big for me, but at least it wasn’t sinking as low as it had the last time I had tried it on. Deciding to leave my hair down for once, I looked for something to do.

I eventually amused myself after finding a mirror in another room and tried to wear the hat like Satel. No matter how I tilted it though, I just couldn’t make myself look as spiffy as he did. I figured that it had something to do with the face, so I pushed back most of my bangs and tried to feign an arrogant look. I lifted my chin and narrowed my eyes slightly, but I ended up looking ridiculous. It wasn’t long before I had to accept defeat and concede that the über hat was made for Satel- but at least I didn’t look terrible in it.

I adjusted it again so that it was sitting correctly, before crossing my arms in a confident pose and smiling at the mirror. That wasn’t a bad look at all- but it wasn’t that cool, either. Still, I really loved that hat.

“Hey, human,” a gruff voice called out from the stairs. I quickly walked out of the room I was in to find Lukon pushing back the curtain. “Cegil will be gone most of the day researching and he told me to tell you to behave yourself.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks for informing me,” I replied before inquiring. “Do you know how long he might take?”

“Not a clue- I don’t think he even knows what he’s looking for anymore,” the earth dragon said while shaking his head. Poor Cegil- that must mean that he wasn’t finding any useful information. And if we couldn’t prevent the ceremony, then we would have no choice but to coerce Satel through the prophesized fight.

“Anyway, I’ll be downstairs. You may come down when you’re hungry, but please don’t throw water on my customers. Some of us don’t like water baths,” he added in a droll tone.

I smirked back at him. “I’ll try not to, but just to be safe, don’t give me any water. I’ll take any ale or wine you have with my meals.”

“Heh, smart human,” he muttered before turning and disappearing behind the curtain.

I returned to the room with the mirror and continued to pose in front of it. I figured it was the only thing that could distract me since I didn’t want to spend time thinking about Satel or what seemed to be an inevitable confrontation between the brothers. Cegil was probably scrambling to prepare for the battle- or rather, he was trying to find some way to barter with Satel instead of fight.

Maetira said that there was going to be a ‘conflict’, but she wasn’t very specific about what kind it would be. It could range anywhere from a clash of words to a duel of swords. Cegil told me that he was suspecting it was the latter since that was something that could be decided by chance. Without his powers, Satel had a slight advantage over him, but Cegil still had experience and wisdom on his side. That could be enough to win, but… Cegil would rather not fight his brother.

While my guardian never said it aloud, I had a feeling that Satel was his favorite family member. The fact that he’s trying so hard to save him was proof of that. Or perhaps he felt some kind of responsibility for his upbringing- I couldn’t say for sure unless I asked. Either way, resolving the so-called ‘conflict’ without violence was top priority.

The silly expression I had been making at myself soon melted away when a horrid thought popped into my mind. Maetira had said that I was to be the trigger, so whatever was going to happen was on my head. Would I cause a rift between the two brothers? Or was my role simply to begin negotiations?

But when I thought about it, it couldn’t be the former. What would I have to do with the affairs of the falucite? I was nothing more than a spectator who wanted to help. Furthermore- I was of no strategic value to Satel. I failed to see how he could use me to force Cegil to go home- not unless he truly believed he could convince me to betray my father figure. I suppose there’s always kidnapping, but I couldn’t imagine him sinking so low.

I wonder… could I convince Satel on my own to not go through with the ceremony? Would he even listen to me? I suppose it was worth a try if I saw him again before Cegil came back. Oh who was I kidding? I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to carry on a conversation with the platinum blonde after what had happened.

But- if it could prevent the prophecy from coming true, then I’d gladly confront Satel on my own.

********************

With there being no direct sunlight, it was difficult to determine the passage of time. All I knew was that it wasn’t as bright outside as it was earlier, so either the sun was down or setting. I had thought I would be bored all day, but my thoughts kept me occupied. It wasn’t until I felt my stomach rumble when I realized that I had missed lunch. I managed to evade going downstairs by eating left over rations for breakfast.

It wasn’t that I was trying to avoid going down there- I just wanted to wait for Cegil to return. I wondered what was keeping him? Hopefully he didn’t run into any trouble- that was my specialty, not his. A couple more minutes had passed before my belly growled again even louder, insisting that I go get something real to eat. Sighing, I decided that it was pointless to wait any longer and stood up from my chair.

I made sure I still had the über hat on and tucked my new dagger just inside my boot before I headed down to the restaurant. I feared that I was growing rather attached to it- perhaps to the point where I might not be so inclined to return it. I didn’t really pay attention to my surroundings as I headed for the counter. It wasn’t very crowded- giving me the impression that it wasn’t that late. The dinner rush had not yet started.

But no sooner than when I pulled myself up to sit on the stool, I felt like I was being watched. No, it was more than that, like I could feel a presence in the room that I hadn’t before. As discreetly as possible, I glanced around the room until I discovered the source.

Over near the furthest wall was Satel. He was seated at the end of the long rectangular table and he wasn’t alone. From my vantage point, I was able to identify that the other three men with him were dragons. At first glance, he didn’t appear to have noticed my presence, but I caught him staring at me from the corner of his eyes every now and then.

I was surprised when he didn’t approach or call out to me. Instead he seemed far more invested in the card game he was playing with the dragons. I never thought I would ever witness higher beings playing Phidus- it was a card game invented by humans and it was the drug of all gambling addicts. I was curious to know what they were betting on, since human currency was useless to both races. Well- useless to dragons, I suppose- Satel seemed to have a use for it.

As I suspected, my heart started pounding after I caught had sight of him and I couldn’t stop myself from blushing slightly. I knew the incident from this morning was new and unexpected, but I couldn’t believe that he was having that effect on me. I was acting like some little girl with a crush!

Lukon eventually came over and distracted me by trying to figure out what he could make for me that wasn’t poisonous to humans. Through him, I learned another interesting fact about the falucite- they could get nutrients from stones and certain metals. I kind of already knew they could bite through them with their strong teeth, but I didn’t know that they could eat them as well.

As for dragons, they were the ultimate omnivores- they could eat anything from diamonds to animals to plants without any trouble. There was almost nothing that was toxic to them, and parasites that infected other species had no hold. To be on the safe side, I ordered a salad and listed the vegetation that I could eat. I knew I needed a little protein after accidentally missing a meal, but he didn’t have the common meats that I could eat. I didn’t want to try my luck on a creature I had never heard of before.

I took another look at Satel as I waited for my dinner. He was staring at me again and our eyes met for a second. I felt my cheeks grow warm again and quickly turned away. I shyly glanced back again and found him in the process of reaching up for his über hat in a nervous gesture. He soon remembered that it wasn’t on his head and went back to vigorously studying his hand of cards while slightly biting his lip.

Did he not see that I was wearing his precious hat? Or did his habits make him do it anyway? When Lukon returned, he placed down a bowl with greens and vegetables in various shades of red, orange, and purple. He then gave me a flute of what I hoped was wine- the thick liquid inside was a deep red, making me think it was blood at first. At my look, he explained that it was actually some kind of unstrained fruit juice that was fermented long enough to become a wine.

“You shouldn’t need to worry about the men over there. They have already been fed and shouldn’t bother you. But if they do cause you trouble, just call for me. I’ll be in the kitchen,” Lukon told me, his golden lizard-like eyes narrowing slightly as he gazed over at the table. Did he even know that one of them was Cegil’s brother? Then again, he probably didn’t know that I knew Satel and was trying to keep me calm.

Once the dragon disappeared into the kitchen, I began to eat my salad and tried hard to ignore the feeling of Satel’s presence. Was the falucite waiting for something? I couldn’t believe he was actually leaving me alone. Did I upset him? Or was he worried that I was still upset about this morning? Maybe he wanted me to make the first move and talk to him.

I decided to wait until I was done with my meal before I would think on the next step. Apparently he was thinking the same thing, because he finally called out to me when I pushed back my bowl as a sign that I was finished.

“Hey, ‘Tia! Will you please come over here?”

I almost jumped when I had heard him. I turned slowly and found that he was gesturing for me to come over. The dragons at the table were also glancing at me now that I was being called out. At that point, I had two choices: run back to my room and risk confronting Satel in private or face him right then and hope for the best. …At least I had Lukon down here to help if things got ugly.

I ended up choosing the latter and headed over to the table as confidently as I could muster. Some of my bravado had returned and the small audience was enough to strengthen my resolve to not let anyone (including Satel) intimidate me. The dragons began to whisper excitedly at my approach, pointing out to each other that I was a human and that I appeared tasty.

I was able to distinguish by the ear and skin color that one of them was a fire dragon. Unlike the earth dragons, fire dragons possessed pinkish skin in their humanoid forms and their ears were pointed and long. I ignored them and only addressed the falucite as he resumed his cocky attitude and acted as if his cards were more interesting than I was.

“What is it?” I inquired impatiently as I tried to think of ways to start a conversation about Cegil whilst in the presence of others. But unfortunately I could not come up with anything- what I wanted to discuss with him were of a more private nature, but now I didn’t feel completely secure when alone with him.

“Oh, nothing much. I simply want my hat and good luck charm, if you would be so kind as to return them,” he replied in a business-like manner as he kept his red-brown eyes trained on his cards. He was trying very hard to treat me like I was insignificant and it was starting to get on my nerves. Why was he doing this when not long ago he was shooting glances at me?

But soon I began to reflect on what he had said. What ‘good luck charm’ was he referring to? I didn’t recall receiving or stealing any charms from him. “What are you talking about ‘good luck charm’? You never gave me any.”

My eyes soon widened slightly as I did remember the ice charm he had given me nearly a week ago. Now that I thought about it, I hadn’t seen it in days. With everything that had happened, it was easy to lose track of my smaller possessions. Thinking back on it, the last time I remembered seeing it was before I had been kidnapped by the eneavra. It could’ve fallen off me while I was being carried around on that giant meathead’s shoulder and it was now lying in the middle of nowhere.

I bit my lip and prayed he wasn’t looking for that charm. I had no way of returning it if I was right about its whereabouts. Thankfully, Satel seemed to have forgotten about it, too. He set his cards face down on the table and then grabbed the wrist of my left hand. Before I could even register what was happening, his foot moved to knock against mine and caused me to lose my balance. I soon found myself tucked neatly into his lap as he plucked the über hat from my head and returned it to its rightful place.

“Hey!” I shouted in indignation when he brought my hand up so he could kiss the back of it.

“Much better- maybe now my luck will change,” he purred as he wrapped an arm around me and picked up his cards with his free hand.

“Oh great, now you think my hand is lucky?” I muttered as I glared down at the cards. I knew my cheeks were burning badly and I didn’t want him to see that. I was beyond confused with his behavior- was this some kind of revenge for something I did to him before?

The falucite tsked near my ear before happily reminding me that it was ‘his’ hand. I growled under my breath and resisted the urge to violently thrash about and deliberately knock the table over. Just what was he up to? I had a feeling he was setting me up for something, but I wasn’t sure what.

“What a pity,” the fire dragon (seated on Satel’s left) said when he noticed the collar around my neck. “It seems she’s a pet. A human that visually pleasing would’ve made a fine stew.”

The earth dragon to the right, who was a rather pudgy fellow with a copper mane, nodded his head in assent before adding, “She looks to have tender meat- perfect for fillet yoidet.”

I didn’t know much other languages than my own, but I had a feeling ‘yoidet’ was either ‘human’ or some particular cut of muscle in my body.

“I bet her flesh is soft enough for a tasty meat sauce on mermaid scales,” the second earth dragon commented before his forked tongue licked his hardened brown lips. I appeared a little tired as I held back a sigh. Dragons- the ultimate omnivores and grand connoisseurs. Eating was their favorite hobby and their lives.

“Hmph… I didn’t expect dragons to have such low tastes,” I muttered while glowering. “If you knew anything, then you would marinade me alive in wine a few hours before preparing me in a dish. If I’m going to be someone’s meal, then at least make me drunk and happy first.”

“Oh, yes. I recommend si’ansirsa with a side of moaghos- she tastes exquisite with that combination,” Satel quipped enthusiastically.

Thank you for the help, I replied flatly in my mind as I turned my head to glare at him. The dragons nearly drooled at the thought of whatever dish Satel made them visualize. I really should’ve kept my mouth shut- after all, this was how I had nearly gotten eaten the last time I encountered an earth dragon. I had mistaken the dragon’s ‘recipe’ for me as a threat made to scare me and I had made things worse by sarcastically telling him off.

I couldn’t remember what I had said back then, but it was apparently appetizing enough for him to revert to his dragon form and attempt to carry me off somewhere to cook me. Thankfully Cegil was able to save me before it was too late.

“You mean to say that you had a taste of her?” the pudgy dragon asked when he caught on to what the falucite was insinuating.

“Oh yes- many times if she is willing to let me partake,” he replied causally with a grin aimed at me. It took me a few seconds to realize that he was referring to the many kisses he had stolen from me.

“Sh-shut up!” I growled as I tried not to blush further at the memory of said kisses.

“But alas…” The platinum blonde sighed dramatically as he gestured to my left hand. “I only own her hand- the rest belongs to my brother.”

“Lucky… the hands are the best part,” the fire dragon responded after letting out an envious snort. Okay, so Satel wasn’t exaggerating when he had said dragons valued human hands…

“By the way, ‘Tia-dear, I haven’t introduced you to my friends,” Satel said before pointing at them, starting from the one on the right and ending at the left. “He’s on a diet, he’s fasting, and he hasn’t had a human dish for the better part of six months. You’re really making their day, you know.”

“Introductions involve names and you’re still a jackass,” I told him through gritted teeth- I only earned a hearty laugh from him in response. Hungry, human-deprived dragons weren’t enough to scare me, so Satel was out of luck if that was what he was aiming for.

“Hmph, don’t remind me of my fast- are you still in or not?” the earth dragon across from us inquired crossly, trying to get back to the game. The only difference between a fast and a diet was the reason behind it. Dieters seek to lose weight or attempt to make themselves live a healthy lifestyle, while those fasting only aim to test will power or prove themselves to others.

“Of course,” the falucite replied before he tossed in two smooth, round stones and then resumed to hold me around the middle. It seemed they were playing for snacks as the stones and other various objects in the pot were things that both races could eat.

I glanced down at the hand Satel had and noticed that he had two Makers. There were already three cards down- the last Maker and two God cards. He already had a full house, so why did he feel the need to summon me for ‘good luck’? I watched the proceedings with interest as the men vigorously betted, each one acting as if they had a great hand. Unless one of them had a straight flush, then Satel was clearly going to win.

When the turn came, a three of water was placed down and caused the fire dragon to fold. Satel continued to bet high, perhaps knowing that his victory was certain- at least until the river came. The final card was an eight of earth and I didn’t see how it would’ve affected him in any way. The über hat falucite only made one hefty bet before sighing and folding his hand.

“Oh, it’s no use, I can play the Phidus face all I want, but it’s still not a good hand,” he said as he placed his cards face down on the table. I remained impassive to the turn of events since it wasn’t my game. I didn’t play that much- only against half-drunken sailors at some port towns, but if I had a full house, I would’ve never folded. I began to wonder if Satel even knew how to play.

As the two remaining earth dragons battled it out, Satel gently rubbed circles on my belly with his thumb and let his other hand rest boldly on my thigh. I furrowed my brows and tried not to bring attention to myself when it felt like he was nuzzling into my hair. The dragons were too distracted to notice how friendly the falucite was getting with me, allowing me to escape public humiliation.

My cheeks hadn’t stopped flushing ever since I ended up in his lap. I felt my heart start to thump once again when he leaned in close and whispered softly in my ear, “I like it when your hair is down. You should wear it that way more often.”

I refrained from answering since I couldn’t speak as quietly. I didn’t want to admit it, but I kind of liked what he was doing to me. The touching was pretty much innocent and he wasn’t really bothering me with his nuzzling. But- I really shouldn’t let him do it. This was something lovers did and we weren’t in that kind of relationship- nor did I want to be in one.

Some part of me felt like I was almost leading him on by not discouraging him, but I just couldn’t do it. I was too weak to say ‘no’ to my yearnings, and I just wanted enjoy it while I could. I knew the hard truth was that we couldn’t be together anyway, so I didn’t feel bad. Of course, it didn’t occur to me until just then that if Cegil and I did succeed in stopping the ceremony, then there would be a chance for a relationship to develop. Would I try harder to discourage Satel if that happened? I wasn’t so sure…

I wasn’t that surprised to find that the remaining two had lesser hands- one possessed a pair because of the God cards and the other had a two pair. I wanted to scoff at Satel and tell him that he really messed up, but I found myself more interested in figuring out where that hand on my thigh was going. Something told me that I wasn’t there for ‘good luck’- I had a feeling he just wanted to tease me.

“Are you still in Satel? You don’t have much left,” the fire dragon commented as he shuffled the deck for the next round. I glanced over to what he had left and saw that he only had five stones and some kind of a large prickly leaf. If he bothered to play seriously, then he could win back his earnings with that.

“I’m in- I haven’t lost yet,” he replied smoothly before he reached out for his two cards when they were dealt. Now he had an ace of fire and a five of water. Even though the tide could turn after the flop, I wasn’t that confident in the cards. Personally, I would’ve folded and saved what I had for the next hand.

“I’ll call,” Satel announced as he threw in another stone. I rolled my eyes and called him an idiot in the back of my mind. At least he was being more prudent with his betting this time as the flop came. It almost looked promising with the two numbered cards of the same fire suit as his ace, but it all depended on the river turn. The third card in the flop was a Fate of fire and I dismissed it as a lost cause. The only way that would be useful was if the next cards were a Maker and a God one- the odds of that happening were very low.

But just as I thought that, the turn came and revealed a God of water. This caused the earth dragons to groan and fold, but the fire dragon was still in. The odds weren’t looking too bad if Satel could bluff his way through, but I wasn’t sure if that was his intent.

“Well, well, look who’s here,” Satel suddenly called out as his head turned to the entrance of the restaurant. I bit back an embarrassed squeak and wished that I could disappear when I realized that Cegil had returned. The last thing I wanted was to be caught sitting in his brother’s lap!

My guardian noticed us immediately and (to my further humiliation) crossed the room to speak with Satel.

“Now the fun can really begin,” Satel cooed in my ear before the giant falucite reached us.

“What do you think you are doing?” Cegil inquired as he calmly stared down at us. I wasn’t sure if he was asking Satel or me.

“Playing a friendly game of Phidus-”

“And losing at it, too,” the remaining player quipped as he interrupted Satel. He pointed a talon of his claw at the lone prickly leaf that was left. “You will have nothing more to bet with if you continue to play.”

“I suppose I’m at an impasse, but I assure you that I do have the winning hand. To prove it, I’m putting in all I have- including my lucky charm.”

There was a slight pause before his words caught up to me and I ended up shouting loudly, “What!”

“We are playing for food and your hand is food,” he replied with a near hesitant smile, like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to say that. All it did was give me the impression that he was simply bluffing and that he knew his cards were bad. How could he risk my body part in a game of chance? The dragon perked instantly to the offer and quickly agreed to the bet.

Cegil immediately tried to intervene. “Satel, you know you have no right to use her as a bartering tool.”

I never did tell him about how I ‘gave’ Satel my hand- though I had no idea that things would escalate like this. It was only now that I understood the consequences of making deals or giving gifts to that monster with braided hair.

“Oh, did ‘Tia never tell you?” the blonde said in a sweet voice before informing my guardian of that night of Maetira’s Day. “It’s her gift to me and I can do whatever I see fit with it.”

Cegil’s eyes widened at the news before he stared at me to confirm it. “Is this true, Dantia?”

“Yeah, but… I-I thought it was a joke! I didn’t think he was going to use me like this,” I replied frantically as I tried to think of some way out of this. I had a very real chance of losing my hand to a hungry dragon and Satel was being conniving bastard about it.

What did he have to gain by doing this to me? Or was this somehow related to the reading Maetira gave? Was it his way of attempting to control Cegil through me? If that was the case, then I’m surprised someone like Satel would conduct business this way- he was being no better than the eneavra.

“I see… so you would ask me to go home in exchange for calling off this bet and returning possession of her rightful property?” the tall falucite speculated with a slight glare. It was the first time I heard him refer to a piece of me as ‘property’, though I was well aware that’s what I was to them. I knew he didn’t think that way, but it was hard for me to learn that that’s what Satel thought of me. The younger falucite only shrugged and tapped the corners of the cards against the table.

“I ask for nothing- Maetira wants me to use ‘Tia to curb this game in my favor, but even I have my moments of disobedience. You know that I can’t take back a bet once it’s been made,” he answered, shocking both of us. I couldn’t believe he refused Cegil’s offer- wasn’t that the whole point of this? But more importantly, was he implying that he would defy the Fates even though his elders followed them faithfully?

This would be wonderful to hear had it been said under different circumstances. His placing my body in danger wasn’t the best way to express himself.

“So I’m just going to have to lose my hand? Is that it?” I asked incredulously as I tried hard not to panic.

Satel gave a real grin, then before glancing back at the fire dragon (who, by the way, had been sitting there rather patiently during the exchange) as a sign that he wanted to continue the game. “Have a little faith in me, ‘Tia-dear. I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t so sure about it.”

Faith? Why should I have any faith in him? He shouldn’t have put me in this situation to begin with! No- I shouldn’t have tried to be nice and repay him for the sword. Why did the good things I did for others backfire like this? If I had just accepted the damn thing and left it at that, then I wouldn’t be praying to Elit and the Maker about the outcome of a simple card game!

I held my breath and waited for the pudgy dragon to deal out the last card. I could see Cegil tense in the corner of my eye and reach for his sword- he was prepared to fight a dragon if it would save me. When I saw the colored ink and design of the final draw, I released the air from my lungs and just stared in shock.

“Hah! I won! I can’t wait to have that hand for my stew,” the dragon said as he showed his hand- a straight. He was about to reach for me, but the platinum blonde stopped him with a smirk.

“Not so fast- I have an immortal straight, which beats your hand,” he announced smugly. I couldn’t believe that the final card was a Maker of water- with the ten of fire from the flop and the ace of fire in his hand, he had a higher-ranking straight thanks to the immortal cards that appeared.

Cegil and I both had a sigh of relief as the fire dragon pouted, then accepted defeat. That was too close- if the Maker hadn’t appeared, Satel would’ve had nothing and I would’ve had to say goodbye to my hand. I almost tensed when I felt Satel touch my shoulder and then burrow his other arm under my knees.

In a feat that would be impossible for an ordinary human, Satel stood from his chair while carrying me in his arms. I would have to assume that either the falucite were stronger than humans or he used magicks on me so that I would be lighter. Though even if it were the latter, most human men couldn’t stand without the aid of their arms.

“H-hey! Put me down!” I demanded as my hands automatically wrapped around the back of his neck to help prevent vertigo.

I went ignored as Satel glanced down at his opponent. “I’m feeling generous today, so I’ll just take the human treat. You may keep the rest of the pot.”

I didn’t have the chance to see the dragon’s reaction to that as the falucite suddenly turned to face his brother. Cegil didn’t seem one bit happy over the turn of events and it showed on his face.

“I suppose we should discuss this more in private,” my guardian suggested before he led the way upstairs to his room. Satel followed after him with me still in his arms and still struggling for freedom.

Cegil’s room was the one with the mirror and he had a larger table and two chairs. Other than that, it was a near copy of my room, with a dark blue rug and bed sheets. The Satel laid me down on the bed before walking around Cegil to take the chair furthest from me.

Once they were seated, the brothers stared at each other- one looking deadly serious and the other feigning a proud smirk. It was almost nothing new, except Satel looked like he was forcing himself to smile.

“You cheated,” Cegil stated in a voice that was neither angry nor accusatory.

Satel shrugged slightly and didn’t appear offended at all. “Only on the last round. You know I would never let one of my cherished possessions go on a mere gamble. However, what I wanted to show you was that I could endanger her if given the chance and I doubt you want to see me tempt the Fates again.”

If I weren’t so angry, I would’ve laughed- everything he said was ridiculous. He must’ve been cheating the whole time, but didn’t take advantage of it until the last round. That would explain that full house he had earlier. Also, I didn’t believe for a second that my hand was a ‘cherished possession’ to him. He wasn’t anywhere near desperate enough to gamble away an important treasure. He could easily attempt using me again if he wanted to.

“Then what is it that you want? What must I do in order for you to return possession of her hand? I thought I knew what it was, but you seem to have other ideas,” Cegil prodded, earning a real smirk from his brother.

“My goal is similar to the will of the elders, but that doesn’t mean I’ll do exactly as I’m told. Had the situation been different, I would’ve gladly coerced you to do my bidding, but I’m no longer willing to do so. I’m offering you the chance to defy the Fates and win back ‘Tia’s hand.” Satel’s tone was smooth and gave the vibe that he was up to something, but his words were rather confusing.

I had long since moved into a seating position with my legs tucked under me so I could sit up higher if needed. It wasn’t easy trying to look over Cegil’s shoulders to see the über hat falucite. I pondered what Satel had meant about things being ‘different’. What had changed, exactly- and what did it have to do with Cegil or me? I also had to wonder about the ‘chance’ he was giving- he acted like he was doing us a favor. But if he really wanted to be fair and go against the Fates, then he should just give me back ownership without the games.

“A chance, you say? What are you proposing and why?” Cegil inquired without betraying any emotion or interest. He also seemed to think there was something odd about his brother and couldn’t outright accept without further information.

“I want to play fair, but at the same time I want you to return home. I believe I can convince you another way, but Maetira and the elders are wish for me to use this method. I’m placing everything in the Maker’s hands- we will play one round of Phidus and decide how this will be done,” he explained as he pulled out another deck of cards from the inner pocket of his frock. “If you win, ‘Tia keeps her hand and we can debate on even terms, but if I win, then you must come home before I will return her gift.”

What Satel was really saying was that he wasn’t sure what to do. He was conflicted between doing what he wanted and what others wanted, so he was seeking a way to solve his dilemma with Cegil’s support in the matter. Though the fact that he had doubts about following his own path proved that he wasn’t really that confident in disobeying his elders.

“May I see the deck?” the lavender haired falucite requested as he held out his large hand. Satel let out an amused scoff before handing them over.

“My, my, it seems no one trusts me these days. It’s a clean deck- no magicks or tricks. I have no intention of cheating against you.” There was an edge to his voice, like he was upset from the insinuation, but he maintained a cheerful expression as Cegil closely examined the deck anyway. With the way Satel always acted, he shouldn’t expect anyone to trust him- I would know, because I was just as shifty when conning drunks at taverns.

“Very well. I agree to those terms,” Cegil replied as he set the deck down in the middle of the round table.

I couldn’t excuse what Satel did to me downstairs- nor did I feel that I could forgive him for that, but I recognized that he was attempting to rectify everything. If I had taken him more seriously and didn’t give him what he’d requested, none of this would’ve happened. I felt that Cegil shouldn’t be the one to play the game- I had to take some responsibility for my actions.

“Wait, let me play,” I called out as I shifted around so I could get off the bed. “I was the one who got myself into this mess, let me get out of it on my own.”

“Ordinarily, I would agree with you, but this is a challenge that Satel has brought before me. This game is merely a way to remove you from involvement with clan matters.” Cegil didn’t seem disappointed in me, but I couldn’t stop from feeling guilt and shame. I knew he was going to lecture me later on being more careful with what I decide to give away.

“But I…” I trailed off when I couldn’t figure out how to argue that point. I understood what he was saying, but it didn’t feel right to have him fight for me when I was partially at fault.

“If you want to be involved, then deal the cards for us,” Satel suggested as he pushed the deck towards me. It was hardly a fair trade from having to fight for my own honor, but it was better than sitting idly behind Cegil as I awaited my fate.

I reluctantly took the deck and shuffled it a few times to ensure that Satel couldn’t try anything funny by the card order. I then dealt out two cards for both of them and placed three down for the flop. There was an ace of water, a six of earth, and a ten of water. Since there was no betting, I placed down the next card, which was a Maker of water.

So far there were three of the same suit, leaving it open for either side to win with a straight if they possessed a water card and if the river was also water. It was a little strange for me to see the water suit showing up so prominently. I couldn’t help but feel some kind of foreboding that had nothing to do with the falucite- like I was being warned about something related to water, or more precisely, the sea.

I tried to ignore those feelings and was about to set down the last card, but Satel stopped me to make one more offer.

“Before we continue, do you want to take the time to make things more… interesting?” he asked my guardian, appearing rather serious. I held back my huff of exasperation- did he really think Cegil would gamble? Maybe he was trying to stall so he could think up of another trick to bother us with.

“I assume you are not referring to the clan or the ceremony?” Cegil clarified, earning a short nod from his brother, “Then, no, I want nothing. What did you want?”

Satel chuckled lightly before he gently rested his forehead against the fingers of one hand. Cegil knew him too well- apparently the blonde wouldn’t have inquired if he didn’t have something he wanted to add. I was somewhat curious to know what was going through his mind, but he didn’t want me in on the conversation.

He glanced at me briefly before he began speaking in another language, “X’ad spi ah casn d’ad ah xakid’an ‘Tia?”

Cegil’s eyes widened slightly before his brows furrowed and he responded in a stern tone, “Iuoo be’aaki ac a bead’a? Iuoo zkiux iuoo chakikiud ju d’siuooj xid d’a ch’asi’abeukii akin av’a Dantia ac iuoosi uxki.”

With falucite being able to live for a long time, it was no surprise that they could pick up ancient languages and speak it fluently. I could accept the fact that the conversation was supposed to be just between Cegil and him, but I didn’t appreciate how my name was being mentioned in nearly every sentence. It was obvious they were talking about me and I didn’t like the thought that they could’ve been making jokes about me to my face. Not that I thought Cegil would, but still…

They seemed to argue for the next few minutes- their voices were calm and controlled, but the words came out in a rush. I wasn’t even sure if they were really arguing. It came to an end when Satel gave a tired smile and shrugged again. He started to speak in the strange language again, but then he switched back to the common language at the last part, “…still, I will not do anything yet- I wish to wait and see what will happen in the coming days first.”

Cegil could only raise a brow and shake his head before he muttered, “I fail to see the logic behind your idea. You can only choose one or the other- not both.”

“Oh, you’ll understand in time… I hope,” the younger brother commented before his cinnamon colored eyes drifted back down to his pair of cards.

I was still standing by the table, waiting for a summary of the discussion or at least some kind of reassurance that I wasn’t the subject. It privately irked me that they could start talking again and leave me in the dark to wonder what it was all about. I usually respected Cegil’s privacy, but it was different if I felt that I was involved somehow. The giant falucite only let out a sigh before he requested me to place down the final card.

I quelled my urge to growl and decided to pester him about it later- there were other things to worry about at the moment. I glanced down at the card I drew and found the grinning face of Elit, who the God of water card represented. I wasn’t sure what it meant to the outcome of the game, but I still couldn’t help but feel that it meant something to me.

The winning hand was an immortal flush (the highest rank one could get in Phidus) and for once, no one was happy to see it.

To the Next Chapter

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