- Night had fallen.
- The sky was as dark as the obsidian streets of the city, the swirling red fog choking the pale moonbeams that attempted to filter through to provide wan illumination. Even for the generally quiet city, this black Phaestian night was unusually silent, not even a single chittering rodent to be heard.
- Neither the darkness nor the silence fazed the Mhun in the slightest, however, as she made her way northwest with quick strides. Stygian cloak fluttering around her ankles, she followed the winding road as it ascended the mountain, nodding to the few soldiers she passed and completely ignoring the wretched slaves that hastened to get out of her way.
- It wasn't until a small, dingy tavern came into view that she finally turned off the main road, heading up the small lane that led up to the establishment. Unlike the rest of the city, the Worm and Grub was as rowdy as always, the familiar ambience of shouting patrons and breaking glass audible even from the path, warm firelight streaming from the windows.
- Pressing a gloved palm upon the thick oak door, she pushed and it swung inward, allowing her entrance. The pungent odour of pipe smoke mingled thickly with the aroma of cooking food - slightly burnt, from the charred smell - as she moved quickly through the shadowed hallway, not sparing a glance for either the crowded common room on the left or the bustling taproom on the right.
- At the end of the hallway was a spiralling wooden staircase with a wrought-iron railing that curved up to the second floor. Running her hand over the cold iron as she ascended, she soon emerged onto a dimly lit landing, a dusty lantern swaying overhead; here the jovial clamouring of the tavern patrons was replaced by the sounds of shuffling cards and arguing gamblers, interspersed with the familiar tak-tak-tak of a roulette wheel spinning.
- She moved silently into the western room, slipping nimbly past some loud, off-duty soldiers, peering with some difficulty through the smoke and dust before she saw him. He was sitting alone at the black-and-red wheel, a bored-looking attendant waiting next to him as he studied the painted numbers thoughtfully. Her lips quirked upwards in amusement.
- Choosing a stool next to him that looked slightly less dusty than the others, she slid gracefully onto it, glancing at the wheel. "Are you winning yet?" she asked him.
- He flicked his green gaze briefly to her, before turning back to ponder the wheel. "Well, I was."
- "I do not know how you do it," she said, watching as he placed a small pouch on the table with a muffled 'clink'. "I like my gold too much."
- He chuckled. "All in good fun." He signalled to the attendant, who leaned forward in polite inquiry. "Third quarter, please." The attendant nodded and straightened, loudly crying, "No more bets! No more bets!" and spun the wheel as hard as he could. The small white ball bounced around wildly upon the wheel, and despite herself she could not help but be fascinated by its bouncing dance - fortunes had been won or lost on the whims of this tiny sphere.
- "How much-"
- "Five thousand gold."
- She winced a little, then shrugged her slender shoulders lightly and continued watching. Five thousand gold was a considerable sum, but it was his coin to waste, after all.
- The ball hopped and skipped merrily over the various numbers, propelled by the momentum of the spin. As the wheel slowed, however, it bounced once, twice...and finally settled upon the number 14.
- "Better luck next time!" the attendant said smugly, grabbing the coin pouch and tucking it within a drawer underneath the table.
- He glowered at the blonde-haired man for a moment, before turning to her. "Choose a number between one and thirty-two.'
- Caught off-guard, she could only manage a slight widening of her eyes in surprise before reverting to her implacable demeanour. "Ah...four?"
- He took out yet another pouch from the folds of his cloak, this one evidently heavier than the last, as he nodded curtly to the attendant. "Ten thousand on four."
- "Ten-" But the attendant had spun the wheel now, and she watched nervously as the ball bounced wildly around again, tak-tak-tak-
- "Thirty-two. Better luck next time!" the attendant chirped brightly, sweeping the pouch of gold off the table and into the drawer to join the first.
- "You should- I did not realise you were going to bet on that!" she exclaimed, stricken with guilt as he scowled at the attendant. "That is a rare number as it is."
- He shrugged slightly, withdrawing another jingling pouch - how much coin did he -have-, she wondered - and tossing it on the table again. "Second quarter, five thousand."
- Luck simply was not on his side that day as the ball rattled almost smugly into the hollow marked "4". He sighed, and she wrinkled her nose slightly in sympathy as the smirking attendant swept the coins away. "Wrong order."
- "Well, last ten thousand." He dropped the pouch on the table, folding his robed arms behind it.
- "Why do you not just -stop-?" she asked, genuinely perplexed. "You would not then lose what you have, still."
- "Because then you would also have no chance of winning it back, and it would be a guaranteed loss. No risk, no reward." He tilted his head slightly as he shot her a sideways glance. "Peck me for luck?"
- She blinked in surprise at the odd request, then chuckled softly as she shook her dark head. He really was incorrigible, she thought in amusement, but decided to indulge him in a rare flight of whimsy as she leaned forward and pecked him quickly on the cheek. As if there was such a thing as good luck, particularly since the death of the Messenger God - and even if there was, it would certainly not be transferable through something as trivial as a peck.
- "Third quarter, Ardak," he said to the attendant, who simply shrugged, blew a lock of platinum hair off his forehead and grasped the wheel, sending it once more into a spinning red and black blur.
- Despite herself, she covered her eyes with her fingers, daring only to peek through the gaps. He was bound to lose this one as well, and then she would feel guilty - he had made her unwittingly complicit in determining his fate. Gambling was such a ridiculous pursuit - so much hard-won gold lost in indulging the tiniest potential for greater return. Better to keep the bird in hand.
- Well, she supposed he would earn it back later, somehow-
- "Twenty-two! We have-" Ardak paused for a moment, then sighed. "...a winner," he finished dejectedly.
- Her eyes widened in incredulous surprise as the attendant took the pouches he'd so happily confiscated before out of the secret drawer and a few more besides, tossing them over to her smirking partner with ill grace. "Thirty thousand sovereigns, enjoy," he grumbled.
- The pouches landed with heavy clinks upon the tabletop, and he grinned triumphantly as he pulled them to him - and pushed them all over to her. Stunned, she turned her wide-eyed gaze to him, a question in her eyes; he shrugged nonchalantly at her and pushed back his chair, making as if to leave the table.
- Hastily, she gathered the pouches up and dropped them in her satchel, feeling their weight strain the strap satisfyingly. If he wanted to give her gold, she wasn't going to refuse - she liked gold.
- She couldn't help giving a soft chuckle of appreciation at his implausible luck - the most incredible things always happened in his favour, it seemed - and he flashed a knowing grin at her as he stood, moving into the shadowy landing as she followed.
- "That peck, huh?" he asked as they descended the staircase and pushed open the tavern doors, emerging into the night.
- "So it seems," she said amusedly. "Good for one use only. I have all your hard-earned winnings now, though."
- "My winnings? Oh, not mine. And not all of them." His green eyes gleamed with humour as they continued down the mountainside.
- "That is true. I suppose you still won."
- "I did indeed." They had reached the foot of the mountain, passing by the portcullis that guarded the entrance to the city. Rows and rows of piked heads stood sentry next to the large iron gate, and he paused momentarily at one - that of a blank-eyed male Horkval, a silver lotus blossom pin stabbed incongruously into the centre of his forehead. His grin widened as he patted the dulled exoskeleton patronisingly. "All in good fun, eh, Phras?"
- Her soft laugh echoed in the streets, lingering long after they vanished into the gloom of the nearby guardhouse.
All In Good Fun
StoriesbyJurixe Jul 20th, 2013 89 Never
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