Tales from the Hole: Conquest

Conquest

“I know it’s my turn.” he stammers nervously, sweat obvious on his forehead. “Gimme a minute.” He mutters to himself, counting on his fingers, looking at his units on the board. “No, no, not there. That’s the stupid move.” he berates himself under his breath. He wipes away the sweat on his brow with the back of one sleeve. He doesn’t feel any nervousness.

His only remaining opponent, a small framed woman, leans back in her chair, a smug smile of victory etched across her face.  It’s only the quarter-final match in the tournament, but she’s playing a much higher stakes game.

His vision blurs and he blinks hard, staring at the game table, willing the next move to reveal itself. He feels a little faint, too dizzy for the small amount of booze he’s had, and finds himself using his arms to lean on the table.  He realizes something isn’t right. A small panic seizes him, but he wills it down. He cannot walk away and forfeit the game. He’s gambled his family’s entire livelihood on this tournament, and he wasn’t going to return home again a loser.

The timer continues to countdown. Twenty eight seconds left for his turn. He looks up at the Gallentean woman who had been a wildcard surprise. He loathes her. She is beautiful, confident, fit and he isn’t the only one that thinks as much. Men had been trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to charm her affections all day. He almost wished one would succeed to at least distract her and give him an edge. Her play style is so unorthodox, so hard to counter. She is all aggression but in a way that yields beautiful defense. He hasn’t ever seen anything like it before.

He makes his move, stumbling back, his ass barely finding his chair as he collapses into it. Something is definitely wrong with him. He won’t back down. He can’t walk away. He has to win. Everything depends on it.

She stays seated in her chair, her fingertips touching the smirk on her lips as she surveys the board. There is an animal-like hunger behind those eyes, a hunter’s instinct that sees things the rest of us cannot. The game amuses her. She could care less about the money. For her it’s about the thrill of crushing her opponents.

Gracefully she stands, her lithe form silently gliding towards the table. Her long arm reaches out as her index finger and thumb gently wrap around the top of her playing piece. Slowly, her lips pout, her eyes darting around the make-believe battlefield once more. She smiles then, her eyes looking up and locking with his, her hand moving her playing piece into its new position without looking.

He can hardly focus enough to understand her move.

“I raise 5000 ISK.” she says as she sits down. There are murmurs of excitement throughout the gathered crowd at the high amount she has wagered. One of the main studio camera drones orients itself in front of her, zooming in to catch her calm expression and broadcast to any watching this tournament.

He’s having troubling swallowing. His nose is runny but he won’t sniff. He knows he cannot show weakness. What he doesn’t see is how dilated his own pupils are, how violently his body is trembling. It’s noticeable to everyone but him. It’s especially noticeable to her.

His moment of truth is upon him. His wise or foolish choice though really there is no choice. He can’t walk away now. It’s far too late for that in this game.

“All in.” he says in a cracked voice, his throat aching with the effort. He can hardly see as sweat drips into his eyes and he finally uses a sleeve to wipe away his view, which remains blurry despite his efforts.

He staggers to the game table, his knees buckling once. The crowd collectively inhales, but he recovers and leans heavily on the solid play surface. His mind cannot focus. He cannot process a move.  She stands, a feigned look of concern on her face and she starts forward with a single half step, extending her hand with care. “Are you all right?” she asks, her eyes wide open with sincerity. He loathes her. He detests his own life, his choices that brought him here to this moment. He hates the universe for betraying one more time and giving him nothing but bad luck.

“I’m … I’m. Fine.” he gets out with tremendous effort. He brings his eyes to look at hers but they continue upwards of their own free will. The motion makes him nauseous and his world spins. He legs give out and his head smashes once against the table before he falls onto his back, foamy spittle falling out of one side of his mouth.

The game timer counts down. He has thirty seconds before he hands over the game.

She is above him, nothing but care in her eyes. “Are you ok? Someone, get a medic!” she cries. He sees dark figures around him staring down but nothing exists but her. She leans close to him, her ear listening for breath and he tries to tell her how much he hates her, but no words form. She leans close to him and whispers lovingly in his ear “I guess we both know you’ll never gamble away what you’ve borrowed again.” and smiles, ever so slightly, before pulling back, her expression one of terror.

Five seconds remain on the game clock. Pure dread overcomes him. He knows he has lost not only his life, but everything for his family.

“I forfeit.” she yells at the top of her lungs. The game timer stops. A buzzer sounds. Everything around him goes dark.

He is dead, she knows. She takes her leave of the commotion in the Black Hole Pub.

She has already won her game.

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