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"It's okay," I say.
And now, it's down to Hina and me. I ask to play from Floyd's end of the table. Surprisingly, he agrees to switch sides without a fuss as long as we start as the Attacker.
We go through the usual steps and have fourteen Guns by our side. Eight Stones, two Fires, two Winds, and two Reflects. It seems like a good draw. At best, he could only have four Stones and ten Fires for offense. We'll have to be careful of any Reflects he has too for our Stones.
I whisper to Hina to discuss the best first move. We go with Reflect because Floyd has been on the offensive on the first turn the previous games. We want to hide the fact that we have eight Stones. By refusing to use it, it could confuse him to think that we have few Stones to play. It's also a good move because he probably has a lot of Fires in his hand. Reflect is the best way to defend against it.
"Kai, you seem a bit overprotective of Ruby and Marin. You don't want to see them get hurt. Evidently, they withstood my questions better than expected. There's one thing I find strange in all this. You're in a relations.h.i.+p with Hina, but you worry more about them. Why is that?"
Based on the previous games, it's best to answer with some truths and some lies. It's better to be honest as much as possible, so it's harder to be caught in a trap. It's going to be slightly tricky with the Ruby situation. "I grew up with Marin and four others at the Academy. Unfortunately, the four others died not too long after graduation. We met Ruby around the same time, who lost her entire team, instantly bonding with us. That's why I'm protective of them."
"Hmm...so who would you save if Marin, Ruby, and Hina were in mortal danger if you could only save one?"
This is the hardest question I could ever answer if it was a serious one. Times like these, it's better to use a random answer with a logical explanation. Helps keep up appearances with Aisha and Ada too. "Hina, obviously. She's my Pearl, the one I value most. I love her."
"That's cruel of you to abandon a friend you've known for years over a girl you recently met. s.e.x with her must be great. How'd you meet Kai?"
"We went to the Academy together, same year."
"Hmm. You were on different teams, yet you were drawn together. How long have you been dating?"
"About a month."
"Oh, very recent. Still in the honeymoon phase. That brings me to question Kai's sanity in deciding to save you over Marin. What good is having a woman around if you can't screw her, right? l.u.s.t is one h.e.l.l of a drug," Floyd says as he locks in his Gun. Trying to make me look bad at any angle he can muster. "That choice contradicts his protectiveness of Ruby and Marin. Perhaps he lost his lover in that same attack."
Wait. I never mentioned anything about an attack. And we learned from Viessa that the news of the attack didn't spread, so how'd he know? He could've inferred based on what I said, but wouldn't he think it was due to the nature of the job of an adventurer? Like a monster attack. But that could be what he meant.
Tch. He chose Replenish. That's a strange one to pick on the first turn, and he deviated from his past behavior. We wasted a Reflect.
It's our turn to choose our two questions. While we could go with two standard ones, I want to switch things up. No one has bothered to ask him a tossup.
After he locks in his choice, I ask, "How'd you know I lost my friends in an attack?"
"Isn't it obvious? I partic.i.p.ated in the attack. I'm the one who killed them."
I widen my eyes. There's no way that's true. He wasn't that masked man, but he could be playing dumb. Or he hit a different part of the city.
Hina whispers, "Kai, he's obviously lyin'. Don't pay too much attention."
Yeah, she's right. I'll catch him in a lie using his methods. I ask, "What kinda black mask were you wearing?"
He pauses for a few seconds before responding, "It wasn't black. It was white with a snake on it."
What?! Was he really part of the attack?
"Nice try. You're questioning whether or not I'm telling the truth, but it's obvious by now. I'm one of them."
"It's a guess," Hina whispers. "He knows we're lookin' for the snake earrin' group."
"How'd he know that it was white and not black? He might know something about them," I whisper.
"Most masks might be white in color. He mentioned masks were required in the black marketplace, so there's no doubt he's seen a lot of them," Hina whispers.
"Don't listen to her. She's wrong. By the way, you should really start using your Stones," Floyd says.
How does he know? He's like a hawk with an all-seeing eye.
Hina whispers, "I'm thinkin' we should go with Fire."
Is he telling us to pick Stone because he has a Reflect locked in? Fire won't do any good in that case. I whisper, "Replenish. It's a trap."
"Whatever you say," Hina whispers and then puts in the empty Gun.
Replenish versus Replenish, so we both draw an additional Gun each. We receive a useless Wind. Going with Stone might've been the best choice, but I don't want to play into his hand either. He wants to verify whether or not we have the Stones.
For our next pick, we decide to go with our last Reflect. He's bound to strike on the third turn, if not the first two.
Answering these questions is a pain. It's already obvious that playing in pairs is more of a disadvantage than an advantage, especially the part where he's allowed to ask us both two questions each to tear us apart. It wouldn't be as bad if Aisha and Ada weren't here because it wouldn't force us to respond in certain ways.
"You shouldn't have asked me about the attack. Now, the cat is out of the bag. The reason why it's risky for me to tell you anything about the snake earring group is that I would be labeled as a traitor if anyone found out. Was one of the four friends you had your previous lover?"
I tell myself to ignore everything he's saying. Pay no attention to it. It's all lies. I calmly answer, "Yes."
"Did you lose your lover in the attack too, Hina?"
"Ah, truly tragic. Coming together to grief loss...with hot, steamy s.e.x," Floyd says and then laughs. "Not in a laughing mood, I suppose. You're hardening your mind, trying to ignore my words. You're stubborn. Just like how you're adamant about saving your Stones."
"Hurry up and ask your question," I say. He's wasting so much time.
"You're not very good at this. You should learn from Marin. Your impatience is very revealing. I apologize for boring you. Ruby said she would kill Marin if she dated you behind her back. She sounded sincere... It makes me wonder why she hasn't killed Hina yet."
My heart starts racing. I don't move much or break eye contact with him.
"Perhaps she knows that your relations.h.i.+p isn't a serious one. Or it's an illusion altogether. When we met, I didn't get a good impression that you two were a couple. Certainly didn't act like one," Floyd says with a smirk. "You said you loved her, but Ruby wasn't fazed at all. What do you think really think of Hina?"
d.a.m.n, I messed up. Going with the flow hasn't worked out for me. Should I deny everything he's saying and try to prove that I love Hina? I don't have a lot of strong arguments going for me. If he asks about specific reasons why I love her, I won't be able to come up with a genuine answer. If I don't sound sincere, it'll draw suspicion to Aisha and Ada and Floyd. A risk to both cases. Aisha and Ada should also have experienced first-hand that his accusations are sometimes close to the truth.
If I say everything's a lie and he's right about everything, it shouldn't make Aisha and Ada think that it's actually false. There is enough gossip floating around in the Castle about Hina and me. We've put on plenty of acts in the bedroom that people have started to make fun of us for being so loud. The problem here is more so that Floyd will a.s.sume that it's fake and ask harder questions. It'll be hard to keep up with all the lies.
The middle ground is the only option, but there's one small problem. The confession we did in the cafeteria started with Hina declaring her feelings for me. I reciprocated, but maybe it wouldn't be a surprise if I faked it. On the other hand, things don't make sense if Hina faked it, and if that becomes known, Captain Citrio might start something again. Then we're back to square one.
I'll have to take another hit to my reputation. Better than everything we've done collapsing. Our best option might be to forget about the game and try to lose as quickly as possible. This has become more of an interrogation than a game.
Hopefully, Hina catches on what I'm doing. We can't whisper now, or else my answer will look fake. I'll leave her some hints. I say, "I love her in the bedroom, but it's frustrating when she wants to stop before I'm satisfied. I've been trying my hardest to grow the small spark I felt for her. I can't do it if she doesn't cooperate. The spark has been fading slowly, and I think about breaking it off sometimes."
"Darling… Are you bein' serious?" Hina asks as if she's about to cry. Her acting skills are as good as always.
"Yeah, sorry. I know this isn't the best time or place to come clean about it," I say. A few tears drip down her face.
Floyd laughs. Ada and Aisha are talking, but I can't hear them.
Hina grabs onto one of my hands with both of hers. "I'm sorry for bein' inadequate. It's because I still think about Lucius a lot. Please give me more time. I know I'll come to love you more than him. I'll try harder."
I pause for a moment before answering, to seem like I'm considering her offer. "Fine. But next time, you'd better not stop me after only thirty minutes."
"Okay, Darling. I'll do anythin' you want."
G.o.d… I feel like such a sc.u.mbag, even though none of this is true. Rumors are going to be the death of me if this ever spreads.
Floyd claps slowly. "How does it feel to know that he doesn't care about you and solely wants to use you to his satisfaction?"
"A little sad, but I get it. I've been selfish. I'll work harder to win his affection."
"How about we call it here?" Floyd asks. "I'd hate to have to tear into the both of you after you've managed to make amends. You won't win against me anyway. You know it. I'm saving you the other damages you'd suffer by trying."
Do we take his offer? I still wanted to ask him what he left to take care of. Nothing would've come from it anyway. He'll make up something, and I won't be able to tell if it's true or not. I can't do the same thing he does.
How does he do it so seamlessly? The ability to pick apart our lies like that. It's almost like the time with Pem. She had a ridiculously good sense of smell, able to tell whenever I felt nervous or even excited.
I whisper to Hina, "I think we should forfeit."
"You sure?" she whispers. "I feel bad for Aisha's team."
"It's too risky. Floyd's extremely perceptive. What if he finds out what we just played out was fake too?" I ask. Or what if he already knows, but he's playing along? I don't know. It could be why he suggested it.
"Yeah, let's give up before it gets any worse," she whispers.
"Whispering about what you're going to do to her later?" Floyd asks as I face forward.
I smile and reply, "Of course. We forfeit."
I expect to take some s.h.i.+t from Ada, especially since we gave up before it was over. Surprisingly, she's not giving me any nasty looks right now.
"Well, then. As agreed, Aisha and her team will provide certain services until they've raised twenty gold coins," Floyd says. "With at least Aisha performing up to second base, it shouldn't take more than half a day between all of you."
"No, I won't be doing second base anymore," Aisha says.
Floyd snickers. "What are you scared of? Losing control and doing something you regret? I thought you were strong. Something like this isn't that big of a deal for you. Resist the urges, and don't let them overwhelm you."
"It's not as simple as that."
"Of course it isn't because you're only pretending. If you were strong, you wouldn't be insecure, you'd be confident. If you were strong, you wouldn't let anything phase you no matter what happens to you. Instead of losing control, go all the way from the start. Stop denying what your body craves. Why do other opinions matter?"
"Aisha, forget him. Let's go," Ada says.
Aisha doesn't budge and says, "You don't understand."
"I understand clearly. You're trying to please your parents. You want to preserve the perfect image people have of you. You're letting others decide how you live your life."
"No, I took control of my own life. Everything wasn't just handed to me. I worked for it from the very beginning. My mom wanted me to be a normal housewife, but I wanted to be an Adventurer. She would only allow me to attend the Academy if I showed promise in archery. My father hired a tutor and I trained hard every day. I pa.s.sed his test with flying colors. I've pa.s.sed every challenge since then and changed their minds about marrying me off to someone else. I'll make our name famous with my strength."
Floyd shrugs, smiles, and shakes his head. "You don't realize what spoiled little girl you are. Everything in your life has gone the way you want, and it's all because of your family."
"No, it was all because of me!"
"Without that tutor, you wouldn't have gotten into the Academy. A true talented Archer could've mastered it without any help. I wouldn't be surprised if your parents had a hand in every one of your so-called challenges. You rely on your family's support to succeed. That's why you tried to use their wealth to satisfy the twenty gold coin requirement. When that didn't work, you tried to use their fame to your advantage. I wouldn't be surprised if they're sending you money as additional income. I know how scarce money can get in the army. Without them, you're nothing. You're weak."
"Fine! I'll prove that I'm strong. I'll overcome this challenge as I've always had. Play us again in Tower Wars."
"What the h.e.l.l are you doing? This isn't like you," Ada says and then puts her hand on Aisha's shoulder. "It's fine that we lost. Let's reconvene with the others and decide what to do next. I don't want to play again."
"Listen to her. None of us are gonna partic.i.p.ate again," I say. I agree with Ada for once. Aisha's letting Floyd get to her too much. She can't be stupid enough to agree to another twenty gold coin bet. Floyd's been more aggressive with his words compared to the games we played. I'm not sure if Aisha will listen to us at this point. He's got her reeled in. "We have information about the auction. We don't need anything else."
"Darling's right. You don't need to do this," Hina says.
"You should listen to them. Let them decide what you can or can't do," Floyd says with a smirk."
Aisha brushes off Ada's hand and then says, "I'll do this alone if I have to. If I win, you'll tell us about the snake earring group and negate our twenty gold coin deficit."
"I don't have time for more than one more match, so this works for me. You'll have to take on something of equal risk. Forty gold coins—no, fifty gold coins. Ten extra for my time."
She can't be serious about this. Floyd said it would take half a day with Aisha performing up to second base for twenty gold coins. If she loses this, that's going to be too much to make up. It's none of my business at this point. If she wants to risk everything, I'll let her. Ada's always been bragging about their great teamwork. I'll see how this plays out.
"Aisha, stop this! This is insane. This isn't your decision. It's affecting me, Melody, and Doris. I don't agree with this and neither would they. Please, let me bring them here so they can talk some sense into you. You're not seeing this clearly. I'll be back," Ada says and then runs off.
"What are you waiting for?" Floyd asks after Ada is out of view. "I don't have all day. If you're getting scared, now's the time to back off. You still have time. Just admit you're weak."
"Fine. Let's do this. I'm going to beat you. You won't get lucky this time and win by one move," Aisha says.
"Well then, shall we play?" Floyd asks as he sets up the game.
Ada's going to be p.i.s.sed when she finds out that Aisha started without consulting everyone first. This whole game can only end in one way. Aisha's loss. I've always thought that Aisha was the most level-headed person on their team, but look at what's happened. Has it only been luck that they've made it this far?
Then again, Floyd's on a completely different level. He roped us in taking the twenty gold coin bet by pretending to be bad in the lower value bet. His hostility now makes me doubt the validity of the information he gave us previously. Though, it could've all been part of his plan to earn our trust.
I can't believe he would go through this roundabout way to make himself a little richer. He said business was booming. He didn't need to go through all that trouble to rob us. Maybe it was for another goal. He's been aggressively pursuing Aisha. Even in the first game, he didn't seem to care as much for Ada. He asked normal questions to Ruby and Marin after his return from an urgent matter. And he offered us a way out.
What does he gain from pus.h.i.+ng Aisha over the edge? Making their team owe more money means that they'll have to provide a higher level of service if they want to pay off the debt. He did ask her if she would join him in a private room for 200 gold coins. So, all he wants is to get into her pants? Am I missing something here?
I think of some other possibilities but can't make sense of anything. Why am I trying to understand a criminal's actions? There's no logic in his actions. This could all be his twisted way of having fun.
Aisha starts her game against Floyd.
One thing surprises me about how the game develops. He's stopped asking the interrogation type questions. He asks the standard questions and has made the best move possible on every move Aisha has made. The game proceeds heavily in his favor. Aisha has 14 hit points against Floyd's 20.
"This is the real world. See what happens when your parents aren't in constant support of you?" Floyd asks as Aisha decides on her next move.
Her arms quiver as she tries to decide which Gun to lock in place.
10 hit points against 19. The gap increases. Floyd continues to talk down to her outside of the Examination Phases. Her voice begins to crack when it's her turn to ask him questions. It's hard to watch.
"Your parents will be so proud of the strong woman you've become."
7 against 18.
The game's pretty much over at this point. I don't want to say anything to interrupt the game in any way. Who knows if Floyd will turn on us when we've just escaped his interrogation.
Aisha silently sniffles as some tears escape her eyes. She hasn't talked back against Floyd a single time.
"You've let your emotions cloud your judgment, and now your team pays the price. What a great leader you are."
5 against 18.
"I-I'm so-sorry," Aisha says, her crying overwhelming her. "P-please…"
"What's this now?"
"I'll gi-give my-myself t-to you. S-so please…"
"In exchange for what?"
"Fi-fifty gold coins."
Floyd cackles and then says, "Your self-indulgence sees no end."
"Tw-twenty go-gold coins."
"You'll give yourself to me for free unless you want to be thrown away."
"You've been stupid enough to inform me exactly what family you belong to. I'll tell them in detail about what you'll do in the coming days."
"No? Okay, I'll send a—"
"No, I-I mean I'll do it."
"Good. There's one other thing… The discussion we had earlier about your pay rate is off. You'll accept my new terms or consider yourself disowned. Don't worry. I'll leave your friends out of it. They shouldn't have to suffer for their incompetent leader."
"You forfeit the game, yes?"
"Now, I need you to stop crying. Put on a good performance, and you'll be free to go by the end of tomorrow, but you'll need to start now. Wait here," he says and then turns to the rest of us. "I'll escort the rest of you out of here."
I feel bad for Aisha. She's made some stupid decisions this time around, but it happens to everyone. Sometimes, we can't control our emotions as good as we'd like. She doesn't deserve to be punished this harshly. There's nothing we can do for her at this point unless we find a way to come up with a large sum of gold immediately.
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"Wait," Aisha says. "Don't tell the rest of my team about this. And tell Ada I'm sorry."
We follow Floyd without saying a word.
"Why're you doing this?" I ask. Aisha's far enough out that there's no longer a risk if Floyd tries to say anything about Hina or me. He doesn't answer. "Has this anything to do with the thing you left to care of?"
No answer again. No changes in movement either. Not even a flinch.
"Don't worry about Aisha. I may be a crook, but I have an honor code. She'll be returned alive," Floyd says upon arriving at the entrance. "Well, Kai. I hope you enjoy your night with Hina as much as I'll enjoy mine with Aisha. One last thing, though. I advise you to be careful. My hands are tied on this one. Until next time."
His hands are tied…? Is that a hint? Why would he say that? It must have something to do with that matter he went to take care of, but he'd planned the whole trick with the game before that. And he's the boss of the Casino, so no one should hold any authority over him. Even if there were, why would he be forced to take Aisha to bed?
"Well, what now?" Hina asks. "Are we goin' to wait for the others to arrive here?"
"Yeah, we'd better," I respond. "Wouldn't want Ada to barge into the Casino."
We do just that and wait for the others to arrive.