The Selection

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Chapter 69 - Inteiru Expota - Tower Wars

Floyd and the others rejoin us.

The atmosphere is a little tense right now, and I can’t let the others catch on. Need to lighten the mood somehow.

“So, did you guys settle on a value?” I ask and let out a chuckle. If comparing busts, Ada is the smallest. “Ada’s worth less, right?”

“Shut it.”

“Just the ballpark,” Aisha informs.

“Well, with that settled, let’s move onto the game. I’ve been working on a new game concept based on rock paper scissors. This table here is the only one in the entire Casino. It’s still under development, but this is the first playable iteration. I enjoy it because it’s not completely up to chance.”

“So, you’ll have an advantage because you made it and know how it works,” I say. There has to be a catch working to his advantage. That’s how it always worked on the Drymo’s streets.

“Yes, but it’s not hard to learn. You’ll see. I’m offering you the chance to play in pairs and have three opportunities to beat me once. My winning condition will be beating all three pairs.”

“Fine. What’re the rules?” I ask.

“The game is called ‘Tower Wars.’ There are five phases in a round. It starts with the Attacker Phase, where the player decides on a move. The options are Stone, Wind, Fire, Reflect, or Replenish. Replenish means having no attack and the opportunity to draw one of the other four at random.”

“The Examination Phase comes after the Attacker Phase, and it gives the other person a short window to engage in conversation with the attacker to determine what move they have chosen. The Defender is allowed to ask two questions in which the Attacker must give a definite answer, truth or not. An answer like ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I refuse to answer’ won’t be valid. It’s a mind game. Then it’s the Defender Phase where the person who hasn’t locked in a Gun chooses their move.”

“The fourth phase is the Event Phase. We observe what both players have chosen. Relatively speaking, Wind beats Stone, Fire beats Wind, and Stone beats Fire. Reflect uses Abjuration magic, and it’s self-explanatory. You’d want to use Replenish when the opponent uses Wind or Reflect. The only way to deal damage to the other opponent is through successful usage of Stone and Fire or Reflecting the opponent’s Fire or Stone.”

Some of those descriptions don’t sound right to me. Fire loses to Stone? I’ll wait until the end to clarify that point.

“The last phase is when any players who chose the Replenish option have the opportunity to select a Gun from the stockpile blindly,” Floyd explains and opens up something at the center of the table. There are dozens of Guns facing down. He takes one and then slides something on the handle, revealing the letter ‘S,’ presumably for Stone. “As you can see, they can’t be distinguished until you’ve selected one and checked manually.”

“You’ve probably memorized the locations of the Guns,” I say.

“The location of each Gun changes and it’s to be determined at the beginning of the game. There are a total of 12 Stones, 12 Winds, 12 Fires, and 6 Reflects. The game starts with each player taking turns selecting a Gun at random until both players have 14 Guns each. A shuffle fixes their initial location before that. Once Guns are used, they go into the trash bin. Also, each player is given the Replenish gun, which has nothing inside. All the Guns in your possession must be placed on the table if it’s not your turn. The roles of Attacker and Defender are swapped every round.”

The game seems simple enough. The luck comes into play when drawing your initial hand and drawing new Guns with Replenish. I mean, there’s some luck involved too with the outcome of the battle. According to Floyd, it’s a mind game, but there’s no way you can read your opponent with a one hundred percent certainty.

“So, shall we play?” Floyd asks.

He never clarified how the moves counter each other. I ask, “How does Stone beat Fire?”

“It might be easier to demonstrate. Keep in mind that the scale of the magic is not large to ensure that the participants aren’t injured accidentally,” he explains while taking several Guns from the table. These Guns don’t have a trigger button like the ones I’ve seen before. “The amount of Fire shot out is minuscule. Stone wins since there’s more of it.”

He moves around and inserts the Guns into the poles sticking out from each end of the table. “My engineer is still in the process of adjusting the properties of the Stone and Fire to make it do what I want. The final version of the game will utilize a Mana barrier around your tower as your lifeline, but we don’t have that now.”

He presses a button at the center of the table. Five seconds later, a tiny rock shoots out from below the Gun opening toward the other side. Meanwhile, the other side shoots out a thin layer of Fire, the same size as the rock. They collide briefly, and then the Fire disappears. The rock continues forward while descending slightly, eventually hitting the tower. It bounces off the surface, the table, and then finally the ground.

“As you see, Stone beats Fire. When the Mana barrier is set up, the remaining Stone will disintegrate into it, dealing some Durability damage,”

“How does damage work without the Mana barrier?” Aisha asks. “How many hits can the tower take?”

“We’ll say it has twenty hit points. A full Stone deals three, a full Fire deals two, and a leftover Stone from a collision with Fire deals one. If all the Guns are exhausted, we redo the shuffle with the ones in the trash pile and deal Guns as at the beginning of the game, but the hit points do not reset.”

“What about the Fire versus Wind event? You’re sayin’ that the Fire still does two damage?” Hina asks.

“That’s right. The Wind utilizes Blunt Wind magic, so it doesn’t deal any Durability damage as you’re all familiar,” Floyd explains. I didn’t know that but nod my head anyway. “It beats Stone by reducing its Kinetic Energy to the point where it can be shifted away from the tower. Fire magic can’t lose Kinetic Energy, so it doesn’t have a damage reduction.”

“Right...and the other kind of Wind magic’s called…?” Hina asks.

I’ve seen both types of Wind magic as everyone here, but I never learned their formal names. There’s one type that cuts and the other type that’s more of a push force. The devastating Wind magic Moria mentioned must’ve been the cutting type. I don’t know why neither Ada nor Hina has bothered utilizing it. Then there’s Blunt Wind...Floyd says it doesn’t do any Durability damage? All those times, people used Wind magic to push me away, I could’ve used Scrap Mana every time, and it would’ve made no difference. I should’ve suspected it when my Mana armor never broke. And what’s Kinetic Energy? Fire magic can’t lose that?

“Sharp Wind,” Ada responds, “I thought you knew better than your stupid boyfriend.”

“Shush. I haven’t invested in Wind magic as much. I wanted to know the formal name for reference.”

“If you knew about it, why haven’t you ever used it?” I ask.

“It’s too annoying to deal with.”

“In other words, you suck at it,” I say and then laugh. “You’re not any better off than her.”

“I don’t want to hear that from an idiot who only knows how to use Fire magic. It’s the most straight-forward Evocation type. Perfect for you.”

“Well, if there are no more questions, why don’t we get started?” Floyd asks.

“What’s Kinetic Energy?” I ask. Floyd gave us answers without asking for wagers regarding magic before. It’s convenient.

He cocks an eyebrow and asks, “Don’t you know already? You all used to be adventurers, right?”

“How’d you know?” I ask.

“It’s obvious. Those formally trained in the army wouldn’t be in this part of town right now, sniffing around. I’ve been giving you answers because I thought you knew most of this already. If you want to know, we can add it to our wager. A value of two more gold coins for the basics.”

“Wait, no,” Ada says. “I’m not risking more for that when I could attend an informational seminar.”

“It’s fine, Ada. It’s only two more gold coins,” Aisha says.

“Ugh, fine…” Ada concedes.

“Go ahead and add it. We’ll settle the details later as discussed,” Aisha says.

“Very well. Anyone have anything else to add?” Floyd asks.

It would be a stupid question, but I’m curious what he plans to do with all the leftover rocks from the Stone events. My guess is that the Earth Affinity Crystal that’s utilized is a small one. Eventually, they would start disappearing, but the size of these rocks is pretty small. He did say it wasn’t a finished game. Without that Mana barrier, it can fly off the table. It’s a bit too small to do anything, but who knows if it hits an eye.

“Let’s do this. We’ll go first,” Ada says as she and Aisha step forward.

“We’ll go last,” I say and put an arm around Hina. I’ll observe closely to see if Floyd uses a trick to win. It’s got to be worth something if I discover he’s cheating. He’d have to give us a free pass.

“Very well. I hope you’ll go easy on me. I’m sure ex-adventurers like you will have no problem picking up this game,” Floyd says as he returns the Guns back to the center of the table.

Aisha and Ada shuffle around the Guns in the middle for a few minutes to their liking. The match starts with our team and Floyd taking turns with their Gun selection until each side has fourteen. Floyd provides the empty Gun for himself and Ada.

Our team goes first, and they lock in a Gun for the Attacker phase. I’m not sure what to expect for the Examination Phase, but Floyd asks two standard questions whether Ada picked Stone for the first question and if she picked Fire for the second. Since we are playing in pairs, Floyd requests that each player answers two questions. He asks the same set of questions to Aisha. They answer the same.

Floyd locks in his choice. His selection is Wind against our Fire, so we deal two damage to him. This is what he meant by mind games. It looks like he isn’t too good at reading other people because our team responded with ‘No’ to whether or not they selected Fire as their move.

Aisha and Ada follow Floyd’s lead on the type of questions to ask during their Examination Phase. The rest of the game is about even but tips in our team’s favor. Floyd manages to do fifteen damage before losing all of his hit points. It could’ve gone either way with one wrong move for us.

“We did it!” Ada exclaims. She high-fives Aisha.

Floyd smiles and says, “Congratulations. I knew ex-adventurers would be tougher than the usual around here. As promised, I’ll tell you what I know about the auction and Kinetic Energy. Which one do you want to hear first?”

“Kinetic Energy,” I say. Let’s see what he tells us. I’m hoping for something worth two gold coins. He did say the basics, so it’s either hard to come across, or he’s conning us. Doesn’t matter too much since we won the bet.

“Kinetic Energy is, in essence, how fast magic is moving. Magic only lowers the Durability of other magic if it has Kinetic Energy. So, if any magic with Kinetic Energy comes into contact with magic without any, only the Durability of the one with no Kinetic Energy will be lowered,” Floyd explains.

It’s really straight forward. I’m not sure how some of this is applicable in combat for me since I only have Fire magic.

“If any two magical objects with Kinetic Energy collide, two things usually happen. The Durability and Kinetic Energy of both magical objects decrease. Anything with Kinetic Energy will decrease upon collision with any other magical object. The exception, however, is Fire magic. The Kinetic Energy from it can never lower from external forces.”

It’s true that whenever I shoot out magic, the speed that it flies through the air is constant. After blasting through other magic, it continues to move at the same speed. I guess for other magic, they would travel slower. I’m glad my talent was in Fire magic. The other Affinities seem weaker. Like Earth magic. After the Wind blows the Stone away, it’s useless. But wait, Ragnar used that stone cube to stop my strongest magic.

“Wait,” Ada says. “You’re wrong about one thing. You’re saying that stationary magic can’t lower the Durability of moving magic, right? But I know for certain that it does. One of our friends uses Earth magic, and we’ve tested this.”

“There are always special exceptions. Earth magic is special in that it doesn’t need any Kinetic Energy to lower the Durability of other magic. It’s no surprise to you that every magic has its advantages and disadvantages. Ordinary Mana doesn’t need to be moving to lower the Durability of other magic either.”

That makes more sense. Earth magic is suited for defense more than offense, especially because it has the highest Durability.

“Here’s one last piece of information on that note. Some magic, I know Earth included, has a certain Kinetic Energy threshold in which physical forces start acting on the magical object should the Kinetic Energy dip under it.”

“What do you mean?” Aisha asks.

“Think back to our game. Compare the Stone versus Replenish or Reflect compared to Stone versus Fire. What’s the difference?”

“Oh. In the Stone versus Fire event, the Earth magic dipped in a small arc downward. It wasn’t going straight anymore,” Aisha says.

“Exactly. It’s because the Kinetic Energy decreased past the threshold after the collision with the Fire magic, and then gravity pulled it down. In the other interaction, it shot straight until it hit one of the two towers. Hitting physical surfaces decreases Kinetic Energy too, but what’s interesting is that if it’s still above the threshold, after the ricochet, it’ll continue straight in the expected direction as a physical object would.”

Ohh… That’s why creating a rock ball and shooting it forward isn’t quite as advantageous to do compared to Fire magic because of the Kinetic Energy aspect. That’s why the Brown Ursa chose to rain boulders from above instead of from the sides. Even if Kinetic Energy reduces, gravity still gives it Kinetic Energy naturally. Splinter, too, mostly attacked from the air or from the ground. Spikes from the ground could serve as a defense barrier if the attack fails. Their decisions make a bit more sense.

I should be cautious in the future about taking on Earth magic head-on when they’re coming from the air. I got lucky the time with Ragnar. I only survived because of my Mana, and I happen to create a slanted wall that shifted the Kinetic Energy of the rock away from me.

“Kinetic Energy can be trickier when the user intentionally uses a non-straight path. I wouldn’t be able to tell you the specifics. Keep in mind that there are other nuances with it and special cases so don’t hold it against me if your plans in the future don’t go as planned.”

“Thank you for the lesson. What do you know about the auction?” Aisha asks.

“There’s an open marketplace down here where anyone can put an item for sale or trade for other goods. During the Inteiru Expota, there’s a surplus of both buyers and sellers. The auction was created to showcase some of the hottest items for sale in this three-day period. Anyone in the room can bid on an item as long as they have the gold to pay for it. It goes to the highest bidder.”

“What kinds of items are we talking about here?” I ask, having a good idea since this is the black market we’re talking about.

“It could be anything. Slaves, equipment, food, drugs, you name it, but what I’m personally most interested in is the shipment of new Aerkins. Do you remember when I mentioned that an unknown group has been supplying Aerkins at an all-time low price? It’s the same group,” Floyd informs.

Shipment of new Aerkins...it sounds familiar. I think Lotrem and Nazug were talking about it at the Icy tavern. I reply, “Yeah. I think I heard something about it. Something about it being on a completely different level?”

“Yes, you heard right. I’m excited because it could change the scene forever.”

“So, the auction is a building somewhere in the marketplace here?” Aisha asks.

“Indeed. There’s one requirement you should be aware of, however. It’s a safety precaution.”

“What’s that?” Aisha asks.

“Anyone wandering into the marketplace during the Inteiru Expota is required to wear masks as an unspoken required rule. It’s not enforced until you try to walk into the auction.”

A mask? I immediately think of the masked men. I ask, “Why?”

“As I’ve said, a safety precaution. Some people come from noble origins, and discretion is advised to ensure anonymity. All sorts of dangerous figures come to the event, and it’s best if your face isn’t seen by anybody. You don’t want to be marked. But it’s also to differentiate you from slaves, who won’t be wearing masks.”

So there’s a good chance for those snake earring guys or those masked men to appear. If Floyd knew anything about the snake earring group, it would be related to the auction, wouldn’t it?

Floyd continues, “Be warned. I advise you to keep your head down and mind your own business. Seeing how you’re broke, I don’t think you’re asking about the auction because you’re interested in purchasing something. Con artists lurk the scene. You shouldn’t trust everything someone tells you, especially in the marketplace. It’s an unenforced and dangerous zone.”

“If it’s so dangerous, why’re you planning to go?” I ask. He said he’s never fought ex-adventurers in the Tower Wars game and to go easy on him. That means he’s not one himself, or it’s weird to say that. He’s very knowledgeable about magic theory, though. What’s his background?

“I’ll be fine,” he replies calmly. “If there’s ever a time to purchase an Aerkin, it’s now. I’ll try my hand at the Achilles Sundance Circuit with the rumored shipment of Aerkins.”

“Who’re you to be so confident that you’ll be able to defend yourself in a place like that?” I ask. Perhaps he would hire a bodyguard. Or he’s confident enough on his own. “Did you serve in the army or work as an adventurer?”

“I have my ways. I’m afraid I can’t disclose that to you at any price.”

That’s a bit fishy, considering the risk he mentioned earlier for telling us a few things about the snake earring group. Whatever secret he’s hiding from us is something even more dangerous to know? He could be anything at this point. We know nothing about him other than his interest in the Achilles Sundance Circuit and that he’s the boss at the Casino. That alone draws suspicion in this mostly Dwarven populated area.

“The auction takes place from roughly 9 AM till noon on all three days. That’s all I have for you. Did you want to make another wager?”

“Yes. We’ll wager the same thing for the price of twenty gold coins in exchange for information on the snake earring group,” Aisha declares.

“Wait,” Hina interjects. “I need to talk to you and Ada about somethin’.”

Hina, Aisha, and Ada walk a few paces away from the group and huddle close together. She’s probably telling them about that thing from earlier. Only someone like Hina would know something like that. Their team is probably inexperienced in comparison. They whisper to each other for a minute before rejoining us.

“So, will you be taking on the wager?” Floyd asks. “Same rules as before. I’ll have to beat all three pairs to count as a win.”

“Yes, let’s do it,” Aisha says.

He wasn’t close to winning the first one, but he’s willing to play again under the same rule set? He must be confident about beating Aisha and Ada this time. But, he hasn’t had a chance to get a good read on Ruby and Marin or Hina and me yet.

While they’re setting up the game, I whisper to Hina, “So, what’d they say?”

“They’re goin’ to opt for the lowest level of service they can, but they’ll have to work longer hours. They won’t let it impact the investigatin’ work we’re doin’,” Hina whispers.

“I see. It’s not much to worry about. We won’t lose,” I say.

“Right.”

A few minutes pass, and they start the game as before. Aisha and Ada go first and lock in their Gun. It moves into the Examination Phase.

“Aisha, how many guys have you spread your legs for?” Floyd asks suddenly.

“Excuse me?” Aisha asks.

I knit my eyebrows. All the questions from the first game were pretty cut and dry, asking about if it was Earth, Fire, Wind, Reflect, or Replenish. How’s this accomplish anything?

“You heard me,” Floyd says and then smiles. “I haven’t heard your answer.”

“What the hell? That’s not a question about the game. You can’t do that,” Ada says.

“Of course I can. I’m free to ask any questions I’d like. Those are the rules. It’s not my fault you inferred incorrectly from the last game. Now answer it.”

Aisha stutters for a few seconds, unable to form a coherent word. She’s probably deciding to answer truthfully or lie. I don’t know why she’s putting so much thought into it. Just make up something.

She blushes and says, “T-two.”

“You mentioned messing around with guys before, but that’s a surprisingly modest number. That’s bold, giving me an honest answer. But you’re insecure about it. Do you think your parents would be proud of you right now?”

“Yes, they would be proud of me. I’ve grown into a strong, independent woman,” Aisha says without hesitation this time. It’s good that she answered the question literally without paying mind to his previous remarks.

Floyd shifts his gaze to Ada and asks, “You’ve admitted to being a virgin. Have you ever been curious about what sex feels like?”

“No, it sounds disgusting.”

“Don’t lie. Everyone’s curious about sex around your age. It would be strange if you didn’t. You said you didn’t hook up with your friends because it would make things awkward between you. Why didn’t you answer before that sex disgusts you?”

“I—uh…” Ada stammers. Floyd has been paying close attention to the conversations we’ve been having, remembering minute details. Ada’s clearly caught up in a lie. “I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”

With that, Floyd locks in his choice. He picks Wind against Fire. He loses two hit points. After all that, it didn’t do him any good.

In the next round, Ada and Aisha ask the standard questions. It worked last game, so that’s what they’re rolling with. Floyd’s tone of voice down to his body movements seems to be the same to me. Our team selects Reflect against his Fire. He loses two hit points again.

The cycle repeats to Floyd, asking our pair questions. Will he opt to ask those nonsensical questions again? It could be his ploy to ruin their reputations in the process in exchange for a tie of sorts.

“Aisha, the rich girl. You consider yourself to be a strong, independent woman. That’s why you confidently declared that you’d go as far as second base. If you’re really as strong as you claim, why not go all the way?”

“There’s no need to.”

“Well, when you say it like that, there was never any need at all. But, you readily offered your body to make up the cost deficit without considering other possible options. You want to be touched, but you have to keep up appearances. Wouldn’t want to be viewed as a slut. You love sex, don’t you?”

“Yes, I like it! But, so what?!” Aisha bursts out. “Who doesn’t? It feels good. I’m not ashamed to admit it. But I’m not that desperate to want it from complete strangers, so stop making up shit.”

I frown with a skew. Aisha’s taking this a little too seriously. This is the first time I’ve seen her lash out like this. Is she flustered because what he’s saying is true or because she can’t handle it when people have facts wrong?

Floyd only smiles and nods his head repeatedly.

“Aisha, don’t let this pervert get to you,” Ada says.

“Shut up,” Aisha answers. “I know.”

Floyd turns to Ada and says, “Ada, Ada, Ada… You’re rough around the edges and have violent tendencies. You don’t let people in easily and push people away instead. If I had to guess, it’s because you don’t want to get hurt. You can’t get hurt if you aren’t in a position to. Does that sound about right?”

“You’ve got it completely wrong. You’re not as smart as you think you are.”

“It’s easy to put together that the real reason why you’re still a virgin is that you don’t want to get your feelings hurt. A one night stand would leave you feeling empty and used. Instead, you yearn for meaningful love. Admit it. You want to be loved, right?”

Ada hesitates for a second before replying, “No, you’ve got it all wrong again.”

Oh boy… Even though Aisha and Ada are winning, it feels like they’re losing. They’re completely under Floyd’s control. With so little to go off of, he’s figured out how to agitate them off their game.

Floyd ends up using a Fire against a Wind. We lose two hit points.

What follows is either blind luck or calculated on Floyd’s part, but our team has been lagging behind. He starts mixing the standard questions following the questions he used at first.

It’s now down to our pair with two hit points left against Floyd’s three. Ada and Aisha have only one Gun left other than the empty one. Floyd has one more. If our team makes the wrong move this turn, it’s over. I haven’t been paying attention to every Gun that’s been used in the game so far to know what’s left. There are eight guns left in the Replenish pile.

Ada and Aisha take both Guns and hides from Floyd’s view so that he doesn’t know which one they select if he somehow knows which one is the empty one. They put a Gun into the tower and lock it in. The only way our team can win in a move is if they put in a Stone, and then Floyd selects Replenish or team uses a Reflect on Floyd’s Stone. But Floyd has to know that, so he wouldn’t pick Reflect or Replenish. I don’t know what anyone has, so I don’t know what will happen.

“This is your one time offer. Join me once in a private room for some unadulterated fun for 200 gold coins. What do you say, Aisha?”

I gape. 200 gold coins?! That’s insane. I didn’t think Floyd would be this type of person, though. But as Hina said, he’s a criminal. It shouldn’t come with that much surprise. Still, 200 gold coins...that’s no joke. Why would he pay that amount for something that mundane? I don’t know what the price is normally for that sort of activity, but it can’t be anywhere close to that number.

Aisha’s lips quiver for several seconds. She opens her mouth but doesn’t say anything and then closes them again. This question feels like it would be a no brainer, considering that she was willing to go as far as second base. For that high amount of gold increase for something a little further shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

“No thank you,” she responds after a while. “You haven’t won the wager yet. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“Aha, you thought about it. Judging by our conversation, I knew you wouldn’t agree to it, despite the generous offer. You’re agitated. You didn’t want to dance to my tune. It’s been really fun getting to know you. I love spoiled brats. Do you prefer top or bottom?”

“Bottom,” Aisha answers after another moment of hesitation.

“Ah, the strong woman. You’re not afraid of letting others take control. You’ll let them demean you, but it doesn’t shake who you are,” Floyd says and then glances at Ada. “I don’t need to ask about the flat-chested girl. You don’t have any redeeming ladylike qualities. I’ll forfeit the rest of my Examination Phase.”

“Screw you.”

“I’ve won this game either way. I have two Fires in my hand. No matter your play, you lost,” Floyd informs.

The event unfolds just as he stated. Our Stone against his Fire results in one damage to him, but with Aisha and Ada out of moves, they lose all their hit points in the next turn by default with the remaining Fire. It looks like he was asking Aisha questions for fun. I can’t believe these two idiots played into Floyd’s hand.

Up next is Ruby and Marin. Are they going to be able to take the heat if he asks those types of questions to them?

“Now, the next pair. You always have the option of forfeiting, too,” Floyd informs.

Forfeiting? That’s one option… Maybe Marin and Ruby should do that. I don’t want them to get hurt. Floyd knows where to poke. I don’t need Ruby to become more twisted as a result of him poking her the wrong way.

“Maybe you two should sit this one out,” I suggest as Marin and Ruby switch places with Aisha and Ada.

“No way, are you crazy?” Ada asks. “Don’t let that creep have his way.”

“Let them do what they want,” Aisha says with little energy.

“Aisha, what are you talking about?”

“We can’t force them. It’s their choice.”

Ada stares at her, scoffs, and shakes her head.

“Don’t worry, Kai. We’ll be fine,” Ruby says. “Right, Marin?”

“Yeah…” Marin answers weakly with a nod.

I inhale and exhale deeply. I already feel the anxiety that’s coming. Hina holds my hand, her eyes focused on the game.

It starts with the usual steps with Ruby and Marin starting from the Attacker side. How will they answer Floyd’s questions? I’m certain that Aisha tried answering honestly while Ada attempted the opposite. Both didn’t seem to work well. I don’t think it matters as long as Ruby and Marin don’t let Floyd’s words get into their heads. They haven’t said much, so Floyd shouldn’t have much to work with.

They make their choice, moving the game to the Examination Phase.

Floyd stares at them for several seconds and then says, “Kai seems to be protective of both of you. You probably were adventurers together before joining the army. Aisha has been transparent about her activities in the past with her team. Have you messed around with Kai? Long hair answers first.”

“Yeah, I did it with ’im lots!”

Is she answering as Ruby or…? Either way, it’s not completely accurate. So Ruby plans on spitting out lies. Though, a bit different than what Ada did.

“What about you, Marin?”

“No,” Marin answers quickly.

“So, you’re a virgin?” he asks.

My palms sweat. If she shows even a shred of doubt, it’s all over. Floyd will be relentless in pursuing lies like he did with Ada. Ruby will find out that I’ve slept with Marin at least once and possibly more. The fake relationship I’ve established with Hina could crumble too.

“Yes.”

“Very quiet and straight to the point. Back to you, long hair. How many other guys have you done it with?”

“A million.”

Wow. So, you’re a slut.”

“Shut up and move on. They’ve answered their questions,” I say.

“I’ll ask you to refrain from influencing the game. This is a two on one battle, outsiders aren’t allowed to talk.”

The game proceeds, somehow still mostly even favoring Floyd despite that he hasn’t been asking questions about their selection. The possibility that he’s cheating somehow is still possible, but I don’t know how he would be doing it. He’s just lucky. The good thing is that Marin and Ruby haven’t been fazed by his questions, yet.

“Strange how you aren’t helping Ada and Aisha with the services. I’ll bet that Kai didn’t want to include you and Marin. Tell me, though. A slut like you would volunteer given the chance, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll do anythin’ for Kai,” Ruby answers.

“You’ll do anything...so you love him?”

“Yup.”

I bite my lip. I know she’s telling the truth now. But what about before? Were they lies or truths? A million? That has to be false. Yeah. She’s mixing them up.

“The quiet one always has the most to hide. What secrets are you hiding…? Hmm… Do you like it top or bottom?”

“I don’t know. I have no experience.”

This is nerve-wracking. Any inconsistency or hesitation could end everything.

“Have you ever lied?”

“Yes,” Marin replies with a slight delayed response time. She might’ve thought about lying and then decided against it. It’s not too suspicious. Everyone has bound to have lied at some point. I remember Marin talking about how she dropped a rock on Hiro back then. She could be thinking of that or the secrets we shared together. I’m not sure if keeping a secret is the same thing as lying.

I need to think about what I’m going to say if it comes down to Hina and me. He’s definitely going to ask about my relationship with Hina and how often we get it on. When and where we met. We don’t have to be truthful, but we can’t be caught in an obvious lie in front of Aisha and Ada. So at least what’s truthful should be clear between us. They might also find it strange if we lie about something we’re open about.

I whisper my idea to Hina, and she’s on board. We brainstorm all the possibilities we can think of with appropriate responses after every Examination Phase for our team. It’s too intense to look away during those moments.

“Kai seems to be popular around the ladies. Why do you love him?”

“He fills a void in my heart. I feel happiest with him by my side,” Ruby responds.

“Who else have you loved in your life?”

She pauses for a moment and then answers, “No one.”

“You’re a good liar, Marin. You must do it a lot. Might fool everyone else, but not me. Who do you think about when you pleasure yourself?”

“An old friend.”

“An old friend, you say. Someone deceased, perhaps. Have you joined the army for revenge?”

“Yes.”

The game proceeds. I might’ve been worried for nothing. Ruby and Marin both have this under control. Yet, the battle is even. We have eight hit points left, and Floyd has nine.

“What do you think of your father, long hair?”

“I don’t have one.”

Her answer brings me to that scene from that day. I gulp down that sour taste that creeps in from the back of my throat, forcing it down.

“That’s a lie. Everyone has one, that’s how it works. You’ve got some daddy issues?”

No. I don’t have a dad.”

Now Ruby seems annoyed. I would be too with the way Floyd is asking these questions. But she was talking to herself that day. She said, “Daddy.” I remember it clearly. She...I mean, Luna didn’t have one. So, Ruby could have one, but no. Argh! I squeeze the skin between the eyes.

Floyd turns to Marin and asks, “Who’s your best friend?”

“Ruby.”

“What do you think about her overt sexuality?”

“She can do what she wants.”

Time goes by with nothing big happening. Thankfully, it’s almost over.

“Ruby, what would you do if you found out your best friend was dating Kai behind your back?” Floyd asks.

Oh, no. This kind of question is dangerous for a lot of good reasons. Is it a coincidence he asked something that specific?

“She wouldn’t do that.”

Floyd smiles and says, “But, I’m asking if she did.”

“Then, I’d probably flay ’er alive ‘n’ spit roast ’er over a fire made with ’er arrows,” Ruby replies with a grin. “Oh, soup might be better, ’cause Kai likes it!”

I can only imagine what Marin’s thinking right now. I’d be a nervous wreck. It’s a possibility we considered before that Ruby would be violent if she ever found out about us, but I thought she wouldn’t lay a hand on Marin. It really sounds like she means what she said. Still, I wouldn’t let her do that if it comes down to it. Ruby listens to me.

With Floyd’s line of questioning right now, I hope he doesn’t ask the same question about Hina. I don’t know what kind of reply she would give for that one, but it probably wouldn’t work in our favor. She can’t say that it’s physical only and she can’t say that she supports us, after her response to Marin.

Floyd laughs. “That’s quite the answer. After hearing that, I’m sure Marin wouldn’t ever dare try something like that in the future, right, Marin?”

“Right,” Marin responds normally.

“So that brings me to--”

“Boss!” a Dwarf runs over from behind us. He continues toward Floyd and then whispers something into his ear.

“Sorry, I have to take care of something. I’ll be back soon to finish our game. My associate here will make sure you don’t cheat while I’m away,” Floyd says and then runs off in a hurry.

What’s so urgent? With the Dwarf here, we can neither look at his hand nor the stockpile in the middle, not that I would. I want to win fair and square. Though, I’m curious if there’s anything special from his side of the table. Maybe there’s a gimmick there that gives him an advantage.

He keeps us waiting for quite a while but comes back after around fifteen minutes. His associate leaves at the same time.

“Sorry about that... Now, where were we? Ruby, you thought about using Wind, but you’re going with Replenish, right?”

What? That’s the first time he’s asked a standard question this game. Anyone would think that it’s a bit odd.

He continues with those types of questions for the rest of the game. It must’ve had to do with whatever urgent matter he dealt with. For the better or the worse, Ruby and Marin doesn’t have to deal with his shenanigans anymore.

But ever since he started asking normal questions, our pair loses every exchange. Floyd wins with five hit points left.

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