Red Dragon

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Not-42nd Street

Those were the three longest hands Francis played yet. How she managed to draw out a thirty-card deck forty turns (which he did count during the second round), the drachen will truly never know. It was quite apparent to him now that she was taking it easy on him their first time playing... and now? She was toying with him, like a cat with a mouse. All three hands he wavered on the verge of death. Even though she was using a blue deck against his gilfs. However, all things must end, so she would surrender... or run out of cards. He didn’t deserve death, or to even lose, all because she wanted to prolong it, keep him there and drive him ever further into despair.

The third hand ended, with only a tapped gilf on his side and both with an empty library. The sadistic harpy “lost”, though, because she used a draw spell and was one short. She gathered the cards (all in different directions), and put them back in the box like that, shaking her head. That give him a moment to look around, and saw that the tables were cleared save for four off to the upper left, the two of them... and Ben. He was at the end of their table, his wheezes making the poor fake timbers creak all the way down to them, and was only making it heavier as he snacked and played on his console. Because of course he had one; where he kept it was the real question. Francis never saw him with a bag, but, then again, with that many folds-

“Darn. I just had no luck tonight,” Beatrice said.

“Huh?” Francis uttered... repeating it as her words sunk in. “You had no luck? Really?”

“I just could not finish... Of course, it’s just like a guy to leave a girl wanting, isn’t it? They draw it out, do minor touches here and there, but, once they cross that line, they just don’t give a single care for whom they are with. Or how they feel.”

“I don’t see how you not being able to finish -when you were in the lead for most of it- is my problem. Maybe if I had better hands, it wouldn’t have taken so long, but no. You shut it down every step of the way.”

“Maybe you should have seen ahead. I know you are still rather inexperienced, but sometimes it’s best not to play right into the person’s hand. Giving a bit of a fight is more than not a better way to approach. Makes it so much more... enticing.”

“Yes, well, sometimes you don’t want to think too hard. Sometimes you just want to turn your brain off and go with the flow. There’s nothing wrong with being easy.”

“As long a you don’t make it a habit.”

“But of course... Anyways, give me a few more weeks and I might have an answer.”

“Oh, you tease! Don’t keep me waiting too long.”

“Even if I do, won’t it be worth it?”

“As long as they aren’t like these hands.”

He huffed, placed the last of his cards in his case, and clasped it shut-

“Wait here a moment.” She blurted, and stood... Francis still stood, biting the bullet now so she didn’t have to help him. Like that last time; the difference, though, was that he was only sitting there four hours this time, a third of that Hell from before. His legs still felt like jelly, but at least he didn’t instantly crash back down. It took them a minute. And that’s how long it took her to return. With a few packs. “Here.”

“Uh... Why?”

“It was a reward for all those that attended today’s event. You were a bit late, but go on. Open them.”

Francis sighed, but put his case back on the table, clacking open before he ripped the ones free. The packs, themselves, were nothing interesting. Supposedly, if the writing on the front was to be believed, it was a core set from the future. It wasn’t even 2019... yet. Francis thought the guy with the laser arm looked rather neat, but the guy with the dragon coming out of his hand looked like a total tool. And the third had a picture of his lovely lily.

The first- he wasn’t going to lie: he couldn’t gauge a good card from a bad card to save his life. For all he knew, he was opening up pure gold... or pure crap. He couldn’t even tell if he was pulling anything rare, but did notice that a black symbol was the most common, while a whitish was more common than the two golds he found... but what was orange? He found two: one was normal, while the other was nice and shiny.

“Oh, cool! You pulled a foil mythic,” Beatrice said.

“Is that good? I mean, this dragon looks like a complete faggot-”

“Which side?”

“Eh? It has two sides?” He flipped it over, looking at the even more special version of the same pompous-looking douche of a dragon. “I mean... they both look like faggots.”

“You really shouldn’t use that word, but yeah. He’s kind of a tool in the series, as well. Really, I’m fucking sick of him.”

“‘Series’? There’s a show?”

“Story, and he’s been the central plot for, like, ever... Supposedly, his story is going to end by next year -thank gods for that- but we have three more sets to go through. Which the next one is coming out in three weeks.”

“Ah. So what about this one? Is it a good card or-”

“Very good card. Right now you can sell that for thirty-”

“Dollars!”

“Yeah. Since it’s foiled.”

“And this other one that is just, well, normal.”

“You pulled two! Damn... That one will be ten.”

“Huh... so... what you’re saying is I could sell these two cards to buy more packs that have individual cards of varying monetary value that can be used to turn a profit... Isn’t that-”

“Nope! Because it’s the players who set the price.”

“That’s one helluva of a loophole.”

“Isn’t it, though?” She tittered, and started reaching for the cards. “So should I go ahead and sleeve these and bring down twelve more packs?”

“I don’t know... I mean, I don’t really see myself building a three-color deck as my first project, but, at the same time, I could really see them being useful... Maybe keep the nonfoil?”

“Not a bad idea. Then when we get around to Commander-”

“What?”

“It’s another way to play. 100-card deck with nothing but singles, all built around a single card-”

“That sounds chaotic and expensive as shit.”

“Not as much as you think... So the foil and nine packs?”

“Are they all going to be that ‘core’ set?”

“I could bring you some others-”

“Yeah, do that. I want to see what else I can work with.”

“Very well. Then let me go get a sleeve and those packs for the nonfoil and have Wesley put the foil in the display case.”

She snatched the foil from his hand, a bit too aggressive for his liking, and seemed to fly away, making him wonder if he made the right decision. It was forgotten, though, as she returned with a simple, clear slip for the other faggot dragon, and ten booster packs.

“I threw in one extra,” she said. Not that he was going to ask; it was free at that point, and made it an even number. Of the ten, two were that “core” set again, with two being a white with a black man and an older woman in deep red robes, two more in almost copper packs with “cultural appropriation” written all over them, another two that had two less words than the previous and were in a deep, jungle green... and four in blue packs. She pointed those out first, sitting beside him again. “Start with these.”

“Okay? Why?”

“They have a chance for special cards in them that the community calls ‘lottery cards’.”

“... And it’s totally-”

“Nope.”

“All right. Fine.” He groaned as he cracked them open, and was less enthused than before. The setting, the art of the cards wasn’t as interesting to look at. Gone were the fantastical settings, the mythological beasts... and more a... steampunk world. Giant, flying whales, steam golems, odd contraptions; what part of that screamed “magic” or “fantasy”? The back cards were even less like it. How could anyone call these “inventions” impressive? He sighed, spreading out the cards on the table with what color their symbols were –except those back cards. Why did they have a different one when they were in the same pack. “Well? This any good... Bea? B-”

He looked at her... and saw her jaw was pretty much on the ground, her eyes glued on those strange, different cards. She was hunched over, her feminine, dominating demeanor gone, broken to the lustful harpy underneath. Her cream dress might as well have been transparent, seeing her tips jutting so hard, cutting through the sheer fabric to show off their bright tips. But it was only a moment, only when he turned his head, and it was his movement that returned her to herself. She slapped her jaw back up, and sat back, cackling.

“You are beyond lucky, oh my god,” she said, her voice far higher than normal.

“So... I take it that means they are g-”

“Yes! Yes they are. If you had any idea of the odds for any of them-”

“Can’t be that hard if I did it in four.”

“You’re funny... You found the most expensive mythic of the set, as well.”

“Oh? This... chan-dre that good?”

“She is.”

“Ah. So... if I sold her and... these three, how many-”

“I’ll just go grab you three booster boxes. Right now. And four loose packs.”

“Let me get this straight... These four cards are equal to three boosters BOXES and four packs? People... pay that?”

“They do.”

“Are they fucking high! That shit is fucking retarded. And, what, if I throw in this one-”

“That’s one of the cheaper inventions, but it would be enough to equal a fourth box.”

“Huh... No. I’m keeping this one. Looks like it’ll be pretty good. Adding two colorless for one mana? Hell yeah.”

“You have an idea for quality. That card is in every Commander deck for a reason... Go ahead and open those other packs and I’ll go grab you those boxes and packs-”

“No more of that blue one. Please. I do not like it.”

“You’re a strange one, you know that? Many players thought that was the last good set before that white pack there.”

As she left and he cracked the rest of packs... Francis begged to differ. The jungle culture-appropriation ones had far more interesting art. Dinosaurs, vampires, strange mer people, PIRATES; he wondered if Captain Kidd would be interested. How fitting would it be to face against Blackbeard’s crew- and mow them down with these dinosaurs because they were some broken “chonkers”. This... Italy one, for example, looked pretty mean. Shame it reminded him of that one dino from the second sequel. There was no way in hell that motherfucker would have stood a chance against his boy the T-rex.

She returned, hidden behind a wall of color, sat beside him as she handed him four packs from an edgy universe. It was the best way to describe it; why else would they call the packs Shadows and Eldritch. She looked upon his haul, and managed to sit before she exclaimed again.

“You can’t be serious!” She said, picking up the one colorless orange-stamped card he found. “How can you be this lucky?”

“Is that sad robot that valuable?”

“Yes!”

“How much?”

“Depends. If you combine it with that giant dino you pulled-”

“Hell no! I’m keeping that pasta spino.”

“... What?”

“Just for the sad robot –and maybe this spaghetti alien-thing.”

“... I’ll just bring another box.”

“Can it be cash this time –or sleeves and a deckbox?”

“I’ll throw those in on top. I’ll even go grab one of my decks. Looks like we’ll be playing more after all.”

She giggled and once more ran up the steps. He sighed... and looked upon the towers he already constructed. It was only a few packs, but he already opened more than the “decks” in his trunk... Did... did he tear them down? Did he simply add them to his collection or keep them separate for simple fights later? Then again, whatever deck he ends up building will be his. Truly his; it will be how he plays, how he thinks, how he acts... The deck would be Him.

He huffed, and leaned back- jumping as Ben cleared his throat behind.

“Hey, man,” he said, yawning. “It’s been one helluva day, but I gotta go. My animes have new episodes tonight. Make sure you give her a good round for me, huh? I would do it myself, but, come on, me with a harpy? That’s an easy way to change the A to an E.”

“Whatever,” he said, huffing again as he looked upon those cards. “Where do I even begin...”

The correct answer was he didn’t. Not yet. He had half a dozen boxes to open and sift through –with aid, of course. By the third box, he was already tired of looking at packs, but his lovely assistant kept pushing him on, her reactions more than enough to make up for the cuts on his fingertips. The way she exclaimed, the way her eyes... her face... her chest lit up; it was... intoxicating. If she wasn’t there, he would have stopped a long time ago, but, watching her, seeing her well-seasoned face rejuvenate, as if revert back to a simple child again... and watching it fade all the way as he cracked the last pack was a journey in its own right.

She whistled, which made his heart skip a beat. Those towers teetered, fourteen in all, each with a foundation four stacks wide. Wesley slipped down sometime during and left several, wide, white boxes beside Beatrice. He sat to Francis’ right, still reading one of those novels with the little girls on it, but at least it was a different one –at least it was a different one; as in there were multiples... as in there was a market for them.

Beatrice looked up from her phone, with the widest smile on her face.

“You want the good news or the great news,” she asked.

“We’ll start with the worst and work up.”

“The good news is you have several decks in this that are worth a damn.”

“I would hope so.”

“The great news is, if you so chose, you could sell the majority of your mythics and rares-”

“I’m not selling any more today!”

She looked hurt. Even pouted her lip.

“But if you did, we could open more packs.”

“If I choose to, we could do it another day –and why are you egging this on? Aren’t you losing sales doing this!”

“No,” Wesley said, blunt as ever.

“What are you doing here, Wes?” Beatrice barked. “Your shift ended an hour ago.”

“Yes it did. Yes it did.”

He licked his finger and turned the page... The harpy huffed, and whined as she shook Francis’ shoulder.

“Come on... At least let us sell enough for one more-”

“Another day! Let’s build a deck... or five... Where do I even begin?”

“From the bottom, of course,” Wesley said. “Something should come to you if you do.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Beatrice said. “He thinks he’s being clever.”

“I’m not paid to think.”

“You’re not being paid to loiter, either. Haven’t you had enough of this place for the day?”

“Upstairs? Sure. Down here?” He licked his finger again and turned the page, and that was the last that was spoken to him. The rest of the day was spent organizing those towers, separating them into color, set, archetypes, themes, and foils. It took both days, nonstop, to sift through it all, to put them into those white boxes. Again, if Beatrice wasn’t there, Francis wasn’t sure he would have been able to go on, but it was her excitement, her inner youth that kept his flame alive.

As Monday rolled in, it was all complete. And he had seven deck boxes before him, filled and sleeved. His trunk managed to hold them all alongside his original “decks”, kept as a memory of his first time with her. Wesley arrived just in time to carry them to his apartment, where Beatrice and Francis sat in the living room, enjoying a cup of coffee before Plank made her presence known. At that moment, she was nothing but a red line to him. He couldn’t even hear what she was saying, but did his best to give the usual responses before lumbering with her to her car... and finally saying farewell to the zealot harpy. At school? He did his best Lucas impression.

Until lunch, that was.

Francis could feel their presence again. Feel them watching him, looming over even in his sleep. He growled, his fans breaking free, tearing through the holes of his already-torn and well-worn shirt, and lifted his face out of the pool he created. Right on Carl’s notebook... It was more comfortable this his. Fresher, too. He looked up then over his shoulder, seeing Mordred there.

“You know... it’s been a week,” he grumbled. “A whole week... and you did this every single fucking day... You would think you would learn by now that, if you want to ASK SOMETHING... You ACTUALLY... ASK... So... I guess I’ll be the more civil person here and NOT a creepy fucking stalker... and ask: WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?”

“Lunch.” The shade said- the shade finally said! The shade finally talked! It’s a miracle.

“Lunch? This entire time, this ENTIRE FUCKING TIME you wanted lunch... Am I right?”

“You are.”

“Hey! You CAN speak. Progress... All right. Fine. Lunch. Where we going? I only have, like, forty bucks on me-”

“Whoa. What?” Plank said, entering the room... and his tired brain wasn’t lying. She literally was a red line. A bright red trench coat, red pants, red shirt, red boots; the only thing that wasn’t red on her was the black and white prop pistols on her hips. “You have money?”

“I had a long weekend at the not-casino. Made a killing, but didn’t know rest because of the not-escort goading me on.”

“Oh, man! You were a lady-killer this weekend, bro,” Ben said. “It’s why I told Johnny not to bother you.”

“D... did you sleep ALL class?”

“No. Thanks to Caspar here.” And I doubt Johnny allowed me to sleep because of you, but you keep telling yourself that.

Penny groaned, and her staff clacked on the ground. Brimming with flames.

“You better be careful. If you fail, my ass is on the line... Come on. I’m taking you to lunch.”

“Why?”

“Because I felt bad for not getting you anything for breakfast. Even if you said not to, your stomach was growling louder than the engine.”

“You mean when it does turn?”

“Either get moving or I’ll leave you.”

“Fine...” He groaned, and started to stand.

When the shade stepped in between them.

“He’s coming with me,” the unfriendly ghost stated.

“Why not just come along with us,” Francis grumbled. “You can even have the front seat; I’ll stretch out on the back-”

“No. We go. No one else.”

“Uh, hate to break it to you, but he’s not allowed off the premises without me,” Plank said, and the blue fire was fully ignited on the end of her stick. “You can either understand that, or press on. Go ahead. See what happens.”

The shade... walked passed, leaving them.

“I can never get a read on that guy,” Francis said, yawning. “So let’s go get some food-”

“You’re paying this time.”

“Eh? Didn’t you say you felt bad?”

“That was before I knew you spent the whole night gambling-”

“Ah-ah! Not-gambling. Though I still got paid either way.”

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