Red Dragon

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Along Came a Spider

Alas, there was one person he had neglected the entire week, and, with him being the only that didn’t have school Saturday, he had no choice but to face yet another hurdle, to ignite another, hissing powder keg. Well, he had a choice, but not at the same time. He was jonesing for a few hands of cards, and, unless he wanted to tie Francine down and force her to see the joy of luxury cardboard rectangles… He was still weighing his options.

“Hey, Francine-” He began to sing, opening the door to the guest room… and was met with the scent of cinnamon rolls. Sweat, lust, and the soft yet striking scent of piss, but also cinnamon rolls. Francis opened the door completely, and saw that the goblin had herself pretty well set up. The bed was removed for a cot in the corner, folded away with its effects folded neatly on top. The small chest of drawers that once sat across was moved to where the bed once was, acting as an end to a couch faced towards the left wall. What took its place, though, along the entry way wall? A desk, with a glowing monolith. Francine was at its helm, sitting in a chair more befitting of a starship than before a desk, with her legs propped up on it. The keyboard was in her lap, while the mouse… he couldn’t make out where it was… In fact, the more he looked, the more confused he became. There didn’t seem to be one, but there was a strange, red-balled “spaceship” in her right hand, and she was clicking the button on the left as she rolled that ball. Small blips and gibberish came out of it and, as he continued into the room, saw that she was playing God, toying with lives, deciding who would be allowed to continue and who would meet an unfortunate end in a swimming pool with no way out.

But it was that scent, those sweet cinnamon buns, that pulled him beyond. To the closet on the far side of the room. There, nestled in its gutted nook, there was a mini fridge and, on top of it, a toaster oven. Inside, three, succulent swirls of joy were rising, ticking away.

“Do you mind?” Francine blurted, the sounds halting on the vast monitor- monitors. It was five in one, spanning the entirety of that desk, yet the was still dwarfed by the tower behind it.

“Not at all. Were you going to share those?” Francis said, pointing to the tiny, adult EZ-bake oven.

“No. Now get out.”

“But I was coming in here to-”

“Don’t care. Get the fuck out.”

“Well, now I’m most definitely going to do it –after you tell me what you are doing.”

“If you must know, I’m-”

“Playing an old-ass game, but why?”

“Because the newer ones suck. They took away the ability to drown your people.”

“Yes. How dare they stop you from killing your darlings… Anyways, be prepared to be tied up and learn the ways of Magic.”

“I’m good. Not my thing.”

“Have you ever played i-”

“Yes! A few of the girls back in Eve’s estate are gaga over it. ONE of them had me try… It was okay. Just not my thing.”

“Well, at least you admit it and not just bash it for being nerd shit.”

“It is nerd shit.”

“It is… You sure I can’t wrangle y-”

“No… Don’t you, like, have a harpy whose ready to jump on your dick if you but play cards with them?”

“Bea? I mean, I suppose, but I think she would more want the money than the game- and we aren’t like that- though I have a feeling she thought about it- because I thought about it and we’re very much similar in that re- then there was how sad she looked last weekend when I left with Cass- do birds get territorial over another bird taking away their toy?”

The toaster oven dinged, and she groaned as she hopped out of the chair- WELL, turns out her keyboard was hiding her clothes. Rather, the lack thereof. She waddled across the room, snatching a towel off the folding door for the closet, and pulled out the buns, resting them on top.

“Okay. First off, I don’t care,” she stated, returning to her chair. “Second, you’re sounding like a little bitch. All you’re doing right now is committing rape and murder with a witness.”

“Usually I do, but what do you mean?”

“You’re fucking around and killing time.”

“Huh. That’s a good one. Never heard it b-”

“And yet, here you are, STILL pissing around… Look. I think I get where your tiny lizard brain is at, so I’ll break it for you: The longer you wait, the more pain you are causing her. Quit being a pussy, man up, and go play a children’s card game with your dungeon keeper.”

“You know, I made that joke, but she took it literal. She said she didn’t use any guy that was th-”

“What part of I don’t care don’t you understand… Now, if you don’t mind, I’m in the process of killing eight people at once in the pool.”

“Only eight? Sounds like child’s play.”

“It is, but I’m making a Twelve Days of Christmas montage for my viewers. Twelve housemaids becoming partners, eleven babies taken, ten toddlers dying, nine burglers burgling, eight dumbasses drowning…”

“Where’s the one where you seduce death?”

“Five. Five widows cucked.”

“Brilliant. What’s your handle?”

“Like I’d tell you- and you are still fucking around! Go already, you dumbass.”

“I would, but…”

He ran across the room, snatched the entire rack of cinnamon rolls, and ripped open the packet of cream cheese on the bed as he exclaimed and cackled, leaving the scene of the crime at last. She screamed after- yelped as her chair crashed to the ground, adding more to his rap sheet. But he was out the door, slammed behind, before she could even get to her feet. His cackling settled to a chortle, biting into the first, warm, gooey morsel-

“Hey there!”

… He almost threw those rolls, but managed to hold back some as a familiar drider leaned on the rail left of the door. She was in a soft, puce dress this evening, complemented by a wide-brimmed hat and a warming smile. She straightened, fanned her arms… and pouted, seeing the two other discs of succulent goodness.

“Mind if I have one of those?” Scarlette said. “It’s been quite a long time since I indulged.”

“Depends. Is it because you were on a diet and this is a test of your resolve?”

She tittered, reaching for one already.

“’Diet’. That’s cute, but thank you for considering it.” She bit into it, and, for a moment, her deep voice rose to a cute squeak, her face ages younger, back to… at least a young teenager. In fact, just how old was she? She bit into it again, cleaning off her thumb then fingers, smacking her lips. “It has been a while. Forgot how… rich they were… So, what were your plans for today?”

“Well, I was on my way for my scheduled continued self-flagellation down in The Chalice, but then you came out of nowhere.”

“I sent a message that I would stop by today since I was in the area.”

“Oh. Right. My phone is haunted. Can’t use it right now without fear of getting fucked to near-death.”

“Oh my. I take it a Shade touched it.”

“Right on the nose! Man, you’re better at this than Lilith!”

“I’m better than her at many things- but I forget myself. I was hoping we could hang out today.”

“I’m gonna fucking kill you, you over-sized winged lizard!” Francine screamed inside, slamming a door inside.

“As much as I appreciate the thought, today is a bad time,” he said, and hopped over the railing. With the final roll in his mouth. He bit clean through upon landing, then waved up to her as he caught it. “Meet me down here and we’ll think of something.”

“I don’t want to impose.”

“Nah. It’ll be fun. Though we might end up roping you into a few h-”

The door crashed open above, thus was his cue to go into The Chalice. He gave his usual middle finger greeting to Wesley as he bent down by the railing to the st-

“That wasn’t very nice,” … Beatrice said. She leaned against the counter, wearing a deep yellow dress that day, her breasts prepped up by a bright blue corset.

“Oh. Sorry. Habit,” he said, picking up his suitcase anyways… He cleared his throat and approached her, laying that steel chest upon the counter as he looked into her eyes. “So… how’s it been?”

“The usual, really. Those that came here don’t tend to be gone very long, even during the holidays. I did clear things up with my distributor, which, word of advice: Avoid the next premium set.”

“I don’t think I’ll have a problem with that when you usually pick out what I use.”

“True enough.” The door’s bell clanged, Scarlette entering. Her feet picked along the wood, echoing through the store as she approached the two of them. “Hello! I don’t think we’ve ever met. I’m Beatrice, the owner of this establishment.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Scarlette. I am Francis’s acquaintance.”

“Oh. Another one?” She tittered, shaking her head as she waved it off. “Don’t think much of it. At least, not anymore. There was a time when Francis here was despised.”

“He was? The first time we met the witches, Penny, and Cassidy all seemed to truly enjoy his company.”

“Ah! It must have been during the first date, then. Yeah… back then I’d get an unending echo chamber below of how much they wanted this big lug to go away. Especially the Yu-Gi-Oh crowd.”

“I introduce someone to their own asshole ONE TIME,” Francis blurted, chuckling with Beatrice. Scarlette didn’t, though had a snarky grin upon her lips.

“Sounds to me it was expected,” the drider said. “If you are going to antagonize, do not act shocked when it is met with force.”

“Indeed, but I simply say talk shit get hit… Anyways, she’s joining us for a few hands, but it seems that’s not possible.”

“No,” Beatrice grumbled, huffing as she pulled out her phone. “Wes had the day off. I tried to tell you, but it seemed my text didn’t go through.”

“It most likely went through. I just didn’t see it. My phone is quite literally a pocket pussy. But in a bad way.”

“Oh dear. Are you taking action for it? Getting a new phone?”

“Someday. Once Bridget and Cass come to some form of agreement… or Des surprises me with a new one tomorrow… I’m… terrified of accepting it from her, though.”

“Why?”

“Because the Shade -yes, that’s what’s wrong with my phone; a shade touched it and has become AGGRESSIVELY sexual- that touched it could only have easily been the one to have activated her phone in the first place. None of this started until after I got it.”

“Isn’t that because you didn’t have a phone before that?”

“Details! But still. The Shade could have been sitting dormant this whole time waiting for her to get a boyfriend or something.”

“That is understandably plausible,” Scarlette said. “Himan males are incredibly rare, so any information or edge one can get is-”

“Highly doubtful, given that lamia,” Beatrice interjected. “She’s… She can handle her own. If she wanted someone bad enough, she would take them. That girl is a force of nature in her own right… It’s how she was pro tour champ three times in a row.”

“I thought you said most people cheat in those,” Francis said.

“I did, and I didn’t stutter. I want to believe she won through legitimate means, since she is a savant when it comes to studying the meta and counter-playing it, but there’s always that niggling thought that she managed to shift the odds in her favor-”

“Which would play into the Shade in her phone,” Scarlette cut in. “Maybe it wasn’t a coincident at all and she simply forgot to remove her ‘friend’.”

“Desiree? Friends? You’re funny.”

“Hey,” Francis exclaimed. “I’m her friend-”

“No, you are her potential mate.”

“So does that mean you don’t see her as a friend?”

“Oh, I do… I don’t think she sees me as one, though. She’s… she is… she’s worse than me in that respect. ‘Backwards’ with dealing with people doesn’t even begin to explain her problem… I love the girl to bits, but she needs either a rude awakening or a divine intervention. Which I suppose she’ll get with you- speaking of...”

And here it comes… “Yeah?”

“How was your date with Cassidy?”

“We burned the mall down.”

“Oh… so you were the culprits,” Scarlette mulled. “I drove by there that morning and saw the fire. Police started saying to the press they were looking out for two individuals… but then Lilith appeared on the scene and the entirety was slipped under the rug. ‘Tragic gas leak claims nine lives’.”

She sounded so… bitter after Lilith was brought up, and Francis could almost see the green hue of the venom she spat with the last sentence.

“Anyways,” Francis said, clearing his throat. “One thing lead to another, and she raped me… then every night this week.”

“I would assume you were willing,” Scarlette said. “Someone as big as you being taken advantage of by a meek harpy –no offense of course.”

“None taken since it’s true. If he wanted, he could literally hold any of us down and go to town. He lets himself be used.”

“Yeah,” Francis said, drawing it out, but felt that same twinge of guilt as he saw Beatrice’s gaze avert… He sighed, rubbing the back of his head, and pushed off from the counter. “Anyways, I don’t want to take up anymore of your time. I’d feel awful to head downstairs and play without you there.”

“Eh. You two have fun. We’ll simply pull a few all-nighters again when Wes is back on the clock. Won’t be for a while, though, since he requested December off.”

“The… the entirety of December? The whole month?”

“Yep… He had more than enough time accrued.”

“Still! You’re only one person now, running this place 24/7.”

“Well, I expected to have a second employee by now, but Lilith sort of shot me in the foot with that one.”

“She tends to do that, screw people over,” Scarlette said. She huffed, backed from the counter… but gestured to the stairs. “If you want to play, I do not mind.”

“Nah, we should probably get out of Bea’s h-” Francis began.

“It’s fine. I swear,” Beatrice assured, giving him a sad smile. “The fact you brought someone new into my store is more than enough of a trade-off. Especially if she ends up liking the game –wait, have you ever played Magic, Scarlette? Or any card game?”

“No,” the drider said, “but not because I didn’t want to. I always had an interest, but… my mother said they were a waste of money.”

“She’s not wrong,” Francis muttered. “There’s a reason it’s known as cardboard crack… And you are truly okay with this, Bea?”

“Perfectly fine. You don’t need to keep asking, you know? We’re not a couple. Now go teach her everything I taught you.”

She winked at him, which made Francis feel a bit better… but that same twinge worked through him as he walked away, down, down those dark steps. His foots were heavy at the bottom, more shuffling than stepping, but he managed to open the door and step aside for Scarlette –and he remembered why he wasn’t that big a fan of spiders. In that dusk, all he could see was those eight, purple eyes, glistening and glittering. The twilight magnified the creak of chitin, the groans of her joints, and the soft swishing of her abdomen, all closing on him.

Passing him.

“Thank you,” she said, entering the light, giving her dark shell some warmth as she skittered inside the room and towards the right table, but his mind still held the vision of those eight lights, bleeding, blending into two spots, two, brilliant pink st- Maybe that Shade left a greater impression than he thought.

“I am flattered,” a familiar, icy voice said, breathed down his neck, coating it in a layer of sickly rime. His neck snapped painfully as he looked back… but, of course, didn’t see anything.

“Just a lingering shade,” he joked, but didn’t find any warmth nor joy in it… Okay. They definitely left an impression. But now he had to teach a bright-eyed youth the joy, the pain, the misery- the journey of playing a children’s card game. It would be rife with loss, of sacrifice, but the end result would be wisdom, of knowledge of a game that has no impact in one’s life and takes up valuable space for something more important. Such as brain surgery and how to lobotomize someone to forget how to play a children’s card game.

The first task was playing with the intro decks. She took her time picking the first, looking upon those color-coded sleeves… and decided upon red.

“Ah. The color of passion,” Francis quoted. “Quick plays, intuition, believing in the power of top-decking –playing cards as you draw them, essentially.”

“Oh. So these colors actually follow the personality definitions?” Scarlette said, stopping before she picked up the deck. She pointed to each one, explaining as she goes. “So blue is the color of thought, of patience. Green is encouragement and sharing-”

“And already off… Blue was right, though. Green is… green is big things that stop shit. They don’t give a fuck about anything because they can handle it. Black is ambition and winning by any means necessary. My go-to… and white is a waste. No idea why it’s even in the game.”

“Well, I like an underdog, so I’ll try with white.”

“Okay… Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He explained the rules, decided to go first, shown her a basic turn, then passed- reminding her she needed to draw… She was rather cute when she was focusing. The way she squinted her brow, how she pursed her lips; again, how old was she? The more time he spent simply staring at her, the more he questioned it. She gave off such regality, such… wisdom, such age… but barely looked older than twenty.

She finally nodded, and played her turn, then hummed, fanning herself with the cards.

“I think I understand this color,” she stated.

“Yeah? Me too! It’s shit. Case and point; welcome my favorite GILF.”

“Oh my. You like them on the… corpsy side, don’t you?” She tittered, drawing her card. “You would have adored me a few months ago.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah… Let’s say I went through a… phase. A bad one. It left me… I was no better looking than that corpse there.”

“Then you must have still been quite the looker.”

“Flirting? During a card game… You know I’m still new to the game. You don’t need to distract me.”

“I’m not flirting. I’m simply stating the truth. Even as a corpse you would be fine.”

“Oh my… I can see why you are loved. By those that give you the chance, at least… But yes. I see the allure of this color. It’s strength through numbers… So to attack-”

“You do exactly that, yes, and I’ll go ahead and block with my GILF, which means an even tr-”

“Would be if I don’t use this… I can, right? I take it that’s why it’s called an instant? And… I’ll put this card on the bottom… So, your creature dies-”

“My GILF returns to the grave. Rest my sweet. You will be missed… but are easily replaced. Say hi to GILF 2.”

“Ooh. Alternate art. Didn’t realize this game had that.”

“It has a shitton of it… but yeah. White. Useless. Red does its job better in every way. Black took most of what made it special. Green can outscale. Blue laughs at it-”

“But that is not the point. Numbers aren’t only in creatures or life but in time. In the end, the one who is better suited for attrition will prevail.”

“Yes, well, that’s why most games don’t last more than six turns.”

“Really? That’s a shame. I would prefer a long, drawn-out game.”

“Then you will love Commander. And finally a fourth. I’m tired of playing smear the queer before taking out the real threat.”

“Smear the… what?”

“An old term. Basically, fuck over the resource-starved player then have a real fight.”

“Ah. Well, you’re right. That sounds terrible… So I’ll swing with these two-”

“I’ll block again-”

“And I’ll boost it with this. It, also, gives it flying but I don’t think that matters after a block is declared right? Maybe I should have used it before letting you block… but then your GILF would have still been around.”

“Yes. How dare you consider letting her live… You just love killing, don’t you?”

“No. I absolutely abhor it, but sometimes it needs to be done… Some people simply need to die for their to be true resolution… And… I think that’s game. That lasted longer than you said.”

“Eh. They’re starter decks. Meant for people to get a feel of the game. Are you switching?”

“No. I think I’ll stay white. It feels… right.”

“Suit yourself… So what did you want to do after this?”

“How about we go eat? I’m feeling… Chinese.”

“Sounds good to me- and you beat me again! Come on… Next round.”

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