Phantasmagoria

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Allegiance To The King

How long is this going to take?

I can see the other participants still fighting with each other, and I can see Vaughan still frozen on the spot. The time is still counting down while I wait for the gate keeper to get rid of the hacker. I might as well take a seat while that happens.

I turn around to look at Saya, or rather, her avatar. She is smiling at me, but it looks…artificial. It might be because she is artificial, but she looks as if she is concerned about something.

''Are you alright?'' I ask her. It's a dumb question, but whenever I see someone look upset, I have to ask what the problem is. It's a force of habit I guess.

''Nothing,'' I see written above her head when she speaks. She stares hard at Vaughan. I think she wants to see him move again, but I don't. I hope he stays like that. Or even better, I hope he loses in this level.

''You know, I didn't hear anything about when the challenge started. How did the other participants know when to start?'' I ask her, still unsure as to why I didn't get any signal when the Battle Royale began. Saya looks at me with her plastic smile.

''You were not allowed to hear,'' she answers. Not allowed? What does she mean I was not allowed to hear?

''On whose authority was I not allowed to hear?'' I ask her curiously.

''The Speech keeper's,'' she replies. The Speech keeper? Who is that, I wonder?

''I'm guessing you're not the Speech keeper,'' I say to her.

''Of course not. I'm the Face keeper,'' she responds.

Face keeper? What does that involve? Her duty…I wonder if it allows her to mask the identities of all of us so that we don't get to see each other? Was it her doing on the other levels? Was it her that kept us from seeing each other on the first and second levels?

''Time to proceed with the next challenge,'' Saya says as she looks forward. I follow her gaze and see that Vaughan has started to move again. I watch with relish as he strikes the ground with his trident, and, realising that I am no longer there, looks around him wildly to see where I have gone. I smile as he finally meets my gaze. His eyes narrow in on me. I know what he’s thinking. I see the other participants have also stopped fighting, (maybe they were told to stop by the Speech keeper) and to my relief, Pete and Drew look fine. They all stand together in a group and wait for further instruction from Saya. I stand up from my chair and walk closely behind Saya.

''I apologize for what happened earlier, Mr Davenport. There was a minor problem that interfered with game play, but it has now been taken care of. I have decided to restart the level with a new challenge. It is called 'Allegiance to the King'. The objective of the game is to find out who the king is and pledge your allegiance to him,'' we read Saya's explanation.

''Sounds simple enough,'' Pete speaks up. Yeah, it does sound simple enough. A little too simple.

''What’s the catch?'' Vaughan says. I may dislike the guy a lot, but I must admit we think alike. The avatar turns around and walks past me. Where is she going?

''If you choose the wrong King, you will be disqualified from the game,'' we read above her head as she smiles. She stops at a certain point and looks back at us before looking forward again. She stretches out her hand before her, and the earth begins to tremble.

''Is it an earthquake?'' I hear one of the participants say as we watch the sand begin to part in front of us. The earth is indeed opening up, but to reveal a massive blue coloured deck of cards. Saya puts her hand down and looks up at the sky.

''Whoa, would you look at that!'' I hear another participant gasp. I was still looking at the deck of cards when all of a sudden, a giant, white-gloved hand emerges from the sky and plants itself on top of the deck. Another hand comes and joins it, and together the hands pick up the deck of cards and begin shuffling it. It makes deep, booming thuds as it is being shuffled.

After it shuffles the deck, the hands then spread out the cards like a fan and begins picking cards and placing them face up on the sand. We watch as one of the hands places down 8 cards; a king of hearts, a jack of spades, an ace of diamonds, an ace of clubs, a jack of diamonds, a queen of clubs, a queen of diamonds and a queen of spades.

''The participant who thinks he is king must stand on the King of Hearts. All the other participants must stand on the other cards. If you are not the King, the participant who is on the Jack of Spades has the role of usurper. His role is to dispute the truth of the King. However, the Jack of Diamonds must first place a wager on whether he thinks the Jack of Spades is right or if the King of Hearts is right. If the Jack of Spades is right, then the King of Hearts will be usurped by him. He will be ejected from the game. If the King of Hearts is right, then the Jack of Spades will be ejected from the game. However, the rest of the cards must agree that the Jack of Spades is either right or wrong. If the Queen of Diamonds doubles the wager agreed upon by the Jack of Diamonds, then the Aces of Clubs and Diamonds and the other Queens must become silent. However, if the others decide that the King of Hearts is right, then the wager becomes void and the participant who stands on the Jack of Diamonds is ejected from the game. Is everything understood?'' Saya explains. I'm trying to take in everything she said, but it's quite a handful.

So we have to stand on the cards, see if the King of Hearts or Jack of Spades is right, watch the Jack of Diamonds make a wager on who is right, then see if the other cards agree? I think that's the gist of it. I wonder if 'Special Forces' Davenport got it as well.

''Alright, let's get this show on the road, shall we?'' Vaughan says as he rubs his hands together and gives me a sharp look. I guess he did get it. We all venture slowly towards the cards, while Saya stays back and watches us. I watch everyone carefully, as I want to see who is going to go to the King card first.

''Who's the highest scorer?'' Vaughan asks aloud. Make it known to the whole universe, why don't you. Everyone looks at each other sheepishly. No one wants to make known who is in first place. Gradually, I see Drew Naismith walk forward.

''Oh, so it is you,'' Vaughan says as we watch Drew walk across to the card.

''I wish,'' Drew says as he turns back, looks at Vaughan, then continues carry on walking towards another card. We watch him stand on the Jack of Diamonds card. I see Vaughan narrow his eyes on him as Drew smiles at him. Drew's bravery seems to have had a knock-on effect, as the other participants go to the other cards. I see Pete take the role of Ace of Spades, and every card is now filled up except for the King of Hearts and the Jack of Spades. And it's just me and Vaughan left.

''Age before brains,'' Vaughan muses as he beckons me to go to the King of Hearts card. I smile and shake my head at his attempt to belittle me.

''Wisdom before stupidity, I believe,'' I say as I turn my back on him and advance towards the Jack the Spades card. I settle on the middle of the card and I watch as Vaughan traipses onto the King of Hearts.

''The challenge will now begin,'' Saya says as we see the countdown timer flash up in the sky.

5.

4.

3.

2.

1.

''I wager on the Jack of Spades being the actual King of Hearts,'' I hear Drew Naismith announce.

Wait a minute.

What?


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