The Game: Chapter 6

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Chapter 6

Would you like to ride the Ferris wheel, honey?
Don't wanna...
It will be lots of fun, I promise.
Too high. Scary.
Don't worry, I won't let you fall.

***

uncleansable ghost
dream we have even waking
that called "memory"

James squinted at the bedside clock: three in the morning. The grit in his eyes was Sahara sand. On the nights he dreamed one of the old familiar dreams, there would be no more rest.

Normally, he would prepare a cup of Japanese green tea and watch a random anime until morning chased away the shadows. But that had never ultimately stemmed the tide of dreams. He was treating the symptom, not curing the ailment.

Sometimes that felt like the summation of his existence.

James drank a can of root beer in one long gulp, fired up the new server snugged against the bookcase, and sat down with the Shattered Land headset.

Breathe in peace, breath out everything.

The universe melted away. There was a moment of familiar panic as his mind tilted and swayed like a rowboat on a swell. With slow calibration, his perceptions stabilized and the world reformed.

He was sitting on a bed in a small room. Almost everything around him was stone: the floor, the dresser, the wardrobe, even the bed itself. In the corner was a full-length mirror. Next to it was a brass spittoon.

James went to the mirror. Black leather shoes, polished to a shine; charcoal slacks and matching suit jacket; white shirt with ruffles; royal blue silk tie; kerchief in the breast pocket. Literally capping it off was a gray fedora with a blue jay's feather in the band.

An eighteenth century pimp.

James adjusted his hat, adjusted it again, and left to seek his fortune.

The Belleville Grand: one of the most famous inns in Shattered Land, according to the anachronistic brochures in the front lobby. The ground floor was a casino where players could gamble against NPCs for game currency or against each other for real cash. By the infinite convenience of magic, the amenities on hand equalled anything at the Bellagio.

Ancient rock walls and floors, Victorian brass fixtures, twenty-first century game tables: a magical world made for strange bedfellows.

James wandered aimlessly, taking it all in. He dragged his fingers along the craps tables and the grainy felt scratched at his hand; he rapped his knuckles against the stone support columns, scraping tiny flaps from his skin. In the air were a thousand scents, each of which he could single out given time and patience. And the sounds: the roll of dice and cry of triumph; the clank of armor and swish of a dress; the tap of empty glasses on the gleaming granite of the bar. Try as he might, it was impossible to distinguish the experience from reality.

James had never visited a real casino. He had no interest in gambling. Yet here, even the simple pleasure of normal things was amplified into significance. Was the exhilaration of this world a temporary novelty? Or would it always be a place where the grass was greener?

Through the hubbub, a voice twigged something in his mind. He wended between players and tables, listening along the way, arriving at a poker table near the far end of the hall. Six people were seated around a dealer who wore the unflappable expression of a professional, or an NPC.

One of the six players was talking.

"Come on then, don't be scared. What's the worst might happen? You go broke. Just yoink a rebuy from the man and you're good to go."

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