Who's There?

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"Did you never learn to shuffle?" Huu said with a splutter. He watched Ursula fumble with the cards, drop a few and then pick them up slowly with a deliberate movement designed to temper her obvious frustration.

I didn't have much time for cards, she replied. Even telepathically, Huu could hear the slightly venomous spit to her words.

Not for the first time, Hubert wondered if this was a good idea. More than that, he wondered if it was a respectful idea. Something about having the supremely capable and over-serious vampire learn how to play Magic filled him with a childish delight, but there was an equal thought that bringing her down to this level was irreverent teasing.

The cards are slightly too large for my hands in these plastic sleeves, she commented, they cut the edges of my fingers at the corners and it's annoying.

Hubert smiled understandingly, but internally he was laughing still. Classic, he thought, bloody classic.

He had offered to allow her to play with his main deck; the necromancy-based mono-black concoction filled with demonic power and the over-priced Lilianas. It would, he had thought, suit her personality.

Ursula had rejected his offer and had instead spent over seven hours pouring over cards and asking rulings until making a white/green life-gain deck with centaurs and the odd dryad. Hubert had been surprised, but secretly exceptionally pleased. Seven hours and twenty odd minutes of preparation and she couldn't start the game because of the barrier of the shuffle. He smiled once more.

"Do you want me to do it?" he offered.

I do not.

"Fair enough." He'd been waiting all night, he could wait another few minutes for her to randomise her deck.

He had decided to teach Ursula to play when he missed the regular meetup with his friends across the road. No one had come knocking; they all thought of him as strange now and didn't seem as comfortable popping over to check he was coming. He didn't blame them. He'd looked in a mirror that morning and what he had seen only vaguely played homage to the Hubert Grange of old. His face was pale, his hair was under control and nearly slick, and his eyes pierced with a new combination of confidence and terrible power. There were subtle scars anyone who knew him very well would notice and a strength in his motion that had never been there before. Plus he'd lost weight. He couldn't remember the last time he'd scoffed an entire sharing bag of Kettle Chips and followed it up with a four-pack of Snickers. He was even off drinking Monster.

I am ready. Ursula stared at him with an intensity that was somehow more frightening than her battle-pose. Forest, tap, Hardened Scales. That's right, isn't it? My turn is over, you may go.

Hubert smiled, somewhat affectionate condescension gone, replaced with the respectful camaraderie he had been aiming for earlier. "That's perfect," he said, drawing a card.


* * *


The noon sun blasted through the open window. Hubert moaned and blinked open his eyes. Edgar stood at the curtains, holding the edge with the guiltiest look a polished skull could offer.

"Why have you woken me up?" Hubert said. Edgar just stood there impassively.

There was a loud knocking.

"The door?" Hubert jumped up. "Fuck!"

He was down the stairs in seconds. Visitors were not wanted. Visitors were not allowed. It had been long enough now that he, Ursula and Edgar had dropped all attempts at masking who they were and all three of them wandered around the house with little regard for the outside world. A visitor would see things they shouldn't see. Hubert slammed the dining room door shut on his way to intercept the knocking sound. His chest was bare, but he decided to keep it that way; better to draw attention to his naked upper-body than have someone peer around him at the living room.

One more knock. "I'm coming," he called as he fumbled with the little chain that used to serve as extra security for a little old woman. Why was it fastened anyway?

The doorstep was taken with a small boy. Hubert wasn't good at guessing the age of children, but there was no way this one was older than six. He had a t-shirt with some cute dogs on; one dressed as a fireman, another as a policeman and a third some sort of pink bitch with a helicopter. Hubert shook his head in confusion as to the scene and readjusted his view to take in the face of the boy. Young, soft, blond, smiling.

"Hey!" Hubert offered with all the friendliness he could muster after a mere three hours of sleep. 

The little boy took a step as if to enter the house. Gently, so as to not knock him over or cause harm, Hubert shoved him back. "I didn't say 'come in'," he said. "Who are you, what can I do for you?"

Bright blue eyes gazed up at him, the mouth opened and a voice that sang with the light tones of an innocent child spoke.

"Jenson says your time is up, Necromancer," came the words, "he wants you to know the battle is about to start. He has his army, and he is ready to meet yours."

Hubert looked at him in stunned silence. Once more the boy pushed forward to pass into the hallway and, still somewhat confused, Hubert didn't stop him.

"You have had your little rest and now it is time to die," the boy uttered, his virtuous voice dancing its way to Hubert's ears.

Hubert watched, unable to speak as the boy stretched his arms above his head. There was a crack like a thunderstorm and without warning the child exploded. Hubert looked at the wall where flesh and blood and recognisable organs slid down the patterned paper like a gruesome child's sticky rubber toy and screamed.

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