May 25th, 2010
“You did what!?”
Megame had never seen Kara so furious. The dark-haired Valkyrie was pacing the room now, hands wringing and eyes narrowed as she passed the occasional infuriated look at Megame.
“I-I just…” Megame didn’t do well in these kinds of confrontations.
“You did a damn stupid thing is what you did!” Kara said. “I thought you had a little common sense, Shrine Maiden, but this is…seriously were you dropped on your head or something!?”
“H-hey!” Megame objected. “Th-there’s no reason to be insulting!”
“Oh, there’s plenty of goddamned reason to be insulting!” Kara shouted, crossing the distance between them quicker than Megame thought possible. Megame was not a tall girl, even by Japanese standards, and while Kara was rather small and slim herself, she still had more than a few centimeters on her. Though staring down at her now, it felt as if the Valkyrie towered over her.
“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘the house always wins’?” Kara demanded, her terrifying cold blue eyes locked on hers.
“I um…” she had, but Megame was equal parts confused and terrified.
“Well you just made a sucker’s bet against the house. You willingly decided to play a rigged game.”
“Sh-she seemed…alright…as spirits went,” Megame found herself trying to comfort her own growing terror as much as Kara’s fury.
“She was young-looking, right? Blonde?” Kara asked, refusing to break eye contact.
“Y-yes…” Megame nodded hesitantly.
“Well then all I can say is you’re screwed, Shrine Maiden, and not in any way you might enjoy.”
“Wh-what do you mean!?” Megame demanded. She might be at a disadvantage but this was hardly encouraging. Megame wasn’t about to just lie down and lose.
“You just challenged death itself to a game of Fate.” Kara growled, grabbing Megame’s shoulders tightly. “And I shouldn’t have to remind a mortal that in all things, Death. Always. Wins.”
Megame felt as if cold water had been poured down her back. She shivered, and she could see now that Kara was as terrified as she was furious.
“Wh-what exactly is a Game of Fate?” Megame asked “I-If I knew how it was played…”
“It wouldn’t help,” Kara said, but Megame dug in her heels.
“Well I can’t back out now!” Her face was bright red. She didn’t like shouting or being overly confrontational, but the time for timidity was over. “So I need to know! Even if it won’t help I need to know how the game is played!”
Kara stared at her a little longer before taking a step back with a sigh. “Fine…” She finally said. “You got yourself into this, but even in a hopeless battle a warrior deserves a sword.”
Megame smiled, her hands taking Kara’s. It was, she realized, the first time she’d touched her, and she was surprised at how warm her hands were. She had expected the valkyrie, with dark hair, pale skin, and freezing blue eyes would be cold to the touch, but instead a pleasant warmth like an evening fire rose to her skin.
“Help me, Kara,” Megame smiled at her warmly, and she quietly delighted in seeing Kara caught so off-guard.
“I already agreed,” Kara mumbled reluctantly. “Come on.”
Kara led her away from the room where she had been snoozing and into a small parlor. Kara drew the curtains of the windows and got a fire going with a flick of her wrist. Together they cleared the small table clearly meant for card-playing and took seats at opposites sides, Megame following Kara’s instructions.
Kara held out her hands, placing her palms together before rotating both hands until they were parallel to the floor, fingers pointed to either side of her as light flashed between her palms. When she removed her top hand, a large deck of cards was lying face down in the other. Carefully she placed the feck of about sixty over-sized cards onto the table between them.
“The game is a relatively simple one.” Kara said. “But that simplicity of rules is deceiving. The first card drawn from the deck is the subject.”
Carefully she drew a single card from the top of the deck and placed it facing upwards beside it.
“Here we see the subject is The Searcher.”
The face-up card was designed much like the tarot cards Megame had seen in shops and movies when she was younger. The entire card face was covered in an elaborate image with only a single label noting “The Searcher” at the bottom. The image itself was the stylized picture of a young dark-haired woman looking through an ornate bronze telescope.
“Hey, it looks kind of like you!” Megame joked, but Kara snapped her fingers.
“Pay attention,” she said strictly, and Megame was silent. “The other cards drawn will depict events that occur for the subject or problems for them to overcome. Sometimes the other cards will even be people they meet along the way. Now, the Game of Fate, being a two-person game, needs competing goals.”
Megame nodded along as Kara continued.
“Simply put, at the start of the game, when the subject is chosen, you and Skuld will choose a competing outcome for The Searcher’s quest.”
“Their quest?” Megame asked.
“This is a Searcher,” Kara said. “What’s their goal?”
“To find what they were searching for, of course.” Megame said.
“Then that will be your objective,” Kara said. “It is your job, when you draw a card, to interpret that card into advancing your goal.”
“But then what’s your objective?” Megame asked. “If you were my opponent?”
“My objective is to make The Searcher fail.” Kara said.
“That’s a bit mean…” Megame said.
“Unless it’s her destiny to fail,” Kara said. “Then it’s just how it’s meant to go.”
“Who decides which destiny is right?” Megame said.
“That’s the point of the game,” Kara said. “The cleverest one is the one who chooses the path fate takes. The other fails, all their progress for not.”
“How is the winner decided?” Megame asked.
“We both draw one card per turn and need to use it. The one who can’t think up a use for the card to stop the other forfeits.”
“Shouldn’t I see all the cards then?” Megame asked. “To know what kinds of things I might draw?”
Kara gave her something like a crooked half-smile. “Those cards there are pretty meaningless. I’ve seen thousands of different cards played, and every time you shuffle them back in they change. There’s no set order, no limits, all you draw is what fate decides.”
“Or,” Megame countered. “You can always draw a lucky card.”
“Well let’s try a trial round,” Kara said. “Just for you to get the hang of it. As the challenger Skuld will give the first draw to you, so draw first.”
Megame drew a card from the top of the deck.
“Don’t let me see it,” Kara looked away from Megame’s fumbling draw. “Not until you’ve played it should I know what’s coming.”
“But it shouldn’t really matter…” Megame said. “It’s not like they can immediately respond.”
“It’s more a courtesy than a rule,” Kara said. “But that’s fate. Sometimes you don’t know what’s coming until it strikes you in the face.”
“Alright,” Megame nodded and looked at her card. It depicted the image of a handsome blonde-haired young man, framed in roses with respectable dress, the very image of a desirable young man. At the bottom of the image was the label reading “The Prince”.
“The first thing you’ll want to do,” Kara said. “Is establish what she’s looking for; otherwise Skuld can cut you off early with things like distraction, lust, and forgetfulness which will severely limit your options. So you need an object for the Searcher to search for. Could be money, power, information, a holy relic, or…”
“The Prince,” Megame said, smiling, placing the card down. “The Searcher is looking for her true love of course!”
Even with the natural snow-like color of her skin, Kara’s face seemed to go pale at the sight of the card.
“Everything alright, Kara?” Megame asked.
“Fine,” Kara insisted, regaining herself and drawing her card. She took far less time, simply placing the card down almost as soon as she drew it.
“A broken crown,” Kara said, placing a card on the table depicting a kingly crown shattered into several pieces “Your Prince is no royalty, and has not been for some time. He’ll never be found by The Searcher.”
“Mmm,” Megame frowned. She thought her card had been a pretty good start, but it was clear Kara was quicker on the draw. Megame drew her next card and looked it over. The card had a picture of a battlefield, armies crashing together in hues of red, black, and brown. At first she was worried she’d simply drawn a bad card. How could war help her find her lost prince? But she remembered Kara’s words. Only the clever got to weave fate.
“I play War!” She said, putting down the card. “The Prince may not be royal, but he is a great warrior! The Searcher will find him by his deeds.”
If she had been hoping for support from Kara she wouldn’t find it. She could almost hear the sound of the valkyrie’s teeth grinding as she put down another card.
“The ocean,” Kara said. “How can she find her Warrior-Prince when he’s far out to sea? None can reach him but the waves and wind.”
Megame drew her next card and grinned. This one hardly needed any thought.
“And a flying horse!” She said, putting down the card labeled quite succinctly “The Flying Horse,” depicting a great black horse running across a stormy sky. “The flying horse brings The Searcher and the Prince together.”
Kara, however, was not to be deterred.
“The poisoned tree,” Kara said as Megame took a close look at the card. The image showed a gaunt and gnarled tree, bare of leaves with black bark against a sickly green background, with fruit on its branches that looked disturbingly like human heads. “Your prince is from an ill-fortuned family line. Only doom will follow him and his children, her pursuit will only end in tragedy. She may get her Prince for a time, but she will not keep him long, and that pain will be worse than having never found him at all.”
Megame frowned. “Kara that’s just mean,” She said. “Can’t you let them be happy?”
“That’s not how this game is played.” Kara said. “People don’t always get happy endings.”
“Fine,” Megame drew her next card. She needed a moment to work out what it was. It depicted two people, reflected by a pool of water at their feet, except the people in the reflection were different. The label at the bottom read simply “Recurrence”.
“Mmm this seems more Eastern but…I’ll give it a try!” Megame said, putting down the card. “Recurrence, the two lovers may not find happiness in this life, but they’ll find each other in the next. No matter what you play they’ll come together in another life down the line.”
Kara was silent as she drew her next card, but the blank expression on her face only worried Megame more. Quietly she placed her next card down.
“The Contract,” Kara said. “That kind of fate comes at a high price. They may yet find each other again, but servitude for the Searcher is the price.”
“Eh!?” Megame shouted. “How could you make reincarnating lovers sound so awful?”
“Draw your card” Kara looked at her, an almost dead expression on her face.
“Mmm…eh?” She blinked in surprise at the card. On it was an image of a brown-haired girl with an exaggerated smile lit by the sun, at the base was a label reading “The Friend”. What struck her as odd, however, was the fact that the little depiction was wearing what was clearly a Shrine Maiden’s uniform.
“W-well…then here’s my response!” Megame said, putting down the card.
Kara looked at her as if she was trying to make a poor joke.
“Th-the Friend!” Megame stammered. “Maybe it’s not just a Prince the Searcher is looking for. Maybe…maybe with her contract she just wants contact, someone to be with her in good times and bad. Even if she has no one else, she still has a friend.”
Kara quietly drew her card, looked at it, then tossed it lightly over her shoulder. “I concede.” She said.
“W-wait really?” Megame asked. “That was kind of a weak kid’s show ending…”
Kara shrugged. “I don’t have anything better.”
“Mmm, Kara?” Megame asked “Was this a…real story?”
“They’re all real,” Kara said, leaning back in her chair.
“No but I mean…was The Searcher a real girl?” Megame pulled the card from the bottom of the pile. The more she looked at it, the more she realized it really did look like Kara.
“Would it change anything?” Kara asked.
“It might change how people see her,” Megame said, looking at the card in the light. “Maybe she really could use a friend.”
“She probably got dumb friends,” Kara sighed, the legs of her chair leaning back. “The kind that challenge Death to unwinnable games for ridiculous reasons.”
Megame couldn’t help but smile. “But maybe those dumb friends are just doing dumb things because they’re the best kind of friend, the kind who would do anything for the people they cared about.”
Kara was quiet for a moment before responding.
“Hey, Shrine Maiden?”
“Yes?” Megame asked, eyes curious.
“You’d do terribly in a Norse Saga.”
Megame couldn’t help but grin. “Good thing I’m not Norse!”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=60&sl=917