Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,
Rowyn
rowyn

Conduce

They sat at a round stone table incongruously planted in a green meadow, six figures illuminated by the red light of an incarnadine moon. Two of them were mortal, a stout fair-skinned woman of thirty years, and a nervous man with deep brown skin and hair just starting to grey.

The other four were monsters: a ram-headed man with furry legs and a hairy chest left bare by the cloak of feathers draping down his back; a crow with the face of a woman that perched on the table's edge with two taloned feet and used a third to lift her cards; a giant winged snake that pushed its cards to the edge of the table with its tail tip and ducked its head down when it wanted to see what they were; a sphinx with snakes instead of hair: they whispered not-quite-intelligible advice in sibilant voices.

Five of them were playing poker; the sphinx was dealing. In the middle of the table four cards were face up: the king of hearts, the five of spades, the ten of hearts, and two of clubs. The nervous man put down his cards and pushed them away. "Fold."

The crow had already folded; now the winged snake did. The ram-headed man brayed out a laugh. The stout woman spoke in a calm voice. "Call."

The sphinx dealt the river: the ace of hearts. The ram-headed man smiled and thumped his fist against the stone table in triumph. He turned his head to fix the woman with the stare of one brown eye, and stated his wager. "All my knowledge 'gainst all of yours."

The woman lifted her cards by the edge, peeked at them. She looked at the stakes already on the table, pretty glittering things that looked like coins but weren't. She set her cards flush against the table again. "Fold."

The ram-face grinned hugely as he raked in the pot. A confused look stole across the woman's face. Before the dealer could muck the cards, she glanced at her hand and the board one last time. Then she let the sphinx take them from her. "I -- I'm sorry, I forget. What had I wagered so far?"

"All your memories!" The ram laughed again, cruelly. "All of them!"

"I ... I see." She got up from the table.

"You do not have to leave," the woman with the crow body told her. "You have much left that you could wager." The sphinx's hair hissed advice at her: to go, to stay, to consider -- what? She couldn't quite tell.

"No. No, that's all right. I think I'm done. Thank you." She turned to the other mortal before she left. "I don't suppose I told you my name?"

He shook his head. "No ... sorry."

"You could win it back." The ram spun a glittering not-coin between his human-like fingers. "Or try to."

She looked at the coin, and at his face, then shook her head again. "No. I have to go now."

As she walked away across grass tinted red by the unnatural light, she looked down at her empty hands. A curious lightness spread through her. It was an unsettling thing, not to know her own name, or anything at all about the person she was. The person she had been.

But she did not want to get it back. She had seen her hole cards after she lost: the queen and the eight of hearts.

Whoever she had been, she trusted that she'd had a good reason to conduce this ending.




conduce: to lead to or contribute to a particular result.
Tags: everyday monsters, fiction, word of the -, writing
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