194: Hot Contest

on April 9, 2008 in 07: Pitched Battles

In Which It Ends In A Draw

Friday, Calendula 2nd (Night)

As the time for the meeting drew nearer, Hazel tried to solicit contributions for a pizza order to be delivered afterwards. This was not met with much enthusiasm, as three of those present did not eat cheese, and Honey and myself were both in favor of going to bed before too long.

“Come on, an army marches on its stomach,” Hazel said. “And as general, it’s my duty to set a good example.” She looked at me. “Come on, Mack. After your ordeal, don’t you think you deserve a nice pizza pie?”

The eternal siren song of the pizza party… it was tough for a former outcast like myself to resist, but tonight I had a bed calling my name. The fact that the bed would be full of Amaranth was icing on the cake.

“I’m sorry, Hazel,” I said. “It sounds tempting, but I really need some sleep. Some other time?”

“I suppose,” Hazel said. She sighed. “We’re going to have a rematch, anyway, right?” she asked Shiel.

“If you haven’t had enough already,” Shiel said.

“Never! I say we make this a weekly thing,” Hazel said. “How about it? Same time next Friday?”

“Why not?” Shiel said.

“Right,” Hazel said. “And we can do some pizzas for me and my supporters, and sandwiches or whatever for yours.” She looked at me. “You’ll be in my corner, right, Mack?”

“Definitely,” I said.

“Um, hon?” Steff said, tugging on my sleeve.

“What?” I asked.

“You kind of already made plans for next Friday, baby,” Amaranth said.

“Huh?” I said. Oh, right. My date with Steff, assuming it was still on. I hadn’t forgotten about that… no way in hell would I do that. I just hadn’t consciously put it together with the mention of “next Friday”. “Oops. Guess I wasn’t thinking.”

“We have really got to get you a calendar or a planner or something,” Amaranth said. “We’ll go to the bookstore tomorrow around lunchtime and see what we can find.”

“Okay,” I said. “That’s probably a good idea.”

“We should probably get going,” Amaranth said. “The meeting will be starting soon.”

“Hon, the lounge is like right outside,” Steff said. She’d been watching the game avidly, almost to the point of forgetting about her relationship worries. “I’m sure we’ll hear them begin.”

“Yes, but Mack should make a strong impression by being there early,” Amaranth said. “To make up for her missed opportunities.”

“Is it possible for her to show up yesterday?” Shiel asked. She reached for a row of her soldiers and started picking them up.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Hazel asked.

“Are you really going to make me play this out to the bitter end?” Shiel asked.

“We can call it a draw if you like,” Hazel said.

“Not on your life,” Shiel said.

“Then we fight on,” Hazel said, and Shiel replaced the soldiers.

“I’m afraid you’re going to be short a couple spectators,” Amaranth said, putting her arm over my shoulders and pulling me in. “We have about a week’s worth of snuggling to catch up on.”

“That’s fine,” Hazel said. “As long as I’ve got my trusty lieutenant.” She patted Two’s knee. “You won’t abandon me, will you?”

“I do not would like to abandon anybody,” Two said. “But I’m tired, and I have to go to work tomorrow.”

“I’ll stay and watch,” Steff said. “I think I’m getting the hang of this game.”

“Maybe you should share it with Hazel,” Shiel said.

“Just how long do you think this game is going to last?” Oru asked. “I’d like to go to bed before too long, myself.”

“Not much longer,” Shiel said. “Two, maybe three hours. We should definitely have it wrapped up before midnight.”

“What?” Oru asked. “You’ve been slaughtering her.”

“Most of her long-ranged offensive capabilities are destroyed, but she’s still got quite a bit of her heavy cavalry, and those pikemen are positively entrenched,” Shiel said. “While her offense was disastrous, Hazel’s surprisingly skilled at fighting a defensive battle.”

“What you really mean is I learned quickly,” Hazel said. “And sooner or later I’ll have learned enough to turn this thing around.”

“I find that unlikely,” Shiel said.

“Why risk it?” Oru said. “Crush her quickly and get it over with.”

“It’s going to take some time to do that without exposing my troops to unnecessary losses,” Shiel said.

“Why not just throw everything you’ve got at her?” Oru said. “You’ve got her dead to rights. You could lose ten men for every one she does and still wipe her out.”

“That would be poor leadership,” Shiel said. “And I prefer the term ‘soldiers’ to ‘men’.”

“Soldiers, men… they’re made out of rock, whatever you call them,” Oru said. “They’re not going to be leaving any widows behind!”

“Or widowers,” Steff said with a smirk. The roommates both glared at her.

“Take my bed, if you’re so bothered,” Hazel said. “I think Miss Shiel is being overly optimistic. Or did you forget I’ve still got my priests?”

“It seemed like you forgot,” Shiel said.

“Don’t you wish. I’ve just been holding them in reserve,” Hazel said.

This went on after we left Shiel’s room. Two went to wake up Dee while the rest of us headed to the lounge. Sooni and her nekos were already there. Sooni was dressed in a beautiful dress that was similar to but unlike her usual skirt and blouse combos. Its hemline fell quite a bit lower than her panty-baring skirts, but the way it hugged her curves was something to behold. I had to admit, it was actually kind of hot. Her hair was bound in thin braids which were piled in a cone on top of her head, with two spirals off to the side, each framing one of her fox ears.

I was expecting her to be furious at me for continuing to obstruct her ambitions by not bowing out of the race as she’d demanded. To my surprise, she greeted me with a big smile even before we entered the lounge.

“Hello, Miss Mackenzie!” she said as we filed in. I looked for a hint of aggression or predatory hunger in her face. Aside from the fact that her smile incidentally bared her impressive canine teeth, there was none. Her black eyes were bright and shining with what seemed to be genuine good will.

“Hi,” I said.

“Maliko told me you didn’t drop out,” she said.

Maliko was staring daggers at me from behind her. Her hand was over her shoulder, on the hilt of her sword. Sooni was oblivious to her pet’s hostility.

“Uh, yeah,” I said.

“I think it will be so much better this way,” Sooni said. “Much more fitting.”

“Right,” I said.

“I’m so glad the two of you are getting along, Sooni,” Amaranth said. “I hope you’ll have a talk with your other friends about their attitude towards Mack.”

“Of course it’s natural that they’d harbor some suspicion until Mack’s proved herself,” Sooni said. “Though it will probably help when she stops associating with such terrible influences all the time.”

Kiersta came into the lounge then carrying the ballot box, the ballots, and a deck of cards. She walked past all of us an put them down on the counter, then turned and looked around the room.

“You’re not on this floor,” she said to Steff.

“I’m here for immoral support,” Steff replied.

“Oh,” Kiersta said. “Okay. Just don’t try to vote, or anything.”

Two and Dee arrived after that. Dee, appropriately enough, looked like she’d just woke up. Her long white hair was a bit on the messy side and her eyes were half-shut. Dee was wearing a black nightgown with dark green trim. Actually, upon a slightly closer inspection, the whole thing was green… just very, very dark. It was patterned, too, with spirals and swirls. You couldn’t really see them unless you stared.

The robe did not reach down as far as her all-enveloping priestess’s robes and her customary cloak, leaving her bare feet and ankles exposed. It was kind of interesting to note that her feet were about the same size as Sooni’s, though her toes were longer.

“Are you alright?” Amaranth asked Dee again.

“Yes, thank you,” Dee said. “My sleep was not particularly restful.”

Feejee arrived next, followed by Puddy and Mariel, who said nothing but took one of the TV chairs. Rather, they took the chairs that would have faced the TV had a TV been there. After that, everybody from the Leightons’ room came in, including Finbar. Kiersta didn’t say anything about the presence of another outsider, even a male. I guess her token protest of Steff had used up all her reserves of concern for the subject.

Rocky was the last one to arrive. Kiersta waited until five minutes past eight and then announced the voting was going to start. She didn’t ask the candidates if we wanted to say anything. I looked at Sooni, wondering if she was going to protest, but she just kept on smiling. I didn’t have anything prepared, anyway, and I’d used up most of my nerve on the chancellor.

It hit me then that I should have mentioned my talk with the chancellor, but Rocky had already gone over and filled out her ballot, and now Feejee was doing the same. I looked around the room, counting inside my head.

Assuming all the fifth floor girls at dinner actually were my supporters, that gave me eight votes including myself. Puddy and Mariel would be nine and ten, if they voted for me. Feejee could be number eleven.

Sooni and her nekos were four votes. Trina was definitely against me. I wasn’t even a person to her. I doubted Twyla was for me. It was hard to say, but my instinct was no. She certainly wasn’t eager to meet my eye. The Leightons would vote against me. So would Rocky. That was nine.

Twyla and Feejee were the only ones I was uncertain of. I’d had some okay conversations with Feejee. The only time I’d spoken to Twyla had been pretty close to disastrous, but maybe she would appreciate the fact that I’d saved her angel drawing. Or maybe she’d be offended or freaked. I counted Feejee as a yes and Twyla as a no. I’d find out soon enough if I was right or not.

Belinda and Leda hadn’t shown up again, and we were missing both Hissy and Celia. I tried to think of the last time I’d seen Hissy… had it been when she’d attacked me the previous weekend?

Her absence could be for any number of reasons. It didn’t necessarily have anything to do with our fight, or the horrified and horrifying reaction she’d had to reading my mind. She might not even have been missing for the whole week. The fighters weren’t always around the dorm, anyway, and I could possibly have passed her in the hallway without noticing.

Yeah, because giant lizard women are so easy to overlook…

The tiny pragmatic part of myself reminded me that her absence would help cancel out Celia’s, since Hissy had almost certainly voted against me before and would definitely have voted against me this time. I hated myself for thinking it, but it was true.

And where was Celia? I couldn’t say. She came and went from our group as she pleased, usually showing up when she had something she wanted to show off.

Sooni was down one likely previous supporter and so was I. As Shiel had said, nothing seemed to have changed, except for the presence of Puddy and Mariel. That could give me a two vote lead. I was still nervous.

After the nekos filed back to the ballot box one by one and filled out their votes, it was down to Sooni and me. She gave me a little bow and gestured towards the counter. I smiled nervously and went to cast my ballot, and then she did the same.

“That everybody?” Kiersta asked when she’d finished.

Everyone nodded.

“Anybody not vote?” she asked. “Last chance… anybody here from the floor who hasn’t voted?”

Nobody said anything.

“Okay,” she said. “I’m going to go count the ballots.”

The room was silent as she counted, then counted again.

“Another tie,” she said, to a chorus of protests from around the room.

“Recount!” the Leightons called.

“I counted twice,” Kiersta said.

I was looking around the room doing my own recount, trying to figure out who from among my expected supporters might have voted against me. I didn’t know Shiel that well, but she had said I was the better candidate, and she hadn’t denied it when Hazel had lumped her in with my supporters. Neither had Oru. I couldn’t say about Oru either way, but I had the feeling that Shiel at least would have felt compelled to speak up if that wasn’t true.

I could have been wrong about Feejee. Her face showed mild surprise, but that didn’t tell me anything.

Then I saw Mariel’s triumphant smirk, directed right at me. Puddy looked livid, but there was no way she could see Mariel’s face when the sylph was on her lap… a fact which was probably beneficial to Mariel’s well-being.

She saw me looking, though, and her expression changed… darkened. She tightened her grip on Mariel’s waist. I looked away. Had Puddy guessed at the same thing I had?

“According to the student handbook, in the event of a tie during the run-off, the winner is to be determined by lots or another random method,” Amaranth announced over the din, bringing my attention back to the matter more immediately at hand.

“You want to let me run this meeting?” Kiersta said. “I brought a deck of cards,” she said to Sooni and me. “I’ll shuffle, you each draw, and high card wins. Is that okay?”

“Of course,” Sooni said, without hesitation. Her smile had returned in full force. If anything, she seemed even more pleased.

Drawing cards? I supposed they couldn’t keep having elections indefinitely, and I don’t think I could hope to do any better. Too many of the absentees were against me. I looked at Amaranth for support. She shrugged and nodded.

“Okay,” I said.

Kiersta shuffled the cards a little clumsily, then pushed them together into a neat stack and set them down on the counter. I waved a hand at them.

“I voted first,” I told Sooni.

“No, please,” Sooni said. “It will be so much better if you draw first.”

“Better how?” I asked.

“It just will be,” she said. She leaned close and whispered, “This is the way it’s supposed to be.”

There was that word again. It was occasionally cute from Two, but otherwise, nothing good ever seemed to follow it.

“Hey, no whispering,” Kiersta said.

“Right, we’re rigging the election against each other,” I said. I sighed and closed my eyes, then took the top card off the deck. I lifted it up to my face and opened my eyes. It took a moment for my vision to focus, and another for my brain to register what it was seeing.

“Queen of cups,” I announced, smiling like an idiot with relief as I showed it around.

Sooni drew a card.

“Queen of swords,” she said, holding it up.

“The ranking of suits is…” Amaranth started to say, but Kiersta cut her off.

“Draw again,” she said.

I again offered Sooni the chance to go first, and she again refused. This time I drew with my eyes open, glancing at it briefly before displaying it to Kiersta and Sooni.

“King of swords,” I announced.

Okay, it seemed like Kiersta had done a really shitty shuffling job, but I wasn’t about to complain. Even if Sooni got another face card, odds were she’d still lose. She seemed utterly unperturbed, heedless of the odds against her. I might have wondered if she’d rigged the game somehow, except her smile was all bliss and no craft.

I turned to show the card to the room and the smile fell off my face. Puddy and Mariel had left. I could see them through the glass wall, heading down towards the end of the hall, Puddy hurrying Mariel along.


“Sooni, draw,” Kiersta said.

I took my eyes off the hallway and watched Sooni reach for the deck. I glanced back, but Puddy and Mariel had vanished into their room.

Sooni had her eyes closed and her hand on the top card. She was smiling triumphantly. I wondered again if she was cheating. I reached out, but felt no magic operating on the deck or her.

“Sooni?” Kiersta prompted.

Sooni said nothing, but flipped the top card over onto the counter. With her eyes closed, I saw it before she did.

She’d drawn the ace of wands.

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7 Responses to “194: Hot Contest”

  1. pedestrian says:

    As the old saying goes;

    if you don’t know who the sucker is in the game,

    the sucker is you….

    Current score: 0
  2. Arkeus says:

    It would amuse me if the rule of this game has a ace as the lowest card. So damn much.

    Current score: 1
  3. Athena says:

    Certainly in a tarot deck, which their decks seem to take naming from, it’s ace two not king ace. Taking more directly from regular decks though, games tend to be split 50/50 on the matter, and for the purposes of lots it’s basically up to the people in question. Could go either way.

    Current score: 0
    • tordirycgoyust says:

      iirc from the Cups game in Ian’s dorm, decks in the MUverse have 56 cards and have ones and aces.

      Current score: 0
      • robert says:

        In Cups they mentioned knights and squires. If you replace Jacks with those two…. 56 cards

        Current score: 0
      • nobody says:

        or 4 jokers

        Current score: 0
  4. Jechtael says:

    Magic Poker Equation! Kiersta should have mentioned ahead of time if Aces were high or low (Aces beat all but Deuces would be too complicated for a simple lot-draw) and if suits mattered.

    Current score: 0