The Nonpareil of Resh (Act 1)
The card game had entered its final round. Even with the blatant cheating that occurred—conveniently overlooked by the casino staff and onlookers alike—Tancred and Odell managed to hold out and keep a tied game.
Lucchi chuckled as the deck was passed to the Hobusian prince. Odell shuddered. Throughout the game, he had not figured out how to cheat the right cards to his ally. For the final round, the cards would be dealt fairly and randomly. Each player received a hand of thirteen cards, with none remaining. Odell gulped as he looked at his own hand. It was something he did not expect.
Four aces were scattered around the clumps of cards; beyond that, there was a good mix of the lower-value cards among the four suits, with the highest being a five. The Hobusian prince had no poker face, and everyone at the table could tell he was shocked by his hand.
Odell shook his head and focused on sorting his cards by suit along with the other players. At first glance, he had dealt himself a great hand, but he new he needed to think about it more carefully before getting too confident. With a deep breath, he took another look at the cards.
Once again, the prince wished he could have had a more capable member of their team playing the game while the crime boss made his bid for how many tricks he would take.
“Seven!” He said with confidence.
“Seven as well!” Tancred added with a laugh.
“Two,” Lucchi’s subordinate said.
Next up was Odell.
His yellow eyes darted back and forth among the cards. The four aces seemed nice, but every other card was low. He couldn’t bet too high as the face cards were sure to be scattered among the other players. Odell took a deep breath and glanced at Tancred, who in turn looked at him with trusting eyes. The Hobusian prince felt uncomfortably responsible.
He looked back at his hand; Lucchi began to drum on the table with his fingers while glaring at the Hobusian. Odell knew he couldn’t count on taking the whole game; he just needed to sabotage Lucchi as best he could.
“F- four,” Odell nervously said.
The crime boss was the first to go after Odell’s dealing, and with the prince’s bid, he had a guess as to what four cards Odell held.
A two of hearts was thrown out by the crime boss. Tancred followed with a six of hearts, and Lucchi’s subordinate threw out a two of spades. Odell put out a three of hearts, and Tancred took the stack.
“Playing it safe, eh,” Lucchi mused as Tancred put out a king of spades next. The crime boss's words were clearly directed at Odell.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Odell said with a blatant lie. He played low again so that Tancred could take the trick. They had two, but to win, Tancred would need seven without Odell’s, or any other hands, compromising.
Odell could feel sweat beading up on his neck. He would have hoped with a good trump, it would be easier, but it made it even more nerve-racking to predict what would happen.
Tancred, for his part, watched Odell closely. The prince didn’t know it, but he sorted his cards from left to right in the order: spades, diamonds, hearts, and clubs every time. Whenever he would play a card, his eyes would look at every card in the suit while deciding what he wanted to play. Based on the observations, Tancred had a good guess about how many of each suit Odell had in his hand.
He planned to inform the prince of his tells after the match, Lucchi and his subordinate would not get the same consideration, but for the time being, it gave him information to try and control the game. The detective only hoped Lucchi hadn’t picked up on all Odell’s tells as well.
The grey Bentulousian looked back at his hand; it was suitably random. He had a good bunch of face cards and an odd selection of others from various suits. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have made such a high bet on the hand, but Odell’s clear, accidental revealing of getting a good set of cards was enough to make Tancred want to take a chance.
He looked at the collection and carefully at was thrown out with the last king of spades, a queen, and a jack were neatly collected. Based on Odell’s movements, he figured the prince had two spades left, one of which the detective assumed was the Ace. He led with a ten of spades and took the next trick making three.
Tancred felt his heart beat with excitement. He had once spade left, so he figured it would be best to save that for Odell to take.
As Tancred carefully worked with Odell to take several more tricks, Rym came running down the stairs. She quickly crossed the casino and made her way over to the table.
“We don’t have time for you!” Lucchi grunted as he eyed his hand. He had to take a trick and get the advantage soon, or he wouldn’t be able to win.
“We…” Rym tried to gasp out in her exhausted state, but a henchman to the crime boss began to pull her away.
“I would like you not to touch my assistants,” Tancred said as he threw out a ten of hearts. The players went around the table, and Tancred took his seventh trick. He followed with his spade and let Odell run wild with his aces. It was clear that the game was finished with the crime boss's loss.
Lucchi banged on the table and stood up.
“I don’t suppose you think I’ll take this defeat lying down!” he shouted.
“Such a sore loser,” Tancred replied with a smile and a shake of his head.
Odell grinned ear to ear. He had managed to pull it off in the end.
“We don’t have time! The enemy is here!” Rym shouted from the side of the room where the henchman still held on to her.
As if to answer the cry, Evron appeared on the table with his arms outstretched in a welcoming manner.
Everyone jumped at the sudden appearance of the light blue Zenotote. As his hands were brought close to his chest, he bowed mockingly to the crowd. Bright and regal clothes fluttered with his movements.
“It is good to see everyone is having fun here!” Evron said gently, “I do hope it was satisfying since it will be the last time for some of you.”
“Why you!” Lucchi’s subordinate jumped up from his seat and climbed on the table. He pressed his face close to Evron’s scaly one and grabbed his clothes. The blue Zenotote smiled and gently placed his Needaimus bonded hand onto the man.
Before Lucchi’s subordinate could respond, he suddenly disappeared. There was no effect to indicate it—to the viewers; he was gone in the blink of an eye. Evron brushed his clothes off where the subordinate had grabbed him.
The crime boss stood up and held out a hand. In no time, some subordinates handed him a giant bat. Odell’s green Needaimus, Cal, quickly moved from the Hobusian prince’s shoulder to bond to his arm.
“Mind explaining where you sent my man?” Lucchi asked with malice dripping from his words.
“Hmm, I’m not sure. You see, to send people away quickly, I have to have it set to a random destination. He could be anywhere I have once been, maybe down the hall of this hotel, perhaps at the bottom of the ocean from that one submarine trip, and maybe still locked in a cell I once escaped from.” The crime boss's face turned dark. Tancred stepped back from the table, and Odell followed suit. Evron kept speaking, “Oh, don’t give me that look. This is a casino, right? We all like to gamble here. It’s only fitting that I add a little randomness!”
Odell balled his fists and held them up. At the same time, he continued to step away.
He seems to rely on touch to activate his ability. Leave some distance! Cal warned in the prince's mind.
Odell nodded but couldn’t help contemplating. He relied on physical contact to fight; was he unable to strike at Evron? Was he any use against the new foe? The thoughts ran through his mind as he took several steps back.
Lucchi smiled and held up his bat, and pointed it at Evron.
“I don’t know who you are, but the only one allowed to interrupt games around here is me!” He turned to Tancred, “You and I will finish our business after this.”
“I look forward to it,” Tancred said with a roll of his eyes.
The crime boss turned back to Evron and let out a shout. At his voice, the others in the casino suddenly rushed at the blue Zenotote. All at once, they brought down various bats and pipes to the table where Evron had stood. He had suddenly disappeared as they came in for the blow. A moment later, he reappeared behind Lucchi.
The crime boss managed to lunge to the side to avoid Evron touching him. Before his blue-scaled arm could be withdrawn, Lucchi swung his bat. Evron took a blow to his arm and grunted as he winced.
“Ha! He’s not so tough!” some of Lucchi’s subordinates shouted. They charged at the Zenotote as he nursed his wounded arm.
As they closed in, Evron’s demeanor changed, and he seemed to dance around three men—tapping them as he moved by. One vanished instantly. The other two let out shouts of fear. It took them a moment to realize that they were still there. Figuring the ability must have missed like a bomb could have a dud, they regained their courage and charged at the blue Zenotote while his back was turned.
Before the gap was closed, one subordinate suddenly vanished. The last remaining one froze, completely forgetting about his attack.
Evron turned to Lucchi and held his hand with fingers, ready to snap. As he slid them to make the loud sound, the last subordinate vanished. The others shuddered.
His Needaimus was one that could teleport. When he touched someone, they were tagged with a destination and arrival time. A tagged target would begin a countdown when it hit zero would be the moment teleportation would occur. If he neglected a countdown, he could teleport instantly at the cost of it being random. However, he very much enjoyed seeing the fearful faces of people once they were tagged and had no idea when they would vanish.
Tancred, for his part, had backed up further in the room and was watching the fight closely. He was incapable of combat, though he often kept a pistol hidden; he could see that timing would be needed against this particular foe. Tancred sought to analyze everything so they could get a winning blow but was having trouble in his study of Evron. It looked as if the bleached blue Zenotote had more hidden, and the detective didn’t want to make a move until he had more information. They would have to stall, which required them to gamble more than they would in any game within the casino. As he watched the gang members slowly and cautiously try to circle the opponent, the short Bentulousian scrutinized everything.
“Hal’s in trouble too!” Rym said in a hushed voice as she came close to him.
“I suspect he is,” Tancred said as he rubbed his chin, “we are all in quite the dilemma against this foe. I fear we may have walked in unprepared.”
“You never come unprepared!” Rym shot back. Tancred chuckled.
“I suppose you are correct. Tell me what you think about this idea. Our opponent here is a Garku type which uses physical touch and timers for teleportation.”
“I don’t know about timers, but the touch might be part of a mind game he is playing. Rym replied.
“No, he has tapped himself multiple times, including once before his disappearance earlier. I suspect he has placed multiple countdowns on himself throughout this room. On that note, please run to your left immediately!”
Rym did not question Tancred, and both broke off on the outskirts of the room in a sprint. As soon as they had fled, Evron appeared where they stood with both hands outstretched to tap shoulders that were no longer there. He was shocked at first, then glared at Tancred.
“How did you know!” Rym asked as they continued to sprint.
“He has more tells than he’d like to think. It seems we must face this opponent with mind and not brawn if we hope to hold out!” Tancred shouted back. They met up with Odell as Tancred finished his sentence.
“Can I even help?” Odell asked sullenly.
“Fear not, lad, you are cleverer than you give yourself credit! If you share even a spec of similarity to your father, you will be able to play a part in taking down this foe.”
Odell took a deep breath and nodded.
“What do I need to do?” he asked.
“For now, keep calm and stay moving. Pay attention to your foe and learn his patterns. No man can hide everything about himself if you truly look. We will need to stall this fight long enough to take the upper hand or wait for another party to join. Either way, without knowing our opponent, no lucky moment or surprise aid will be of benefit.”
Odell wasn’t sure he followed, but he nodded anyway. The three of them broke up and began to scatter around the room. Each kept their eyes on Evron, who in turn decided they were the three primary threats in the casino.