Chapter 122:

Chapter 122 - The Taskmaster’s Trials


“Is this your card?”

Patricia’s intern–a droopy-eyed man she’d referred to as “Morrison”–stared blankly at the card Roulette had revealed, glancing between it and the one in his hand with unbearable slowness. Even Beretta, who had pledged to help the older girl pull off her magic trick, was beginning to lose patience.

“No. I don’t think so,” he said.

“What do you mean you don’t think so?!” In her frustration, Roulette began flexing the deck of cards back and forth, threatening to send them careening across the portion of desk he occupied. “It either is, or it ain’t! How many times do we have to go through this before you get that?”

Beretta climbed up on the desk and leaned across it, tipping his hand to reveal the card in question: a ten of clubs.

“AUGH!” Roulette stormed off at the sight of it, arms flailing wildly. “Street magic is the worst! Even when I was panhandlin’, I could never get it down!

“Relax, Rou,” Mimi said with a sigh, striding from her place by the desk to rest a hand on her shoulder. “I’ve seen you pull off far more complicated tricks in battle before. We know you have it in you.”

“That’s different,” she grumbled. “Everythin’ comes clearer when I’m fightin’ for my life.”

“Well, think of it this way, then: right now, you’re fighting for your ability to keep fighting. If you blow this, you’ll lose Lady Luck… And then where will you be?”

Roulette’s head started to turn, as if her eyes were instinctively drawn toward her mother’s corpse. “You’re right,” she said grimly. “I have to do this. I have to make it work.”

With that, Mimi ushered her back to the desk and started coaching her through another round of deck-stacking. Beretta moved to join them, then stopped, her eyes flicking skyward as she noticed the position of the sun. The haze over Ballistona County made it hard to see clearly, but the girl was pretty sure it was approaching its zenith.

That didn’t leave them with much time.

Where are you, Father? she wondered, fighting back tears as she gazed out across the plain. I had only just found you again… And now you and Catastrophe Joan are… Are…! She gave her head a violent shake, trying her best to force the thoughts from her mind. It would do her no good to dwell on the fates of others when their own lives still hung in the balance. Patricia had been very clear:

If her friends’ personal challenges weren’t resolved by noon, they’d lose their destined weapons for good.

That meant she had to do everything she could to help. And, since Mimi’s guidance seemed to be having an impact on Roulette, the girl decided to direct her efforts toward helping Morgan with his task. She looked over to find him lying on his belly, apparently embroiled in whatever it was he was doing. But, as she drew closer, she began to notice things: his slumped shoulders, his subtly tilted head…

…And a conspicuous wheezing sound issuing from his mouth.

He was asleep! Beretta stormed up to him and gave him a swift kick to the rear, jolting him awake in an instant. “Morgan! What are you doing?! We have work to do!”

“Uhh?!” Morgan roused with a start, knocking his various tools into disarray. Among them, Beretta could see tweezers, a tube of glue, and many other strange things. It was only when she caught sight of the glass bottle–and the half-constructed ship inside–that she recalled what he was supposed to be doing.

“A ship in a bottle!” she exclaimed, coming around to give it a closer look. “Uncle Lazar had one of these in his office!”

“Yeah, well, turns out they’re a pain in the ass,” Morgan griped. “I’ve just got the mast and the sails left to do. Trouble is, I spent most of the night driving, so I’m predisposed to noddin’ off… Though I’m sure I’d have trouble concentratin’ on something as boring as this even if I’d had a good night’s sleep.”

Beretta was about to reply when she felt something squirmy brushing against her foot. She looked down to find a furry little critter rooting around in the dirt–a hamster with calico-colored fur. The girl frowned and stooped down to pick it up, wondering where such a well-groomed rodent could have come from.

She’d only been puzzling over it for a few seconds when Patricia’s words came back to her: Joan’s weapon became a hamster–likely because she never took care of anything properly once in her miserable life.

Beretta gasped. “M-Morgan! Is this…?”

He looked up mid-tweeze, squinting at the little ball of fur in her hands. “Oh! Would you look at that? I figured it’d wandered off for good,” he said with a chuckle. “That’s Homewrecker alright. Joan’s destined weapon.”

His face fell at the mention of their fallen companion. “Damn shame. She’d have been happy to know it survived her, though… Even if it is just a hamster now.”

“This hamster… Is a gun?” Beretta could hardly believe it. Still, it was pretty cute; it nuzzled at her fingers when she petted it, and it responded enthusiastically to the sound of her voice.

That gave her an idea.

“Homewrecker, I have an important job for you,” she whispered, smiling to herself as the little beast’s ears pricked up. “Do you think you can keep Morgan awake while he works on his model ship?”

The hamster showed no immediate signs of comprehension, but after twitching its whiskers and ruffling its headfur it leapt straight from her hands to Morgan’s scalp. “Hey!” he exclaimed, “I’m happy you’re alive and all, rodent, but if you make a mess up there there’ll be hell to pay.”

Beretta giggled, looking on with amusement as the hamster nestled into the man’s bright pink hair. “I told Homewrecker to make sure you stayed awake, so you two are a team now,” she explained. “As long as you keep going, I think you should finish before noon.”

“You got it, boss,” he replied drily, then waved her off. The girl moved to oblige, thinking she’d check on Roulette’s progress toward magical mastery, when an odd sound issued from somewhere just behind her.


What was that? Was someone letting the air out of a balloon?


She turned around to look and found Viper there, lying on his belly with a helpless look on his face. “Hey, kid! You any good at math?”

Beretta crossed her arms and scowled at him. “Yes.”

“Great. I’m having some trouble with a few of these,” he continued, indicating the sheet of math problems laid out before him. “Like, all of them, actually. Can you help?”

“Help? You?” She shook her head, incredulous. “Why would I help you? You came here to kill us! You did kill my father!”

“What? I didn’t kill your dad! I just tricked him. Which, when you think about it, is kind of on him,” he said with a chuckle. “Whether he lives or not is up to Diallo. I’m an accomplice at most. Hell, I’m basically a good guy, still.”

“You are not. Not at all,” she sighed. “But… Okay. I will help you. Only if you promise not to kill us, though.”

“What? Really? You know it’s my job to kill you, right? What am I supposed to tell the boss?”

“Tell him we got away. Or that you got too scared.”

“I don’t get scared,” he scoffed, “but that first idea could work, I guess. Fine. If you deal with this stupid math assignment for me, I’ll leave you guys alone.”

“Do you promise?”

“Yeah. Whatever. I promise.”

That was good enough for her. Beretta skipped over to his side and lowered herself into a crouch, her eyes scanning the sheet of problems. It only took her a few seconds to come to one very humorous conclusion:

“These are easy. Really easy!”

“Okay, wow! Shh! Shut up!” he hissed. “Just make with the mathing, already!”

“4+7? You do not know the answer to that one?”

“Don’t make this harder for me than it already is!” The man kept his voice low, as if his entire reputation were hanging in the balance. “Not everyone is born to be some kind of weird wiz-kid math scientist, okay? Some of us are born to be cool.

She was done the sheet before he’d even finished that sentence. She penned the last stroke with a flourish, causing the pencil and worksheet to return to their liquid, silvery state before rematerializing as Viper’s destined weapon. Beretta looked up to find that, to her delight, the same was happening for her friends; just as Morrison confirmed the success of Roulette’s trick and Morgan straightened out the last miniature sail, their projects melted into the ground and reemerged in gun form!

“Well done, all,” Patricia announced, clapping her hands together with mild enthusiasm. “I didn’t think you had it in you. Now get inside and claim your prize:


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