The Wrong Kind of Flop

Ohhh, man. When I was 11-16 or so, I partook in a series of text based fantasy chat rooms where we roleplayed characters set in the Dragonlance world. There was a room set in a tavern, the gardens, the caverns, the arena, a tower of sorcery,  and a thieve’s guild. At its height, there were maybe even hundreds of characters played by dozens of people and each had their own backstories and lives that unfolded over countless years. I made some of my earliest and best friends there, stretched my creative muscles and had some of the best storytelling adventures of my life.

Before I ever played Dungeons and Dragons or Mutants and Masterminds, I had Tyro Vultheim in the Kender Chats and I miss it so much and I wish I had the time to do it again.

In any case, some of the characters from my experiences there have persisted through my life. Some of the adventures have inspired stories. In fact, I plan on writing a six novel series set in an original fantasy world with some of the characters from those chats, with permission from their incredible creators.

Tyro Vultheim will be one of the main protagonists. The other will be the subject of today’s birthday note. Played by my friend Leonard, Drake originally had a different last name, one no longer useable due to the sudden extreme popularity of a fantasy series. But we compromise.

In the chats, Drake and Tyro had an incredible relationship. They were rivals. They were friends. Their romantic interests would occasionally intertwine until they both settled into routine and then their significant others, friends and allies would develop levels of importance,  affection and irritation with each other as well. They would fight, they would fistfight and afterwords crack open a bottle of wine and sit next to each other, lips still bleeding and eyes swelling, and they would put it behind them.

Drake and Tyro are brothers. But they weren’t always thus, and they didn’t always know each other. For Len’s birthday, I wrote this:

******

Drake Lethos looked over several stacks of cobalt coins with a grin in his eyes. Several coins more were scattered about in the center of the table, bets from the four men seated there. Only Drake and the gap-toothed gentleman who scowled across at him still had cards in their hand.

“What are you holding?” the man asked. He hadn’t been happy when Drake had joined their game, unwilling to trust some stranger blowing through town.

“If I told you, it would defeat completely the purpose of the game.”

“You look nervous. You nervous?”

Drake glanced down at his winnings. “I suspect I’ll be alright either way.”

“Why do you even keep going?” one of the other men asked. “You ain’t won enough?”

“Why does anyone do anything, friend? Are we compelled by the gods? Some think so. Or they think it’s fate. Perchance the subsconscious urge to act in the echoes of a past life.” Drake flashed a mouthful of pearly white teeth. “But frankly, I think I’ve a bit of a gambling problem.”

“You going to keep raising until I can’t bet?” the man across from him asked. “Because if that’s the game you’re trying to pull, we’re done now.”

“Did you want to raise?”

“I’ll check.”

“Then I’ll check, too. Many things can be said about me, but the first to call me a poor sport would out himself as a liar.”

The man scowled and laid his hand down on the table. Three Countesses with a Dragon for a wheel. It was a strong hand and Drake saw his opponent wrestling to keep a smile from his face. He wanted to see what Drake had.

The cards settled on the tabletop, face-up, with nary a sound. Three Dragons and a Jester. The air was sucked from the room.

“Well, hell,” Drake said. “What are the odds of that? One in sixty thousand? Seventy thousand?” He reached out with both hands and began pulling the coins towards his stacks. “And as it will get no better than that, gentlemen, I think I’ll call it a night.”

Now, there was something that should be known about Drake Lethos: he was a man who loved a life of luxury. That meant expensive clothes, with silver buttons and ridiculous frills at the ends of his sleeves. Fine cuisine for all three meals and beds that could fit several people, made up with satin sheets. It meant sly winks at strange women towards the other end of a crowded area and that alone being three steps in the direction of the ballroom or the bedroom or both.

There was another side to him, though. One that involved panicked runs down back alleys, hasty escapes from scummy bars, and an expansive vocabulary that constructed a treasure trove of excuses to pull out when everything went wrong.

It was because of this latter half of life that he registered the ale mug shrieking towards his face, propelled by the angry hand of a sore loser. With his second of preparation, he flung his left arm up from the pile of coins that rightfully belonged to him and deflected the projectile. Deflected it at the wrong angle, but deflected it all the same. As it struck the mechanism attached to his forearm – three inches up from the wrist – and caused it to go haywire, spewing a handful of select cards from his expertly turned cuff, Drake thought to himself that maybe, just once, he should have pushed his instincts down into his gut and allowed himself to be hit in the face.

Slowly, the other three men turned to look at him. Their expressions varied, but only along the narrow margin between disgust and murderous intent. A low growl curled up behind him. Drake turned and saw the half-orc bouncer walking towards him, massive biceps putting his shirt through exercises it wasn’t meant to endure.

“Ain’t no cheaters to be in here.”

Drake’s mind, spinning through his options for a line that could save his ass, blanked at that.

“That’s the best Trader you can manage? This tavern needs to invest in some kind of language course for its employees.”

*****

Drake Lethos leaned against the outer wall of a tanner’s shop. His face felt like a thousand puzzle pieces that jammed together in the wrong positions. He considered the fact the mud and blood would probably never be removed completely from his clothes and lamented that he didn’t even have the money to buy a replacement set.

Then again, there were motherly women in the world who would take pity on a helpless, battered man. After that, there was always another town. In towns, there was always another game.

Drake Lethos spit a mouthful of crimson into the road and smiled his perfect smile.

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