Jackal Among Snakes

Chapter 618: Gamble the Universe Away



Chapter 618: Gamble the Universe Away

To satiate his desire to gamble the fate of the universe, Argrave visited someone to enable him; a craftsman who was entirely ignorant of what these fruits were.

“I need you to make two four-sided dice that have a hollow space that could fit this fruit inside of it,” Argrave gestured toward the two of them. “I can’t accept them being damaged, so you’ll have to be gentle. On top of that, I need to be able to open up the die to remove the fruit inside. Do you think this is feasible?”

Dario looked at him incredibly strangely. “Why do you want to put a fruit inside a die?”

“Incredibly high-stakes gambling among the rich. Don’t question the whims and wishes of your betters,” he said, putting on a fake snobby voice.

Dario reached out and took the fruit. Argrave was deeply alarmed when he squeezed them slightly, but resisted the urge to snatch them out of his hand. “I suppose I could make a bizarre mold for a tetrahedron, split it in half, then add some mechanism for it to open and close that doesn’t disturb its balance nor open while being tossed.” The red-eyed man looked over coldly. “Alternatively, I could just make a pair of dice without all of this stupid stuff.”

Argrave shook his head adamantly. “Both have to be able to fit one fruit.”VịSit no(v)3lb/!n(.)c𝒐m for new 𝒏ov𝒆l𝒔

Dario sighed. “Come back in three hours.”

He patted Dario on the shoulder with a smile, then turned and walked toward the exit. Anneliese stood there, and she gave him a disbelieving shake of her head when he walked by.

“You’re really doing this? Really? A game of dice for the fate of the Fruits of Being?”

Argrave protested, “Of course I’m not playing dice. That would be incredibly crude. Do you really think that I’m so irresponsible as to play a simple game of dice to distribute unimaginable power? That would be tactless. Impetuous. Harebrained. Ludicrous. Inconceivable, even, and I don’t use that word lightly.”

“…yet from the glee on your voice, you do have something in mind that involves those dice.”

“A sixteen-person lottery.” Argrave nodded. “Elegant. Sophisticated. Refined. A patrician fashion to decide the fate of the world, far removed from the crudeness of mere dice.”

Anneliese followed him along in silence, finally stunned into quietude by one of his antics. Argrave thought that it was one of the best ideas he’d ever had.

#####

Argrave opened the door to Elenore’s office, and she looked up to greet him. She set her writing implement down and leaned back in her chair.

“Is something the matter? You might’ve spoken to me through our connection,” Elenore pointed out.

Argrave put an ornate black wooden box on her table, with a slot on the top of it just large enough to fit a large hand through. He shook the box, keeping his hand over the top, then held it out to her.

“Draw one piece of paper,” he told her. “Then, tell me the number.”

She studied him with narrowed eyes. “What is this?”

Argrave looked at what he held. “A black box, containing papers with numbers ranging eleven to fourteen, twenty-one to twenty-four, thirty-one to thirty-four, and forty-one to forty-four.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything,” Elenore said, her distrust intensifying.

Argrave pushed the box closer to her.

With a sigh, she reached in, rummaging through. She pulled free a crumpled piece of paper, unraveled it, and read the number. “Twenty-one. Are you happy?”

Argrave held out his hand, and she deposited the paper back atop his hand. He combusted it with a simple spell. “Very happy.”

#####

“Orion,” Argrave greeted, finding the man in his golden armor walking about the courtyard of the parliamentary hall. “Elenore said you would be here. I have an important task for you.”

Orion straightened his back. “You do? I am at your disposal, Your Majesty.”

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Argrave thrust the box out. “Draw a paper. Tell me the number on it.”

“I see.” With his demeanor relaxed considerably, his brother reached into the box and pulled a paper free. “Forty-two, it says. Does that mean anything?”

Argrave took the paper and burnt it. “It means everything.”

#####

Argrave searched out sixteen people—now fourteen, after his siblings—and had them draw a paper.

Raven caught on to what Argrave intended, and called him an inbred—it was a factually true statement considering his biological mother was also his first cousin, but not very hurtful nonetheless. Eventually, however, the man once known as the Alchemist capitulated to the tides of fate and drew a number. Twelve.

Argrave told Rowe it was related to the parliament, and the Veidimen drew a paper without question. He asked questions after, but Argrave gave no answers and left with the elf’s number. Argrave did question whether or not it might be a mistake even allowing the possibility of such power to one so zealous. Forty-four.

Next, he sought the mountains of Blackgard for its now solitary denizen. Onychinusa, last heiress of the ancient elven empire on Berendar, offered her condolences for Vasquer’s passing. She proved to be the most difficult to persuade to reach into the box and draw her lot, but Argrave eventually coaxed her into taking number thirty-three.

Next, he told Durran that it was a lottery, but not a good one. It was the draft to see who would come with them into the Shadowlands, because the space would be limited—a blatant lie. The man hemmed and hawed and protested, but he did eventually draw his paper. Thirteen.

Melanie received the same treatment Durran did. She tried to negotiate for an entry fee to the lottery—namely, that she would be paid to enter the lottery—but Argrave remained steadfast and she did eventually succumb to the simple promise that she wouldn’t regret it. Twenty-four.

Artur, master of the Hall of Enchantment, S-rank magister afflicted with dwarfism, had been an arrogant if reliable ally. In the Bloodwoods he’d proven his worth many times over, especially in stressful situations. His mastery of the arcane made him a good candidate for the fruit, so Argrave entered him in. Forty-one.

Dario was resistant to enter the lottery because he hated gambling. Argrave finally had to break his demeanor and admit that this was rather important, and the man once of the subterranean mountain tribes unwittingly threw his hat into one of the most important lotteries many worlds over. Thirty-two.

Vasilisa of Quadreign, S-rank spellcaster, sister to the present Archduchess of the North, and guardian to Sophia of Vasquer often acted as though she wasn’t as steadfast as she was. Countless times, Argrave had been able to rely upon her more than any other. Sophia had not suffered a single scratch under her watch. She was hesitant when he mentioned the Shadowlands, but resolved when he brought up their task; killing Traugott. Twenty-three.

Argrave also paid a visit to his cousin, Nikoletta. He both informed her of the possible danger she might be in because of the Gilderwatcher heritage they shared, and pondered if she would be willing to risk her life to enter the Shadowlands. He held no punches about the danger entailed. In this lifetime, she had grown as the successor to the dukedom rather than the last heir to Monticci, so he thought she might refuse. Surprisingly, she didn’t. Twenty-two.

When thinking of faithful combatants and close bonds, one name did come to mind. At first he considered Elias of House Parbon, but upon thinking of it deeper… there was quite the fearsome warrior who was steadfastly loyal and unafraid to die in the Shadowlands: Margrave Reinhardt himself. Upon explaining the situation, without hesitation… Reinhardt chose fourteen.

With House Parbon entered into his historic lottery, Argrave sought out one of their close relations. Stain—formerly Veladrien of Jast—had proven himself capable of following orders, and he had the bonus of being a protagonist from Heroes of Berendar. He’d been made Duke of Whitefields after his service in the Great Chu, and resided there in central Berendar even now. Argrave had been prepared to dole out some heavy bait, but Stain agreed to hunt Traugott without fuss. Forty-three.

On his way to the most distant lottery entrant, Argrave passed through the Bloodwoods. Their lives had improved markedly, and they were even gladder to hear that Argrave had slain the one that destroyed their homes so thoroughly—Kirel Qircassia. While there, he entered another into his contest, enlisting their proven reliability; Ganbaatar of the wood elves. Thirty-four.

Thereafter Argrave travelled overseas, heading back to the Great Chu where Galamon still commanded the armies there. The man thought he was needed back in Vasquer, but instead, Argrave only said it could be possible and asked him to draw a paper. Thirty-one.

And lastly…

“I said I don’t need one,” Anneliese shook her head as Argrave held out the box.

“Well, there’s only one left. Yours. Eleven,” he disclosed. “If fate should will it, you shall get it. All the numbers are distributed. All that’s left is to roll the dice.”

Anneliese studied him. “You’re seriously going to do this? Roll the dice and let fate decide?”

“Not fate. Not really. It’s the fruits,” he said grandly, pulling the last paper out and burning it just like all the others. “Pay tribute to the fruit. Pray to the fruit. Respect the fruit, and let the fruit guide you, young apprentice.”

Argrave headed over to the dice that Dario had crafted. They were large—they needed to be to accommodate the fruit without deforming. He picked the first one up, twisting it strangely until it split. He placed the fruit within, and turned around while closing it shut. It fit snugly inside—shaking it, he couldn’t feel it move.

“You ready?” he asked Anneliese, hefting the unwieldy pyramid.

“No,” she shook her head.

“Well, here we go anyway.”

Argrave tossed the first four-sided die at the ground.


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