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Title - Unintended: A Tale of Clumsy Matchmaking and the Value of Custom Boots
Rating - T/PG-13

Chapter 6 – Games

Kurogane had been forced to sit through another of those horrid meetings with the Council while one of the less influential advisors, a portly man with a mustache, explained in great detail how very pleased they were with the amount of time the prince spent in the company of a girl at the previous event. In keeping with their to-date unbroken string of idiocy, the Council focused on the photographer as a potential match for the boy. How could they possibly have missed how much the photographer had gushed over the prince’s true crush? She was even more obvious with her feelings than the prince.

Kurogane ignored their stupidity and considered himself lucky that their pleasure had translated into a reasonably themed event. If he was maybe actually sort of looking forward to this next event just a little, it was merely that he’d been through enough of them by now to know what to expect and that there was no cause for getting worked up. It certainly had nothing to do with the man that managed to help Kurogane see the appeal of thigh high boots.

Seeing as the winds had picked up with the recent changing of the seasons, the event was held inside the castle. It wouldn’t do for the cards, imitation money, or score tallying papers necessary for the gaming marathon to blow away.

The castle serving staff spent all morning hauling tables and chairs into the Grand Hall and adjoining rooms. When Kurogane and the prince arrived in the evening, there was a selection of games to choose from at every table. In sum, there were more games than Kurogane would have expected in the entire City. Who knew where the Council had managed to obtain so many.

Kurogane had been instructed to orchestrate it so that the prince played a game with several girls. If the game involved having partners, the photographer girl was supposed to be the prime pick. Instead, the prince quickly fell into a game with his new friend from the sparring at the tournament two months ago and two other slightly older boys who were unfamiliar.

It was a game played on a wooden board painted with alternating colors of blocks. Dice were used to progress each person’s token around the board but the player had to answer a question correctly before they were allowed to roll and an incorrect answer meant losing a turn. The color of the block the player’s token landed on determined the nature of the question you were asked. The kid did pretty well for himself, but that was to be expected considering the level of education he was afforded as prince.

Kurogane kept himself along a wall a few paces off. There was no need to crowd the kid by insisting on being at the table and he got a better view of the room and its occupants from this vantage point.

The prince was nearing the center of the board where he would win the game when a song started up from…well, Kurogane couldn’t say for sure where the music was coming from; regardless of how much sense it made, it sounded like it was coming from the ceiling. The music hadn’t been playing for more than a few seconds when the two boys Kurogane didn’t know at the prince’s table gave each other the strangest look, then leapt up from their chairs, and bolted away in a mad dash for the exit.

The remaining boy gave the prince an apologetic look in lieu of having an explanation for his friends’ odd behavior. The kid and his remaining friend appeared on the verge of starting a different game on their own, one that only required two players, when the little boy who Kurogane had seen at the festival with the former guardsman came and dragged the prince’s friend away to play a kiddie game. The prince only waved good-naturedly as his friend was led away.

After that, the Council’s plan for the prince to meet a slew of girls finally seemed to start working. He helped a girl who had managed to lose her dog in the crowd, though why she brought an animal to an occasion like this was a mystery. He served as a referee for a group of girls playing a game where each player had to get their teammate to say a word or phrase without using a specific list of words. One of the girls playing that game allowed the prince to borrow a whistle she kept around her neck. She insisted that he use it every time someone broke the rules but her partner scowled at her enough whenever she tried to push the idea that the prince never did end up using it.

After the word game, the kid took pity on a girl playing an imaginary card game with her toy bears. She was definitely too old for such things, but that didn’t stop her from introducing the toys to the prince as though they were alive. The kid went along with it for his part and played several rounds of the game “Ten Patterns” with the odd girl and her teddy bears.

Kurogane stopped paying attention to the game and the girl’s overactive imagination and started looking through the crowd. For threats of course. Why else? One thing he could say for sure about these events: he was certainly getting to recognize a larger percentage of the population. He noticed when those crazy women who liked to dress so provocatively filed in. They dressed in more clothing than was usual for them. The odd thing was that they all seemed to be in costume. One was clothed as a healer’s assistant, another like a queen, and yet another like a guard, excepting that they all had short skirts instead of trousers or slits in their dresses or some other modification that hinted at their preference for indecency.

He was somewhat absorbed in studying the crowd and so it came as a surprise when he looked back to the prince and found him introducing the teddy bear girl to the pork bun and its owner. Just how long had those two been here? The teddy bear girl shook the pork bun’s paw and Kurogane started looking through the crowd in more detail, trying to pick out a particular person. He turned his whole body in a circle and still came up empty. It felt strange. Was this disappointment? Ridiculous! Then again, Fai had said he might just be gone one day. What if he was gone now? What wou—

“Looking for someone?”

Kurogane spun to the source of the words, letting out an exasperated sound as he did. Defiantly exasperated, not relieved.

“I’m watching for troublemakers.”

“Ahahaha! Of course! That is Kuro-guard’s job after all.”

Kurogane was about to tell the idiot that he qualified as a troublemaker, then realized that the man could take that as some sort of confession. He kept his mouth shut.

“But even though you’re on the job, that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun while you’re here, right? We could have our own game while the children play cards, don’t you think?” A quick peek at the pair of kids confirmed that they were already involved in a game of Suits. The strange girl and her teddy bears were nowhere to be seen. “You seem like the kind of man that would like a game of Dominion. Am I right?”

It was actually one of the few games Kurogane truly did enjoy. It was a game of strategy, defenses, and striking at your opponent at the right moment. Moreover, he was good at it. He grinned like he did before a fight and accepted the challenge.

They picked a table near the kids where they could keep an eye out for dangers while playing their game.

Most Dominion boards had the tokens in black and white. This set had blue and red markers. He let the nobleman choose his color and Kurogane ended up with the color he would have picked on his own anyway, red.

Kurogane went first, at Fai’s insistence. He chose the first of his tokens to lay on the circular playing board. He would start with a basic pattern in preparation for a test strike on his opponent’s defenses. When playing this game, you had to analyze your opponent and anticipate not just their next move, but their overall strategy.

They hadn’t gotten very far into the game – they were still setting up primary defenses and neither had made an offensive move – when a sudden shriek pierced the racket created by the crowd. Kurogane bolted up from his seat and began looking for the source of the alarm. His opponent did the same and when he was unsuccessful, the man leapt onto the table to get a better view. From the improved vantage point, he was able to pinpoint the source of the commotion in seconds.

“This way, Kuro-spar!”

“I’m coming, too!” the kid said. And of course, the girl and the pork bun came along with the prince.

The herd of them plowed through a startled crowd and into the smallest of the adjoining rooms. Here, the lighting was dimmer due to the lower ceiling and lack of chandeliers. Lanterns were placed at regular intervals between tables but the flickering light didn’t help all that much.

Behind him, Kurogane heard a sharp intake of breath. Ahead of him, a young woman holding a slender sword advanced on an even younger girl. The little girl clutched at some sort of cutesy broach on her shawl as though it would give her courage.

“Fai-san! That’s what killed my parents!”

“I recognize it!”

Before Kurogane could even react, the blond had moved forward to engage the sword-wielding woman barehanded. The man moved with amazing speed, even more than he’d shown during their spar at the tournament. It was just as he’d suspected, but now that he was no longer angry with the man for the slight, he found he was grudgingly impressed.

The man darted to the side as the woman brought her sword down in a wide arch in front of her. Before she could even raise her weapon from its failed strike, the blond was standing to her side and just slightly behind her. He raised his right arm and sent his elbow into the back of her neck. Instead of crumpling to the ground as Kurogane expected, there was a blinding light. When it dissipated, a single card, larger than most playing cards, but still no bigger than the palm of the hand, drifted to the ground where the woman had been standing.

Fai turned around and gave him a broad grin. Kurogane crossed his arms and tried to look unimpressed.

Things settled down unusually quickly after the defeat of the card entity, possibly since the incident had been contained in one of the smaller rooms or maybe because no one had gotten hurt.

Though he was curious, Kurogane didn’t ask about the Sakura’s parents. She was more subdue than usual after the encounter and he didn’t want to cause her further distress. The prince noticed the change as well and worked up the courage to hold the girl’s hand as a display of comfort.

Kurogane got back into playing his game and time passed quickly.

He’d just finished his turn when the words “never ends” broke through the noise of the crowd. It wasn’t spoken loudly, but with a severe case of resignation. He looked toward the speaker and saw a girl standing and one of those costumed freaks helping the girl remove her top.

“That’s it! This has gone too far.”

“Kuro…gane? Is something wrong?” Kurogane could see Fai looking bewildered out of the corner of his eye. He just stood up and called for the guards. Stripping as a punishment for losing a round of cards was just too much. If they wanted to play games like those, they could do so in the privacy of their own homes, not in public, and especially not in front of children.

“Ah, I see. Kuro-guard makes a good chaperone. Best not to let the kids have too much fun, right?”

After the women were summarily escorted out, Kurogane could finally return his attention to winning his game. The hole in Fai’s defense was opening just as he’d planned. A few more moves and—

The tower bell began to toll. That couldn’t be right; it didn’t feel late at all. He counted the strikes. Sure enough, it was midnight. He looked around. The number of people remaining in the Grand Hall had diminished greatly. Sakura was yawning and rubbing her eyes. The prince was looking at her like a love-struck sap, all overly fond and doting. It was a little disgusting really.

“Such a shame. All those interruptions and we didn’t get to finish even one game. Oh well.”

Kurogane wasn’t about to let his opponent get away this easily, especially when he was so close to winning. Perhaps Fai had noticed what Kurogane was up to and realized that his loss was inevitable. He may not be able to force the man to confront his other issues, but he could push for him to face this. It was a small thing, and sure, Kurogane might get an excessive amount of pleasure from defeating the man in an honest contest, but he was going to insist.

“We should finish the game. They have boards set up at The Cat’s Eye tavern. I’m free on the fourth and sixth night of each week.”

“Kuro-sama is eager to loss?”

“You’re just scared I’m going to beat you.”

“I’ll see you on the sixth night then. Is seven o’clock took early for you?”

“I’ll be there.”

Fai had provoked a number of reactions in him in the short time they’d known each other, but Kurogane just wasn’t exactly sure how to categorize this one. He was excited, yes, as he was for any challenge, but there was something else too. He could feel it in his face. The tug at his lips was just a little different from usual.

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