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Shifters: The Chalice Game
“Jerks, Emily, they’re just jerks.” Anne consoled, as we walked back down the hill towards the ship.
Emily didn’t look like she needed consoling; she looked more like she needed restraining. “I can’t believe it! First they call me something in Aztec so bad that Charlie won’t translate, then they do that?” Her fists balled and her face was red.
“As I said,” Anne sighed. “They’re jerks.”
Jordan was simply shaking, staring pointedly into the horizon and quietly fuming.
I was shaking a bit myself. Adrenaline was still pumping through my veins and I felt slightly lightheaded. How did they know who I was? Or what I was as they’d phrased it.
We all stormed up the gangplank to The Lucky Thirteen. Jordan was so busy in his own head that he nearly bumped into Mark coming down.
“Hey, guys!” Mark greeted cheerfully.
We all murmured a greeting, trying to hide how quietly angry we were.
We all gave each other a glance, somehow making an unspoken agreement not to talk about it. Charlie would probably be upset that we’d gotten ourselves into trouble with those two, never mind the fact that Jordan had gotten us kicked out of a restaurant.
“Yeah, we’re good Mark.” I answered.
Mark grinned tentatively. “It’s lunch break time for me!” He strode happily onto land. We stood on the deck in silence and watched him make his way up to the town and out of sight.
Emily looked more like she needed comforting now, although it was obvious she was attempting not to show it. Emily was never a crier, but her eyes looked forlorn and hurt, even if they weren’t wet. She slumped her shoulders and sulked towards the hatch leading below deck.
“Where are you going?” I called after her.
Emily muttered something like. “Urmgonnatakeanap…” She trudged through the hatchway and into the ship.
Anne grimaced. “I better go make sure she’s alright.” She gave a small wave and followed after Emily.
Jordan was fuming less silently now. “The nerve,” He growled. “Honestly, what did we do to them? What did Emily do to them?”
“It wasn’t her fault,” I sighed. “I’m pretty sure they were mad at me. You heard what they said when we left.”
He gritted his teeth. “Yeah that didn’t sound too good…” For a moment he quieted down, but the moment was short lived. “I mean I had no choice but to try and hit him! You know what he called her!”
I raised my eyebrows. “Yeah, it was strongly implied.”
“I mean god! And then he lies to the manager!” Jordan shook his head. “No backbone, just because he didn’t want to finish the fight.”
I grunted in assent. I wasn’t feeling like reliving the moment, but the last thing Hen’vil had yelled at me was stuck in my head. Hey Outworlders! We know what you are! Somehow, someway those two knew I was a Shifter, and I was pretty sure they weren’t the people I wanted knowing.
“…And if I knew two languages you wouldn’t see me switching back in forth just to confuse people! Insult someone in a way they can understand! No funny business!” Jordan finished. I must’ve zoned out while he was talking.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets, leaning against the edge of the ship, his eyebrows furrowed. “I guess I’m also pissed I didn’t get a real good shot.”
“Yeah, he threw you into the table before you could really nail him.”
We both laughed dryly.
Jordan grinned wryly. “Sorry for the rant, its just…. not fair for us.”
I gulped hard, a large twist of guilt in my stomach.
We hung around the ship for an hour or so; Emily moped in our cabin, Anne keeping her company whilst reading one of her new books. Jordan was lying on his back in the big room looking at his new maps. I sat in there with him for a time, but soon left and resorted to pacing around on the deck of The Lucky Thirteen, periodically helping Josh and Mark bring crates out to the stand. I was really trying to take my mind off of our encounter with Hen’vil and Fut’sah, as well as the newfound knowledge that I was a hated race.
It was late afternoon when, after heaving a crate down to the stand, I ran into Jordan on the gangplank. His somber expression had been replaced by a devilish grin that I wasn’t sure I liked the looks of.
“Hey,” He greeted, his eyes alight. “Want to do something fun?”
“Uh…” Jordan’s definition of fun could oftentimes be extraordinarily different from my own.
Jordan grabbed my arm and led me back down the gangplank. “Come on!”
We weaved through the crowd of people in the market. Jordan walked quickly, searching for something in the thicket of passerby. “Where is it, where is it, I know it’s here…”
“Jordan, where are we going?” I inquired, still wary of the devilish look in his eyes.
Jordan didn’t answer, and we moved further down along the dock, The Lucky Thirteen now shrouded from sight by three other ships. We passed by stands where incense wafted up through the air and more strange food was on display. Finally, we reached a small and grimy tent. It was green and tattered, with more patches than original nylon. Stapled to one of the flaps was a sheet of paper that read: Elaine’s Game of Chance. Jordan shot me a grin.
“Oh no, man, that’s not where we’re going, is it?”
Jordan opened the tent flap and went inside.
“We’re gambling?” I groaned as I followed him. The inside was damp, lit only by a dim lantern hanging in the back. It reeked of incense; several scented candles littered the area, creating a strong-smelling haze in the claustrophobic space.
“Good afternoon, boys,” A soft voice cooed. An old woman with long gray hair was sitting cross-legged on a round pillow. She was wearing green robes and several shark-teeth necklaces. In front of her was a small table. “Come to win some money?”
“That’s right,” Jordan answered, evidently unfazed by the creepiness of the setting. He sat down on a similar cushion and both he and the woman looked up at me expectantly.
Hesitantly, I sat down.
“Now, shall we begin?” The woman reached behind her and set down a curious brass instrument. It was comprised of three sections. The top looked like the mouth of a cup. Underneath the mouth was a spherical chamber. Branching out of the chamber were three dispensers, the mouths of which were concealed by small metal covers, like a gumball machine. “Are either of you familiar with the Chalice game?”
“I don’t know Jordan, are you familiar with the Chalice game?” I inquired through gritted teeth.
Jordan ignored me and shook his head at the woman.
Her wrinkled lips turned up in a thin smile that I didn’t like. “The rules are simple,” She explained, she held up a small blue marble. “Here I have a marble that I will drop into the top of the Chalice. I will then shake the Chalice around for exactly ten seconds. Your job is to guess which tube it will emerge from.”
“How much do we win?” Jordan asked.
“Triple the amount you bet.”
Jordan gave me an excited look and said, “How much cash you got?”
“Why are we doing this, Jordan? I don’t feel okay gambling away Charlie’s money!”
“Relax,” He whispered. “If I lose, I’ll say I took your money without asking and I can work it off on the ship. Deal?”
I thought this over for a second. It still didn’t seem like a good plan and the Chalice game seemed more and more like a scam with every passing moment. Still, Jordan was going to argue me into it anyway, and so I didn’t really have a choice. I sighed, muttering half-hearted protests as I handed him the rest of the money in my pocket.
Jordan took out his own and piled it on the table, pushing it towards the woman who took it and placed it behind the table.
“Alright, now watch carefully…” In one fluid motion she both plunked the marble into the Chalice and lifted it into the air, shaking and spinning it in confusing patterns and with impressive dexterity for exactly ten seconds. She slammed the Chalice down on the table, causing the lantern to jangle behind her.
Jordan and I both stared perplexed at the Chalice.
“Now, which tube?”
I had no idea, maybe it was the one on the far right, or the far left. It was really impossible to know. I groaned internally. There was no way to win this game, it was entirely chance.
Jordan’s brow was creased as he leaned forward, his hand over his mouth. He looked confused, but in a way that seemed different from my own confusion. Jordan wasn’t befuddled by the tube choice, he was befuddled by the game itself.
“Do you have an answer?” The woman asked again.
Jordan cast the Chalice another perplexed stare and looked at the woman. “It isn’t in any of the tubes.”
The woman’s eyebrows arched in surprise.
“The marble is stuck to the side of the round part of the Chalice. I think that the inside of the Chalice is magnetic and the marble is attracted to it.” Jordan looked again at both of our confused expressions. “What? Couldn’t you hear it buzz when it attached to the side? I thought it was obvious.”
The woman’s mouth was agape like a fish gasping in the open air, searching for words. “That’s…that’s not possible, no one is supposed to guess that. It’s impossible to hear the magnets with the human ear!”
Jordan raised an eyebrow. “Then why could I?”
The woman didn’t have a response.
“Well, you must have a faulty Chalice, I’d get that checked out, but in the meantime…” Jordan reached his hand out. “I think we just won triple our bets.”
“How did you do that?” I exclaimed once we were out of earshot of the woman who had angrily given us our winnings and told us to never come back to her tent again.
“Just like I said. You could hear the magnets clear as day. It made an electric buzz. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.” We strode through the market, weaving in and out stands.
I frowned. “Well, I guess I was distracted by the crazy motions she was making with the Chalice thing.” This seemed to satisfy both of our curiosity, but I still had one more question. “Now what was the point of that exactly?”
Jordan shot me another grin. “You’ll see in just a second…” We walked a little further and then stopped.
We were standing in front of a large stand that read: Musical Instruments and Equipment.
“So?” I asked, still confused.
Jordan ignored my question and began browsing through the various instruments until he pulled an acoustic guitar out of the mix. It was made of dark brown wood with a glossy finish.
Suddenly I got it. “We’re buying Emily a guitar!”
Jordan tapped his nose with a smile.
I felt a grin forming on my face. “That’s so…so nice, Jordan!”
My friend gave me a defensive look. “I’m nice! Emily’s the mean one. And we’re doing it because for once someone was meaner than she is.”
I laughed as he handed me the guitar. “How does it feel to you?” He inquired.
“I don’t know, I don’t know anything about guitars. Do you?”
“No, but is the guitar all we need?”
I tapped my finger to my chin, trying to think. “Well, I’m pretty sure you need picks to strum it.” My eyes caught a small stand full of music books. “And get her an instruction book so that she can learn to play.”
I grabbed a book and Jordan rifled through a small box of picks. The shop owner, a short bearded man with glasses, walked over to Jordan with a smile. “I make these myself, along with a lot of the instruments here.” He waved his hand over the box. “Each one has a partner with similar designs.”
When Jordan asked why, the man said, “I like making things in pairs, keeps me hopeful that there’s someone out there with the same design as me.” He gave us a smile and headed to tend to other customers.
“Better get two for her, she might lose one,” I advised.
Jordan nodded and continued to look through the box. After a few minutes of searching, he dug deep into the box and brought his fist back out. He opened his palm and revealed two matching picks.
They were beautifully made. Each was black with electric green that flowed diagonally across the pick’s surface. Small green dots radiated off of it and dissipated into the black like a nebula in space. The only difference in the two was on one the electric green slash was a smooth curved line and in the other it was harsh and jagged like a lightning strike. Jordan looked them over for a moment.
“They look nice,” I mused.
A small smile tugged at the edge of Jordan’s mouth. “Yeah,” He said as we headed over to pay. “They do.”
We kept the picks, music book, and guitar, hidden until dinner. Since The Lucky Thirteen was in port, the crew ate on the deck, out in the open night air. A warm breeze was blowing, causing Anne’s brown hair to be thrown in strands around her face. She tugged them behind her ear impatiently as we ate. We were sitting on the floor of the deck, our backs to the protective barrier between us and the ocean.
“So where did you and Jordan go today?” Anne asked, finally resolving to tie her hair back into a ponytail.
“Um, we just walked around a little,” I lied. We were trying to keep the gift a complete surprise. I also didn’t want to tell Anne we’d been gambling, she would like that even less than I did. “He needed to let off some steam. I let him rant.”
“Good,” She said, nodding, a slightly anxious look on her face. “We don’t need Jordan to go try and pick a fight with them.”
We sat in silence, both of our minds on the day’s events. Did they mean that they knew I was a Shifter? If so, how did they know? A chill ran over me despite the tropical air. What would they do now that they knew?
“Where are Emily and Jordan?” Anne wondered, standing up.
I stood up too. “Didn’t they go to get some more food below deck?”
She frowned slightly. “They should be back by now, shouldn’t they?”
A wave of realization swept over me and I had to prevent myself from smiling. “I’m sure they’ll be back soon.”
As if on cue there was a squeal from below deck. Charlie’s head snapped in alarm towards the direction of the noise, and several other crew-members looked around in interest.
“What the hell was that?” Charlie scrunched his eyebrows and started towards the hatch.
“C’mon,” I said to Anne, who looked perplexed. I motioned my head towards the hatch. “You’re gonna want to see this.”
But before we were even halfway to the hatch Emily burst out of it, nearly knocking Charlie over.
“A guitar!” She exclaimed. Emily’s eyes were wide with excitement and disbelief and a she was beaming. The guitar was clutched in her hands and she was holding it out like a trophy.
Charlie looked startled. “Yes, yes I see!” He stuttered, getting his footing back. “Where did you get a guitar?”
“From me,” Jordan announced, coming out of the hatch from behind Emily. He was laughing. “And Seth of course.”
Emily whirled around suddenly and gave Jordan a hug. Jordan stopped laughing, looking rather startled. She pulled away quickly, as if she was surprised herself and turned to me. “This is so sick, guys! How did you get me a guitar?”
Jordan’s eyes met mine for a brief second before he answered, “We both had some money left over.”
“But it was Jordan’s idea,” I smiled. It was nice to see Emily so happy, it was one of the few times I couldn’t see any sarcasm in her features.
“That looks like a great one!” Anne remarked, looking amused.
Emily wasted no time in trying to learn the instrument, sitting down on a crate and lying out the book. She struggled for a while with holding the pick and strumming it correctly, but after a while she got it, playing a few tentative and halting chords. Still we all applauded, she’d made a lot of progress considering she’d just started.
After a half hour she had figured out the first couple of exercises. Jordan sat behind her, occasionally teasing and occasionally giving advice.
“Okay, okay, now I think you’re ready to move on to page sixty-seven now, come on…” He attempted to flip the book but she slapped his hand.
“If you think it’s so easy, try it yourself!”
Jordan grinned. “You want me to?”
Emily nodded, handing the guitar to Jordan. Laughing occasionally and making fun of him for the whole time, she walked Jordan through what she’d just learned. Then they moved on to a couple more exercises, switching off between playing.
“You guys should just both learn the guitar!” Anne suggested, grinning.
“Yeah, that’s not a bad idea,” I agreed. “Together you guys just made a bunch of progress.”
They both agreed it was a good idea, but Emily wondered how they were going to keep track of the picks. “They’re bound to get lost in the cabin, and I can’t put them inside the guitar.”
Charlie, who was hanging out with us at this point, asked to see the picks. “I think I’ve got an idea…” He muttered before disappearing into the ship. When he returned, he had each pick attached to black string through two newly punctured holes. “You both can wear them as necklaces. It’d be pretty unlikely for you both to lose one.”
Emily and Jordan thanked him, putting the necklaces on. Jordan had taken the one with the lightning strike pattern, while Emily was wearing the one with the smooth and fluid design.
Emily jabbed Jordan in the ribs, her sarcastic grin on her face. “Don’t think just because we’re wearing matching necklaces that we’re, like, friends or anything.”
Jordan threw his hands into the air. “Oh no, I’d never dream of it…”
Eventually it became late and we decided to retire. Despite the good mood of the evening, as I got into my bed and Anne flicked off the lights, I couldn’t shake the day’s events. It seemed like all of a sudden there were about a hundred things out to get me. We had escaped Connor’s pack, but I feared that the day’s events weren’t the only things I’d be able to shake off.