~Luck Favors the Bold
There are an innumerable amount of stories and snippets of history and legend that fill the whirl of space around a normal Gaian’s life. When you live in a place that takes its utter unpredictability as a sign of normalcy and fallen Gods, ruthless billionaires and mob wars are the rule and not the exception, it is of no surprise that much smaller things slip by unnoticed.
The small strange stories that are told by children to scare their friends, or myths passed though the generations to serve as warnings or as guides.
Passed on by word of mouth, whispered and told and retold until they become legend or fairytale and the reality of them is lost under the inescapable grinding gears of time. The warning long forgotten and the words ring empty in ears that no longer understand their meaning.
But the warnings are there none the less.
There is one such story that is told among Gaians, especially those in Durem, of a place that can only be reached by the living on All Hallows’ Eve.
On Halloween night the brave venture down to the Durem graveyard. Once among the silent crumbling tombstones, beneath tree limbs heavy with grey moss that mummer and sway in a nonexistent wind the ghost lights appear, flickering among the tree tops they show the way to Halloween Town.
The path is narrow and winds slowly, made of hard, packed earth, worn down by centuries of use until it reaches a pair of ancient wrought iron gates. Find your way down the old cobble streets and you’ll eventually reach a set of stairs near the center of town.
On every other night of the year the stairs descend down into the catacombs below the town, but on the eleventh minuet of the eleventh hour on Halloween night you will find a door there.
A door that to mortal eyes seems quite ordinary, though rusty from disuse.
Faded red letters painted upon it pulse with an eerie but alluring glow.
For on Halloween night the club for the dead can be entered by the living if they dare to cross its threshold.
And on this Halloween night one man takes the dare.
Nicolae was never a man to take unwarranted chances. Despite all rumors to the contrary he was not a gambling man, at least not when the odds were not in his favor.
But he could be persuaded if the reward was valuable enough to warrant the risk.
It’s well known that lost souls often find their way to Club Limbo and there they can attempt to win their way back into the land of the living, but on this night when the living can find their way in it’s said you can win a prize just as priceless.
To a man like Nicolae the word ‘priceless’ is never thrown around casually.
So tonight we find ourselves with Gaia’s favorite con artist walking down the streets of Halloween town, slouching, hands stuffed in his pockets and plaid scarf wrapped tight around his neck to keep back the mid fall chill.
At least that was what he told himself the cold was.
The streets were empty, Jack himself was of course out giving candy and most everyone else in Gaia was out getting candy, or knee deep in this year’s current catastrophe of ghostly proportions. Despite this he still couldn’t shake the feeling that there were many eyes upon him.
He paused at the top of the stairs, only the first few steps of the many more that spiraled downwards were visible. Blue eyes peered down into the darkness below and he cursed silently for not thinking to bring a flashlight or lantern.
A rustle into his pocket and a ‘flick’ of a lighter later he glanced around quickly and then took the plunge into the blackness.
The stairs seemed to descend down forever, the lighter flickered and cast only a small pool of light, he strained to see anything beyond his feet.
What felt like hours passed and he was beginning to kick himself for even thinking of taking that silly old story seriously when he saw in the darkness a faint light, all pale and sickly yellow. A light that really illuminated not much of anything as he drew closer to it’s source, a small porch lamp beside a door.
Nicolae stood still for a moment one eyebrow cocked as he scrutinized the door. It was rather…ordinary, just an old wood door. He reached for the dusty brass handle and a faint red glow brought his gaze upward.
Letters that had not been there a moment ago blazed brightly for a brief moment, he grinned.
Guess he made it down after all.
The door groaned on its hinges as he forced it open, he was blinded momentarily but his eyes adjusted quickly as he stepping into a dimly lit hallway.
The floor was covered in art deco patterned tile; his feet made light tapping noises as he took a few steps down the hall. He jumped a bit when the door slammed shut behind him.
He glanced back at the door, his eyebrow once again raised high.
“No going back eh?” He mused aloud and turned to look back down the hall, “Well fortune favors the bold don’t it?”
A light smirk later he found his way out onto the main floor.
The smell of tobacco smoke assaulted his nose and the taste of cheap alcohol lingered in the air, the sound of clacking dice and shuffling cards filled his ears along with the ‘rat-tat-tat’ of a roulette wheel spinning, all combining into a rhythm that could almost be made into song.
Among the surprisingly ‘normalish’ looking dead that lingered he was a bit surprised to see a few more living, apparently he wasn’t the only one to take a chance on Lady Luck tonight.
The first person who greeted him was a young man with green eyes who introduced himself as Oliver.
“A game of cups?” he asked smirking.
Nicolae grinned, child’s play.
“And what are the stakes?”
“If you win, you get to take on Dice next” he motioned over his shoulder to a cute girl in a bunny costume. She smiled at him when he caught her gaze, her eyes were a deep fuchsia color, standing out starkly in her pale face framed by dark hair swept up in pigtails.
“And if I lose?”
Oliver grinned now, “You take my place.”
Taking off his hat Nicolae took the straw from between his lips with a trademark smirk, “Let’s see what ya got kid.”
A game of craps, a hand of Black Jack, a run at the slots and three opponents later he was feeling confident that he had luck on his side tonight, but he could feel a cold sweat coming on as he approached the roulette wheel.
Friady XIII himself in the flesh, so to speak.
The pale gaunt man looked up to him as he approached, red eyes narrow and hard, but he smiled in a languid and incorrigible way, as if he were amused someone had made it this far and might prove to be of some interest.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve had any takers.” Friday said without bothering to rise from his chair. His voice was raspy and thin, but still heavy, a bit like someone who smokes too much.
Nicolae frowned a bit as Friday studied him, it was a bit hard not to flinch under that gaze. He felt like Friday could see every imperfection in his soul with just a glance and might lay them bare for the world to see if he found it amusing enough.
Movement and a flash of white just behind Friday brought his eyes away from the club owner.
A woman in a white dress slinked towards them, golden hair swaying with her graceful walk, she was lovely and bright compared to the darkness of the club around her.
She approached Friday with nary a bit of hesitation, she draped her arms around his shoulders like an expensive show piece or prized jewel set in gold. She looked up at Nicolae and smiled, her eyes impossibly more golden than her hair.
He didn't know why, but despite how beautiful she was that smile unnerved him far more than the glare Friday had given him a moment earlier. There was something creepy about it that he just couldn't place.
Something told him she was far more dangerous than Friday ever could be.
Smothering that feeling he grinned and combed his fingers though his messy brown hair.
“So what are the stakes?”
Friday lazily rested his chin in one hand. “If you win I’ll let you have what you’re seeking.” He reached for a roulette ball and rolled it along the table under his pointer finger. “But if you lose,” he picked up the ball and held it out towards Nicolae, “I’ll take your soul and seal in one of these.”
Looking behind Friday he could see a basket full of roulette balls, the odds didn’t look great. He knew how roulette worked and wished they were playing poker or something that required as much skill as it did luck. Roulette was all about probability and sheer luck, and how likely a ball was to land in a slot.
“If you don’t like your odds you can always pull out and join my other employees.” Friday motioned back to the main room with a nod of his head.
Nicoale swallowed hard and glanced back into the main room, he could feel the sweat trickling down his back. Well, he’d come too far to just pull out now.
“They say fortune favors the bold. Lets see if luck does as well.” He let his most convincing smirk drift across his face.
The woman smiled at this and pulled herself away from Friday and walked to the other side of the table. Friday also stood finally.
“You can only place a strait bet. So chose well.”
He stared down at the board in front of him, skimming across the numbers. His felt his pulse throbbing in his ears, his heart beat racing as Friday tapped his fingers along the felt table top.
An shallow intake of breath later he placed his marker over the number 11 on that table, blue eyes quickly darting up as he heard Friday spin the wheel and then the roulette ball after it in the opposite direction.
The ball went skittering around its path, looping round and round, slowly losing momentum.
Tat, tat, tat went the wheel as the ball slowed and began to sink down, he didn’t dare breath but glanced up for a moment.
The blond woman’s eyes met his and she smiled in a knowing way. She looked almost illuminated, a pale golden shimmer that he would later swear was just his eyes playing tricks, but he didn’t study her long and looked back down quickly at the sound of the ball clacking into a slot.
Friday raised and eyebrow in surprise and glanced over to the woman as well. She gave him the same knowing smile and shrugged. A hint of a smirk lifted his lips, “Well, it has been awhile since Lady Luck shined so brightly here. It was only a matter of time I suppose.”
“So this reward I’ve heard about?” Nicolae smugly crossed his arms, leaning back against the table.
Friday reached into his vest pocket and flicked something small at him. It was small and round, he caught it midair bringing it up to his face to inspect it.
At first he thought it was a coin but upon looking more closely it was a actually a black poker chip, the Club Limbo logo emblazed on the back of it in bright red. He looked up to ask what the hell good this was, but Friday beat him to it.
“That’s a second chance. You have that on you and no matter when, where or how you die, you give that to the ferryman he’ll bring you back to the world of the living, no questions asked.”
“It’s quite rare and valuable, if someone were to take it from you they could use it, so I suggest you don’t lose it” The woman in the white dress walked towards him, letting her fingers linger along the table as she drew closer to Nicolae.
“As you can imagine Friday doesn't give them out often. In fact the last man to win one wasn't too much older than you when he won, a young businessman if I recall.” She eyed Friday with a playful look but he was already heading for the door and paid her no heed.
“Said something about needing an insurance policy for himself and his son, incase things didn't work out for the better.” Friday added as he headed toward the bar in the main room. “Luck see him out would you?” he added with a nod and was gone.
“Luck is it?” Nicolae asked and pocketed the chip as she closed the distance between them.
Gold eyes blazed in her face, bright like a freshly minted coin, “Time to go then”. She held out her hand for him to take, smile inviting, her best ‘come hither’ look.
He reached out to take her hand, she leaned forward and her hair swished, falling over her shoulder into his face and he blinked…and suddenly he was back outside once more, hand reaching for the handle to open the door, his lighter still glowing, casting its small circle of light around his feet, almost as if he’d never entered at all…
“What the..?” He blinked and turned in a circle, looking all around him. He looked back at the door, the red letters were mysteriously absent.
Did he just imagine it all? Some kind of illusion or magic from the town above?
He stepped away from the door and reached into his pocket and pulled out the poker chip.
Well it was solid enough, so all of that had to be real right?
He studied the chip all the way on his walk back to the Durem outskirts, where he’d left his wagon with Capella. The horse snickered at him as he walked up to her, stroking her neck thoughtfully.
It was only then that it suddenly hit him.
‘In fact the last man to win one wasn’t too much older than you when he won, a young businessman if I recall.’
‘Said something about needing an insurance policy for himself and his son, incase things didn't work out for the better.’
Nicoale nearly dropped the poker chip.
He stared at the club logo on the chip, it flickered, glowing red in his hand and he couldn't help but grin a bit.
‘Well then…’ he thought, ‘Looks like a dead man has one more hand to play.’