Pre-Order Deryth's Gambit
Pre-Order Deryth's Gambit
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The dark-haired elven woman sat quietly, her violet eyes peering intently over the top of her cards. She had easily gauged two opponents at the worn wooden gaming table. To her left sat a finely dressed human woman, auburn hair held in place with fine silver combs. She nibbled on her lower lip when her hand was high. Clearly, she had nothing this time, turning her withering gaze against the unwelcome attentions of the tavern barflies rather than focusing on the game. On the right sat an inebriated young halfling, swaying slightly in the smoky air. He proved easy to read, staring blearily at his cards, one of them facing out toward the other players.
The third player, a heavy-tusked, burly half-orc, played well the part of a buffoon, his brow deeply furrowed, as if struggling to know what to do next. A slight gleam in his eye said otherwise. There was cleverness behind the ruse, perhaps enough to rival her own. Here was a seasoned player, not a novice. It would take some subtlety to even her odds.
His eyes slid up to meet her gaze. Firmly holding her stare with his own, a heavy muscular hand dropped to the pile of coins in front of him, deliberately sliding them forward to the center of the table. He uttered a single gruff word, “Call”. He looked expectantly at her, his face stoic and solid as granite.
The elf, known at least for tonight as Deryth, countess of Cormyth, masked her annoyance with long-practiced ease. Her other hand rested on the head of a magnificent walking stick, tipped in silver with a burgundy garnet crystal embedded at the head. A little ostentatious but it matched this evening’s role. She examined her cards again, mentally opening herself to the enchantment within the crystal. Invisible to the others in the room, an ethereal eye appeared in the air just behind the half-orc. Deryth, controlling the tiny apparition by psychic connection, guided the arcane energy closer, giving her a view of her opponent’s cards.
Ah, bad luck ! Three queens–ruby, sapphire, and diamond–with the 6 of sapphires and the 7 of rubies. That won’t be enough this time, my clever friend.
She kept her expression blank and emotionless as she firmly spread her own cards across the worn felt of the table. The 10 of emeralds, followed by the jack, king, and queen of that suit. She caught the half-orc’s eye once again as she laid down the final card, the green dragon, completing her “royal flight”.
The half-orc’s countenance darkened as he threw down his own losing hand. He cursed in orcish and glared across the table, angry, beaten, and smoldering. It was not his first loss of the evening.
Deryth carefully scooped the pile of coins towards her. “Gentlemen. My lady. It has been a pleasure. Better luck next time, perhaps.” She leaned her cane against the chair and began stowing the winnings in a belt pouch.
“Hmm, speaking o’ luck,” growled the half-orc, “You’ve had a very good evening. I’d say a little too good.” His chair scraped against the wooden floor as he pushed back from the table, rising to tower over the young elf. “You have anything to say about that?”
Deryth, her winnings safely stowed, carefully slid her hand back to the cane, masking any hint of concern. “I would say, it’s the basic law of the tables: win some, lose some. Maybe tonight just wasn’t your night?” She tensed slightly, hearing the sound of heavy boots shifting to stand behind her chair.
“Huh, guess we'll see about that, won’t we,” her opponent replied mockingly. His eyes shifted up and he nodded to the newcomer behind her. A burly human man with a grip like steel grappled her, trying to pin her arms to her sides while she squirmed to escape. The half-orc drew an ugly dagger from his belt. “Maybe it's your luck that’s just run out.”
A wicked grin split his stony face as he lunged toward her, gleaming blade aimed at her chest. She elbowed the man behind her in the stomach. He gasped in surprise, loosening his grip, allowing her to slip free. Deftly catching the half-orc’s attack with her cane, she drove the blade into the other assailant’s forearm. The man cried out and ducked away, hand clutching the deep wound on his arm. Thrown off balance, the half-orc stumbled into the halfling player, staring bemusedly at the fight, and both tumbled to the floor in a crumpled heap.
Deryth dodged past their tangled bodies, darting toward the door of the tavern. A bellow of anger behind her signaled that the half-orc had recovered from her distraction. She burst through the door and vaulted down the steps to the muddy street. Heavy footsteps thumped behind her, signaling pursuit. Slipping quickly into a nearby alleyway, she ducked behind a stack of barrels, drawing her cloak around her slight form, blending with the shadows.
The half-orc crashed through the door, smashing it from its hinges. “You got nowhere to go, elf. I WILL find you.” He stepped menacingly down the tavern steps, whipping his head left and right, searching for Deryth’s slight form. Several passersby shied away from his angry visage, hurrying along to avoid any trouble. He realized in the moment that he couldn’t precisely recall what she looked like. He headed down the street, just as the first raindrops of an evening storm began to fall.
He stalked past a nearby alley, wincing at the smell of filth and human misery emanating from the narrow passage. He glanced up just in time to see a stooped beggar woman stumble out, nearly colliding with his massive form. “Hey, watch it,” he growled. “Hold on a moment, did you see anyone else down there?”
The woman pulled the hood of her cloak up against the rain. “No one that I saw. Just looking for a dry place to sleep. Maybe a little food.” The half-orc grunted in annoyance, heading further down the street. He tossed 2 silver coins at her feet as he did so.
Once he had faded into the current of rain, a silver-tipped cane slid from beneath the beggar’s cloak. Deryth bent down and scooped up the coins, flicking the filth and muck from them. “Why thank you very much, good sir,” she murmured. With a sly grin, she disappeared into the crowd, pondering what name she should take next.
-DM, Roger H.
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