Cheat! - The Game of Moral Bankruptcy
I couldn't quite tell you how I found myself in the alleyways of Neopia Central that disastrous eve.
I've never been one to seek danger, nor one to indulge in the petty art that is gambling- I am but a simple Eyrie with simple pleasures. Only for a pleasant stroll, did I wish- for an intellectual adventure, to browse the burgeoning shelves of the bookshop for recent publications and return home with a printed bounty!
...Never did I believe that I would attract the attention of Neopia's greatest scourge.
It was late that evening, cold and callous as the month of Sleeping often was; the wind had a merciless bite, and the clatter of my talons in a near-to sprint to escape the cold echoed across dim streets. Alone did I roam besides loyal little Levi, my Reptillior, who nestled deep within my mane for warmth.
"The air has a peculiar stench to it tonight, doesn't it?" I mumbled, Levi's sole response being a disgruntled hiss. Tense was I and temperamental was he, and all attempts to quell my paranoia were in vain- I could've sworn I'd caught a red-haired figure from the corner of my eye mere moments ago. I felt my coat bristle, my feathers standing on edge, my posture stiff as my sprinting halted.
"Get away from me, whatever you are or whomever you may be! I will not tolerate being stalked---"
"Relax, relax. I'm not the hostile type, anyhow, even if you're on our turf."
Her voice was husky, rough- unpleasant on the ears, truly- and though I could scarcely see her amid the shadows, her wild scarlet mane confirmed my suspicions. "Your turf?" I spat, my crimson eyes widened in disbelief- what nerve! "These are common streets, Kyrii. They belong to neither you nor me."
She stared at me for a moment, silent but smiling, nearing me steadily.
"You've got spirit, kid- I like that. Shame you're so hostile, though- we wanted to invite you to join a game!"
"Oh, yes- a game. Don't take me for a fool- you were going to mug me, weren't you?"
"Pft, no! I can spot a knock-off coat when I see one. I figure you're just about broke."
Gritting my teeth, I mustered a low growl- pacing around me was she, as a predator would her prey, her brown eyes far too laden with blue cosmetics; she didn't so much as flinch at my warning. Merely gestured to the alley of which she'd surfaced, raising a brow and smirking broadly. "Come on, Eyrie. We might be a little rough around the edges, but you'll have a good time. I promise."
I am ashamed to admit, my curiosity bested me that evening.
We walked for several minutes in an unpleasant silence, tense and volatile, the sole sound of snow crunching beneath our feet to disrupt it. Only a short stroll did it take to reach the playground of these pestilent thieves- musky was the air but warm, heated by a single fire and two figures lounging beside it.
"Bring some fresh meat, Capara? Haha, good job!---I mean, uh. Hey. What's up?" A single voice broke the silence, belonging to a plump Tuskaninny- his rebellious nature worn blatantly on his blue hide, tufts of hair spiked atop his head and a pierced tail. I eyed him over but once, a hushed sigh to escape my beak- predictable was his type, surely a fan of Twisted Roses and spending far too many neopoints on Jhudora merchandise.
"Eyrie, this is Timmy. Timmy, Eyrie."
"My name is Incendiat," I snapped, Levi having stuck his forked tongue out to concur. "And who is this, sitting in the corner?" I motioned to a fellow Eyrie as I placed my jacket upon a chair, his coat a spectacular yellow and an undoubtedly expensive medallion around his golden mane. He absolutely reeked of arrogance, leering at me in a most patronizing manner.
"Branston. My name is Branston- clearly you've never set foot on a dance floor, or you would've heard of me. Pity."
The pair of scoundrels sighed in unison- they must've heard this a great many times. "Fernypoo would've been here today," muttered Capara, shaking her head at the pompous avian beside her, "but her 'royal duties' held her up."
"Fernypoo? Princess Fernypoo?" I choked, having nearly lost my footing in shock. Amid these street rats, there was royalty- these vermin had dragged a princess down to their abysmal level!
With that, my sick curiosity had been piqued.
"How shall I play this 'game', then?"
"Oh, it's easy. Real easy," piped Timmy, eyeing me eagerly as Branston hastily shuffled the deck. "You'll catch on fast. Gotta get rid of all your cards, but eventually- this is the best part- you have to cheat."
"I have to cheat?"
"Yeah, dude. That's why it's called Cheat."
I sat in disbelief for a moment's time, silent as the cards were distributed within the lot of us- a game that encouraged you to cheat? Ethics had no home here clearly, nor did courtesy! Yet pleaded as my better judgment may, I chose to participate further- to indulge these petty thieves in a game rigged to their immoral taste.
"Two sixes," stated Capara, placing them face-down to create our discarded pile- followed by Timmy's offering of one seven- ah, but then Branston. Cunning, dastardly Branston.
"CHEAT!" I exclaimed, rising from my seat with a most accusatory finger pointed in his direction- surely he hadn't four sixes in that little deck! My confidence plummeted quickly as the three rogues snickered, Branston merely shaking his mane in laughing scorn- and with that he turned his played cards to face me, four sixes sending a firm boot into my pride's gut.
"Amateur." Branston smirked, his manicured talons pushing the collected cards in my direction, and myself adding them reluctantly to my still-full hand. I scanned them with downtrodden eyes, the abundance of duplicates perhaps enough to prove useful as the game continued.
Ever-shrinking was my deck as time passed and I learned the methods of this madness, finding silence as a friend even amid the mass of cheating- often caught the others did they, leaving me to discard my numbers in peace. Even accused me of cheating did Capara, and several times over- little did she know that I'd a grand plan up my sleeve!
I wouldn't cheat at Cheat!
I'd win a clean victory and leave with their spoils, giving them a taste of unsullied victory. Oh, they'd be so livid! I delighted in the thought, playing my cards and abiding the rules, beating them at their own filthy game.
I glanced over my deck then, small as it had become- two fours, an eight, and a single one. In the bag was this match surely, and I watched Branston's turn with scrutinizing eyes.
"Three queens," he purred, his cheat evident within his tone- but neither I nor the others spoke. I sat tense upon my own seat, ready to toss my card to the burgeoning pile between us- but--...I didn't have a queen! Not a queen, nor a king- not even a single jack to spare me from my loss! I fought with myself for several minutes, three pairs of impatient eyes upon me- I could leave and lose, and thus a clean moral slate- or--...
I could cheat, and win.
I--...I could win, if I wasn't caught- oh, but how wrong that would be! I hadn't a need to stoop to the level of these cretins! Ah, but the pile of neopoints we'd accumulated was so large, and---
I stated my play without hesitation, my voice stern and bold, two fours placed face-down into the pile. Despite my outward confidence, I was horridly tense- and silent was the room but for ten seconds at best, before the crippling word came crashing down upon my feathered head.
"Cheat!" shouted Timmy, turning my cards to be seen to the masses- my deceit on display and my spirit in shatters, two fours to face the trio of hooligans. I still recall their raucous laughter as the massive pile of cards was added to my deck, and my shame as Capara swept the game with her next play- leaving me to retreat empty-handed, my coin purse drained and my ego beaten.
I couldn't have fled fast enough.
The air was exceptionally biting as I flew home, though little mind did I pay it, and it wasn't until I reached the warmth of my home that I noticed.
They'd stolen my dignity, my pride, my neopoints- and my coat, to boot.