|Long Live Insanity #1: The (Losing) Hand of the Dark
The curtain rises on - blackness. A dark fog hides the scene from human eyes. Voices can be heard, faintly, through the fog.
“You deal.” There is a sound of cards rustling.
The fog thins gradually to reveal a mountain ledge of black rock, with flames glowing in the distant depths of the mountain. On the ledge is set, rather incongruously, a card table...
“Raise one,” the black-clad man on one side of the table says lazily. He is tall, lean to the point of emaciation, and a sword and Dragon is pinned on his collar. The glint in his blue eyes suggest that the taint already has a foothold here.
“No,” he says as if hearing your thoughts, “it isn’t the taint.” He rearranges the cards in his hand, and you catch a glimpse of an ace. “I was born insane.”
“Talking to yourself again, Shadar?” A stunningly beautiful Domani woman looks up from her own cards. Her clinging red dress is just short of opaque. Well, to be perfectly honest, a very long way short of opaque. The shawl lying over the back of her chair has a bright red fringe to match. “We know you’re insane. That’s why we’re all here, isn’t it?”
The man opposite her shrugs, his gleaming white cloak shifting with the movement. “I can’t imagine why you’d say that, Shani. What’s insane about playing poker at Shayol Ghul?”
“We call him Sycho,” Shani says conversationally to no one in particular.
“Tell me again the point of this game.” The voice of the fourth player sounds like rotting snakeskin, or rather, since snakeskin rotting doesn’t make any sound at all, like someone imagined rotting snakeskin might sound like if it sounded like anything... “What is the purpose of picking up these cards?”
“Well -” Sycho the Whitecloak looks as if he has just been asked to explain the purpose of gravity making things fall - “picking up the cards is the purpose. Betting money. You know.”
“And winning it, but - well - it’s playing that counts. Shani, you explain.”
“Oh, thanks a lot.” The Red sister, Shani, sighs. “It’s probably a species thing.”
“No,” Shadar the blue-eyed Asha’man disagrees, “it’s a mentality thing.” There seem to be two aces in his hand now. “We’re insane. He’s just evil.”
“There is that.”
“Are we finished?” The rotting snakeskin voice again.
“Well, I suppose so.” Sycho lays his cards, face up, on the table. There are four aces.
Shani laughs. “Great minds...” There are four aces in the cards she puts down on the table. The Great Serpent ring on her hand appears to wink in the uncertain light.
Shadar and Shaidar Haran lay their cards down at the same time. Shaidar Haran has the lowest hand possible. Shadar, on the other hand, has five aces.
“Oops,” he murmurs mildly, and the fifth one disappears back up his sleeve.
The Myrddraal’s face looks as dismayed as someone without eyes can possibly look.
“You lose, Hand of the Dark,” Shani says with mocking sweetness. The fog is beginning to thicken around them.
“What did we decide about stakes?” Sycho asks innocently, and is answered by Shadar.
“Shayol Ghul, wasn’t it?”
As the scene fades into blackness, the maniacal laughter of three people is the last sound that can be heard...
The moral of the story: Evil will always be defeated by insanity. Or, if you prefer: when a Domani Red sister, an Asha’man, and a Whitecloak get together to play poker, anything can, and probably will, happen.