House of Thrones, Game of Cards

House of Thrones, Game of Cards by E. Christopher Clark
 

Nasha stood at edge of the loading dock, a pocket watch in their hand and a scowl on their face. They stared across the alley at the nothing that ringed the house and waited for the veil of the world to be drawn back one last time. Behind them, heels clicked and clacked against the hard wood of the hallway, but even as the person wearing them drew closer, Nasha made no move for the sword hanging on their left hip, nor for the gun strapped to their right. It wasn’t until a hand wrapped round the back of their neck that Nasha flinched.

 

“Late?” asked Inda as she pushed her fingers into Nasha’s hair.

 

Nasha said nothing.

 

“We could start without them,” said Inda, stroking the smooth skin behind Nasha’s ear.

 

Nasha turned to face Inda then, gave the damnable woman a scowl.

 

Inda pinched Nasha’s earlobe between her thumb and forefinger, then gave Nasha a wicked smile. Tugging at the ear, Inda said, “My little stickler.” Then she let go and sauntered across the dock, finally giving Nasha the space they knew well enough not to ask for out loud.

 

Inda waved a hand at the nothing. “How long has it been black now? Since the last game?”

 

Nasha nodded.

 

Inda rolled her eyes and sighed a heavy sigh. “You don’t get sick of it?”

 

Nasha said nothing. The truth was that the black was easier to look at than any other color Inda had ever chosen. In the blackness, anything was possible. Anything imaginable.

 

Inda waved a hand and the nothing went orange. “Better?” she asked.

 

Orange reminded Nasha of the groves back home, the fruits of their mother’s labors stretched out behind the castle’s walls. It had been years since they’d seen home, since they’d laid beneath the trees with some girl they’d stolen from the market, or some boy, and made love with the smell of citrus in their nose. It had been ages since Nasha had seen the look of gratitude in a lover’s eyes, the look and the tears as they swallowed air that wasn’t festering and rank, as they felt hands upon them without callouses, without sores.

 

Inda waved another hand, sighed another sigh, and the nothing was black again. She was just about to quit the dock for the hallway when the veil of the world finally pulled back and two people appeared there in the alley, a desert stretched out behind them. One was resplendent in sea-green robes, a jeweled turban upon their head. They offered up their teeth and their bright eyes by way of apology, bowing to Inda as she descended the stairs to meet them. Nasha’s attention, however, was on the other person, the hunched one with a throne of ivory and gold strapped to their back.

 

Nasha leapt from the dock to unburden the second person, watching as the veil drew closed behind them. Nasha pulled their sword from its scabbard and cut the ropes that bound the chair to the person’s back. It crashed unceremoniously onto the cobbled stone of the alley as the person rose to their full height and thanked Nasha for their assistance.

 

“Careful!” said the person in the turban, stroking their long beard. “My family has sat upon that throne for a thousand generations.”

 

“Then you should know, sir,” said Inda, “that we do not tolerate lateness.”

 

“Yes,” he said, bowing his head again to her. “And we would have been quite on time,” he continued, “if the gentleman had simply ceased his arguments with his sovereign.”

 

“There are rules!” shouted the person who had carried the throne.

 

“Yes, yes,” said the man in the turban, “but—”

 

But whatever words were left on his tongue, Nasha didn’t need to hear them. They grabbed hold of him by the scruff of his neck and drew their blade across his throat. And only then, as the turbaned man’s eyes widened in shock, as his hands flew to his throat, clutching at it as blood poured through his fingers, only then did Nasha speak.

 

“You carry your own throne,” they said. And then they kicked the turbaned man backward, into the nothing.

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