All eyes in Fortune's Glory were on. He felt the gambling hall's many patrons regarding him with a mixture of envy, vicarious excitement, and spiteful longing for him to lose everything on the turn of the last card.
Beyond the avarice common to dens of chance, Twisted Fate felt a singular purpose at work here, a noose being slowly drawn around his neck. The cards were twitching in agitation, warning him of danger. He knew he should fold and get out before whoever was hunting him sprang their trap, but the opportunity to make a pauper of the man across the table was too enticing to forego.
He grinned at his opponent, a greedy merchant whose fortune was built on the whipped backs of enslaved miners. The man's robes were expensive: Freljord furs, hand-tooled leather, and Bilgewater sea charms. Every finger boasted a ring of blood gold worth more than most men would see in a lifetime. Aromatic smoke drifted from clay pipes to hang over the fortune in coin, jewelry, and deeds lying between them like a pirate's treasure hoard.
Twisted Fate nodded toward the merchant.
"I do believe it's your call, Master Henmar."
"I am aware of the rules, river rat" said Henmar, as Twisted Fate ran his tattooed fingers in a repeating spiral pattern on the backs of his cards. "And do not think any of your fancy sleight of hand is going to distract me into making an error of judgment."
"Distract you?" said Twisted Fate, exuding laconic confidence in every gesture. "I declare, I would never stoop to such a low and dishonorable ruse."
"No? Then why is it your eyes keep darting from the table?" said Henmar. "Listen closely, I have negotiated with the best of them, and I know the tell of a desperate man when I see it."
Twisted Fate gave a sly grin, swapping the cards between his hands and theatrically doffing his wide-brimmed hat.
"You're sharp, sir. I can see that" he said, sweeping his gaze across the gathered crowd. The usual collection of hangers-on; men and women hoping that whoever won might be generous to those nearby. The cards trembled as Twisted Fate's eyes fell upon certain individuals and he felt his mouth fill with the rancid flavor of sour milk. He'd long learned to trust that reaction as a sign of imminent bedlam.
There. A man with an eye patch and a flame-haired. They were almost certainly armed and well aware of his slippery nature. Did he know them? Probably not. Were they working for Henmar, protecting his assets? Unlikely. A man like Henmar would make it obvious who he'd brought. Bounty hunters then. The cards were growing ever more alarmed in Twisted Fate's hands. He slipped them together and placed them flat on the table.
"You have a look that tells me you know you have already lost" said Henmar with the tone of a man who believes everyone to be his inferior.
"Then what say we make this a little more interesting, sir?" replied Twisted Fate, spreading the cards in a fan and watching as the hunters eased closer. "Care to double down?"
"Are you able to cover that much?" asked Henmar suspiciously.
"Easily" said Twisted Fate, locking his gaze with the merchant and lifting a heavy pouch of coins from the voluminous pockets of his long coat. "Can you?"
Henmar licked his lips and snapped his fingers. A flunky behind the merchant handed him a matching bag of coins. The patrons of Fortune's Glory gave a collective moan as it was added to the gold heaped in the middle of the table. Wars had been waged for less coin than was at stake here.
"You first" said Henmar.
"Always" agreed Twisted Fate, flipping over his cards as the bounty hunters made their move.
The man with the eye patch lunged at him with a capture collar. The woman shouted his name and drew a matching pair of.
Twisted Fate kicked the underside of the table, spinning it into the air in a shower of coins, cards, and parchment. The pistols fired with deafening roars, blasting fist-sized holes in the table. The capture collar snapped closed, but when the smoke cleared and the screams stopped, Twisted Fate wasto be found.
Henmar rose to his feet, his face twisted in outrage as he searched in vain for his opponent. He looked down at the broken pieces of the table and the color drained from his face.
"Where is the money?" he yelled. "Where is my money?"
Five cards fluttered face-up to the floor of Fortune's Glory.
A winning hand.