He felt odd, as if there was now something between the two of them starting to form. She smiled triumphantly, “Very well, now what is the game? Shall we play a mortal game involving cards or a board?”
He had no doubt that she could cheat at most of those games. There was no rule for creating extra images of pawns on the board as long as they weren’t played, or making all pieces on the board invisible and moving them without touching them so he’d never know where her pieces were, and he had a feeling that she could manipulate what wasn’t against the rules to her benefit. A part of him wanted to suggest fencing, but he had no illusions that she would play fair then either, “I’ve worked out something fair that neither of us would be able to cheat at if you wouldn’t mind.”
She frowned, “Games that have been created thusly are rarely fair, I’m afraid I must decline.”
Arnold frowned, “How about fencing?” She declined, and offered to play cricket. The two of them kept offering alternatives, one where Arnold was sure he’d have a fair chance where she could not cheat and she offered ones that he was positive she could play unfairly. After about ten minutes where everything had been suggested from football to steam engine racing, Arnold finally gave up, “It seems that we won’t be able to-“
Nicholas suddenly shouted from above, “Wait! I know a game!” The cat and everyone turned to Nicholas above, and to everyone’s surprise he leapt off of the higher ledge and fell thirty feet to the pool below.
“Idiot!” Finn and Willow cried out after him, and he hit the water causing a huge splash. He seemed unharmed though as he swam to the shore nearby, coughing, and smiling happily.
The Lady and her court seemed amused by him, enough that they were content to watch as he tried to dry himself off, “That was fun! Okay, now what were we talking about?” Nicholas paused and then clapped his drenched hands together, “Right, games!”
“Shut up, stupid!” Willow cried above them. “Stick to the plan!”
Nicholas continued, ignoring them, “Okay, this is something that the kids at the orphenage used to play, though I usually won!” He seemed quite proud as he continued, “We called it a few things, like Eye for an Eye, Lick for a Lick, Masochism Tag-something like that!”
Simultaneously, Jaeger and Willow shouted, “IDIOT!“
“I like the names this game possesses,” The Lady grinned, amused. “How is it played?”
“Basically, you can either hurt your opponent as hard as you can and then they get to hurt you back just as badly or worse if they can, or one of you hurts yourself in some way and then the other one has to hurt themselves in the exact same way.” Nicholas explained.
The Lady still seemed intrigued, but mostly amused, by this concept, “So the stronger of the two shall always prevail. Barbaric, but satisfactory I think.” She turned back to Arnold comparing him to herself and grinned. “Shall we play?”
Arnold had seen kids, boys really, play games like this…generally when parents were nowhere nearby and they were trying to show how tough they were. He’d never played because even as a child he’d seen it as a stupid game. At the moment though it was slightly more tempting…if they couldn’t agree on a game he’d have to fight her and he didn’t think much of his chances when she could grow thorns in his lungs, “Yes, we’ll play Nicholas’s game as long as I go first.”
He could hear Jaeger and the others groaning above as the Lady giggled, “It is agreed then,” He felt the agreement between them solidify more, but it wasn’t done yet. She probably thought that she had gained the upper hand from the amusement in her eyes, and it was probably true that she could torture him in ways he hadn’t even imagined yet, but from the moment Nicholas has suggested the game he had known what he was going to do. He felt almost as if he had foreseen all of this even though he hadn’t.
Arnold looked at Nicholas and asked, “Is there anything else we should know?”
“Well the only way to lose is to quit, get knocked out, or to stop your opponent from hurting themselves.” Nicholas explained. “Because if you do hurt yourself then other person does have to match it or everyone watching has to make them.”
The cat nodded vaguely as he reached for the iron knife at his belt and unwrapped it. The Fae’s grin faded as he removed it and he felt a force around her starting to move against him. Quickly he reminded her, “If you stop me from hurting myself you lose.”
She paused, and the movement against him ceased, “Yourself? You mean to tell me you intend to begin by placing that…thing against your fur?!” She sounded horrified by the prospect, even shivering as she imagined placing it against her own. The court laughed at her, setting her to stand up straight with as much dignity as she could muster.
“No,” Arnold corrected her as he got to the floor and spread his left paw against the cave’s stone. “I intend to stab myself with it.”
She stared at him horrified, “Have you lost what little sense you may have once retained? That is poison in your hand!” Arnold nodded as he picked up the knife, and she said, “This is a foolish game! I don’t want any part of it!”
Arnold paused his hand for a moment and lowered the blade, “You already agreed to play. Even if it is stupid, if you step back now you are admitting that you’ve lost.”
She could feel as he did her court, which were hanging on the words that if he went through with it she would have to, or those watching would be forced to make her. Her face twisted in fury again, and the water behind her shot upwards like a geyser as she floated above the cave floor her figure imposing, her booming voice resounding off the cavern walls, “Do you believe that because you are a cat that you may have more than one life?” Arnold hadn’t even considered that, but she caught his curiosity. “You are a fool! You are born of nothing! You do not even have a life to live after this one! When you die you will become nothing! There will be no soul! You are an imagined thing that was given flesh by a mistake!“
Arnold paused as he stared at her quietly, disturbed. He believed her, instinctively knowing she was telling the truth. He shook his head and raised the knife again, “Then here’s hoping you’re more afraid than I am!”
He closed his eyes and drove the dagger downwards towards his paw, but the blow never landed as the geyser suddenly switched directions and pushed Arnold into the cave wall with tremendous force. When the wet cat fell to the floor he could feel the agreement between them complete itself. The laughter of the court was merciless, mocking not only him but the Lady of Forlorn Want. He could see her standing there staring death at him, her face, her eyes held a strange, glowing orange color now in the center.
He heard the man with the pine hair speak to him, though he wasn’t here, “I told you that it was unfortunate that the other who was split had managed to pull herself together.” He said amused, “I failed to mention that the other was the Lady herself.”