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Old Friends, or How to Justify Spending Five-Thousand Words on a Game of Dice

Old Friends,

or How to Justify Spending Five-Thousand Words on a Game of Dice

Not for the first time in the last forty-eight hours, Doug wondered just how in the fuck he’d gotten here. Here he was, in a pub in the middle of a city floating in nothing, about to play a game of dice with a room full of strangers, one of which appeared to be some sort of tramp or hobo who’d just rolled into town and cleared out the entire bar with just his presence alone. By this point, however, he figured that he’d better just go along with whatever happened because he was getting really sick of having to question everything.

Kuro emerged from behind the bar with a bag and a couple of cups, as if he’d done this many times before. Doug sighed, grabbing his drink and slinking over to the table that Tommy and Flora were pulling chairs up to. He’d just wanted one normal evening, was that so much to ask for?

As he sat down, Flora gave him an odd look, her gaze fixed on his white hair. She then looked over at Kuro questioningly, but he shrugged, so neither of them said anything.

“You lads are from out of town, yeah?” Jack turned to Tommy and Doug once they’d all settled in. “Well, I guess introductions are in order. They call me Laughing Jack.”

“What’s with the serial killer nickname?” Doug asked.

“Cuz I’m a hangman. Was one, rather, back in the day. But, no more hangings, so no more hangmen. I’m also a serial killer.”

Tommy spit out his drink, and Jack laughed, but made no other indication if he was joking or not.

“The human liquor fountain over here is Tommy,” Flora rolled her eyes, while Tommy, still recovering, attempted a wave. “He’s a friend of the owner, sort of the adventuring type, I guess, and uh…” she turned to Doug.

“I’m Doug. I’m sort of the ‘loser’ type.” There was actually no way on this earth or any other that he was going to say what he was really doing here.

“Well, we’ll have to see about that once we start the game,” Jack grinned absently at the other players around the table, but Doug couldn’t help noticing something probing in his gaze. Maybe he was just being paranoid.

“Right,” Flora cut in, passing out the cups, while Kuro distributed dice from the bag. “You boys ever play liar’s dice before?”

“’Course,” Tommy nodded, as if that was a totally normal game to have familiarity with. Doug shook his head, now a little embarrassed that he was alone in his unfamiliarity.

Kuro sighed, which didn’t help, but Flora shot him a look before turning back to Doug. “It’s pretty simple. We each start with five dice, and roll ‘em under the cup so no one else can see ‘em. Then we go around and take turns guessing how many of a certain number are at the table.”

“Can’t decrease the amount though,” Kuro chimed in. “So be careful, because if someone thinks you’re wrong, they’ll call bullshit.”

“If they’re right, you lose a dice. But if they’re wrong, then they lose one instead. Last person who still has dice wins.”

“So it’s a gambling game,” Doug offered.

Flora nodded. “Yeah, but we don’t play for actual stakes. Usually.” Doug couldn’t help noticing her gaze flicker over to Jack, if only for a moment.

“Ones are wilds, just to make it interesting,” the offending party added.

Tommy leaned over and patted him on the back. “You’ll pick it up quick once we start.”

After thinking about it for a second, Doug nodded. “Okay, sounds easy enough.”

“I’ll start,” Jack said, already shaking his cup. “Counter-clockwise for the first round, clockwise for the second.”

“Wait, counter-clockwise first?” Tommy raised an eyebrow.

“Discordian superstition,” Kuro explained.

Doug followed suit with the others, placing his five, worn dice into his cup and giving it a good shake. He jumped a little as Jack slammed his down onto the table, shaking the entire surface. Doug placed his more gently down and took a look under the cup. One, two, three, four, and six. Well, the fact that he had a wild was good, but beyond that, he didn’t have much to work with. There was no clear number that he should bet on, so he supposed that he’d just try to play it safe for the first round.

“Alright,” Jack said after everyone had had a minute. “I’ll start with… hmmm, I’ll give the newbie a break. Let’s go with… four sixes.”

The table then turned to Tommy, who was to his immediate right. “I don’t know if I’m too fond of that start. I’ll say five fours.”

And then it was Doug’s turn. Well, it seemed as if Jack had sixes and Tommy had fours. If, that is, they were playing true to their hands. Either one worked for him, but he did only have two of each.

“Oh, I forgot to mention,” Flora interrupted his thoughts. “You don’t have to increase the number of dice if you increase the number on the dice. So it can be one or the other.”

“Or both,” Jack leaned forward. “Both is much more fun.”

“Okay…” Doug said. “In that case, let’s go with five sixes.” He didn’t have any fives, and it was within his best interest at the moment to keep the number small.

“Shit, I’ll bite,” said Flora, who was on Doug’s other side. “Six sixes.”

Kuro just shook his head. “Back to fours, I think. There are seven of them.”

“You sure?” Tommy cut in suddenly. “That number’s getting a little high. And I’m pretty good at catching fibbers.”

“I was a monk, you know,” Kuro’s expression remained immovable as stone. “No one has a better poker face.”

In response, the whole table turned and stared at him in silence, until after a good thirty seconds, Kuro broke and smiled a little, letting out a minuscule snicker.

“Some monk you are,” Flora laughed.

“It was a long time ago, alright,” he defended himself while trying to hold back laughter. “Now stop staring at me. Seven fours!”

Ahh, Doug was beginning to see now. This was a game of psychology as much as math. And some people at this table were better at it than others. He didn’t know Tommy very well, but he would bet all his dice that he’d goaded Kuro on purpose just then. He wondered if he’d gotten what he’d been looking for.

“Eight twos,” Jack suddenly cut in, much to everyone’s surprise.

“Twos?” Kuro asked. “That’s bold for a number that hasn’t been called yet. It’s almost a third of the pot.”

“I’m jiving with it, though,” Tommy said. “Nine. Nine twos.”

Uh oh. Now it was Doug’s turn. But the game had taken an unexpected twist. The number was getting high now, and only a pair of those twos belonged to him. Both Jack and Tommy seemed pretty confident, but it did seem to come out of nowhere. He got the impression that he was being fucked with, but what if he was wrong, and they really both did have a lot of twos?

“...Ten,” he said finally. “Ten twos.”

But Flora laughed. “Sorry, kid. Gonna have to call bullshit on that one.”

The players all lifted their cups. After a second of counting, they came up short. Doug had his wild and a two, Tommy had the same. But Jack and Flora only had one wild, and Kuro only had one two. Seven. There were only seven.

“So uh, what happens now?” Doug ran a hand through his hair sheepishly. Shit. He shouldn’t have second-guessed himself like that.

Flora looked sympathetic. “Now you give up one of your dice and we start the next round. Starting from you, we go clockwise this time.”

Great. He already wasn’t very good at this game and now he had to start. Yet, taking a look at his roll, it wasn’t so bad this time around. A wild, two twos, and a three. Logically he should go with twos, but now he thought that might not be the smartest play. He shouldn’t make it so obvious what he had. So threes were probably better. Doug was also terrified of it coming back around to him again, so he wanted to start the bet as high as he dared to prevent that outcome. “Uh,” he said. “S-seven threes.”

“Starting off high…” Kuro nodded. “Though you don’t sound confident with that number.”

He wasn’t.

“You know what?” Tommy, now the next in line to play, grinned. “Let’s go with it. Nine threes.”

The whole table let out a raucous “ooo”.

“I don’t know,” Flora shook her head. “That’s too many. There’s just no way, right Jack?” She added, clearly having several threes, based purely on her grin alone.

For a second, there was silence as Jack put his chin in his hands and thought. “You know what, you’re right. That does seem rather high.” He licked his chapped lips, enjoying the attention. “But for some reason, I think that this time, at least, twos might be the better call,” he said, rolling his head over in Doug’s direction.

“Ha ha, very funny,” Doug sighed.

The table chuckled, so they almost didn’t hear Jack when he spoke again. “Thirteen.”

“Sorry, what?” Tommy blinked.

“You heard me,” Jack leaned forward, pointing towards his cup. “Thirteen. Twos.”

Flora laughed out loud. “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

“This time there is ‘just no way’.” Kuro teased her. “That’s more than half the dice at this table. Sorry, Jack. I have to call.”

Doug had to agree with him. The odds of a number that large, even with wilds, even with three of his four dice contributing to that number, were positively minuscule.

Yet Kuro grew pale as they counted.

“I don’t fucking believe this,” Flora gasped, and counted again.

There were exactly thirteen twos.

As Jack started cackling, Kuro threw his hands up in the air. “Unbelievable,” was all he could get out as he chucked one of his dice aside.

Jack wiped a tear from his eye. “I can’t believe that actually bloody worked,” he wheezed. Doug then looked over at his dice in shock. Jack only had one wild, and absolutely no twos. What an utter nutcase.

That opinion wasn’t altered much over the next couple of rounds. Jack didn’t really seem to have any interest in winning. All he really wanted was to confuse and bewilder the other players. Yet that must have been some sort of strategy, as though it didn’t always work out for him—he lost a dice to Tommy in round three—sometimes, remarkably, it did. He’d paid Tommy back in kind in round four when he’d called bullshit on only seven sixes, and again, somehow been right.

Doug was quickly becoming aware of the danger of Tommy being on his left. He was really good at getting under people’s skin, it seemed, and Doug didn’t have the most impenetrable epidermis even at the best of times.

He’d been so confident this entire time that Doug was thoroughly surprised when the next round started, and Tommy just stared down at his dice and shook his head a little. “Oh, I start, don’t I?” he asked after the table was quiet for a minute. “Shit, uh… two fives.”

There were still twenty-one dice at the table. That was a really small number. Doug had become so used to Jack’s grandiose bets that it gave him pause. Could his hand really be that bad? Did he know something Doug didn’t? Clearly he must have, because for the first time since they’d started, Tommy was frowning.

Doug bet really low too, just to get his turn over with and see what the others made of this. They all seemed equally perturbed, and bet accordingly. By the time it got back around to Tommy again, the number wasn’t much higher.

“Ugh…” he groaned, looking nearly betrayed by his dice under the cup. “I guess… seven fives?” He cringed, looking over at Doug.

Shit. What should he do? He only had the one wild. That number still seemed a little low, but if he didn’t have any fives, and clearly Tommy didn’t have any fives, then maybe it wasn’t so low after all.

“Uhh, I think that might be bullshit,” Doug said. But the reaction from the rest of the table wasn’t what he was expecting. Flora groaned, and Kuro shook his head.

Doug was confused, until he turned to his left and saw a smirk breaking out across Tommy’s face. “Sorry man,” he said, lifting his cup to reveal that half his dice were fives.

“Well done,” Doug shook his head. “You played me like a goddamn fiddle.”

“It’s a hard lesson to learn, but the game’s called liar’s dice for a reason.”

Sighing, Doug threw another one of his dice into the growing amount at the center of the table, and vowed never to trust anyone ever again. Especially after the game was over.

Luckily, Doug was a quick learner, one of the perks of being a certified genius, he supposed, so he successfully avoided losing any more dice for the next bunch of rounds. More than anything, what Tommy made him realize was that he really had to consider the other players and what they were doing more so than what his own dice were telling him.

Flora, for instance, only made safe bets. By the time half the dice were gone, only one of them was hers. And it was only now with her increasing dice advantage that she was starting to get more ballsy.

Tommy really like to goad the other players, and would almost always encourage them to call bs when he had a lot of that number.

Jack was the only player who was impossible to read. His actions had no pattern to them, and this was taking a noticeable toll on the players on either of his sides who had to directly contend with his shenanigans. Tommy had learned the hard way to never call bullshit on him unless you were really sure he was fucking with you, but Kuro, who was very focused on the statistics portion of the game, really struggled against him. They were only halfway through the rounds, and he was already down to one dice.

“I’m surprised,” Flora commented. “You’re usually pretty good at this.”

“That’s because I usually try to avoid sitting next to him.”

Jack grinned and waved.

Kuro sighed, staring down forlornly at his one little dice, as Tommy started the round. “I think… two twos.”

Doug’s hand was shit, but at the midway point of the game, with all five players still in, odds were that it wouldn’t come back around to him. Better make sure. “Four fours,” he said, leaning back on his hard, wooden chair, trying to appear confident.

Eyes narrowing, Flora studied Doug for a moment.

“I’d call the poor bastard out now, Flora,” Jack chimed in. “He looks too confident. I mean, there’s just no way, right?”

Doug and Tommy snickered, and joined the chorus of the entire table repeating her favorite phrase back at her.

“Alright, alright, enough,” she sulked. “Four fives.”

“Another safe bet from the dice queen,” Kuro sighed. He looked down under his cup for a moment. Statistically, the number was already getting a little high at just under one-third of the pot. Maybe he thought that Jack was unlikely to call him out, as his MO was usually to keep on increasing the number. So he shook his head and mumbled: “Five threes.”

But instead of going along with his usual bit, Jack took a slow swig of his whiskey—no glass, the bottle was next to him on the table—and grinned evilly.

“Bullshit,” he said after a suitable pause.

“Oh, now of all times you’re going to call?” Kuro asked, genuinely sounding a little frustrated.

“Mmm, wasn’t feeling it, you know?” Jack shrugged.

Kuro was not happy when once again, he proved to be right. With only three threes at the table, he had lost his last dice. For a split second, he looked like he might actually murder Jack. But then he took a deep breath and let out an odd, croaking laugh. “Remind me never to sit next to you ever again.” He placed his die in the middle of the table with the others, and sat back to watch the rest of the game.

He perked up a little bit, however, as over the next couple of rounds Jack self-destructed quite rapidly. As the number of dice kept getting smaller, it became harder to make ballsy moves without shooting himself in the foot.

By the time there were only eight dice left, both he and Tommy only had one each. Added in to Doug’s two, and Flora had half the remaining dice. One of them would probably be out this round, and the other was sure to follow. It was looking more and more like Flora would be taking the game, but Doug still had one thing he wanted to do before it was over: a little friendly revenge.

His dice were once again shit, a three and a four. But he noticed that Flora was looking very pleased about something. She could have just had a lot of one number, but her expression didn’t change as Tommy started and then Jack, who switched Tommy’s fives to sixes. But Tommy didn’t have any fives, because Tommy rarely bet on what he actually had when he was being so lowkey about it.

Flora went, increasing the bet from two sixes to three. Uh oh. Doug was going to have to be ballsy about this one. He sincerely hoped he was right about Flora’s dice.

He made a big show of thinking over his options, before plastering on a grave expression and saying: “Three’s pretty low so… I’ll have to go with four fives.”

It was all up to Tommy, and the will of the gods now. But what was the point in bluffing if there wasn’t some uncertainty about it?

Tommy studied his face for a moment, but there was no bull to be had. Doug really was incredibly nervous about the outcome of his next play. Then, Tommy shook his head. “Don’t be an idiot, Tommy. That’s half the dice. Bullshit.”

As expected, Flora had two ones. Not only that, but she and Jack each had a five as well. Tommy ran a hand through his hair in disbelief. But the best was yet to come. When they saw that Doug had no fives whatsoever, the table lost their minds.

“What a fucking guess,” Jack smiled with both sides of his mouth for once. “Bloke’s got some bullocks on ‘im, after all.”

“It wasn’t a guess,” Doug admitted. “I kinda figured Flora had a lot of ones ‘cuz she looked too happy.”

“It wasn’t that obvious, was it?”

“Well, I guess I kinda deserved that one for picking on you earlier,” Tommy stuck out his hand and Doug took it. Then the former stood and he and Kuro moved away from the table so that the three remaining players could be spread out more evenly.

Flora was going to win. There was no doubt about that. She had more dice than Doug and Jack put together, which greatly hindered their ability to bluff. Still, it had been totally worth it to knock Tommy out, so Doug was satisfied.

He shook his cup, and had just made his peace with his inevitable loss, when something… quite unexpected happened. Out of the corner of his eye, Doug saw Jack’s hand doing something under the table. He was repeatedly splaying two fingers.

Oh my god. He was trying to cheat. He was signaling to Doug that he had a two. Of course, this was Jack. He could have also been entirely fucking with him. The man was impossible to read. No, there was no way Doug should trust that two. He should just stick to his own dice and try his best to outlast him.

Except that, as he thought about it, it started to make more and more sense with Jack’s motives. Jack’s only stake in this game was to cause as much chaos and drama as possible. And wouldn’t it certainly be dramatic if the two underdogs toppled the queen of dice herself?

Yep, he didn’t know why, but something told him that that two was more than just a simple cheat. It was an invitation. An invitation to take her down together.

As subtly as he could, Doug flashed him back a one and a four. Jack adjusted in his chair, and put his hand back up on the table. Looked like he’d gotten the message.

With that information, Doug was pretty confident he could end this round in one go. “Three twos,” he said. Together, he and Jack had two, so if Flora just had one…

“The fuck?” she squinted at him. “What kind of a bet is that?”

“The stupid kind,” Doug grinned. “What’re you gonna do about it?”

“Call bullshit, of course. There is absolutely just no—”

Here it was: the moment of truth. Had Jack just screwed him over, or not? But Doug was pleasantly surprised to find when he tipped over his cup that Jack did indeed possess a singular two. Add that to Doug’s one and Flora’s two and there were exactly three twos. Finally, Flora gave up her second die of the game.

Their alliance solidified, Doug found that he and Jack worked exceptionally well together. Either that or Flora became so rattled that she started making mistakes and letting them get under her skin, which they did with reckless abandon.

She was still plenty sly though, and having successfully cornered them in round twenty-one, forced Doug to give up one of his two remaining dice. Which meant that now, round twenty-three, was the moment of truth. Each of them only had one die left. Someone would be out this round. And it was most likely going to be her.

With no hesitation, Doug signaled Jack first a five and then a one to make a six. He only had one die so there was no way Jack could misinterpret it. And signaling with two hands was way too risky.

Then came the response. Jack showed him a five, but then abruptly withdrew his hand. Throughout the last round or so, Tommy had been staring at the two of them. No doubt he was suspicious, why wouldn’t he be, when the two of them were suddenly doing so well? So of course he picked that exact moment to saunter over to their side of the table.

But Jack had gotten him his number in time, so it was fine, wasn’t it? Unless… unless his number was really a six, and like Doug, he had been about to show him the final one. Shit, shit, shit, which was it? There was no way for Doug to know now; he’d just have to guess. But what if he was wrong?

“One five,” Jack started the round. Was that it, then? Was it a five? Or was he being cautious because Tommy was standing right over his shoulder?

Yet at that moment, right when Doug was about to state his bet, Jack ran a finger under his nose, like he was itching it. But is was so purposeful, and his other fingers were so far out of the way that it was unmistakable.

“Two sixes,” Doug said, not even trying to hide his glee.

He expected Flora to blow up, or scream about how there was “just no way,” but she didn’t. She just sighed, and shook her head. “Well, you boys have put me in a pickle,” she said. “My only option is to call bullshit, and in any sane world I would be right. But somehow, I think I know exactly what that outcome is going to be. So fuck you, I ain’t doin’ what you want! I’m gonna push you into a corner now. Three sixes!”

Jack and Doug were stunned for just a moment. Could it be possible that against all odds, she also had a six? But it was Jack’s turn, not Doug’s. He only had one move to make, and he didn’t overthink things like Doug did.

“Bullshit,” he said.

They flipped their cups. Doug had a six. Flora had a two. And Jack… Jack had a five. Either he was the greatest conman in the history of the game, or he and Doug had just gotten… exceptionally lucky.

“I can’t believe this,” Flora’s eyes widened. “I can’t fucking believe this. I should have called bullshit. How in the whole of the goddamn cosmos did you do that?”

“I dunno,” Doug smiled as her gaze rapidly flickered between the two of them, “beginner’s luck, I guess?”

With a huff, Flora stood from the table, and Jack and Doug both scooted their chairs so they were facing each other. Jack was grinning like a madman, as he had been the entire game, but Doug was surprised to find the expression mirrored on his own face. His heart was racing. This was exciting! Just who knew who was going to win this next round, now that their alliance was of course dissolved.

“Well, I have to admit,” Jack said. “I don’t usually make it this far, so to celebrate, let’s have a little side wager, just for fun.”

“Alright, sure thing man.” Why not? Why not something fun to up the stakes, end the night with a bang? “What’dya have in mind?”

With a sneer, Jack pulled a knife out from somewhere in his coat, still resting on the back of his chair, and slammed the tip into the wood of the table. Flora opened her mouth to say something, but Kuro put a hand on her shoulder. Neither of their eyes left the blade of that knife. The room was suddenly very quiet.

“Wager’s simple,” Jack’s voice echoed eerily, despite the density of the room. “Whoever wins gets to cut off a bit of the loser with this,” he lovingly caressed the knife’s handle.

“Whoa, whoa,” Tommy cut in.

“What the fuck, Jack?” Flora couldn’t contain herself anymore. “He’s just a kid.”

“Ah, ah, ah,” he pointed towards them, and they both fell silent. All the while, his eyes never left Doug’s. “’S not your decision to make, is it? So… what do you say?”

Doug looked at the knife, and then at Jack. What was his goal here? To psych him out? Make him nervous? Or was he genuinely just a freak who didn’t mind if he got cut? He had said he was a serial killer earlier. Doug thought that he’d been joking, but maybe he really hadn’t been.

Yet he didn’t sense any malice from Jack. Just excitement. He looked nearly… hopeful, for some reason. What had he learned about this game tonight? To not second guess his gut, right? And what his gut was telling him was simple, if stupid.

“Alright,” he said. “You’re on.”

Jack giggled like a schoolgirl as he dropped his last remaining die into his cup and shook it vigorously. This was one insane motherfucker. But then again, Doug was just as far gone, so he certainly wasn’t one to say anything. From the corner, Tommy, Flora, and Kuro watched the two set their cups down intently, tense looks stamped into their faces.

Finally, for the first time in this game, Doug had some luck. He’d rolled a one. Unless Jack had also rolled a one, he had pretty good odds of winning. He just had to make sure he didn’t guess the number that Jack had.

Alright. Here it was. The moment of truth. For once in your goddamn life don’t choke now. Doug hesitated for only a moment before saying: “One six.”

Jack just grinned. Oh no. Doug must have guessed wrong. Jack must have had either a six or a one and now Doug was going to pay the price for being an idiot.

“Two sixes,” was all he said in response. Flora looked away, and even Kuro groaned.

Maybe he’d go easy on him. Maybe he’d only take one of his fingernails or something. Doug felt sweat on the back of his neck. There was only one thing to do. Might as well not draw it out.


“And was a bloody nice game it was.” Jack lifted his cup, and after a moment, Doug’s eyes widened. The expected six or one simply wasn’t there. The fact of the matter was that Jack was in possession of one lonely two. Doug had won. “The game is yours,” Jack gestured over to the knife. “Do as you will.”

Ahh, Doug understood now. Jack had never had any intention of winning. Now he was waiting to see what Doug would do with his prize.

“Doug, man, you don’t have to do this,” Tommy interjected.

“I know,” Doug said quietly. “But a wager is a wager, after all.”

He yanked the knife out of the table and held it in his hand for a moment, felt the cold metal on his palm. The last time he’d held a knife it’d been covered in Abigail Hodge’s blood.

The sense of deja vu only intensified when he looked down at Jack and saw that his nearly canine-like grin had not faltered one inch. He didn’t even flinch as Doug brought the knife closer to him.

Just as the tension in the air became so thick that Doug almost thought he’d rather be cutting it instead, he gripped the knife firmly, brought it right up to his face, and cut off a lock of his dark, tangled hair.

Finally, a different expression crossed Jack’s face: surprise. Genuine surprise. “Well,” he said finally. “I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that.”

“What, did you really think I was going to cut you? Don’t be weird,” Doug turned to the others. “Does, uh, anyone know where I can toss this? It’s almost… disgustingly greasy...”

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