Short Story: Roasted

Dray rose with every intention to shove past Etri and go out in the rain, regardless of their hatred of getting wet… until they caught the crinkles in the corner of Etri's eyes.

This would be a much better game than one involving a hippo.

Dray leaned their forehead against the cold windowpane and tried to tune out the laughter coming from a few feet away. Maybe if they glared hard enough the rain would stop. What good was fire summoning if it couldn't dry up storm clouds? They'd had plans. Plans that involved being out there working on new choreography with their favorite long daggers, not in here listening to goofus and doofus play a board game.

Every time one of them had a turn, Adair and Sol would shout "here comes the hippo!" and then there would be a slam and they'd both laugh hysterically. Whether or not there was a hippo involved or if was just a dumb idea they'd come up with was moot. It was the most obnoxious game ever created and Dray wanted to be anywhere else, doing anything else. Their own wagon was only yards away, but the thought of stepping outside in that downpour for even a few seconds was less appealing than this.

"Do not be melancholy. Life is too short and you would know all on the subject of short, would you not?"

Dray jumped, banging their head against the glass. Damn Etri and his tendency to appear out of nowhere. If he wasn't always dressed like the night sky, only far less fabulous, Dray would have seen his reflection. What kind of person comes out of nowhere with a random insult? Dray rose with every intention to shove past Etri and go out in the rain, regardless of their hatred of getting wet... until they caught the crinkles in the corner of Etri's eyes.

This would be a much better game than one involving a hippo.

Dray leaned against the kitchen table and smirked back at Etri. "Aww, did you get up and smack your head on every single ceiling beam just to walk over here and tell me that?"

A flash of orange pulled Dray's attention over to the couch. Adair held a card with a four on it. A moment later Sol raised an upside down 2, unless it was a five. The cards were in Adair's handwriting so it was hard to tell. But this had better be a scoring system out of five because that joke was worth far more than a four or whatever Sol thought it was. At least if the two of them were grading the "argument," it meant they weren't shouting about aquatic mammals.

Etri cleared his throat and when Dray looked his way, said, "You make such use of makeup that you sneeze eyeliner."

That one didn't make any sense. On the couch were a pair of twos, held by a pair of zeros, so at least the judges agreed. "I think you mean ‘bleed.' Besides, like you're one to talk. You're so goth you bleed black hair dye."

A five and what looked like... an H? Sol either needed his judging license revoked or Adair needed to work on his penmanship.

"At least I do not require a step stool to see my mirror."

Dray didn't bother to look at the score. The mirror needed defending because it was the best thing Sol had invented all year. There were lights that brightened or dimmed on verbal commands, it allowed Dray to get a magnified view with just a tap, and it held all of their jewelry in little drawers along the sides. "Excuse you, I haven't had that problem since Sol installed a full-length mirror for me. If you'd take your ridiculously pointy nose out of a book for three seconds, you'd have noticed that. Or maybe not. Can you even see your reflection?"

Adair held up a three and made a face before saying, "Come on, Dray, that barely made sense. Was that supposed to be calling him a ghost or farsighted?"

Dray tossed a cushion at him. Adair caught it as well as to be expected, which is to say not at all, and it landed in the center of the game board. If Dray was lucky it broke the hippo. Sol would inevitably fix it, but it would take him a few minutes and perhaps by then the rain would have come to an end.

Etri nodded towards Adair, then winked at Dray. They'd never seen him do that before, but they knew exactly what he meant. Dray sauntered over to the couch and tapped Adair on the nose where the usual black smudge resided. "You're so stained with ink they could use you to print the Ordurn edition."

"Quick, Addy, what's bigger?" Sol held up a seven and an eight. So the score was out of ten after all. These two low-scorers wouldn't know a good insult if it hit them over the heads.

Or maybe they would. Adair smacked Sol with an unused nine. "You're supposed to be on my side!"

"He's usually on your side. That's because he keeps gluing himself to you." Blythe had entered the wagon sometime during the contest. She hung her coat on a hook by the door and came over. "So why is there so much roasting going on in here? I thought I'd need a fire to warm up, but you four have it covered."

Adair wrapped one of Blythe's knitted throws around her shoulders and grinned up at her. "Your wagon is so full of plants it's been designated a national park."

Blythe flicked him on the nose. The ink stain really did make for a good target. "That's a compliment, you dork."

Adair crossed his eyes, finally noticed the smudge, and began frantically rubbing at it with his sleeve. "I'm not very good at this, am I?"

Blythe wet a handkerchief with the water still dripping from her hair and wiped at his nose. "I'm sure no one could come close if it was a pun contest. Not that they'd want to get too close. You shed paint the way Sol sheds glitter, like a sparkly trail of breadcrumbs."

"Breadcrumbs are how I located Atair last week."

Adair clutched at his chest in mock hurt. "You, too, Etch?"

Dray could swing this right back around. "Don't worry, Addy. You'll be able to find a certain lanky sentinel by the inky fingerprints he's leaving behind. He's been writing poetry again."

Etri didn't deny it, but he did put his hands in his pockets. Maybe that was a low blow; Etri was self-conscious about this hobby. Dray started to apologize when Blythe nudged them. "No worse than finding you by the used matches you drop everywhere."

Oh, she did not just go there. No one made fun of Dray's matches any more than their mirror. "I don't know, maybe you should ask the trail of chastised carnies you leave wherever you go?"

Blythe opened her mouth only to be interrupted when Adair slid a card into it. It was a zero. Dray started to laugh until another zero was placed in their mouth. Not to be outdone, Sol handed Etri another. Upon closer inspection it was a letter O, but for Sol that was almost right.

Adair stood with his arms crossed in a manner reminiscent of Blythe's usual stance. "That's it. The game's over. No more playing when you get mean. No one wins."

That wasn't fair. Dray had come up with the best ones! Besides, it was Etri who started the contest and who should have known it would go south on a day where certain people were grumpy from the weather.

Sol's voice stopped an argument before it could become more than a few bickered words. "Uh... Addy? Can you pretty please help?"

Within the last few seconds, he'd proven Blythe's earlier glue observation and managed to get himself stuck to half a dozen cards. Attached to his forehead was the missing ten. Adair tugged this off and handed it to him. "I changed my mind. You win, Sol."

Sol hadn't even joined the contest! Dray grumbled about the game being rigged and Adair playing favorites as they returned to the window. Still, rigged or not, it was a better game than "Here Comes the Hippo." Dray would reluctantly give that game a six, but only because it was the only unused card number.



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