The shuffle, quick and efficient. The deal, the same. The motions require little to no thought. It’s almost a surprise to see the style of the deal, the details of the game my automatic actions have selected. A simple enough Klondike variant, this time, a game that a great many people would be familiar with.
For me it’s easy to see, as the cards are dealt, what the implications are. There is always a degree of uncertainty, of course, else the game has no reason to exist. But the known information can, to an experienced eye, give a great deal of information. Not enough to know the game with certainty, but enough to make some educated guesses.
In this case, the tableau is favorable. I build the first few cards and it continues to develop in a way that suggests the game will go well.
The game began as a curiosity. Patience was such an interesting game among mortals; it was perplexing. A contest against oneself, with no stakes, with no challenge, the outcome largely decided by chance before the game ever begins? It was baffling, to me. I couldn’t comprehend why they would do such a thing, why they would spend what little time they had on it.
Later, when I was beginning to establish myself, it became an affectation. It was a visual quirk; it was memorable, distinctive. When I was trying to establish a reputation, to stand out from the crowd, it helped to be memorable. A distinctive affectation was a very real help.
Then, once that was no longer a concern, it was expected of me. And it was a way to fill time in which, for one reason or another, I wasn’t able to do anything productive.
Of course all of that was a long time ago. A great deal of water has passed under the bridge since those days. Now it’s…simply a thing that I do.
Halfway through the stock, I realize that the initially promising appearance of the game was a false one. The tableau is such that a few key cards could unlock a rapid cascade which would most likely lead to victory, but too many of those cards are buried. At first glance it might have looked good, but in reality this was a lost game from the start.
I don’t stop playing when I realize that. The nature of the game is such that losses are frequent, no matter how skillfully one plays. I know that, possibly more intimately so than any other person. It’s not something to get worked up over. When playing a doomed game, I find the better response is to play it through to the end.
As I continue to move the cards around on the table, I see Winter approaching. He doesn’t detect me. His senses are more comprehensive than they were, but in some ways he’s grown even easier to hide from. His nature, now, is such that he can’t help but focus on things with a single-mindedness that in some ways limits his perspective. For the old fae trick of invisibility through insignificance, of letting the eye pass over you without registering anything important enough to see, that sort of mind was an easy target.
I watch as he and his people go into the building which I recently left. The residents of that building didn’t detect me, either. For a well-equipped militant group dedicated to fighting against my kind, they weren’t very good at it. Very little iron in there, very little salt, none of the warding talismans that we’re bound to respect. It was easy for me to slip in and do my work undetected.
My employer didn’t explain what I was doing, nor would I likely understand if he had. This job was bound up in politics that I lacked the grounding to understand, a tangled web of contracts and alliances and feuds and grudges that had been built up over the course of millennia. The machinations of gods are convoluted even by the standards of the Courts, and Court politics are already more than I care to involve myself with.
But I could understand what I’d done, even if I couldn’t fully grasp the reason or implication.
In an immediate sense what I’d done was to use a tool which my employer had provided me with. Mortal technology being unfamiliar territory for me, I wasn’t certain how it worked. I knew that the result was modification to the files of the group which used this building as a communication hub. The changes were slight, not something that would be detected by a casual inspection. I don’t know what the changes were in detail, either, but I could infer that they were making the organization here out to be darker than it was. Emphasizing the wrongs they did, and quietly hiding away any evidence of their more benign aspects.
That is the immediate sense. The proximate result is obviously to adjust Winter’s information, his perspective on them. In time he would realize that his perspective was incomplete, but I know that time is something that he does not have a surplus of just now.
My employer’s ultimate aim is another thing that I don’t know and wouldn’t likely understand if I were told. But it’s easy enough to guess that it’s not a pleasant one. He is not a god of pleasant things.
I feel a quiet satisfaction as I watch Winter and his followers enter the building. There is always a satisfaction in a difficult job done well.
There is an element of regret in that satisfaction, of course. I don’t know what the ultimate goal of this job is, but I can guess that it isn’t a wholly benign one, and I harbor no particular malice towards Winter. If anything I feel a certain respect for the man. He’s skilled, reasonably intelligent, and professional.
But that didn’t stop me from doing this to him, any more than it stopped me from doing any of the things which led to this point. I carry out the terms of my contract. That is what I do, what I am. This contract has been longer than many, involving numerous steps over years, and requiring me to work for other employers in order to carry out my instructions. But ultimately it has been a contract like any other, and pretending otherwise is foolish and pointless.
Still. I will be glad to have it done. It should, I think, not be much longer before that happens.
With Winter having arrived, my work here is done, and lingering longer than necessary would be foolish. I continue the game, until finally I make the last legal play, and the tableau sits completed on the table. It’s a loss, as I knew it would be.
I don’t feel any particular frustration as I sweep the cards together, and return the table to a pocket of folded space I was once given in reward for a job well done. The game was doomed. There’s no sense in getting worked up about it.
In cards as in life, all one can do is play the hand one is dealt.