Swamped Chapter 15 Page 11

Your first thought is to flat-out tell him no. If he were just a cheat, that would be one thing; but a sore loser to boot? If that’s the case, then he’s hopeless.

Your next thought is that you just want him out of your hair. If that means dealing with whatever stupid problem is bothering him, well, you’ll just take care of it as fast as possible.

On the other hand, do you really want to give him that much? Has he really changed since you last saw him?

Well. When you last saw him, Tom Third was still alive. You remember grumbling to Tom back then after he cheated, that he just didn’t have any respect for the game.

Tom calmed you down with another game. In that one, he’d stacked the deck against you… but you didn’t even notice, you won so easily. When he told you about it afterwards, you didn’t know what to think.

“A game’s a game,” Tom told you. “Now, I’m not sayin’ it’s good to cheat, no. But the real question is about trust. When you’re out in the muck, whether it’s facing the Marshguards or just chasing off a big croc, you need someone you can trust with you. So the question you’ve got to ask isn’t, is this guy a big cheat. It’s, can you count on him when things start going bad? And you’ve got to remember, those aren’t always the same question.”

You didn’t quite understand what he was saying at the time, but you could see it, roughly. Although when Clancy threw in with Squib Squad, you figured Tom had it wrong.

But now. You think you see something in his eyes. You’ve been seeing it the whole time, really; and you were hoping the game could help you see it more clearly.

Maybe you can draw it out a little more directly.

“Don’t you have squadmates you can ask instead?”

His mouth says, “they’re not around”.

But you can do more than listen to his words. You can read it in his eyes. His face. His heart. What he really means is they’re not my friends.

“Well,” you say. “Deal was, if you lost, you’d tell me your secret. So how about you forfeit?”

“I was hoping to play out the game after the problem was taken care of,” he says, a little awkwardly. “But if that’s how you want to do this, I guess we can.”

Then he laughs.

“In fact, why don’t I do it with a guess? That’s the rules, right? Guess the card and get it wrong, and you lose. Let’s get this over with.”

“Give it your best.”

“Right. Is your card the Scholar of Wings?”

“No,” you say. “But you were surprisingly close.” You pick up the Scholar of Blades and reveal it.

“That’s interesting,” he says, turning up his stack to reveal the Scholar of Wings on the bottom.

“You deliberately…”

“Well, it wouldn’t do if I accidentally got it right, would it?”

The two of you have a little laugh, but Clancy starts looking around nervously.

“Right. I’ll tell you, as I said, but this is big trouble if it gets out.”

“I won’t tell a soul,” you promise. After all, you’re already in pretty deep trouble if anyone finds out what you were up to earlier tonight. “Whisper it.”

He leans in.

“We caught a live greatrat. It’s loose. I need to get it back.”

You should have known it would be something like this if Squib Squad was involved.

Well, you’re part of this mess now, might as well do what you can. What are you going to suggest to him?

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The great rat will have a stash it wants to get to.

You two just have to figure out what it is.


no, no, it’ll wanna go home, to the tunnels! it’s like electricity, it always wants to go to ground… so it looks like you’re going mining