Story for the Day: Addiction

I have a great love of video games. It would seem that Kai Linaa does too.

                A package came to the cottage in Sethshire just as Kai Linaa and Unghaahi were settling in the upstairs rooms. It was conveyed to the common room table by the commander, who was asked to join their small excursion south with her mate. Although the plan to vacation together had been agreed to with the provision that there should be no disturbances, the advent of this particular parcel could be excused as a welcome interruption. The package was addressed to Kai Linaa, and once she and Unghaahi had claimed it, they noted that the direction was from Lucentia.
                Kai Linaa unfastened the parcel’s strings and tore open the gilded paper with great delight. She was buzzing with wonder to envision what was within but a small note obstructed her view of the item. She plucked the message from the box and read, imagining the sender’s voice:
                Little sister,
                You are a Lucentian by birth. Gambling and card playing are your inheritance. Play and indulge your heritage.
                Yours affectionately,
                Much Older Brother  

                She laughed at Ladrei’s self-accorded title, but could not laugh enough to make it untrue. He was older than her by nearly one hundred years, and therefore to say merely older brother was not sufficient. She regarded his hand on the paper with warm smiles and folded the note away for later where she would remark it again once she required proof of his adoration while being separated by a greater distance than usual.
                Looking down to descry her brother’s gift, Kai Linaa cooed with astonishment to see that the present was a new Lucentian card game. It was called Serima, the Lucentian word for skyward, and the box which contained the necessary accoutrements to play professed this game to be the latest sensation in all the Lucentian capital’s cafes. Her interest was immediate, and she called her mate to her side so that they may open the box and read the rules of engagement together.
                The lid was lifted and the instruction manual removed. After some scrutiny, it was discovered that the game was meant to be played by only one person at a time.
                “How can someone play a game with themselves?” was Kai Linaa’s disenchanted query to her mate.
                Unghaahi smiled and nestled her cheek. “I will watch you play, Ghaala. I would prefer not to be your opponent.”
                “Why not?” she giggled. “You would beat me every time.”
                That was precisely why Unghaahi chose to remain an observer rather than a participant of the game, but his only response was a tender smile.
                “I probably won’t be very good at it,” Kai Linaa shrugged, remarking the extensive list of instructions. “I’ll just play it once so I can tell him I tried it. He did send it all this way.”
                “You must honour his gift,” the giant agreed, but then stopped when he observed a set of warnings on the back label of the box. “Warnings?” he mused in confusion. His brow bent in disquiet as the read: Dependence may follow; contains sexual and violent themes. Unghaahi raised a brow. “You are able to have Khopra in this game?”  
                Kai Linaa fondled the different pieces within the box and from it plucked two small images pasted on boards in the shapes of inns. “There are brothels in the towns,” Kai Linaa excitedly professed, holding up an image of a demimondaine as though she were trotting out for work.
                Unghaahi had little idea what Kai Linaa meant by towns and being able to visit brothels in such an amusement as a card game, but he would soon know all, watching his mate set up the affair with great animation. A nervousness began to settle in his stomach: his mate was growing so involved with the game’s preparation that he began to reconsider the warning on the back label of the box. Dependency was by no means a light apprehension, and he resolved to watch her involvement most carefully for however long she meant to play. He made a few nervous hums as he sat by, beginning to understand why this game required only one person and all of that one person’s attention.
                The game began with the player choosing one character: the choice was between a warrior, a mage and a thief. Here, Unghaahi’s trepidation increased when considering that the player would be permitted and encouraged to take the role of one whose business it was to steal from those who were made to live by what they should earn in a day. Worse still, Kai Linaa had chosen the thief, claiming that perhaps her character was stealing due to poverty and necessity. Unghaahi was appeased but only momentarily, for when the object of the game was revealed, he began to dread the amusement and mild debauchery never being finished. There was everything to divert: a map spanning the entire floor of the common room, images of buildings and figurines of monsters and vendors alike, but guide of the game was a large book containing a story that was to be marginally followed. There was a narrative that the player character was meant to pursue, leading the player into missions and conflict as though it were a simulation of the guilds in Lucentia. Unghaahi could not approve: the idea of his mate gallivanting about as a thief pillaging for a guildlord was unconscionable, and though guildlord was her brother’s profession, he was certain that no other with such a title could be so forgiving and fair as Ladrei. Unghaahi agonized in silence, watching his mate place the enemy figures and take the dice into her hand. She followed the story that the book laid out for her, moving her character along the path, through towns and to her respective destinations. Battles were fought with a roll of the dice, spoils were tendered in the form of item cards, and the more she quested, the more affluence and powerful her character became.
                An hour passed, and Unghaahi sought to draw her attention from the game. He asked her to train with him, but his queries were met with insensible replies; her answers were small uh huhs and terse phrases, all meant to deter him and force him to allow her more time for the game. He waited another half an hour and asked again, inquiring if she would like to eat and enjoy an evening of Hophsaas with him, but his questions were spoken to no purpose; she would not hear him, and all the subsequent and requisite excuses of addiction followed.“I just want to save these people,” was the first of the justifications. “I just have to visit this town and return this item,” was the second, and very other determent that could be made was made until Unghaahi was forced to relinquish  his gentle quiries and look for another means of distraction. He thought perhaps the request for Khopra by a gentle fire would interest her more than the game, but she gave him an absent “later” and said nothing further. He noticed her eyes were wild and intent and now he began to fear that removing her from the game entirely would be his only option to salvage her. He saw now why similar games were illegal in Frewyn and began to believe that there was an enchantment placed on the map and cards, one to mesmerize the player and trap them in a world which, though highly entertaining, could make the player forget about duty and consequence and most importantly himself.
                A stir in the kitchen beside the common room gave Unghaahi hope: the commander had entered from the yard and the din of the pots and pans conveyed that the Den Asaan had charged her with cooking. This was some relief, for he would now have someone with whom to discuss this Lucentian game. She must have an alternative method of distraction, was Unghaahi’s consolation, and when he entered the kitchen, he said in a pleading tone, “Amhadhri Anonnaa, please, I must speak with you.”
                The commander had tender smiles for Unghaahi’s plight while watching Kai Linaa crawl about the large map with her character card and dice in hand. “I assure you, Unghaahi,” she entreated with sincerity, “Lucentian games are harmless. These games are not illegal in Frewyn. It is only the gambling and betting over them that is.”
                “Your honourable king would allow his people to play this game knowing it serves no purpose?”
                “Well, I cannot say it serves no purpose. Everyone has the proclivity to so as one likes, and if one enjoys this game or any other, I see no issue in playing. The personality of the person who plays, however, therein lies the difficulty.” The commander pointed to Kai Linaa, who had begun talking to the vendors in a specific town while traversing a certain region of the map. “As you can see, Kai Linaa has joined a Loughian guild and is running errands for them before continuing with the story,” she simpered. “She must be in good standing to them for her to be allowed to speak to them.”
                “You are familiar with this game?”
                “My mate and I happened to see a few patrons playing it the last time we frequented Adsen’s cafe. Your brother actually enjoys this game. He finds the idea of character progression and advancement indicative of Amghari training: the more one trains, the more skills one acquires. He, however, played for a hour and then felt the need to attack something. His pursuits were always brief but I daresay Kai Linaa’s won’t be.”
                “Is there a substance involved in the making of this game that causes dependency?”   
                “You’ve read the warning, I see,” the commander laughed. “I should not be surprised if there were any questionable substances involved. The game is from Lucentia, the land of no inhibitions, but it is only board and paper, Unghaahi. I assure you.”
                Unghaahi looked charily to the side. “Perhaps there is magic employed in the making of the cards that causes the player to lose the ability to feel time?”
                “She is well aware of how much time is passing, Unghaahi.”
                “And you are not alarmed by this behaviour?”
                “It is a natural occurrence in many of the mainland inhabitants. It is called addiction.”
                “And is there a remedy for it?”
                “There is. You will not like the cure, however.”
                Unghaahi, desperate for a treatment that would not involve harmful means to Kai Linaa, agreed directly to whatever remedial proposal the commander should make. She made a few glances at the skillet on the range and Unghaahi gathered her meaning well enough. He would not like it, but it was necessary, and he sighed away the pains of what must pass for the pleasures of having his mate to himself once more.
                Kai Linaa was engrossed in a most arduous mission to the Crag of Cantharn when her ears began to twitch. She heard the telling sounds of supper being prepared but was resolved to defeat the Emokk of Jantu and ignored the general bustle of the kitchen. A few moments later brought a pause in her battles: her nose wiggled as the scent of her favourite meal wafted into the common room. Her eyes glowed, her mouth watered, and she slithered away from her game, into the kitchen where the commander had just finished making a tall stack of pancakes.
                “Our adventurer is here to join us,” the commander said whilst pouring  warmed lemon coolis over the thick and spongy cakes.
                Kai Linaa beamed and held her hands behind her back to keep her from touching the tall and delicious stack.
                Unghaahi sighed with reprieve to see his mate away from her game but was given fresh agitation when he considered her devouring every one of those pancakes by herself. He knew she could do it, and the sluggishness the cake would afford her could certainly prohibit her from playing any further, but he soon observed that allowing her to eat as much as she liked should not be essential for her recovery.
                When Kai Linaa had entered the kitchen from the common room, the Den Asaan had entered from the opposing door leading to the pond. He had caught the aroma of their supper before Kai Linaa, but was asked to wait until she had entered the kitchen before approaching. He sidled Kai Linaa, shadowing her with his immense height, and glared at her with a most insidious grin.
                She smiled at the giant and with dewy eyes bleated, “Can we share these pancakes?”
                “You have learned very well from Leraa,” the commander simpered, “but these are for those who are not otherwise occupied with Lucentian games of certain distinction.”
                Before Kai Linaa could respond and claim that her game had done, the Den Asaan swiped the entire batch of pancakes and began walking back toward the pond to enjoy his large supper upon the bridge. He soon found a weight on his leg, however, and when looking down to gauge what the slight hindrance was, discovered Kai Linaa attached to his ankle. He humphed and ignored her, making his strides only more commanding to counteract the added weight, but when he sat down upon the bridge, he was finding it difficult to eat in peace when there was an elf attached to his arm, trying every instant to steal what she craved.
                “Away, elf,” Rautu grunted, shaking Kai Linaa off.
                “But those are meant to be shared,” she protested.
                “No, they are not. These are for those not playing your game. I have not played therefore these are mine."
                Kai Linaa growled in frustration and leaped at the giant, attempting to climb him as though he were a tree.
                The commander and Unghaahi laughed as they watched the small elf crawl over the Den Asaan’s back, each of them pleased to see her out of doors for differing reasons.        
                “She has traded one game for another,” the commander mused. “I believing pestering my mate is more exciting than any game Lucentia can devise.”
                Although Unghaahi had always maintained an intimate and peaceable relationship with his brother, he must admit that seeing him disturbed by Otenohi’s whiles, by Leraa’s adorable character, and now by his mate’s demands to share what he deemed to be his was more engaging than any amusement of moderate merit could provide.