“Remember the stakes,” the dealer cautioned when he saw the gleam in the current player’s eyes. “Loser is pranking Heaven. Don’t lose sight of that.”
The demon in question just tipped him a wink. “I’ll see that gold, and raise you three,” he grinned. It was a look that said he sensed the proverbial blood in the water this hand.
“Three, Al?” Naberius glared. “Fine. I call.”
“Well, Beri’s got nothing.”
Alloces’s smile grew.
“This is in the bag already.”
Melchiresa tossed her hair over her shoulder and looked down her nose across the smoke clouded table at the cocky demon leering at the rest of the gathering. “I don’t think you’ve got a damned thing in your hand. And I think this is going to be your year to send our little gag gift, Al.”
Laughter traveled around the table in a wave. Alloces narrowed his eyes at her. “Money where your mouth is, Resa.”
She laughed lightly, almost able to ignore the blond demon to her left who wasn’t even looking at his cards. He was just leaning back in his chair, resting an elbow on the arm and worrying his lip with his thumbnail, while seeming to almost look through Alloces who sat just across from him.
Resa looked over her hand dramatically. “I do believe I’ll see that, and do you one better.” A collective impressed murmur went around the table then. “Although if I lose, my gift will most certainly get under His skin. The boss’ll be so pleased.”
She tossed the gold onto the table, as though she didn’t know she was taking her rather comfortable eternity into her hands by risking a loss tonight and being the one to have to send the “gift” Above.
Everyone looked to the next demon in line to bet. He was relatively new among them and everyone was still trying to get a read on him. Something he was all too talented at making difficult. He continued to stare across the table for a moment.
Resa nudged his chair. “Ronoven, your bet.”
He didn’t respond with anything more than a creasing across his forehead.
“Ronoven! You! Ben! Pay attention!”
He glanced up, a bit taken aback. But when he answered, it was with a confidence that made his words entirely believable. “I’m thinking it over. Don’t rush me.”
He still didn’t look at his cards, but rather let his startling golden gaze travel around to the faces of each of the other players, his expression that of someone trying to do complicated math in their head and not liking the sum.
The fingers of one hand drummed against the table top for a moment. Then, in what appeared to be a snap decision, he tossed his cards onto the table. “Fold.”
“Again?” Stolas asked from across the table. “You, young Ronoven, are entirely too careful to be any fun.”
He gave an indifferent shrug and a half smile. “Sorry I give such poor entertainment value, Stoli. But you’ll notice my pile of cash isn’t dwindling half so quickly as everyone else’s. And … I watched you deal.”
He gave a significant raise of his eyebrows and a knowing smirk that caused the table to explode with accusations about the propriety of the Prince’s deck. “Damnit all, Ronoven! Look what you started!”
The demon laughed and ran a hand through his tousled hair. “I’m sorry. I’m really … Oh, you guys are too easy. There’s nothing wrong with the deal or the dealer.” He took a minute, getting his amusement down to a conversational level. “I’m just screwing with you. I don’t know any of you well enough to bet aggressively.”
“It’s just a game, Ronoven,” the Prince reminded him, sounding just a little wary of his own words.
“A game where every previous loser has lost his head and immortal soul to Lucifer’s ire after God finds the gag funnier or more useful than he was supposed to,” Ronoven returned, tapping his finger on the cards he’d cast aside. “I like my head attached, that’s all.”
Resa frowned. “Some of the gifts have done well,” she insisted. “What you’re saying … That’s not true at all.”
A blond eyebrow arched. “Isn’t it though?” He paused, thoughtful. “In fact, name one time one of Hell’s gag gifts hasn’t backfired.”
She frowned. “Well, there was …” her frowned deepened and she threw Ronoven a glare.
He smirked. “He made the platypus the freaking official mascot of Heaven, Resa!” Several of the demons laughed at that, but it was beginning to be more strained than before. “Hell’s game is so weak, I bet the Big Guy is rubbing his Almighty hands together waiting to see what we cook up next.”
Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I