Meegla and Fargon's Not-So-Intergalactic Adventures: Part Four
The secret headquarters of the Desert Scarabs was alight with whispers. “I can’t believe it,” said the Scarabs themselves. “It’s incredible. Unheard of.” In the center of the dark room, bathed with light from a broken ceiling, sat a shadow Ruki and an Alien Aisha, locked in a fierce card game.
The Ogrin, Qival, shook his head. “I’ve never seen anybody win a game of Cheat that quickly in my whole life.”
“It’s probably because there are only two players,” a Shoyru huffed. “It’s impossible not to keep track of the cards when you’re only playing against one other person!”
Meegla, nearly empty-handed, sighed. “Are you ready to give up? There’s no way you’re going to beat me. I can tell what your cards are even when you make the smallest bluffs.”
Heqet threw the deck of cards down between them, then pounded a fist on his knee. “That’s because my subordinate is right - there are only two of us, you can easily tell if I’m bluffing because you have all of the other cards!” He pointed to where Nadine stood, near Fargon. “You! Untie the Grundo! Both of you are going to join our game!”
“So, what - if Nadine wins, you win, and if Fargon wins-?”
“No.” Heqet shook his head. “If either of those two wins, we start over.”
Meegla shrugged. “Whatever. Everyone here could join us, and I’d still win.”
Heqet narrowed his eyes. “We’ll see about that.”
They got situated. Nadine was worried about letting Fargon run around free, but when he tripped over his own two feet the moment she untied him, she realized he was far too bumbling to escape without some serious help.
As a member of the Desert Scarabs, Nadine took pride in her ability to lie, cheat, and sneak. There was no way Meegla could win - in fact, now that the deck was split more fairly, their amazing leader was sure to win! Meegla must have won the first round through luck alone!
The game of Cheat started off smoothly. For the first turn, no one accused anyone else of cheating. Then again, no one attempted to lay an ambitiously big pile face down.
Then came Nadine’s second turn. She smirked; she’d start off small. One lie and one truth. “Two threes,” she said, setting an ace and a three face down in the middle of the floor.
“Cheat,” Meegla said.
Nadine turned red as she took the pile. That Alien Aisha must have all the other threes. Whatever. It was just a lucky guess!
But as the game went on, every cheat Meegla accused another player of was correct. She even caught people lying when they only set down one card! Most people could only pick up on when somebody tried to lay down three or four at once! As everyone else’s hands grew, Meegla’s shrank. Nadine seethed. Meegla would have to lie soon. It was impossible that she’d have the perfect cards all throughout the game!
“Cheat!” Nadine cried. Meegla begrudgingly took the card pile. It was only five cards, but that should be enough to hold her off if Heqet, with seven, lied a bit more ambitiously. Nadine glanced at her comrades as they milled about the dilapidated room; there were, of course, other advantages for Heqet in this environment…
After a pause, Heqet accused Fargon of cheating when he put down a single King. “Oh, drat,” the Grundo muttered, snatching his card back. “How’d he guess I was lying about just the one?” Beside him, Meegla sat hunched, her hand hidden against her stomach except when she needed to read what she had. She threw Fargon a look, but he didn’t seem to notice it.
The game carried on. Heqet continued to successfully accuse both Fargon and Nadine of cheating, and Meegla only when her hand dwindled. But she never had many cards to pick up; she continued to catch everyone else’s cheats flawlessly, save for once, when Fargon put down three fours, and she accused him of lying.
Heqet’s hand was almost empty. He set down both of his cards. “Two fours.” His expression changed. “No, wait-”
“Liar,” Meegla jeered. “Fargon just put down three of those!” Heqet snatched up the card pile with a vengeance.
Meegla put down her final card. Heqet’s eyes darted back and forth. He was met only with empty glances.
“Cheat,” he said, with desperation. Meegla reached out her paw…
...And pushed the card towards him. “Take the pile. Or not; doesn’t matter if the game’s over, does it?”
There was a collective groan of frustration from everyone in the room. How was it that someone as capable as Heqet could be defeated? Meegla sat back with her arms crossed and a smug smile on her face.
“The best part is, I knew you were cheating the whole time!” Meegla declared. “Not just in the sense that you were lying about your cards - you had your lackeys looking over our shoulders to keep track of what was in our hands!”
Fargon gasped, bringing a large, purple hand to his face. “That explains it! I was wondering how he could ever be as good at this as you are.”
Meegla cackled in the face of the Scarabs’ disappointment. “I knew I was good at divination, but I had no idea I was this good!”
“We’ll have to go get a scratchcard after this,” Fargon added, excited. “There’s a kiosk right in Sakhmet!”
“Yes to the scratchcard, but no to Sakhmet.” Meegla cringed. “It’s the cheapest scratchcard kiosk, granted, but I’m sick of this place. As soon as we can, we’re leaving this forsaken desert.”
Nadine was flabberghasted by their discussion. “What are you talking about?!” she cried. “You sound like you knew you’d win the entire time!”
“I’ve got a cheat of my own,” Meegla bragged.
Fargon’s mismatched face spread into a grin. “The best ‘cheat’ of all - she’s sort of psychic!”
Meegla looked wounded at the inclusion of “sort of.” “I think this game proves I’m more than just sort of psychic, First Mate...”
Furious, Nadine turned to Heqet. “Are you going to allow that?!”
The Ruki nodded gravely. “To me, it seems fair. My cheat failed, and hers succeeded.” Despite his defeat, a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Excuse me, Meegla. But how do you feel about raising the stakes?”
The Alien Aisha smirked at him. “Feeling like a sore loser, Heqet?”
The Ruki returned her smirk. “Not quite. See, I’d like to offer you lifelong immunity.”
Meegla tried to keep her expression cool, but all six ears involuntarily perked up. “Immunity?”
“We will play best two out of three. If you win, the Desert Scarabs will never target you or your friends ever again. Anyone who steals from you or your allies by accident will have to answer to me.”
Meegla frowned. “And if you win?”
“You join the Desert Scarabs. Every neopoint you ever earn, every rare item you ever find becomes ours. You serve us for life.”
Everyone was flabberghasted. Nadine’s paws went to her temples in disbelief. Fargon covered his mouth with his hand to suppress a gasp. Only Meegla and Heqet remained calm.
“Why?” was all Meegla asked, echoing the more frantic exclamations of her first mate and the other Desert Scarabs.
“I think a psychic can be useful to a clan of thieves for obvious reasons,” Heqet replied, teeth whiter for the contrast with his shadowy paint color. “Do you accept the gamble?”
“Of course not!” Fargon cried. “We’ve won fair and square! Let’s go, Meegla.” He started to walk towards the door, but stopped when he realized she wasn’t following. He turned to her with an incredulous look. “Captain! You can’t be serious!”
Meegla stood with her hands on her hips, her lips pursed. “...Immunity for life, Fargon. We won’t have to worry about our neopoints being stolen in Sakhmet ever again.” She turned towards Heqet and offered him her gloved hand in agreement.
“Good.” Heqet nodded. “On to the rules of our next game.”
Meegla started to bend her knuckles. “Yeah, yeah. I’m fully prepared to destroy you in Cheat all over again.”
Heqet chuckled. “We won’t be playing Cheat again. I never agreed to that.”
For an instant Meegla looked angry, but she quickly deflated. “I guess there’s enough cheating going on here without playing a game named after it,” Meegla muttered. Heqet ignored her. He picked up a stick and started to draw a diagram with five columns in the sand.
“Our next game is Scarab 21. Vertically, in each of these columns, you must try to add up cards to 21. You must play every card your deck turns up. There are generic ways to add up to 21, and there are special moves you get extra points for.”
Meegla stared at the diagram. “So basically it’s Jubjub Blackjack, but five times over.”
“Yes. Whichever of us gets a highest number of points during their round wins.”
Meegla’s paws clenched into fists. “So basically… you’re saying this is a game of luck.”
“There is some strategy,” Heqet insisted half-heartedly, “but otherwise… yes. I suppose your ultimate score is at the mercy of how your deck has been shuffled.”
Meegla looked about ready to kick sand in Heqet’s face and run. Instead, she threw herself to the ground and sat pretzel-style, glaring at the diagram. Heqet sat down with her and started to set the board up. “We’ll keep score here, off to the side…”
Several feet away from them, those not competing felt the pressure of the impending game. “Argh!” Fargon exclaimed, throwing his hands over his eyes. “I can’t look!”
Nadine gave a huff, crossing her arms and turning away from the Scarab 21 game. “I don’t know why Heqet wants to bring that Meegla into the Desert Scarabs, psychic or not.” She shot a look at the distressed Grundo. “Your so-called captain is reckless. She walked right into two traps just to get a few neopoints back, knowing that they were traps! Does she have a death wish?”
“And me,” Fargon added with a mutter. “She wanted to get me back, too.”
“Whatever.” Nadine threw her hair over her shoulder. “She shouldn’t gamble like she does.”
“Gambling is kind of all she does,” Fargon admitted. “Pure luck is one of the only ways to make a fortune in Neopia. And we need a true fortune, for…” Fargon stopped himself, turning his gaze away from Nadine’s. “Not that you care.”
Nadine searched his face. Even if he wasn’t painted split, the light from the broken roof and the darkness of the room’s corners casted his face in bold contrasts.
Nadine wondered what it was Meegla was saving for. Most people just wanted a couple of paint brushes. Maybe an expensive Battledome weapon. For the Desert Scarabs, neopoints were all about basic survival. But Nadine got the feeling that whatever Meegla was saving for, it must be something bigger. Something worth risking everything for.
As Heqet and Meegla continued to silently and intensely compete several feet away, Nadine shoved her paws in her pockets. She glanced at Fargon now and then, but it seemed he was engrossed in the Scarab 21 game, despite his earlier laments about it. Nadine watched him bite his nails as Meegla slowly peeled a card off of the top of her deck.
“Can she see?” Nadine asked, suddenly. “Do her powers allow her to divine the order of the deck?”
“I don’t know!” Fargon admitted. He looked at the Xweetok with wide, frightened eyes. “We’ve only ever tried it on individual cards!”
The suspense mounting, Nadine and Fargon turned back to watch their leaders compete. Meegla laid down her latest card…
To be continued…