(A quick character piece, that takes place before our favorite Outlaw's entry to the League. Part one of two.)
The Joker's Due, Bilgewater's largest casino, was a fairyland of vice. Far, far away from the raddled doxies and salty pirates that roamed the streets, it was a world unto itself - The great animatronic joker casting an eternal shadow over the shanty-town below, forever capering in his motley, a belled wand in one hand, a spillglass in the other.
In a place where fortunes were won and lost in moments, where the future was so dark a man measured it in hours, and took his pleasures accordingly...The casino was a rare gem. Even now, well before noon, the gaming pits were largely filled with crowds of sweating men and women watching the tumble of dice or flip of cards with the bloodshot concentration of hungover hawks: Overhead, huge crystal chandliers hung, radiating a warm golden light over the crimson carpet of the floor, the rails of brass, the glistening steps of purple-veined marble polished to a gleaming sheen.
For Twisted Fate, it felt like coming home.
Spurs clinked against the floor, as Twisted Fate leaned back in his overstuffed chair ~ Studying his cards, his eyes half-shadowed line beneath his wide-brimmed hat. An old habit of his: One eye on the table, one eye on the door, in case a would-be huckster had to take to his heels in a hurry. You paid Lady Luck for her time, and took her service, and knew that she would be with another man the moment fancy took her.
A perfect ease settled on him, as he edged back calmly in his velvet-cushioned seat. When he was young, he practiced this attitude before a mirror, for hours uncountable. Now, he assumed this confident respose without thought or effort - His natural state.
Twisted Fate was the sort of man who was *always* descrived by the same phrase, whether the speaker was an associate, a rival, or (rarely) a sworn enemy.
That phrase: d amnably handsome.
Like the Noxian oak of the tables, the Demacian carpets and the Zaunite wine, his oponent (Most-Honorable Sire Ellano) had been imported to Bilgewater, from somewhere else. A turqoise turban encircled the merchant's square, bald head, soaking up the sweat of his brow - His skeletal frame swathed in voluminous folds of cloak and tunic, dyed patches in his carefully sculpted beard standing out in the overhead light.
For a gambler, the pigeon was annoying cautious. He spent his wealth in small, sweaty bursts - A runner venturing forth from the safety of his locked rooms, with another letter for a thousand gold, another stack of chips. Hardly sporting behaviour, in a high-stakes game.
Twisted Fate's voice was clear and soft - "I reckon it's my lucky day," he mused aloud...Laying his cards down, to a groan from Ellano. "I give," the merchant muttered, mopping his gleaming pate. "Another loss...Most extraordinary."
He let the pause linger - Twisted Fate covering the lapse with a brooding nod, as if moved to deep contemplation by his opponent's misfortune. "Just the luck of the draw, partner. Care for a break 'fore the next wager?"
"Indeed." Ellano blinked, perspiring - "Oh, indeed."
A metallic clamor arose, from somewhere close by - Too early in the day for a drunken street fight. Weaving unsteadily, the merchant's appointed runner came to a stop next to his master's chair - Muttering something, sotto voice, as shouts chorused from the floor above. Puzzlement registered on Ellano's face, as he pushed his chair back: "Pray excuse me," he offered. "A trifling matter."
"In your own time."
As Ellano staggered off with undue haste, bow-legged from the long hours he'd spent seated, Twisted Fate let his hands rest comfortably on the table's polished oaken surface: As always, it was *all* in the cards...
Ellano strode upwards towards his apartment, taking the steps three at a time, rubbing his hands together - His palms were damp, his fingers slightly tremulous. A drink, he decided - That was what he needed, a drink to steady his nerves, smooth his roiled consciousness.
"...asking me which one was your room, which door, which window. He wanted the knock codes...So I ran, I *ran*..."
That was all he'd needed to hear, from his hired man: A premonition of doom shuddering up his spine, his sparse frame singing with tension. It was *him* - It had to be. Why here, why *now*...
Forget the carnival huckster and his ridiculous luck - He had *things* to deal with. A crisis to resolve. He had to get to his suite, get the gold, had to *get out*...
A dozen hurried strides took him up the steps, to the intricately silver-inlaid door of his suite; He knocked lightly, twice then once, waiting for it to swing open...Waiting too long. The lazy clod he'd hired was probably asleep, and he had no time to waste.
"Hendrigan, you worthless p rick! If this door doesn't open in *ten seconds*-"
Finally, he heard the rasp of the bolt being drawn. When the door cracked open he stiff-armed it back with a thump and strode into the room, heading straight for his private dry bar, next to the huge stone fireplace. The heavy brocade curtains were tightly drawn, and every lamp was dark; the pungent odor of smoldering wicks hung heavily in the gloom. “You *were* sleeping, you idiot! I’ll skin you for this!”
Fools. Fools and incompetents. It was past time to up stakes and leave town, past time to-
With a dry, rasping click, the door bolt locked home. Ellano went still - Not daring to breathe.
The voice was flat and lethal.
"Don't get brave, partner." the voice growled - A flint-on-rocks sound. "I've got no time for games."
He could see the man's outline now, a blacker shadow against a black-shadowed wall. From the darkness came a slow scrrt of steel on flint; an amber flame grew from a shoulder-high fist, red-shading a high-cheekboned face that might have been carved from stone. The flame touched the end of a fat cigar ? smoke coiling up to frame...
"Graves..." Ellano's hoarse whisper sounded, to his ears, uncomfortably like a plea for mercy.
"It...It was a gift," he managed, a little stronger now. "From Dr. Priggs..."
“I know. Says so right on the side, here.” Graves touched the flame to the wick of a lamp on a small side table, then turned the lamp down to a bloody emberous glow. “-And we both know what happened to him, don’t we?”
Graves pointed to a chair - His duster hissing, as he brushed it back with a casual flick. Oil-black, unlovely, Destiny's uncompromising muzzle was levelled right in Ellano's direction; To the stricken man, the barrels looked like twin black holes, large enough to swallow his world.
"On your hands."
He tucked his hands beneath his thighs, shaking - "W...what do you *want*?"
Graves stepped around the sofa, only an arm’s length away. He crouched before Ellano, staring into his eyes: The silence stretched, until the merchant had to consciously restrain himself from babbling, just to break it.
And at last, Graves said: "-Who set me up?"
"I, ah, I don't know."
He went on as thought he hadn't heard him. “They got a saying in the locker: ain’t got nothin’ but time to plan."
Ellano licked dry lips - "Really, Graves, you can't imagine...I mean, I'm an *honest merchant*..."
"I ain't a patient man, Ellano." Like a vise, Graves' hand closed on his throat - The cigar clamped in his teeth coming perilously close to the merchant's eye, as he yanked him forward. Destiny poked the other man just beneath the navel, gently but firmly - Not hard enough to hurt, but exactly hard enough to fold him in the middle, to force him back into the seat.
"All right - All right!" Ellano leaned away from the flame that seemed to light Graves's face from within - He couldn't meet that cold, flat stare, those pitiless eyes. "I *really* don't! I don't! A-all I know is...Your old partner's on the floor right now - M-maybe you could ask *him*?"
The black and lethal fury that flooded Grave's face - when he spoke that *name* - terrified Ellano more than his earlier threats.
"Twisted Fate is *here*? Right *now*?"
His eyes burned red in the lamplight.
"Yeah, maybe I *will* ask him. Maybe I will do *exactly* that."
And without warning, without any hint of anticipatory breath, he was gone from the room. The door opened and closed with the speed of a single blink, with an inhumanly swift rush of absence - The outlaw was *gone*, as if he'd never been.
But it would be a long, long time before Ellano - very, very carefully - dared to turn the lamplight's flame back on.
TO BE CONTINUED